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2014 Schenectady ARC Annual Meeting

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NYSCCC 25th Annual Foster Care and Adoption Conference: Celebrating Strengths

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Saratoga Bridges Annual Gala "The White Party" and Auction

Janice Tosto PDF Print E-mail

Janice Tosto describes herself as a lifelong human services professional. She is a mentor for a volunteer program she created for women who are emerging human services professionals. In her blog, Janice writes commentary on a range of topics including women’s issues, workforce development, and social and economic justice. Janice can be reached at lmjenkinsfoundation@gmail.com.

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“Power to the Ice Pick!” (Part One)

“God chose Joan Little,” Paul insisted, “like he chose Rosa Parks to end the domination of southern black women by white males. And that is what this case is all about. This case compels the world to see that women, black women, deserve justice; that women are victims of rape and that rape is not a sex crime and that they do not lure men into raping them. It is a crime of violence, of hatred, of humiliation” (“At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle L. Mc Guire, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010 p. 245).

“The case helped fuel a public debate about the prosecution of sex crimes, and aided feminist efforts to redefine rape as a crime of violence, aggression and humiliation that had little to do with sex. Additionally, by challenging prosecutors’ implied arguments that Little could not have been raped because she was not respectable, she and her attorneys helped dispel stereotypes of black women as promiscuous jezebels who could not be legitimate victims of rape” (p.246).

Joan Little is profiled in Michigan State University Associate Professor Danielle L. Mc Guire’s book “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.” Published in 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf, the book is an important account of the long history of black women’s struggle against systemic rape by southern white men and for bodily integrity. Joan Little’s account is chronicled in the chapter titled “Power to the Ice Pick!”

In 1974, Clarence Alligood, a white jailer in the Beaufort County Jail in Washington, North Carolina, was found dead in a jail cell. He was naked from the waist down, and in his right hand was an ice pick. Joan Little, the 20-year-old black woman who occupied the cell, had escaped. After a week in hiding, in which she told an acquaintance she killed Alligood with the ice pick in self-defense , Joan Little surrendered and was arrested for first-degree murder. If convicted, she would die in the state’s gas chamber. Attorneys Jerry Paul, a white man known by blacks and whites as an “eccentric nonconformist” and Karen Galloway, the first African American woman to graduate from Duke University Law School, represented Joan Little.

One of Ms. Little’s greatest obstacles was her criminal history— she had arrests for shoplifting, breaking and entering, and larceny, and was eventually given a seven-to-ten year sentence in 1974. To many in the African American community, she was not a “respectable” woman. Whites viewed Joan Little as a violent seductress who killed Alligood in order to escape. “Local whites sympathized with Clarence Alligood, Paul explained. “They’re programmed to believe that she lured him in there,” he said. “And if she didn’t….then he went back there to have a little fun (and) that’s okay too. That’s expected.” Most whites believed that the mistake Alligood made, Paul said, was “getting caught back there” (p. 229).

Knowing that Joan Little’s criminal history would be focused upon by the prosecution, attorney Jerry Paul “presented her to the public as a poor but brave black woman who had defended her dignity from a lecherous racist and was being railroaded into the gas chamber by a Jim Crow justice system. Paul pounced on state prosecutors every time they said or did something that hinted of racial prejudice as proof they were stuck in an Old South mind-set” (p. 232). The Free Joan Little campaign was in full swing.

“As word of Little’s defiant stand against sexual violence spread, national feminist groups and civil rights organizations rallied behind her. The Women’s Legal Defense Fund, the Feminist Alliance Against Rape, the Rape Crisis Center, the National Black Feminist Organization, and the National Organization for Women, which was struggling to appeal to women of color, joined the fund-raising effort and mobilized national support”(p. 234). “Rosa Parks, who had been an antirape activist since she helped organize the campaign to defend Recy Taylor in the early 1940s, helped found a local branch of the Joan Little Legal Defense Committee in Detroit, where she had fled two years after the Montgomery bus boycott” (p.235).

“The Free Joan Little campaign is often portrayed as the product of second-wave feminism, which finally enabled women to break the code of silence surrounding sexual violence and “speak out” against rape. While this may be true for white, middle-class feminists who became active in the antirape movement in the 1970s, African-America n women had been speaking out and organizing politically against sexual violence and rape for more than a century” (p. 247).

In April 1975, Jerry Paul and Karen Galloway petitioned for a change in venue for the trial because they felt the jury selection process in Beaufort County would be racially biased. The team spent nearly ,000 on social scientists who developed an” attitude profile survey” to detect patterns of prejudice (p. 237). The judge granted the request, not because of racial discrimination, but because it was believed that an impartial jury could not be selected because of all of the pre-trial publicity around the case in Beaufort County. The case was moved to Raleigh, where a more diverse jury could be selected.

Joan Little’s trial began on July 15, 1975. Her supporters rallied outside the Wake County Courthouse in downtown Raleigh holding placards reading “Free Joan Little” and “Defend Black Womanhood.” They sang “One, two, three. Joan Little must be set free! Four, five, six. Power to the ice pick!” (p. 238).

It took nearly two weeks to pick a jury and when done, the jury consisted of six African Americans and six whites. There were nine women, and all but five of the jurors were under age 40.

“As prosecutors struggled to present a case based on circumstantial evidence, defense attorneys placed the case in its historical context. They argued that Southern police officers had a long history of assaulting and sexually harassing black women in their custody. In the Beaufort County jail, they said, black women were wholly unprotected” (p.238).

It was revealed that Joan Little was not Clarence Alligood’s only victim. Attorney Karen Galloway brought a number of black women to the stand as witnesses who had endured Clarence Alligood’s abuse. “By presenting multiple victims of Alligood’s predatory lust, the defense readied the jurors for Little’s testimony. Paul and Galloway had prepared her for this moment; they spent months training Joan Little in the art of respectability. She had to assert her dignity and personhood without being too brash and appear reputable without being too demure. It was a difficult task since Little had what Paul called a “negative side” that her attorneys did not want to slip out” ( p. 240).

Next Installment: Power to the Ice Pick! Part Two
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Announcing the “2nd Annual Denim Day and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Conference”

The Wyckoff Heights Medical Center‘s Violence Intervention and Treatment Program will be sponsoring its 2nd Annual Denim Day and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Conference on Wednesday, April 23rd from 10am-2pm. This event will be held at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, 374 Stockholm Street, 5th Floor Conference Room in Brooklyn. The special guest speaker will be City Councilman Antonio Reynoso.

Professionals in the field of sexual violence prevention and treatment will deliver presentations. The topics include “Sexual Violence Within Our Communities,” “Bystander Intervention and Prevention,” and “I Have the Right!”

The conference will be part of a larger Denim Day observance. Attendees are asked to wear their best denim to the event. A Denim Day 2014 Group Picture will be taken at the conclusion of the event.

The Los Angeles, CA –based organization Peace Over Violence (www.peaceoverviolen ce.org), a sexual and domestic violence, stalking, child abuse and youth violence prevention center, coordinates the annual Denim Day campaign.

“For the past 15 years, Peace Over Violence has run the Denim Day in L.A. and USA campaign on a Wednesday in April in honor of Sexual Violence Awareness Month. The campaign was originally triggered by a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Peace Over Violence developed the Denim Day campaign in response to this case and the activism surrounding it. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. In this rape prevention education campaign we ask community members, elected officials, businesses and students to make a social statement with their fashion by wearing jeans on this day as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. This year’s Denim Day will be held on April 23, 2014 and will focus on educating the community at large on the legal definition of consent.” (www. denimdayusa.org/about)

To register for the 2nd Annual Denim Day and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Conference go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/THRJC7Q Breakfast and lunch will be available, and there will be a raffle. Space is limited, so register ASAP.

For additional information about the 2nd Annual Denim Day and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Conference, please contact Karina Cruz-Rodriguez, LMSW, Program Coordinator of the Violence Intervention and Treatment Program at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center at kcruz@wyckoffhospital.org or 718. 906. 3846
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At the Dark End of the Street

“Black women did not keep their stories secret. African-America n women reclaimed their bodies and their humanity by testifying about their assaults. They launched the first public attacks on sexual violence as a “systemic abuse of women” in response to slavery and the wave of lynchings in the post-Emancipati on south…..Throughout the twentieth century, black women persisted in telling their stories, frequently cited in local and national NAACP reports. Their testimonies spilled out in letters to the Justice Department and appeared on the front pages of the nation’s leading black newspapers. Black women regularly denounced their sexual misuse.” (“At the Dark End of the Street” by Danielle L. McGuire, p.16).

Michigan State University Associate Professor Danielle L. Mc Guire’s book “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power” was published in 2010 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is an important account of the long history of black women’s struggle against systemic rape by southern white men and for bodily integrity. For Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2014, I wanted to write about the book’s theme of the importance of speaking out against sexual violence. My series of posts will highlight two of the book’s major accounts: the sexual assaults of Mrs. Recy Taylor in Alabama and Ms. Joan Little in North Carolina.

This book is a tribute to the brave black women who, in spite of their pain and threats against their lives, challenged the perpetrators of sexual violence and the racist society that allowed ( and still allows) sexual violence to thrive. “At the Dark End of the Street “ also gives long overdue credit to the women who, in speaking out against sexual violence, established the foundation for the Montgomery bus boycott and made major, overlooked contributions to the nonviolent movement to end segregation and racial discrimination in the United States.

Reading this book was emotionally draining and overwhelming. I remember listening to a radio interview with Professor McGuire when the book was published and heard her talk about how she cried while doing her research for this book. The accounts in her book are truly horrific.

The book opens with the 1944 kidnapping and gang rape of Mrs. Recy Taylor, a wife and mother from Abbeville, Alabama. A group of white men were driving around allegedly looking for a black woman who had cut a white man. Mrs. Taylor had just left church with a couple of friends. They were stopped by the men in the car. One of the men falsely accused Mrs. Taylor, who was with friends when the assault on the white man occurred. Mrs. Taylor was forced into the car with seven men: Hugo Wilson, Dillard York, Billy Howerton, Herbert Lovett, Luther Lee, Joe Culpepper, and Robert Gamble. She was driven to an isolated area and repeatedly raped. Of the crime, the author notes: “The kidnapping and rape of Recy Taylor was not unusual in the segregated south. The sexual exploitation of black women by white men had its roots in slavery and continued throughout the better part of the 20th century.” (p. 14).

After the attack on Mrs. Taylor, the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) dispatched an investigator to look into the case, which soon became known as the “Abbeville Affair” and “the people’s case. “That investigator would launch a movement that would ultimately change the world. Her name was Rosa Parks.” (p. 13).

The investigative work done by Mrs. Parks, which came with considerable personal risk, helped launch a full scale effort in support of Mrs. Recy Taylor. The Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor (CEJRT) publicized Mrs. Taylor’s case throughout Alabama. The case soon began to attract nationwide attention. For speaking out, Mrs. Taylor and her family were threatened.

Local law enforcement made an insincere effort to bring Mrs. Taylor’s attackers to justice. The Governor of Alabama, Chauncey Sparks, received an avalanche of letters from blacks and some whites urging justice for Mrs. Taylor.

Many whites in Alabama dismissed the matter, some even suggesting that Mrs. Recy Taylor invited the attack, calling her a prostitute. Hugo Wilson admitted picking up Mrs. Taylor and taking her to the area where she was raped, and reported that all seven men had sex with Mrs. Taylor. He swore that the sex was not forced, claiming that they had paid Mrs. Taylor. To whites, black women were not respectable and therefore could not be raped.

Other whites, however, showed some concern, but in many cases more for the reputation of the state of Alabama than with Mrs. Taylor’s well-being. Alexander Nunn, the white editor of a conservative magazine called the Progressive Farmer, urged the Governor of Alabama to send Mrs. Recy Taylor’s attackers to jail. “…for the good of both races, I think I would punish even more quickly and severely white men for criminally attacking Negro women than I would Negro men.” Of course, Mr. Nunn emphasized afterwards that he would be very harsh in punishing black men for attacking white women.

Despite the protests, a grand jury refused to act on the case. So in the end, no one was held accountable for the brutal rape of Mrs. Recy Taylor.

“The rape of black women by white men continued, often unpunished, throughout the Jim Crow era. As Reconstruction collapsed and Jim Crow arose, white men abducted and assaulted black women with alarming regularity. White men lured black girls away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gunpoint while traveling to or from home, work or church; raped them as a form of retribution or to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy; sexually humiliated and assaulted them on streetcars and buses, in taxicabs and trains, and in other public spaces. As the acclaimed freedom Fighter Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “A black woman’s body was never hers alone” (p.14-15)

“In order to reclaim their bodies and their humanity, African-America n women called on a tradition of testimony and truth-telling that stretched back to slavery………..Failure in the courts did not stop black women from speaking out, decades before the women’s movement. These testimonies helped bring attention to the issue of sexual violence and often ignited local campaigns for equal justice and civil rights.” (p. 48)

Next Installment: Power to the Ice Pick
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Ten Things Men Can Do/10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer

In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I am publishing this annual post, “Ten Things Men Can Do.” This post first appeared in my blog in late 2011. It is a message to men that they bear an enormous responsibility in helping to end sexual, and all forms of violence, against women and girls.

“Ten Things Men Can Do” appears on the website of the organization “A Call to Men.” A Call to Men (www.acalltomen.com) “is a leading national men’s organization addressing domestic and sexual violence prevention and the promotion of healthy manhood.”

The organization is “committed to maintaining strong partnerships with women’s organizations already doing this important work. It helps to organize communities in order to raise awareness and get men involved in this effort.” A Call to Men “believes that preventing domestic and sexual violence is primarily the responsibility of men.” (www.acalltomen.com)

A Call to Men’s vision is “to shift social norms that define manhood in our culture.” Its mission is “To galvanize a national movement of men committed to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls.” Its purpose is “ To influence change in men’s behavior through a re-education and training process that promotes healthy manhood.”

A Call to Men was founded by Educator, Activist and Lecturer Tony Porter. Tony Porter has been working in the social justice arena for over twenty years. He is nationally recognized for his effort to end men’s violence against women. Tony is the original visionary and co-founder behind A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women.

Educator, Activist and Lecturer Ted Bunch is Co-Founder of A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. Ted is recognized both nationally and internationally for his expertise in organizing and educating men in the effort to end violence against women. He is dedicated to strengthening community accountability to end all forms of violence against women.

As always, I want to express my gratitude to Ted Bunch, who granted me permission back in 2011 to reprint this material, which appears in both English and Spanish.

Ten Things Men Can Do
1. Acknowledge and understand how male dominance
and aspects of unhealthy manhood are at the foundation of
domestic and sexual violence.

2. Examine and challenge our individual beliefs and
the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.

3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by
getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to
prevent domestic and sexual violence.

4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we
choose not to speak out against domestic and sexual violence,
we are supporting it.

5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young
men about our responsibility in preventing domestic and sexual
violence.

6. "Break out of the man box"- Challenge traditional
images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand in
domestic and sexual violence prevention.

7. Accept and own our responsibility that domestic
and sexual violence will not end until men become part of the
solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a
cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence and
discrimination against women and girls.

8. Stop supporting the notion that domestic and
sexual violence is due to mental illness, lack of anger
management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… Domestic
and sexual violence is rooted in male dominance and the
socialization of men.

9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and
effective ways to educate and raise awareness about domestic
and sexual violence prevention.

10. Create responsible and accountable men's
initiatives in your community to support domestic and sexual
violence prevention.

10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer
1) Admitir y entender cómo el sexismo, la dominancia masculina y el privilegio masculino asientan la fundación de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres.

2) Examinar y poner a prueba nuestro sexismo individual y el rol que jugamos en apoyar a los hombres que son abusivos.

3) Reconocer y parar de conspirar con otros hombres saliéndonos de nuestros roles socialmente definidos, y tomar una postura para eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres.

4) Recordar que nuestro silencio ratifica. Cuando elegimos no dar nuestra opinión de la violencia masculina, la estamos apoyando.

5) Educar y re-educar a nuestros hijos y a otros hombres jóvenes acerca de nuestra responsabilidad para terminar la violencia masculina contra las mujeres.

6) "Liberarse de la opresion del hombre" Lucha tradicionalment e imagenes de el estado de ser hombre de que nos para activamente emprender una posicion para terminar violencia contra las mujeres.

7) Aceptar y reconocer nuestra responsabilidad de que la violencia contra las mujeres no finalizará hasta que los hombres sean parte de la solución para eliminarla. Tenemos que tomar un rol activo para crear un cambio social y cultural que ya no tolere la violencia contra las mujeres.

8) Pare el appear de la nocion que la violencia de los hombres contra mujeres puede terminar proporcionado el tratamiento para los hombres individuales. La enfermedad mental,le carencia de las habilidades de gerencia de la colera, la dependencia quimica, la tension,los etc..Son solamente excusas para el comportamiento de los hombres. La violencia contra mujeres se arraiga en la opresion historica de mujeres y la consecuencia de la socializacion de hombres.

9) Tome la responsabilidad de crear maneras apropiadas y eficaces de desarrollar sistemas para educar y para sostener a hombres responsables.

10) Cree los sistemas de la responsabilidad a las mujeres en su comunidad.
La violencia contra mujeres terminara solamente cuando tomamos la direccion de los que la entiendan mas, mujeres.

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Irish Arts Center Book Day 2014

Join the Irish Arts Center in its citywide day of literacy and Irish culture!

The Irish Arts Center (www.irishartscenter.org), in association with the New York City Council, will sponsor its fourth annual Book Day on Monday, March 17, 2014, beginning at 7am. From the Bronx to Staten Island, Manhattan’s Upper West Side to Brighton Beach, and stops in between, the Irish Arts Center will celebrate St Patrick’s Day by giving New Yorkers the gift of free Irish literature. Volunteers across the city will be handing out thousands of books to commuters and school children at transit hubs across all five New York City boroughs.

For more information on where books will be distributed in your borough, volunteer opportunities, event sponsorship or making book donations, visit www.irishartscenter.org

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Announcing “LGBTQ Youth Homeless Epidemic, NYC and Beyond: Increasing Awareness in the Planning Profession”

The American Planning Association’s NY Metropolitan Chapter, National Gays and Lesbians in Planning Division, (GALIP) and the Bronx Museum of the Arts are co-sponsoring a panel discussion titled “LGBTQ Youth Homeless Epidemic, NYC and Beyond: Increasing Awareness in the Planning Profession.” The event will take place on Thursday, February 20, 2014 from 7 - 8:30 pm at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY. Light refreshments will be served after the event.

The event description reads as follows:

This event is a panel session involving four experts deeply involved in the creation of successful programs and facilities in New York City and across the country to address the needs of homeless youth, a disproportionat e number of whom identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and/or questioning. Research shows that between up to 640,000 homeless youth identify as LGBT. Perspectives include policy and program obstacles to creating safe-spaces, rehabilitation and support resources, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, LGBTQ youth needs, financing obstacles for steady provision of services and safe-spaces, and the value of networking to find creative solutions to this epidemic across the country.

Where do LGBTQ youth homeless centers and programs exist? Which have been successful in their mandates to address this epidemic? What special needs do they cater to at their facilities that make them unique? Did they encounter planning obstacles in the run-up to their creation? What are the operational tenets for successful programming? How can this HIV/AIDS at-risk population be supported? What can planners learn about serving this demographic in their communities? As an exceptionally large transient population, why is this problem continuing to grow with so few services, facilities, and amenities available? In raising awareness, what solutions are possible to curb this epidemic? How can planners facilitate in a process toward solving this problem?

The panelists include:
Lewis Fidler, former NYC Council Member
Sherrise Palomino, BronxWorks
Scott A. Kramer, LCSW
Jama Shelton, 40-to-None Project Director, True Colors Campaign
Ross Savedge, GALIP Division, Moderator

For registration information including fees and directions to the Museum, go to: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e8upjfzfc39bb37e&llr=54vqab

You can also contact : Neal Stone
neal@galip.org
APA NY Metro Chapter/ GALIP Division
646-872-5180
office@nyplanning.org

The event can be followed on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/ events/661982180510992/
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Announcing the “3rd Veteran Information Resource Fair”

The Mid-Manhattan Library Single Stop and the US Department of Veterans Affairs will sponsor their "3rd Veteran Information Resource Fair" for US military veterans and their families on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 from 10am-2pm. The event will be held at the Mid-Manhattan Library in the Corner Room, First Floor, 455 Fifth Avenue. Veterans are asked to bring a copy of their DD-214.

This free event will provide resource information in the areas of:

• Employment Services
• Housing Assistance
• Legal Assistance
• Benefits Counseling
• Vocational Services
• Income Opportunities
• Community Health Services
• Behavioral Health Services
• Educational Opportunities
• VA Claim Assistance
• Financial Counseling
• Relocation Assistance
• Training Services

To register for this event and for additional information, you may contact Cassandra Charles, Single Stop Program Coordinator, at 212. 340. 0861

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Friends Forever

“Friends Forever” is the title of one of the 78 winning entries in this year’s P.S. Art 2013 exhibition. It was created by Brianna Harris and Kayla Medina, two 9-year-old fourth graders from the Bronx. P.S. Art is an annual art competition and showcase of artwork created by public school students across New York City.

P.S. Art is sponsored by The New York City Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects (www. nyc.gov/schools/artseducation), Studio in a School (www. studioinaschool.org) and the Fund for Public Schools (www.fundforpublicsc hools.org). The Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org)committed and time and energy in developing and creating the P.S. Art exhibition.

The mission of The New York City Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects is to provide New York City public school communities – students, teachers, school leaders and parents – with information and resources that will enable every student to achieve a full education in the arts, based on New York State requirements and standards for arts learning, and guided by New York City's Blueprint for Teaching and Learning in the Arts, PreK-12. Studio in a School’s mission is “To foster the creative and intellectual development of New York City youth through quality visual arts programs, directed by arts professionals. To collaborate with and develop the ability of those who provide or support arts programming and creative development for youth both in and outside of schools.” The Fund for Public Schools “is dedicated to improving New York City's public schools by attracting private investment in school reform and encouraging greater involvement by all New Yorkers in the education of our children.” The mission of The Metropolitan Museum of Art “is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.”

The winners of the P.S. Art 2013 competition were honored at an Opening Reception, which was held on Tuesday, June 11th at the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Program speakers as listed, were: Peggy Fogelman, Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Paul King, Executive Director, Office of Arts and Special Projects, New York City Department of Education; Dennis M. Walcott, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and Caroline Kennedy, Honorary Director of the Fund for Public Schools, who served on the selection panel; Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Karen Rosner, Coordinator of Visual Arts, The New York City Department of Education. Scholarship presentations were made by Agnes Gund, Founder of Studio in a School, President Emerita MoMA, Chair of MoMA, P.S. 1, and Thomas Cahill, President and CEO, Studio in a School.

Some of the titles of the winning entries include “Blue-Eyed Owl” by Nayla Lopez; “Wolf-Face” by Olivia Kusio; “The Colors of India” by Stephanie Romero; “Chief Joseph” by Ahtziri Huertero; “After the Storm, Far Rockaway” by Solomiya Antoniv; “We Are All Trayvon Martin” by Aaron Howard; “Zhiwei the Sleepy One “ by Michael Hui; and “Happy Endings” by Christopher Duncan.

“Friends Forever” is about two girls from different ethnic backgrounds who become close friends. The painting graces the P.S. Art 2013 Opening Reception Program cover, and the covers of the invitations to the Opening Reception, and the artist passes that were provided to the students by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting also appears on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, where the P.S. Art 2013 exhibit is listed under current exhibits at the museum.

For those of you who regularly read my blog, you will no doubt recognize one half of the creative duo that painted “Friends Forever.” Brianna is my niece. Brianna and her friend and fellow artist Kayla are members of their school’s Art Club. Their art teacher is Qinqin Li. In the P.S. Art 2013 Opening Reception Program, Ms. Li said this of “Friends Forever”: “ This painting was the result of a unit on portrait painting. Brianna and Kayla explored expressive colors by studying Van Gogh’s landscapes and portraits. They painted themselves as good friends under the night sky of New York City. In addition to color mixing and detailed depiction, they focused on compositional and design elements. Kayla and Brianna are good friends. They painted together to demonstrate their friendship, all the while exploring art media and new skills. Their shirts share similar patterns but have their own colors, symbolizing what these friends have in common and what makes each unique. A message of friendship is conveyed through their smiles. The young artists demonstrate their observational and expressive skills in a joyful way.”(Source: P.S. Art 2013 Opening Reception Program).

Why did Kayla and Brianna paint about the theme of friendship? “Because we are best friends and we like to express ourselves through art,” said Brianna. Brianna credits Kayla with naming the painting. How did Kayla come up with the name? “Since me and Brianna are best friends it was easy,” said Kayla. Why did Kayla want to work with Brianna on this project? “I wanted someone to match my talent.” When Brianna and Kayla discovered they were winners in the art competition, they were quite happy. “I almost fainted,” stated Brianna.

During the opening reception, Brianna and Kayla posed for pictures, signed autographs, and chatted with Schools Chancellor Walcott about “Friends Forever.” Of the reception, Brianna said: “It was good. The best part was having my picture taken with Caroline Kennedy. She’s a former president’s daughter!” Kayla’s favorite parts of the event were speaking with Schools Chancellor Walcott and, like her friend Brianna, taking a picture with Caroline Kennedy.

Brianna and Kayla are off to an impressive start as artists. But as much as Kayla enjoys creating artwork, her career goal is not art-related. “I plan to be a cancer doctor, the first woman to discover a cure for cancer since my dad has lymphoma.”

So, what’s next for these megastars? They are off to the fifth grade.

And of course, there is more artwork to create!

Congratulations girls! Congratulations to all of the winners!

The P.S. Art 2013 exhibition will be on view at:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education
Fifth Avenue and 81st Street
New York, New York
June 11 through August 25, 2013
http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/ps-art-2013

The Tweed Courthouse
52 Chambers Street
New York, New York
August 27 through November 15, 2013

P.S. Art 2013: Celebrating the Creative Spirit of New York City Kids
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Moving From Me to We: A Commencement Address by Frank Pomata

If you were asked to deliver a commencement address to the class of 2013, what would you say?

Since this is the season for commencement addresses, I asked this question of Mr. Frank Pomata. Frank has an extensive work history in youth development, and is quite passionate about helping young people. I offered a challenge to Frank to write a mock commencement address that he would give to graduating college seniors if invited to deliver one. Frank’s commencement address is entitled “Moving From Me to We.”

Frank Pomata is an experienced non-profit professional, with expertise in youth development, volunteerism, and community engagement. Frank also does consulting work in Non-Profit & Volunteer Management and sees himself as a “change agent”. His motto is “Ideas + Action = Change”.

Frank has worked in a variety of settings serving diverse populations. Most recently, he worked as a Vocational Counselor assisting persons with barriers to employment to become work-ready and secure jobs in the community. He has a long-standing association with the Long Island Volunteer Center where he does consulting on special projects.

His prior experience includes working for “GEAR UP”, a federally-funde d college access program for students from high-needs school districts. He has also worked at Farmingdale State College, Job Corps, the Beacon Program at the Samuel Field YMHA, the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, the NY State Mentoring Program, and the Governor’s Office for Voluntary Service.

Mr. Pomata has served as Chair of the Youth Council of the Suffolk County Workforce Investment Board, and he is a Co-Founder of the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame.

Frank is a graduate of Long Island University-C.W. Post (BA in Political Science) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Masters in Education). He also has a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Hofstra University.

Frank was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island and now lives in Patchogue with his wife Donna.

He can be contacted at: Beacon006@aol.com

“MOVING FROM ME TO WE”

Hello graduates. Thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts with you on this special day.

If you’re anything like me, you are feeling a mix of emotions today. . .thank God it’s over ! Oh My God, college is over and now I have to figure out what do next ! Some of you may be thinking “when will this guy stop talking so I can grab my degree and get out of here to celebrate with my family and friends?”

You are graduating at a time of great uncertainty in the world and the economy. So I would not blame you if you decide not to venture out of the halls of academia just yet and instead go straight on to graduate school. In fact, that is what I did when faced with the prospect of graduation. At the very least, it put off having to start paying back those student loans!

I would like to put a challenge to you as you go forth in the world with your newly acquired degrees. Don’t forget how you got where you are today. No doubt it was with the help of a number of different people, including but not limited to your family, your teachers, friends, and mentors.

I recall seeing a bumper sticker that read “He who dies with the most toys wins.” To that I would say an emphatic, “Not!” Instead, I would encourage you to live a life that will leave the world a bit better off than it was before you came along.

Human beings are social creatures. From the time we are born, helpless and unable to survive on our own, others are helping us along our life path. You will be going out into the world as graduates and no matter what you majored in – Business, Philosophy, Communications, etc. – you will find yourself in a position to help others. As the movie starring Kevin Spacey said, “Pay it forward”.

It may be through the work you do directly if you choose a helping profession like teaching or social work, or it may be through helping someone else secure a job or internship opportunity. In your spare time, you may decide to coach a youth sports league, or help an elderly neighbor, or volunteer at a local food pantry. Whatever your talents or interests, there will be ways that YOU can make a difference.

And it’s a two-way street because helping others also helps you. You heard me right.

Researchers have found that people who volunteer actually live longer than those who don’t. When you do right by others, people remember you and that can lead to unexpected opportunities or introduce you to people you might not otherwise get to meet.

Ours is a material society and often people measure their self-worth by their financial standing or their possessions. It’s a false way of viewing oneself. Don’t fall into that trap.

Go out there and as you go about pursuing your careers and building a life, measure your success by the lives you touch and the lives that touch you back. You and those around you will be richer for it.

I won’t sugarcoat what awaits you beyond the campus gates. Your elders and our leaders have not always made the best decisions and our economy and our society is the worse for it. You will have an opportunity, individually and collectively, to make decisions and take actions as adults that can help improve the world you are inheriting.

Keep your eyes and ears open to the opportunities to make a difference, however small it might be. They will come along, but if you’re not paying attention, they can be easily missed.
The last several years of your life have been focused mainly on yourself, your studies and your goals after college. But now, as you graduate, you have the opportunity to switch gears from ME to WE.

In closing, I’d like to offer you a few tips for the journey ahead:
1. Always say Thank You.
2. Be kind to those you meet on the way up. You might just meet them on the way down.
3. When you’re wrong, admit it and move on.
4. Don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry.”
5. Don’t follow the crowd. Follow your heart and your instincts. They’ll lead you where you’re meant to go.
6. Never pass up a chance to do someone a favor. You just might need one at a later time.
7. Cut your parents some slack. They did the best they could and you didn’t come with a User Manual or Tech Support.
8. Never stop learning. The world is a rapidly changing place and you’ll need to adapt to survive and thrive.
9. Talk to strangers. You never know when you might make a new friend.
10. The world is in fact an abundant place. Share your stuff whatever it is. It will come back to you.

I wish you well on your life journey. May it be exciting, fun, and filled with wonder. Good luck and Godspeed to all of you.












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Sixteen Remarkable and Resilient Youth

Sixteen young people were honored at the Fifteenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care, sponsored by Youth Communication, Inc. The event took place on Wednesday, May 29th from 6:00-8:00pm at the College Board, 45 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. This is the second installment of my report on the awards ceremony.

After the keynote remarks delivered by Ronald E. Richter, Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, emcee Pauline Gordon introduced Max Moran, a therapist and former Represent magazine writer who presented the Special First Prize winners (Huang, Alexis, Arique, Cashimer, and Mercy). These award presentations were followed by remarks from Anthony, Represent writer and former Grand Prize Winner of the Awards for Youth in Foster Care. Anthony and I met at last year’s ceremony, when he was being honored. Before the event, Anthony and I had a chance to catch up. He has finished high school and is planning on attending college in the fall.

“I’m speaking to you as a Grand Prize Winner from last year. But even more important, as someone who has been a staff writer for Represent Magazine for almost three years. I want to let everyone know what writing for Represent has meant to me, “ said Anthony. “As with most foster youth, my past hasn’t been ideal. I was physically abused by my mom and stepfather. I ended up in foster care when I told the cops I was being abused. Afterwards, I separated from my brother and stressed out because I was in a home I wasn’t familiar with.

When an angry outburst came out in school, I was put in a psychiatric hospital. The only coping mechanism I had in there was writing. It was my salvation, my only way to express myself fully without someone judging me or criticizing me. It helped me calm down to write about all the things I had gone through. Writing down my troubling experiences on paper had given me peace of mind and let me move forward to more productive things.” Anthony went on to talk about learning to develop trust in adults, going into kinship foster care with his aunt, gaining admission into a summer writing program at Youth Communication and joining the Represent staff.

“At Youth Communication, I’ve written about being medicated against my will, living in institutions, wanting money but not having a job (“I know we can all relate to that”, he joked), trying to fit in in school, and the murder of Trayvon Martin. I’ve had my stories reprinted in the Huffington Post and the New York Times.” Anthony has also worked with publishers from Conde Nast and Sesame Street.

Anthony concluded his remarks by stating, “I used to be ashamed of being in foster care. But being with other foster youth here has helped me realize I don’t have to hide that part of myself anymore.”

After Anthony’s stirring remarks, Pauline Gordon called on the final presenters to introduce the Grand Prize winners: Rebecca Rubin, Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, introducing Amber; Heather Nesle, HSBC Bank, introducing Gabrielle; Virginia Vitzthum, Represent editor, introducing Tashyra; Mickey Stalonas, Executive Director of the Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund introducing Oriana; Evette Soto Maldonado, Esq. introducing Zinyusile (Brian), and Autumn Spanne, Youth Communication, introducing Zainab.

In closing the ceremony, Pauline Gordon said to the 16 honorees: “Your stories show that you can be what you want to be and despite hardships and being in the foster care system, you can make it. Your stories are very inspiring. ”

The following are excerpts from the prize-winning essays. The essays addressed the writers’ experiences of defining oneself, finding sanctuary in school, developing pride in performing volunteer service, helping a friend through a rough time, advocating for others, learning to trust, adjusting to life in foster care, mentoring others, engaging in and embracing therapy, and helping persons in need:

“ I made it my goal not to be stigmatized as the typical foster child. I started playing tennis for my high school team. I participated in a cotillion and applied to college. It took a lot of tears, time and patience, but I finally began to realize that foster care does not define me as a person.” Amber, 19 “From Hiding to Thriving”

“Not only was I depriving myself of opportunities, I stopped reading. I forgot the joy novels used to bring me. My circumstances weren’t going to change, and if I wanted to get back on track, I needed to change. I found safe places to do work where I couldn’t be distracted. Being moved around and other problems associated with being in care became easier to deal with because school was my sanctuary again.” Gabrielle, 19 “School Was My Sanctuary”

“The trip to New Orleans helped me to use my own hands to feed others, not just nutritionally but through the connections we made by sharing our ideas and learning from each other. The trip also got me engaged in learning more about and fighting for food justice/politics.” Oriana, 18 “Feeding Others, in Body and Mind”

“I was proud of myself for teaching her a better way to spend her days. I was also proud because having an activity day brought her closer to her children while going through her rough patch. It helped her become more hands-on and find a creative way to have fun with the family.” Tashyra, 21 “Being Present With Family and Friends”

“If we had enough foster homes (not group homes) children would get enough love, care and supervision. In turn, this would promote positive behavior and eventually end the negative stereotypes of foster care. Together, we can all make the difference and change the world.” Zinyusile ( Brian), 20 “Speaking Up to Improve Foster Care”

“I was very uncomfortable in this new house, and I felt like these people were just trying to worm their way through my wall to leave me open to their attacks. The problem was that the foster care agency did not take the time to introduce the family and me into each other’s lives. I was dropped into their home. With the help of my therapist, I was able to learn that some people truly do care about you without having an ulterior motive.” Zainab, 17, “Learning To Trust”

“Sometimes life isn’t fair, but I believe things happen for a reason. That reason may be foggy, but with time it will clear. I didn’t choose to be in foster care, but dealing with it the right way helped me cope with process.” Huang, 18 “Focus on What You Can Change”

“I knew I was put in front of this child for a reason. I had long talks with Jennifer every chance I could. I told her that I became a mother at 13 and what a struggle it was for me. I never judged her about the stories she told me. My ears and shoulders were all hers.” Alexis, 20 “Giving Ears and Shoulders”

“Seeing how the dogs helped clients in real life made me so proud of myself. I was actually having a positive impact on someone’s life. Without such programs these individuals would have no one to help them willingly. Some people may see helping people with disabilities as being more of a burden and difficult responsibility than as doing a good deed.” Arique, 19 “Training Dogs to Help People”

“ I found a therapist I felt comfortable with. I could see she really cared and I realized that it’s not where you came from, it’s where you’re headed. My past could no longer hold me back. I was no longer ashamed of what had happened. “ Cashimer, 16 “The Courage to Speak Up”
“What I can change is my situation now. I cannot change the past. I can do one of two things: I can dwell on it and allow it to keep pulling me back into a depression or I can stand up and use it as motivation. I choose the latter.” Mercy, 20 “A Responsibility to Help”

“Mental health is just as important as physical health. I have learned not to be ashamed when someone learns of my challenge with depression. Depression is real, painful, difficult, but not impossible to recover from. I hope to one day become a suicide hotline counselor because of my own experience with depression and feelings of hopelessness. I want to help another young person get better and realize that life is worth living.” Myriam, 19 “Confronting Depression”

“My social workers were then able to find me a great foster mother who could understand my point of view. I have learned how to communicate what I feel inside better and how to approach situations without using anger. When I stopped yelling, my social workers and foster parents were more responsive.” Tyneisha, 19 “A Better Me”

“My counselor at the RTC (residential treatment center) taught me some steps for getting through foster care and making it work for me. I hope that someone reading this could make use of these steps:

Step 1: Always keep in contact with your loved ones no matter how mad they have made you.
Step 2: Never hold your feelings in: talk to staff, friends or family members.
Step 3: Always do the things you love to do.
Step 4: Never let anyone put you down. Stay strong and keep your head up.
Step 5: Remind yourself that this is not forever. You have a whole life ahead of you. Gordon, 18 “Step by Step”

“ So I went up to her and asked her for her name, which was Diane. I said, “Diane, are you hungry?” Would you like some pizza and something to drink?” Right away she thanked me , with a smile and look of relief. I went out of the train station to get her food. I ordered her two slices of pizza and a water. Forgetting that I had 20 minutes before my train, all I thought was that she was hungry and it could be me. I broke my last 20-dollar bill and paid for the food and put aside so she could eat again.” Jereisha, 21 “It Could Have Been Me”

“Because I helped this boy, our foster family was able to do more things. We weren’t as worried about his outbursts and how he would treat people. We were able to go to cookouts, adventures in the city, and even to South Carolina. It was important to me too. It helped me not be a sad foster child and helped him not be an out-of-control boy moving from foster home to foster home and maybe somewhere worse. Damitry, 15 “Giving Care and Attention”

Truly remarkable and resilient young people! Congratulations to them all!

This year’s contest judges:
• Rosanna Durruthy, CIGNA
• Gail Gordon, Loews Corporation
• Ysette Guevara, Minds-on-fire.org
• Michele Greenburg, Jacobi Hospital Child Advocacy Center
• Kenyetta Ivy, MSW, former Represent writer
• Laura Longhine, Youth Communication
• Heather Nesle, HSBC Bank
• Max Moran, MSW, former Represent writer
• Evette Soto Maldonado, Esq.
• Michelle Morris, Morgan Stanley
• Jinnie Spiegler, Phipps Community Development Corp.
• Mickey Stalonas, Joseph Leroy and Ann C. Warner Fund
• Virginia Vitzthum, Represent magazine
• Alfonso Wyatt

The adults who nominated this year’s winners:
• Harry Berberian, Graham-Windham
• Haywood Berman, Forestdale
• Allison Bonesteel, Jewish Child Care Association
• Beatriz Carmona, Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Epifania S. Cruz, Coalition for Hispanic Family Services
• Hattie Figge, Northside Center for Child Development
• Elise Gelbman, Good Shepherd Services
• Imee Hernandez, Center for Family Life
• Rebecca Ingber, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
• Pierce Johnson, Jewish Child Care Association
• Erin Mc Carron, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center
• Jo-Ann Nixon, Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Mika Schwartz, Jewish Child Care Association
• Jack Toone, Abbott House
• Philip Traversa, F.E.G.S. Bronx Youth Center
• Valara M. Wilson, Little Flower Children and Family Services

The agencies that provide services to this year’s awardees:
• Abbott House
• Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Center for Family Life
• Coalition for Hispanic Family Services
• Episcopal Social Services
• Forestdale, Inc.
• Good Shepherd Services
• Graham- Windham
• Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
• Jewish Child Care Association
• Little Flower Children and Family Services
• SCO Family of Services

The financial supporters of the Awards:
• The Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation
• The Tin Man Fund
• The Board of Youth Communication

For more information about Youth Communication, Inc. Represent Magazine and other publications and programs, please visit www.youthcomm.org
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The Fifteenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care

“Umuntu, ngumuntu, mngabantu” is a traditional African quote I grew up hearing. It basically means that a person is a person because of other people. It is a quote that promotes humanity and togetherness.” Zinyusile (Brian), 20.

Zinyusile, also known as Brian, was one of the 16 youth honored at the Fifteenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care. Brian’s words appear in his award-winning essay and to me, served as the theme for the event. The awards ceremony, sponsored by Youth Communication, Inc. took place on Wednesday, May 29th from 6:00-8:00pm at the College Board, 45 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Ronald E. Richter, Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), delivered the keynote address.

The Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care is one of my favorite events. It is an evening where an amazing group of young people are celebrated for their excellence in writing. I always have to take a seat in the back of the room, because I get so teary-eyed listening to the honorees’ stories of survival, courage, growth, and achievement.

Youth Communication Inc. (www.youthcomm.org) publishes Represent, a magazine written by and for youth in foster care. The organization sponsors this annual writing competition for New York City youth in foster care. In this year’s contest, entrants were invited to answer questions about overcoming a challenge they faced in foster care and a time they helped someone else.

Six Grand Prizes of one thousand dollars, five Special First Prizes of six hundred dollars, and five First Prizes of four hundred dollars were awarded. This year’s honorees are identified by first name and age:

Grand Prize Winners
• Amber, 19
• Gabrielle, 19
• Oriana,18
• Tashyra, 21
• Brian,20
• Zainab, 17

Special First Prize Winners
• Huang, 18
• Alexis, 20
• Arique, 19
• Cashimer, 16
• Mercy, 20

First Prize Winners
• Myriam, 19
• Tyneisha, 19
• Gordon, 18
• Jereisha, 21
• Damitry, 15

Keith Hefner, Founder and Executive Director of Youth Communication, opened the ceremony. He acknowledged the College Board and its new President, David Coleman for hosting the event. The College Board has graciously hosted the Awards Ceremony pro bono for the past 13 years. Mr. Hefner also recognized the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation and the Tin Man Fund for their generous support of the awards program. He asked Susan, Darin, and Barbara Goldstein from the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation, and Katherine Morgan Hatch from the Tin Man Fund, who were all in attendance, to stand. In addition, he thanked Frank Wolf, Child Welfare Fund; Mickey Stalonas, Joseph LeRoy and Ann C. Warner Fund; Patricia Lowry, CIGNA Corporation; Heather Nesle, HSBC, and the 14 individuals who served as judges for the event.

Mr. Hefner talked briefly about Represent Magazine and gave a plug for youthsuccessnyc.org, a Youth Communication website. It offers resources in employment, housing, education, and training for youth in foster care and their service providers.

College Board President David Coleman was then introduced by Mr. Hefner. Mr. Coleman is a graduate of the New York City public schools, Yale University, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. Of Mr. Coleman, Mr. Hefner stated “If my reading of his resume is fair, he’s had two concerns in his life: excellence and equity in education. And I am sure that he is trying to use the College Board to further those ends.”

Mr. Coleman greeted the audience and asked the event funders to stand and be recognized. He said that society seems frightened of dealing with issues like poverty and foster care and he applauded the funders for stepping up and doing something to help make society more just. Of the honorees , Mr. Coleman said, “I’m glad you young people are talking about your experiences, both the cards you were dealt, but also the cards you played. He called them “remarkable” for having overcome challenges that many people do not face in their lives.

Of his work with the College Board, Mr. Coleman stated: “ The idea of this College Board, the singular idea, is that we must achieve both excellence and equity, and that we must in doing so not ignore the substantial forces of inequity in our society today. We must instead lean into them, respond to them, pay attention to them, and do everything we can to lift up kids so that they can participate, but not only participate, but lead our society in the future.” Mr. Coleman added that he appreciated Youth Communication’s work because it teaches young people how to hone their voices and potentially have an impact on what others think. “That is the unique power of writing.”

After Mr. Coleman’s remarks, Keith Hefner introduced Emcee Pauline Gordon, a former Represent writer and Grand Prize Winner at the 2008 Awards for Youth in Foster Care. “You are all in for a very, very special treat,” said Ms. Gordon.” I ‘ve been coming to this event for the past several years and every time I come to this event, I leave feeling hopeful, empowered and most of all inspired by the stories I hear from the young people, from the award winners. And I just want to say as a former writer at Represent Magazine, it’s not easy sharing your experience to the rest of the world, sharing your story of survival to the rest of the world. And I just want to say thank you to all the writers for sharing your world with us. Thank you so much.” Ms. Gordon asked all of the adults who care for or work with youth in foster care to stand. She talked about the importance of caring adults in the lives of youth in foster care. “Through your support, these young people are able to transform from victims to victorious.”

The evening’s award presenters were introduced by Ms. Gordon. Each presenter introduced the awardees and talked about their essays, special activities in which they were engaged, accomplishments, and their education and career goals. The first presenter was Ysette Guevara, a youth development educator and the founder of Minds on Fire (www.minds-on-fire.org), who introduced the First Prize winners (Myriam, Tyneisha, Gordon, Jereisha, and Damitry).

Following Ms. Guevara, Pauline Gordon introduced keynote speaker Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Commissioner Ronald E. Richter. She thanked Commissioner Richter for his work. “It is so vivid, the work that he has done, and the amount of reform efforts that he has made to our foster care system,” said Ms. Gordon. She talked about Commissioner Richter’s advocacy efforts on behalf of LGBTQ youth in foster care.

“I have the honor and the opportunity in this job to go to a bunch of events,” said Commissioner Richter. And I came to this one last year and it ranks among my favorites because I get the opportunity, first of all, to meet young people and to hear about their experiences in foster care. And you would think that I would have a lot of opportunities to hear about young people’s experiences in foster care, but as a Commissioner you don’t really get to hear that much. As a family court judge I heard about those experiences every single day. And they were very varied experiences. So this event gives me that opportunity.”

Commissioner Richter also acknowledged the adults who play a role in the lives of youth in foster care. He recognized Keith Hefner for his service to youth in foster care, saying that his work also had an impact on youth in the juvenile justice system. In addition, Commissioner Richter thanked the College Board, the Abe and Sunny Rosenberg Foundation, the Tin Man Fund, and the Board of Youth Communication for their generosity.

“I want to talk a little bit about what I found when I read the essays. I was clearly moved by how the young people are able to come to terms with so many things in their writing---fears, frustrations, doubts and ultimately, successes. These are stories of personal journeys and overcoming barriers through perseverance, guidance from others, and the desire to achieve success. The issues of loneliness, and anger, and uncertainty expressed in many of these writings were obviously heart wrenching, but also inspiring. Each young person found inspiration somewhere, whether it was academics, in a hobby, in becoming involved in the community. These stories about personal growth, as well as hope were transfixing.” Commissioner Richter referenced some of the essays, specifically one in which the writer talked about getting therapy. He noted that youth in foster care are often reluctant to engage in therapy, and thought the writer’s essay could help motivate other youth in care to do so. “All of the essays speak to the quality of our young peoples’ personhood, not only as individuals who have taken steps to change their own circumstances, but as powerful forces for change in the lives of other people.”

“Obviously on behalf of ACS, on behalf of the City, I am here to congratulate all of the award winners and thank them for being courageous about expressing themselves and taking the time to do so, and for embarking on a path that is sure to lead them to future success. “ Commissioner Richter praised the young people for finding the inner strength to form trusting relationships with others. “We all have to figure out how to develop trusting relationships in order to be successful people, because you can’t be alone in our world and be happy and thrive.”

He thanked the adults who took the time to build trusting relationships with the youth and encouraged them to tell their stories. “Thank you for nurturing our kids and helping them get on the avenue to successful adulthood. It’s a huge, big deal, and something our system does not always do terribly well. So as the Commissioner of ACS, hearing from our kids firsthand is always a pleasure. I love the opportunity, I am honored, really. So congratulations.” Commissioner Richter concluded his remarks by saying that the award winners proved that foster kids are extraordinary and he hoped they would inspire their peers in care.

Next Installment: Sixteen Remarkable and Resilient Youth

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“What Are You, Stupid?”

“What are you, stupid?” Those words were uttered by one of New York’s Finest, in a confrontation the officer provoked with an innocent man trying to run an errand.

Sigh. I guess this officer left his CPR home that day. If he ever had them.

The poor man that this police officer was abusive toward was a Brooklyn resident who was on his way to the store to buy something his mom needed to prepare dinner. According to the man, whose identity I am keeping anonymous and will refer to as Peter, a police van came screeching down the street just as he was leaving his building. An officer shouted “Where are the drugs?” Peter shrugged, as he had no idea what the officer was talking about. The officer aggressively questioned and verbally abused Peter, called him stupid, and poked his finger repeatedly into Peter’s chest. Feeling quite agitated, Peter got loud with the officer, and out came the handcuffs. While this was happening, Peter’s mother and 6-year-old daughter were watching out of their apartment window screaming.

A mother sends her son to the store and he ends up in handcuffs. A little girl wonders what is happening to her daddy.

Peter got out of the situation because the other officers at the scene saw that this one officer was a raving mess. These officers helped defuse the incident, sending Peter on his way.

The city has just concluded a major federal trial on the stop, question and frisk tactic that is so widely used, mostly against men of color. The accounts I heard during news coverage of the trial were outrageous. And imagine the numbers of stories of aggressive police behavior toward innocent folks that we have not heard, including this one. I was absolutely livid when I heard Peter’s story. But after sharing it with me, Peter simply shrugged it off, looking resigned. Of this aggressive police behavior, he stated that he and his friends were “used to it.” These men feel that the police believe that every person in communities like theirs is criminal-minded. So the police treat the members of the community accordingly, instead of trying to build partnerships with the decent, law-abiding citizens in the community, who outnumber the real criminals and badly want them off the streets.

People in poor communities, and communities of color, need police protection because we bear the brunt of crime. I have twice been a crime victim. We are not anti-police. Some of us have relatives who are police officers. My brother has been an NYPD police officer for nearly two decades. When my sister-in-law died last year, my brother’s colleagues were very supportive. They watched his house, escorted our family to the funeral home, and stayed with us throughout. During the ride to the funeral home, my brother’s colleagues praised him and joked about him, while my sister and I laughed about what he was like when we were growing up.

I consider myself a fair person. I can listen to all sides of an argument or issue. I have heard and considered the arguments for and against the stop, question and frisk policy. I cannot support any policy that harms innocent people, especially folks who are already terrorized and traumatized by poverty, inequality, racism and injustice. People slammed against walls, harassed for trying to take the garbage out in their own buildings, hassled on the way to the store. The last straw for me was when I heard about a poor little elementary school child being harassed by a police officer. The officer backed off when an outraged group of adults yelled and shamed the heck out of him. How in the world does this harassment fight crime? How does alienating the people who are trying to support you help you?

Peter still supports the police. But he admits, his encounter has “put a bad taste in my mouth.” I support the police, but hearing stories like Peter’s and the others have put a bad taste in my mouth as well. I have lost my patience with folks like the Mayor and the Police Commissioner who, on this issue, remind me of the Pharaoh in the Bible, hard hearted and stiff-necked, deaf to the cries of the people adversely affected by their policy. People have been harmed by unnecessarily aggressive police tactics, if not physically certainly emotionally and psychologically. People have had their faith in the police shattered. Why that remains unacknowledged and unaddressed baffles me.

All citizens deserve the CPR--the courtesy, professionalism, and respect that are said to be some of the hallmarks of our police department.
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The “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award

There is so much poor customer service out there that I have created my own award to recognize it. Today, I am introducing the “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award. This is for individuals or groups I personally encounter who deliver poor customer service and really do not care about its adverse impact upon me, the customer. The first recipient of my “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award is none other than…… wait….. wait… wait for it….

My local post office!

And my local post office has earned this “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award for holding my mail hostage for ten days! I worried and fretted, thinking I was the victim of a possible identity theft situation, and my mail was sitting there at the post office all along. And in spite of my going there and calling, no one told me!

You ever wake up one morning and feel like you are living a Twilight Zone episode?

A couple of weeks ago, I came home, opened my mailbox and found no mail. Okay, that happens on occasion. But happening nine days in a row? What raised my alarm was when I had not received any mail in three days. My Netflix dvds were due me but had not arrived. They are rarely late. I even had another set sent to me because I assumed the first ones were lost. Like so many of you, I am very busy and often stressed out. Watching Netflix is one way I seek refuge from the insanity. So when you mess with my Netflix, we have a problem.

Feeling panicky and worried, I went to the post office to complain that I had not been receiving mail. I spoke to a supervisor, who took my address, apartment number and phone number. In addition, as a test, I mailed a card to myself from the post office. Before I did, the supervisor initialed it. I was only half-confident in having spoken to this supervisor, so I called USPS later and filed an official complaint. The person I spoke to empathized with me and described my situation as concerning. I was given a case number and told that someone would contact me before close of business the next day.

No one called.

I called again. The representative said, “Someone will call you back by the close of business today, but in case they don’t, here is another number for you to call.” I took the number, and hoped someone would call.

No one called.

I called the second number I was given. “Someone will call you back by the close of business today.”

No one called.

See where this was going?

I had to call my utility companies, bank and Netflix to make sure no one had gotten access to any of my information. Thankfully, they had not. Everyone I spoke to showed more empathy than the people at the post office.

Fed up, I went to the post office again, and I wanted some answers. While I was waiting to see a supervisor, another gentleman who lives on my block overheard my situation. He was having an issue with his mail as well. We got into a conversation about how the postal service in our area was really declining. The day we were there, customers couldn’t even buy stamps! This man said he knows one of the managers and has spoken to the man before about the poor service at that office.

When they finally got my carrier, who came to the window with his earbuds in his ears, he told me that the mailbox did not open, that he left a note for me on the box and that he told my super. Problem is, my super is out of the country, so I do not who he talked to. No one passed any message to me. When I told him that I had not received the note he claimed he left, he cavalierly told me someone must have taken it. Wrong move. I gave him a serious dressing down about the post office’s lack of customer service, silencing him. They gave me my mail and some attitude. And guess what? The card I put in their slot, which one of their supervisors initialed, was not in my pile of mail! Of course, no one apologized for any inconvenience or worry this situation caused me, and it did both. For them, I bestow a well-deserved “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award. Cannot tell you what the award is because this is a family publication (smile)!

Before leaving, I spoke to another supervisor there. We had a very interesting conversation. He told me flat out that he felt the carrier had lied to me. So I said to him, “Oh, so you’re saying you have liars working for you here?” within earshot of everyone there. Not good when people are dealing with your mail. Identity theft is rampant and when your mail is missing, the panic is on. This supervisor said to me was that I was the customer and it was my interests for which he was looking out. He said he would follow up that afternoon and go out to my apartment building. To tell you the truth, I really did not feel comforted by this. I felt it was just talk to appease a very teed-off customer.

I would have loved to have waited for the carrier, but I had appointments to keep that afternoon and frankly, don’t trust him now. I heard some of my neighbors complain about him in the past. I guess it was my turn to see what the fuss was about. On my way out, I ran into the gentleman I spoke to at the post office who was also having some issues with his service. He asked me if my case had been resolved. I told him what happened and said that I planned to file some complaints. He encouraged me to do so.

When I came home, I went upstairs and stayed in my apartment to enjoy my Netflix. Oscar and Felix, Kirk and Spock, how I missed them! I went downstairs to my mailbox around 5:45pm and saw something sticking out of it. It was a note from the post office (no date on it) that said “Mailbox doesn’t open, Will tell super to fix it or mail goes back.” Funny, I got the note the second day I went to the post office and had to demand some service! I saw a similar note sticking out of other mailboxes in my row. I had not seen any of those other notes in all the days my mail was missing. They just mysteriously appeared. Twilight Zone! Too little, too late.

I miss our former mail carrier because she would never have earned a “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award. She was professional, personable, went over and above to serve her customers, and knew us by name. With her, we had no problems with mail service. In fact, I do recall her coming to my apartment once for some matter, and I appreciated it. With her, this situation I endured would never have happened. If she couldn’t open the box, she would have made sure she told me, not just leave a note. She might have even brought the mail up if I were home. My local post office needs to find her and pay her some Wall Street money to train some of those staff members in good customer service practices. In fact, I know a lot of people who could benefit from her example.

Until my box is fixed, I have to visit the “Your Worry Is Really Not My Concern” Customer Service Award winners to retrieve my mail. Lovely.

Naturally, I am sending out complaint letters to the folks at the next levels. I will let you know if I receive a reply. Who knows? My letters to them might get lost in the mail.


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Resilient Teens Honored at the
15th Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care

When Amber Brewer was placed in foster care during her senior year of high school, she felt overcome with shame. But she reached out for help, started therapy, and made it her goal not to be stigmatized as “the typical foster child.” “Once I began to talk out my feelings and became more active, my self-confidence rose,” she explains. By the end of senior year, she graduated with a plan to go to college. “I was not a victim of my circumstances;” she writes. “I was thriving.”

On Wednesday, May 29, ACS Commissioner Ronald Richter will honor Amber and 15 other teenagers in foster care, winners of Youth Communication’s annual foster care essay competition. In a ceremony at the College Board, they will receive scholarship checks, ranging from five hundred dollars to one thousand dollars, and recognition of their writing, their resiliency, and their service to others. The Awards for Youth in Foster Care was created to promote a more positive and accurate image of New York City foster youth among agency staff, youth workers, and the general public. The award is sponsored by Youth Communication and supported by the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation and the Tin Man Fund.

Over 70 young people from the New York City foster care system were nominated and wrote about a challenge they faced and how they managed it.

For Grand Prize Winner Zainab Oni, the challenge was one that many youth in foster care struggle with – learning how to trust. After enduring several painful living situations, Zainab met a loving foster family, but could not reciprocate their warmth right away. “I feared getting close to, relying upon, or trusting people, since this would make me vulnerable and open to disappointment and/or deceit,” she writes. Still, she decided to take a risk. “The first thing I did was explain myself to the family and let them know my reasons for being hesitant. Then I began to participate in family activities more… Luckily, I was not the only one making an effort. The family also tried their best to introduce me to a world in which family members are affectionate toward each other.”

Teens also wrote about how they helped others. For example, after noticing that his foster mother was unhappy with how the foster care agency was treating her, Grand Prize Winner Zinyusile Brian Khumbula did more than just listen to her complaints or offer sympathy. He emailed the director of the agency, and helped resolve the problem. By speaking up, he improved conditions not only for his foster mother, but for the entire household. He writes, “I also helped my foster siblings and myself, because it's not healthy living in someone else's house and finding that person unhappy.”

Grand Prize Winner Oriana Gonzales raised money selling handmade bracelets, cards, and wallets so that she could travel from New York City to work on a community urban farm and school in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. She exchanged ideas about “food justice” and politics with youth from the area, and learned how to grow produce and recycle waste into compost. She writes, “The trip helped me to use my own hands to feed others, not just nutritionally but through the connections we made by sharing our ideas and learning from each other.”

In addition to sponsoring these annual awards, Youth Communication publishes an array of resources to help marginalized teens, including Represent, (representmag.org) an award-winning national magazine by and for youth in foster care. Youth who join its writing program work closely with a full-time professional adult editor on personal and reported stories. The editing process has been honed over the years to accommodate the trauma that foster youth bring with them and to open readers’ eyes to their own strength, resiliency, and good decision-making.

In May 2013, Youth Communication Executive Director Keith Hefner was honored by New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services for his decades of work on behalf of vulnerable youth. The award recognizes those who have made “extraordinary efforts to protect children and strengthen families.”

Youth Communication was founded in 1980. Its mission is to help marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing, so that they can succeed in school and at work and contribute to their communities. Youth Communication publishes YCteen and Represent magazines, and has published scores of anthologies and lesson guides. For more information, see www.youthcomm.org.

Event details:
15th Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care
Wednesday May 29, 6-8 p.m.
College Board, 45 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10023

For additional information contact Erica Wong at 212. 279. 0708 x. 108 or at
EWong@youthcomm.org
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Resources for Male Survivors of Sexual Assault

I know a male survivor of sexual assault. He is kind, generous, warmhearted and enjoys helping other people. And when he shared his secret of sexual assault with me, it broke my heart. I am certain he has not shared his secret with too many others. Men find it difficult to talk about this type of trauma. They feel humiliation and shame, and fear the reactions of others to their painful disclosure. I dedicate this post to my friend.

According to sexual assault statistics compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (www.nsvrc.org):
• 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18
• An estimated 9% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are male
• Over ninety-two thousand men are forcibly raped each year in the United States
• Among developmentally disabled adults, as many as 32% of males are the victims of sexual assault

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (www.ncadv.org) also offers statistics on male sexual assault:
• One in 33 men has been the victim of a completed or attempted rape
• 70% of adult men who were raped were raped by a man
• 21% of inmates in seven Midwestern prisons had experienced at least one episode of pressured or forced sex during their incarceration

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, (www.rainn.org)is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. It is a resource for all survivors of sexual assault, including men.

According to RAINN , the term sexual assault refers to a number of different crimes, ranging from unwanted sexual touching to forced penetration. Male survivors of sexual assault may blame themselves for the assault, fearing they were not “strong enough” to fend off their perpetrator.
RAINN’s website lists some of the possible effects of sexual assault on a male survivor:

Psychological
• Sense of self and concept of “reality” are disrupted
• Profound anxiety, depression, fearfulness
• Concern about sexual orientation
• Development of phobias related to the assault setting
• Fear of the worst happening and having sense of a shortened future
• Withdrawal from interpersonal contact and a heightened sense of alienation
• Stress-induced reactions (problems sleeping, increased startle response, being unable to relax)
• Psychological outcomes can be severe for men because men are socialized to believe that they are immune to sexual assault and because social reactions to these assaults can be more isolating

Heterosexual Male Survivors
• May experience a fear that the assault will make them gay
• May feel that they are “less of a man”

Homosexual Male Survivors
• May feel the crime is “punishment” for their sexual orientation
• May worry that the assault affected their sexual orientation
• May fear they were targeted because they are gay. This fear may lead to withdrawal from the community
• May develop self-loathing related to their sexual orientation

Relationships/Intimacy
• Relationships may be disrupted by the assault
• Relationships may be disrupted by others’ reactions to the assault, such as a lack of belief/support
• Relationships may be disrupted by the survivor’s reaction to or coping with the assault

Emotional
• Anger about the assault, leading to outward –and inward-focused hostility
• Avoidance of emotions or emotional situations, stemming from the overwhelming feelings that come with surviving a sexual assault. (Source: RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network website, www. rainn.org)

Male survivors of sexual assault may find it difficult to seek help, but organizations like RAINN are there for them, so they do not have to feel alone. RAINN sponsors a National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) and a National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, https://ohl.rainn.org/online/ Website visitors can take a tour of the online hotline.

RAINN's website also has links to other organizations for men including 1in6 (www.1in6.org) and MaleSurvivor (http://www.malesurvivor.org/ . There is also a link to the Department of Defense (DoD) Safe Helpline for survivors of military sexual assault https://www.safehelpline.org/ The DoD Hotline number is 1-877-995-5247. RAINN’s website offers a place where male survivors of sexual assault can access free information in safety and privacy.

For male sexual assault survivors, help is there and healing is possible.

Visit the RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, website at www.rainn.org

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Ten Things Men Can Do/10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I have republished this post, “Ten Things Men Can Do” which first appeared in my blog in late 2011, as a message to men that they bear a tremendous responsibility in helping to end sexual, and all forms of violence, against women.

“Ten Things Men Can Do” appears on the website of the organization “A Call to Men.” A Call to Men (www.acalltomen.com) “is a leading national men’s organization addressing domestic and sexual violence prevention and the promotion of healthy manhood.”

The organization is “committed to maintaining strong partnerships with women’s organizations already doing this important work. It helps to organize communities in order to raise awareness and get men involved in this effort.” A Call to Men “believes that preventing domestic and sexual violence is primarily the responsibility of men.” (www.acalltomen.com)

A Call to Men’s vision is “to shift social norms that define manhood in our culture.” Its mission is “To galvanize a national movement of men committed to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls.” Its purpose is “ To influence change in men’s behavior through a re-education and training process that promotes healthy manhood.”

A Call to Men was founded by Educator, Activist and Lecturer Tony Porter. Tony Porter has been working in the social justice arena for over twenty years. He is nationally recognized for his effort to end men’s violence against women. Tony is the original visionary and co-founder behind A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. He is the author of “Well Meaning Men….Breaking Out of the Man Box-Ending Violence Against Women” and the visionary for the book, NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters.

Tony’s message of accountability is welcome and supported by many grassroots and established organizations. He’s currently working with numerous domestic and sexual violence programs, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, colleges and universities around the country. He has worked with the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Tony is an international lecturer for the U.S. State Department, having done extensive work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tony has served as a consultant to The White House Commission on Violence Against Women and Girls and the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women. In addition, he has been a guest presenter for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.

Educator, Activist and Lecturer Ted Bunch is Co-Founder of A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. Ted is recognized both nationally and internationally for his expertise in organizing and educating men in the effort to end violence against women. He is dedicated to strengthening community accountability to end all forms of violence against women.

Ted is formerly the Senior Director and Co-creator of the largest program for domestic violence offenders in America. Ted has worked with Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Technicians, Paramedics and other first responders to domestic violence. Ted has served as a consultant to The White House Commission on Violence Against Women and Girls, the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women. He is a recognized trainer, lecturer and consultant on male accountability. A committed ally for more than a dozen years, Ted has gained leadership status in the domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault prevention communities across the country.

Ted is an Advisory Board Member to the New York State Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Ted brings a great enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge to his work. He has trained at many colleges and universities throughout the United States as well as the National Football League. In addition, he has had guest appearances on numerous television and radio programs. He has traveled abroad speaking in places like Israel, Suriname, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil and Puerto Rico as well as being an invited guest presenter for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Ted is an international lecturer for the U.S. State Department and was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a Committee Member to UNiTE, an international network of male leaders working to end violence against women.

Again, I want to thank Ted Bunch, Co-Founder of the organization, A Call to Men, who granted me permission back in 2011 to reprint this material, which appears in both English and Spanish.

Ten Things Men Can Do

1. Acknowledge and understand how male dominance
and aspects of unhealthy manhood are at the foundation of
domestic and sexual violence.

2. Examine and challenge our individual beliefs and
the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.

3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by
getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to
prevent domestic and sexual violence.

4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we
choose not to speak out against domestic and sexual violence,
we are supporting it.

5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young
men about our responsibility in preventing domestic and sexual
violence.

6. "Break out of the man box"- Challenge traditional
images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand in
domestic and sexual violence prevention.

7. Accept and own our responsibility that domestic
and sexual violence will not end until men become part of the
solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a
cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence and
discrimination against women and girls.

8. Stop supporting the notion that domestic and
sexual violence is due to mental illness, lack of anger
management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… Domestic
and sexual violence is rooted in male dominance and the
socialization of men.

9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and
effective ways to educate and raise awareness about domestic
and sexual violence prevention.

10. Create responsible and accountable men's
initiatives in your community to support domestic and sexual
violence prevention.

10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer

1) Admitir y entender cómo el sexismo, la dominancia masculina y el privilegio masculino asientan la fundación de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres.

2) Examinar y poner a prueba nuestro sexismo individual y el rol que jugamos en apoyar a los hombres que son abusivos.

3) Reconocer y parar de conspirar con otros hombres saliéndonos de nuestros roles socialmente definidos, y tomar una postura para eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres.

4) Recordar que nuestro silencio ratifica. Cuando elegimos no dar nuestra opinión de la violencia masculina, la estamos apoyando.

5) Educar y re-educar a nuestros hijos y a otros hombres jóvenes acerca de nuestra responsabilidad para terminar la violencia masculina contra las mujeres.

6) "Liberarse de la opresion del hombre" Lucha tradicionalment e imagenes de el estado de ser hombre de que nos para activamente emprender una posicion para terminar violencia contra las mujeres.

7) Aceptar y reconocer nuestra responsabilidad de que la violencia contra las mujeres no finalizará hasta que los hombres sean parte de la solución para eliminarla. Tenemos que tomar un rol activo para crear un cambio social y cultural que ya no tolere la violencia contra las mujeres.

8) Pare el appear de la nocion que la violencia de los hombres contra mujeres puede terminar proporcionado el tratamiento para los hombres individuales. La enfermedad mental,le carencia de las habilidades de gerencia de la colera, la dependencia quimica, la tension,los etc..Son solamente excusas para el comportamiento de los hombres. La violencia contra mujeres se arraiga en la opresion historica de mujeres y la consecuencia de la socializacion de hombres.

9) Tome la responsabilidad de crear maneras apropiadas y eficaces de desarrollar sistemas para educar y para sostener a hombres responsables.

10) Cree los sistemas de la responsabilidad a las mujeres en su comunidad.
La violencia contra mujeres terminara solamente cuando tomamos la direccion de los que la entiendan mas, mujeres.

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The Third Annual Irish Arts Center Book Day 2013

I want to acknowledge the Irish Arts Center (www.irishartscenter.org) for its Book Day 2013 event. I learned about it accidentally last Friday when I got off a #6 train at the Parkchester subway station in the Bronx.

A group of Book Day volunteers from the Irish Arts Center were standing near a table outside the station, enticing passersby with free books. I am an avid reader so they immediately caught my interest. I walked over to the table smiling and eyeing the books. There was a nice assortment, all written by Irish and Irish-American authors. I asked for a Frank McCourt book, but none were available, so I took a copy of James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” I have never read any of the eminent writer’s works, so my selection was quite fitting.

Later I looked at the bookmark, which described the Book Day event. It read, “ Irish Arts Center promotes literacy throughout New York City by handing out thousands of free books by Irish and Irish American authors to lucky New Yorkers. This annual tradition takes place in all five New York City boroughs from 7am until the books run out, for one day only just before St. Patrick’s Day.” Book Day volunteers were stationed outside of eight subway locations. This year’s Irish Arts Center Book Day 2013 was presented in association with Speaker Christine Quinn and the New York City Council.

The Irish Arts Center, founded in 1972, “is a New York-based arts and cultural center dedicated to projecting a dynamic image of Ireland and Irish America for the 21st century, building community with artists and audiences of all backgrounds, forging and strengthening cross-cultural partnerships, and preserving the evolving stories and traditions of Irish culture for generations to come” (www.irishartscenter .org). The Irish Arts Center’s programming is centered around three core areas: performance (live music, dance, theatre, film, literature and the humanities); exhibition (visual arts presentations and cultural exhibitions); and education (with weekly classes in Irish language, history, music and dance).

Visit the Irish Arts Center website at www. irishartscenter.org


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Praise for “My Beloved World”

“There are uses to adversity, and they don’t reveal themselves until tested. Whether it’s serious illness, financial hardship, or the simple constraint of parents who speak limited English, difficulty can tap unsuspected strengths. It doesn’t always, of course: I’ve seen life beat people down until they can’t get up. But I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with.

At the same time, I would never claim to be self-made—quite the contrary: at every stage of my life, I have always felt that the support I’ve drawn from those closest to me has made the decisive difference between success and failure. And this was true from the beginning. Whatever their limitations and frailties, those who raised me loved me and did the best they knew how. Of that I am sure” (Sonia Sotomayor, “My Beloved World”, p. 18).

“My Beloved World”, published by Alfred A. Knopf, is the wonderfully written memoir of Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. The title of the book is found in an opening poem titled “ To Puerto Rico (I Return)” by José Gautier Benitez. She chronicles her childhood in the Bronx, her years as a student at Princeton and then Yale Law School, and the legal career that eventually led to Justice Sotomayor’s historic appointment to the United States Supreme Court in 2009. Justice Sotomayor writes about living with diabetes, dealing with racial and gender-based bias, her five-year marriage to her high school beau and her decision to remain childless, the power of family and close friendships, volunteer service, and knowing oneself. Her story, occasionally infused with poetry, is filled with great anecdotes and life lessons. And as a Bronx native, I nodded in recognition when she referenced streets and sites in the Bronx that are familiar to me.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx in 1954 to Celina and Juan Luis Sotomayor. Her parents came to New York from Puerto Rico in 1944. She has one brother, Juan Luis Sotomayor Jr. known as Junior. Before the age of eight, Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes. One morning she hears her parents arguing about administering her insulin shot. She resolves to administer her daily shots by herself. To be sure, having the disease was scary for a child. Justice Sotomayor writes: “But the disease also inspired in me a kind of precocious self-reliance that is not uncommon in children who feel the adults around them to be unreliable” (p. 18)

Justice Sotomayor’s home life was somewhat difficult, as her father, a factory worker, struggled with alcoholism. Her mother, a practical nurse, worked nights and weekend shifts to avoid being at home with her husband “My father’s neglect made me sad, but I intuitively understood that he could not help himself; my mother’s neglect made me angry at her. She was beautiful, always elegantly dressed, seemingly strong and decisive. She was the one who moved us to the projects. Unlike my aunts, she chose to work. She was the one who insisted we go to Catholic school. Unfairly perhaps, because I knew nothing then of my mother’s own story, I expected more from her “ (p. 21). Justice Sotomayor writes very frankly about the experience of growing up with a parent battling alcoholism, but she also shares touching memories of her father. She praises him for his excellent cooking skills, and recalls her father predicting that a man would walk on the moon. When her father dies at the age of 42, she feels a release of tension in their home. “I do know that my father loved us. But as much as he loved us, it wasn’t enough to stop him from drinking” (p.53). Having a close extended family helped. Justice Sotomayor was especially fond of her Abuelita Mercedes on her father’s side, whom she writes had the power to heal and protect others. She recounts memories of festive family parties and gatherings filled with poetry. Justice Sotomayor also shares good memories of her mother. She praises her mother for her ability to show compassion and lend an ear to others, often using her expertise as a practical nurse to bring comfort. Justice Sotomayor tells a tender story of how her mother would wipe her down with a cool cloth and whisper to her during hot summer nights when she was drenched in sweat. She also writes later on in the book about her mother’s successful effort to become a registered nurse.

Justice Sotomayor admits that she struggled through school until around fifth grade. By this time, the family, which spoke Spanish at home, was speaking more English, she had acquired a love of reading, and had a teacher, Mrs. Reilly, who ignited her competitive spirit. The teacher would award gold stars to students for work well done, and Justice Sotomayor aspired to earn as many of those stars as possible. She reached out to one of the top students in her class, and asked her to teach her how to study. Her fellow student happily obliged, and Justice Sotomayor’s grades improved. Justice Sotomayor advises: “Don’t be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing. In retrospect, I can see how important that pattern would become for me: how readily I’ve sought out mentors, asking guidance from professors or colleagues, and in every friendship soaking up eagerly whatever that friend could teach me” (p. 82).

While on a doctor’s visit, Justice Sotomayor is given a pamphlet about choosing a profession. The pamphlet reads that children with diabetes can be a famous actress like Mary Tyler Moore, a professional athlete, a doctor, lawyer, architect, teacher, and more. She notes that “the list of possibilities for a diabetic didn’t seem very long. And then, more darkly, there was a list of professions that were out-of-bounds “ (p.89- 90). It was through her fascination with the television series “Perry Mason” that Justice Sotomayor began to envision becoming a lawyer, and then a judge.

Justice Sotomayor attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx and excelled in her studies. When she was accused of cheating on her Regents Geometry Exam, having scored “100”, she powerfully advocated for herself, to the point where her math teacher dug out her old tests and changed her grades to higher ones. It was during this time that she also began taking on small jobs in a clothing store and later a bakery.

She also found herself pondering troubling moral situations. For example, Justice Sotomayor writes about being disturbed by the women in the store where she worked who would make crank calls to women, claiming that they were having affairs with their husbands. She was saddened by the women’s lack of feeling and understanding that they were helping to possibly destroy innocent people’s homes. Justice Sotomayor also writes about a police officer who used to take bags of fruit from a vendor without paying for them. The vendor considered this the price of running his business. “I asked her, “Titi, can’t you imagine the pain you’re causing in that house?” “ It was just a joke Sonia. Nobody meant any harm.” How could she not imagine? How could the cop not imagine what two large shopping bags full of fruit might measure in a poor vendor’s life, maybe a whole day’s earnings? Was it so hard to see himself in the other man’s shoes? I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view” (p.109).

In high school, Justice Sotomayor joined the Forensics Club, as “ part of my self-imposed preprofessional program in public speaking.” She wins the extemporaneous speech competition with a passionate speech about the murder of Kitty Genovese and the neighbors who failed to act. It is the coach of the Forensics Club, Kenny Moy, who later attends Princeton, who encourages Justice Sotomayor to apply to Ivy League schools. She does, and is notified by Princeton’s admissions office that she is likely to be admitted. Justice Sotomayor is rudely challenged on her possible admission to Princeton by the high school nurse, who questions why she is being considered for admission into Princeton over two girls she felt more qualified than Justice Sotomayor. After a visit to Princeton and notification of a full scholarship, she decides to enroll. This is cause for great celebration among family and friends. During a school shopping trip, even a rude saleswoman becomes friendly and helpful when she learns that Justice Sotomayor will be heading to Princeton.

She described Princeton’s environment as a place where “ an undercurrent of hostility often belied the idyllic surface. The Daily Princetonian routinely published letters to the editor lamenting the presence on campus of “affirmative action students” , each one of whom had presumably displaced a far more deserving affluent white male and could rightly be expected to crash into the gutter built of her own unrealistic aspirations. There were vultures circling, ready to dive when we stumbled. The pressure to succeed was relentless, even if self-imposed out of fear and insecurity. For we all felt that if we did fall, we would be proving the critics right, and the doors that had opened just a crack to let us in would be slammed shut again” (pp. 160-161).

Justice Sotomayor did not allow herself to be discouraged. She did well in her studies, participated in extracurricular activities including the student-faculty Discipline Committee, and in a student organization called Acción Puertorriqueña. Justice Sotomayor, eager to learn more about Puerto Rican history, took advantage of the school’s policy allowing students to initiate courses, and she did so in helping to create a course on Puerto Rican history. She undertook an oral family history project for the course. Justice Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and won the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest award to a graduating Princeton senior.

While at Yale Law School, Justice Sotomayor married her high school boyfriend Kevin Noonan. They were divorced five years later. She also met “ the first person I can describe as a true mentor,” Jose Cabranes, Yale’s General Counsel, a founder of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a professor at Rutgers. “He was a trailblazer and a hero to many for his work in promoting civil rights for Hispanics” (p. 195). Justice Sotomayor worked for Professor Cabranes during a summer break, researching material for a book he was writing on the legislative history of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans. “In the hothouse of very bright people that Yale was, he was one of the brightest, with an intimate knowledge of the law, a passion for history, and the skill to engage with warmth and depth whomever he encountered” (p. 195).

Justice Sotomayor wrote what is known as a “note” for the Yale Law Journal. It was titled “Statehood and the Equal Footing Doctrine: The Case for Puerto Rican Seabed Rights.” She worked on the journal in other capacities, and enjoyed it so much that she volunteered to serve as managing editor of another student-run journal, Yale Studies in World Public Order.

In one unpleasant encounter at Yale, Justice Sotomayor attends a recruitment dinner hosted by Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, a well-respected small Washington law firm specializing in corporate and international work. Justice Sotomayor is engaged by one of the partners in a conversation about affirmative action. He asks “ Do you believe law firms should practice affirmative action? Don’t you think it’s a disservice to minorities, hiring them without the necessary credentials, knowing you’ll have to fire them a few years later?” She responds, “I think that even someone who got into an institution through affirmative action could prove they were qualified by what they accomplished there.” He looked at me skeptically. “But that’s the problem with affirmative action. You have to wait to see if people are qualified or not. Do you think you would have been admitted to Yale Law School if you were not Puerto Rican?” “It probably didn’t hurt,” I said. “But I imagine that graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton had something to do with it too.” “Well, do you consider yourself culturally deprived?” (p. 207-208). Upset and insulted by the encounter but determined, Justice Sotomayor decides to keeps the recruiting appointment with the firm, where she confronts the partner about his remarks at the dinner. She writes, “ With my resume in front of him, he seemed to think that we were on a cordial footing. Before I knew it, he was encouraging me to come to Washington for the next step in the hiring process. That’s when I called him on what he had said at the dinner.

“That was really insulting. You presumed that I was unqualified before you had seen my resume or taken the trouble to learn anything about me.” He seemed to be waving it off as just a conversational gambit, albeit on a sensitive topic, and he expressed admiration at how I had stood my ground.

“You didn’t seem terribly upset. You didn’t make a scene. You were perfectly civil.” Now I really couldn’t believe my ears. What was he expecting, Hysterical Puerto Rican Syndrome? “That was the Latina in me,” I said. “We’re taught to be polite.” If we were going to rely on stereotypes, at least they should be accurate. I further explained that it wasn’t in my nature to cause everyone at the table discomfort because of how I felt about his behavior. But neither was I simply going to accept being treated so unfairly. I’ve long known how to control my anger, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it.

After the interview I talked through my options with the gang. I decided to address a formal complaint to the firm through the university’s career office and challenge Shaw, Pittman’s right to recruit on campus in light of that partner’s disregard for Yale’s antidiscriminat ion policy” (pp. 207-209). The action divided the school into camps, those who supported her and those who felt she overreacted. It also generated written testimonies from students of color in colleges across the country who had similar experiences. A full apology was negotiated from Shaw, Pittman, and while they were not banned from recruiting on campus, they kept a low profile.

A trip to the ladies' room leads Justice Sotomayor to her discovery of a campus event, “Public Service Career Paths” and a chance encounter with Robert M. Morgenthau, then the Manhattan District Attorney. This resulted in a position in the New York District Attorney’s Office.

“While I was at Yale, the South Bronx was in the news again. President Carter paid a visit in 1977, the news cameras framing him against a moonscape of charred buildings, piled rubble, a neighborhood shattered by unemployment and other economic ills. The motorcade pulled up within sight of where Abuelita and my parents had lived when I was born, but until I had seen the place at the remove of the television cameras, I couldn’t really see it. When you live in the midst of such decay, everyday life renders it almost invisible. Somehow communities continued to function amid their own ruins, and though this was perhaps America’s worst urban catastrophe, it was hardly the only scene of desolation. Civil society, though carefully ordered by its laws, had nonetheless left a huge number of its members stranded. It was to the rescue of such communities that I first felt myself summoned, believing that the law must work for all or it works for none” (pp. 280-281).

At the District Attorney’s Office, Justice Sotomayor had much to learn, but with her trademark hard work and resilience, she soon started “racking up convictions.” She writes about how some prosecutors would try to eliminate black and Hispanic jurors in the faulty belief they would be biased in favor of defendants. “But to me that made sense only if you saw all people of color as potential perpetrators and believed, even more implausibly, that they all saw one another that way, too. It was obvious to me that any black or Latino who held a job, or went to school, or stayed home to care for an elderly parent was likely as law-abiding as anyone in my own family and, if anything, far likelier to be a victim of a crime than to commit one. The notion that such a person would, on the basis of racial or ethnic solidarity, let anyone walk who might pose a danger to the community would have seemed laughable where I came from. And so I packed my juries with the kinds of people I’d grown up among; the results, again, spoke for themselves” (pp. 231-232).

On women in the legal profession, Justice Sotomayor wrote: “During my time at the District Attorney’s Office, women were only beginning to enter the legal profession in significant numbers. Fewer still were those practicing criminal law, either as prosecutors or defense counsel. As Dawn (a colleague) would grimly observe, the only client happy to have a female defender was one accused of rape. Men and women got equal pay at the DA’s Office, but promotions came far less easily for women, my own quick move from misdemeanors to felonies being unusual. I saw many women who were no less qualified wait much longer than men for the same advance. And they would have to work twice as hard as men to earn it, because so much of what they did was viewed in the light of casual sexism” (p.255).

Despite her busy schedule, Justice Sotomayor found time for volunteer service. She sat on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Latino Justice), did work for SONYMA (The State of New York Mortgage Agency) and also joined New York City’s Campaign Finance Board.

After working for the DA’s Office, Justice Sotomayor moved on to Pavia & Harcourt, a small firm whose work related to banking and finance. She felt that an experience in commercial law would be helpful, as she saw economic development as beneficial to poor communities. Pavia & Harcourt also gave her great exposure to international and intellectual property law. Early in her career at Pavia & Harcourt, she was shaken to hear herself described by a colleague as “one tough bitch.“ She writes, “that initial impression of “one tough bitch” had mostly faded with experience, but would resurface now and again when someone new joined us” (p. 291). Justice Sotomayor’s life was endangered while she was involved in the seizures of counterfeit Fendi handbags. The Fendis were clients of Pavia & Harcourt and had grown to become good friends with Justice Sotomayor. In 1988, her fourth year at Pavia & Harcourt, Justice Sotomayor made partner in the firm. She writes that when she was called into the office by George Pavia, the founder’s son and managing partner, to be told that she had been made partner, “the good news came with a curious proviso, words that have stuck in my mind. “It’s clear that you won’t stay in private practice forever,” George said. “We know you’re destined for the bench someday. Dave is even convinced you’ll go all the way to the Supreme Court. But with this offer, we ask only that you remain with us as long as you continue in private practice” (p. 297).

It was while at Pavia & Harcourt that Justice Sotomayor was encouraged by a senior colleague, Dave Botwinik, to apply for a seat on the federal bench. I love the way Justice Sotomayor opens Chapter 29 of her book, in which she discusses her ascendancy to a judgeship:

“Sometimes, no matter how long we’ve carried a dream or prepared its way, we meet the prospect of its fulfillment with disbelief, startled to see it in daylight. In part that may be because, refusing to tempt fate, we have never actually allowed ourselves to expect it” (p. 312).

Justice Sotomayor is urged to complete an application from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s judicial selection committee, that is used to vet candidates the Senator recommends to the president. Qualified Hispanic candidates were being sought. Justice Sotomayor received encouragement from others as well, and decided to do it. After a successful interview with Senator Moynihan, who told her that he wanted to nominate her as a district court judge in New York, she agrees and leaves his office in a daze. “ After a couple of blocks, I saw a monumental flight of stairs, familiar white columns: the Supreme Court Building glowing serenely, like a temple on a hill. There could not have been a more propitious omen. I felt blessed in that moment, blessed to be living this life, on the threshold of all I’d ever wanted” (p. 317). Justice Sotomayor was nominated, and on August 12, 1992, the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination to the District Court for the Southern District of New York, the oldest district court in the nation. The public induction ceremony was held in October 1992. Of her first experience as a judge, Justice Sotomayor writes:

“The very thought of taking my seat on the bench induced a metaphysical panic. I still couldn’t believe this had worked out as dreamed, and I felt myself almost an impostor meeting my fate so brazenly.” Justice Sotomayor recalls her first case in open court. She was trembling and her knees were knocking. “Then a first question for the litigants occurred to me, and as I jumped in, I forgot about my knees, finding nothing in the world more interesting than the matter before me right then. The panic has passed; I had found my way into the moment, and I could now be sure I always would. Afterward, back in the robing room, I confessed my satisfaction: “Theresa (her assistant), I think this fish has found her pond” (p. 324). After six years on the district court, Justice Sotomayor was nominated to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and in 2009, was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,

“Who I am as a human being will, I hope, continue to evolve as well, but perhaps the essence is defined by now. The moment when, in accordance with tradition, I sat in Chief Justice John Marshall’s chair and placed my hand on the Bible to take the oath of office for the Supreme Court, I felt as if an electric current were coursing through me, and my whole life, collapsing upon that moment, could be read in the faces of those most dear to me who filled that beautiful room. I looked out to see my mother with tears streaming down her cheeks and felt a surge of admiration for this remarkable woman who had instilled in me the values that came naturally to her---compassio n, hard work, and courage to face the unknown—but who’d also grown with me as we took our small steps together to close the distance that had opened up between us in the early years. I might have been little Mercedes as child, but now I was equally my mother’s daughter. I saw Junior beaming proudly, and my family who traveled from New York and Puerto Rico to be there, and so many friends who have stood by me through the years. The moment belonged as much to them as to me” (p.328-329).

“My Beloved World” is so rich and insightful. While Justice Sotomayor’s accomplishments loom large, she also candidly talks about moments of professional and personal failure and challenge. She talks about a lab experiment at Princeton she felt had gone wrong, getting a “C” grade on a paper at Princeton, and a difficult experience she had while working as a summer associate with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a top law firm in Manhattan. She considered the experience “ the first real failure since having enrolled in law school” and she set about to examine what she was doing wrong and to fix it. Justice Sotomayor also talks about the end of her marriage, post-divorce dating, and shares her belief that one day, she will find love.

In what I consider to be a great act of public service, Justice Sotomayor opens up about living with diabetes, recalling some episodes of diabetes crisis. Justice Sotomayor states that she initially felt no need to be public about living with diabetes, but changed her mind in later years after being hospitalized in Italy after one crisis that could have cost her life: “It was the final confirmation I needed for safety’s sake I had to be open about my condition. And since taking my present job these many years later, when the danger seems to have receded, I have another good reason to claim the disease publicly. I don’t know whether they still give diabetic children a list of professions they can’t aspire to, but I’m proud to offer living proof that big dreams are not out-of-bounds” (pp. 303-304).

Justice Sotomayor is a superb storyteller and I truly hope other books are on her horizon.

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The Campaign to Ban Employment Credit Checks

The NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment urges concerned organizations and individuals to join it in taking action to end employment credit checks in New York. Comprised of civil rights, labor, consumer, senior, immigrant and community groups, The NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment is asking for support for NYC Intro. 857, the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act, which would ban employment credit checks in NYC.

The Coalition’s website, http://creditcatch22.org/wordpress/join/, contains a wealth of information about the campaign to ban employment credit checks. The site features “5 Reasons to End Employment Credit Checks”:

1. Credit Reports are Notoriously Inaccurate: Studies have shown that one in four credit reports contains serious errors, and 79% of credit reports contain errors of some kind.

2. Credit History Does not Predict Job Performance: A representative of TransUnion, one of the “Big 3″ credit bureaus, admitted under oath that “we don’t have any research to show any statistical correlation between what’s in somebody’s credit report and their job performance or their likelihood to commit fraud.” In spite of this, credit reporting agencies are aggressively marketing the use of credit reports and lobbying against bills that would restrict employment credit bills.

3. Credit Checks in Hiring Have a Discriminatory Impact on People of Color: People and communities of color have been disproportionat ely targeted for predatory and high-cost loans, which contribute to damaged credit. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that rejecting job applicants based on credit history “has an unlawful discriminatory impact because of race and is neither job-related nor justified by business necessity.”

4. Credit Checks by Employers Violate Workers’ Privacy: Credit reports can reveal deeply personal information, including about medical conditions, disability, or family status – information that anti-discrimina tion laws are intended to protect.

5. Credit Checks in Hiring are a Catch-22 for Workers : Employment credit checks are a Catch-22 for workers. Growing numbers of New Yorkers are unable to get jobs because of damaged credit, and unable to repay debts and improve their credit because they can’t get a job. With NYC’s unemployment rate at a near-record 10%, the last thing out-of-work families need is another barrier to jobs. (Source: The NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment http://creditcatch22.org/wordpress/join/)

To participate in the campaign, you can contact your NYC Council Member to tell her or him that you support NYC Intro. 857, the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act. You can also contact your State Assembly Member and Senator to ask them to support similar legislation at the state level.

And if you have a testimony about being denied or losing employment because of your credit history, you are encouraged to share your story. The Coalition can help you record your story or you can record it yourself. Testimonies help legislators understand how people are impacted by employment credit checks.

For a presentation to your organization or community group about the campaign to ban employment credit checks, visit The NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment website and click on “Request a Presentation” under the “Take Action” section of the site.

Visit The NYC Coalition to Stop Credit Checks in Employment site at http://creditcatch22.org/wordpress/join/
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Announcing the American Diabetes Association EXPO! in New York City/ EXPO Nueva York de la Asociación Americana de la Diabetes!

Visit the American Diabetes Association EXPO on Saturday. March 9, 2013 from 10am-4:00pm. This free event will be held at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center, 39th Street and 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Learn how to be healthy, active, and live well with diabetes.

The event will feature:
• Cooking demonstrations
• Product exhibits and presentations on diabetes prevention and management
• Information and activities geared towards kids, teens and parents

Celebrity Chefs include: Food Network’s Jamie and Bobby Deen, Top Chef Contestant Andrea Beaman, KnockOut Obesity Chef Dimitri Verteouris, and Poor Chef Charles Mattocks.

There will be free health screenings sponsored by The Mount Sinai Medical Center.

For more information call 1-888-DIABETES Ext. 3429 or visit diabetes.org/newyorkexpo

Event sponsors incude: Novo Nordisk, Centers for Specialty Care Group, Lilly, Walgreens, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Sanofi and ABC Channel 7.

STOP DIABETES!

EXPO Nueva York de la Asociación Americana de la Diabetes!

Visite la American Diabetes Association EXPO. Aprenda a ser saludable, activo y a vivir bien con diabetes. Evento gratuito.

• Demonstraciones de cocina
• Exhibiciones de productos y presentaciones sobre la prevención y control de la diabetes
• Información y actividades dirigidas hacia niños, jóvenes y padres de familia

Jacob Javitz Convention Center
Entrar por la calle 39th y la Avenida 11th, Nueva York, NY
Sabado 9 de Marzo de 2013
10:00 AM-4:00PM

Celebrity Chef incluyen: Food Network’s Jamie y Bobby Deen, Top Chef Participante Andrea Beaman, KnockOut La Obesidad Chef Dimitri Verteouris y Los “Pobres” Chef Charles Azadas.

Exámenes de Salud Gratuitos patrocinado por The Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Para más información, llame al 1-888-DIABETES EXT 3429 o visite diabetes.org/newyorkexpo

Patrocinadores del evento incluyen: Novo Nordisk, Centers for Specialty Care Group, Lilly, Walgreens, Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Sanofi and ABC Channel 7.

ALTO A LA DIABETES!

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They Want to Blame You for Everything

JANICE,

“It 's not about protecting children. It 's not about stopping crime.

It 's about banning your guns…PERIOD!

Last week, NRA sat in on a White House meeting that was sold to the public as an "open discussion" about how to improve school safety. But that was a dirty lie.

They didn't listen to gun owners ' concerns…they didn 't consider any real solutions on how we can keep our kids safe…instead Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and their gun ban allies in Congress only want to BLAME you, VILIFY you, BULLY you, and STRIP you of your Second Amendment freedoms.

Right now, they 're steamrolling ahead with legislation that would ban your guns, register your ammunition purchases, and even force you to register the firearms you already own with Obama 's anti-gun bureaucrats.

I warned you this day was coming and now it 's here. This is the fight of the century and I need you on board with NRA now more than ever.

I urge you to renew or upgrade your NRA membership as soon as possible. If it 's more convenient for you to do so online, you can follow this link: www.NRA.org/StandAndFight.

Now is the time when I need you and every gun owner to put an NRA membership card in your wallet and STAND AND FIGHT for our freedom. No one can take your place at the front lines of this battle…if we lose now, we lose everything.

The media has been on a vicious tirade to slander and intimidate you, me, and our fellow NRA members. We 've been called terrorists and worse. They 've blamed us and our Second Amendment freedoms for the actions of violent criminals and madmen. Our lives have been threatened.

But I won ' let these brutal and bitterly personal attacks on you and me go unchallenged. I 'll fight freedom 's enemies. I 'll fight to make our schools safer. And I 'll fight for your fundamental right to self-defense and your sacred Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

But my strength, and the strength of our entire NRA organization comes from you and your strong commitment to our membership. I need you in our corner TODAY.

Thank you for your friendship and your support. Your letters and your words of encouragement mean more to me than you could ever imagine.

Together, we will defend our freedom.”

I thought I was off this mailing list.

Years ago, I was thinking about gun ownership. It was not something I took lightly. Some of the nasty realities of living in this society made me think about how best to protect myself. Having an ex-boyfriend who was menacing and who ultimately killed his own wife and tried to kill others was a major factor.

I joined the NRA, but mostly out of curiosity. I read the literature, saw the guns ads, but after a year, I decided it was not the organization for me and never renewed my membership. I had not received anything from the NRA in years.

And then I opened my email yesterday and found this, courtesy of Wayne La Pierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA.

When I read this message, all I could think was that these folks want us to believe that they are victims, victims of a government and a public that they feel want to deny them their rights and their freedom.

That offends me. And I am really sick of hearing that argument.

We have a country saturated with guns and numbers of real victims—far too many who are dead and buried, some living and reliving the horror of having experienced gun violence. They are the real victims. 20 children killed in Newtown--the real victims. A 4-year-old boy shot dead in the Bronx--a real victim. People shot in a movie theater--real victims. A mother of young children shot dead in Philadelphia—a real victim. Worshippers shot in Wisconsin—real victims. Firefighters losing their lives walking into an ambush by a man who had no business with a gun—real victims. This list could go on for pages.

Stop acting like a victim Mr. La Pierre.

You and your members are not victims. This gun madness that you help fuel creates new victims every day. Real victims.

American is weary of this bloodshed brought on by gun violence. We want reasonable solutions now.

I ultimately decided that gun ownership was not an option for me. That does not mean I oppose your right to gun ownership. But we need some reasonableness, some sanity in this country now.

There are too many guns and too many victims—real victims.




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“When You Dream, Dream Big”

“When You Dream, Dream Big” is the title of a sermon delivered by the late Dr. Arthur Caliandro, who served as the Senior Minister at the historic Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan from 1984-2009. Dr. Caliandro passed away on Sunday, December 30, 2012. To me, he was one of the greatest religious leaders of my lifetime. Dr. Caliandro was known as the “people’s minister.”

Dr. Caliandro was an inspiring faith leader and encouraging presence whose radio program I listened to for years. Even though my faith differed from his, I tuned in to hear him every Sunday because his messages deeply resonated with me. Dr. Caliandro talked about hope, faith, and living with courage, and made me feel that he really understood the pain and suffering people often endured in their lives. In fact, he would at times talk about difficulties in his own life, including challenges with his health. I found him and his sermons so easy to embrace.

Dr. Caliandro did remarkable work at Marble, including bringing women into the ministry, making the church a welcoming place for LGBT members, creating a memorial for fallen soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and participating in a program to fund college educations for a grade school class in Harlem. Dr. Caliandro also hosted an annual interfaith conversation at Marble that I loved tuning in to. He invited Jewish and Muslim faith leaders to discuss faith matters with him. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear how much different religions have in common.

In tribute, I wanted to offer some words from the “When You Dream, Dream Big” sermon. The message is quite appropriate for the beginning of a new year. You can hear the sermon in its entirety on the Marble Collegiate Church website (www.marblechurch.org) Click on the “Watch & Listen” link and then go to “Historic Sermons”, where you can click on Dr. Caliandro’s picture to hear some of his sermons. Here are some brief excerpts from “When You Dream, Dream Big”:

“Today I’m talking about dreams. Dreams, something so essential to the fulfillment of our individual lives and fulfillment of things that the world needs. We’re saying that when you dream, dream big to make significant things happen.

I have always been a dreamer. Always. And my sense is that many of you here, if not most, do the same thing. As children you dreamt, as adults you’re dreaming. You want something special to happen, to come out of your life. Dream, and when you dream, dream big.

America. I think in large part the greatness of this country is because millions and millions of people over the years have dreamed a big dream. And they bring their dream to this land and they have made phenomenal things happen. This is why America has had so much leadership in the world for decades and decades, because of the dreams of the people.

Dream, dream, dream. And what do we have to do with our dreams, though? We have to put life into them.

So what I’m trying to do today is to get you to reengage, to wipe off the dust from old dreams, to bring them out of the bottom drawer. Allow them to begin to circulate, and do things in you. And the rest of your life will be something that you never imagined it would be like. You have to dust off your old dreams.

I hope that if you’re one of the persons who has given up dreams, discouraged by them or think about them as something sentimental, don’t do it that way. Dreams are big. And they’re important.”
(www.marblechurch.org)

To learn more about the life and accomplishments of Dr. Caliandro, visit the Marble Collegiate Church website at www.marblechurch.org

In honor of the “people’s minister” Dr. Arthur Caliandro (1933-2012)
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Mentoring Works!

Over the years I have had some wonderful mentors, including teachers ,former supervisors and other individuals. They have helped me immensely in my professional and personal development. As a way of honoring these selfless women and men for investing time in me, I am paying it forward by serving as a mentor. It is a privilege and an experience that enhances my growth.

January is National Mentoring Month( www.nationalmentori ngmonth.org). Created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph. harvard.edu) and MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (www.mentoring.org), National Mentoring Month celebrates mentoring and its positive impact on the lives of young people. Individuals, government agencies, businesses, faith communities, schools and nonprofits can help to increase the numbers of mentors for our youth.

Mentoring works! According to MENTOR, a growing body of research confirms what we already know--that a caring adult can make a big difference in a child’s future. Mentors serve as role models, friends, advisors. They help young people augment social skills and emotional well-being, improve cognitive skills, and plan for the future. Young people with mentors have better school attendance, lower dropout rates, and decreased involvement with drugs and violent behavior (www.mentoring.org).

The goals of National Mentoring Month are to:

• Raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms;
• Recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people;
• Promote the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to engage their constituents in mentoring.

The need for mentors is great. According to MENTOR, 18 million young people need and want a mentor, but only 3 million young people have a mentor in their lives, leaving 15 million young people without one. MENTOR’s mission is to close that “mentoring gap” so that every one of those 15 million children has a caring adult in their life (www.mentoring.org)

Mentoring does not require special skills. It involves listening, offering friendship, guidance and encouragement. Mentoring happens in a number of settings including schools, communities, business, the faith-based community and even through the Internet (www.nationalmentori ngmonth.org)

One of the highlights of National Mentoring Month will be “Thank Your Mentor Day,” to be held on Thursday, January 17th The day promotes “Four Ways to Honor Your Mentor” :

• Contact your mentor directly to express your appreciation;
• Pass on what you received by becoming a mentor to a young person in your community;
• Make a financial contribution to a local mentoring program; and
• Write a tribute to your mentor for posting on the “Who Mentored You” website at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/chc/wmy/index.html

The founders of National Mentoring Month also encourage participants to highlight the importance of mentoring during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, which takes place on Monday, January 21st this year. The day can be used to honor mentors in your community, recruit new mentors, provide training to mentoring programs and encourage mentor pairs to engage in service projects together. Visit www.mlkday.gov for additional information about the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and how you can serve.

Resources for National Mentoring Month including posters, recruitment cards, thank you cards, and bookmarks are available at www.nationalmentori ngmnoth.org The Corporation for National & Community Service (www.nationalservice.gov) and the United Way (www.unitedway.org) are two of the organizations offering resources for the observance.

Considering mentoring? Visit MENTOR at www.mentoring.org to find a program in your community that is seeking mentors for young people.

Mentoring works!


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Protect Children, Not Guns 2012

The following post was originally published earlier this year. I am reposting “ Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” because of its relevance to our national conversation (yet again) about gun violence.

I say it is time to painfully examine, and then fix our broken gun laws. Making access to quality and affordable mental health services for all has to become a national priority today. We have too many human ticking time bombs with easy access to firearms walking our streets. They are a threat to us all---you, me, and the people we love so dearly. We have broken and hurting survivors of this violence (the numbers of which are increasing every day) who are going to need ongoing support.

Protect Children, Not Guns 2012

“By any standards of human and moral decency, children in America are under assault, and by international standards, America remains an unparalleled world leader in gun deaths of children and teens—a distinction we shamefully and immorally choose! The most recent analysis of data from 23 high-income countries reported that 87 percent of children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. And the U.S. gun homicide rate for teens and young adults 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined gun homicide rate for that same age group in the other countries.” (Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund President and Founder, Foreword, “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012”).

“Protect Children, Not Guns 2012”, released in March, analyzes the latest (2008 and 2009) fatal and nonfatal firearm injury data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for children and teens ages 0-19. The 54-page report‘s table of contents include:

• Stand Up and Take Action
• Child and Teen Gun Deaths
• Child and Teen Gun Injuries
• Guns In Cities
• State Trends
• International Gun Comparisons
• Debunking the Myths about Guns
• Selected Organizations Working to Prevent Gun Violence

Report statistics and highlights:

• 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009.
• 34, 387 children and teens were injured by guns in 2008 and 2009.
• Of the 116,385 children killed by guns since 1979, 59 percent were White and 38 percent were Black.
• The majority of gun deaths among children since 1979 have been homicides (57 percent) while nearly one-third have been suicides (31 percent).
• The leading cause of death among Black youth ages 15 to 19 in 2009 was gun homicide.
• The number of children and teens injured by a gun increased every year from 2003 to 2008, from 11, 884 in 2003 to a high of 20, 596 in 2008, but dropped to 13, 791 in 2009.
• Nearly three-quarters of all gun homicides among youth ages 10 to 19 in 2006 and 2007 occurred in the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas. The cities with the highest firearm homicide rates for children and teens ages 10-19 include New Orleans, LA; St. Louis, MO; Oakland, CA; Newark, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Richmond, VA; Miami, FL; Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; and Cincinnati, OH.
• More than 600 mayors from large and small cities across the country have joined the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition (www.mayorsagainstil legalguns.org) co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
• Just over half of the homicide and suicide gun deaths of children and teens in 2009 were in eight states: California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Louisiana.
• Federal law only requires licensed importers, dealers or manufacturers to have a locking device on guns they sell or transfer. Eleven states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) have passed laws requiring gun-locking devices under certain circumstances. In contrast, 21 states have passed laws requiring children to wear bike helmets.
• Twenty-seven states have laws designed to prevent children from having access to guns although they take effect at different ages and often include a number of exceptions. The strongest laws impose criminal liability when a minor could or does gain access to a negligently stored gun.
• Federal law includes minimal restrictions on the purchase or possession of guns by children. Absent tough federal restrictions, some states passed laws imposing stricter regulations on minimum age requirements for purchase or possession of certain guns. For example, 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws imposing a minimum age requirement that is stricter than the federal requirement for the purchase of all handguns and that applies to both licensed and unlicensed sellers.
• The United States accounts for less than five percent of the global population, yet Americans own an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Of the estimated eight million new guns manufactured annually across the world, about half are purchased by Americans.
• The United States has the highest gun homicide rate of 34 industrialized countries---30 times higher than Australia, France or the United Kingdom.
• Most Americans favor sensible gun laws that will help keep them and their children safe. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence conducted a study after the 2008 elections and concluded that candidates who openly support sensible gun laws can win elections.

The “Stand Up and Take Action” section of the report offers these recommendations for ending gun violence in the lives of children:
• Parents, remove guns from your home.
• Support common-sense gun safety measures for the nation. Stronger federal laws can help protect more children from gun violence by:
o Closing the gun show loophole
o Strengthening restrictions on people convicted of a violent misdemeanor or a violent act as a juvenile.
o Requiring consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns.
• Help state and local governments protect children from guns.
• Nonviolent conflict resolution should be a part of our homes, schools, congregations and communities.
• Boycott products that glamorize violence.
• Focus attention on the number of children killed and injured by gun violence.
• Support innovative efforts to promote positive youth development. (“Protect Children Not Guns 2012”, p. 6-8).

“As a nation, we must step down from our role as world leader in child gun deaths and work together to make America a moral leader in protecting children in the world which must begin with preventing and reducing gun deaths of children and teens and of all who reside here. Every child’s life is sacred and it is long past time that we protect it. The greatest national security threat in America comes from no enemy without but from armed enemies within who lack regard for the sanctity of life for every vulnerable child.” (Marian Wright Edelman, “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” p. 5) .

Please visit the Children’s Defense Fund website at www.childrensdefens e.org

Dedicated to the victims at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
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A Free Holiday Resource for Anyone Grieving the Loss of a Loved One

Kathleen O’Hara, MA (www.kathleenohara.com) is a Philadelphia, PA-based psychotherapist specializing in Traumatic Grief counseling and Victims’ Rights advocacy. Kathleen and I met a few years ago when she helped organize a benefit in honor of Beau Zabel, an aspiring math teacher who, in 2008, was killed in Philadelphia for his iPod. I could not attend the benefit, but I sent a donation, as I was thoroughly saddened by the senseless murder of the 23-year-old Mr. Zabel, who viewed teaching as his “dream job.”

A dynamic speaker, trainer, clinician and advocate, Kathleen is also the author of the book, “ A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love.” (Da Capo 2006). Kathleen’s work is based on painful personal experience. In 1999, her eldest son, Aaron, was murdered while at college.

I recently received this holiday message from Kathleen. I am passing it on to encourage those of you who have lost a loved one and are missing them this holiday season.

A Holiday Message from Kathleen O’Hara

Dear Friends,
The Holiday season is upon us again. How quickly the year has passed and how many losses we as a world community have experienced—the latest is the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Those of us who have lost a loved one struggle with our own personal storms, and this time of year can be lonely and sorrowful. I hope you will reach out to one another, to your family and friends and find comfort and strength.

Whether it is your first season, or one of many, it may seem as though the light and magic have gone from your lives. Yet this is the season that celebrates the return of light after the long dark night. This season brings us the greatest gift of hope. This is the time when children believe in magic and wait for the gifts they will receive. The gifts are waiting for us all, if only we open our hearts and believe.

I am posting a daily message for the holidays on my blog, In The Name of the Fire. I call it that because the fire of the one we love never dies---we carry the flame of love forward in our lives. You can find it at www.inthenameofthef ire.wordpress.com

I hope this season will bring you the gifts of hope, strength, peace, joy and above all-love to your weary and waiting heart. I hope you find comfort in the messages on the blog, and that during this holiday season you honor the spirit and life of the ones you love.

Please pass this on to anyone you know who is grieving this holiday season—it will be your gift to them. And to every one of you grieving the loss of a loved one, I extend warm wishes for this season of light and that as it unfolds, you know that your loved one is never far from you.

Peace,
Kathleen
www.inthenameofthef ire.wordpress.com
www.kathleenohara.com
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I Hope They Are Doing Well

Some years ago, around Christmas, I volunteered to babysit for a parent who lived at the Martinique Hotel, then one of the city’s notorious “welfare hotels” used to temporarily house homeless families. It was my first time in one of the rooms and I was shocked at how the family lived. The room was freezing and there were rats scurrying around. A hot plate was used to prepare a meal of scrambled eggs for the children.

This year I heard an interview on WNYC Radio with Jonathan Kozol, National Book Award winner and author of “Savage Inequalities” , “Rachel and Her Children”, and several other books on children, poverty and education. Mr. Kozol was discussing his new book, “Fire in the Ashes” which offers a look at the current lives of some families he met who resided at the Martinique Hotel back in the 1980s. Mr. Kozol has been described as “today’s most eloquent spokesperson for America’s disenfranchised.”

The interview with Mr. Kozol triggered some memories, as my first job right out of college was as an Assistant Teacher at the Martinique Hotel. We provided a day care program for the 3, 4 and 5- year-old-childr en who resided with their families at the hotel. For eight months, I worked in a dangerous and depressing setting. Coming to work each day was quite challenging emotionally. There were days when I was angry and discouraged about the conditions in which these families lived.

On my first day on the job, a man was shot a few floors above our day care center and died. His son was enrolled in our program. The family was moved out of the hotel immediately. We suspected that at least one of the children was being sexually abused. Two of our students, who were brothers, were physically abused by their mother. They came to day care with bruises. My supervisor and I filed the required reports and the children were eventually removed from the parents. My supervisor, another teacher and I were later subpoenaed, and had to testify in court.

I liked working with the children. Most of the children were wonderful and so cheerful. But some of them were sad, angry, and unruly and would often act out. A few had really troubled parents. On at least two occasions, parents threatened to assault me. When the children hit me or said something disrespectful, I had to remember to not take it personally. One of my colleagues, Tina, who was a highly experienced teacher, was great at reminding me of that, and told me to look for the good in each child. I tried my best, engaging them and applauding their efforts and successes. This led me to publish a newsletter called “Little Bits”, in which I highlighted the children’s activities. I got so attached to the children that at times I wanted to take some of them home with me for a day just to give them a break from the hotel.

We tried to create good moments for the children each day. Many outings to the park and to other fun events were held. We read to the children and played with them regularly. Laughter was very important. Later in the year, we held a graduation for the children who were transitioning to kindergarten.

At some point, I started keeping a daily log of my time at the Martinique. I recorded my feelings about my work and the hotel. I still have some of my log notebooks. Hearing Mr. Kozol’s interview made me reminisce about experience.

In this blog post, I share some of my log entries. Reading my log after all these years made me laugh and in many cases, evoked sadness. Every once in a while, I think about the children, who probably now have children of their own. I still remember many of the children’s’ names and faces.

I have omitted the year and have changed the names of the children and the staff. These log excerpts briefly describe trips, interactions with the children, and my observations as an Assistant Teacher. Unfortunately, I still have not located my log books with my entries written after October 11th.

Excerpts from My Martinique Hotel Log

July 15
Today was Lee’s (Assistant Teacher) last day. The children are truly going to miss her. I will miss her because of her outgoing character and rapport with the children. We had a small farewell party for her.

Again, I got the chance to interact with some parents. I held Aidan and Alana’s baby brother Nate. He’s such a cutie! I spoke briefly with their older sister and Mona’s mother. As time progresses, I am getting to know many more people. It’s important for me to not separate myself from the people at the Martinique.

I care a lot for the children. I didn’t make a mistake by choosing to work at the Martinique.

July 18
Today marks my second month working at the Martinique. We took the children to the Diana Ross Park. There was a reporter in front of the hotel today, but I don’t know what happened.

July 19
I had a slight problem with Kwan. He said “My mother said she’s gonna kick my teacher’s butt.” I spoke to Dess (Program Manager) about the incident and she assured me that Kwan was just mouthing off. In fact, she said that Aidan used to do that, give threats, but eventually ceased to do so.

Eddie used vulgar language today. I was surprised to hear him curse in the manner in which he did. He can barely speak English, but he can curse at will.

July 21
Roberta (Assistant Teacher) told me that Shamera’s mother’s care for Shamera has declined significantly. Roberta said that it seems as though her mother no longer cares for her.

July 28
Ellie looked pitifully sad this morning. She always looks sad or angry. It’s a shame that little kids can look so angry and be so angry.

Tina (Assistant Teacher) told me that she has been teaching for 10 years. She was once slapped and cursed by a student. Tina said that even when you don’t like a kid, you try to find something positive about the kid so you can teach him/her.

August 2
Regarding the closing of the Martinique, most of us here doubt it. We feel that there is too much in the way of politics. My hope is that the families do eventually find their own housing. This homeless situation is so tragic. My thought is that even if these families get homes, where are the jobs that will pay rent and sustain these people’s lives? Dess (Program Manager) also made a valid point that these families may be offered apartments they don’t like, broken down, uncomfortable and in bad neighborhoods. This situation has been permitted to go too far and is just ridiculous. These families are caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and it’s horrible.

August 3
Today was an exciting day. We took the children to the Bronx Zoo. We went through the Children’s Zoo. The kids were so excited!

Today, I had fun with Kwan and a few of the other difficult kids. I bought french fries and M and M’s for the kids and they loved it!

We are trying to teach the children “The Man in The Mirror” (Michael Jackson’s song) for graduation.

August 9
I made brownies with Ean, Alana, Kwan and Quana. They were a hit! They were well received.
My relationship with Kwan is improving. He is growing more respectful of me.

August 10
Today was a very good day.

We took the children to Central Park to help clean up. I had so much fun! I had on my backpack, I wore gloves and I used a rake and a broom to clean up some leaves. I then used a shovel to pick up the leaves and put them in bags. After this, we took two rides on the carousel.

August 16
I felt sorry for Henry today during lunch. He wanted another piece of chicken and I noticed that he was eating quickly because he wanted what appeared to be the last piece of chicken. I told him to slow down because there was plenty of chicken. He is a sweet kid.

August 18
Dess(Program Manager) issued a memo today saying that from now on, we must use the word “please” when we make a request of the children.

Today, Dewey accidentally bumped into this white man in the park. This man gave us the dirtiest look, it was pathetic. Maybe I was wrong for not apologizing on Dewey’s behalf, but his look was full of such hate and loathing, it seemed. I was quite disheartened.

August 22
Roberta (Assistant Teacher) said that Len punched Celia (social worker) in the nose last week and his mother smacked him. He is an angry and threatening little boy. I’m saddened.

Dess (Program Manager) talked to me today and told me that I am pretty much the role model for my group because of my education and experience with people. I felt funny about that. I don’t feel like a role model. In any case, her words encouraged me to stick out the job. Today, I felt as though I was going to hand in my resignation. I will try, however, to stick it out until the end of the year.

August 23
We studied a folk dance today for graduation. It’s a cute dance called “Liza Jane.”

Eddie was sad today for some reason. He kept asking for his mother. I held him for a while in the rocking chair. During nap, I told him that I would miss him when he left school.
We have a new student, Albert. He doesn’t speak English. He cried up a storm today.

August 25
Today was a busy day.

Some reporters from a radio station interviewed Elizabeth (social worker) Kwan’s mother, Kwan and Keith, and Eva’s mother.

The dentists came by to help the children with their brushing.

Today, the new boy Albert cried so much he threw up! I was holding his hand and I cleaned up his small mess.

August 25
To communicate with Albert, I spoke some Spanish. My skills are not that great, but he understood some of what I was saying. He spoke some Spanish to me.

August 26
There is a rumor going around that the Martinique will close in December.

August 30
Graduation Day!

The kids looked wonderful. They waved their banners and their dance was great! I read the graduates’ names and the kids got their “diplomas.” The party afterwards was fantastic.
I took plenty of pictures of the event for the newsletter.

Aubry’s mom borrowed my camera to take some pictures. I got to know her better today. I was a bit disappointed because some of the kids didn’t say goodbye. I will miss them.

Kwan’s mother came in today and told some teachers she was moving today. They have their own place now. Drew’s family has moved as well. I also spoke to Joseph’s mom, who told me they had moved to the Bronx some time back. Lots of families seem to be moving out. I’m glad! The children will have decent surroundings in which to grow up.

September 7
This morning, Manny had a red bruise on his lip. Actually, his lip was quite red. I called him over and asked him what happened. He told me that his mother pinched his lip because he hit Paul (his little brother). I talked to the other staff. Elizabeth (social worker) agreed to call the family caseworker to report the incident. Elizabeth (social worker) said that she has consistently reported his incidences of abuse. Manny’s family is supposed to have a homemaker and I hope they get one soon. Someone needs to prevent these kids from getting hurt. I found out today that Manny’s mom had stomped on his stomach before graduation. He is going to be seeing a psychologist and I heard that he and his brother are leaving our program.

The Martinique is closing in December. The rumors are fast and furious, but seem to point to the staff being transferred to another program. I think I may leave.

Elizabeth (social worker) revealed that she is somewhat afraid of Manny’s mother.

When I hear the children use fresh language, curses and insults, I wonder who exposes the children to this language. They say the words so easily. How could anyone condone the usage of vulgar, inappropriate language by a four-year-old?

September 8
Elizabeth (social worker) told me that Manny’s father left the family, but she suspects that he will be back. Allegedly, he stole some money from Manny’s mother and ran off to Puerto Rico.

Manny’s mother is having a hard time and Elizabeth (social worker) suggested foster care as a short-term solution. Manny’s mother thinks that the staff at the program doesn’t like her. We think she ought to get some help because she needs it.

We learned today that the hotel is closing on December 23rd. The day care center will be relocated to another site in Manhattan.

Anequa went to take a test for a gifted children’s program today. I hope she makes it.

September 9
During the staff meeting, it was reported that Manny’s mother had threatened to kill us because Dess (Program Manager) had to call to have someone intervene on behalf of her children. The staff is really not alarmed, but I am. All kinds of tragedies occur when people don’t expect them.

September 12
Manny’s mother reportedly apologized for her “death threat.”

Christal and Anequa’s families are moving! Christal is moving to College Avenue in the Bronx and Anequa is moving to another shelter.

September 13
Anequa’s family moved out today. I saw them packing the van with their belongings.

September 15
Belinda (Assistant Teacher)said that two of the brothers, Leo and Anthony, were taken by their father and have not been seen by their mother since.

Aidan accidentally hit Kara with his toy scooter. He went over to her and rubbed her head to make it feel better! I was so touched by his gesture that I had to give him a hug.
Aria and Dina’s families’ have found apartments. They move next week.

September 20
Manny’s father returned and tried to rape Manny’s mother. The incident was reported but nothing was done. It has to be reported again. Manny’s mom reportedly hit Paul in the eye with a shoe because he couldn’t find the other one. He had a red mark under his eye.

Manny acted out, started crying and hit another child.

Amber’s father said he doesn’t want any of the male teachers putting his daughter to sleep. He fears his child being sexually abused.

September 21
Manny told us that his mom had been raped by his father. When Manny and Paul tried to protect their mom, their father pushed them away. The kids were screaming. Dess (Program Manager) told me that the father gets drunk.

Arthur moved today. I’m glad to know he has a home. I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to him.

Danica moved today. I gave her a kiss goodbye.
I made 21 copies of “Little Bits” today. Millie (Head Teacher) thanked me for doing the newsletter.

September 23
Manny’s mother threatened Dess (Program Manager) again. More complaints have been filed against her. She has threatened to kill and sue. Dess (Program Manager) said she’s tired of her and will call the cops if she harasses her again. She told us to be careful if she comes into the classroom.

Aidan and Alana moved to Brooklyn today. I’m glad they have a home.

Today at lunch, Paul got angry and called his brother Manny a m-----f-----. I was so shocked.

Renae’s mother became drunk and did not pick up her children until 7:30pm.

October 4
This morning, Manny’s face was puffy and black and blue. I filed a report with children’s services. The other teachers saw Manny’s face and they were stunned. At 2:45pm, Manny and his siblings were removed from their parents , with the assistance of a caseworker and four police officers and taken downstairs. Manny’s mom came to the classroom screaming and got in Celia’s (social worker) face. I asked one of the police officers to come to the classroom and he scolded the mother, saying he could have her arrested for making threats. I went downstairs and hugged and kissed the children goodbye. The kids weren’t even upset about leaving. I shed a few tears.

When I came back upstairs, Manny’s mother was crying about how we didn’t care. I started crying again and yelled at her and told her that we did care about her kids. Dess (Program Manager) tried to calm me down. We said that we would keep the door locked and see about an order of protection.

October 6
Three more children moved today.

In subsequent entries, I wrote about more families moving, my babysitting experience, being subpoenaed and making the court appearance, and my last days on the job at the Martinique Hotel. As difficult as this work was, I am grateful I had the learning experience. I saw some of the worst of human behavior, but I also saw some of the best. People were resilient, and love and caring thrived even in the midst of the despair and desolation at the Martinique Hotel.

I am now going to read “Fire in the Ashes.”Maybe I will recognize some of the children I worked with during my brief time at the Martinique Hotel. I hope they are doing well.

Writer’s Note:
Thank you all again for reading this blog! Have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year!

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The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities

“Food should be a cause for celebration, something that should bring people together. The work of my adult life has been to heal the rift in our food system and to create alternative ways of growing and distributing fresh food. My return to farming was a kind of homecoming. As a young man, I felt ashamed of my parents’ sharecropping past. I didn’t like the work of planting and harvesting that I was made to do as a child. I thought it was hard and offered little reward. I fought my family’s history. Yet the desire to farm hid inside me.

…I opened my own city vegetable stand, five blocks from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. I recognized the potential I had to do much more, even as I struggled financially to keep my operations open. I wanted to try to heal the broken food system in the inner-city community where my market operated.

So I began to teach young people from the projects and the inner-city how to grow food. I conveyed the life lessons that agriculture teaches. Through trial and error my staff and I developed new models for growing food intensively and vertically in cities. We found ways to make fresh fruits and vegetables available to people with little income. We created full-time agricultural jobs for inner-city youth. We began to teach people—young and old, black and white—how to grow vegetables in small spaces and reclaim some small control over their food choices. We found ways to redirect organic waste from city landfills, and to use it instead to create fertile soil. We connected small farmers in Wisconsin to underserved markets in inner-city communities. We provided a space where corporate volunteers could work alongside black inner-city youth, hauling dirt, planting seeds, and harvesting together.”(Will Allen, “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp.8-9).

“The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities,” is written by Will Allen with Charles Wilson. The book was published this year by Gotham Books. Mr. Allen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based organization Growing Power (www.growingpower.org) Growing Power transforms communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of Community Food Systems. These systems provide high-quality, safe, healthy, affordable food for all residents in the community. Growing Power develops Community Food Centers, as a key component of Community Food Systems, through training, active demonstration, outreach, and technical assistance. Growing Power’s goal is a simple one: to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community (www.growingpower.org). Mr. Wilson is a journalist and co-author with Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) of the New York Times bestselling children’s book “Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food.”

This book is a phenomenal account of how Mr. Allen’s love of farming led to his meaningful and visionary work in urban agriculture. He writes candidly about how he initially resisted the pull of agriculture, his eventual embrace of urban agriculture, the decline of small farmers and black farmers in the United States, personal struggles including his battles with thyroid cancer and cancer of the parotid gland (the largest of the salivary glands), ongoing financial strains, race and discrimination, as well as the many successes he has realized in his work.

With November being American Diabetes Month, I thought it timely to report on this book. Mr. Allen writes: “One in two African Americans born in the year 2000 is expected to develop type II diabetes. Four out of every ten African American men and women over the age of twenty have high blood pressure. Blacks are thirty percent more likely to die young from heart disease than whites.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp.7-8)

Mr. Allen describes the personal convictions and the challenges facing small and black farmers that motivate his work:

“I believe that equal access to healthy, affordable food should be a civil right—every bit as important as access to clean air, clean water or the right to vote. While there are many reasons for the decline in number of black farmers, one of the most important is that they are almost always small farmers. They have suffered the same fate as other small farmers. Over the past fifty years, a new food system has helped push them off their land.

This system came to value quantity over quality, uniformity over diversity, and profit over stewardship. Farmers were encouraged to plant commodity crops like soybeans or corn from fencerow to fencerow, and to get big or get out. There was a relentless pursuit of cheapness over other values, and food came to be made by automated machines and chemical processes. Men in laboratories dreamed up foodstuffs that were calibrated with precise amounts of sugar and fat and that were delivered to customers by airplanes and trucks in cardboard and plastic and cellophane. The farmer became less important than the food scientist, the distributor, the marketer, and the corporation. In 1974, farmers took home 32 cents of every dollar spent on food in the United States, Today, they get only 16 cents.

This is not the right path. It is endangering the health of our young people. It has brought us fewer jobs in agriculture, unhealthier diets, and a centralized control structure that has made people feel powerless in their food choices. It has stripped people of the dignity of knowing how to provide for themselves on the most basic level. It has given us two very different food systems—one for the rich and another for the poor. A large gap has opened between those who have access to nutritional education and cage-free eggs and organic mesclun greens and those whose easy options are fried chicken joints and tubs of ice cream and shrink-wrapped packages of cheap ground beef.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp.7-8)

The son of Willie Mae Kenner and O.W. Allen, sharecroppers from South Carolina who migrated to Maryland in the 1930s, Will Allen helped his parents with their farming as a child. A tall young man, he was soon exposed to the sport of basketball and became so good a player that he saw it as a way to establish a non- agricultural career. “During my youth, I dreamed that my life would be spent on the polished hardwood of a professional basketball court,” he wrote. After his career in college basketball, Mr. Allen found a place in professional basketball outside of the United States, in Belgium. Throughout his time as a professional basketball player, Mr. Allen engaged in gardening and felt immense pride in this activity.

When Mr. Allen retired from basketball, he returned to the United States with his wife and family and settled in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where his wife had grown up. He was able to continue farming on fifty acres owned by his mother-in-law, and on another fifty acres he leased. Looking for a new career, Mr. Allen worked as a teacher’s aide, ran a discotheque, and worked as a manager of several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Wisconsin before becoming a salesperson for Procter and Gamble. But Mr. Allen’s love of farming never wavered. He writes that he would rise at 4am to tend to his farming before heading off to work.

While Mr. Allen was a successful salesperson, he was still looking for a clear direction for his professional life. Unexpectedly, he moved toward his eventual career destination, urban agriculture, when during a drive, he happened upon a “For Sale” sign on a row of greenhouses. To finance the purchase of the greenhouses, Mr. Allen cashed in his retirement savings, took out a mortgage and received a bank loan. He had to meet with the local zoning committee and writes, “I told the zoning and development committee that I wanted to create a farm stand. I said that a Kohl’s grocery store had recently closed down the street from the greenhouses, and there was little access to healthy food in the area—despite the presence of the largest public housing project in Milwaukee. I said that it was my intention to hire local youth, as I had done in Oak Creek, where young people worked for me in the field during the summer. I said that my three children had grown up on a farm with me and that it had taught them useful skills like hard work and self-discipline.” (“The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 15-16)

Mr. Allen’s proposal to purchase the land was approved and he established Will’s Roadside Farm Market in 1993. He also sold produce at local farmers markets. A thoroughly community minded individual, Mr. Allen cultivated relationships with other farmers and created the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative, which boasted a membership of white, black and Hmong farmers. He faced challenges early on. While people were supportive, some people would not buy from his market, claiming his prices were too high, or because of internal racism, where customers thought that the produce sold by Mr. Allen was of a lesser quality than that of his white counterparts. He suffered financially. He wrote: “Though I did not admit it to anyone, I wondered if I had made a big mistake…Around this time, a black friend asked me about my farming habit. “Why do you want to do that slave’s work?” he asked.

It was a good question. I did not have an easy reply. To my friend, the profession was tainted with the historical legacy of slavery and economic hardship. In returning to farming, I was swimming against a current that had carried my family and millions of other black people out of South Carolina and into Northern cities. But my passion for farming had also been nourished in part by lingering impressions left from my childhood—the close observation of my parents and of a kindly older woman who owned the land where we lived, and their shared interest in plants and horticulture. I was a reluctant inheritor of my agricultural history. It was a past that I spent most of my young life trying to escape.” (“The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 37-38)

Mr. Allen persisted in the face of setbacks, instances of racial discrimination, and often grueling work. In addition to running his business, Mr. Allen began volunteering with a local YWCA to teach gardening to youth. He eventually began receiving invitations to work with youth in schools and other programs including one for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. This led to the creation of a nonprofit organization, Farm-City Link. Mr. Allen soon began receiving grants to support his work with youth. One particular grant was awarded enabling Mr. Allen to teach vermicomposting, which involve using worms to convert decaying materials such as food scraps and newspapers into natural fertilizer. Mr. Allen’s father O.W. had taught him how to compost. Soon, the program was also engaged in aquaponics, enabling it to grow fish indoors.

Mr. Allen’s work took even greater shape when he met a community organizer named Hope Finkelstein, who founded the organization Growing Power after having a dream about a diverse community of people working together. Soon, she and Mr. Allen were collaborating. Believing they would be more effective in their work by joining forces, they merged their organizations Farm-City Link and Growing Power into one organization, Growing Power, and they served as co-directors. Mr. Allen writes: “I loved the name Growing Power. It was better than Farm-City Link. It felt true to my own mission: to make people stronger physically and spiritually through agriculture.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 133).

In reflecting on his work and achievements, Mr. Allen writes:

“I did not anticipate how my work would grow or how eager others would be to participate in it. Today, my urban farm produces forty tons of vegetables a year on three city acres. We provide fresh sprouts to thousands of students in the Milwaukee public school system, we distribute inexpensive market baskets of fresh fruits and vegetables to urban communities without grocery stores, and we raise one hundred thousand fish in indoor systems that resemble freshwater streams. We keep over five hundred egg-laying hens, and we have an apiary with fourteen beehives that provide urban honey. We maintain a retail store to sell fresh food to a community with few healthy options.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 9 ).

Mr. Allen’s work has brought him much acclaim and honor. In 2008, he received the Mac Arthur Foundation “Genius” Award. Of being named a Mac Arthur Fellow, Mr. Allen explains:

“I was surprised. I had been doing the same work for many years. It is very humbling work. The physical nature of it keeps you grounded, as well as the fact that at any point you could lose your crop. As a former athlete, I also knew that one day you could be at the very top, and on the next day the very bottom.

I had not changed, but I saw that the Mac Arthur award changed how people saw me. It gave me a stamp of approval, and it validated that what I was doing was meaningful. I also could sense the pride that other African Americans felt in me as a person of color who was working in this arena. Few black people who were struggling to change the food system had received this type of validation, though poor food affects people of color more than other communities.

I realized that by bringing farming and fresh food to the city, I could play a part in healing a painful rift in African American history between its agricultural past and its urban present. I could help to rebrand farming as something that could be entrepreneurial and black-owned rather than something associated with sharecropping and slavery. I felt a deeper sense of obligation to forward the revolution in the food system in which I had now invested my life.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 206 ).

This book provided me with hours of enjoyable reading. Once, I was riding on the subway, fully engrossed in the book. Before long, I realized that I was reading this book about a “good food revolution” and eating some potato chips! I laughed and quickly tucked the bag of chips away. I felt so embarrassed. I was hoping no one had been paying attention to my book. The cover is quite attention getting, though. I also found myself laughing in amazement when I read about Mr. Allen’s maternal grandmother, Rosa Bell Greene. Like Mr. Allen, my maternal grandmother’s name was Rosa and she too was from South Carolina. Also, like Mr. Allen, when my grandmother Rosa’s first husband (my grandfather) died, she married a man we all called “Mr. Ike.” I could not believe these similarities in our life stories!

I also liked the stories Mr. Allen shared about his family, friends and colleagues. Mr. Allen comes across as extremely personable, family centered, and community oriented. His eldest child Erika , serves as Chicago and National Projects Director for Growing Power. One riveting story involves his longtime colleague Karen Parker, who is Growing Power’s Director. Mr. Allen has known and worked with Ms. Parker for over 30 years and has seen her deal with weighty issues including intimate partner violence and the severe injury of her son De Shawn in an accidental house fire, resulting in second and third-degree burns over one-third of his body. Today, De Shawn Parker is Chef and Manager of Growing Power’s MLK Café.

Another person involved in the “good food revolution” whom Mr. Allen introduces the readers to is Dereck Cunningham, a man living with spina bifida who was not expected to live long. Mr. Cunningham is the President of Lynchburg Grows in Virginia, a nonprofit gardening program for low-income persons and persons living with disabilities. Mr. Cunningham explained that he was receiving disability checks and could have continued to do so, but he wanted to work. Mr. Allen notes: “This work indicates how the local food movement has the potential to provide meaningful employment for people who have been shut out of the traditional workforce. Recently, I partnered with the Badger Association for the Blind, a Wisconsin organization, to teach a client of theirs how to seed sprouts in my greenhouses. The lady who visited learned the entire process in an hour, and the trays she seeded were better than many created by my experienced staff.” ( “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities” pp. 234 ).

Mr. Allen’s book was so motivational that when I attended CUNY Food Fest last month, I felt as if I were starting to participate in the “good food revolution.” I attended a workshop on composting given by Dr. Annie Hauck-Lawson, Master Composter. During introductions, I mentioned that I was finishing up Mr. Allen’s book. Dr. Hauck-Lawson was effusive in her praise of Mr. Allen and his work. It was exciting to touch the compost sample and to see the little red wriggler worms that Mr. Allen referenced in his book when he wrote about composting and vermicomposting. It turns out that my oldest niece knows about composting and wants to join me in a composting project. Dr. Hauck-Lawson’s You Tube presentations on composting will be one of our resources. The other Food Fest attendees and I also participated in cooking demonstrations, and later a group dinner. I helped cook a dish with butternut squash, onions and green peppers. Representatives from urban agriculture projects in New York City also attended and made presentations about their programs.

“In order to build a new food system, we’re going to need a world without fences. We all have a responsibility to work together. We need everyone at the table. We’re going to need black and white, young and old, rich and poor. We’re going to need university folks who can study and foster new organic techniques. We’re going to need politicians who can help create an easier political environment and public space for a local food system. We need entrepreneurs who can create niche food products and graphic designers who can create packaging. We’re going to need planners who design inner-city neighborhoods with the idea of food security in mind. We’re going to need educators and nutritionists who teach people the benefits of healthy food. We’re going to need architects who can retrofit old warehouses and greenhouses to the new purpose of growing food. We need contractors. Composters. Dieticians. Not least, we’re going to need a new generation of farmers. (Will Allen, “The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities”, pp. 236)

Mr. Allen sees a great future ahead for urban agriculture and the good food revolution:

“When I think of this hopeful future, I see a world that has regained a proper balance between manual and intellectual work. For decades, we have taught our young people to pursue jobs that use the mind but not the body. We have segregated our exercise to the sterile environment of the gym. We have made people spend entire years at work moving nothing but their steering wheel, their mouse or a cursor. We no longer teach many manual trades in high schools. We encourage many of our best and our brightest young people to go into think tanks or into law.

We were not made to sit in cubicles or stare at screens or papers all day. My most intimate and lasting learning experiences have come not through books or computers but through my patient interaction with the land. The work of creating a new food system will offer work that engages both the spirit and the body. It will allow people the satisfaction of seeing and tasting the results of their labor. It will require the cultivation of human relationships that are off the grid, as well as an attitude of respect toward the natural world. This movement—this “good food revolution” as I like to call it—will demand the best efforts of our hearts, bodies and minds.” (“The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities”, pp. 242-243)

Visit Growing Power’s website at www.growingpower.org
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The “Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities” Campaign

“Breast cancer is perhaps the most feared disease that women face, and the most personal. It touches an astonishing one in eight women during their lives, and many of us know someone—a mother, sister, church member, or friend—who has had it. Sadly, we may also know someone who has died from it. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among American women, killing about 40,000 women each year.

Breast cancer affects 118 of every 100,000 Black women. Like all women, we need to guard against this far too common, life-altering, and potentially life- threatening disease—and for a number of reasons we need to be even more alert.

The disease tends to affect Black women earlier in life, when many of us assume we are not at risk. Black women under age 40 have a greater incidence of breast cancer than White women in the same age group. Also, while our overall incidence of breast cancer is 10 percent lower than it is for White women, across all age categories and all stages of the disease we are more likely to die of it. The five-year survival rate for Black women is only 77 percent compared to 90 percent for White women. While the breast cancer survival rate has improved overall, the survival rate for Black women has stayed about the same for the past two decades.

…… Still, thousands of women survive breast cancer every year, often catching it in its early stages. Through educating ourselves about this type of cancer, Black women can help lead the fight against our higher risk.” (“Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt and Hilary Beard (2012) pp. 116-117).

Since the death of my sister-in-law Leticia to breast cancer in February, I have been engrossed in literature about this disease and how it impacts Black women. I was really pleased to learn about the “Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities Campaign,” launched by the Washington, DC-based Black Women’s Health Imperative to address the breast cancer disparities experienced by Black women. The Black Women’s Health Imperative (www.BlackWomensHeal th.org) is the leading national organization advancing the health and wellness of our nation’s 20 million Black women and girls.

On April 16th, I wrote a blog post about the publication “Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” co-authored by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, President and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative and award-winning health journalist Hilary Beard. The publication cited cancer as one of the top ten health risks for Black women.

The “Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities Campaign” is a national campaign to mobilize people and resources to address the growing and persistent breast cancer disparities experienced by Black women. Guided by the principle that ALL women should benefit from advances made in early detection and treatment therapies, “Moving Beyond Pink” calls attention to the social injustices and medical inequities that contribute to racial differences in breast cancer incidence and mortality. The overarching theme of the campaign is “Detect, Diagnose, Decide.”

The “Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities Campaign” strategies include:
• Advocating for early detection and quality screening for Black women
• Ensuring that Black women breast cancer patients have access to organizations that can support their successful navigation through the health care and survivorship systems
• Coordinating and convening national and community breast cancer education and research sessions to broaden awareness and identify needs
• Serving as a clearinghouse and resource of information on breast cancer for Black women
• Advocating for policies and legislation that support early education and appropriate patient notification for screenings, treatment and care.

Through the campaign, the Imperative hopes to achieve the following:
• Increase awareness of the growing and persistent breast cancer disparities experienced among younger Black women as a way to close the disparity gap in mammogram screenings, breast self-exams and clinical exams
• Elevate the breast cancer disparities discussion so that access to appropriate risk tools and screening technologies are available to meet the health care needs of younger Black women
• Disseminate materials and messages among Black women’s organizations to broaden our reach and increase the engagement of national and local organizations in the campaign
• Position the Imperative as a leader in promoting breast cancer awareness and supporting Black women in their efforts to obtain mammograms.

The campaign’s policy priorities and strategies:
• Promote early detection and timely diagnosis
• Risk reduction for women at highest risk
• Invest in targeted research on Black women
• Advocate for access to innovative diagnostic technologies
• Develop a culturally competent health care workforce
(Source: www.movingbeyondpin k.org)

A wealth of information on the “Moving Beyond Pink to End Breast Cancer Disparities Campaign” is available. Fact sheets, information about policy and advocacy, and other resources can be accessed at www.movingbeyondpin k.org

It is my fervent wish that campaigns like this one succeed in reducing the number of women who face untimely deaths to breast cancer. The pain and grief my family and I have endured this year over our loss of Leticia, who was a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, professional, and student, is something I hope fewer families will have to experience. And to those of you currently living with breast cancer, have a loved one with breast cancer, or have lost a loved one to breast cancer, let us collectively hope that we are truly getting closer to defeating this terrible disease.

In memory of Leticia Monique Jenkins (1972-2012)
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Shine the Light on Domestic Violence in 2012

I am a survivor of intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence. For a couple of years, I endured verbal, emotional, and some physical abuse at the hands of a former boyfriend. I got away from him. Years later, he married another woman. He abused her. She too tried to get away from him but was unsuccessful. In a fit of rage, he stabbed her to death.

The story of my former boyfriend’s brutal act made local newspaper and radio news. It took me months to recover from the sadness, fear and rage that I felt following his wife’s killing. For some time, I felt guilty because I survived and she did not. They had young children together and she had great plans for her future. None of this mattered to my former boyfriend. He destroyed the lives of people he supposedly loved.

To help draw attention to the devastation that intimate partner or domestic violence brings into the lives of countless victims, I am very pleased to participate in the “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence” campaign that helps to raise awareness of domestic violence in New York State. For the fifth year, the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) www.opdv.ny.gov is turning the state purple during October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Purple is the color chosen to represent the fight against domestic violence/intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence or intimate partner violence is one person’s use of a variety of tactics to control another person in an intimate relationship. The person might:
• Hit, punch, slap, kick, shove or bite you
• Threaten to hurt you or your children
• Abuse or threaten to harm pets
• Have sudden outbursts of anger or rage
• Become jealous without reason
• Isolate you from family or friends
• Prevent you from going where you want when you want
• Interfere with your job or going to school
• Destroy personal property
• Deny you access to bank accounts, credit cards or car
• Control all finances
• Force you to have sex or make you do things that make you uncomfortable
• Insult you or call you names
• Follow you or spy on you
• Humiliate you in front of others (Source: “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence Brochure” by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence)

Some facts:
• Nearly one in four women in the US reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life.
• Almost half the women murdered in New York State are killed by their intimate partner.
• Domestic violence affects all of us---women, men and children.

Take One Purple Step
Here are some ways you can help people who are unsafe in their homes and relationships:
• FRIEND? Listen, support and believe your friend. Don’t be an expert: be a friend and get your friend to the experts! Your local and statewide hotlines are good resources.
• EMPLOYER? Provide information. Consider implementing a domestic violence and the workplace policy (see www.opdv.ny.gov). Make a charitable donation: local programs need your support.
• PARENT? Talk to your kids about respectful relationships. Observe your children’s relationships. Maintain a dialogue with your children. MODEL respectful relationships.
• WANT TO DO SOMETHING? Find volunteer opportunities in your community. Hold a phone or other kind of drive to benefit a local program—many also need adult and children’s clothing, and household goods. Educate yourself about the problem.
• FAITH COMMUNITY? Become known as a safe place. Faith leaders and members can address and speak out against domestic violence in lectures, discussion groups, and sermons. Educate the congregation. Lead by example. Offer space to nonprofits. Partner with existing resources.
• ADULT? Be a leader. Men can show by example that being strong does not mean being violent. Women can listen nonjudgmentally to their friends, mothers and sisters. If someone tells you something that makes you concerned, or shows that they are uncomfortable or scared, let them know you are worried. Offer support. Anyone can ask questions confidentially, and get advice, at the New York State Domestic & Sexual Violence Hotline, 1-800-942-6906 or 1-800-942-6908 in Spanish 24/7. (Source: “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence Brochure” by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence)

The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) offers free tools and resources which can be used to help “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence.” The toolkit includes flyers, posters, brochures, wallet cards, talking points and other materials. OPDV offers suggestions for activities that individuals, organizations and communities can undertake during October. One activity that you can participate in is Wear Purple Day, which is on Wednesday, October 17th.

Visit www.opdv.ny.gov (http://bit.ly/PvyIM8)to access the OPDV “Shine the Light on Domestic Violence “materials. I hope that you will join us in turning New York State purple to ”Shine the Light on Domestic Violence.”

Hotline Numbers
NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline 1-800-942-6906 24/7 and Confidential
NYS Linea Contra la Violencia Domestica y Agresion Sexual1-800-942-6908 24/7 y Confidential
To find the domestic violence program near you, go to www.nyscadv.org (the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

In memory of P.E.
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International Literacy Day and National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2012

September 8th is International Literacy Day, which focuses attention on the need to promote worldwide literacy. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, estimates that nearly 800 million people—one-fifth of the world’s adult population—do not know how to read or write; women make up two-thirds of this number. More than 67.4 million school-age
children do not attend school.

The week of September 10-16 is being recognized by Congress as National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. According to the organization Pro Literacy, the goal of National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week is to “ work side-by-side in every state, territory, and district, to heighten public awareness, strengthen alliances, leverage resources, and increase the number of people who understand the vital role adult education and family literacy plays in our nation’s well-being.”

Pro Literacy (www.proliteracy.org) “champions the power of literacy to improve the lives of adults and their families, communities, and societies.” The organization has created a toolkit for individuals, organizations and communities interested in observing International Literacy Day and/ or National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.

From the Toolkit’s Fact Sheets:

About Adult Literacy
• Globally, literacy rates are on the rise: they are up 2.3 percent in the past 10 years and 10.6 percent in the past 20 years.
• While women still lag behind—representing 64 percent of all low-literate
adults—they have made significant gains over time.
• Since 1985, the female adult literacy rate has risen 15 percent, which is about double the growth of the male literacy rate.
• The region of South and West Asia is home to more than one-half of the global low-literate population (51.8 percent), while sub-Saharan Africa represents 21.4 percent.
• More than 30 million adults in the U.S.—14 percent of the country’s adult population—cannot read and write above a fifth grade level.
• When compared to other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked 10th in literacy, behind Poland,
Slovenia, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium,
Japan, Tonga, and Bosnia Herzegovina.
• When compared to five other industrialized nations, the U.S. ranked fifth in prose literacy and
numeracy, behind Bermuda, Canada, Norway, and Switzerland.

Literacy is important because:
• To solve all of these socioeconomic problems, we must start by building a more literate adult
population.
• When we teach the world to read, we can lift millions out of poverty, decrease health care
costs by billions, and put more people to work than ever before.
• Educated mothers in developing countries are more likely to send their children to school than
poorly educated mothers.
• Every additional year of primary school boosts girls’ future wages by 10-20 percent.

Adult Literacy in the United States
• Current federal appropriations for adult basic education in the U.S. total just over 600 million dollars, which provides funding to serve just three million individuals.
• There is a correlation between a low literacy rate and a low paycheck.
• Just 35 percent of individuals with below basic skills are employed full time, while 64 percent
in the proficient category have full-time jobs.
• The salaries of adults with below-basic literacy skills are, on average, 28 thousand dollars less than salaries of adults with proficient skills.
• Nearly two-thirds of the projected new jobs will most likely be filled by workers with some
post-secondary education.
• Single mothers who lack a high school degree are much more likely to be on welfare than
women who have a high school degree.
• Women with low literacy are twice as likely as men to be in the lowest earnings category of
three hundred dollars a week or less.
• Minimum wage workers increased wages by 18 to 25 percent within 18 months of exiting an
adult education program.
• Fifty percent of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate.

The International Literacy Day and National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week Toolkit 2012 features fact sheets, suggested activities, and document samples that can be used for these observances. To obtain a toolkit, contact info@proliteracy.org
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Building Partnerships: Conversations with Latina/o and Asian-American Parent Advocates About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths

“Building Partnerships: Conversations with Latina/o and Asian-American Parent Advocates About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths” is a June 2009 brief report published by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) in collaboration with the California Department of Mental Health. The report is part of the Building Partnerships series of reports and is the result of the CRHD’s effort to reach out, to engage, and collect community voices that have previously not been heard.

For this report, community engagement meetings were held with Latina/o and Asian-American parent advocates from the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) in Riverside and San Bernadino Counties (www.piqe.org). PIQE’s mission is to connect families, schools and community as partners to advance the education of every child through parent engagement. The parent advocates described the needs of the children, youth and families in their communities and their challenges and accomplishments as members of immigrant communities.

The report was authored by: Cristiana Giordano, PhD; Katherine Elliott, PhD, MPH; William M. Sribney, MS; Natalia Deeb-Sossa, PhD; Marbella Sala; Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD. Their findings from the report follow.

What Are the Community’s Greatest Concerns About Mental Health?
The participants in the focus groups and interviews shared concerns about:
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Suicide
• Anxiety
• Stress
• Conditions related to low self-esteem
• Lack of communication between generations leading to misunderstandin g and disconnection within families (p. 4)

What Conditions Affect Mental Health in the Community?
“Parents discussed social conditions such as poverty and financial stress which contribute to mental illness in their communities. Participants reported that many parents in their communities work more than one job and the amount of time they have to spend with their children is limited. Often when they are at home, they are emotionally overwhelmed, tired and busy taking care of household chores. Because of the lack of time and energy they have to devote to their family, many parents in their communities experience a sense of disconnection with their children and this leads to further mental health stresses for both the parents and their children.” (p. 7) The sense of disconnection is further exacerbated by cultural differences, as immigrant children adopt the values and customs of the US while immigrant parents retain the values and customs of their countries of origin.

What Are the Challenges For the Community in Receiving Services?
• Obtaining mental health services for students and their families is a major challenge.
• Services are scarce in the community.
• Schools lack the resources to manage the mental health conditions of students.
• Even when services are available, parents are unable to obtain treatment for their children because they are unable to afford it, lack insurance and transportation, cannot take time off from work, or there are lengthy waiting periods.
• Parents who are undocumented immigrants do not seek help because of fear of detection by immigrant officials.
• Parents and school personnel lack an awareness and understanding of mental illness. Parents fear that their children will be labeled as “crazy” if they seek mental health services. (p. 8)

What Are the Community’s Strengths and Assets?
“When asked about strengths and assets of their communities, parent advocates identified the importance of trust and support that members of the communities express for each other, and that teachers convey to the youth. They recognized that communities often achieve goals faster than institutions. Participants talked about support groups for parents to orient them in their parenting, to encourage them to be involved in the education of their children, to strengthen family bonds, and to inform them about mental health. For parent advocates, support within the neighborhood and the school environment is a fundamental asset.

Participants also stressed the importance of community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, school-based mental health services for youth, and other social services as resources to which people resort in case of need. In particular, they talked about organizations and services that provide parents and youth with forms of counseling, listening and psychological support. These services range from hotlines to free of charge therapy sessions, community-based organizations, and programs for promotoras and promotores.” (p. 11) Promotoras and promotores are lay Latina/o community members who receive specialized training to provide basic health education in their communities. Trained by professional health workers, promotoras and promotores serve as advocates, translators, outreach workers and mentors. They are liaisons between their communities and health professionals and human and social service agencies.

Ways to Prevent Mental Illness
• Educate parents about mental health and drug and alcohol abuse prevention.
• Provide information to parents in their primary language through schools or community-based organizations.
• Strengthening the family bond. Provide youth with healthy role models and support parents in their parenting.
• Creating support groups for parents in order to increase their involvement in mental health care and in their children’s interactions with teachers and counselors.
• Creating vocational centers to help youth develop their skills and find fulfilling employment.
• Providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services.
• Addressing economic and transportation barriers to accessing mental health services. (p. 12)

Some Participant Quotes:
“A lot of students come to me, “I am stressed. I can’t deal with it. “ And at the same time, that comes with self-esteem {problems}. They don’t feel that they are capable.” School-based Counselor (p.5)

“They ignore {mental illness}. What else can they do? ….They go about their life like nothing happened. Then they have to deal with it at home. They don’t seek professional help. They don’t know which route to take….and what happens? It develops into a worse situation at home and goes on like a disease.” Parent Advocate (p.6)

“Many parents get depressed. Many parents make this into a big situation because of the language barrier. And also the culture. Our culture is totally different from the one in this country and this is also a problem for us Latinos.” Latina/o Parent Advocate (p.6)

“A lot of anxiety in teenagers. Completely ignored even from parents. ….When you talk to counselors about this, they always refer you to a place where you have to wait probably six months to have the first visit to discuss the issue, or maybe just to fill out papers, and teenagers that suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms cannot wait six months.” Parent Advocate (p.9)

“All of a sudden the referrals [for mental health care] …One is in Los Angeles. One is in Bakersfield. You can see…how ridiculous it is. These people, you know what their transportation is? A stroller, that’s all they got. They’re shutting down the only places that they have available that was close by to them. It’s disappear, there’s no money.” Parent Advocate (p.9)

“The system has established a hotline. There they have both languages. Most of the hotline services are free and they do help. There are many institutions that are providing eight therapy sessions completely free to families and children.” Latina/o Parent Advocate (p. 10)

“Our program….. teaches about what is normal and what is not in adolescents. I think that parents can be at home, but they have no clue about what a mental problem is. They don’t …look for help, so the problem gets worse, and every day the problem ends in a tragedy.” Parent Advocate (p. 13)

“The outreach has to be a one-on-one…And [you must overcome] all the barriers and all the excuses that they will have. I don’t have child care; we provide child care. I don’t understand English; we provide it in your language. I don’t know how to read; it is okay, we are going to be talking about the material and we are going to explain [it to] you….That is always the thing that will get them to participate.” Parent Advocate (p. 13)

“ You start with the whole family. There is a program that is called Strengthening Families Program, which you separate…the kids, you separate the parents. In the third hour, you eat together at a dinner and put them together. That is strengthening the family. …Attack the disease from the root on both, not just treat the kids or the youth, or the adults.” Parent Advocate (p.13)

Building Partnerships: Next Steps
“The UC Davis CRHD embarked on the Building Partnerships project to provide a way for the voices of our communities to be heard by policymakers. It was our intent to gather these voices in a way that honors the stories of suffering and pain and the cultural values, beliefs and practices that form the rich fabric of our many diverse communities.” (p.14)

In the Building Partnerships project, the CRHD:
• Worked with policy makers at state and county levels, informing them of the results of its project and advocating for changes in policy that address the needs of underserved communities.
• Worked with many of the communities who participated in this project to facilitate their involvement in county and state level decision-making processes.
• Collaborated with communities to identify opportunities to build, develop, and obtain funding for programs that stem directly from needs identified in the project.
• Developed a guide to the community engagement process that can be used by county mental health agencies, with this project as an example to be followed.

The Building Partnerships series of reports feature other publications not covered in this blog. These include:
• Building Partnerships: Conversations with the Hmong About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths
• Building Partnerships: Conversations with LGBTQ Youth About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths
• Building Partnerships: Conversations with Latina/o Migrant Workers About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths
• Building Partnerships: Key Considerations When Engaging Underserved Communities Under the MHSA (the Mental Health Services Act)
• Building Partnerships: Conversations with Communities About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths (Aggregate Report)
• Engaging the Underserved: Personal Accounts of Communities on Mental Health Needs for Prevention And Early Intervention Strategies

For Copies of the Building Partnerships Reports:
Building Partnerships: Conversations with Native Americans About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths:
http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/ctsc/area/engagement/documents/NativeAmericanR eportFinal.pdf

Building Partnerships: Conversations with African Americans About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths:
http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/ctsc/area/engagement/documents/AfricanAmerican ReportFINAL.pdf

Building Partnerships: Conversations with Latina/o and Asian-American Parent Advocates About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths: http://www.dmh.ca.gov/PEIStatewidePro jects/docs/Reducing_Disparities/BP_Parent_Advocates.pdf

To learn more about the work of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD), visit the CRHD website: www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/crhd

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Building Partnerships: Conversations with African Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths

In honor of Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month , my blogging on the work of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) in Sacramento, California continues with this post on its brief report “Building Partnerships: Conversations with African Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths.” Released in June 2009 this report, published by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) in collaboration with the California Department of Mental Health, is another in a series of Building Partnerships reports and is the result of the CRHD’s effort to reach out, to engage, and collect community voices that have previously not been heard.

The authors of the report are: Cristiana Giordano, PhD; Katherine Elliott, PhD, MPH; Ronald T. King; William M. Sribney, MS; Natalia Deeb-Sossa, PhD; Marbella Sala; Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD. Their findings from the report follow.

What Are the African American Community’s Greatest Concerns About Mental Health?
The participants in the focus groups and interviews shared concerns about:
• Violence
• Family disruption
• Drug and alcohol use
• Suicide
• Homelessness (p. 4)

What Conditions Affect Mental Health in the Community?
“For African American participants, poverty was a major cause of mental health problems in their communities. Focus group participants described how when basic needs –such as housing, employment, and food—are not met, individuals turn to illicit activities such as drug selling, gangs and prostitution to make ends meet. These activities lead to involvement in violent acts, drug abuse and mental illness. Poverty and unemployment were significant problems in people’s lives , and the African Americans in our groups believed that these issues had a major impact on their mental health status.” (p. 7)

Other conditions cited by the participants include:
• Experiences of racism and discrimination (i.e. racist violence and denial of opportunities)
• Police harassment and brutality (i.e. stops and searches, excessive use of the tazer)
“Focus group participants also expressed concern about youth with mental illness who end up in the criminal justice system and do not receive the care they need.” (p. 7)

What Are the Challenges For the Community in Receiving Services?
“African American participants reported that there is a scarcity of mental health services to address the needs of their community. Most participants were unaware of any mental health services in their community. The few who had been able to find needed services faced many obstacles in obtaining care.” (p.8)

Other Challenges:
• The inability to obtain affordable, timely and culturally appropriate services.
• Facing lengthy waiting lists for services.
• Being misdiagnosed by mental health practitioners not trained in cultural competence and not belonging to the community.
“African Americans in the focus groups generally felt alienated from dominant society. Their mistrust of police, the criminal justice system, and government carried over into a mistrust of mental health agencies and mental health service providers.” (p. 8)

What Are the Community’s Strengths and Assets?
“When asked about the strengths and assets of the African American community, people in our focus groups talked about how much they cared about providing good education to their children, accessing affordable housing, and creating a safe environment in their neighborhoods. They have not given up hope and the desire to live a happy life, and they have great resilience.

In addition to resilience, participants also pointed to the importance of community-based organizations, churches and schools. They regretted that beneficial programs are too often funded for a limited period of time and are not renewed. Schools and churches are important players in creating a social network that connects members of the community to services and resources. These places also provide food and clothing for those who are in severe economic need.” (p. 11)

Ways to Prevent Mental Illness
• Education and awareness programs to inform youth about drug abuse prevention and how to access services for substance abuse and dependence.
• Parenting programs to provide positive parenting models.
• More mentorship, sports, career training, and social programs for youth.
• Empowerment programs to motivate members of the community to speak up and have their voices heard in community forums, community-based organizations and churches.
• More extensive and organized outreach efforts to involve the community in activities that bring people together and create a sense of union and power.
• Programs to help the homeless, addressing their mental health and substance abuse treatment needs, as well as other needs such as food, housing and medical attention. (p. 12)

Some Participant Quotes:

“Another thing that really shows in our neighborhoods out here is the disconnect from society. When you grow up poverty stricken, you don’t have much and then you see on TV everything else, then there is a disconnect from society…Which goes back into crime, vandalism, which goes into people with emotional distress , a lot of suicide rates, a lot, a lot of that self-hatred type of thing going on.” African American Youth (p. 5)

“Suicide is real and certain types of discrimination can drive those people home, and it can cause them to hang themselves or down a whole bottle of pills or other means of suicide.” African American Youth (p. 5)

“There are things in the world that cause mental illness and depression…Poverty affects mental health.” Community Leader (p.6)

“Everybody knows about the drugs and the alcohol that goes around Oak Park. Everybody knows about the crime. What about the young man who is walking down the street needing some type of mental services? And when the police stop him, they automatically think there is something [criminal] that he has to be doing. They stop him and instead of checking his record, they take him and lock him up for something, first of all, that he might not have done.” African American Adult (p. 6)

“African Americans don’t get the same treatment in hospitals…Doctors don’t know the culture of people of color, are uncomfortable with them, and want to get them out of the room as fast as possible.” Community Leader (p. 9)

“Doctors need to stop giving the bipolar diagnosis, and need to talk to the kids. Once the kids are put into the system as bipolar, they are stuck as bipolar.” Community Leader (p.9)

“They need role models. My son did well when he had a black man as a therapist and he only had that one, and when he was with this guy, he was on point, everything was well. And [then] they switched his therapy. He flipped on him real quick. He could not relate.” African American Adult (p. 13)

“As far as the children, having more activities, free or at a low cost…maybe like a teen night…where they are doing fun activities, learning about things, but just being part of something that doesn’t have to do with violence…with drugs...with sex.” African American Adult (p.13)

“When you talk to a person that lives in your neighborhood, in a ghetto area…it is like they have their negative points, but they also have their positive points….It is not all just about drugs or gangs or shootings….They want to do something positive. They don’t want to be dealing with that situation all their life. They want to make a change.” African American Youth (p. 10)

To learn more about the work of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD), visit the CRHD website: www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/crhd

Next Installment: Building Partnerships: Conversations with Latina/o and Asian-American Parent Advocates About Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths

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Building Partnerships: Conversations with Native Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths

“Building Partnerships: Conversations with Native Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths” is a March 2009 report published by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) in collaboration with the California Department of Mental Health. The report is the result of the CRHD’s effort to reach out, to engage, and collect community voices that have previously not been heard.

The CRHD held community engagement meetings with Native Americans in California. The participants gave first-hand descriptions of the needs of the community and their struggles and accomplishments as members of a community excluded from full participation in society. The following are findings from the report.

What Are the Native American Community’s Greatest Concerns About Mental Health?
The participants in the focus groups and interviews shared concerns about:
• Loss of cultural roots
• Violence
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Depression
• Suicide
“The lack of a sense of community built on traditions, values and cultural pride was at the root of the mental health difficulties experienced by both youth and adults.” (p. 4)

What Conditions Affect Mental Health in the Community?
• Forms of racism and discrimination were experienced in mental health services
• Stigma
• Lack of awareness of what is culturally appropriate mental health (create barriers to treatment seeking and using services by Native American individuals with mental illness)
• Absence of real listening or understanding on the part of the dominant society
• Native Americans have to be proactive in educating non-Indian people about the needs of their community (p. 7).

The report defines a term, “historical trauma” which appears in comments made by focus group participants. Historical trauma is defined as the term used to express the legacy of social and cultural suffering related to harmful policies imposed on Native American communities by the US government. One policy, the forced removal of Native American children from their homes and placement in boarding schools—was mentioned by many participants as a policy that has had a lasting impact on the mental health of Native American communities (p.7).

What Are the Challenges For the Community in Receiving Services?
• Participants described being misdiagnosed and given labels such as bipolar and PTSD. ADHD is frequently given to their children and youth in mental health care
• Labels affect people’s self-esteem
• Government agencies do not show enough interest in understanding how Native Americans experience and face situations of distress and suffering
• Lack of appropriate mental health care, lack of services, lack of funding to support existing services, and the absence of Native American providers who can adequately address the cultural aspects of mental health issues within the community
• What is needed is a holistic approach which includes the healing of the community as a whole (p.8).

What Are the Community’s Strengths and Assets?
• Cultural heritage and traditions
• The role of culture is very instrumental in healing and maintaining the well-being of individuals and the community as a whole
• Important to teach Native American children native languages, the meaning of traditional ceremonies, healing techniques, and traditional arts and crafts
• Community based organizations are seen as assets in their communities (p. 11).

Ways to Prevent Mental Illness
• Prevention has to be holistic and delivered to the community as a whole
• Prevention and treatment must include Native American healing practices
• Native American clinicians
• Strengthening cultural identity
• School counseling programs for children in elementary schools
• Teaching of Native American history in schools
• Helping youth in foster care reconnect to their communities
• Address issues of drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, sexual abuse and neighborhood violence in schools
• Holistic suicide prevention strategies (p. 12)

Some Participants Quotes:

“This is my concern, that mental health …..is bad, you have horrible statistics but no information about why it is so horrible. So, if you treat the symptom of alcoholism and not have it in the context of historical trauma, you are to miss what really the whole family is suffering from. What the whole generation is suffering from. So, this is my big concern that historical trauma doesn’t really get assessed as a diagnosis, it doesn’t get treated.” Native American Community Leader (p.6)

“I am dealing with people who have been disenfranchised and their mental illness originates in the system around them, the environment, the surrounding historical trauma. They are not crazy, they are people responding to trauma in their life.” Native American Community Leader (p.6)

“We need to redefine mental health for us as tragedy because historically when our people were sick, there wasn’t a stigma attached to it…If we can promote the cultural perspective of how we care for our people, no matter what happens to them, then that is a different approach in terms of prevention and intervention.” Native American Provider (p.9)

“Growing up…I always just thought that white people were healthy and Indian people were drunk and violent. We need to showcase positive, healthy behaviors by Native Americans.” Native American Community Leader (p.13)

“A lot of times the only place you can go to is the county. And something that was taught to me from my parents, my family was that if you were accessing something at the county level, they were going to come and take your kids the next day. So we have a huge lack of trust on institutional settings.” Native American Community Leader (p.13)

“There are many, many Native professional people and they really don’t get the recognition that they deserve. And I go to a lot of different trainings and things like this. They are very seldom offered by a Native professional person.” Native American Provider (p. 13)

“They are traditional healers in the sense of medicine people recognized in the community …And those take different forms of healing. It could be singing, it could be prayer, it could be spiritual counseling, it could be a number of things that are really important from a cultural perspective to our people that haven’t been recognized a lot.” Native American Provider (p. 13).

“What we need the most is for people like you to come in and speak to us and ask from our perspective because really, the ones who see the most violence and the most stuff going on in the streets is us.. so that our voices can get heard and that we can have some stuff really going on.” Native American Youth (p. 13).

To learn more about the work of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD), visit the CRHD website: www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/crhd

Next Installment: Building Partnerships: Conversations with African Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths

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Spotlight on the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD)

July is Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month, a time in which the nation promotes mental health awareness and seeks to improve access to mental health treatment and services in communities of color. The observance honors the late writer Bebe Moore Campbell (1950-2006) a mental health advocate who explored the subject of mental illness in her work.

In doing some research for this year’s observance, I came across an impressive body of reports produced by the University of California Davis’ Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD). This month, I will be highlighting some of the reports in this blog.

The UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) is based in Sacramento, California. CRHD works on building relationships with communities, conducting research, and working with policy makers to improve the health of underserved groups in California. CRHD takes a multidisciplina ry, collaborative approach to address inequities in health access and quality of care. It focuses primarily on reaching out to unserved and underserved populations in California and beyond. Medical researchers, clinicians, social scientists, community providers, community-based organizations, and community members work together to design and implement community engaged research and community outreach and engagement activities.

In 2006 the CRHD, in collaboration with the California Department of Mental Health, launched the Building Partnerships project to reach out to communities and find out more about their ideas on mental health, the kinds of mental health concerns they have in their communities, and the types of programs that might help prevent mental illness from developing.

Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, MD, PhD is the Director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD) and is the Project Director for the Building Partnerships project. Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola spoke with me about CRHD’s work and gave me some history of how mental health services became a service priority in California. He explained that in 2004, voters passed Proposition 63, which became the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) in 2005. The Proposition called for a 1 percent tax on wealthy Californians to provide funding for the expansion of public health services to support mental health programs for children, youth, adults, older adults, families, and especially persons from communities who were either not served or underserved in the past. There are five components of the MHSA according to Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola : Community Services and Supports, Prevention, Workforce and Training, Innovation, and Capital Investment. “In the last seven years, there has been over 7 billion dollars collected and invested in the mental health system,” said Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola .

The ultimate goal of the MHSA is to create in California a culturally competent mental health care system that addresses prevention of mental illness, provides early intervention services for those in need, uses state-of-the-ar t treatment to promote recovery and wellness for persons with mental health, and eliminates disparities in mental health care across socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups.

CRHD was approached by the California Department of Mental Health for the Building Partnerships project because of its expertise in engaging underserved communities. Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola stated that the CRHD is known to diverse groups across the state. The California Department of Mental Health “wanted to learn from us our recommendations on meaningful stakeholder involvement,” said Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola . He stated that CRHD wanted to help provide information that would help shape policy guidelines. CRHD had nine months in which to do its work.

In 2009, CRHD published a series of nine “Building Partnerships” reports which focus on methodology, results and recommendations. They document conversations with members of focus groups from a range of ethnic backgrounds including Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and African Americans. The reports briefly examine the community’s greatest concerns about mental health, the conditions which affect mental health in the community, challenges in receiving services in the community, community strengths and assets, and ways to prevent mental illness.

The CRHD conducted over 30 focus groups to gather data for its Building Partnerships reports. Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola acknowledged that “some community groups were distrustful of what we were doing.” He said that the CRHD was open and honest in its work and told those who were skeptical that the CRHD was “contracted by the state to capture your voices.” Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola said that the CRHD produced draft reports for review by the participants. The reports were written in language at a sixth grade level. The CRHD developed a “How To” report on cultivating relationships with diverse groups and developing effective partnerships.

Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola has spoken nationwide about the Building Partnerships reports and universities have requested copies of them. “They have really been used widely and continue to be used.”

Next Installment: Building Partnerships: Conversations with Native Americans about Mental Health Needs and Community Strengths
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Thank You GCA

GCA is short for the High School of Graphic Communication Arts, my alma mater. GCA is one of the 24 “turnaround” schools the NYC Department of Education (DOE) has slated for restructuring. The school received an “F “grade in a 2011 DOE Progress Report. I was saddened to hear about the school’s status. Naturally, I needed to take a moment to reminisce about my experience there.

When I attended GCA, it was known as the New York School of Printing (which we students simply called “Printing”). The name was changed to the High School of Graphic Communication Arts shortly after I graduated. One of the things I loved about attending the school was the experience of going to school in another borough, Manhattan, and getting to see more of the city. And since admission was open to students from all over the city, I met students from other boroughs. Another benefit was that the school is very close to the theater district. I enjoyed being around Broadway, as I had once wanted to be an actress.

At GCA, I studied newspaper journalism, choosing that option over photo, broadcast and magazine journalism. In my junior year, I was named managing editor of our student newspaper, “The Student Printer.” I created a buzz in my school when I interviewed Curtis Sliwa, whose Guardian Angels were becoming well known in the city at the time. I managed to track Mr. Sliwa down and arrange the interview myself. My mom accompanied me to the interview, which took place at an apartment in the Bronx, which I believe was the Guardian Angels headquarters. It was a great experience, as Mr. Sliwa gave a colorful interview. I had so much to write about for my school newspaper. I admit, I did something journalists do not usually do—I asked for an autograph!

My writing activities at school set the stage for my involvement in other writing programs. The first was a summer youth writing program called The Harlem Youth Writing Workshop. The program was based at Columbia University. I had an opportunity to write and publish some articles and work with some accomplished journalists of color for two years. At this time, I also started reading New Youth Connections, a publication of the youth writing program Youth Communication (www.youthcomm.org). On a lark, I decided to enter one of New Youth Connection’s writing contests. I won it, entered another contest, won that, and before long, I was writing for the publication, which was another outstanding experience for me.

In my junior year, I became a member of the school’s Press Club. The following year, I was elected president of the club. Each year, the Press Club hosted a dinner in which we invited a local journalist to speak to the students. One year, we had broadcast journalist Randall Pinkston as our guest. I had the honor of introducing Mr. Pinkston. It was a bit intimidating, but I got through it.

After I graduated from GCA, I enrolled in college, but came back to GCA for occasional visits to see my favorite teacher when my schedule permitted. I also made time to continue my writing by joining the staff of my college’s newspaper. In my last semester of college, I served as editor of the college’s paper.

Years later when I was studying for my master’s degree in school counseling, I arranged to return to GCA to do my counseling practicum. Some of my former teachers were still there and we got an opportunity to catch up. I worked with some of the students and was proud to tell them I had been a student at the school. Being at the school during my practicum filled me with good memories. GCA gave me a greater passion for writing.

I am closely following the developments around the “turnaround” schools, especially GCA. An article published last month reported that effective July 1st of this year, GCA’s name is being changed to the Creative Digital Minds High School (“For 24 Schools Getting New Start, 24 New Names” by Anna M. Phillips, SchoolBook.org, May 9, 2012)

To me, the high school located at 439 West 49th Street in Manhattan will always be GCA. Thank you GCA!
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The Fourteenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care

Youth Communication, Inc. sponsored its Fourteenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care on Wednesday, May 30th from 5:30pm-8:00pm at the College Board, 45 Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. Ronald E. Richter, Commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), was the keynote speaker for the event.

Youth Communication Inc. (www.youthcomm.org) publishes Represent, a publication written by and for youth in foster care. The organization sponsors this annual writing competition for New York City youth in foster care. In this year’s contest, entrants were invited to answer questions about a decision to tell or not tell something personal and a time they helped someone else. The award-winning essays addressed issues including role modeling for younger foster siblings, surviving abusive parental relationships, grieving the death of a parent or friend, protecting vulnerable siblings, and learning to trust.

Five Grand Prizes of 1,000 dollars, five Special First Prizes of 600 dollars, and ten First Prizes of 400 dollars were awarded. This year’s honorees are (identified only by first name and age):

Grand Prize Winners
• Nahjee, 21
• Cindy, 19
• Glendy, 16
• Camilla, 18
• Anthony, 19

Special First Prize Winners
• Jennifer, 18
• Alexus, 15
• Hazel, 16
• Brendon, 20
• Corane, 20

First Prize Winners
• Taj, 21
• Antoine, 20
• Jasmine, 16
• Nikia, 20
• Tyneisha, 18
• Brezan, 18
• Tiara, 18
• Shateek, 16
• Nico, 21
• Manuella, 15

Keith Hefner, Founder and Executive Director of Youth Communication, welcomed the audience. He thanked the College Board and its President, Gasper Caperton, for hosting the event for the past ten years and cited Mr. Caperton’s commitment to youth in foster care. Mr. Hefner also recognized the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation for its generous support of the awards program and acknowledged Darin Goldstein of the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation, who was in attendance.

Mr. Hefner encouraged the award winners to consider writing for Represent and introduced Represent’s editors Virginia Vitzthum and Luisa Tucker. He also told the audience about youthsuccessnyc.org, a Youth Communication website offering employment, housing, education, training and other resources for youth in foster care and adults who provide services to them. Every two weeks, email blasts from youthsuccessnyc.org are sent out. Youth Communication’s Marketing Director Loretta Chan circulated a sign-up sheet for those interested in receiving the email blasts. “You’d be surprised how many opportunities we send out in that blast,” said Mr. Hefner.

Emcee Pauline Gordon was then introduced by Mr. Hefner. He praised Ms. Gordon as a great writer who published over 20 articles for Represent and won a national award for her writing. Ms. Gordon is the NYC Regional Youth Partner at YOUTH POWER! and was a Grand Prize winner at the Tenth Annual Awards for Youth in Foster Care in 2008.

“Events such as these are extremely important in our community because it gives us an opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the strength and resiliency of some of the many amazing young people in our foster care system,” said Ms. Gordon. “We are gathered here to honor a group of young people that have beat the odds, challenged the status quo. As a former foster youth, I can tell you that I’ve faced many obstacles in my life and dealt with a lot of traumatic experiences that no one should ever have to face. At times I was forced to become an adult because at a young age, I had to take care of myself and others in addition to layers responsibility that I had to take on. While my peers were excited about birthdays and the prom and graduation, I didn’t have time to think about that. I had to worry about where is my next home going to be? and who’s going to take care of me?

I’m sharing this particularly for all the other foster youth in the audience and for tonight’s winners, to let you know that I can relate and I understand. I appreciate you all for sharing your stories. It was reading stories such as yours that helped me surpass a lot of negativity in my life. So once again, it is an honor to be here and to celebrate with tonight’s winners.”

Ms. Gordon asked all of the adults in the audience who care for and work with youth in foster care to stand and be recognized. “I just wanted to let you know that every successful teen in foster care says that their success is due in part to the help of a caring adult. You are those caring adults. So once again, thank you for your support.”

The evening’s award presenters were introduced by Ms. Gordon. Each presenter spoke briefly about the awardees, their accomplishments, and their education and career goals. Some presenters read excerpts from the winning essays and the letters of nomination. The first presenter was Harry Berberian, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Resource Development at Graham Windham, who introduced five of the First Prize winners (Taj, Jasmine, Nikia, Brezan and Nico). He was followed by Max Moran, a therapist and former Represent magazine writer who introduced the Special First Prize winners (Jennifer, Alexus, Hazel, Brendon, and Corane).

Following Mr. Moran, Keith Hefner introduced keynote speaker ACS Commissioner Ronald E. Richter. Mr. Hefner briefly talked about Commissioner Richter’s work in helping young people in his positions as a Legal Aid lawyer, Family Court judge, and Assistant Commissioner at ACS. Mr. Hefner highlighted some of the Commissioner’s current work including his focusing on the challenges facing teen parents in the system and their children, his supervising the move of youth in the juvenile justice system from upstate facilities to smaller, supportive programs in their own New York City communities, offering subsidized guardianship so relatives of youth in foster care can take care of them, and providing more preventive services like intensive therapy to families to help them stay together and avoid foster care placement if feasible.

Commissioner Richter thanked Youth Communication for hosting the awards event and inviting him to attend. “I feel like there is so much to say in response to the extraordinary pieces of the essays that we got to hear tonight from these extraordinary young people who have figured out how to express their life experiences in writing.” Commissioner Richter stated that opportunities need to be made available for young people to express their experiences through the arts. He commended the award winners and talked about the numbers of young people with untapped talents. “I think that we have to do such a better job of having our young people recognized, because for those people who are receiving plaques tonight, there is no question that you know how it feels to do something that means so much to you and then to have it recognized and to have people who are important in your lives here to see you recognized. It’s what we all strive for in our lives. And so we need to be sure at Children’s Services and at our providing agencies that we’re looking for opportunities to acknowledge how great our kids are and how great their families are. And this event shows that,” said Commissioner Richter. He acknowledged the Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation and Keith Hefner for sponsoring the award program.

Of the award- winning essays, Commissioner Richter said: “I was struck not only by the personal themes, but also by your ability in each and every case to triumph over adversities and to show how you have more than begun, and in some ways are pursuing so productively your journeys to successful adulthood. Many of you have expressed very eloquently your feelings of loneliness and anger and being overwhelmed as you are making your journey through foster care. And that was heart wrenching. I at the same time feel very hopeful by your words and how you figured out in your own ways through your own inspiration how to overcome obstacles as you move forward into possibilities. Your thoughts and actions expressed in your essays say a lot about who you are as human beings and how you draw upon the people around you and how you have taken steps to change your lives, to overcome your circumstances. These essays show the power of individuals and what powerful forces of change exist within each of us. They also show what extraordinary models you are for your foster siblings, your friends, for the staff around you, for people like me. And you are examples of people who make us do what we do. You’re the success stories.”

Commissioner Richter encouraged the awardees to inspire the foster youth who come after them, lamenting that many people who have been in foster care “don’t reach back as much as I wish they would to help kids who are struggling in care, to motivate them and to show how extraordinary so many kids who have been in care end up being, and how successful so many kids who have been in care end up being, because they do. And I do feel like there is this stigma that you guys understand that is unfair and that is untrue, and we have to fight against that. And it’s my job to do that, and it’s all of our job to do that.” He again congratulated the winners, also acknowledging the supportive adults in their lives. “If you have suggestions about how we can be doing things better at ACS, I have an email address, we also have a website. Please reach out to us and make us a better agency. That’s what we’re trying to be,” said Commissioner Richter.

After Commissioner Richter’s remarks, Pauline Gordon introduced Alfonso Wyatt, recently retired Vice President of the Fund for the City of New York. He presented the remaining five First Prize winners (Antoine, Tyneisha, Tiara, Shateek and Manuella). Following this presentation, the audience was treated to a powerful spoken word performance titled “Fightin’ All Day in the RTC” by Deshawne Brown from the Possibility Project, a performing arts and community action program for youth (www.the-possibility -project.org)

Pauline Gordon introduced the final presenters of the Grand Prize winners: Evette Soto Maldonado, Esq. introducing awardee Nahjee; Virginia Vitzthum, Represent editor, introducing awardee Glendy; Natasha Santos, Teen Choice Community Educator at Inwood House and former Represent writer, introducing awardee Camilla; Luisa Tucker, Represent editor, introducing awardee Anthony. Pauline Gordon introduced awardee Cindy.

The ceremony concluded with Ms. Gordon offering the awardees some advice. She cautioned them not to spend their money on an iPad or iPhone, but to save it for when they transition from foster care. Ms. Gordon added: “Thank you for sharing your stories. Most of all, thank you for overcoming adversity. Thank you for not being a statistic. Thank you for not being a victim of stigma. Your stories are very inspiring and I hope you continue sharing your stories with others.”

This year’s contest judges:
• Alexandra Barsky, New York University
• Celeste Bodner, Foster Club
• Connie Brandeis, JP Morgan Private Bank
• Jonathan Horowitz, JP Morgan Private Bank
• Casey Burgess, JP Morgan Private Bank
• Kenyetta Ivy, MSW, former Represent writer
• Evette Soto Maldonado, Esq.
• Max Moran, MSW, former Represent writer
• Jinnie Spiegler, NYS Office of Children and Family Services
• Michael Stalonas, Joseph Leroy and Ann C. Warner Fund
• Michael Surko, Administration for Children’s Services
• Luisa Tucker, Represent magazine
• Virginia Vitzthum, Represent magazine
• Alfonso Wyatt, Fund for the City of New York

The adults who nominated this year’s winners:
• Haywood Berman, Forestdale
• Rosell Billingy, Jewish Child Care Association
• Xiomara Borja, The Children’s Aid Society
• Konje Byron, MercyFirst
• Beatriz Carmona, Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Andrea Clifford, PS256Q at MercyFirst
• Kathleen Duggan, Good Shepherd Services
• Lili Glauber, SCO Family of Services
• Medina Henry, New York Foundling
• Rebecca Ingber, Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
• Natalee Johnson, Episcopal Social Services
• Shajida McNab, MercyFirst
• Ariane Nolfo, The Legal Aid Society
• Donna Panzarella, Little Flower Children and Family Services
• Mayra Rodriguez, Administration for Children’s Services
• Jeanne Shary, Cardinal McCloskey Services
• Carla Small-Covington, Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Maria Smith-Torres, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System
• Ian Spiridigliozzi, The Legal Aid Society
• H.C. Fall Willeboordse, The Fostering Connection

The agencies that provide services to this year’s awardees:
• Cardinal McCloskey Services
• Catholic Guardian Society and Home Bureau
• Children’s Aid Society
• Episcopal Social Services
• Forestdale
• Good Shepherd Services
• Graham Windham
• Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
• Little Flower Children and Family Services
• MercyFirst
• New York Foundling
• SCO Family of Services

The financial supporters of the Awards:
• The Sunny and Abe Rosenberg Foundation
• The Tin Man Fund
• The Board of Youth Communication

For more information about Youth Communication and its publications and programs, please visit www.youthcomm.org
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A Salute to the Volunteers of the Year

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the Food Bank for New York City presented “A Salute to the Volunteers of the Year” on Sunday, May 20, 2012 from 10am-11am at the Bronx County Building, Veterans’ Memorial Hall on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The program celebrated outstanding volunteer members of the Bronx Food Bank for New York City Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens.

Derek Woods, Host of BRONXNET’s “Bronx Magazine” Program served as master of ceremonies. Mr. Woods told the audience that the Food Bank for New York City (www.foodbanknyc.org) has been serving New York City for 29 years and is one of the nation’s largest food banks. Food Bank for New York City addresses hunger through food distribution, income support and nutrition education.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. praised the volunteers, saying “we know it’s not easy what you do.” He later added, “You are exactly what it means to be my brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.” Of the Food Bank for New York City, Mr. Diaz said that the organization’s mission is to end hunger in New York City. “Access to healthy and quality food is a concern in the Bronx.” He cited some statistics, including 1 in 6 seniors rely on soup kitchens and food pantries, as do 1 in 5 children. “Much still needs to be done to help New Yorkers put food on the table,” said Mr. Diaz. He commended Governor Andrew Cuomo for ending the practice of requiring food stamp applicants to be fingerprinted.

The event was also attended by Congressman Jose Serrano of the Bronx. “Volunteers are unsung heroes,” said Congressman Serrano. He stated that while America is and will continue to be the greatest nation in the world, “we still have the problem of hunger in this country.”

After Congressman Serrano’s remarks, some of the volunteers were invited to the podium to give brief testimonials. Ms. Dominique Jones, a representative from Food Bank for New York City followed with some remarks. “I’m really honored to be honoring you,” said Ms. Jones. She said that there are 127 Food Bank programs in the Bronx. “We thank you for your time and energy and look forward to continue working with you.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz presented the 2012 Bronx Volunteer Achievement Awards to the following honorees:

• Laura Allen, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
• Ana Andino, Highbridge Community Life Center
• Suzy Baez, St. Anthony of Padua Church
• Gary Bendykowski, St. Lucy’s Soup Kitchen
• Gregory Canty, Soundview Presbyterian Church
• Jean Christian, Family Worship Center Food Pantry
• Doris Conton, Thorpe Family Residence
• Phyllis Copeland, Soundview Presbyterian Church
• Josefina De Jesus, WHEDCO
• Alfredo Garcia, Door of Salvation Ministries
• Cipriano Garcia, St. Anthony of Padua Church
• Nancy Graciano, WHEDCO
• Joanna Guevarez, Help USA
• Carmen Gutierrez, Christ the King Church
• Mercedes Hernandez, Saint Jerome’s HANDS Community Center
• Norma Irizarry, Part of the Solutions (POTS)
• Michael Jackson, BronxWorks Food & Nutrition Services
• Dominique Jenkins, Abundant Life Tabernacle Inc.
• Leenora Jenkins, Emanuel Pentecostal Faith Church
• Kay Vidal, Jewish Community Council-Pelham Parkway
• Fitz Lewis, The Salvation Army Bronx Citadel
• Carlos Malave, Davidson Community Center
• Glausmil Marte, St. Anthony of Padua Church
• Carolina Martin, Morrisania Revitalization Corp, Inc. Food Pantry
• Anna Maria Montilla, Christ the King Church
• Nora Nunez, Community Food Pantry at Highbridge MWIRD
• George Parker, SCAN NY Mullaly Academy
• Alanzo Paulino, Los Redimidos Por Las Sangre de Jesucristo, Inc.
• Jannie Pressley, Thessalonia Baptist Church
• Rose Ramirez, Passion Ablaze Christian Ministries
• Imelda Reece, Family Worship Center Food Pantry
• Martha Rengel, Hopeline
• Maria Rivera, St. Anthony of Padua Church
• Monique Rivera, Help USA
• Mike Ruiz, Help USA
• Doreen Rutty, Bronx Bethany Community Corporation
• Maria Sanchez, St. Anthony of Padua Church
• Rosa Santos, Saint Jerome’s HANDS Community Center
• Stephanie Serrano, Part of the Solutions (POTS)
• Kerlene Shakes, Family Worship Center Food Pantry
• Sadie Spruill, Abundant Life Tabernacle Inc.
• Elma Staten, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church
• Earl Sykes, Community Food Pantry at Highbridge MWIRD
• Paula Thomas, Ebenezer Pilgrim Holiness Church
• Lucy Velez, Davidson Community Center
• Arthurine White, Mount Gilead Baptist Church Food Pantry
• Hugh Carlton Dixon, Mid-Bronx Food Pantry
• Alfred Hill, St. Edmund’s Youth Programs
• Vanessa Jordan, Mid-Bronx Food Pantry
• Marcelana Line, St. Luke’s Food Pantry
• Lidia Lopez, St. Luke’s Food Pantry St. Luke’s Food Pantry
• Jahaira Quinones, Mid-Bronx Food Pantry
• Carlos Reyes, Mid-Bronx Food Pantry
• Patricia White, Mid-Bronx Food Pantry

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Health Literacy, Fun, Food, and Fitness

Health literacy, fun, food and fitness were the themes of two workshops I attended at the 33rd Annual New York City Adult Basic Education Conference, presented by the New York City Consortium for Adult Basic Education. The conference took place on Saturday, April 28th from 8am until 4:15pm and was held at the High School of Fashion Industries, 225 West 24th Street in Manhattan.

“Innovating and Connecting in Adult Education” was the conference theme. The conference was sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education, the Department of Youth and Community Development, the NYC Department of Education: Office of Adult and Continuing Education, and the New York Public Library.

The New York City Consortium for Adult Basic Education Corporation is a nonprofit association comprised of practicing educators, professors, administrators, trainers, counselors and volunteers. The focus of the consortium is to provide staff development opportunities to adult educators who teach educationally disadvantaged teens and adults. The organization’s goal is to provide a forum for adult education to share research and new developments in ESOL, BENL, GED, BE, and Family Literacy Programs in New York City.

“Say Ah!’s Health Literacy: Strategies to Improve Health Literacy for Better, Safer Outcomes in a Complex Health Care System” was the first of two workshops on health in which I participated. The workshop was co-facilitated by Helene Eisman Fisher and Anna J. Allen, Co-Founders of the nonprofit organization Say Ah!( as in “Open your mouth and say ‘Ah’” and “Ah, I understand now”) (www.justsayah.org). Say Ah! is dedicated to helping people understand health and medical information, and to improving communication between patients and health care providers.

Say Ah!’s programming has been designed to raise health literacy awareness, provide information to patients, physicians/care providers, and policy makers, and to help people access and understand health and medical information. Say Ah!’s programming includes:

•Leading workshops to educate individuals on how to get the most out of their health care
•Developing easy-to-read, accessible print materials and online resources to help patients gain the skills and information they need to become health literate
•Advocating for the inclusion of health literacy initiatives in public health policies and health care reform
•Partnering with physicians to conduct evidence-based research on effective strategies to enhance patient medication adherence
•Providing physicians/care providers with health literacy strategies and materials for improved patient safety, communication, and care
•Assembling a team of collaborators including literacy professionals, health care providers, and patient advocates dedicated to a cross-disciplin ary approach to health literacy awareness, education and advocacy
•Raising health literacy awareness at workshops, conferences, online forums, as well as other national outreach channels (www.justsayah.org)

The presenters opened the workshop by giving an overview of their organization and work and talked about health disparities and the relationship between education and health outcomes. They stated that 90 million Americans suffer from low health literacy. Health literacy is defined as “the ability to access, understand and act on health and medical information.” The 1992 publication of the first National Health Literacy Study, and the genesis of the 20 year old health literacy field were also briefly discussed. Much of the presentation centered on the set of skills needed to be health literate, such as:

• Knowing what questions to ask your doctor (or even knowing that it’s okay to ask your doctor questions)
• Making sense of nutrition labels on foods
• Understanding the benefits and risks of a treatment
• Comprehending the legal language in a consent form or other materials, such as a patient bill of rights or health proxy (www.justsayah.org)

This workshop was very interactive. We discussed how to talk to students about health information and shared personal anecdotes about our own health care experiences. The group engaged in an exercise in which we developed a lesson plan around a health literacy issue. We decided to create a lesson directed to young adults around the dangers of using other people’s prescription medications.

Participants were referred to a great resource, the National Institute for Literacy website: www.healthliteracyn etwork.org/materials/9.html where people can access research-based health literacy materials and instruction guides for beginning ABE and ESL level students. Some of the lesson plan topics include: Health Professionals, Emergency Care, Preventive Care, Talking to Health Professionals, Filling Out Medical and Family History Forms, Medication Warnings, Paying for Health Services, and Getting Healthier.

The overall theme of this great workshop was that we can and must be active members of our health care. Through the work of organizations like Say Ah!, we can improve our levels of health literacy. Visit Say Ah! at www.justsayah.org where health literacy materials, including a handout given to us at the workshop called “Tips for Talking with Your Doctor” can be accessed.

“Feeding the Mind, Fortifying the Body: Fun, Food and Fitness for the Adult Learner” was my second health-themed workshop. The presentation was co-facilitated by Sandra Gucciardi, Marcia Black Peters, and Andrea Blair Dawson from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension (CCE) programs in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens (http:// nyc.cce.cornell.edu). “The CCE puts research into practice by providing high value educational programs and university-back ed resources that help solve real-life problems, transforming and improving New York families, farms, businesses and communities.” (www.cce.cornell.edu)

A brief power point presentation was shown about the work of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension and highlighted its Nutrition and Health programming, which focuses on physical activity, food and nutrition. The presenters also talked about their involvement in farmer’s markets around the city.

“Feeding the Mind, Fortifying the Body: Fun, Food and Fitness for the Adult Learner” was interactive from start to finish. We discussed what we eat, completed a “What is in my plate?” written exercise, and reviewed a ChooseMyPlate.gov handout called “What’s on your plate?” ChooseMyPlate was created by the US Department of Agriculture. The handout features a visual of a food plate and includes information about different food groups including vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and protein foods and offers information on recommended daily servings of each food group. On the plate, vegetables and fruit account for one-half of the plate. Grains account for one-fourth of the plate, as do protein foods.

Ms. Gucciardi, a dietician, led a great discussion on healthy eating. She told the attendees that it was important that we enjoy our food, but cautioned that we have to be mindful of what we eat and how much we eat. In discussing the importance of eating vegetables, Ms. Gucciardi encouraged the attendees to vary our vegetables and eat different colored ones. Participants asked questions about a variety of food topics including eating white rice vs. brown rice, the benefits of eating avocadoes, reducing sodium intake, and how to encourage adolescents to make healthier food choices. When one participant asked why there are so many people living with diabetes today, Ms. Gucciardi responded that “we are eating really badly.” She elaborated that the unhealthy foods that we eat (foods containing too much bad fat, high sodium, excessive sugar, etc.) contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

The last part of the workshop, led by Ms. Black Peters and Ms. Blair Dawson, addressed physical activity. This was fun! The group participated in some light physical activity in which we walked in place, did knee lifts, and moved from side to side. We saw a brief clip of an exercise program that modeled the physical activity we were doing in the workshop. The ChooseMyPlate.gov handout recommends that adults do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week. You can select activities that you can do for at least 10 minutes at a time.

At the close of the workshop, the presenters distributed information about the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Health and Nutrition Program and gave each participant a wallet- sized ChooseMyPlate.org card with an individualized message. My card reads: “Drink water instead of sugary drinks.” I already do!

For additional information about the Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s New York City programs visit http:// nyc.cce.cornell.edu Go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov for helpful information about healthy eating and physical activity.

Educators in New York City literacy programs are invited to join the planning committee for the 2013 New York City Adult Basic Education Conference. Contact Aryanna or Darian Fernando of the New York City Consortium for Adult Basic Education at sonofhendrick@yahoo.com

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Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide

“Over the decades, the Black Women’s Health Imperative’s focus groups, roundtables, and surveys have confirmed that when you ask a Black woman about the state of her health, she will find a way to tell you she’s healthy even if she’s not. That’s why we developed this book. We know that deep in our spirits, Black women long to be well.

Although Black history is riddled with pain and loss, it is equally shot through with overwhelming triumphs accomplished against all odds when a critical mass of people challenged the status quo and stepped forward to galvanize meaningful change. Black women continue to “beat the odds” and claim success in American life in ways that few would have ever predicted. Attaining good health and quality health care may be formidable challenges, but these are challenges that we believe Black women can meet. The fact that others often don’t really “see us” or “don’t think much of us” doesn’t mean that we can’t affirm our value and dare to love ourselves.

It’s time for Black women to kick old dysfunctional behaviors to the curb no matter where or who we come from. It’s time to adopt a new attitude of uncompromised commitment to our own well-being. We must move forward—sister by sister and one woman at a time!

As we educate ourselves about our health, we can break through our denial and discover that it is never too late to put our health first.” (“Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” p. 2)

“Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” is a Black Women’s Health Imperative Project published this year by Smiley Books (www.SmileyBooks.com). This groundbreaking and important 400 –page publication examines the health challenges and crises facing many Black women today and serves as a current, comprehensive health guide which outlines strategies for promoting health and wellness in Black women and girls. “Health First!” is written by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, the president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative( www.BlackWomens Health.org) and award-winning health journalist and New York Times bestselling author Hilary Beard (“Friends: A Love Story,” “21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha’s Vineyard Diet /Detox“).

Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Black Women’s Health Imperative is the leading national organization advancing the health and wellness of our nation’s 20 million Black women and girls across the life span----physica lly, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Through advocacy, education and leadership development, the Imperative works to deepen Black women’s resolve in becoming savvy decision makers about our health, achieving optimum health and wellness, and eliminating racial and gender disparities in health. The Imperative’s aim is to deepen the public’s investment in moving health and wellness to the top of every Black woman’s life agenda, as well as making it a top priority on the nation’s policy and research agenda (www.BlackWomens Health.org).

“Health First!”, which opens with a Foreword by Byllye Y. Avery, the Founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, includes three sections: Part I, Your Journey through Life’s Stages (Adolescents, Young Adults, Midlife Adults, Mature Adults); Part II, Beating the Odds; and Part III, Self-Care is Imperative.

The information the authors present in the book come from experts, researchers, current federal government data, and the accounts of Black women themselves. The Black Women ‘s Health Imperative’s work with women ( conducting polls, surveys, roundtables and focus groups) is also highlighted. And for the first time, the authors release findings from a 2007 Harris survey on the Health Attitudes and Behaviors of Black Women, which was commissioned by the Black Women’s Health Imperative. The book includes an array of Black women’s perspectives on health issues, but also highlights stories of “women who have beat the odds and made choices to manage their disease, change their behavior , and inspire others along the way” (p.5).

Part I, “Your Journey Through Life’s Stages” looks as the issues affecting Black women across the lifespan and explores a range of topics including image and identity; education; violence and abuse; employment and economic realities; marriage and family; tobacco and substance use; sexual and reproductive health; menopause; prevention and setting the stage for good health. The authors provide a list of recommended health screenings and vaccinations Black women should have at each life stage.

Part II, “Beating the Odds” examines the top ten health risks for Black women: cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, stroke, and violence. Some findings:

• Although cancer deaths have declined for both Whites and Blacks living in the United States, Blacks continue to suffer the greatest burden in each of the most common types of cancer. For all cancers combined, the death rate is 25 percent higher for Blacks than for Whites.
• The rate of depression in Black women is roughly 50 percent higher than that of White women, yet only 7 percent of Black women get treated for it, compared to 20 percent of White women.
• Diabetes is the fourth leading cause of death for Black women.
• Black women’s rates of heart disease overall are twice as high as those for White women. Black women suffer coronary artery disease (CAD) at much higher rates than White women and are 35 percent more likely than White women to die from it.
• In 2010, HIV/AIDS was the third leading cause of death among Black women ages 35-44.
• Black women and men constitute about 29 percent of all patients treated for kidney failure in the United States.
• Black women are more likely to be obese than women of any other racial group, more prone to the diseases that obesity contributes or connects to, and more likely to die from those diseases.
• By some estimates, 48 percent of Black women and girls between ages 14 and 49 have genital herpes.
• Black women are twice as likely as White women to have a stroke, and tend to have them earlier in life.
• A 2008 study by the Violence Policy Center reported that Black women are being killed at a rate nearly three times higher than White women. The average age of Black women who were homicide victims was 34 years and most of these women were killed by a family member, intimate friend or spouse, rather than a stranger.

Part III, “Self-Care Is Imperative” offers counsel and sound advice on how Black women can transform their physical and mental health and live well. In the opening chapter “Healthy Body”, the authors discuss healthy eating and the importance of regular physical activity.

“The foods we eat affect every aspect of our being; our energy level, our ability to think clearly, our emotional stability, our body’s ability to repair and regenerate itself, the ease with which it maintains a healthy weight ….Yet all too often we use food to “take care of” others or ourselves in a way that isn’t healthy at all. Far too many Black women turn to food for when we feel overloaded or overwhelmed by the realities of life—especially when we aren’t tending to our mental health as we should.” (p. 248).

Among the authors’ guidelines and recommendations for healthy eating, they caution women to consume less sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, and encourage them to drink more water and eat more fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins. They also discuss portion sizing and the My Plate visual, in which a plate is divided like a pie chart. Half of the plate should contain vegetables and fruit, one-quarter should contain protein and one-quarter of the plate should have whole grains.

In emphasizing the importance of regular physical activity, the authors write:
“Physical activity can lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol, help you lose weight, and reduce inflammation in your body. Because it helps to change both your body weight and your body composition, it indirectly protects against other conditions as well, including fatty liver, many cancers, sleep apnea, low-back pain, gout, and more. Staying in motion increases longevity and lowers your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and Type-2 diabetes—all conditions that disproportionat ely affect Black women.” (p. 271).

The authors discuss the very real barriers many Black women face to eating healthy and getting physical activity--- limited access to healthy foods in their communities, lack of money, little or no support from family or friends, having no access to a gym or other safe space in the community in which to exercise, time constraints, and others. They offer some suggestions for addressing these barriers.

“Healthy Mind “ follows the chapter on eating and physical activity. This chapter looks at emotional wellness, explores the mind-body-spiri t connection, discusses mental illness in Black women and the stressors that can lead to or exacerbate mental illness, lists the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and gives an overview of forms of treatment.

“Just as many aspects of the brain lie beyond science’s ability to understand them, our mind/body/spirit connection is so profound that researchers haven’t probed it deeply either. But it is tangible and very real—and fundamental to a healthy life. When our mind, body and spirit operate in synchrony, we experience optimal health on every level.” (p. 285)

A definition of emotional wellness by Andrea Sullivan, N.D., PhD in her book “ A Path to Healing: A Guide to Wellness for Body, Mind and Soul” is offered in “Health First.” According to Dr. Sullivan, we enjoy emotional wellness when:

“We are aware of being part of a greater whole. Our behavior is likely to be productive and fruitful. We pursue goals of health, happiness, wealth and love. We encourage others to do the same. We have selfless creativity for others and ourselves. When we are well, we can give freely of ourselves, from the overflow of who we are. When we are well, it hurts not to give.” (p. 284).

“Healthy Mind “concludes with five strategies Black women can use to support their mental health:
• Trust your intuition
• Listen to your emotions selectively
• Solve your problems honestly
• Face your fears
• Ask for help

“For Black women spirituality reflects the imprint of our race, gender and culture. It is the unspoken wind beneath our wings that can offer the direction necessary to claim a truly healthy life.” (p. 311)

The chapter “Healthy Spirit” addresses spirituality as a critical component in the lives in many Black women and discusses the link between spirituality and optimal physical and mental health.

“We’d like to propose that spiritual health means honoring Spirit in all of its manifestations—from treasuring nature to treasuring other human beings to treasuring ourselves. And since every human being consists of many dimensions, including a body, a mind and a spirit, being spiritually healthy involves proactively caring for all aspects of ourselves. Although Western thought typically considers these three to be separate entities, African-descend ed people typically believe that the body is connected to the mind, which is connected to the spirit.” (p. 314).

“Healthy Spirit” contains writings by bestselling motivational author Iyanla Vanzant, including her 10 Contemplations, and lists spiritual disciplines women can practice, including:
• Prayer
• Meditation
• Spiritual Study
• Journaling
• Fasting and Cleansing
• Nature
• Silence
• Turning Outward
• Service
• Surrender
• Sacrifice
• Spirit in Community
• Worship
• Fellowship
• Celebration

“How do you take care of yourself? Now that you have learned in previous chapters how to reduce your vulnerability to the Top Ten Health Risks, and how to tend to your body, mind and spirit, it’s time to blueprint your own strategy for self-care. Through practicing self-care you can empower yourself to become what the Imperative calls a Health-Wise Woman—a woman who is an informed master of her own health, both for her own sake and for her community. This healthy self-possession can take many different forms, ranging from committing to daily physical activity to creating the most vibrant life possible even if you are living with a chronic illness.” (p. 332)

The final chapter of the book “Self-Care Now” discusses self-care, outlines steps to becoming a Health-Wise Woman, and concludes the book with steps to self-empowermen t that make wellness possible.

Self-Care is defined as:
• Assessing the state of your health
• Learning what it takes to attain and maintain good health
• Knowing available health-care options from both conventional Western or allopathic medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)
• Understanding how to assess the information and resources you need
• Making informed decisions
• Assembling your own health-care advisory team (p. 332)

The authors offer a health self-assessment questionnaire, discuss patient rights and responsibilitie s, and give a Primary Care Primer. The chapter ends with the following “Steps to Self-Empowermen t”:
• Awareness
• Coalescing
• Taking Control
• Transformation
• Maintenance

"Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” concludes with an Afterword by Eleanor Hinton Hoytt and features a resource list of national and local health nonprofits, medical and other associations, and government health organizations.

The following are excerpts from some of the testimonies of women in the book:

“I’m an advocate for my health now. I don’t let any doctor tell me that it’s going to be okay. If something doesn’t feel right , I demand an examination and testing. Even if everything feels right, I don’t miss my annual physical and I gather as much information as I can about what can affect my health as a Black woman.” Erika Jones, a mother and survivor of triple negative breast cancer (p. 116).

“The beginning of any life change must start in the mind. I decided to give myself at least a year to “get well” and I soon noticed that my wellness plan had a life on its own. The pounds seemed to drop off, and my physical exams were improving rapidly.” Dr. Bertice Berry, sociologist, lecturer, educator and author (“ A Year to Wellness and Other Weightloss Secrets”) who developed a wellness plan to overcome obesity and lost over 150 pounds (p. 195).

“We have to stop rationalizing away the unhealthy habits we have—be it smoking, drinking, overeating, being sedentary or not taking the medication meant to save our lives. I don’t know why my life was spared and others haven’t been, but I don’t intend to test my luck. If you know there is something you need to change, you shouldn’t either.” Edna Wooten, stroke survivor, widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmoth er (p. 227).

“We MUST make our health a priority. Not weight loss because we want to be cute—weight loss because it’s better for our daily quality of life. We must make our mental health a priority, not considering it because we are about to go DMX on folks, losing our mind up in here, up in here. Our mental health has to come first because we don’t HAVE to live in despair—we CAN feel better. We must put our health first because suffering from chronic illness and being unwell doesn’t make life worth living.” Kirsten, age 39, a mother who is using “Health First” as a guide to improving her own health (p. 350).

“First and foremost, Health First! is for and about Black women seeing ourselves with new eyes. It’s about learning to love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves, and caring enough about others to encourage them to do the same. Self-love is not an indulgence: it is a commitment to care for oneself in the highest possible manner. Self-love is not wrong, neither is it selfish. In fact, self-love is an acknowledgment that seeing ourselves as worthy of love is a prerequisite to loving others. And unlike some other kinds of love, self-love is unconditional.” (“Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide” p. 8).
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“Protect Children, Not Guns 2012”

“By any standards of human and moral decency, children in America are under assault, and by international standards, America remains an unparalleled world leader in gun deaths of children and teens—a distinction we shamefully and immorally choose! The most recent analysis of data from 23 high-income countries reported that 87 percent of children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. And the U.S. gun homicide rate for teens and young adults 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined gun homicide rate for that same age group in the other countries.”

This statement, written by Children’s Defense Fund President and Founder Marian Wright Edelman, appears in the Foreword of the Children’s Defense Fund’s 12th “Protect Children, Not Guns” report, released on March 23rd. The cover of “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” is a picture of Trayvon Martin and reads “ This report is dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin and the thousands of children and teenagers killed by guns each year in America.”

“Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” analyzes the latest (2008 and 2009) fatal and nonfatal firearm injury data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for children and teens ages 0-19. The 54-page report‘s table of contents include:
• Stand Up and Take Action
• Child and Teen Gun Deaths
• Child and Teen Gun Injuries
• Guns In Cities
• State Trends
• International Gun Comparisons
• Debunking the Myths about Guns
• Selected Organizations Working to Prevent Gun Violence

Report statistics and highlights:
• 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009.
• 34, 387 children and teens were injured by guns in 2008 and 2009.
• Of the 116,385 children killed by guns since 1979, 59 percent were White and 38 percent were Black.
• The majority of gun deaths among children since 1979 have been homicides (57 percent) while nearly one-third have been suicides (31 percent).
• The leading cause of death among Black youth ages 15 to 19 in 2009 was gun homicide.
• The number of children and teens injured by a gun increased every year from 2003 to 2008, from 11, 884 in 2003 to a high of 20, 596 in 2008, but dropped to 13, 791 in 2009.
• Nearly three-quarters of all gun homicides among youth ages 10 to 19 in 2006 and 2007 occurred in the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas. The cities with the highest firearm homicide rates for children and teens ages 10-19 include New Orleans, LA; St. Louis, MO; Oakland, CA; Newark, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Richmond, VA; Miami, FL; Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; and Cincinnati, OH.
• More than 600 mayors from large and small cities across the country have joined the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition (www.mayorsagainstil legalguns.org) co-chaired by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
• Just over half of the homicide and suicide gun deaths of children and teens in 2009 were in eight states: California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Louisiana.
• Federal law only requires licensed importers, dealers or manufacturers to have a locking device on guns they sell or transfer. Eleven states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) have passed laws requiring gun-locking devices under certain circumstances. In contrast, 21 states have passed laws requiring children to wear bike helmets.
• Twenty-seven states have laws designed to prevent children from having access to guns although they take effect at different ages and often include a number of exceptions. The strongest laws impose criminal liability when a minor could or does gain access to a negligently stored gun.
• Federal law includes minimal restrictions on the purchase or possession of guns by children. Absent tough federal restrictions, some states passed laws imposing stricter regulations on minimum age requirements for purchase or possession of certain guns. For example, 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws imposing a minimum age requirement that is stricter than the federal requirement for the purchase of all handguns and that applies to both licensed and unlicensed sellers.
• The United States accounts for less than five percent of the global population, yet Americans own an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Of the estimated eight million new guns manufactured annually across the world, about half are purchased by Americans.
• The United States has the highest gun homicide rate of 34 industrialized countries---30 times higher than Australia, France or the United Kingdom.
• Most Americans favor sensible gun laws that will help keep them and their children safe. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence conducted a study after the 2008 elections and concluded that candidates who openly support sensible gun laws can win elections.

The “Stand Up and Take Action” section of the report offers these recommendations for ending gun violence in the lives of children:
• Parents, remove guns from your home.
• Support common-sense gun safety measures for the nation. Stronger federal laws can help protect more children from gun violence by:
o Closing the gun show loophole
o Strengthening restrictions on people convicted of a violent misdemeanor or a violent act as a juvenile.
o Requiring consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns.
• Help state and local governments protect children from guns.
• Nonviolent conflict resolution should be a part of our homes, schools, congregations and communities.
• Boycott products that glamorize violence.
• Focus attention on the number of children killed and injured by gun violence.
• Support innovative efforts to promote positive youth development. (“Protect Children Not Guns 2012”, p. 6-8).

“As a nation, we must step down from our role as world leader in child gun deaths and work together to make America a moral leader in protecting children in the world which must begin with preventing and reducing gun deaths of children and teens and of all who reside here. Every child’s life is sacred and it is long past time that we protect it. The greatest national security threat in America comes from no enemy without but from armed enemies within who lack regard for the sanctity of life for every vulnerable child.” (Marian Wright Edelman, “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” p. 5) .

For a copy of “Protect Children, Not Guns 2012” visit the Children’s Defense Fund website at www.childrensdefens e.org
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Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 2012

April is recognized in the United States as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence. This April, the 2012 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign centers on promoting healthy sexuality to prevent sexual violence.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (www.nsvrc.org) provides resources to help organizations and individuals plan SAAM activities in their communities during the month of April and throughout the year. A wealth of information can be found on the SAAM website http://www.nsvrc.org/saam/sexual-assault- awareness-month -home Resources are available in English and Spanish.

One of this year’s campaign activities will be Tweet about it! Tuesdays, healthy sexuality chats happening on Twitter every Tuesday in April as a part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). You can join experts for a one-hour live, real-time discussion of healthy sexuality. The topics include:

April 3: Healthy Sexuality and Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
April 10: Healthy Sexuality and Gender Norms
April 17: Healthy Sexuality in Later Life
April 24: Healthy Sexuality, Consent and the Purity Myth
Go to http://twitter.com/nsvrc
#Tweetaboutit

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center believes that by working together, we can highlight sexual violence as a major issue in our communities and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.


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SAVE THE DATE! May 11th is the N.Y.C. Healthy Teen Relationships Conference

The 2012 Healthy Teen Relationships Conference, sponsored by the New York City Healthy Teen Relationships Coalition, will be held on Friday, May 11, 2012 from 8:30am-4:00pm at the ACS Children’s Center, 492 First Avenue in Manhattan.

This conference is free but requires registration. Teens and service providers are encouraged to attend. Adults must be accompanied by at least one teen. Registration information will be made available in April. To be notified when registration is open, email healthyteenconf erence@gmail.com

The 2012 Healthy Teen Relationships Conference is presented by The Arab American Family Support Center, Center Against Domestic Violence, The Children’s Aid Society, Columbia Center for Youth Violence Prevention, Day One, The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, Office of the District Attorney-Kings County, Sanctuary for Families, Steps to End Family Violence.
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“Nuestra Seguridad, Nuestras Comunidades” (“Our Safety, Our Communities”)

Safe Homes Project, The Healing Center, The Lutheran Family Health Center’s Family Support Center, and NYC Council Members Brad Lander and Sara M. González will present “Nuestra Seguridad, Nuestras Comunidades” (“Our Safety, Our Communities”) a Spanish-languag e Brooklyn Latina/Latino Community Forum on Domestic Violence and Healthy Relationships. This free event will be held on Saturday, April 28th from 9:30am-4:00pm at PS 24, 427 38th Street in Brooklyn.

The program will feature music, refreshments, resources and speakers. No registration is required. To sign up for limited childcare for children ages 5-12, contact (718) 499-2151.

THE EVENT FLYER READS:

“Nuestra Seguridad, Nuestras Comunidades”
Un Foro Latino para la Comunidad de Brooklyn sobre Relaciones Saludables y Violencia Domestica

Sábado 28 de Abril de 9:30am-4pm
En la escuela P.S. 24
en el 427 de la Calle 38, Brooklyn
¡Música! ¡Refrigerios! ¡Recursos ! Panelistas !
Registración no es Requerido

Para inscripción de cuidado infantil; capacidad LIMITADA Edades 5-12
Llame al (718) 499-2151

Presentado por:
Safe Homes Project
The Healing Center
The Lutheran Family Health Centers’ Family Support Center
y la asistencia de los Concejales de la Ciudad de Nueva York
Brad Lander Y Sara M. González


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Remembering Leticia Monique Jenkins 1972-2012

My sister-in-law Leticia Monique Jenkins battled breast cancer for over two years. After the initial rounds of treatment, she was doing well. The family was so optimistic. Sadly, the cancer returned and spread late last year. She died at her home on Sunday, February 12th at the age of 39. She is survived by her husband Brian (my brother), their three children, sons Brian, 14, Christopher, 9 and daughter Zuri, 5, her parents, Anna and William, and other family members and friends.

I struggled to write this tribute to Leticia because I am devastated by her death. I had to do some crying before I could put my words onto paper. But as heartbroken as I am, I wanted to write something upbeat. Leticia enjoyed life, and that is how I want to remember her.

Leticia regularly sent me pictures of my niece and nephews. I proudly display them in my living room. Those I have not framed I keep in photo albums. I love looking at the baby pictures! Those once tiny ones are now devouring pizza, chocolate candy, Subway sandwiches, Chicken Mc Nuggets and anything else I serve them when they visit me! They are very precious to me, and I live to be a good role model to them. When Zuri was born, Leticia and my brother honored me by creating her middle name JaNora by combining my name and my mother’s name. My brother says that Zuri reminds him of me when I was a little girl.

I enjoyed watching Leticia interact with her children, especially when they were babies and toddlers. Once, I was sitting in my mother’s living room with Leticia. She was holding my nephew Christopher, who was less than a year old. Leticia was hugging him and calling him “Kissyfur” instead of Christopher. I thought that was so adorable. When my oldest nephew Brian turned one, there was a birthday party for him at my mother’s apartment. Little Brian sat on Leticia’s lap and got so excited when he saw his birthday cake that he plopped his fingers down into it! I can still hear Leticia saying to him in her sweet voice, “Happy birthday honey.”

Leticia was always inviting me to family events. I have spent so much time in school and engaged in other professional activities that I could not always attend. It hurts now to think of those missed opportunities to be closer to her and the family. When I could attend events, I enjoyed them to the fullest. One memorable event was a birthday party for my nephews at New Roc City in New Rochelle. We ate, bowled, and watched the children dance on and offstage. Another wonderful family event was a baby blessing ceremony for Zuri at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. In 2010, my brother and Leticia had a small birthday party at their home for my other niece Brianna. It was my first time seeing their dog Brownie. Leticia gently scolded me for giving Brownie a lot of dog treats to eat, especially after that little rascal went around munching on our hamburgers! I watched as Leticia played with Brownie, rubbing his belly and talking to him as if her were one of her babies.

One of my funniest recent memories was of Leticia, my mother and me lecturing my oldest nephew. He made the mistake of walking into my mom’s apartment with his pants sagging. That poor kid was trapped. But there was so much love in Leticia’s voice as she talked to her son about being a good young man, and how he should always try to present himself in the best light. Leticia said she could not understand how young girls could find boys who wore sagging pants attractive.

I was so proud of Leticia when she finally earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of New Rochelle last year. Leticia wanted to earn her degree in tribute to her father, who himself is living with cancer. Sometimes, she would include me in a few class assignments. Leticia would send me questionnaires to complete for research projects. Leticia was the Valedictorian of her graduating class. She had been accepted into a graduate program in Creative Writing.

Leticia loved life. She was so vibrant. She and my brother and the children traveled often. Leticia loved clothes and shoes. Her hobbies included reading, movies, photography, and collecting dolls. Leticia was very creative. She made her own stationery and crocheted hats, scarves, sweaters, blankets and other items. I asked my brother for a couple of her crocheted works to keep in her memory.

More than anything, Leticia loved being a wife and mother. She was truly loved in sickness and in health. At her funeral, her father William told me that he thanked my brother for taking such good care of Leticia. No surprise there. My brother loved Leticia and she in turn considered him “the love of her life.”

At her funeral, Leticia’s close friends Laura Tracy and Roshonda Rock talked about their amazing friendship with Leticia. I invited them to share some memories.

“Writing about Leticia in the past tense makes me cry. I am very sad that she died. The 3:00am phone call that your brother placed to me was unexpected. Clearly I knew Leticia was sick, but I was shocked. She didn’t warn me. I howled like a baby. I just didn't understand what Brian was saying to me. I had spoken to her Thursday morning and she said in that baby voice of hers ,"I'm OK ". I am mad and hurt that I didn't get to hug her one more time and say “ I love you girl'. I should have taken the hint when she wanted to get off the phone that Thursday morning that I needed to get to the Bronx. I miss her.

Sometimes I am in utter disbelief that I can’t call her anymore. Leticia was the one person I could talk to about anything, seriously, anything. I could pour out my deepest hurts to her with full knowledge that she was HEARING and not just listening. She wasn't too uppity or shy about any subject. I miss my friend.

I was the shy one of our fric 'n frac combo. We met each other on the first day of high school in 1986, the only two dweebs that actually showed up to the first day of high school with book bags! Leticia was outgoing and outspoken. She was also very ambitious. We attended high school in Bensonhurst, and somehow Leticia became captain of the Booster squad. I often think how important it is to surround yourself with likeminded progressive personalities. She positioned herself to get into honor classes and advanced placement classes. She was the first person that had a list of scholarships for black students and didn't mind sharing. As eloquently stated at her wake, Leticia was a “girl's girl”.

Leticia was incredibly open. There were few topics that she was afraid to put flare of opinion on -- from politics, to relationships, to sex, she would hit you with her unabashed point of view. This is one of the reasons why she was so easy to befriend. Who wouldn't be attracted to someone that would let you open up without reservations? Now don't get me wrong, by no means was she a Mother Theresa . There were those that didn't like her mouth and there were those that she couldn't take either! If your friendship with Leticia didn't have a few "we're not speaking " segments, um... you weren't really friends with Leticia!

At the end of the day, I am proud to have known her, thankful to God for the introduction, and grateful for the memories. I am comforted to know that SHE appreciated my love and friendship. We didn't speak extensively of her 'wishes' in the event of her death; she tried, but I honestly was too chicken to handle the very adult conversation. However, with the strength from God, and the utmost determination, I plan to be involved with her children's lives in the most positive, fun, and Leticia- like ways that I can,” wrote Laura.

“She enjoyed life to the fullest, whenever possible. Leticia was a party animal in her younger days. We would go to a club when we were younger and dance until it closed....literally. Though all of this is true she too loved the family life. She loved family life and embraced every aspect of it--cooking, movie time, game time, etc. Before she had a husband and children she helped me raise my two children. She would go with us to the circus, class trips and all. She loved my two children as if they were her own, thus the reason she was a godmother to my children and I am a godmother to hers.

Up until her last days, she proved to be a true godmother. She paid special attention to my teenage daughter , who was her daughter before she had her own daughter. If Leticia was displeased with her goddaughter she was not afraid to tell her, and whatever she said, she said with love. She was always open-minded with my daughter Shanee and with every lecture came a lesson of love. I always appreciated her for providing that unbiased discipline that backed me up but left the gate open for my daughter to know that she was not misunderstood (because all teenagers believe that parents just don't understand).

Leticia taught me so much about beauty. She loved to play dress up and did so well at it. She loooooved to shop. In my younger days I tried to keep up but later on I had to drop out. She taught me so much about a lot of things. Leticia was the girliest girl I knew…. hair, nails, clothes, all of it. I loved her energy and her ability to keep it going. She prided herself on looking good. She pulled no stops when it came to looking good. I admired her for this and strived to be like her when I grew up.

She would tell me how much she looked up to me and admired me and I always found this hard to believe. But I did notice how we both followed one another with certain things. She always had a mind of her own, but we did honestly feed off one another. I bleached my hair, she colored hers. She bought tight jeans, I bought even tighter. I had three kids, she had three too. She got married, so did I. She kept shopping, I just watched (lol). Thanks for doing this. It is a wonderful tribute to her. She would be so honored, “ wrote Roshonda.

Last Christmas, I sent a donation in Leticia’s honor to an organization that connects women to breast health resource information. In Leticia’s memory, I will continue to support organizations like this every year.

We will always love you Leticia. Thank you for being in our lives.
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“I Just Want People to be Proud of Teachers”

When I was in high school, one of my teachers shared a letter with me that he had written to the principal. In the letter, he responded to some highly offensive comments the principal made about the students. I was very hurt to learn that the principal of my school had low expectations of us, and was dismissive of our potential to achieve. He even had the audacity to publicly verbalize his views.

Thank goodness others in my life did not feel as he did. I was blessed to have had incredibly dedicated teachers who did not subscribe to the principal’s views. And in doing the work I do, I honor them all for working with me, and having the belief that I could succeed.

“Stories from an Undeclared War,” a moving, gritty, and hopeful 90-minute documentary, highlights the work of teacher Erin Gruwell (affectionately known as Ms. G.) and her students from Long Beach, California, famously known as the Freedom Writers, the authors of “The Freedom Writers Diary.” “Stories from an Undeclared War” pays tribute to a teacher who, like many of my teachers, had great expectations for her students, who were written off in some cases by their families, communities, and other teachers. It also pays tribute to the students who worked through their pain, fear and feelings of hopelessness, to become the leaders and change agents they are today. The film is rich with interviews of Erin and some of her students, and features excellent footage of them in Erin’s class, Room 203, back in 1994.

I was invited to join an audience of educators, students and others for a screening of “Stories from an Undeclared War,” on Tuesday, January 24th at Scholastic, 557 Broadway in lower Manhattan, from 7pm-10pm. Erin Gruwell and two of the Freedom Writers who appear in the documentary, Sue Ellen Alpizar and Mauricio “Tony” Becerra, were in attendance.

Mr. Patrick Daley, Senior Vice President at Scholastic welcomed the audience. Prior to the film viewing, Mr. Daley announced an exciting new partnership between Scholastic , Erin, and Dr. Alfred W. Tatum, a social justice advocate, called “On the Record.” “On the Record,” designed by Dr. Tatum and Erin, is “a bold new nonfiction program that builds on the vision of an exceptional educator, using the power of story to get students reading with skill, writing with passion, and living with purpose.” Through the “On the Record” program, students will have the opportunity to read stories about the achievements of reporters, scientists, writers, athletes, soldiers and artists. The students will be encouraged to record their own experiences in their own voices. “On the Record” will speak to young people about character issues including resiliency, engaging others, building capacity, and defining who they are as individuals. Attendees were given Scholastic bags containing literature about the “On the Record” program and a book from the “On the Record” series.

“Stories from an Undeclared War” opens with scenes of gang violence, blood and lifeless bodies. There is footage shown of the anger, rioting, murder, looting and assaulting that engulfed the streets of Los Angeles for days after the 1992 Rodney King verdict was announced. It was in this climate that Erin Gruwell prepared to begin her teaching career. Admittedly “naïve” at first, Erin boldly confronted her reality —“no technology, no textbooks, no eager students.” She noticed that the students grouped themselves according to race, and she found that they were bored, angry, and suspicious of her. One student, Henry, stated that anyone in Erin’s position “had to be scared.” Whenever Erin talked with other teachers, she found the teachers using words like “those kids” and “them” which she soon realized were code words for her students—low income students of color.

Erin wrestled with the question, “How can I make them want to learn?” She talked about her attempts to listen to her students and learn about their lives, as a way of motivating them. The students were reluctant to share at first. One student, Latilla, said she thought Erin was “nosy.” Latilla explained that African Americans did not like to talk about what went on in their homes.

In the film, Erin discusses the various methods she used to engage the students—educating herself about gangs, showing the students films about ethnic conflict. I chuckled when Erin talked about showing the class the musical “West Side Story.” Erin reported that one student told her that “when gangs fight, they don’t dance.” She had to try something different. After showing the class the film “Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo,” in which two lovers, one Muslim and one Serb, are shot and killed, one student, Darrius, begins crying and tells the class “I feel like I come from an undeclared war zone.”

Throughout the film, the students talk about the issues in their lives---homeles sness, gang banging, being in foster care, involvement in the juvenile justice system, molestation, drug abusing parents, losing loved ones to violent deaths, abuse. One student, Maria, one of the main characters in the film, in talking about all the violence in her life, said “I have been to more funerals than birthday parties.” Maria was one of the most difficult students for Erin to engage.

A very touching moment of the film occurred when Erin talked about doing a “Toast for Change.” She set the classroom tables up with plastic glasses of cider. The students were asked to make a toast to something they wanted to change or commit to in their lives. One student toasted that she would not die a violent death like others in her family; another said she would not become a teen mother; another vowed to have a voice, to speak up for herself; one student pledged to not be like his father, who had abandoned the family.

After the powerful “Toast for Change” exercise, Erin assigned the book “The Diary of Anne Frank.” In doing so, she experienced a breakthrough with Maria, who was resistant to reading the book. Maria slowly found herself invested in the story. When she read of Anne Frank’s suffering “I took a liking to her.” But Maria was devastated when she learned that Anne Frank died. She came into the classroom, and threw the book in anger. Erin then realized that her students did not know the story, and she felt bad that she had not prepared them. “It became devastating, because I never wanted to take away my students’ hope.” Her classmate Darrius tried to comfort Maria by saying that Anne Frank would always live on through her book.

Another of the several highlights in the film occurs when the students read “Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo” by Zlata Filipovic, the Bosnian-Croat writer who kept a diary about living in war-torn Sarajevo, and became known as the “Anne Frank of Sarajevo.” The students raised money to bring Zlata to their school to speak with them, and she did indeed visit. As one student says in the film, “She wanted peace among her community and we want the same thing.” It was then that Erin decided that she wanted the students to journal about their experiences. In order to do that, she would have to keep them in her class instead of moving them on to other teachers. She faced some resistance from teachers at the school, who viewed what she was doing as disruptive. Carl Cohn, then the Superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District, gave Erin the permission she needed to keep her class together.

Although some of the students were initially resistant, they all began writing and sharing their stories, many of them very painful. They wrote about murder, incarceration, jumping in a new gang member, having an abortion, drug dealing, never meeting a father. Soon, the act of writing transformed the students’ lives. The writing initiated a healing process for some. It made them a family, a support system. They would go to the computer room, type their entries anonymously, and have fun. Some found their grades improving because they could do their homework in a safe space. One student remarked “We offered hugs instead of insults, comfort instead of gossip.” As Erin said, “a journal was a safe haven.”

When word got out about what Erin was doing, the media came calling. But there was also animosity and resentment toward Erin from other teachers. At least one teacher publicly accused Erin of having an affair with Superintendent Cohn. Today, the teachers at her former school are using the Freedom Writers materials!

After viewing a film about the Freedom Riders, the civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the South, the students decided to call themselves the Freedom Writers in their honor. They put their stories in a binder and headed to Washington, DC to present them to then Secretary of Education Richard Riley, in one of their first trips to share their stories.

The film then chronicles Erin’s attempts to get “The Freedom Writer’s Diary” published (Doubleday published the book in 1999), the students’ high school graduation, their Ambassadors for Tolerance Tour, which took place in Europe, their college graduations, speaking appearances, and gives updates on the students. “The Freedom Writers’ Diary” has sold over one million copies, most used in classrooms, and has been published in eight foreign languages. The 2007 movie “Freedom Writers” is based on their story.

Erin and the Freedom Writers went on to establish the Freedom Writers Foundation (www.freedomwritersf oundation.org). The mission of the Freedom Writers Foundation “Is to be an advocate for at-risk students by providing tools that facilitate student-centere d learning, improve overall academic performance and increase teacher retention.” Since the Foundation’s inception, Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers have completed over 2000 presentations with educators and students worldwide. In the last five years, almost 250 teachers from all 50 states have participated in a Freedom Writers Institute, a five-day intensive training program that provides educators with Freedom Writers Method-based lesson plans designed to engage at-risk students.

After the film, Erin, Sue Ellen and Tony addressed the audience. Erin called her work “a movement” and said, “This is bigger than a documentary.” She talked about the “On the Record” Program and praised Scholastic. “The partnership with Scholastic is about kids and their stories and their voices. “ Erin acknowledged a few members of the audience. One was a student named Santino, the second was a woman named Violet, a Holocaust survivor who appears in the film, and the third was a member of the family of Andrew Goodman, a participant in the “Freedom Summer” project of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. Erin talked about some of the recent visits she has made to schools in other cities such as Philadelphia, PA and said it is her hope that young people will think “Maybe all I have to do is put down my fist and put down my gun and tell my story.”

Erin introduced Sue Ellen Alpizar, one of the Freedom Writers who works for the Freedom Writers Foundation. Sue Ellen told the audience about her pain of living with an abusive father who was an alcoholic. With all that was going on in her life, she found that writing was very liberating for her. “It’s helping someone deal with the pain.” She added, “If I can just give someone that little bit of freedom (through writing), that’s what makes it worth it for us.” She also told a very touching story about one of her classmates, Todd, who passed away days before the students took their trip to Europe. Todd lived with cystic fibrosis and missed many days of school. Sue Ellen recounted how she decided that in Todd’s honor, she would collect an assortment of rocks from the places they visited abroad. She presented the rocks to Todd’s mother when she returned to the United States.

Erin then introduced Tony Becerra, describing his amazing sense of humor. Tony also spoke about the class’ relationship with Todd, and how Todd wanted to be treated like everyone else. He discussed his experience of meeting Gary Soto, the author of the Scholastic book “Jesse” at a luncheon. Tony was excited about finally meeting the author of a book which featured Mexican American characters with whom he could identify. Tony was delighted that Mr. Soto recognized him as a “Freedom Writer” and the two exchanged autographs.

Tony made an excellent point about students who joke around in school. He said that the student who is always joking around and acting like everything is okay is usually masking some pain. He spoke from personal experience. That child’s message to the teacher, according to Tony, is that he or she is okay, so the teacher should “move on to the next kid.” Tony urged the educators in the audience, in dealing with these students , to “get past the front and the surface.” He added, “That’s what Erin did to me through poetry.”

There was a very brief Q& A session, and Erin concluded her remarks by issuing a call to action. Erin asked audience members to buy a copy of “The Freedom Writers Diary” and give it to a young person. She also took a moment to praise her fellow teachers, remarking “It’s been a tough time to be a teacher.” Erin added ”I just want people to be proud of teachers.”
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"Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality"

“ But it is important to note that marriage alone is insufficient to address all of the needs of poor black gay couples and black gay and transgender youth. So it is important to expand the policy agenda to directly address the causes of economic, health and other quality-of-life issues this population faces.” (“Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality”, p. 23).

Released last week , the report “Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality” is described as “a starting point in identifying policy areas beyond the gay and transgender headline issues that would go a long way toward addressing the disparities black gay and transgender populations face. “ (p.5). It was written by Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, the Advisor for LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress (www.americanprogres s.org). Founded in 2003, the Center for American Progress “is dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.” Its work “addresses 21st century challenges such as energy, national security, economic growth and opportunity, immigration, education and health care.” Ms. Moodie-Mills works with the Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality or FIRE Initiative, “which explores the intersections of race, economics, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality” includes the following sections:
• Overview of the research on black and transgender populations
• Recurring themes and research constraints
• Addressing the needs of black gay and transgender Americans (Economic insecurity, Low educational attainment, Health and wellness disparities)
• Why we need more data on the black gay and transgender population
• Components of a more comprehensive long-term approach to tackle disparities (Data collection advocacy, Policy research roadmap, Other populations)

The report also features a few vignettes of black gay Americans, an appendix of key research and reports on issues affecting black gay and transgender populations, and a list of recommendations to address issues of economic insecurity, low educational attainment, and health and wellness disparities for black gay and transgender Americans.

Some findings:
• The author’s literature review revealed a dearth of data and analysis on black gay and transgender populations, which limits the ability to develop a data-driven agenda to help policymakers, advocates and researchers craft effective solutions to address issues affecting these populations.
• Researchers have done little analysis on the experiences of black gay and transgender people who are economically stable, have good health outcomes, and enjoy full acceptance by their families and communities.
• Black lesbians and transgender people are all but neglected in the health research, with less scholarship devoted to their health concerns.
• There are approximately 85 thousand black same-sex couples in the US according to 2000 Census data.
• Black transgender people face extreme housing discrimination, with 2 in 5 black transgender Americans denied a home or apartment on the basis of gender identity.
• A survey of homeless gay youth in New York City found that 44 percent of these youth are black, meaning over one hundred thousand to nearly two hundred thousand homeless black gay and transgender youth are living on the streets.

Some recommendations:
• Adopt inclusive family policies and safety net programs
• Pass housing antidiscriminat ion laws
• Pass employee nondiscriminati on laws
• Support gay and transgender entrepreneurs
• Legally recognize same-sex relationships
• Adopt school safety policies
• Enforce existing federal civil rights laws
• Work toward health equity
• Examine domestic violence among same-sex couples

In the report’s “research and advocacy roadmap” which can be used to include black gay and transgender viewpoints in policy discussions, the author suggests that data be collected on gay and transgender populations across all federal agencies and health measures. Recommended areas for additional research include the following:
• Addressing unfair punishment of black gay and transgender youth in schools
• Reducing barriers to quality health care for black lesbians
• Identifying structural barriers that perpetuate high rates of HIV/AIDS in the black community
• Instituting antibullying policies and safe spaces in schools serving predominantly black populations
• Analyzing the impact of conservative political and cultural climates on black gay families in the South

“This report is just a starting point in a longer process that identifies policy areas beyond the priority gay and transgender headline issues (or examines the headline issues from a new perspective). We believe this approach will help to better understand and ultimately reduce the disparities faced by black gay and transgender people, as well as other racial and ethnic minority groups.” (p. 35)

“Jumping Beyond the Broom: Why Black Gay and Transgender Americans Need More Than Marriage Equality” is available on the Center for American Progress website, www.americanprogres s.org
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Good for Nothing?

A few years ago, I heard a powerful true story about a homebound elderly woman. She had no family of her own. The woman was not able to get around and engage the world as she had for most of her life, but that hardly dampened her enthusiasm for life and her concern for others.

To keep abreast of events, she read the newspaper every day. Whenever she read an article about a crisis in the life of a person or family, she would write a caring note to the individual or family affected, whether she knew them or not.

When the woman died, an overwhelming number of people came to her funeral to mourn her. There were so many people in attendance, the funeral home barely held them all. The minister thought the woman had an exceptionally large extended family, but it turned out that many of the mourners were not relatives. They had never even met the woman.

The minister learned in talking to some of the mourners that at a time in their lives when they were afraid, discouraged or hurt, this woman’s note of encouragement, a note from a stranger, gave them strength, and helped them get through the crisis they faced. They said they felt less alone in their trouble because she cared.

I thought about this story after reading a comment to a piece that appeared in the New York Times about anxiety (“It’s Still the Age of Anxiety. Or Is It?” by Daniel Smith, January 14, 2012). The author talked about the importance of not giving in to our worries.

The comment that gave me pause was written by a man from Georgia. He wrote:
“Remember Kurt Vonnegut’s old concern ‘What are people for?’ This rise in anxiety could be because so many of us have been given the answer: “Nothing.” Disbelieving and disillusioned in matters of faith, not needed by employers, not believing in the mission of one’s company if employed, disconnected from family and with Facebook friends substituting for real friends, too many feel like flotsam drifting on the ocean. Anxiety is the result of feeling not needed by anyone, anywhere.”

There certainly are days when I feel like this man. The world is troubled and sometimes it worries me and makes me anxious. Sometimes I feel disconnected and disillusioned. But I agree with Mr. Smith about not giving in to my worries and anxiety. And I refuse to give into any feelings of worthlessness or “nothingness”. I am not ready to believe that women and men are “good for nothing.” Yes, we fight, we cause pain, we hurt others. But every day, we also demonstrate that we have the capacity to do so much good.

A shut-in, elderly woman who refused to believe that she was not needed by anyone, touched the lives of many strangers and neighbors in a wonderful way. We can do the same. That’s what people are for.

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My Year in Review

2011 was a busy year. I wrote a total of 78 posts, 26 more than I wrote in 2010. Criminal justice and intimate partner violence were major themes in my writing this year, with 17 and 11 posts respectively, on these two topics.

Other topics I covered included event announcements, a play (Through the Night), economic insecurity, people of color in the labor force, immigration, LGBT rights, grandparent caregivers, mental health, positive images of youth in foster care, culture, literacy, health—even dogs. My favorite post of the year is “Loyal Dog” (August 29). The story was sad, but it proved to be a great opportunity for me to educate people about how important companion animals are in our lives.

I paid tribute to one of my favorite radio hosts, the late Danny Stiles (“Remembering Danny Stiles” March 15), who died in March. I listen to rebroadcasts of his programs, but it is just not the same. In writing about a late grade school classmate Errol, who died in January(“My Regret” February 15) I painfully reminisced about a missed opportunity to reach out to him.

My posts on author and legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s visit to Riverside Church ( “The Awakening” May 25; “We’ve Got to Start Telling the Truth”, May 26; “ We are All to be Valued”, May 31; “An Amazing Story of Failure” June 1; “We’re in the Process of Movement Building” June 6) and on the Contemporary Slavery Symposium (“The Contemporary Slavery Symposium” July 5; “The Slave Next Door” July 7; “Trafficking, Sex Workers, Migration and Slavery” July 12; “ More on the Trafficking, Sex Workers, Migration and Slavery Panel” July 14) kept me writing for hours. After reading her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” I was thrilled to hear Ms. Alexander speak in person. The discussions about domestic workers’ rights and sex work and trafficking in the slavery symposium were important because these are topics that I know very little about, and that appear to be getting more attention these days.

Writing was more personal for me this year. I shared more about myself and my life, and that was important to me. I wrote not as an observer, but as someone who has been touched by a lot of what I discussed in my posts. For example, I fondly recalled my experience as a teen writer for Youth Communication, a program that was very important to me in my high school and early college years (“Janice’s Rap”, March 28). Earlier in the year, I profiled Otis Hampton, a writer for Represent, one of Youth Communication’s publications (“I Want Them to Think and I Want Them to Listen” February 28). In June, I covered Youth Communication’s award ceremony for youth in foster care (“The 13th Annual Youth Communication Awards for Youth in Foster Care” June 13 and “The Best of Themselves” June 14) and was truly moved.

In my post “One Million Hearts (Including Mine)”(September 27), I talked about my goal to improve my health. I just went to my doctor last week for a follow up checkup. I have changed my eating habits and have lost weight, so I feel encouraged because I am not just talking, but doing. Like so many families, my family has members with Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, mental illness, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and other diseases, so health and wellness are major priorities for me these days.

It has been a productive year. I want to thank you for reading! Your support and kind thoughts have been with me all year, in fact, for all three years that I have been writing this blog.

Have a blessed, safe and peaceful holiday season. See you in 2012.
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The 2011 Read Out Loud! Family Literacy and Book Festival

I was elated and disappointed at the same time—elated because my niece Brianna and I had a wonderful time! I was disappointed because we could not get to do everything we put on our schedule. There were several activities for us to choose from and all seemed so engaging. We were having fun and time flew!

For the second year in a row, Brianna and I attended, and thoroughly enjoyed, the Read Out Loud! Family Literacy and Book Festival. The event was presented by the Morningside Area Alliance (www.morningsidealli ance.org) in partnership with School Community District 5 and PS 92, Mary McLeod Bethune School. The festival was held at PS 92, 222 West 134th Street on Saturday, December 3rd from 10am until 4pm.

After we registered, Brianna and I walked into the auditorium. Brianna immediately spotted the face painting tables. Brianna loves face painting, so she headed down to a table and came back to her seat looking like a tiger! Children had their faces painted to look like tigers, butterflies, flowers, clowns, even Batman.

While we waited for the program to begin, we were treated to guest appearances by none other than Elmo and Clifford the Big Red Dog! A girl named Cheyenne, who was around five or six years old, unabashedly ran over to Clifford to hug him. One of the event photographers took a picture of Cheyenne and Clifford. The children in the audience erupted in excitement when Elmo walked in a few minutes later! Later, Brianna hugged them both, and children flocked around Elmo and Clifford for pictures. I am not ashamed to admit that I too waved and said hello to both of them!

Ms. Gale Reeves, Community Superintendent of Community School District 5 in Manhattan, opened the event by welcoming the audience. She thanked the Morningside Area Alliance for its support of the school district. Ms. Reeves acknowledged the staff of PS 92, the Mary McLeod Bethune School, for their work. She asked those staff members who were present to come to the front of the auditorium to be recognized. “Without a doubt, the team at this school is phenomenal,” said Ms. Reeves. She commended the teachers who tirelessly worked on the event. “Behind the scenes, our teachers give so much of themselves.” Ms. Reeves then introduced Mr. Ben Woodworth, Regional Director, Northeast, for Scholastic. Scholastic donated over one thousand books to the event. Mr. Woodworth greeted the audience and spoke about the importance of promoting literacy. “We’re very happy to be here. Enjoy the day that the Morningside Area Alliance and District Five has put together for you,” said Mr. Woodworth.

Ms. Ann Mc Iver, the Executive Director of the Morningside Area Alliance, welcomed the audience and referenced the workshops in the day’s program. She acknowledged volunteers who helped out with the event. “We have an incredible selection of books. I want you to have a wonderful, wonderful time,” said Ms. Mc Iver. She was followed by Ms. Christine Petro, also of the Morningside Area Alliance, who acknowledged the school staff and additional volunteers who helped with the event.

In conclusion, Ms. Reeves asked the audience to take some time to see the Writer’s Gallery which featured writing by students from Community School District 5. “Parents, kids, families, enjoy Read Out Loud!” said Ms. Reeves.

The day’s activities included:
• Book Giveaway
• Stories for Harlem Kids
• Make an Illuminated Bookmark
• Take a Look: Buttons and Books
• Keats’ Corner
• Get Connected! With a New Computer
• Kids’ Oral Health
• Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. (Healthy Eating Strategies through the Power of Hip Hop)
• Learn Fire Safety
• St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital WIC Program
• Sesame Workshop and Sesame Reads Activities
• We Are All the Same Inside
• Make a Child ID Card
• Puppet-making and Storytelling
• Storytelling Through Cooking
• Let’s Make Music
• Around the World in 20 Minutes
• Sign Language and Reading Circles with Dance and Music
• Treasure on My Block
• Feed Your Imagination through Storytelling
• Comic Art Workshop
• Folktales: Once Upon a Time in Asia
• Create Your Own Empowering Book—For Girls
• Fairytales: Villains and Heroes
• Dance, Movement & Writing
• Children’s Eye Exams
• Computer & Internet Basics
• New York Public Library / Countee Cullen Branch (applications for library cards)and Community Outreach and Technology Training

Read Out Loud! 2011 Authors
•Faith Ringgold Reading from “ Tar Beach” “Cassie’s Word Quilt” and other her books.
•Lenore Look “Polka Dot Penguin Pottery”
•James Haywood Rolling Jr. “Come Look With Me: Discovering African American Art for Children”
•Lonnetta Gaines “Fia and the Butterfyl”
•Zetta Elliot “A Wish After Midnight”
•Troy CLE “The Marvelous Effect”
•Jerry Craft Cartoonist, “Mama’s Boyz”

Student Writing Gallery at Read Out Loud! Participating Community School District 5 Schools
• MS 318, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School
• PS 30, Hernandez-Hughe s Learning Academy
• PS 92, Mary McLeod Bethune School
• PS/MS 123, Mahalia Jackson School
• PS 125, Ralph Bunche School
• CS 154, Harriet Tubman School
• PS/MS 161, Don Pedro Albizu Campus
• PS 175, Henry Highland Garnet School
• IS 195, Roberto Clemente School
• MS 410, Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies
• MS/HS 670, Thurgood Marshall Academy
• Kappa IV

After the opening remarks, our first stop was the Book Giveaway. Brianna looked through several books before selecting the book “Barack Obama, Our 44th President,” by Beatrice Gormley. After eating a snack, Brianna joined volunteers from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to create a bookmark. While Brianna worked on her bookmark, I looked at the impressive and wide selection of books donated by Scholastic. Some of the titles included:

• “Thank You Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco
• “Eight Days: A Story of Haiti” by Edwidge Danticat
• “The Lemonade War” by Jacqueline Davies
• “Gloria’s Way” by Ann Cameron
• “The Teacher from the Black Lagoon” by Mike Thaler
• “Tangerine” by Edward Bloor
• “Schooled” by Gordon Korman
• “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’ Engle
• “Tulip at the Bat” by J. Patrick Lewis
• “Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message” by Chief Jake Swamp
• “Never Finished, Never Done” by Regina Brooks
• “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich” by Adam Rex”
• “Sounder” by William H. Armstrong

Bookmark in hand, Brianna and I walked down the hall to the “Around the World in 20 Minutes” workshop. Brianna participated in a trivia game about different countries around the world. One of the facilitators was from Perth in Australia, and joked that he would not be going home for Christmas because the flight back to Australia would take about 24 hours. Brianna learned how to say “hello” and “friend” in languages including Spanish and Italian, and tried to identify flags from different countries, as well as find countries on a map. I love any type of activity that teaches children about other nations. I learned that Brianna hopes to travel to Italy someday, just like her aunt!

We ventured to the second floor for the Sesame Workshop and Sesame Reads activities. The room was decorated with banners that read: “Reading is Succeeding” “Books Open Doors to Discovery” “Read Every Day!” “Knowledge is Power.” We were invited to participate in the “We Are All the Same Inside” activity. The facilitator, Ms. Jayne A. Pierce, is a retired New York Public Library librarian, a poet and writer. Ms. Pierce is a friend of “We Are All the Same Inside” author Timothy Bellavia. Mr. Bellavia is also the author of “Paper, Scissors and Magic: Seven Ways to Get Kids to Love Books.” According to Ms. Pierce, “We Are All the Same Inside” is used as an anti-bullying tool and helps readers explore and appreciate differences. The book has been translated into Spanish. Brianna was given a paper doll to color and dress, and Ms. Pierce showed me some of the dolls created by other children, who were asked to make dolls of their favorite peacemakers. Some of the dolls included Oprah Winfrey, Mahatma Gandhi, U2’s Bono, and Mattie Stepanek.

The day’s participants were a diverse group. I randomly spoke to a few adults who were in attendance. All were there for the first time and said their children were really enjoying themselves.
The highlight of the event for us was visiting with one of our favorite children’s book authors, Lenore Look, the writer and creator of the “Alvin Ho” series. I wrote about Ms. Look in my post about last year’s event (“The Fifth Annual Read Out Loud! Family Literacy and Book Festival” December 7, 2010). My niece and I were so excited to learn she would be at the event again. Before the workshop, Ms. Look gave Brianna the warmest greeting, even recalling that Brianna had won one of her books in her raffle last year. She told us about her recent Alvin Ho book, “ Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals and Other Fatal Circumstances” which I plan to purchase for my niece.

Despite her laryngitis, Ms. Look presented a wonderful workshop. In introducing herself, she talked briefly about her Alvin Ho books and asked the children to introduce themselves. Ms. Look then did something she did last year, which I found very inspiring. She showed the children her elementary school report card. Ms. Look explained to the children that initially, she was not a very good student. Ms. Look told the children that no matter how poorly they do in school, they can improve their grades and become successful in life if they are willing to work hard. One thing she mentioned that I did not know was that she began writing little books when she was in kindergarten. It seems as if she knew as a child that she wanted to be a children’s book author. Awesome!

Ms. Look read from her new book, “Polka Dot Penguin Pottery”, which was illustrated by Yumi Heo. The book is about a character named Aspen Colorado Kim Chee Lee, a writer who is suffering from writer’s block. A trip to the Polka Dot Penguin Pottery Store, which offers pottery and craft classes, gives Aspen an opportunity to get her creative juices flowing by working on an art project, decorating a porcelain egg. Aspen struggles, but with the support of loved ones and friends, she eventually creates a beautiful work of art. I love what Ms. Look said in the story: “In order to make a masterpiece, you must be willing to make a mess.” Sounds like a wonderful life philosophy! “Polka Dot Penguin Pottery” is based on a true story. Ms. Look explained that when she had writer’s block, she went to the Polka Dot Penguin Pottery store, where she painted a beautiful green porcelain egg. Ms. Look showed us the egg and allowed us to touch it.
After reading her book, Ms. Look gave the children materials they could use to make placemats. Brianna used beautiful aqua blue, red and purple squares for her placemat. We were joined at our table by Cheyenne, the first child to hug Clifford the Big Red Dog. Cheyenne drew a princess on her placemat. She took a liking to my niece, calling Brianna her friend.

When the workshop concluded, Brianna hugged Ms. Look. We went back to the Sesame Place workshops where Brianna did some more coloring, made a puppet, and read a Sesame Street story on an iPad. At 2:45pm, everyone walked to the gymnasium for the raffle and book signing. While the raffle was taking place, I completed an event evaluation form. Of course, I raved about the day. When Brianna and I entered the gymnasium, we got into line for Lenore Look. Our wait to see her was very short. When we reached her, Brianna received a copy of “Polka Dot Penguin Pottery.” While Ms. Look autographed Brianna's book, a photographer took a picture. Ms. Look wrote the most wonderful inscription in Brianna’s book. It reads: “To the Amazing Brianna, Keep reading and writing! Thanks so much for coming out to see me again! With love and all best wishes, Lenore Look, 3 Dec 2011 NYC.”

With that, we left and headed over to the local IHOP, where Brianna wasted no time in using the placemat she created in Lenore Look’s workshop.

I would love to see Read Out Loud! become a weekend long event. This way, participants have an opportunity to engage in several activities over the course of two days. It is that much fun! I do not routinely get up early on Saturdays, but this was absolutely worth the early wake-up!

There are so many people, groups and organizations to thank:
• Morningside Area Alliance
• Community School District 5
• Scholastic
• New York Public Library
• The Interchurch Center
• Sesame Workshop
• The Jewish Theological Seminary Tzedakah Campaign
• International House
• Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
• Barnard College
• Columbia University School of the Arts/ Our Word Writers of Color
• Teachers College
• Bank Street College School of Education
• Columbia University Community DentCare Network
• Per Scholas
• Hip Hop Public Health Education Center
• New York Life
• Struttin’ Buttons
• Harlem School of the Arts
• Sisters’ Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center
• New York Fire Department (FDNY) Foundation
• St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center
• FLIK Catering Services
• State University of New York, College of Optometry
• The many volunteers who gave their services to make “Read Out Loud” a special event!
• The authors!!!

Outstanding job everyone! Brianna and I thank you for another great event!


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It’s the Blue in Me

That fight could not have happened at a more opportune time. A 73- year- old and a 74- year- old got into a slugfest at an event, just when I was working on this post about holding grudges. Priceless!

The two men, Angelo Mosca and Joe Kapp, Canadian Football League legends, reportedly have had bad blood between them since a 1963 championship football game. Goodness, I wasn’t even born then. The New York Daily News had it right in reporting this story: “Old grudges die hard.”

I wanted to write about holding grudges because I was bothered about a comment I recently made in a career planning course I took in October. The class was discussing missed opportunities and I talked briefly about how I was dissuaded by a minister in my church from joining the Peace Corps. After making my comments, I said, “And I’m still holding that grudge!” I laughed when I said it, and my classmates understood. One person said, “You see, that’s why we have to be careful what we say to people.” Absolutely. Our words have a great deal of power to bless or curse, to help or harm.

I thought hard about my comment about holding the grudge. I asked myself, “Why can’t I let that go? It has been over 20 years!”

It’s the Blue in me.

I have a “Blue” personality. I took a color coded personality assessment years ago and learned that I am “Blue”. I took another assessment back in October of this year in a second career planning course I took and it confirmed my Blue personality. I find these assessments to be fun and the results quite startling as well.

Some years ago, I bought a book titled “The Color Code” by Dr. Taylor Hartman, a psychologist and business coach (Fireside, New York, NY, 1987, 1998). There are tons of books out there about personality, but this book resonated with me more than most I have read. I took the author’s assessment, The Hartman Personality Profile, and discovered that I had a Blue personality. Chapter Six focuses on my personality type. It is titled “Blues: The Do Gooders.” Dr. Hartman writes:

“Life cannot bestow on anyone
a more gratifying reward
than the sincere appreciation
and trust of a Blue friend,
employer, or family member.” (p. 77)

Dr. Hartman continues: “ The Blues are often the most admired of all the personalities. They represent so many of the virtues we aspire to, such as honesty, empathy, self-sacrifice, loyalty, sincerity, and self-discipline…..They resemble a lighted beacon of goodness and truth—a standard of excellence for the rest of us to aim for.” (p. 77)

In other words, Blues rule! (Smile)

Dr. Hartman describes Blues as:

• Emotional and Admired
• Committed and Loyal
• Perfectionistic
• Highly Demanding
• Self-Discipline d and Stable
• Self-Sacrificin g and Nurturing
• Appropriate and Sincere
• Purposeful and Dedicated

Ah, but we have our limitations, too! Blue limitations, according to Dr. Hartman:
• Worried and Guilty
• Moody and Complex
• Self-Righteous and Insecure
• Unforgiving and Resentful (pp. 77-85)

Unforgiving and resentful? Me? Yes. Dr. Hartman writes:

“Ironically, Blues give more than any personality but forgive the least….One of Blues’ most self-destructiv e weaknesses is grudge-holding. It often goes hand in hand with their excellent memory….Blues can become so obsessed with “getting even” that they don’t instantly see how the lust for begrudgery can be so intense that even self-defeating behavior feels preferable to letting things go unredressed.” Dr. Hartman goes on to tell an anecdote about a Blue woman who held a grudge against her husband and threw out her wedding dress, something he could care less about, but that eventually hurt her when she realized she could not give her granddaughter her wedding dress to be married in, as the granddaughter wanted. Dr. Hartman wrote, “She exemplifies the Blues’ need to get even and their struggle with letting go of resentment.” (p. 82-83)

So, I hurt myself most when I hang on to the baggage of a grudge. And I admit, I have derived no benefit from holding one against that minister all these years.

I recently thought about whom else I was holding a grudge against and I resolved to make greater efforts to release the resentment. It is going to take work, but I want to do this. As humans we trespass against each other all the time, and we all need forgiveness.

One good thing that came out of that disappointment was that it guided me into a career as a counselor and mentor. I am an active “agent of encouragement.” When clients, colleagues and mentees tell me their career and life dreams, I cheer them on. I speak words of possibility.

Though the Peace Corps was a missed opportunity, I haven’t suffered. I have a good life and have had my share of wonderful life adventures. And I am not done yet.

I don’t have any more time to hold on to grudges.

P.S. I just read that both Mr. Kapp and Mr. Mosca now regret their fight!





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Read Out Loud!

The Morningside Area Alliance (www.morningsidealli ance.org), in partnership with Community School District 5 and PS 92 in Manhattan, will be sponsoring its annual “ Read Out Loud! Family Literacy and Book Festival” on Saturday, December 3rd. This free event will run from 10am until 4pm and will be held at PS 92, the Mary McLeod Bethune School, at 222 West 134th Street.

“Read Out Loud!” will feature books signed by authors, book giveaways, a showcase of District 5 student writing, and raffle prizes. The day’s schedule will be as follows:

10am-12:45pm: Opening and workshops
1:00pm: Meet authors and illustrators for children and young adults
3:00pm: Author book signing

ACTIVITIES:

Pre-School through Grade 4:
• Story Hours
• Puppets
• Theatre and arts activities

Grades 5 through 8
• Poetry
• Creative Writing
• Movement Workshops
• Comics

Adults
• Helping Your Child with Reading and Learning
• Information about Community Resources and Programs

My niece and I attended this book festival last year and gave it rave reviews! I wrote about the event in my December 7, 2010 blog post titled “The Fifth Annual Read Out Loud! Family Literacy and Book Festival”. It is a fun-filled event for children and adults alike.

For additional information about “Read Out Loud!” visit www.morningsidealli ance.org or call 212. 749.1570

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I Raise My Hand to Stop Diabetes

November is American Diabetes Month and this year’s theme is “I Raise My Hand to Stop Diabetes.” The American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) uses this month to communicate the seriousness of diabetes and the importance of diabetes prevention and control.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to use glucose for energy. The body produces glucose from the food we eat. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, while type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adults (www.diabetes.org).

Some facts about diabetes:

• Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes.
• Another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
• Prediabetes is the stage where glucose is higher than normal but is not yet diabetes. Most people with prediabetes don’t know they have it.
• Recent estimates project that as many as 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes in 2050 unless we take steps to Stop Diabetes.
• Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure.
• Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults.
• The rate of amputation for people with diabetes is 10 times higher than for people without diabetes.
• About 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nerve damage that could result in pain in the feet or hands, slowed digestion, sexual dysfunction, and other nerve problems.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is 174 billion dollars:

• Direct medical costs reach 116 billion dollars, and the average medical expenditure among people with diabetes is 2.3 times higher than those without the disease.
• Indirect costs amount to 58 billion dollars (disability, work loss, premature mortality)
• Further published studies suggest that when additional costs for gestational diabetes, prediabetes, and undiagnosed diabetes are included, the total diabetes-relate d costs in the United States could exceed 218 billion dollars.
• The cost of caring for someone with diabetes is one dollar out of every five dollars in total healthcare costs.
(Source: American Diabetes Month November 2011 Fact Sheet)

Each week, a different focus in the Stop Diabetes campaign will be featured:

Week 1: Fighting for the Future—Giving a voice to those denied their rights because of diabetes and fighting for diabetes funding.

Week 2: Impacting Communities—Building relationships around the country to empower people to take control of their health.

Week 3: Celebrating Health—Recognizing courageous people who have overcome the obstacles of living with diabetes and the places that have helped them.

Weeks 4 and 5: Commitment to a Cure—Spotlighting the important research taking place that will lead us to an eventual cure.

For information in English and Spanish, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit stopdiabetes.com. You can also follow the movement on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AmericanDiabete sAssociation), Twitter (@AmDiabetesAssn) and blog: www.diabetesstopshe re.org

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Ten Things Men Can Do

My recent blog post “African American Men and Intimate Partner Violence” (October 18, 2011) gave an overview of a scholarly research article on men who engage in intimate partner violence (IPV). In concluding his research article the author, Professor Earl Smith of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, stated that IPV cannot be seen solely as a “women’s problem,” but has to be viewed as a major health problem and one that men need to address. The organization A CALL TO MEN does just that.

A CALL TO MEN “is a leading national men’s organization addressing domestic and sexual violence prevention and the promotion of healthy manhood.” Its website (www.acalltomen.com) features “Ten Things Men Can Do,” a list of actions men can take to help end violence against women.

The organization is “committed to maintaining strong partnerships with women’s organizations already doing this important work. We help to organize communities in order to raise awareness and get men involved in this effort.” A CALL TO MEN “believes that preventing domestic and sexual violence is primarily the responsibility of men” (www.acalltomen.com).

A CALL TO MEN’S vision is “to shift social norms that define manhood in our culture.” Its mission is “to galvanize a national movement of men committed to ending violence and discrimination against women and girls” and its purpose is “ to influence change in men’s behavior through a re-education and training process that promotes healthy manhood.”

A CALL TO MEN was founded by Educator, Activist and Lecturer Tony Porter. Tony Porter has been working in the social justice arena for over twenty years. He is nationally recognized for his effort to end men’s violence against women. Tony is the original visionary and co-founder behind A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. He is the author of “Well Meaning Men….Breaking Out of the Man Box-Ending Violence Against Women” and the visionary for the book, NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters.

Tony’s message of accountability is welcome and supported by many grassroots and established organizations. He’s currently working with numerous domestic and sexual violence programs, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, colleges and universities around the country. He has worked with the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Tony is an international lecturer for the U.S. State Department, having done extensive work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tony has served as a consultant to The White House Commission on Violence Against Women and Girls and the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women. In addition, he has been a guest presenter for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women.

Educator, Activist and Lecturer Ted Bunch is Co-Founder of A CALL TO MEN: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women. Ted is recognized both nationally and internationally for his expertise in organizing and educating men in the effort to end violence against women. He is dedicated to strengthening community accountability to end all forms of violence against women.

Ted is formerly the Senior Director and Co-creator of the largest program for domestic violence offenders in America. Ted has worked with Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Technicians, Paramedics and other first responders to domestic violence. Ted has served as a consultant to The White House Commission on Violence Against Women and Girls, the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women. He is a recognized trainer, lecturer and consultant on male accountability. A committed ally for more than a dozen years, Ted has gained leadership status in the domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault prevention communities across the country.

Ted is an Advisory Board Member to the New York State Integrated Domestic Violence Court. Ted brings a great enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge to his work. He has trained at many colleges and universities throughout the United States as well as the National Football League. In addition, he has had guest appearances on numerous television and radio programs. He has traveled abroad speaking in places like Israel, Suriname, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil and Puerto Rico as well as being an invited guest presenter for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Ted is an international lecturer for the U.S. State Department and was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a Committee Member to UNiTE, an international network of male leaders working to end violence against women.

I want to especially thank Ted Bunch for granting me permission to reprint “Ten Things Men Can Do.” The list is also published in Spanish (10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer). Both English and Spanish versions are included in this blog post.

Ten Things Men Can Do

1. Acknowledge and understand how male dominance
and aspects of unhealthy manhood are at the foundation of
domestic and sexual violence.

2. Examine and challenge our individual beliefs and
the role that we play in supporting men who are abusive.

3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by
getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to
prevent domestic and sexual violence.

4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we
choose not to speak out against domestic and sexual violence,
we are supporting it.

5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young
men about our responsibility in preventing domestic and sexual
violence.

6. "Break out of the man box"- Challenge traditional
images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand in
domestic and sexual violence prevention.

7. Accept and own our responsibility that domestic
and sexual violence will not end until men become part of the
solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a
cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence and
discrimination against women and girls.

8. Stop supporting the notion that domestic and
sexual violence is due to mental illness, lack of anger
management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… Domestic
and sexual violence is rooted in male dominance and the
socialization of men.

9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and
effective ways to educate and raise awareness about domestic
and sexual violence prevention.

10. Create responsible and accountable men's
initiatives in your community to support domestic and sexual
violence prevention.

10 Cosas Que Los Hombres Pueden Hacer

1) Admitir y entender cómo el sexismo, la dominancia masculina y el privilegio masculino asientan la fundación de todas las formas de violencia contra las mujeres.

2) Examinar y poner a prueba nuestro sexismo individual y el rol que jugamos en apoyar a los hombres que son abusivos.

3) Reconocer y parar de conspirar con otros hombres saliéndonos de nuestros roles socialmente definidos, y tomar una postura para eliminar la violencia contra las mujeres.

4) Recordar que nuestro silencio ratifica. Cuando elegimos no dar nuestra opinión de la violencia masculina, la estamos apoyando.

5) Educar y re-educar a nuestros hijos y a otros hombres jóvenes acerca de nuestra responsabilidad para terminar la violencia masculina contra las mujeres.

6) "Liberarse de la opresion del hombre" Lucha tradicionalment e imagenes de el estado de ser hombre de que nos para activamente emprender una posicion para terminar violencia contra las mujeres.

7) Aceptar y reconocer nuestra responsabilidad de que la violencia contra las mujeres no finalizará hasta que los hombres sean parte de la solución para eliminarla. Tenemos que tomar un rol activo para crear un cambio social y cultural que ya no tolere la violencia contra las mujeres.

8) Pare el appear de la nocion que la violencia de los hombres contra mujeres puede terminar proporcionado el tratamiento para los hombres individuales. La enfermedad mental,le carencia de las habilidades de gerencia de la colera, la dependencia quimica, la tension,los etc..Son solamente excusas para el comportamiento de los hombres. La violencia contra mujeres se arraiga en la opresion historica de mujeres y la consecuencia de la socializacion de hombres.

9) Tome la responsabilidad de crear maneras apropiadas y eficaces de desarrollar sistemas para educar y para sostener a hombres responsables.

10) Cree los sistemas de la responsabilidad a las mujeres en su comunidad.
La violencia contra mujeres terminara solamente cuando tomamos la direccion de los que la entiendan mas, mujeres.
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LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources

“The failure of dominant and LGBT communities to acknowledge domestic and sexual violence in same gender/ gender -variant relationships provides the LGBT batterer with multiple means with which to abuse their victims. Their violence is often characterized by the dominant culture as being mutual and involving people of equal strength. This myth discounts the experience of the victim, reinforces the self-blame many victim/survivors feel and allows mainstream systems to ignore the prevalence and lethality of domestic violence in LGBT communities.”

This quote is found in “LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources,” a manual published in 2007 by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (www.nrcdv.org). This publication was authored by Mary Allen (lead), Patricia Lima Velame Branco, Dee Dee Burnett, Ana Hernandez (editor), and Jackie List-Warrilow.

“LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources” briefly discusses the issue of domestic violence in LGBT communities; addresses key issues (use of language/vocabulary; the intersection of sexism and homophobia; dynamics of domestic violence; and intervention/prevention services); and offers statistics, fact sheets, a bibliography, website resource list and a video resource list.

Some of the issues surrounding LGBT communities and domestic violence:

• Because of severe anti-LGBT bias, people who identify as LGBT frequently approach shelters, social service agencies, domestic violence providers, police and the courts with great caution, fearing re-victimizatio n from institutions that have a history of exclusion, hostility, and violence toward them.

• Information about LGBT violence is used to reinforce the concept that lesbians, gay men, bisexual and trans people are immoral, unstable and therefore undeserving of ordinary human rights.

• In the overtly hierarchical structures of the legal system, survivors of violence in same gender/gender -variant relationships are not routinely afforded the same protections as those employed to protect privileged heterosexual victims of domestic violence.

• Some states have used legal definitions of marriage to deny access to safety and support for persons who live together, and identify as LGBT. Add to these legal barriers the discretionary nature of arrest policies and the presence of other prejudices such as racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, and the rights of the LGBT survivor are at serious risk.

• Homophobia, lack of awareness of the need, lack of funding and/or simple ignorance of how to go about providing services has prevented many well-intentione d mainstream domestic violence programs from developing supportive and effective LGBT services.

• Homophobia in the culture at large makes it difficult for LGBT communities to acknowledge domestic violence in their midst.

From the “LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources” Fact Sheet:

• Same-sex abusers use a form of abuse similar to those of heterosexual batterers, but they also have an additional weapon in the threat of “outing” their partner to family, friends, employers or community.

• Many battered Gays or Lesbians fight back to defend themselves—it is a myth that same-sex battering is mutual.

• Battering involving men in same-sex relationships does not appear to be associated with racial or ethnic identity, income level, self-described sexual orientation, or the city of residence.

• Battering among Lesbians crosses age, race, class, lifestyle and socio-economic lines.

• Bisexual victims are likely to be undercounted if the agency from which they seek services constructs the sexual orientation of the victim based on the gender identity of the abusive partner and does not explicitly query victim self-identifica tion.

• Figures from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health indicate that the rate of abuse between urban homosexual men in intimate relationships “is a very serious public health problem.”

The manual’s website resource list includes the names and contact information for organizations across the country that offer services to LGBT victims/survivors of domestic violence and work to end violence in LGBT communities. The resource list also contains information for youth who identify as LGBT.

To obtain a copy of “LGBT Communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources” visit www.vawnet.org

“This material was reprinted/adapted from the publication titled “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) communities and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources (2007) by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.”
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“Blame the System, Not the Victim”

Rebecca Drago is a Community Educator for the Domestic Violence Education and Prevention Program (DVEP), a program of My Sisters’ Place (www.mysistersplacen y.org). The Domestic Violence Education and Prevention Program (DVEP) provides an array of teen dating violence prevention and service programming, including educational presentations, individual counseling for teen victims, and the SAFER volunteer opportunity.

The team works with schools and community organizations throughout Westchester County to provide teen dating violence and bullying prevention education presentations to teens, serving both middle and high school students. DVEP’s Community Educators work with students, using various techniques, such as discussion, role play and other supplemental materials, to expand students’ knowledge of teen dating violence and bullying.

For more than 34 years, My Sisters’ Place (MSP) has worked to end violence in intimate relationships and combat the effects of domestic violence and human trafficking on survivors and children throughout Westchester County. MSP is a cutting edge leader and resource in the field of domestic violence and human trafficking advocacy, shelter and legal services, and education and prevention.

MSP brings a holistic approach to addressing the many and varied needs of domestic violence survivors and the root causes of family violence, which is the use or threat of force by one person in any intimate relationship to dominate and control the other person. (www.mysistersplacen y.org)

Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is often overlooked in the conversation about domestic violence, despite its’ high prevalence: “One in three teens reports knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped or physically hurt by their dating partner.” In addition to physical violence, teens are also more likely to use technology to control a partner, as seventeen percent of teens reported their partner has made them afraid not to respond to a cell phone call, email, IM or text message because of what they fear their partner might do . TDV like domestic violence does not discriminate; TDV is common across all races, classes, and sexualities; “in a study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents, youths involved in same-sex dating are just as likely to experience dating violence as youths involved in opposite sex dating”

Due to the high presence of TDV the My Sisters’ Place DVEP Team composed of Coordinator Kristine Poplawski, and Community Educators Rebecca Drago, Honor Adams, and Glenis Hunter deliver “Healthy Relationships” presentations, on teen dating violence to over 4,000 youth each year. Ms. Drago, who facilitates her presentations alongside teen Junior Facilitators, reports that the teen-friendly presentations are well-received in classrooms. Ms Drago states, “There is something pretty powerful about peer communication…the teens are really responsive.” As a result of the presentations, many teens volunteer with My Sisters’ Place and develop their own community with the SAFER (Students Advocating For Equality in Relationships) volunteer opportunity. Often SAFER volunteers bring what they have learned back into their schools and become leaders in discussing and bringing community service projects on teen dating violence.

The program has been around since 1981, according to Ms. Drago. The DVEP Team is constantly conducting outreach to schools where MSP does not yet have a presence to offer their services including the Healthy Relationships presentation.

Ms. Drago was introduced to me by Nancy F. Levin, Director of Development and External Affairs for My Sisters’ Place. I told Nancy that I would be devoting all of my October blog postings to the theme of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) in commemoration of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I invited her to share relevant stories or announcements. Ms. Drago and I spoke, and she sent me a brief written account of her participation in the “SlutWalk” NYC event. Ms. Drago wrote:

“I attended a rally the weekend of October 1-2 that was very relevant to our work here at My Sisters’ Place: “SlutWalk NYC.” This event was part of an international movement that began a few months ago, when a police officer told a group of law students in Toronto to “avoid dressing ‘like sluts’ in order not to get raped.”

The reaction of the police officer reflects a larger societal understanding that it is the victims’ responsibility to avoid rape and sexual assault, rather than the rapists’ responsibility to not rape. Responding to the rampant victim blaming that happens regarding sexual assaults as well as DV, the organization formed to debunk the myth that it doesn’t matter what a person wears, drinks or how they act—the victim is never at fault for this type of violence. SlutWalks have since taken place in cities all over the US and Canada.

Many feminists (myself included) are deeply conflicted about the name “SlutWalk.” Some hate the word slut and are not ready to reclaim it. In following the rallies and the media attention they get, it seems to be that often the event becomes a chance for lots of young women to wear very little clothes and talk about “slut pride.” While sexual liberation for young women may be an important discussion, within all the hype of nudity, the message of victim blaming can get lost.

That being said, I decided that sitting at home criticizing the rally would create far less change than at least attending the event, so I went—and was pleasantly surprised. There were fewer naked people than expected, and the overwhelming tone of the march was about rape culture and victim blaming. The speakers directly addressed the controversy of the word “slut” and explained that the reason it was used was to gain attention from the media. They also addressed the criticism that the organization was (yet another) feminist movement comprised mainly of white, privileged women, failing to address the intersection of sexual assault and race, class, sexuality and immigration issues. The organizers have since been exploring connections between social identity and sexual assault to make SlutWalk more inclusive.

Some of the favorite signs read: “I was 17, in my childhood home wearing sweats. What part of that is ‘asking for it’?” “My miniskirt does not equal consent” and “I did not report because I was not the ‘perfect victim.” I held up a sign that read “I should not be responsible for preventing my own rape” and “I am a sexually empowered woman—not a slut!” Some of the favorite chants were: “Blame the system, not the victim,” “NYPD: Blame the rapist, not me!”

If you’d like to read more about this, here is an article (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/12040/slutwalk_nyc_an_important_success_corsets_and_all and here is the official website of the SlutWalk: http://slutwalknyc.com/

Despite its’ flaws, I was impressed and excited that victim blaming is gaining attention, especially within the younger feminist movement.

For additional information about My Sisters’ Place, visit (www.mysistersplacen y.org)

My thanks again to Rebecca Drago, Kristine Poplawski, and Nancy F. Levin of My Sisters’ Place.

_________________________________________
(Liz Claiborne Inc., Conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, (February 2005).


(Liz Clairborne, Inc/Teen Research Unlimited, 2007)


(Prevalence of Partner Violence in Same-Sex Romantic and Sexual Relationships in a National Sample of Adolescents,” Halpern CT,Young ML, Waller MW, Martin SL, Kupper LL. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 35, Issue 2, Pages 124-131, (August 2004).
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“Blame the System, Not the Victim”

Rebecca Drago is a Community Educator for the Domestic Violence Education and Prevention Program (DVEP), a program of My Sisters’ Place (www.mysistersplacen y.org). The Domestic Violence Education and Prevention Program (DVEP) provides an array of teen dating violence prevention and service programming, including educational presentations, individual counseling for teen victims, and the SAFER volunteer opportunity.

The team works with schools and community organizations throughout Westchester County to provide teen dating violence and bullying prevention education presentations to teens, serving both middle and high school students. DVEP’s Community Educators work with students, using various techniques, such as discussion, role play and other supplemental materials, to expand students’ knowledge of teen dating violence and bullying.

For more than 34 years, My Sisters’ Place (MSP) has worked to end violence in intimate relationships and combat the effects of domestic violence and human trafficking on survivors and children throughout Westchester County. MSP is a cutting edge leader and resource in the field of domestic violence and human trafficking advocacy, shelter and legal services, and education and prevention.

MSP brings a holistic approach to addressing the many and varied needs of domestic violence survivors and the root causes of family violence, which is the use or threat of force by one person in any intimate relationship to dominate and control the other person. (www.mysistersplacen y.org)

Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is often overlooked in the conversation about domestic violence, despite its’ high prevalence: “One in three teens reports knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped or physically hurt by their dating partner.” In addition to physical violence, teens are also more likely to use technology to control a partner, as Seventeen percent of teens reported their partner has made them afraid not to respond to a cell phone call, email, IM or text message because of what they fear their partner might do . TDV like domestic violence does not discriminate; TDV is common across all races, classes, and sexualities; “in a study of gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents, youths involved in same-sex dating are just as likely to experience dating violence as youths involved in opposite sex dating”

Due to the high presence of TDV the My Sisters’ Place DVEP Team composed of Coordinator Kristine Poplawski, and Community Educators Rebecca Drago, Honor Adams, and Glenis Hunter deliver “Healthy Relationships” presentations, on teen dating violence to over 4,000 youth each year. Ms. Drago, who facilitates her presentations alongside teen Junior Facilitators, reports that the teen-friendly presentations are well-received in classrooms. Ms Drago states, “There is something pretty powerful about peer communication…the teens are really responsive.” As a result of the presentations, many teens volunteer with My Sisters’ Place and develop their own community with the SAFER (Students Advocating For Equality in Relationships) volunteer opportunity. Often SAFER volunteers bring what they have learned back into their schools and become leaders in discussing and bringing community service projects on teen dating violence.

The program has been around since 1981, according to Ms. Drago. The DVEP Team is constantly conducting outreach to schools where MSP does not yet have a presence to offer their services including the Healthy Relationships presentation.

Ms. Drago was introduced to me by Nancy F. Levin, Director of Development and External Affairs for My Sisters’ Place. I told Nancy that I would be devoting all of my October blog postings to the theme of intimate partner violence (domestic violence) in commemoration of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I invited her to share relevant stories or announcements. Ms. Drago and I spoke, and she sent me a brief written account of her participation in the “SlutWalk” NYC event. Ms. Drago wrote:

“I attended a rally the weekend of October 1-2 that was very relevant to our work here at My Sisters’ Place: “SlutWalk NYC.” This event was part of an international movement that began a few months ago, when a police officer told a group of law students in Toronto to “avoid dressing ‘like sluts’ in order not to get raped.”

The reaction of the police officer reflects a larger societal understanding that it is the victims’ responsibility to avoid rape and sexual assault, rather than the rapists’ responsibility to not rape. Responding to the rampant victim blaming that happens regarding sexual assaults as well as DV, the organization formed to debunk the myth that it doesn’t matter what a person wears, drinks or how they act—the victim is never at fault for this type of violence. SlutWalks have since taken place in cities all over the US and Canada.

Many feminists (myself included) are deeply conflicted about the name “SlutWalk.” Some hate the word slut and are not ready to reclaim it. In following the rallies and the media attention they get, it seems to be that often the event becomes a chance for lots of young women to wear very little clothes and talk about “slut pride.” While sexual liberation for young women may be an important discussion, within all the hype of nudity, the message of victim blaming can get lost.

That being said, I decided that sitting at home criticizing the rally would create far less change than at least attending the event, so I went—and was pleasantly surprised. There were fewer naked people than expected, and the overwhelming tone of the march was about rape culture and victim blaming. The speakers directly addressed the controversy of the word “slut” and explained that the reason it was used was to gain attention from the media. They also addressed the criticism that the organization was (yet another) feminist movement comprised mainly of white, privileged women, failing to address the intersection of sexual assault and race, class, sexuality and immigration issues. The organizers have since been exploring connections between social identity and sexual assault to make SlutWalk more inclusive.

Some of the favorite signs read: “I was 17, in my childhood home wearing sweats. What part of that is ‘asking for it’?” “My miniskirt does not equal consent” and “I did not report because I was not the ‘perfect victim.” I held up a sign that read “I should not be responsible for preventing my own rape” and “I am a sexually empowered woman—not a slut!” Some of the favorite chants were: “Blame the system, not the victim,” “NYPD: Blame the rapist, not me!”

If you’d like to read more about this, here is an article (http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/12040/slutwalk_nyc_an_important_success_corsets_and_all and here is the official website of the SlutWalk: http://slutwalknyc.com/

Despite its’ flaws, I was impressed and excited that victim blaming is gaining attention, especially within the younger feminist movement. "

For additional information about My Sisters’ Place, visit (www.mysistersplacen y.org)

My thanks again to Rebecca Drago, Kristine Poplawski, and Nancy F. Levin of My Sisters’ Place.

__________________________________

Liz Claiborne Inc., Conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited, (February 2005).


(Liz Clairborne, Inc/Teen Research Unlimited, 2007)


(Prevalence of Partner Violence in Same-Sex Romantic and Sexual Relationships in a National Sample of Adolescents,” Halpern CT,Young ML, Waller MW, Martin SL, Kupper LL. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 35, Issue 2, Pages 124-131, (August 2004).



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African American Men and Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) tears at the fabric of families In African American communities. IPV alienates African American men from their female partners, who have historically buffered and supported them against the racism they experience. Ironically, that racism is itself a source of the tension and strain that leads to IPV. Unfortunately, Black male to Black female IPV is often ignored, unless the woman’s death is particularly horrific or brutal.

In his 2008 scholarly paper, “African American Men and Intimate Partner Violence,” published in the Journal of African American Studies, Professor Earl Smith of Wake Forest University “focuses on the justifications African American men give for engaging in violence against their intimate partners.” Professor Smith writes: “What this paper is designed to accomplish is a more comprehensive understanding of the reasons African American male batterers give for their own violence so that we can better understand IPV before it happens and interrupt it when it does occur.” His paper examines how race shapes experiences with IPV.

“African American Men and Intimate Partner Violence” serves to address some of the shortcomings Professor Smith identifies in the existing research on men who batter. For example, he states that since most IPV is male against female, it is critical that attention be paid to how men see the issue of IPV. Professor Smith writes that research on IPV needs to focus on batterers’ perceptions of the violence they commit against their partners. Further, there is little research on non-white men who batter, specifically African American men. Professor Smith adds that few, if any treatment programs for batterers, focus on the core issue for batterers—the need to retain and enforce power over their intimate partner.

Three “causes” for male violence against intimate partners are explored in the study:

• Individual: Some men batter because they have seen it in their childhood and use it as a tool to control their intimate partner. Professor Smith cites research that suggests that experiencing child abuse double’s one’s risk for battering one’s partner, and witnessing violence in childhood triples one’s risk for growing up to become a batterer (intergeneration al transmission of violence). Professor Smith discusses the controversy over the concept of intergeneration al transmission of violence. Some criticisms are that it can suggest that the transmission of violence is genetic, and most men who witness or experience violence do not grow up to abuse their children or intimate partners. How men are socialized in the use of violence is more relevant.

• Cultural: Professor Smith argues that differences in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class and other factors suggest that there are various “masculinities.” U.S. culture ascribes the traits of strength, height, power, and money to boys and men, and most men judge themselves and are judged by other men based on two basic roles: breadwinner and "sexual conquistador". Violence is not necessarily a part of this equation, but, says Professor Smith, it can be an outgrowth of the privileges associated with masculinity.

• Structural: For African American men, two structural factors can serve as “triggers” to battering: Labor Market Issues and Incarceration.
o Labor Market: African American men are often unemployed at twice the rate of White men. They also receive lower wages than Whites and are more likely to be living in poverty.
o Incarceration: African American men are disproportionat ely incarcerated, and over the life course, 25-33 percent of African American men will be incarcerated.

Professor Smith makes it clear that unemployment and /or incarceration are not in and of themselves pathways to battering. He writes that his paper is not an attempt “to justify African American male battering, as excused by Black men’s position in society and in their fractured relationship with the police, criminal justice system and labor market.”

I was more than pleased to read Professor Smith’s repeated statements that he was not offering any excuses for IPV against Black women. Too many of us have been told to keep silent about the violence we witness or experience in our homes. In his paper, he cites the works of African American feminist scholars Patricia Hill Collins and bell hooks, and writes: “Finally, the excuse that African American females should be quiet about the violence in their intimate relationships is just that, an excuse.”

The violence that is often perpetrated by men against their female intimate partner takes the forms of slapping, pulling hair, throwing things, and “beating her up.” Professor Smith cites the work of the feminist scholar Patricia Hill Collins who states that the IPV Black men perpetrate against Black women can take several forms including verbally berating Black women, hitting them, ridiculing their appearance, grabbing their body parts, pressuring them to have sex, beating them and murdering them.”

Professor Smith’s paper is based on a study in which he looked at the experiences of nearly 100 men and women living with IPV. In-depth face-to-face interviews were conducted with 25 African American men who batter. Interviews were conducted in the South (North Carolina) and Midwest (Minnesota). The men ranged across the social class spectrum except “upper class.” The majority of the men were employed and 90 percent had been incarcerated. A semi-structured set of questions was used in the interviews. Respondents were asked about their families of origin, relationships between their parents, siblings, their own experiences with dating, marriage, cohabitation, healthy relationships and relationships with IPV. The interviews were 90 to 120 minutes in length. In his analysis of the data, Professor Smith looked at causes of IPV and triggers.

“Though I focus on African American men who perpetrate severe violence against their female partners, it is important to note at the outset that in their intimate relationships, African American men are no more likely to be violent than their White counterparts,” writes Professor Smith. The data in Professor Smith’s paper showed that all men in United States culture, not just African American men, are susceptible to engaging in battering in response to threats and challenges to their masculine identities. And while Professor Smith’s research focused on heterosexual couples, he expressed an interest in exploring the issue of IPV among gay and lesbian African Americans.

Some of the findings:

• Many of the men interviewed began the interview with the following statement: “I never intended to hit or hurt her.” They stated that they never wanted to grow up to be the type of man who hit the woman they loved. Many of these men saw violence in their homes growing up.

• The types of violence that African American men perpetuated tended to be more severe. In the study, the men beat their partners beyond recognition, threatened them with guns, and/or threatened to burn the house down.

• The men in the study felt (and acted on) a sense of entitlement to perpetrate violence against their intimate female partner.

• Men who batter may see the “honeymoon” phase in the cycle of IPV (being kind and attentive to his partner, refraining from violence) as a sincere attempt to relieve the sense of alienation they feel from their partners as a result of the violence. The problem is, this honeymoon phase does not instill in the batterer a sense of empathy for his female partner, which is necessary for change in his behavior. Therefore, the violence continues.

“When examining the lives of men who grow up to batter we must acknowledge that they
make many bad choices; first and foremost they make the choice to hit, kick, punch or beat up their female partners, women they claim to love. I won’t defend these men’s choices to batter their partners. But, in order to further our understanding of battering so that we might better prevent it from happening in the first place we need to understand something about the context in which many of these bad choices are rooted: growing up in violent homes, “writes Professor Smith.

In analyzing his data, Professor Smith proposed a “synthesis” approach to understanding IPV through the lens of African American male batterers. He examined feminist theories, masculinity theory, and race , class and gender paradigms to understand IPV among African American males. He also considers other theories related to alienation, strain, triggers, and unintended consequences and their effect on IPV. In short, African American men experience deep strain due to individual, cultural and structural factors. The strain results from feeling alienated from institutions and opportunities to fulfill their breadwinner roles as men, for example, due to discrimination and incarceration. Aggravations and pressures from both within and outside of their homes can serve as triggers for IPV. Once they commit violence against their female partners, the men have relieved the strain, but the very tool they use to bring about this relief has the unintended consequence of alienating them from their intimate female partner.

To explain racial variations in IPV, Professor Smith uses the analogy of a gun. White and African American men both report the same triggers to battering. These triggers are those that pose threats to their masculinity. Professor Smith explains that race shapes IPV by shaping the way the chambers of the gun are loaded. Unemployment, wage discrimination, police brutality, incarceration, and other individual, cultural and structural factors that disadvantage African American men are seen as more deadly and lethal bullets that are loaded into the guns of African American males, who then unload onto their intimate female partners with more fury.

Professor Smith concludes that intimate partner violence (IPV) cannot be seen solely as a “women’s problem.” It has to be viewed as a major health problem and one that men need to address. Further, he states that “the African American community needs to address the issue of battering of African American women at the hands of African American men.” He also cautions that as long as batterers are seen as “bad” men with no consideration given to the root causes of their behavior, effective programs to treat batterers cannot be developed.

“In sum, we have to unlock the cycle of violence from the perspective of the men who engage in it if we are ever to have any hope of reducing it and encouraging the healthy male-female relationships so vital and yet too rare in African American Civil Society. All of our attempts at preventing and interrupting IPV have focused on the “triggers.” And overall, we have had very little success in reducing or preventing IPV. My analysis in this paper offers a unique approach. We desperately need programs and interventions that will prevent the “gun” from being loaded in the first place," writes Professor Smith.

To read “African American Men and Intimate Partner Violence” go to: http://www.wfu.edu/aes/pdf/SMITH_AA_Men_and_IPV_FINAL_COPY.pdf








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Who Is Christine Shirley?

Christine Shirley, 30, is studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She is employed full-time and is a single mother of a 12-year-old son. Christine and I met a few weeks ago when, out of the blue, she called and asked if she could interview me for a school assignment.

After our interview, Christine asked me for some recommendations on starting her career in human services. She holds an Associate’s degree in Communications, and was originally planning to pursue a career in that field. Christine told me about her interest in human services and shared some of her personal life story with me. When she spoke, she uttered those two words—domestic violence-- and I stopped in my tracks. I cannot tell you how many times I have spoken to women randomly, who tell me that they have lived with domestic or intimate partner violence. In fact, I was interviewed by another young woman only two weeks ago and she too shared that she had survived intimate partner violence. Sigh.

I told Christine about my blog and said that because this is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am going to be focusing solely on the issue of intimate partner violence. She graciously agreed to share her story with me and you. I asked Christine several times if she wanted to remain anonymous, and she emphatically told me “no” each time. So, I have Christine’s consent to share her account of how she survived intimate partner violence over eight years ago.

This was not an easy story to hear or write.

Christine has survived two abusive relationships. The first was with her son’s father, Kevin. The second was with a boyfriend, Jon, with whom she was in a relationship for eight months
.
“The first mishap I had with domestic violence was with my son’s father. It wasn’t so much physical, it was more emotional. He was like really, really intimidating with words. Very hurtful, used to always put me down, used to always make me feel worthless. We had one instance of him putting his hands on me and that was it. I walked out the door, took my son, went into the shelter and decided that I needed to get myself together.”

Christine met her son’s father Kevin when they were both in Job Corps. She describes him as being very quiet. “He didn’t come off as a person that would abuse you.” Christine completed Job Corps and began attending college at 17, but shortly after became pregnant. She reports that Kevin started to become emotionally abusive. “After I got pregnant it was like, ‘Aha, I got you’. Once I got pregnant and dropped out of school it was like I was no longer good. It was like ‘you’re nothing, you’re nobody, you’re not going to do anything with yourself. Look at your situation.’ It was just like horrible,” recalls Christine.

They lived together briefly in New York and Florida. “It was just things about him. He started to really separate himself from everyone in the household. His money was his money. He would come, go about his business, stay out late. He didn’t really show that he really wanted to be in a relationship, much less be a father.” When Christine and Kevin resided in Florida, she experienced emotional abuse, not just by Kevin, but also by his mother. She also endured some physical deprivation. When she lived in Florida, there were days when there was no food for her to eat, or she would just have Snickers bars to eat.

The situation came to a head when Christine, who was nearly seven months pregnant, and Kevin got into an argument when he “accidentally” kicked her in the side of her stomach. “He was ready to go outside and fight me that night.” Kevin lunged at Christine and cursed her out. In response, Christine hit him with a comb to get him away from her. At that point, he kicked her out of the house. It was 2 am. She took her suitcase, and walked to the bus stop. Soon, Kevin and his mother came to the bus stop to bring her back to the house. Shortly thereafter, Christine returned to New York City.

Three weeks after giving birth to her son, Christine went out to find work. “It’s not that he (Kevin) didn’t have a job. It’s just that he was not willing to support me. Because he felt like everyone else and everything else was more important than me and this child.” She talked about one job interview: “ I got to Macy’s and I filled out an application. And the lady looked at me, and she said ‘Tell me about Christine Shirley’ and I cried. Because I had seen myself for that moment, I didn’t know who I was. I’m looking at this lady and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m 19, I’m in a shelter.’ I have a child’s father that’s not supporting me. He’s not emotionally supportive to me. My mom, her instability, plus me trying to maintain taking care of a newborn baby with no means, no income, no clothes, no shelter. So when this lady asked me who was Christine Shirley, I walked out because I didn’t know who I was. And I always made a vow to myself that no matter what I’m going through in life, I have to know who I am.” The relationship with Kevin ended and Christine moved on, working and attending college in addition to caring for her son.

Christine was 22 years old when she met her next boyfriend, Jon, who was 35, near a train station. They spent almost an hour engaged in a “very , very intellectually stimulating conversation.” After one week of conversations, Jon disclosed to Christine that he was on parole after having spent ten years in prison. “I’m like , ‘okay, you know, you’re still a human being, everyone needs a chance. You seem like a nice person, you seem like a smart person. You have goals, you have things you want to do. I have no problem with it.”

In the beginning, things were fine. They lived a couple of blocks from one another so they got together regularly. Soon though, the abuse began. Initially, Jon used a common abuser tactic---separa te the victim from her family. He complained about Christine’s mother, who was living with her at the time. Jon resented the mother being with Christine. Her mom accused Christine of wanting to put her out of the apartment because of Jon, which Christine denied. Unexpectedly, Christine’s mom moved out of the apartment. “So now the boyfriend, he obviously starts coming over more, I’m starting to cook more. I’m starting to be a housewife. “

Jon then displayed other traits of an abuser, jealousy and possessiveness. “He didn’t like the idea that I was in school.” Christine was a communications major and she worked on projects with male students. “I had males calling the house to pick up equipment. We have to meet here, we have to meet there. And he would literally become livid. If I was not having a conversation in the same room as him, or if I went to the bathroom or to the kitchen, then to him, I was making plans to be with this guy and do something with this guy.”

Other signs began to emerge that Jon was abusive.

“I was on unemployment at the time. He used to take my money.” Christine would support what she describes as Jon’s “get rich quick schemes.” She said “ Every week there was a story, and I would help him by giving him my money, hoping that this would help him.” In addition to taking Christine’s money, Jon took her food stamps. In one incident, Christine went grocery shopping after midnight at a local Pathmark, the minute her food stamp money became available on her card. When she went to pay for the food, she found that she had a balance of 30 cents. Jon had stolen her pin number and her food stamps, leaving Christine without money to eat for a month. Christine received assistance from her mother and from friends.

While she was in school, Christine began having child care issues. She had to rely on Jon to watch her son. But soon, the relationship became even more troubled.

“ He would get physical, curse me out. He would drink. When he drank, he would curse me out—badly. He didn’t want me to wear certain clothes.” Jon once took a red jacket of Christine’s and ripped it up. He then bought her a big man’s jacket to wear. “I’m trying to think of what I was feeling about myself at that time. Because that’s very, very important. I think it was a sense of numbness. It was just like, surreal to me. Like, is this happening? Is this my life? I didn’t question it (the abuse) at all. I didn’t look at it and say, this is the sign of abuse.”

Jon started taking Christine’s food to help feed his mother and other family members and forced her and her son to eat with them at his home. Because of her son, Christine said, “I tried so much to make everything normal. I didn’t want my son to see anything. I was in fear. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any help. I didn’t know what to expect, how to get away, what I should do, who I could speak to.”

The relationship took a toll on Christine physically: “ My physical appearance started to change. I started to look like a drug addict. I started to lose weight. My hair, my clothes—I didn’t care anymore. I really didn’t.”

Out of curiosity and concern, Christine started to learn more about Jon’s criminal history. She discovered that he began getting into trouble at the age of 13. She snooped around, looked through his papers, did research online, and followed him around. Christine later learned that Jon was a violent offender who was involved in a robbery, and was once accused of rape.

When Christine’s mother started suspecting that Jon was abusing her daughter, she tried to get Christine’s father to intervene, but he refused. Instead, he blamed Christine for the problem. He criticized her appearance, accused her of using drugs, and expressed concern about his grandson, Christine’s son. During a visit to her father’s home, Christine reports that her father began yelling at her and pushed her out of the door of his home. “That was the first time my father ever put his hands on me. “ Jon used this incident to try to turn Christine against her family. Christine reports Jon as saying , ‘You know you need to leave them alone, you don’t need to have nothing to do with them. You see how they treat you?’ But he was doing the same exact thing.”

Kevin heard about the abuse as well, but did not intervene, partly out of fear of Jon, who was a physically imposing man. “There was nobody to save me, no one to take me out of the situation. I just dealt with it.”

In response to the abuse, Christine started arguing back to Jon and the abuse intensified. “He would call me out of my name. I would call him out of his name. It got to the point where he would be like, “I’m going to come over there and kick your windows out. When he started making the threats, like ‘I’m going to kick your windows out’, I would try to calm him down because I knew that okay, he’s probably serious about kicking my windows out of my apartment. So it was just like a nightmare. And my neighbors knew that I was being abused. My neighbors didn’t say anything. They used to hear us downstairs arguing or me crying.”

Soon Jon was cheating on Christine. And he was becoming violent. Once, he kicked her out of his home. “I was dressed, and (he) opened the door, and threw me down the hallway. Like a bowling bowl, down the hallway.”

Christine learned that Jon’s brother was also abusive. During a visit to Jon’s brother’s home, Christine witnessed Jon’s brother slap his wife in the face with the television remote. “She started bleeding. I’m like, oh my goodness, what happened? She’s like ‘no it’s okay.’ She’s cleaning up her face. And everybody went back to sitting like it was normal. That’s what had me fearful. That was an eye-opener for me. So I’m saying that if he was to kill me somewhere in his house, it would be normal for them.” In a twist of irony, Jon and his brother once started fighting each other in an argument over Jon being abusive to Christine! When Jon’s brother walked away with Christine, Jon followed them and in a fit of rage, kicked Christine down a flight of over twenty steps.

During a shopping trip, Jon and Christine got into an argument. She walked away from him and he followed her. “He busted my lip.” At this point, Christine showed me the scar on her lip from this incident, which she still has eight years later. “I started bleeding in the parking lot. And I’m gushing blood. I walk two blocks. A car had followed us to my house. And the police came.” The police told Christine that they had received a report that she was assaulted. “I said, no I’m fine, “ said Christine. They asked her why she was holding her mouth, on which she had put snow to stop the bleeding. She told them “I just fell in the snow and I hit my lip, trying to cover up for this fool. So I never reported that.” Christine said she was “just pouring, pouring ,pouring, pouring ,pouring blood.”

In spite of the relationship, Christine continued attending school. Her grades had begun to drop, though, and she took her son to school with her many days due to lack of a sitter, as she had stopped leaving her son with Jon. Friends watched her son or she took him into class with her. It was then that a fellow classmate asked Christine if she were okay, but Christine did not try to explain what was going on in her life.

Christine’s mom came to stay with her on occasion to offer emotional support. The violence escalated. One evening, Jon flew into a jealous rage because another man tried to talk to Christine while she was walking to her house. Jon insisted that Christine point out the guy. He felt that he had been disrespected because everyone in the area knew Christine was “his woman.” Christine did not want any problems and did not want to identify the guy. In response to her refusal, Jon punched Christine in the eye. “My son is sitting there looking at me like, ‘what just happened here?” Jon insisted that he and Christine go outside to find the guy. He made her put on a pair of sunglasses and sit on the steps of his family’s home with him to watch for the guy. After 45 minutes, Jon let Christine go back into his house without them having seen the man.

Christine’s sister finally encouraged her to press charges against Jon for punching her in the eye. When she went to the police precinct, the police officers took her report and looked up his information. “They were like, ‘oh my goodness, you were dating this guy’? The police officer that came out to me said, “we’re going to lock this guy up.”

But Christine still tried to work things out with Jon, who tried to be kinder to her. “He came to the house, He’d do little things. Like, when he did do things, he would bring my favorite ice cream. And I’m like, okay I’m still mad but I am going to eat it. “ Not surprisingly, the abuse started again. “He was cursing me out. He was carrying on. I tried to just come home, clean up, do what I had to do. I’m frustrated at this point. I don’t know what his problem is.”

The relationship had neared its end. During the final incident, Jon picked Christine up, put her over his knee and threw her around, “like a WWF star” twisting her, turning her, punching her, throwing her on the floor. Christine got up. “This time I’m fighting back because I’m like’ I’m tired and you’re going to have to kill me in here.” He threw a bike and a plate at Christine while she was trying to walk out. When he threw the plate, it almost hit her son. Christine was angry, and she and Jon started fighting again. “I’m fighting, kicking, punching. I’m trying to get my son out the door. And he just grabbed on me and ripped the shirt right off me.” Christine and her son ran outside into the street. “I have no shoes on, I have pants on, I have on no top, I just have on a bra. And I’m saying to the people across the street that’s standing outside because it’s summertime, ‘somebody get me a shirt, somebody get me a shirt.’ Everybody is standing there just watching me. They’re not helping me, they’re not doing anything.” Christine’s son was barefoot and wearing house clothes. “They just looked at me like I was crazy.”

A man saw Christine and her son, and took them inside his house. He and his wife gave her and her son some clothes and called the police. The same police officer who filed her initial report came to the scene. Jon had followed them on bicycle. The police arrested him.

Jon was locked up on Rikers Island and called Christine. He was scared and apologetic, and asked her to visit him. Christine agreed and went to see him. She brought him things like socks, shoes, and other items. For his parole hearing, Jon asked Christine to write a letter saying that Jon did not assault her, but that she suffered from depression and got into a fight with another woman she thought Jon was seeing. Christine wrote the letter. The day of the parole hearing, the police officer who arrested Jon and who had filed Christine’s report came down the stairs. “She looked at the letter and she said ‘Go home. I’m not giving this to him.’ And she ripped it up and sent me on my way.”

Later, the police officer called her and said she wanted to show Christine the pictures of her black eye. “She really got on me. Like, ‘what is wrong with you? You have your life ahead of you. You need help. This person is not the person that you need to be with. He’s a criminal.’ She ran down the list (of Jon’s offenses). I was like, wow.” Christine said that this incident took her back to her interview at Macy’s. “This woman who didn’t know me was telling me who I was. And I’m looking at her like, wow, you think I’m like, beautiful? You think I’m smart? I needed to hear it for myself. At that point, when I went home, I thought about everything she said I was. I couldn’t see what she was saying. I could only see what everyone was making me feel, or how everyone felt about me.” Christine added, “She was just that voice of reason for me, like, are you crazy? So now that I felt more empowered, I obviously stopped going up there (to Rikers Island). Christine stopped accepting Jon’s phone calls and ripped up his letters.

Christine decided to go to the parole hearing to testify against Jon. “He didn’t believe I was going to go to the parole hearing. I guess he felt like he beat me down so much that I was going to be in fear of my life.” When Jon saw Christine, he took the plea deal he was offered to avoid having her testify against him. He was incarcerated for one year.

When he was released, Jon tried to convince Christine that he had changed. “I was like ‘look, I’m good. Like, you have a good one. See you later, good luck. That’s it. He left me alone.” Christine later heard that Jon had gotten addicted to drugs and stabbed someone. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

“It’s crazy. I didn’t really know who I was. It really took this lady to tell me that ‘you’re a special person. And you don’t deserve this.’ I’m here. And I haven’t ever been through a situation like that again. Now I know the kind of person that I want if I was to ever be involved with anybody. Right now I’m just focusing on really getting myself on track.”

Christine said that she will never accept abuse in a future relationship. “I don’t tolerate anybody putting their hands on me. I don’t tolerate anybody abusing me. I don’t tolerate anyone disrespecting me. “

There were times, Christine said, that she blamed herself for Jon’s abuse. “I felt like, as a woman, I was doing something wrong. Maybe I’m doing something wrong for this man to be beating me up like this. Because he’s saying that I’m like this, and I’m like that, I’m not doing this and I’m not worthy. And this is my second abusive relationship.”

The experiences taught Christine that she has tremendous strength. “I’m here. And I know who I am now. And I’m serious about who I am.”

Christine and her son both went to therapy to help them deal with the trauma of the abusive relationships. She said that her son used to have nightmares, but today he is doing just fine. He is on the honor roll at his school, and is called a “nerd” by his classmates. Her son wants to write a book, something similar to “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Christine said that her son’s nickname at school is “The Politician” because he is very inquisitive.

Christine advises others to take time getting to know a potential partner. She says that people should think with their heads, not just their hearts when sizing someone up. Listen to them and ask them about past relationships. Ask them how they dealt with conflict in their relationships. And watch out for people who seem “too good to be true.” As for a future partner for Christine, it is important to her that he be: spiritual, goal oriented, able to take care of himself, respectful, family oriented, and intellectually stimulating to her.

For now, she is concentrating on her personal and professional goals: “I need to fulfill my desire to help. I want to write. That’s one thing I really want to do. I’m really trying to get everything focused. A little bit more focused. A little bit more organized. Put things in their right place. And don’t let fear get in the way. Sometimes that ugly little face of fear comes and creeps up on your shoulder. “

When Christine completes her studies, she wants to work with women, especially those who experience domestic or intimate partner violence. “The ones that think there’s no way out. Or they feel worthless. Or the ones that don’t know who they are. That’s a very important thing. I think that’s the worst feeling you can feel in the world, to be alive and not know who you are.”

So, who is Christine Shirley?

“Christine Shirley is a proud , God fearing Black Woman, who has finally achieved a level of self-respect for herself. Understanding that for me to love anyone, I have to not only love myself, but to be in love with myself. Being in love with me is taking the time nurture my mind, body and soul. Being in love is stopping by a flower shop and picking up flowers for myself. Or a simple act as washing my hair in a new scented shampoo, enjoying the sweet savor of incense while my son and I listen to some music.

By de-cluttering the self -less images that I had of myself, I am finally understanding the things that make me happy in life, like for instance, taking time to meditate. I realized that I was going through life rushing from one thing to the next, never really understanding the processes. When I had gotten out of the physically abusive relationship, everything seemed to go so fast. So as fall started to approach I started by just watching the process of how leaves change, the colors and what they mean to me. Of course, I do the same thing for the spring time as well. It's a wonderful blessing from God to marvel at his beautiful creations, and to smile at myself too, ‘cause he created me too. Also the Lord has called me into a fellowship of brothers and sisters who are striving hard in their spiritual lives. A major part of relaxation is attending church faithfully every Friday and Saturday night. That definitely gives me peace of mind and patience . It also gives me the tools to show my son how a man should be and his responsibility to himself, his family and most of all the creator, teaching him right from wrong and accountability. I realize with God life lessons seems a lot clearer. Attending church keeps me in the company of good people , and gives me peace of mind. Thanks.”


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avatar Janice Tosto
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A Compendium of Research on Violence Against Women, 1993-2011

The Violence and Victimization Research Division of The National Institute of Justice’s Office of Research and Evaluation released a Compendium of Research on Violence Against Women in May of this year. Over 270 reports published between 1993 and this year have been compiled.

The reports are grouped under several categories:

• Justice and related systems (Advocacy, Arrest and Prosecution, Offender Interventions, Courts and the Criminal Justice System, Forensic and Investigative Methods, Protection Orders, Policy and Legislation, Victim Services)
• Definition and Measurement (Development of Risk Assessment Instruments, Context, Meaning and Motive)
• Epidemiology (National Surveys, Databases, Secondary Data Analysis of National Surveys Examining Risk Factors for Violence Against Women, Risk Factors for Homicide and Serious Injury)
• Social and Cultural Context (Specific Populations, VAW(Violence Against Women) and Welfare, Domestic Violence and Children, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Drug and Alcohol Use and Criminal Histories, Context and Life Course)
• Trafficking in Persons
• VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) Evaluations
• Synthesis of Existing Information
• NIJ Jointly Funded Projects
• Teen Dating Violence

The compendium includes several reports related to domestic and intimate partner violence. The following is a partial list of these reports:

• Impact Evaluation of Special Session Domestic Violence: Enhanced Advocacy and Interventions
• Prosecution of Domestic Violence Offenses
• Community Policing of Domestic Violence: Neighborhood and the Effect of Arrest
• Domestic Violence Cases: Effect of a Specialized Court
• Evaluating a Domestic Violence Training Program
• Targeting Cycles of Domestic Violence: Assessment, Review and Recommendations
• The Effects of Court Dispositions on the Likelihood of Rearrest for Domestic Violence
• Domestic Violence Cases: What Happens When Courts Are Faced with Uncooperative Victims
• Evaluation of a Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence
• The Effect of Procedural Justice in Spouse Assault: A Reanalysis of the Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment
• Domestic Violence Intervention Project
• A Domestic Violence Electronic Monitoring Project in San Diego County
• The Richmond/ Police Foundation Domestic Violence Partnership
• Police Intervention and the Repeat of Domestic Assault
• Evaluating the Impact of a Specialized Domestic Violence Policing Unit
• Examining the Effect of Different Case Screening Practices Upon Domestic Violence Recidivism
• Investigative Strategies for the Successful Prosecution of Intimate Partner Violence
• Crime Control Effects of Prosecuting Intimate Partner Violence
• Victim Participation in Intimate Partner Violence Prosecution: Implications for Safety
• Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research, Part I: Law Enforcement
• Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research, Part II: Prosecution
• The Brooklyn Domestic Violence Experiment: A Twelve-Month Follow –Up Investigation
• A Test of the Efficacy of Court- Mandated Counseling for Domestic Violence Offenders: A Broward County Experiment
• Change and Associated Treatment Outcomes in Assaultive Men
• Process of Resistance in Domestic Violence Offenders
• Stages of Change and the Group Treatment of Batterers
• A National Portrait of Domestic Violence Courts
• Understanding, Preventing and Controlling Domestic Violence Incidents
• Prosecution Strategies in Domestic Violence
• Do Domestic Violence Courts Reduce Recidivism? A Statewide Impact Evaluation in New York
• Child Custody and Visitation When Father Batters Mother
• History of Intimate Partner Violence and the Determination of Custody and Visitation Among Couples Petitioning for Dissolution of Marriage
• Effectiveness of Civil Protection Orders in Deterring Domestic Violence
• Evaluation of Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies in Domestic Violence Cases
• Protection of Women: Health and Justice Outcomes
• Increasing Victim Safety and System Accountability
• Use and Outcomes of Protection Orders by Battered Immigrant Women
• Domestic Violence Against Older Women
• Testing a Model of Domestic Abuse Against Older Women and Barriers to Health Seeking
• Domestic Violence Shelter Study
• An Empirical Examination of a Theory of Women’s Use of Violence in Intimate Partner Cases
• Employment, Family and Social Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: A Longitudinal Analysis of Impacts Over Time
• The Effects of Welfare Recipiency on Domestic Violence
• Linkage of Domestic Violence and Substance Abuse Services
• Offender Characteristics , Offense Mix and Escalation in Domestic Violence
• Next Millennium Conference: Ending Domestic Violence
• Dating Abuse Prevention in Teens of Moms with Domestic Violence Protection Orders

To access the compendium, go to www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/223572/223572.pdf Copies of the final reports are available on the National Criminal Justice Reference Center (NCJRS) website at http://www.ncjrs.gov. An NCJ number is listed where final reports are available. Where an NCJ number is not available, contact the author or principal investigator for additional information.

The NCJRS is a federally funded resource offering extensive reference and referral services about justice and substance abuse information to support research, policy and program development worldwide.



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avatar Janice Tosto
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Intimate Partner Violence: How to Keep Yourself Safe

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene published a Health Bulletin titled “Intimate Partner Violence: How to Keep Yourself Safe.” This publication, number 62 in the Health Bulletin series, is available in English, Spanish and Chinese. The bulletin is prepared by the Department of Health and Hygiene’s Bureau of Communications, in conjunction with the Division of Epidemiology, Injury Epidemiology Unit, Bureau of Epidemiology Services.

“Intimate Partner Violence: How to Keep Yourself Safe” gives readers a brief overview of intimate partner violence (also called domestic violence) and offers resource information for those who are affected by intimate partner violence and people who know someone who is affected. The material is presented under the following headings:

• It Can Happen to Anyone
• About Power and Control
• Health Effects of Abuse
• You Are Not Alone

Some facts about intimate partner violence:

• Partner violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race/ethnicity, income, education, immigration status or sexual orientation.
• Most victims are women—but men can be victims, too.
• Your partner may apologize, give you gifts, and promise never to hurt you again.
• The abuse usually does happen again.
• A violent relationship is NOT your fault.
• Abusive partners must want to change. They must stop all violent behavior.
• There are different types of violence and abuse: emotional abuse, threats, physical abuse, sexual abuse.
• Partner violence can cause or worsen many health problems.

Resource information offered in the publication includes:

• New York City Domestic Violence Hotline (800-621-4673)
• Life Net (800-543-3638) 877-298-3373 (Spanish Life Net) 877-990-8585 (Asian Life Net)
• NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (212-714-1141)
• National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (866-331-9474) 866-331-8453 TTY
• Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men 888-7HELPLINE (888-743-5754)
• Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence Call 311 or nyc.gov/domesticviolenc e
• Safe Horizon www.safe horizon.org
• Arab American Family Support Center 718-643-8000 or www.aafscny.org

Copies of “Intimate Partner Violence: How to Keep Yourself Safe” are available by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov/health



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avatar Bruce Carmel
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Thanks for this useful information!
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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Bruce,

Thanks for reading! Great to see you back in print.

Regards,
Janice
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avatar JaniceTosto
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The Woman Next Door

The last thing I wanted to do after working over 12 hours was call the police.

A couple of Fridays ago, I got into my apartment around 11:30pm. Surprisingly, I was not tired, so I decided to stay up and watch an episode of “MASH.” Not even ten minutes after I got home, I heard a loud, booming noise. I thought something had fallen in my kitchen.

Before I could leave my bedroom and take a look, I heard the noise again. I moved cautiously toward my door. Someone was furiously banging on a door. Then I heard shouting. I became alarmed. It was a man pounding away on my next door neighbors’ door, yelling his head off at the young woman who lives in that apartment with her mother. I was frightened, and hoped this scene would end quickly. But it did not. The man was acting as if he were trying to knock their door down! If he had been able to get into that apartment, I have no doubt that there would have been some violence.

From what I heard, the man was enraged over the end of his romantic relationship the woman. He sounded awfully possessive. The man kept yelling about the woman and another man, and made one statement that sounded very threatening. I could not hear anything she said from her apartment, but she must have told him she would call the police, because I heard him boldly reply “go ahead and call the police!”

I wondered about him saying this. If the police had shown up with him there, would he have challenged or threatened them ? I did not want a potentially violent confrontation outside of my door. I rarely have to call the police. But I was afraid for the woman he was yelling at, and he had to go, so I went back to my bedroom and called 911 to report the situation. While I was on the phone, his yelling and door banging grew louder and fiercer. Shortly after I got off the phone, it became quiet. He had gone away.

The police came within five minutes or so after I called. I went back to my door very briefly. I heard them talking with the woman in question. She said that the man had been harassing her. My guess is that he has probably hit her or threatened to hit her before this incident. This man obviously has a serious anger management issue. That evening, he did not care about anything, not the woman he was yelling at, or the neighbors like me he was disturbing and quite frankly, frightening with his rage-filled ranting and threats.

I was blessed to have gotten home when I did. If I had been delayed by a few minutes, I would have walked right into that situation or worse. It was very ugly. The next morning, I was still feeling a bit shaken.

My neighbor is probably still shaken. I hope that she will reach out for some help so that she can be safe and get some peace of mind.

If you are not directly affected by intimate partner violence, chances are it affects the woman or (man) next door.

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avatar Janice Tosto
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Announcing the “Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Trauma” Conference

The Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness Domestic Violence Committee is holding its Annual Domestic Violence Conference to commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The conference, titled “Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Trauma,” will be held on Wednesday, October 19th from 9am-1:30pm at Richmond University Medical Center, Sipp Auditorium, located at 355 Bard Avenue on Staten Island. The conference is free and open to the public. A continental breakfast will be served at 9:00am and certificates will be available to all attendees.

The Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness Domestic Violence Committee is a dedicated group of Staten Island social services providers, legal advocates, child welfare representatives and criminal justice personnel. The committee meets monthly to share resources, educate the community, and ensure that service providers throughout Staten Island infuse their work with an understanding of the prevalence of domestic violence and the direct impact it has on service providers’ work.

THE EVENT FLYER READS:

“In honor of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness Domestic Violence Committee presents our annual conference: “Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Trauma.”

This half day conference presented by Dr. Sue Parry will discuss how domestic violence affects victims’ mental health – particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance use. It will examine the risks victims face in separating from abusive partners, and why it is dangerous to focus too much on leaving as the solution. And finally it will highlight the needs of victims facing both domestic violence and mental health or substance use issues.

Dr. Sue Parry is Coordinator of Special Projects at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Her current projects include training for service providers who work in mental health, substance abuse, disability services, veterans’ services and traumatic brain injury. She has trained hundreds of service providers throughout New York, presented at state and national conferences, works with state agencies and other organizations, and serves on the faculty of the NYS Victim Assistance Academy. She is a nationally recognized trainer on domestic violence and traumatic brain injury. Before coming to OPDV, she taught psychology and served on the staff of the Counseling Center at Siena College, following similar positions at other universities, specializing in issues related to women.

Please join us in learning about this important topic to cultivate a deeper understanding of the mental health and advocacy needs of survivors of domestic violence.”

For additional information about the “Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Trauma” conference, please contact Claire McCue, Social Worker, Staten Island Legal Services, at cmccue@silsnyc.org or at 718.233.6482.


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avatar Nancy Levin
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Janice :
Thanks you for sharing your experience with you readers. This Saturday, October 15th, My Sisters' Place, Westchester County's largest full service domestic violoence agency will be so-sponsoring a conference wtih the African American Men of Westchester, Men Speaking to Men about Violence Against Women at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon. For more information readers may go to our website at www.mspny.org. Nancy Levin, Director of Development and External Affairs, My Sisters' Place, White Plains, NY
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avatar Janice Tosto
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Hi Nancy,

I would love to hear more about your event. Please contact me.

Regards,
Janice
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avatar Janice Tosto
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Shine the Light on Domestic Violence

When I was a little girl, I watched in confusion, fear and sadness as my father threatened my mother with a knife. I remember him holding it menacingly, and her asking him fearfully what he was going to do with it. I do not know what started the incident, but there it was, unfolding right in front of me.

I was witnessing this horrific scene with my younger sister, brother and an older cousin who was visiting from South Carolina. My siblings and I were all under ten years of age. We were huddled together and protected by my cousin, who stood there frozen and silent, as did we.

This incident lasted a few minutes. I do not know what diffused the situation, but it ended, mercifully, without bloodshed. My father was out of our home shortly thereafter.

My mom would probably be none too pleased to read this. African Americans have this thing about not “putting your business in the streets” as we say. I get that, and there are good reasons for this, but I am not doing this to harm or embarrass her. This is also about my memories and my pain. Time has dulled my recollections of other incidents that took place, but not this one. I could have lost my mother that day, and that matters terribly to me. I doubt that I would be the person I am without her example and influence.

My father is still alive. Over the years, I tried forgetting, and I worked on having a relationship with him. Admittedly, it is a strained relationship. It is difficult to reach out to him, so I don’t-- for now.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For me, and for so many other survivors of, or witnesses to, violence in the home, this is personal. This month, most of my blog postings will deal with the issues of domestic violence and intimate partner violence. My intention is to “shine the light” on domestic violence, to put our business in the streets when it comes to violence in our homes, because the silence and denials are killing women, children and men.

This issue is also professional. Many of the women served by my agency are domestic violence survivors. Some of these women have witnessed domestic violence as children.

“Shine the Light on Domestic Violence” (aka Turn the State Purple 2011) is New York State’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign. The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) (www. opdv.state.ny.us) coordinates the campaign. The campaign seeks to get everyone talking about “purple” as a way to discuss domestic violence. Purple is the symbolic color for domestic violence awareness. Each year, New Yorkers are asked to wear purple on one day. This year, it is Wednesday, October 19th.

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month observances are taking place across the country. I have been viewing various websites to see what other states are doing to promote domestic violence awareness. For example, the Pennsylvania-ba sed National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) (www.nrcdv.org) , along with its national partners the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) (www.nnedv.org); and Casa de Esperanza (www.casadeesperanza.org) will be hosting a 2011 National Call of Unity on Tuesday, October 4th at 3pm Eastern Time. The event flyer reads:

“On this free, 45 minute national call, we’ll hear from survivors, advocates, national experts, and government officials working to end domestic and sexual violence. Kalyn Risker, one of our phenomenal guest speakers and founder of SAFE: Sisters Acquiring Financial Empowerment, will be on the line to share her amazing story of survival, healing and empowerment. Together, we’ll share in a collective moment of silence for all the women, children and men who have lost their lives to intimate partner violence and we’ll hear a dramatic recitation from nationally renowned spoken word artists Sunni Patterson and Asia Rainey.” To register for the call, click on http://bit.ly/2011NatlCallforUnit y

Visit The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) at http://www.opdv.state.ny.us/public_awareness/campaigns/shinethelight/shinethelight11.html to join the “shine the light on domestic violence” campaign during the month of October.
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