Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson Deserved Better

Michael Jackson deserved better.

I had high hopes that the BET Awards that aired Sunday evening would live up to the hype and do some justice in honoring the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. I had hoped that I would not once have to invoke the "c-word" (coonery!) But, alas, those of us who stuck it out were delivered a flat, awkward, poorly paced and, frankly, puzzling show that devolved into shucking-and-jiving and did little to actually honor the King of Pop himself.

I'll say on the outset that I don't watch BET often. I mentally checked out and off of BET right after undergrad (in the 90s!) Oddly, my remote control broke sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning (probably wore it out flipping around checking out all the MJ coverage) and the last channel it was on was BET. Since my cable box is digital and I couldn't manually change the channel, I was (and still am) "stuck" with BET until I get a new remote. I wasn't happy about that but took it as a good omen for BET Awards viewing.

Now I know it was simply a cruel joke and not an omen of any kind. I was one of many who live-tweeted the show and started out praising New Edition opening of classic Jackson 5ive songs (swole up, whiskey-voiced Bobby Brown notwithstanding...) And when Jamie Foxx came out came out dressed like the Beat It video, I was stirring and tweeted that I thought his combination of talents made him the perfect host.

I genuinely expected a celebration. I wanted to sing, laugh, cry and be dancing around my living room talking about "Mama-se, mama-sah, mama coo sah!" -- Michael wouldn't have wanted anything less. Instead, we got a stiff, stilted evening that looked like it had been put together by amateurs. Where were the creative minds that had put together the entertaining BET Awards of years past? The ones who put together Mo'Nique and the big girls dancing to "Crazy in Love"? The ones who had Michael Jackson come out and put the cape on James Brown in 2003?

I shudder to think what they were going to do before Michael Jackson passed.

Where was Diana Ross? Where was Prince? Where was Berry Gordy? Where was Usher? Why was Ciara singing and not dancing? Why was Beyonce singing...a mashed up Ave Maria/Sarah McLaughlin combo in a panty girdle and bustier with wings that looked like they were made by my middle school nephew? Why was Chaka Khan there but didn't sing at all?

True enough, BET had little time to revamp its already-planned show. But this is show business. You expect the unexpected and you rise to the occasion and act accordingly. You think legendary Oscars producer Gil Cates would have put on a show like this?

How about a little dignity? Put together a heartfelt video and photo montage. Dance a little, sing a little. Say a prayer. Fade to black. We all go to bed feeling proud and with our grief assuaged a little bit. But it was not to be.

The O'Jays tribute, Maxwell and Ne-Yo's 50-'leven performances were strong spots. But between Jamie Foxx plugging his tour, Weezy's incoherent, bleeped out performance with underage girls on stage dancing inappropriately to a sexually suggestive song and Ving Rhames with the Kool-Aid pitcher reliving the bad memory that is the movie "Baby Boy" I was done. I think my soul died a little each time I watched commercials promoting Tiny & Toya and Frankie & Neffe.

When Janet Jackson finally took the stage after 3+ hours to give an emotional tribute on behalf of the Jackson family, she looked weary and pissed. I have to believe that's partly out of raw grief and partly because she had to sit through all that steaming hot ghetto madness that failed to ever approximate a true and fitting "tribute" to her big brother.

This was BET's chance, while the whole world was watching, to get it right. And they failed miserably. Again.

I thought back on all those BET Awards performances and instantly thought of the Jacksons and Michael performing at Motown 25 -- truly a send-up to their fans and a clinic on showmanship for everybody else in the game.

BET should have done better. Michael Jackson deserved better. And so did the people who love and mourn him.

Still praying for the Jackson Family,

Friday, June 26, 2009

Gone too soon II

Sadly, this has ended the way no one wanted but that many of us feared.

Rest in Peace, Jada Justice.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gone too soon...

Rest in Peace, Michael.

Thank you for providing the soundtrack to my life.

Best there ever was. Best there ever will be.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where's Jada?

A little over a week ago, on June 16th, 2-year-old Jada Justice turned up missing after her 18-year-old cousin and caregiver, Eugelica Castillo, said she left Jada in the car while she got milk and cigarettes from a convenience store shortly before 10 p.m. The story was widely covered in Chicago because it happened just over the border in Northwest Indiana. But that's about it.

While local reports have provided detailed coverage about joint local and federal law-enforcement efforts to find the toddler, the story has been slow to gain national steam.

By now we all know that the sooner media attention and law-enforcement resources are given to missing persons cases, the better. And by now we know that with each passing day, the chances of finding the missing person alive fade.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, nearly 800,000 children younger than 18 are reported missing each year. Of that number, at least a quarter are victims of family abductions.

These stories can't all be covered, of course but missing Black children are largely underreported and receive scarce media coverage. So, while it's great that missing-girl maven Nancy Grace of Headline News picked up the story, and that CNN did as well, it's too bad that it took almost a week for them to do so. Meanwhile, the folks at Black America Web, and the good sisters at tweetmeblack have done a commendable job of encouraging African-American bloggers to keep this story out front. We're re-tweeting and #jadajustice hash tagging like mad to keep little Jada on folks' minds and to encourage the national media to continue covering it.

Has it shown up as a trending topic yet? No. Not while Tweeters are still mesmerized by the fat, gay, celebrity-stalking Cuban and the divorcing, reality-show parents of multiples. That's right, I refuse to call them by name.

But I will call by name Jada Justice. Missing 2-year-old. Because until this little girl is found I want her name drilled into our heads and tugging at our hearts just like Caylee Anthony and Elizabeth Smart.

These stories tend not to end well. My former crime reporter's spidey sense tells me Cousin Eugelica is lying, and not ready to cop to whatever has happened to Jada, wherever she is. Gary, Ind. police have as much as said they're not buying Cousin Eugelica's story. That's ok. Authorities didn't buy Casey Anthony's story either but it didn't stop them or the media from making little Caylee's case a priority.

I want the same for Jada. I want Justice for Jada. We have the power and resources to help.

  • Use your Twitter and Facebook status to bring attention to the case.

  • Use the hashtag #jadajustice

  • Jada Justice Facebook Group

  • Contact investigators on the FBI tip line at (800) 225-5324 if you have any information about the case.

Let's do this.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quick Hit -- "Beat a Broad and Get Away With It Week"

Boy, it's been a banner week for woman beaters!

First, Chris Brown pleads guilty to felony assault for beating the hell out of Rihanna and gets probation and "community service" and some flimsy protective order to stay the length of a swimming pool away from her at all times unless they're at an awards show, in which case he can be just in the next makeup chair.

Today, former Chicago cop Tony Abbate gets two years probation after pleading guilty to thrashing a waitress in a chilling video seen worldwide. Her crime? She had cut the drunkard off. Like Chris Brown, Abbate could have received up to five years in prison for the crime. And like Brown, Abbate's lack of prior documented (key word) criminal history seemed to convince the judge that he didn't deserve jail time.

Abbate also received "community service", anger management classes (duh) and random drug and alcohol testing.

I've christened this "Beat a Broad and Get Away With It Week". Because, surely, woman beaters everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief that they won't be seriously punished for their crimes. Chris Brown and Tony Abbate aren't the only members of this twisted fraternity, but they're the most high profile ones this week, and have supplied the playbook for the week: Beat the broad, lawyer up, plead guilty, show up to court cleaned up and looking appropriately pitiful remorseful, get-out-of-jail-free card! Weeee!

Fortunately Abbate has been relieved of his police duties for the time being but at this point nothing shocks me and I won't be surprised to one day see him back in blue.

Let's just hope he never gets the chance to ever beat another woman black and blue.

Appropriately pissed,

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can they Hit Us And Still Be Our Heroes?

Can they hit us and still be our heroes?

Pearl Cleage asked the question in her brilliant book "Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth" more than 15 years ago and the answer, of course, is no.

This means you, Chris Brown.

In a last-minute plea deal orchestrated by the singer and the Los Angeles District Attorney, Brown dodged jail by pleading guilty to Monday to felony assault for the March 2009 beatdown of singer Rihanna (see above) and was sentenced to 180 days of community service in the relative comfort of his home state of Virginia. He also got five years of supervised probation, a yearlong domestic violence counseling program and in a bit of plea deal weirdness, must stay 50-yards away from Rihanna at all times, unless the two are performing at the same event. Then he only has to stand 10-yards away. Not nearly far enough as far as I'm concerned.

Entertainment Weekly quoted Rihanna's attorney saying "Rihanna feels it’s a fair and just resolution to the case."

Hm. Well...there's comfort in the fact that she's around to say that much.

Too many sisters aren't.

Domestic violence is most prevalent among women between the ages of 16-24 (Ri-Ri's age range) and Black women remain disproportionately affected by domestic violence -- 35 percent higher than white women and at 22 times the rate of women of other races. As recently as 2005, Black women accounted for 1/3 of all domestic violence homicides.

All this, and still, we're ambivalent about how we address domestic violence.

We still want to blame Rihanna. We still want to know "what she did" that set him off. Chris Brown still wants us to know he's not a "monster." And we see the same scenario played out over and over again, all over the world, by couples whose names we don't know -- as well as those we do.

I want this sick history of shrugging and looking the other way when women in our community are being abused to stop. I want a clear, unambiguous womanist response: zero tolerance.

I don't want us to forgive and forget it. I want us to always remember when we're listening to "Kind of Blue" Miles Davis describing in his autobiography Cicely Tyson hiding in the basement from him after he slapped her around. I want us to remember Dr. Dre's brutal beatdown of music host Dee Barnes when we're watching his Dr. Pepper commercials and bumping our heads to The Chronic. I don't want to be alone in feeling like running my foot clear through the crack of Chris Brown's ass when I hear "Run It."

I need anti-sexist brothers everywhere who are commiteed to non-violence and healthy relationships to raise up and challenge other men who they know are abusing women in disproportionate numbers.

I need for Black women to be just as committed to healthy, non-violent relationships and for them to receive the resources they need, for as many times as it takes (7 on average) to LEAVE abusive relationships. I said this after the incident and I mean it today -- I want to personally give Rihanna copies of Cleage's "Mad at Miles" and also the revolutionary "Black Women's Health Book." I want her to read Evelyn C. White's essay "Love Don't Always Make it Right" so that she has the agency to understand what has happened to her and to maintain a support system so strong that it doesn't happen again.

Because if the question is whether they can hit us and still be our heroes? our leaders? our lovers? our friends? as Cleage wrote, the answer was, is and will always be no.

Waiting for the hit back,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Praise of Black Fathers...

Nothing I've ever done has given me more joys and rewards than being a father to my children.
-- Bill Cosby

One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father is watching him make what he used to call "Big Breakfast." He would announce to the household on the weekend morning of his choice "I am making BIG breakfast" and we knew we were in for a treat.

The man makes the most impossibly light scrambled eggs w/cheese and fluffy pancakes, the juiciest bacon and sausage, and the most perfectly seasoned grits, rice and biscuits you've ever tasted. He would take his time and butter our toast for us and there was always an assortment of our favorite jams. And, frankly, I don't know another man to this day who brews a meaner pot of tea. Not bad for an academic!

There was always a lot of joy when he cooked for us his favorite "Big Breakfast" and I think part of what made those meals so good, outside of the fact that he's such a great cook, is that those meals were made with a lot of love.

Thinking back on ritualized events like sharing a homemade meal always makes me smile. Fathers are happiest when they feel useful, and are engaging in some tactile activity with or for their children. Mine is no different. I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up with that -- especially as it has become clear that fathers like mine have become increasingly rare in the Black community.

The statistics remain sobering: more than half of all Black children are being raised in single-parent households -- a figure that has doubled since the early 1960s, and a staggering 91 percent of single parents of Black children in 2006 were women.

Essentially, a-generation-and-a-half of Black kids have grown up without fathers or any meaningful, positive male presence in their lives, and that has manifested itself in innumerable levels of pathos in our community. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that there are outstanding Mothers, Grandmothers and other extended family members who are fulfilling both roles with great success. From my own sister, who is raising my academically gifted 12-year-old nephew into a wonderful young man, to the Mother and Grandparents of Barack Obama, who would become President of the United States of America, it is possible for Black children to thrive and succeed even as they manage the aching absence of their fathers.

Barack Obama, for personal reasons and for the nation's good, has smartly made responsible fatherhood a priority on his agenda and held a town hall meeting at the White House on Friday on this issue. He's taken heat for speaking poignantly about the pain of his own father's absence, and has urged Black men, in particular, to step up with urgency in raising their children.

But the considerable attention on absentee fathers makes it far too easy to overlook the presence of fathers like my own -- who were and are always there, quietly imparting wisdom, knowledge, protection, discipline, love and prayers without complaint and without ceasing. I'm not a naive girl but it wasn't until I got to college that I realized the majority of my African-American classmates hadn't grown up the same way I did. Everybody in my immediate circle growing up (all Black) came from two-parent homes with very active, present and traditional fathers.

Fathers like mine want no praise and are quick to say "I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing!" But I offer kudos anyway, today and always, because they deserve it. Kudos to them for always being there. Kudos to them for understanding and embracing fatherhood as a lifetime commitment and the most important role they'll ever have. Kudos to my dad for loving me when it's easy and when it's difficult; whether we are debating the merits of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute, a wayward politician or why he needs to join us in the 21st century and get a cell phone! Kudos to him for a lifetime of "Big Breakfasts" and a lifetime of love.

I appreciate, love and honor you and all the fathers like you.

With love,

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quick Hit -- The Hate that Spam Produced

I love my big brother -- but I'm about to put him on blast. His crime? Cavorting with a known racist and forwarding a faulty email.

My brother is a light-hearted guy who loves a good joke and I give him a lot of credit for being extremely tolerant of others. We have different mothers and were raised in separate households -- his formative years were spent largely in Southern California's Orange County. So he's this wonderfully charming mix of "hang loose" surfer dude and card-carrying, gun-loving, animal-hunting Republican. It's no coincidence that when our grandfather died he left his guns to my brother (and to me, nothing, but that's another story...)

Anyway, I got a forwarded email from him the other day about a pre-teen girl in Butte, Montana who shot and killed two Spanish-surnamed, "illegal alien" would-be home invaders. The end of the missive proudly proclaims that "calling an illegal alien an 'undocumented immigrant' is like calling a drug dealer an 'unlicensed pharmacist.'"

Sounds harrowing, doesn't it? But -- wait for it -- it turned out to be completely bogus. I figured the story bogus but, of course, had to check it out. Went to my trusty dusty which confirmed that the story was false. I'd planned to do what I usually do in these situations -- which is to gently tell the sender (my brother) that what they're forwarding is an urban myth and gently (but strongly) urge that they stop forwarding such nonsense.

Then I saw that the person who sent my brother the email had the same name as a friend of his who I'd met nearly a decade earlier. A young, not particularly well-educated white guy with whom my brother worked. I took a disliking to him and his wife immediately because within minutes of meeting, he and his wife both began to tell me how much they hated Mexicans. Really. We're all out at a club and I'm trying to enjoy my customary Cape Codder, and I'm listening to this little cretin go on and on about how Mexicans were the scourge on the earth and didn't deserve to be here and they're taking jobs, yadda, yadda. Old, ridiculous invective.

I remember initially being more stunned than angry. But then I did get angry because he wouldn't let it go. No other substantive conversation from him other than how horrible "the Messicans" were. I challenged him about as much as you can over bad booze and techno but no one else -- including my brother -- challenged him at all. I met him another time, no alcohol involved at all (not that that's an excuse) and it was the same. Pure, unambiguous hate toward Mexicans.

I wasted no time in telling my brother how outrageously offensive and unambiguously racist his friend was. I couldn't understand how or why they were even friends -- particularly considering that my brother wasn't keeping him around in hopes of reforming him. Particularly considering that our family has some multicultural branches that include -- you guessed it -- Mexicans!

Can you imagine being "friends" with someone like this? The sheer audacity of this guy? Somehow it's ok to be racist in front of the Black people because you're not actually denigrating my group? Really? How does one -- a person of color especially -- ever trust somebody like this? Because this is exactly the kind of guy who, when all the Blacks are out of the room, won't think twice about calling them a sack of niggers behind their backs.

I spoke on it and left it alone. I told my big brother flat out that unless this guy had changed, or that my brother had cut him off completely, I didn't want to hear about him. I hadn't thought about this neanderthal in years until I saw this email. And sadly, with the arrival of this "us" vs. "them" email, it looks like nothing has changed.

I told my brother -- again -- and I'll say it to anybody else who thinks this is cute: You are lame for having racist friends. You are participating in your own oppression by keeping people like this around. Get rid of them immediately. Decolonize your mind and shed your own internalized oppression so that you understand why the white dude who is openly racist towards Mexicans will, one day, turn on you. And to Black folk and other people of color who continue to harbor racial and ethnic prejudices toward one another, and think it's acceptable to indulge white racism to your face I say STOP IT. It is hate speech and it is dangerous and you are the worst kind of oppressed coward for sitting by and letting it happen.

Considering the hate crime that just took place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. that just cost a brother his life, do you really want to be the person who said nothing? The person who didn't challenge the racism and the hate simply because it was not directed toward you?

And finally -- stop forwarding those ridiculous emails. You are making the Baby Jesus and my inbox cry a little everytime you do. is your friend, people. And so is a healthy heap of common sense.

Speaking of Cape Codders...boy, could I use one now.


Monday, June 8, 2009

What Laura Ling, Euna Lee and North Korea should teach us all...


I visited South Africa for the first time 10 years ago this month. It was near the eve of the second-ever democratic election, the end of Nelson Mandela's historic term and Johannesburg was buzzing.

Some friends and I -- an African-American journalist and her Cameroonian-born journalist boyfriend -- attended an ANC rally that also doubled as a "goodbye" rally of sorts for Madiba at FNB soccer stadium in Johannesburg. It remains one of the most glorious days of my life (it was the first time I got to see Madiba up close), and one of the most terrifying.

Both my American journalist friend and I had press credentials and were allowed entry onto the soccer field near the stage where Madiba, Thabo Mbeki, Yvonne Chaka-Chaka and other South African political and cultural dignitaries were. Our Cameroonian friend not only did not have a "proper" press credential but didn't have any ID with him at all, and was told he couldn't come on the field. We all met up after the rally, where he did join us on the field.

As we were leaving, unbelievably, the same guard who had told our Cameroonian friend he couldn't come on the field saw him with us and detained him. When we refused to leave him with ANC security and Johannesburg police, we were detained as well. It was preposterous but we were powerless to do anything. We were all being punished for different reasons; our Cameroonian friend for NOT being South African, not having proper ID and for raising suspicion that he was in South Africa illegally, and my friend and I for being perceived as "pushy" American women who wouldn't stay out of African business.

Hours passed with us being stuck in a room and questioned at FNB Stadium. The conclusion was that we were uncooperative and should be thrown in jail in Hillbrow -- one of the worst, most notorious jails in Johannesburg. There was no one for us to call, no "supervisor" or anyone else for us to appeal to. Finally, a single, sympathetic officer hedged his bets and said that if our Cameroonian friend could produce ID and papers showing that he was in the country legally, they would let us all go. We got a weapons-drawn, surrounded-on-all-sides police escort back to our friend's home, where he was able to show ID and papers that satisfied the officers that he was who he said he was, and that he was in the country legally.

Some eight hours later, with nightfall upon us, we were "freed." The three of us retreated to separate corners of the house and broke down, inconsolable. Then we came together and held each other and cried some more. We knew how lucky we were and how much worse it could have been. Had we all actually been tossed into separate quarters at Hillbrow jail, there's no telling when anyone would have been able to find us, let alone help us.

Two years later I went back to South Africa on an international journalism fellowship. A videographer colleague in the program and her assistant were robbed at gunpoint in one of South Africa's most notorious townships when they went unescorted on a Sunday afternoon to shoot b-roll for a story she was working on. It was dumb and they were lucky to escape alive.

What reminded me of these stories is the North Korean government's sentencing of Laura Ling and Euna Lee to 12 years hard labor. They've been detained since March and are officially accused of illegally entering North Korea while reporting at the China-North Korea border. The journalists work for former vice-president Al Gore's Current TV.

I'm shocked that others are so shocked by the sentencing. The North Korean government is a totalitarian regime run by a despotic leader and it's been that way for decades. The U.S. has no diplomatic ties with North Korea. In other words, if you're a journalist trying to work from there, you're taking your life into your hands, as Ling and Lee have learned.

TIME Magazine seems to back me up on that

I'm not saying that Ling and Lee in any way deserved their fate but I am saying that they took a calculated risk and lost. No one should be surprised at the consequences. Every country has its own entry laws and consequences for what it sees as violations -- including ours. Frankly, we should be just as outraged by the ongoing human rights abuses and questionable detainments at Gitmo as we are about Laura Ling and Euna Lee in North Korea. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

As journalists, we tend to get self-righteous and a little cocky when we are working on stories that we think are going to serve the common good by uncovering some wrong or in this case, revealing alleged human rights abuse. Laura Ling's better-known journalist sister Lisa Ling herself previously entered North Korea under false pretenses and reported on its famously closed society.

Lisa Ling was lucky -- she didn't raise the kind of suspicion that her sister did, and made it out without incident. Plenty of others aren't so lucky. Being a foreign correspondent is exhilarating, exotic, exciting. And dangerous. In 2009 alone, 22 journalists have been killed and 143 imprisoned worldwide while doing their jobs, according to the website Reporters Without Borders, which ranked North Korea as Asia's worst country in its press fredom index.

We use the argument "oh, they're just journalists" but the North Korean government and many other foreign governments in some state of conflict with the U.S. don't see it that way. This is a country whose policies essentially flip off every other country in the world, especially the U.S., and is on the record as not valuing a free press. So it stands to follow that American-born journalists working on suspected human rights abuses in North Korea are going to be considered a threat -- and treated as such.

I'm not saying journalists shouldn't continue to tread into unfamiliar and often dangerous territory to tell important, investigative stories -- but they should be able to do it without getting the State Department involved. Because what Ling and Lee have done is unwittingly made themselves pawns in a chess game that North Korea is not afraid to play with the U.S., at possibly the worst possible time.

Journalists need to think hard about what they're doing, why they're doing it and, more importantly, how they're doing it. If you don't have a "fixer" who can all but guarantee your safety you might want to think twice about risking that border crossing.

I have every belief that Ling and Lee are going to be freed on humanitarian reasons, as the Obama Administration is asking, but the days of running around like Don Quixote are over. In this new "War on Terror" world, the stakes have been raised and the invisible line that once largely protected journalists is gone.

And every journalist who has died or been jailed in the name of their story knows it.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

In whose name?

Sabrina, I was sitting in the lobby of a catholic church waiting to meet a hunger activist when I read the article you posted on facebook—George Tiller shot to death at Wichita church News Updates Wichita Eagle. I caught a flight that Sunday morning to Kansas City, MO to conduct a meeting with local faith based activists to discuss international and domestic poverty issues. I had already worshiped at a Presbyterian church that morning and was feeling rejuvenated and loving my job. It felt good to connect the good news of Jesus Christ with the very real life issues facing people in the world today.

As a community organizer I have always worked closely with the church. In most struggling neighborhoods the church is the only place folks can turn to for help and has historically played a huge role in many social justice movements. While there are differences including birth control, gay rights and yes abortions, the larger shared agenda has always been about the wellness of the community. I have not always agreed with “church folk” but I knew that they were generally good people that cared about the community. But there I was in a huge catholic church with hundreds of people listening to a priest talk about “knowing what’s right from sin” that I read—“GEORGE TILLER WAS SHOT TO DEATH AT WITCHITA CHURCH.” The one place that’s supposed to be safe, where your political persuasions shouldn’t matter.

No I am not pollyanna, I know that horrible things have been said and done in the name of God. But this felt different. This pieced my heart. Not only was this man, a doctor that cared for women, murdered in his house of worship, but killed by a movement that professes to carry out God’s will. As the words of this article ran through my head, I felt suddenly vulnerable. What do other Christians think about this? Has the larger Christian community become so myopic that any deviation from what the presumed norm is seen as evil? Do I, a tree hugging Black women that is Christian, supports stem cell research, does not feel threaten by LGBT community and supports a woman’s right to choose, have a place at the table?

The way the abortion debate is framed leaves no room for nuance or compassion. Being pro-choice does not require me to believe in abortion personally. While I believe a fetus is a developing human being, I know the framework of this conversation is housed in that individual woman’s body and I cannot tell any woman what to do. That is between that woman, her God and her healthcare provider! No one can presume to know her truth or what lead her to that decision.

When I hear anyone talk about the importance of an unborn fetus absent the reality of the mother, it makes we cringe! If this is really about the preservation of life why isn’t the pro-life movement advocating for healthcare, housing or jobs? The preservation of life does not stop once you are born. Furthermore, to not acknowledge the humanity of the women is disingenuous. No woman takes this decision lightly. Women need to be supported and cared for not judged and harassed. Have we forgotten who Jesus was, God mercy and grace? How can only anyone who claims to be pro-life turnaround and take one? The contradiction is frightening.

I am sad and disillusioned. If the church stays silent while people continue to kill in its name, it will begin to no longer recognize itself.


Hit Me Back…

Monday, June 1, 2009

Smart Girls Rock!

There is so much to blog about right now my head is spinning. From the GM bankruptcy to the senseless murders of Wichita OB-GYN and abortion rights advocate George Tiller and Chicago Police Officer Alejandro Valadez, who was gunned down in Englewood, there's a lot going on globally and locally.

But there's one thing, one name, one person that keeps sticking out that I can't shake: Kavya Shivashankar.

As you by now know, 13-year-old Kavya won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week. I'm not ashamed to admit that I watch the Spelling Bee every year, even when it was on ESPN. I've watched Kavya for the last several years and have always been impressed with this young lady's discipline and her strong family support. Every year that she lost was a heartbreaker because she was always so obviously well-prepared. This year was her final year to win it all before aging out of the competition and she did it!

Grace under pressure, calm, determined, prepared, brilliant. In short, Kavya is a salient reminder that Smart Girls Rock!

LaVida, I think of girls like Kavya and am automatically reminded of your 12-year-old -- another card-carrying member of the Smart Girls Rock Coalition.

We grew up with a lot of privileges and I think we both were fortunate to grew up in households and communities where it was ok to be a "smart girl." To a large extent, I think we were both rewarded for being "smart girls."

But girls like Kavya and Asha? They are Smart Girls 2.0. To the 10th power. To infinity. Seemingly unscathed by the self-doubt and mixed signals that crept into our generation. We were "self-sufficient" smart girls. I think of a lot of my friends who were in "accelerated" and honors programs and our parents all largely left us alone. My parents both were educators and yet they spent little hands-on educational time with me checking my work or really finding out what I was doing.

I was so encouraged to see footage of Kavya's father and spelling coach working with her for hours each day, helping her sharpen her craft and preparing her for victory. As close as my retired-college-professor dad and I are, he never spent that kind of time with me on academics, and I don't think would have even had the patience to coach me in spelling words. Tennis and swimming, yes. Spelling words? Not so much. When I was in the 6th grade spelling bee I was my own coach, scrawling out words, definititions and etymologies from the dictionary on notecards in pencil.

Your own "smart girl" benefits from the same kind of hands-on academic and extracurricular involvement as well. Excellence is the norm; exemplary and extraordinary are expected.

These young ladies are matriculating in a time where there, truly, are no limitations to what they can do. Their president is African-American. Their Supreme Court includes women and people of color. Women who look like them are represented in nearly every discipline they're interested in. And most importantly, they come from families where their nurturing and self-esteem supercedes whatever negative influences exist in the larger culture.

But for every Kavya and Asha, there are scores of girls just entering their teen years who are wracked with self-doubt and lacking the support to shine as they should. As proud as I am of Kavya, my dream is to see more kids like Kennyi Anouad in the spelling bee. Kennyi, whose parents are from Ghana, was the only African-American boy to make it to the final round, tying for 5th -- up from 91st place in 2008. I want to see a real-life Akeelah in the final round, like from the movie Akeelah and the Bee -- a bright and shiny "smart girls rock" kind of Black girl from the public school system. Someone whose mom, dad, grandma, mentor, pastor, etc., is coaching her to greatness in the spelling bee, in academia, in life!

Were I blessed enough to have a daughter, I'd make sure she was part of the Smart Girls Rock Coalition. I'd tell my daughter to forget about Miley Cyrus or Hannah Montana or any other fictional "tween" phenomenon. I'd want my daughter to be like Kavya -- tenacious, persistent, disciplined. I'd want my daughter to never feel conflicted about being "smart" like so many African-American children are. LaVida, I want our generation to raise geeks and not gangsters.

I want our generation to be raising the baddest little girls in the world; girls who will smile onstage just like Kavya, confident, when they get a word like laodicean.

From one Smart Girl Rockin' to another,