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Medicaid Cuts Hit Close to Home: A Community Provider’s Prospective

If you were too busy keeping track of James Comey and the Russia investigation, you may have missed a news story that I find to be much more important.  The new proposed healthcare bill that the Senate has put forth seeks $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid.  There are many problems within the bill, but this is my utmost concern.  Why? Because I work with families who receive Medicaid funds.

I provide a service called Intensive In-Home.  It is a community-based mental health service designed for children and families who at risk for out of home placement.  I have previously worked with children involved with the Department of Juvenile Justice and am currently serving children who have a dual diagnosis of a mental health disorder as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In other words, these people are some of the most vulnerable in our population.

In just over a year of time in community mental health, I have worked with dozens of families that benefit directly from Medicaid.  These are families who face hardships many of us will never comprehend— homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, developmental disabilities, illiteracy, debilitating medical conditions, sexual abuse, involvement in the the criminal justice system, community violence, lack of food, and even lack of running water.

These are people that you may not see or have a chance to talk to in your every day life.  I can tell you from personal experience that the vast majority of them are tired of being stuck in the cycle of poverty and are working to try to escape it.  Many of these families are working people who still can’t make ends meet. Some don’t work either due to disability or the fact that working would actually cause their situation to be worse off as they would lose key resources for their survival.

I love the people I work with.  I admire their resilience in the face of adversity that I have been fortunate not to encounter in my life.  My clients are children.  They have no say over the choices of our government or of their parents.  They often have extreme trauma from experiences they’ve had at a young age, for which our systems have labeled them as “bad kids,” sometimes going so far as to kick them out of school or put them in jail.

Thirty million children are recipients of Medicaid in this country.  Under the proposed health care bill, half of funding would be gone from the program by 2027.  Programs like the one I am a part of ensure that children receive important services early  on to address their problems and helps decrease the likelihood that the adversity they face will compound to even greater problems in adulthood.  These problems are the problems that will affect you as members of the community.

I have a personal investment in this as well.  Mental health services are often one of the first of programs to take cuts when things like this happen.  My job could be at stake.  Fortunately, I have other skills and resources to fall back on.  The families I work with do not.  The system already has been inadequate in serving their needs.

I still can’t wrap my head around the need to imprison our youth.  It isn’t productive and usually only makes their problems even worse.  The kids that have disabilities are already being pushed into mental health services for care due to lack of adequate disability services.  The waiting list for the waiver for comprehensive individual disability services (The Innovations Waiver) has a wait list of 7-10 years. I personally worked with a child who had been waiting more than half of his life to receive the services he needs.

In my work, I don’t fix people.  I help people learn tools to make changes to their own lives.  I am often frustrated by the constraints and roadblocks that seem to be found at every step of the way.  But despite that, I see real, tangible progress in almost every single case I have encountered. That credit is due to the hard work that these children and families put in.  We provide guidance, but they make their own choices.

One of the biggest issues I encounter with the families I work with at the beginning of treatment can be their inability to see the outside world around them.  I feel like we are suffering from this problem as a greater society.  We all benefit from the stability and health of those around us.  If these families who face even more dire circumstances than most of us can make a change, can’t we choose to make a change too?

I would love to see more, not less access to these types of services.  I fear the outcomes for those we choose to leave behind.  I don’t think that this bill represents who really who we are and what we value as a nation. I have the chance to work with many local organizations that are working to help these families as well.  But it isn’t enough.  We all have to decide to be part of this change. We have to decide to support one another so that we can all be lifted up.  I know that we would all be better off.

I decided to make my voice heard by calling my North Carolina Senators to tell them about what my job does for me, the families I work with, and my community.  I told them about the consequences of losing something so valuable.  I hope that I have opened your eyes a bit to what your fellow Americans are going through.  I hope you have been able to see what this will do to our children, and to our future.

I encourage you to reach out to your Senator’s office using the list below.  You can call them and leave a message. Let them know that what happens to your community affects you and that it affects your vote.

 

ALABAMA

Sen. Richard Shelby (R)

Sen. Luther Strange (R)

ALASKA

Sen. Daniel Sullivan (R)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R)

ARIZONA

Sen. John McCain (R)

Sen. Jeff Flake (R)

ARKANSAS

Sen. Thomas Cotton (R)

Sen. John Boozman (R)

CALIFORNIA

Sen. Kamala Harris (D)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

COLORADO

Sen. Cory Gardner (R)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D)

CONNECTICUT

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D)

Sen. Christopher Murphy (D)

DELAWARE

Sen. Christopher Coons (D)

Sen. Thomas Carper (D)

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Taxation without Representation

FLORIDA

Sen. Marco Rubio (R)

Sen. Bill Nelson (D)

GEORGIA

Sen. John Isakson (R)

Sen. David Perdue (R)

HAWAII

Sen. Brian Schatz (D)

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D)

IDAHO

Sen. James Risch (R)

Sen. Michael Crapo (R)

ILLINOIS

Sen. Richard Durbin (D)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D)

INDIANA

Sen. Todd Young (R)

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D)

IOWA

Sen. Joni Ernst (R)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R)

KANSAS

Sen. Pat Roberts (R)

Sen. Jerry Moran (R)

KENTUCKY

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Sen. Randal Paul (R)

LOUISIANA

Sen. John Kennedy (R)

Sen. William Cassidy (R)

MAINE

Sen. Susan Collins (R)

Sen. Angus King (I)

MARYLAND

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D)

Sen. Christopher Van Hollen (D)

MASSACHUSETTS

Sen. Edward Markey (D)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D)

MICHIGAN

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D)

Sen. Gary Peters (D)

MINNESOTA

Sen. Alan Franken (D)

  • Beth Wikler
    Health Policy Adviser
    beth_wikler@franken.senate.gov
    202-224-5641

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D)

MISSISSIPPI

Sen. Thad Cochran (R)

Sen. Roger Wicker (R)

MISSOURI

Sen. Roy Blunt (R)

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D)

MONTANA

Sen. Steven Daines (R)

Sen. Jon Tester (D)

NEBRASKA

Sen. Debra Fischer (R)

Sen. Ben Sasse (R)

NEVADA

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D)

Sen. Dean Heller (R)

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Sen. Margaret Hassan (D)

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D)

NEW JERSEY

Sen. Cory Booker (D)

Sen. Robert Menendez (D)

NEW MEXICO

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D)

Sen. Thomas Udall (D)

NEW YORK

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D)

Sen. Charles Schumer (D)

NORTH CAROLINA

Sen. Richard Burr (R)

Sen. Thomas Tillis (R)

NORTH DAKOTA

Sen. John Hoeven (R)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D)

OHIO

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D)

Sen. Robert Portman (R)

OKLAHOMA

Sen. James Inhofe (R)

Sen. James Lankford (R)

OREGON

Sen. Jeffrey Merkley (D)

Sen. Ronald Wyden (D)

PENNSYLVANIA

Sen. Robert Casey (D)

Sen. Patrick Toomey

RHODE ISLAND

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

Sen. John Reed (D)

SOUTH CAROLINA

Sen. Timothy Scott (R)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R)

SOUTH DAKOTA

Sen. John Thune (R)

Sen. Michael Rounds (R)

TENNESSEE

Sen. Robert Corker (R)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R)

TEXAS

Sen. John Cornyn (R)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R)

UTAH

Sen. Michael Lee (R)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R)

VERMONT

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D)

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I)

VIRGINIA

Sen. Mark Warner (D)

Sen. Timothy Kaine (D)

WASHINGTON

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D)

Sen. Patricia Murray (D)

  • Nick McLane
    Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
    Ranking Member, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Nick_McLane@help.senate.gov
    202-224-2621

WEST VIRGINIA

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R)

Sen. Joseph Manchin (D)

WISCONSIN

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D)

Sen. Ronald Johnson (R)

WYOMING

Sen. Michael Enzi (R)

Sen. John Barrasso (R)

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The Power of Loving

Today we celebrate Loving Day! Fifty years ago on June 12, 1967, Mildred and Richard Loving were victorious in their Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, which invalidated every anti-miscegenation law on the books.  “Miscegenation” is a made up word meaning “race-mixing”–from the Latin “miscere” meaning “to mix” and “genus” meaning “kind”.  The implication of the term implies that different races are actually different species, which in and of itself is pretty disgusting.  The term was coined in 1863 to deter interracial relationships as the abolition of slavery was upon us.

As with many Supreme Court cases during the Civil Rights Movement, the change in Washington didn’t necessarily mean a change for the people.  Until 2000, Alabama still had their anti-miscegenation laws on the books, although they were unenforceable.  It wasn’t until 1971 that the first interracial couple married in the state of North Carolina, where I married my husband in August of 2015.

Navigating the world as an interracial couple a half-century after these laws have been struck down still isn’t as simple as it should be.  When I look into his eyes, I see the human that I love so deeply. It is the world around us that reminds us that our “races” aren’t the same.

This year for my birthday we went downtown to have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.  Afterwards, we went back to our car to chat and wait out our fullness to subside to make some room for dessert.  We were parked in a public lot in “progressive” downtown Asheville.  After sitting there for less than 15 minutes, a security guard approached our car and asked if everything was alright. We both said yes.

He then proceeded to tell us that we had to leave immediately because we were trespassing.

“Trespassing?” my husband asked. “But we paid to park here.”

The security guard then informed us that if we didn’t leave the premises, he would call the police and have us arrested for trespassing.  Our reaction to this was not our best.  We had a few choice words for the guard.  I began to cry with fury.  We decided to leave the lot.  On our way out, as we paid the money for the time we were in the lot, I asked the attendant if he had ever seen anyone kicked out for trespassing by sitting in their own car.  He told me he had never heard of such a thing.

I already knew before I asked.  It just feels better to get some sort of validation. This is happening.  This isn’t normal.  I never had this experience either alone or with the white men I have dated in the past.

This was one of our more serious incidents, but we experience being treated differently on a weekly basis.  From the stares to we get walking into a store to the poor service we receive in restaurants, to the time we nearly gave heart attacks to a room full of elderly white people when we stood up for intermission at the symphony.  Even when I’ve tried to explain these experiences to people I love that are close to me, I still feel like some of them don’t believe me.

I’m handling it the only way I know how: by loving my way out of it.  More and more, we see other couples who look like us on the street.  We know that they had to make laws against interracial marriage because they can’t stop love.  I’m so grateful for the the relationship I have.  It has been a learning experience.  Even though I also am affected by these things, it pales in comparison to what it must feel like for my husband to walk around in his skin every day for his whole life.

As much as we talk of systemic racism today, I get to see individual racism alive and well. It isn’t spoken in words as often as it used to be.  I see it in action.  When my husband tells me about someone treating me differently, I believe him.  I tell him I’m sorry that people are this way.  I tell him that we will always have each other.  I know those people must not have the kind of love that I do.  Our love has no limits.

I have to remember that LOVE IS WINNING.  I have to know that the next generation will be even more accepting, as images of relationships like mine are now more and more prevalent in our culture.  More and more of my friends are in interracial relationships.  Babies are being born every day that don’t fit into any of our current superficial categories of race.

I love Loving Day.  I am eternally grateful for the sacrifices made by Mildred and Richard Loving.  They paved the way to the beautiful lifelong relationship that I’m building today!

 

 

 

 

Cover Photo Credit to the incredible Matt Wunder

#ShameOnHer: How Hillary’s Campaign is Hurting Women

After watching last night’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn and waking up to a feed full of stories about “Bernie Bros” and claims of sexism on Bernie Sanders, I am left with a pit in my stomach.

I grew up with a mother who raised me as a feminist. I believe in equality for women. I know what it is like to be put down in a male-dominated industry.  I know what it is like to not be taken seriously. I’ve experienced sexual harassment both in the workplace and on the streets. Women’s rights are so incredibly personally important to me, so that is why I must speak out.

I have watched media outlets and the Clinton campaign use her gender, MY GENDER, as a political tool throughout this race and quite frankly I have had enough. If Hillary has been a victim of her gender in any sense, it is in regards to her marriage to Bill. His political ambitions came first and now it may be too late for Hillary to have a place in the White House because many Americans believe that the Clinton brand of politics, using corporate favors and pandering to groups they actually don’t support with policy, is the old way of doing things.

I fervently want a female president. I did not support Secretary Clinton in 2008. She was unable to use her gender in that election because she was running against Obama, but she was more than happy to question his qualifications and I did not hear an uproar from his campaign or the media that she was being racist. Yet, in this election, Bernie was responding claims from Hillary’s campaign that he was not qualified, and so he questioned Clinton’s qualifications.  Now we’re calling him a sexist.  Clinton repeatedly interrupts Sanders and goes over on time in the debates, but he is “mansplaining.”  Come on! Most of us can see straight through these ridiculous accusations, but I am not seeing many people speak up about it.  

Hillary Clinton’s record when it comes to women is downright disgusting, yet she has never been questioned about it on the national stage.  She has stayed married to a sexual predator and has helped to silence his victims. She defended a child rapist and blamed the victim, a 12-year-old girl. She knowingly used tampered evidence in a trial. The Clinton Foundation happily takes money from countries with atrocious human rights records for women.  I do not believe Hillary has fought for women. I believe she has simply used women (and minorities- but that is another article) to get votes.

This strategy to get women voters isn’t working for young women like me, so she discounts us. We aren’t even considered real voters in a sea of these supposed “Bernie Bros.” She has fought for herself and her power. My male friends who are Bernie supporters believe in women’s rights. Some even identify as feminists. They have gotten a completely fictitious “Bernie Bro” label and us female Bernie supporters have been subject to ridicule by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, who I once considered feminist icons. Having different opinions than one another and having those opinions be heard fairly is a foundational element of feminism.  

Since I believe in equality for all genders, Hillary does not get a free pass on these things because she is a woman. She does not get to deflect serious policy so that she can try to smear the squeaky clean Senator Sanders with unfounded, unreasonable claims of sexism.

Hillary undermines the real sexism that I and millions of other American women experience on a daily basis.

We all know that Donald Trump is horrible to women. If Hillary does become the nominee and wants to discuss this in the general election, it will be more than fair game.  It will be fair game for Bernie as well.  Bernie is a supporter of women and needs to be uplifted. Male allies are critical for the success of the feminist agenda.  Bernie actually has a more liberal policy on abortion than Hillary.  He is a bigger proponent of paid family leave, which has a huge impact on women. Bernie supports economic policies that benefit women, who are the biggest victims of poverty in this country next to the children that those women are raising.

Enough is enough. Do not fight a fight on behalf of the parts between my legs. Yes, a female President is a step in the right direction, IF that President represents the needs of the people. I do not believe that Hillary is that candidate and her vagina is not going to change my mind. Hillary is not a victim. Shame on her for victimizing herself at the expense of the real victims of sexism.

The I-26 Disconnect: An Open Letter to the DOT

Dear Mr. Joyner,

As a resident and homeowner in the Burton Street Community for 9 years, I am writing you to address the serious and very dangerous issue of the I-26 connector project.  There is nothing about this proposed project that is a connector. This road is a divider of the community, most strongly impacting the people who are already struggling the most in Asheville.  Asheville prides itself on diversity and community, but these values have not shown through at all in the planning of this roadway.  

To start, I am completely unconvinced that this massive $800 million project is even necessary.  Asheville is not a large city and it simply does not have the capacity to be one. Issues with traffic are minor compared to large cities. I think many of the problems on the Jeff Bowen bridge are a result of very confusing signage.  Additionally, Asheville lacks a reliable, efficient public transportation system for its residents. The buses here are late, infrequent, and do not reach many of the places residents need to go.  This has resulted in more people having the need to own cars.  We manage our household with one vehicle, but it is a struggle and requires careful planning and long bus rides for my husband.

The primary problem with the Department of Transportation’s plan (including ALL of the alternatives presented thus far) is the people it hurts.  First of all, the information the DOT provided has been done so poorly and unclearly.  I have spent hours and hours of my own time scouring the internet for information on this project.  Unlike many other residents, I have the time, education and computer/internet access and savvy to devote to this endeavor.  If you don’t educate people about what you’re actually proposing, it is quite unfair to expect to receive the true comments of the residents.  

I think you should take the time to walk around my neighborhood. I would be happy to accompany you and we could speak to the residents ourselves.  We could tell them the number of houses the DOT plans to take.  We could tell them the real numbers about how many MORE of those houses are going to be coming from minorities and low-income people proportionate to the population.  Then we could listen.

In your 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, you openly admit that this project is in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in regards to its environmental justice provisions which prohibit federal funds from being spent on projects that have a disparate impact on communities of color.  The report suggests further discussions with my community and then promptly disregards the issue.  This IS the issue.  And this is the issue that I will personally make known to as many other Asheville residents as possible as this project moves forward.  

This is about yet another careless decision that directly harms poor and nonwhite people.  The Burton Street Community has already  been hurt several times before by highway construction. The message you are sending to the people who live here is that they don’t matter.  They aren’t important.  Their social and economic well-being is once again being systematically ignored in the false name of progress. This project isn’t progress.  This project is a regression to discriminatory practices with far-reaching cultural, social, and economic consequences.  

It seems that no matter how much the community pushes back on this project, you keep forging ahead.  The only supporters I’ve seen of this project are the people who are either ill-informed, ignorant or those who put profits and “convenience” above people.  There is an awful lot of profit to be made off of this project for the “right” people.  I won’t stand by the wayside to watch my community be bulldozed and disparaged once again.  

I hope that you do get a chance to personally read this, Mr. Joyner. I hope that your Environmental Impact Statement is a clear enough sign that this project is an Environmental Injustice.  I hope you make the choice to postpone the project and put some of those dollars into road improvements, public transportation and clearly marked roads. Perhaps you could even use some of the funds to directly invest in the Burton Street Community and improve its economic growth!  Go back to the drawing board. There has to be a solution that is less invasive, if you choose to look for it.

Please consider this while you’re spending the holidays with your family in your home: Imagine if someone took that home away from you.  Imagine if someone took your neighbors away from you and divided your community. Imagine if your town, your state, and your federal government told you your value was less than the everyone else’s with their actions.  You will likely never know what this situation feels like.  You are fortunate for that.  But please have some empathy for those who are not so lucky.  Recognize the very stained history of this town and this country that we live in as we try to move forward to bring people together. Do your duty as a public official to act in the interest of the community.  This is about more than a road.  This is about racial justice, economic fairness, and human decency.
Thank you.

Sincerely,

Grace Barron-Martinez

This letter was written to Drew Joyner of the the North Carolina Department of Transportation to express my thoughts on the proposed I-26 Connector Project for Asheville.  I encourage you to share your with him by clicking the link below.  You can write your own letter, use mine, or use the one provided by Mountain True. Thanks for your help!

Sign the Petition by December 16th!

 

The 100% FREE No-Gimmick Secret To Weight Loss. For Real.

I would like to apologize for the clickbait, but if it got you here, you’re exactly the person I want to be talking to. Plus, I do reveal the true secret. I promise!

Scrolling through my newsfeed, I notice that a large percentage of my sponsored ads are for weight loss products and services. I don’t know why Facebook thinks that I think I’m fat. I can only assume that they think EVERY woman thinks she’s fat. Fuck that!

Stop thinking you’re fat. Right now. And stop worrying you’re fat. And calling yourself fat to other people (Amy Schumer, this includes you!). First of all, “fat” is a mentality, not a body type. Fat is a personality. A man once told me that he never notices a woman’s “flaws” until SHE points them out to him.

Confidence is sexy. YOU are sexy. Even if you’re not there yet on the inside, fake it til you make it, sisters. Every time you take a bite of this line of bullshit that is fed to women every day, you’re giving your energy and time and often money to a system that relies on making women feel constantly terrible about themselves for profit.  You deserve better than that.

Unfortunately, you will surely look in the mirror at least now and again and see something you’re not 100% happy with when it comes to your body. When that happens to me, I:

  • Say a silent or sometimes out loud “Fuck You” to all the systems in place that have taught me feel this way to begin with
  • Tell myself one thing I like about myself, out loud, for each negative thought I have in my head

If you’re interested in having a happier, healthier body, the first thing you need to do is to stop stressing about your weight. I know this is easier said than done, but the above tips will help.
I will tell you what won’t work: crazy diets involving an egg cooked in an avocado, eating only grapefruit for weeks, sipping some lemon acai cocktail, taking the secret skinny pill all the stars are raving about, binding yourself in those stupid fucking wraps and any and all bullshit Facebook is flashing in your face every five minutes.
What I have found does work:
Eat food that you cook yourself without a bunch of fake ass ingredients. This can even include cookies. Just don’t go too nuts about. Okay, go a little nuts about it. Forgive yourself. Those cookies were delicious! Move forward.
Go to the gym or go outside! I used to hate exercise but then I found out I was just trying the wrong kind of exercise for me. I would rather tweeze my legs one hair at time than go for a jog. For some, that is their savior but it just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m a pilates and (I hate to admit this) dance fitness person. I love music.  Dancing poorly to it helps me forget I’m exercising. Pilates is wonderfully relaxing to me and builds strength, which I think a lot of women forget to do, focusing almost entirely on cardio. Your muscles burn fat for you while you’re just sitting on your ass.  Exercise is also giving your body free drugs! You’re about to be super high on yourself. Now get out there!
Also remember that when old people tell you patience is a virtue, they’re right. You will not lose 10 lbs in 10 days. If that happens,  consult a physician immediately because you may have a deadly tapeworm. DO NOT BUY TAPEWORMS ON THE INTERNET. THEY WILL KILL YOU.  Focus on feeling better and being proud of yourself.
Please, ladies, give yourself the respect you deserve, even if Facebook does no such thing.
Believe in yourself. Thank your body for all it does for you every single day. Make it stronger. Make your mind stronger against the constant barrage of body hate.

Fight this system. If you agree, share this with the hashtag #FuckFatAds. Tell Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s marketing team that using ad algorithms that assume every woman wants to be thinner perpetuates the problem!

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, the issue of the Confederate flag came to the forefront of our discussions on race.  I’ve never felt comfortable with the flag as a symbol because of its past history and present reality of being used for hatred and intimidation.  However, I found myself feeling somewhat frustrated by news coverage that seemed to suggest that the Confederate flag means racism, and therefore racism solely comes out of the South.

I was born and raised a Yankee, but have lived in North Carolina for nearly 10 years now.  I have news for everyone: hate and ignorance exists everywhere.  I think the Confederate flag is just an easy symbol for us to point to that represents both an unhealthy dose of hate and ignorance.  By this point, though, everyone should be realizing that the symbol means hate to some, and therefore, out of respect for those people, it should not be flown.  That being said, the right to fly it falls under the right to free speech. So now it is a waiting game as hearts and minds change and voices speak out to demand those changes.

This week, I saw that hope for change in a story that I haven’t been seeing get too much fanfare in the media.  The state flag of Mississippi still shows the Confederate symbol proudly waving in the upper left hand corner of their flag.  But this past Monday morning at Ole Miss, the state flag was lowered on the campus.  

Ole Miss is the school where Governor Ross Barnett attempted to block the entrance of its first black student, James Meredith, in 1962, using the same language of heritage we hear today in his “I love Mississippi” speech.  When Mr. Meredith finally made it onto campus in his fourth attempt, he was guarded by US Marshals. A riot broke out, in which two men were killed and 166 US Marshals and 40 National Guardsmen were injured.

Recent history has been much brighter for Ole Miss.   In 2002, the school commemorated the the 40th Anniversary of the desegregation of the school, unveiling a memorial.   The following year, James Meredith’s son Joseph graduated as the top doctoral student at the University’s business school.   In 2008, Ole Miss hosted the very first Presidential debate between John McCain and our soon-to-be first black President, Barack Obama.

Today, students of color represent twenty-five percent of the population. Ole Miss’ students come from 93 different countries around the world. Yet, it is still truly a state school,  with 61% of students from the state of Mississippi. This diverse group banded together to pass a resolution to have the state flag removed from its campus.  The school has now seen another huge step towards progress.

Although current governor Phil Bryant still does not support the decision, the students have taken action to seek a change that has been a long time coming.  It gives me great hope to see young people valuing equality and respect for their fellow classmates.  There are still an incredible amount of changes that need to be made to make our country a place that is equal for all, but I think we need to take the time to praise a step in the right direction.  Removing a flag does not remove hate, but it sends a signal that these symbols and ideals aren’t acceptable anymore. The message of the removal means more to me than the removal of the flag itself.

I still don’t think change is fast enough, but that sense of urgency will keep us moving forward as we deal with these very old and entrenched wounds as well as the very real and continuingly inflicted ones.  

I think this also represents that not all Southerners are the stereotype that the mass media tends to portray.  Every place is full of individuals. Some of those individuals are going to continue to support hate, but the rest of us– our voices need to be louder and clearer.  

If we make race a Southern problem, we are pigeonholing the issue and losing sight of a pain that is afflicting this entire nation.

I’m proud of the students at Ole Miss, and I’m proud of the institution for turning one small tide to help make this respected institution a place where everyone feels welcomed. Let’s all support and encourage change, demand more of it, and praise it when we see it.  Thank you, Ole Miss.  You’ve given me just the glimmer of hope I needed this week in these challenging times.



  

Photos courtesy of Mike Martinez

Taken in Gettysburg, PA 

The Eleventh at Twelve (September)

This morning, I woke up in my typical fashion: late and grumpy.  I put on my blue jeans for dress down Friday and headed for my 9 to 5.  My crazy hair cared about as much as the Florida driver in front of me cared about the speed limit.  I sat at a desk for 8 hours. I ate an unreasonably large burrito at lunch.  In all likelihood, in a week or two I won’t remember what I did today, what I wore, or where I was.  My day has been unremarkable. You probably won’t remember today either.

In fact, I almost forgot it was The Eleventh.  Almost.  I almost forgot sitting in second period 7th grade art class with Ms. Sterling.  At first it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Wow!  A plane hit the World Trade Center. I wondered where my Uncle Jim, a pilot, was flying that day.  I remembered visiting the towers when I was a little girl with my dad.  I look up from my piss-poor painting to see another plane hitting the second tower.  By this time, the teachers are frantically running around to different classrooms. They’re telling everyone to turn off the TVs, knowing full well they can’t really shield the helmet generation from this trauma. But we aren’t children. Not anymore at least.

My little cousins are in the same generation as I am. They’re now between the ages of eight and sixteen. But they don’t know the world before The Eleventh like I do. The oldest was 3 and the others were not even conceived.  I think a lot about the world as they’ll never understand it, especially today.  Have they ever had a moment in their lives where they could ask anyone they knew and that person could tell them EXACTLY what they were doing that day?  Will I ever have a moment like this again?

The Eleventh shaped my adolescence.   I was twelve years old when the towers collapsed, the Pentagon burned, and Flight 93 made a big hole just outside my Uncle Bud’s backyard. He said he was shaving when it happened and that the “explosion” was so big it shook the mirror.  So much more was shaken that day.  Being twelve is already a tenuous time. My body was changing, but so was my country.

Our idea of what it means to be “American” shifted dramatically. We were suddenly very proud.  We became “us” and they became “them.”  I don’t remember ever evaluating what it meant to be an American until I was sitting in a packed stadium a few months after The Eleventh, looking around at the crowd as they loudly sung, “Proud to be an American.” The truest American pride I had seen in someone else was in my great-grandfather, Pop, a World War II veteran who signed up for the service when he heard about Pearl Harbor.  The Eleventh would become our Pearl Harbor.  But, with a television blaring in every living room, the experience seemed even more real, or surreal.  I suppose I’d been taking my freedom for granted.

The world wasn’t safe anymore.  We were worried about anthrax in our mailboxes and if someone was going to try to bomb the shopping mall while we bought our training bras.  Yellow ribbons graced every other tree in my suburban neighborhood.  We would soon be asking, “Whose side are you on?” Everyone was a suspect, especially if your skin was the wrong shade of brown or your religion wasn’t Judeo-Christian, or your first language wasn’t English.  Security meant never feeling secure.  Freedom meant sacrificing personal liberty for the sake of the whole.  The fear is constant. Fourteen years later, that feeling has faded somewhat, but remains ever-present. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not these fears are legitimate, but they’re fed to us like pills in our applesauce.  We don’t want another Eleventh.

Whether or not you wanted to get the terrorists or you were frantically searching for a means to peace amidst the turmoil, we all knew, in an  unspoken way, that our worlds would never be the same.  We learned, in a span of a few hours on a just-like-every-other-Tuesday morning, that everything can change at any time for any reason or no reason at all.

The Eleventh was also the prequel to war.  They had to get somebody for doing this to us.  I wasn’t sure who, but I knew it was coming.  The Eleventh meant the war of our generation was starting.  We didn’t even know it, sitting our desks, that our classmates, these children,  would grow up to fight for this country because of this day.  So while we were wondering if it was time to start wearing deodorant in gym class, we were contemplating the elusive dangers of “terrorism.”  Our answers were different from each other, but our worlds were the same. They were the same in that they would never be the same again.

Today, I can’t begin to explain to a 12-year-old what the world felt like before The Eleventh. I can hardly articulate it to myself or with these very words.  Kids these days will hear about it on the news once a year and probably read about it in history class. There was one day that changed us. There was one day that derailed the train, only to be put back on an entirely different track than we could have possibly imagined.  We live with the consequences and the loss each day. The gravity of that experience is inexplicable to the pre-teen playing Taylor Swift on her iPhone while it’s being monitored by the NSA.

At first when I turned on the radio this morning, I thought to myself, “I’m tired of hearing about this.”  Then it all came back to me as I heard the quivering voices of the morning callers, my generation, talking about what will always be one of the most significant events in our lives. I heard the bells ring to commemorate each tragedy as the morning progressed.

I felt just like that 12 year old girl again–scared, confused, and totally oblivious as to what will happen next.  I only tire of hearing about the Eleventh because sometimes I’m tired of remembering it.  Sharing our “where were you?” stories is our own form of collective group therapy for a nation and a generation that still has an unbelievable amount of healing to do.  I couldn’t forget the Eleventh even if I wanted to.

Step One: If You See Something, Say Something

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably found yourself getting pretty frustrated lately by all things in the news that make it appear that we are a society divided. I think it’s a positive thing that we’re talking openly about issues of race, sex, gender and sexual orientation. To me, one of the most beautiful things about this world is that we’re all different.  What a boring place we’d be in if we were all the same!

One of the ugliest things about our world shows when we see hate and division based on these arbitrary lines and categories we put ourselves and each other in.  I wish we could just pretend these things don’t exist. I really wish there was such a thing as being “color-blind,” but there isn’t.  I’ve seen some very wonderful progress we’ve been making, but the progress needs to be faster.  We need to be more aggressive about it.  Sometimes it just seems like we should throw our hands up in the air. “The world’s ALWAYS  going to be screwed up.” But here’s the thing: I’m tired of talking about the problems. I want to be about the solution.  You can either be ignorant of the issues or be miserable because of them.

But, there’s a third option: you can do something about them. I know what you’re thinking, “How could little ol’ me fix these HUGE problems?  Nothing I will ever do will matter.”  And you’re probably right.  IF, and only if, you were the only person who cared, the only person who did something, nothing would ever get better.  Great news! You’re not! You can connect with others in your community. Plus, thanks to Al Gore, the internet allows us to connect with people around the world.  I’m not an expert. And I know the world’s screwed up. I’m tired of doing nothing about it.  I’m here to offer some small steps of things you can actually do.  YES actually do- this isn’t like making one of those rainbow cakes on Pinterest.  Having an electric life doesn’t mean just doing what you do in your own little bubble, it means lighting up the world. So let’s get started.

Step One:

IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING

No, this slogan isn’t just for terrorists anymore.  It is a mantra for you to live your Electric Life by. It may sound silly, and it may sound small. Or to you, it may just sound obvious.  But the reason that I know it is important and not really that obvious is that I’m completely shocked by how often people see something and say nothing.

You know that guy. And chances are, you’ve been that guy. You’re in a group of people and someone says something that’s uncomfortable.  It’s probably just a side comment. And you could probably just brush it off. You might wince when you hear it.  You know you’ve just heard something racist or sexist, anti-gay, etc.

This probably doesn’t happen that often when you’re in front of the people that are a part of the group they’re referring to. It can be as simple as “Well you know how (insert minority group)s are.”  But how often do you say “No, I don’t. How are THEY?”  I know I don’t do it all the time.  And I know I do it the least when it comes to things I hear about women. I’m much more comfortable calling people out when I feel like I’m defending someone else instead of myself. That’s the trouble with being in one of these groups. A lot of times, it’s just you.  Last week at work when someone told me that I would be distracting because I’m a “pretty girl” instead of respected as an accounting professional WOMAN doing my job, I stayed silent.

But you know what would have been great? If someone had my back.  If the other man who witnessed the conversation stepped up and said something as simple as “we really appreciate your hard work and skills,” the guy who made the comment would have instantly seen the error of his ways. We wouldn’t have to discuss it.  The point is, if we have allies out this sometimes nasty world, it will make us all feel a whole lot better.

You have the responsibility to say something when you hear someone talking this way, otherwise you’re agreeing with them with your silence. I honestly think there are many “good” people who are just scared.  I’m not sure what we’re so scared of.  Nine times out of ten the person’s response when you call them out is probably going to be them being embarrassed.  Just like peer pressure has proven the best way to get kids to start smoking, it’s also turning out to be the best way to get them to not start in the first place.  The same principle applies here. Nobody should feel safe spreading their hate.

All it takes us “good” people to stop the few bad apples in their tracks. We aren’t going to be able to change everyone’s minds, but you need to make it clear to people that you won’t tolerate ignorance and hate.  If you lose friends over it, well, were those really kind of friends you wanted in the first place? I know I’ve learned that lesson several times over. I’ll be the last person to say I always follow this rule. I’m still not sure what that little fear comes from that stops us from doing what we know is right. If you have a story of saying something and what happened when you did, I’d love to hear it and share if you’d allow me. Let’s work together on this. Together, our power is real and it’s net effect could be world-changing.

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