Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bailouts? Think about the children

We're busy scrambling to bail out people who have tragically failed our system. What about bailing out the people who haven't even had the chance or opportunity to make a bad decision yet? Listen to Karim's take on it...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hootin' and Hollarin' 2008

What happens the third weekend in the small rural town of Gainesville, Missouri (population 595) every year?

Hootin' and Hollarin'!

What, you may ask, is Hootin' and Hollarin'?

Hootin'-and-Hollarin'--an annual festival, started in 1960, that celebrates the Irish heritage of many of the residents in Gainesville, Missouri. The hill country arts and craft festival features float and costume parades, square dancing, old time music, outhouse and bed races, hog-calling contests and more.

Growing up in this rural community, I learned to value blue grass music and good community and family celebrations. Hootin' and Hollarin' provides an annual homecoming for those of us who graduated and moved away. Each year we can go back and be assured we will see many former classmates, family, and friends.

Each evening, Thursday through Saturday, from 9:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. large groups of people assemble...some to watch, some to dance, and some just to enjoy the music. I love watching the older men as they pull up a piece of plywood and clog, their feet shuffling in quick movements unexpected for men their age. Young and old gather on large square wooden skids so that the pounding feet of the square dancers can be heard. It's neat to watch each age group of dancers add in a younger one or two so that they can learn from the older generation.

Check out the video (above) and some pictures (below) so you can enjoy it, too.(if you look close, you can see the "Hillbilly Funnel Cakes" stand and the float that has an outhouse with a person sitting inside. We have a sense of humor about our cultural heritage. :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yes, we Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement

I just heard about this CD and had to buy it:


I can't quite describe the feeling I have as I listen to it. It takes me back to Denver. I had planned to look up each of the songs we heard at Invesco and purchase them. This makes it so much easier...and provides a more extensive selection.

What other campaign have you ever known of that has this much unsolicited participation? This campaign and what they have inspired in such a variety of races, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and geographic areas helps me remember that the United States of America belongs to ALL of us.

Despite all of that, all in all, this is just good music.

1. Eternity - Lionel Richie
2. Signed Sealed Delivered - Stevie Wonder
3. Waiting On The World To Change - John Mayer
4. American Prayer - Dave Stewart
5. Battle Cry - Shontelle
6. Make It Better - Los Lonely Boys
7. Pride In The Name Of Love - John Legend
8. I Have A Dream - BeBe Winans
9. Am I All Alone - Suai
10. One Is The Magic # - Jill Scott
11. Love & Hope - Ozomatli
12. Looking East - Jackson Browne
13. Out of Our heads - Sheryl Crow
14. Promised Land - Malik Yusef with Kanye West and Adam Levine of Maroon 5
15. Hold On - Yolanda Adams
16. America The Beautiful - Keb' Mo'
17. America - Ken Stacey
18. Wide River - Buddy Miller

Through their musical contributions, the artists seek to mobilize voters in the final stretch before the November election. Many of the artists involved will also be volunteering their time to promote voter registration. For more information on registering to vote or requesting an absentee ballot, go to: www.VoteforChange.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Federal funding available for tutoring

Did you know there is tutoring funding available for low-income children in low-performing schools?

It's been available for a while. It's through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)...but 90% of the funds go un-used each year!

In the last week, two different tutoring providers have approached our organization. I am always suspicious when someone approaches me so that they can make money. Both providers work through the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) to provide services for the kids who qualify.

Here are the facts they've given us about the NCLB funding:
  • program is open to middle and high school students
  • kids must be from a school on the "under-performing list"
  • federal funding provides up to $1575 funding per child per year
  • children must qualify for free or reduced lunch

I am a curious as to why it isn't open to elementary-aged kids as well. It seems that getting kids back on track while they are young would be the thing to do.

From what I can understand, parents were notified (though I'm not sure how) on August 25 and had an enrollment deadline of September 25. A few more schools will be put on the list by the beginning of October and those students will have a deadline of October 25 to enroll. When we asked the man why couldn't students enroll year-round, we were told that DISD doesn't have the personnel to handle all of the paperwork associated with the funding. (Fort Worth...or was it Houston??...*does* allow year-round enrollment)

After these two meetings, I talked to another lady who said that she knew a provider that was being paid $3000 per kid to implement their program.

I haven't quite figured it out. Are the two programs that approached us gimmicks...or do they really help kids? Though $1575 is a start, I wonder how many kids get started on their "road to recovery and success" only to be cut off because there is no more funding.

If it's true, I'mt also wondering why one program gets $3000 per kid. Is it a better program that produces better results? If so, why is DISD still contracting with the other ones?

I understand that the administration needed to do the paperwork and measurements may be overwhelming, especially considering DISD's lastest blunder with their $64 million shortfall. However, I would think that getting kids tutored and up to grade level (if the funding's available) would/should be their greatest priority.

Does anyone else know anything about this and could offer any insight??

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tim Wise's response to his original White Privilege article


By Tim Wise


I guess I should have expected it, seeing as how it's nothing new. I write a piece on racism and white privilege (namely, the recently viral, "This is Your Nation on White Privilege"), lots of folks read it, many of them like it, and others e-mail me in fits of apoplexy, or post scathing critiques on message boards in which they invite me to die, to perform various sexual acts upon myself that I feel confident are impossible, or, best of all, to "go live in the ghetto," whereupon I will come to "truly appreciate the animals" for whom I have so much affection (the phrase they use for me and that affection, of course, sounds a bit different, and I'll leave it to your imagination to conjure the quip yourself).

Though I have no desire to debate the points made in the original piece, I would like to address some of the more glaring, and yet reasonable, misunderstandings that many seem to have about the subject of white privilege. That many white folks don't take well to the term is an understatement, and quite understandable. For those of us in the dominant group, the notion that we may receive certain advantages generally not received by others is a jarring, sometimes maddening concept. And if we don't understand what the term means, and what those who use it mean as they deploy it, our misunderstandings can generate anger and heat, where really, none is called for. So let me take this opportunity to explain what I mean by white privilege.

Of course, the original piece only mentioned examples of white privilege that were directly implicated in the current presidential campaign. It made no claims beyond that. Yet many who wrote to me took issue with the notion that there was such a thing, arguing, for instance that there are lots of poor white people who have no privilege, and many folks of color who are wealthy, who do. But what this argument misses is that race and class privilege are not the same thing.

Though we are used to thinking of privilege as a mere monetary issue, it is more than that. Yes, there are rich black and brown folks, but even they are subject to racial profiling and stereotyping (especially because those who encounter them often don't know they're rich and so view them as decidedly not), as well as bias in mortgage lending, and unequal treatment in schools. So, for instance, even the children of well-off black families are more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than the children of poor whites, and this is true despite the fact that there is no statistically significant difference in the rates of serious school rule infractions between white kids or black kids that could justify the disparity (according to fourteen different studies examined by Russ Skiba at Indiana University).

As for poor whites, though they certainly are suffering economically, this doesn't mean they lack racial privilege. I grew up in a very modest apartment, and economically was far from privileged. Yet I received better treatment in school (placement in advanced track classes even when I wasn't a good student), better treatment by law enforcement officers, and indeed more job opportunities because of connections I was able to take advantage of, that were pretty much unavailable to the folks of color I knew growing up. Likewise, low income whites everywhere are able to clean up, go to a job interview and be seen as just another white person, whereas a person of color, even who isn't low-income, has to wonder whether or not they might trip some negative stereotype about their group when they go for an interview or sit in the classroom answering questions from the teacher. Oh, and not to put too fine a point on it, but even low-income whites are more likely to own their own home than middle income black families, thanks to past advantages in housing and asset accumulation, which has allowed those whites to receive a small piece of property from their families.

The point is, privilege is as much a psychological matter as a material one. Whites have the luxury of not having to worry that our race is going to mark us negatively when looking for work, going to school, shopping, looking for a place to live, or driving for that matter: things that folks of color can't take for granted.

Let me share an analogy to make the point.

Taking things out of the racial context for a minute: imagine persons who are able bodied, as opposed to those with disabilities. If I were to say that able-bodied persons have certain advantages, certain privileges if you will, which disabled persons do not, who would argue the point? I imagine that no one would. It's too obvious, right? To be disabled is to face numerous obstacles. And although many persons with disabilities overcome those obstacles, this fact doesn't take away from the fact that they exist. Likewise, that persons with disabilities can and do overcome obstacles every day, doesn't deny that those of us who are able-bodied have an edge. We have one less thing to think and worry about as we enter a building, go to a workplace, or just try and navigate the contours of daily life. The fact that there are lots of able-bodied people who are poor, and some disabled folks who are rich, doesn't alter the general rule: on balance, it pays to be able-bodied.

That's all I'm saying about white privilege: on balance, it pays to be a member of the dominant racial group. It doesn't mean that a white person will get everything they want in life, or win every competition, but it does mean that there are general advantages that we receive.

So, for instance, studies have found that job applicants with white sounding names are 50% more likely to receive a call-back for a job interview than applicants with black-sounding names, even when all job-related qualifications and credentials are the same.

Other studies have found that white men with a criminal record are more likely to get a call-back for an interview than black male job applicants who don't have one, even when all requisite qualifications, demeanor and communication styles are the same.

Others have found that white women are far more likely than black women to be hired for work through temporary agencies, even when the black women have more experience and are more qualified.

Evidence from housing markets has found that there are about two million cases of race-based discrimination against people of color every year in the United States. That's not just bad for folks of color; the flipside is that there are, as a result, millions more places I can live as a white person.

Or consider criminal justice. Although data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that whites are equally or more likely than blacks or Latinos to use drugs, it is people of color (blacks and Latinos mostly) who comprise about 90 percent of the persons incarcerated for a drug possession offense. Despite the fact that white men are more likely to be caught with drugs in our car (on those occasions when we are searched), black men remain about four times more likely than white men to be searched in the first place, according to Justice Department findings. That's privilege for the dominant group.

That's the point: privilege is the flipside of discrimination. If people of color face discrimination, in housing, employment and elsewhere, then the rest of us are receiving a de facto subsidy, a privilege, an advantage in those realms of daily life. There can be no down without an up, in other words.

None of this means that white folks don't face challenges. Of course we do, and some of them (based on class, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or other factors) are systemic and institutionalized. But on balance, we can take for granted that we will receive a leg-up on those persons of color with whom we share a nation.

And no, affirmative action doesn't change any of this.

Despite white fears to the contrary, even with affirmative action in place (which, contrary to popular belief does not allow quotas or formal set-asides except in those rare cases where blatant discrimination has been proven) whites hold about ninety percent of all the management level jobs in this country, receive about ninety-four percent of government contract dollars, and hold ninety percent of tenured faculty positions on college campuses. And in spite of affirmative action programs, whites are more likely than members of any other racial group to be admitted to their college of first choice.* And according to a study released last year, for every student of color who received even the slightest consideration from an affirmative action program in college, there are two whites who failed to meet normal qualification requirements at the same school, but who got in anyway because of parental influence, alumni status or because other favors were done.

Furthermore, although white students often think that so-called minority scholarships are a substantial drain on financial aid resources that would otherwise be available to them, nothing could be further from the truth.

According to a national study by the General Accounting Office, less than four percent of scholarship money in the U.S. is represented by awards that consider race as a factor at all, while only 0.25 percent (that's one quarter of one percent for the math challenged) of all undergrad scholarship dollars come from awards that are restricted to persons of color alone. What's more, the idea that large numbers of students of color receive the benefits of race-based scholarships is lunacy of the highest order. In truth, only 3.5 percent of college students of color receive any scholarship even partly based on race, suggesting that such programs remain a pathetically small piece of the financial aid picture in this country, irrespective of what a gaggle of reactionary white folks might believe.**

In other words, despite the notion that somehow we have attained an equal opportunity, or color-blind society, the fact is, we are far from an equitable nation. People of color continue to face obstacles based solely on color, and whites continue to reap benefits from the same. None of this makes whites bad people, and none of it means we should feel guilty or beat ourselves up. But it does mean we need to figure out how we're going to be accountable for our unearned advantages. One way is by fighting for a society in which those privileges will no longer exist, and in which we will be able to stand on our own two feet, without the artificial crutch of racial advantage to prop us up. We need to commit to fighting for racial equity and challenging injustice at every turn, not only because it harms others, but because it diminishes us as well (even as it pays dividends), and because it squanders the promise of fairness and equity to which we claim to adhere as Americans.

It's about responsibility, not guilt. And if one can't see the difference between those two things, there is little that this or any other article can probably do. Perhaps starting with a dictionary would be better.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Opening our eyes to White privilege

I have heard several of these types of analyses floating around. I thought I'd share this one as food for thought. Think about it...

This is your nation on White privilege

By Tim Wise

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll “kick their fuckin' ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college--you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a “light” burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain…

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A different view of education

Because of the inevitable demolition of Turner Courts, we have transitioned all of our After-School Academy efforts to the Roseland TownHomes.

We had such quality volunteers and partnerships in Turner Courts. I must admit, I was concerned that it would take us a while to get to that point in Roseland. But it's all coming together.

For the last 10+ years, I have created my own philosophy (based on a lot of research, of course) that kids learn through educational (not necessarily academic) experiences. I have also found that kids will get excited about whatever excites those around them.

So, I look for people who are excited and passionate about what they do...or about a particular hobby they have. Those are the types of people I seek...and, therefore, those are the people I find.

For our Kinder-5th program at Roseland, we have financial literacy, technology (if you are passionate about teaching all of the new and exciting aspects of technology--blogging, twittering, PhotoStory, etc.--please let me know...I'm still looking for this person), hip hop dance, chess, history, art, and nature (by a naturalist...which I am SO excited about!).

I am constantly asked to quantify and "prove" that what we are doing is working. I have such a hard time doing that. I often can't explain it...not until years later when they have gone off to college...and are determined (no matter what grades they are making) to keep doing better, to graduate, and many of them have already discussed their plans with me to complete grad school as well. But by then, the monthly reports have already been submitted and we are on a completely different generation of Kinder-5th graders.

Today the Sudbury Valley School was brought to my attention. Though I have often questioned Montessori education...mainly because I grew up with traditional school as my norm, because I hear that their students often do better than traditional school students...the Sudbury Valley School seems to be even less structured than Montessori. But, as I read more, it reminded me of our After-School Academy. Their philosophy is that life is learning!...and if you are interested in and excited about something, you will work to understand all aspects of it. This type of exploratory learning often translates into reading, writing, math, etc. at much higher levels than anticipated by traditional teachers and traditional schools who would usually "instruct" a child.

Here's an interview with Mimsy Sadofsky, a lady who helped develop the school:

Mimsy: What is meaningful to you is easier to learn than what is not meaningful to you. It's as simple as that. So if you're excited about something or interested in it, you tend to learn it much more quickly which is one of the reasons we don't worry about the fact that many kids spend very little time doing what looks like academic work here; we know they're perfectly capable of doing any of that stuff whenever they want to.

Daria: If children don't choose the basics to learn, do they waste their time year after year after year? What happens if they choose to go fishing, an example you have in one of your books?

Mimsy: The child who chose to go fishing wasn't exactly missing the basics. He was reading about fishing and doing research on fish and doing all sorts of things that had to do with fishing. ... Many people gain knowledge more through reading and others more through conversation or visual stimulation, so we're not worried about the basics. We think if they're basic everybody will figure that out for themselves, and they do. Also, it's not as if they're here in isolation, because they're here six, seven hours a day and then they go back into the rest of the world and they have a very clear idea from the rest of the world, and from their friends who are students here, what people think of as important and as basic.

Though we don't do everything like Sudbury, our philosophy is much in line with her comments here. Children who learn chess, connect with nature, and experiment with technology may not seem to be getting the traditional academics needed to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), but creating an environment where people are passionate about what they know rubs off on the kids. And though it may not immediately increase TAKS scores, I have found that it creates the motivation and determination to succeed.

College hasn't been easy for the majority of our kids; most weren't adequately prepared in high school. But that hasn't stopped them. I choose to believe that their determination and desire comes from what they experienced when they were in our University of Values summer program or our After-School Academies. I think many of them would say the same.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McCain campaign wants what Obama has

Has anyone thought to point out that everything the McCain campaign disparages Obama for, they end up doing themselves?

If I recall correctly, Obama's original message was about "Hope" and "Change." I don't believe that has ever wavered. But now, when I listen to McCain's speeches, I constantly hear about "Change" and how McCain-Palin will be the ones to create that change.

Right before the conventions, I recall McCain's camp being very vocal about Obama's lack of experience and being ready on Day 1. Yet they then went off and chose the very epitome of "not ready on day 1." So now the argument has become..."but he's running for president!" To which I guess I have to ask the same question Sarah Palin did, "What is it exactly that the V.P. does every day?" I was under the impression that the vice-president had to be prepared to move into the presidency if something goes wrong.

I also vaguely recall an ad by the McCain campaign disparaging Barack Obama for creating a "celebrity" status and following...something about Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears...anyone else remember that?? Yet, all indications seem to demonstrate that the McCain campaign has now found their own celebrity...and doesn't mind exploiting that to it's fullest. (Are those Paris Hilton ads still out there?)

It seems to be a double standard.

But it also tells me that Obama is doing something very right.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I'm waiting, Sarah Palin

I believe John McCain's pick was more brilliant than he even he realized it would be. I know the response has completely taken me by surprise. So many conservatives weren't thrilled about their McCain as their Republican pick...but now they have a hard-line conservative...and a woman at that! So they also demonstrate their ability to go outside of their white, male box.

I also have to hand it to McCain for stepping aside and allowing a woman to completely take the spotlight. I have found that is often hard for men to do. I find it a little strange in this situation since McCain *is* the one running for President, but I do think it's cool that men are taking the backseat for a change because women are the ones people want to hear.

I think for conservative women who have worked hard alongside their husbands...as stay-at-home moms...or as corporate business leaders who still managed to take care of their family, Sarah Palin now puts a spotlight on their ability to do it all. The conservative men recognize Sarah Palin as someone familiar and are also falling in lock step behind her.

But, for the last week and a half, I have been listening to find out what Sarah Palin is all about.

I vetted her myself last Monday during Labor Day. I saw the gossip and speculated on its truth. I looked at the fact that she was 44 and inexperienced in national government affairs and wondered what would happen if something happened to John McCain on day one (instead of after year two, as everyone seems to suggest is when she would've gotten the hands-on experience she needs from being in the White House). Her quick wit has surprised me (some good, some bad), but so far quick wit is all I've seen. Is quick wit the primary characteristic we want in a potential president?

I keep waiting for that moment when we will hear her debate or talk off the cuff, but it hasn't come. Today a piece of her stump speech as she and McCain travel around. I was sorely disappointed. The segment I heard was absolutely word for word what her nomination speech was...only shorter. It told me nothing.

I understand what they're doing. The campaign knows she doesn't have experience. So they're prepping her. I heard one commentary that said they wouldn't let her talk until the media was ready to respect her. If I were running a campaign, I would do the same--make up as many reasons to keep her hidden while prepping her behind the scenes. But two things here:

1) Do we really want a presidential team where the man running for president isn't really the one people want and the one running for VP is someone who has to be coached by the campaign so much that they keep her in hiding?

2) There are less than two months left of this campaign! One poll has John McCain up by 10
points. People are struck by her. Do we really want to elect someone who we have heard one speech from?

Our country needs to know what Sarah Palin knows. Our country deserves to hear how she thinks.

It's time to get in the game, Sarah Palin. In order to form an educated opinion, we need to hear from you!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

To be fair...

The other day I posted about some of the covert racism I noticed at the DNC. As I mentioned, I wrote the guy who created the Obama action figure because I was concerned that the brand name was "Jailbreak Toys."

To his credit, he did write me back and explain. Though I buy his explanation, I still think it is important to be sensitive. Perception, whether real or perceived, needs to be valued. What is the message being sent to so many kids and adults (of all ethnicities) who don't write in and find out the real meaning behind the brand name of his toys?

I believe the name should be changed.

You can read his explanation below. If you are still concerned, though, I would highly recommend writing a letter to the creator of the Obama figure to encourage him to change the name.

Evidently, he's already gotten several calls/emails before. If he gets a bunch more expressing concern, he may be more likely to think about it a little more and possibly change the name.

This is the opportunity to show off our "community organizing" skills and come out in numbers to (hopefully) influence him.

Hi Janet,

I've received this question many times since starting the Obama project. Below, I've pasted the answer that was given to Essence magazine when they inquired. I hope this dispels any doubts you may have about the name:

It's funny because it's gotten more notice than I ever intended or thought it would but here's the story of the name, in a nutshell;

I started the company when I was 27 years old working as a waiter at Harry's Burritos on W. 3rd. At that point I'd spent five years working various jobs; as a teacher, a temp, a hospital worker, a waiter, and a film crew member, among other things. The name of the company came from a pact I'd made with myself in writing. I promised to free myself from that situation of working long hard hours at tough jobs for low pay... all so someone else could get richer. At 27, I determined that if I didn't break myself out of that "jail" through patience, hard work and a smart plan, I'd have no one but myself to blame if I stayed down there forever. And thus, Jailbreak was born. So, as you can see it's very symbolic but purely on a personal level. It reminds where I came from and where I'm trying to get to.

Hope that clears things up.



Friday, September 05, 2008

The power of unmarried women

I received this email from Women's Voices Women Vote. As a single woman I couldn't believe that I hadn't even thought about myself as a demographic group. Perhaps this study isn't talking about unmarried, professional women with no children, but irregardless (children or no children), the fact of the matter is we (women) make less than men. We are a demographic that has much to be concerned about this election. Though the media discusses suburban families losing homes to the mortgage crisis, they don't talk as much about those of us who don't even have the cushion of that second income in the home.

Dear Friend,

The nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president has focused the news media's attention on how women will vote on Election Day.

But the media are missing the real news that underscores the importance of Women's Voices. Women Vote. In their weekly data for August 25-31 - an
interval that includes John McCain's selection of Palin - the Gallup Poll found a 23 percentage-point "marriage gap" in women's preferences in the presidential election. While married women favored McCain over Barack Obama by 49 to 42 percent, unmarried women supported Obama over McCain by 60 to 30 percent.

These findings underscore the importance of unmarried women as the fastest-growing major demographic group in this country - and the largest under-participating segment of society. For the first time in history, about as
many adult American women are unmarried as are married. Numbering 53 million, these single, separated, divorced and widowed women represent 26 percent of the voting-age population.

These unmarried women have the potential power to elect the next President. But 20 million of these women did not vote in 2004. That is why WVWV uses so many tested messages and trailblazing techniques - direct mail, telephone calls, and public service messages on television, cable, and theInternet - to educate and encourage these women to register, vote, and participate in public debates.

As WVWV's research reveals and reports, these "women on their own" have household incomes of $30,000 a year or less, earn only 56 cents for every dollar that a married man makes, and are less likely than married people to have health coverage. That is why WVWV (together with the Center for American Progress Action Fund) prepared and promotes an Unmarried Women's Agenda , including equal pay, expanded health coverage, and investments in public education, college opportunities, and career training and retraining. By advocating this agenda, WVWV is raising issues that encourage unmarried women to participate in the political process - and advancing policy proposals that will improve these women's lives and livelihoods.

With your help, WVWV is encouraging unmarried women to register, vote and take part in public debates by making political participation fit into their busy and burdened lives. Together, we can help unmarried women make history in this
crucial and eventful year.


Page Gardner
Women's Voices. Women Vote

Know your voter rights!...and know where to access resources!

I attended an event this evening called, "It's my vote. Make it count!" and found out some interesting information you might find useful no matter where you are in the United States. They informed us about different sites and phone numbers that can help make sure our vote counts on November 4.

Did you know that the #1 problem in getting out the vote is that people don't know their poll location?? There are some ways to make finding out easy. Go to Vote411.org. All you have to do is select your state and type in your address.

Did you know that if you cast a provisional ballot at one polling place, but are actually registered for a different polling place, your vote will not count. Last election, 700 votes in Dallas County were lost because of this. It is important that we know, and help others know, their correct polling place!

If you live in Dallas County (in Dallas, Texas), you can go to Dallas County Elections. They have all kinds of great information about voting on the right hand column of their website. They would also LOVE to have more volunteers for November 4. Contact Bruce Sherbet, Elections Administrator, directly at 2377 North Stemmons Frwy, Suite 820 Dallas, TX 75207 (214) 637-7937.

You can find out your voter rights at http://www.votexas.org/.
For example, as a registered voter in Texas, you have the right to:
  1. A ballot with written instructions on how to cast the ballot.
  2. Cast your vote in secret and free from intimidation.
  3. Receive up to two more ballots if you make a mistake while marking the ballot.
  4. Ask the polling place official for instructions on how to cast the ballot (but not for suggestions on how to vote).
  5. Bring an interpreter to assist you as you qualify to vote if you do not understand the English language.
  6. Help to cast your ballot if you cannot write, see the ballot, or understand the language in which it is written.
  7. Bring written materials into the voting booth to assist you as you cast your ballot.
  8. Report a possible voting rights abuse to the Secretary of State (1.800.252.8683) or to your local election official.
  9. Cast a provisional ballot if your name does not appear on the list of registered voters or you do not have proper identification.
  10. Vote once at any early voting location during the early voting period within the territory conducting the election.
  11. File an administrative complaint with the Secretary of State concerning violations of federal and state voting procedures.
Finally, in our world of cell phones, what may be the easiest is to simply program in 1-866-myvote1 (1-866-698-6831).

This number can be used before the election to register to vote. Simply call the number, follow the directions to register, and they will send an application straight to your home. One of their suggestions was to carry around a cell phone and, when meeting people, simply hand them the cell phone to provide their information and register.

This number can also be used during the election to call in immediately while at the polls if there is any problem. The 60-second message you leave will be recorded and listened to almost immediately. As the messages are recorded, they are able to pinpoint where the major problems occur and get people to begin addressing those situations.

What are some things you can call in about?
  • Running out of ballots at your polling location
  • Lines being too long
  • Intimidation
  • Feeling like something's wrong
We do have rights. But it's important to know what those rights are...get the word out to others...and know how to easily access the resources that help ensure those rights.

Pass it on!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Do you believe in our children?

Below is a video of an exceptional young man...no, I take that back. He is not exceptional. He is what so many other kids could be.

I don't know his family, but I know his neighborhood. His school is 97% African-American and 90% of the school receives free or reduced-price lunch. Only 51% of his community has graduated from high school; only 6% has completed a bachelor's degree or higher.

This young man is only exceptional in the sense that he has defied the statistics...and the stereotypes. He speaks to an entire arena full of teachers and administrators better than I can speak to a small group of peers.

But, once again, he is not the exception. There are many other children in our low-income neighborhoods and schools. Children who need people believe in them and offer them resources and opportunities that will allow them to develop that talent.

They (and their parents) may need help with advocating for the tutoring or the other resources the school is legally supposed to be providing.

They may need someone to provide one-on-one tutoring to help them grasp a skill that they missed along the way and that is now spiraling them downward with no one paying attention.

They need a variety of enrichment activities and experiences that will allow them to make choices about what their particular interest and talent might be.

Once they get to high school, they may need help understanding how important Advanced Placement (AP) classes are to their future college career...and they may need someone to take the time to take them to the colleges they will one day attend.

They may need someone to guide them in filling out financial aid forms and applying to those colleges.

And they may need someone to be the encouragement and guidance throughout college when financial aid is being difficult and school is tough.

But allow me to say again. This child is NOT the exception. So far, he is obviously progressing along and persevering despite the odds. And I hope he continues. But please recognize how many others have that same potential if we did more, invested more, into the others around him--not just through charity...but through advocacy, through challenging our urban schools to draw highly experienced teachers, through voting to spend our tax dollars on schools low-income areas that don't have a strong tax base.

Kids like this will not only benefit our urban neighborhoods, his intelligence and his abilities will benefit our broader society...which will ultimately affect you. On the flip side, if we don't provide resources, encourage, support, and invest in these children, that will also affect you...but it may be in a much more negative way.

Check him out and think about the possibilities:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jailing journalists

Award winning journalist and host of "Democracy Now" Amy Goodman was arrested on Monday by St. Paul police while covering a protest outside the Republican National Convention. Though clearly identified as press, Goodman was charged with "obstruction of a legal process and interference with a 'peace officer.'" Two of her producers were arrested for "suspicion of felony riot."

Goodman and her producers were released Monday night. AP photographer Matt Rourke was also arrested and released after police doused him with pepper spray and forced him to the ground, scraping up his elbows and knees.

Charges are still pending against all of these journalists simply for trying to do their jobs.

Here is the video of her arrest:

Here is her report on Democracy now today:

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Let's get out the vote!

I am extremely excited about the way this election has gotten young people interested and engaged in the issues. However, I admit I fear complacency in November.

I am truly hoping that my fears will be baseless. I have heard so many of my friends discussing ways to get others engaged in the process through registration, deputization, running for office, and many other politically engaging activities. That excites me!

Below is a video you can watch, pass along to friends, or post on your own blog. You can get it from http://www.twovoters.com/. Then, if you're not registered, use the "Rock the Vote" link on the sidebar and get registered. It's really that easy!

In Texas, the last day to register is October 6. Let's not let this date slip by in our efforts to get people registered!

I would love to hear if any of you register as a result...and if you register others. This campaign is OUR campaign. Let's take back our voice in this country.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Barack Obama has integrity

"So what do you think about Palin?"

I keep getting the question.

So here's what I think. As I mentioned before, I was offended by McCain's choice. I assumed he made a random pick because he needed someone that would make himself and the Republican party "diverse." ...and his choice has definitely made a splash in conservative circles. I have talked to several conservative friends and family (men and women) who say, "I really like her!"

I knew they would say that. And I can almost guarantee they will stick by her no matter what. I can't quite describe it. Maybe it's less about following through on the morals they profess than it is the professing of them.

Here is the moral code: Profess high morals, leave no room for messing up and no room for grace, but then if it happens to a family member (or a campaign), cover it up or "make it right." Then, all is well.

I don't know who created the definition for "right" in these situations or when the definition was created, but I know how it works. I grew up with it. As long as a situation is "made right" (no matter how wrong it seems...as in to have a teenage daughter marry a teenage boy...or, even crazier, to have a mom secretly take over the raising of their daughter's child), it is accepted. That is the code that I saw growing up. To "make things right" you do whatever it takes so that your family is not publicly shamed (even though people whisper about it and know the "real deal"). (By the way...that can even mean abortion as long as no one knows about it.)

My biggest frustration with this whole debacle is not that the daughter is pregnant or even that this may be her second child. My biggest frustration is that the "religious right" is so adamant about speaking out against these things and would completely ridicule and condemn others on this issue, but when it becomes one of their own, they smooth it over and downplay it.

I appreciate the integrity of Senator Obama's response. Instead of stirring up the hype, he very succintly and pointedly said:
"People's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. So I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories."
He then went on to say,

"We don't go after people's families. We don't get them involved in politics. It's not appropriate and it's not relevant. Our people were not involved in any way in this and they will not be. If I ever thought that it was somebody in my campaign who's involved in something like that, they'd be fired."
He shut them down and he made certain that his staff was shut down on this as well.

I admire the way Senator Obama handles sensitive issues. I don't know that his consideration of people will get Barack elected. It seems as if the overt condemnation of people (despite the hypocritical nature) wins more votes. But his response definitely adds to my reasons for believing he is the right man for the job. Senator Obama creates the moral and political leadership our country needs.

For those out there who believe in his moral and political integrity, trust me, we have a lot of work to do to get him elected. It is not going to be easy. Any mis-steps Sarah Palin might make will not be enough to hand us the election.

Nominating a Black presidential candidate doesn't change everything

For the last week, Democrats have been basking in the hope and possibility of change... politically, ethnically, relationally. But make no mistake. Just because Barack Obama has been nominated for the presidential position does not mean all is well. We need to be careful to not get too complacent and comfortable thinking that we have arrived now that we have nominated a Black man into our country's highest position.

Let me tell you about three things I experienced this week that I think need to be brought to our consciousness:

1) While I was still in Denver, Hurricane Gustav began forming. As I listened to The Weather Channel, I listened to the man explain Gustav saying, "Gustav!...It sounds so much more scary than Fay!"

Why is that? Why do people get more afraid when they hear a name like "Gustav?" Do we think about what we are saying? Would he have said Hurricane George was scarier than Fay? I wondered how my friend Gustavo, one of the nicest and calmest young adults I know, would feel if he was told his name was "scary."

2) I sought to purchase memorabilia that might be worth something one day. I came across a Barack Obama action figure. I liked the idea of an action figure a lot better than I did a Barack Obama bobble head (they had those, too). I bought the action figure despite the name brand, Jailbreak Toys. Now I wish I hadn't.

Though the website has some other action figures of White people, it's inconsiderate and insensitive to associate Barack Obama, an African-American man, with "Jailbreak toys." I sought to figure out why they call it "jailbreak," but to no avail. I have written the company to find out, while also expressing my feeling that sensitivity and recognition of the message their name sends is very important to consider. You can do the same by emailing them at info@jailbreaktoys.com.

3) I noticed that even Virgin Records had a political display of items so I thought I'd check them out as well. I ran across a book of Obama paper dolls. What a cool thing! I picked it up thinking I might get it for my niece and nephew or my friend's little girl. But as I flipped through the tabbed clothing, I had to double-take to make sure I was looking at the right book. The tabbed clothing had arms and legs that looked about my skin color.

I flipped to the front of the book and, sure enough, it was Barack, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, but all four of them had a light ivory skin color. If anything, Barack's skin was shaded slightly darker than the other three. As I look at the Obama family (see photo above), each of them have different shades of skin color...and none of them have the appearance of light ivory. I plan to write the company (you can do the same by clicking here) to let them know that not all Black people look alike...and it is important to represent that. Our society needs to do a better job of recognizing that. It is not appropriate to ignore a person's skin color by portraying everyone as White. It's insensitive and offensive.

In the 1940s Dr. Kenneth Clark did a doll test with White dolls and Black dolls. The majority of the children preferred the White doll. Kiri Davis replicated this test and found the same results in 2005. We have got to assert our voice so that the test won't be replicated in another 50 years with the same results.

The reason I bring this up is not about being "politically correct." It's about being aware. It's about being sensitive to other people. It's about recognizing the message our language and our actions send. But we have to listen to people who are different than us in order to understand those different perspectives.

If this election can lead us to do that, no matter who becomes president, we will be stronger individuals and a stronger country as a result.