A Night of Stars: An Honor Flight Benefit

My friend Laura and I went together to the Tallahassee Airport last spring to be a part of the contingent of Tallahasseeans welcoming home participants in that day’s Honor Flight. (Honor Flight Tallahassee transports North Florida and South Georgia veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials that honor their service and sacrifices.)

We had not been to the “welcome home” festivities before and weren’t sure what to do. Therefore, when there was a call for people to hold flags as the veterans disembarked from their plane and entered the hangar, we volunteered.

Veteran Support

As I watched the veterans and their sponsors disembark, I saw a variety of emotions. One, to be honest, was fatigue — the Honor Flight day starts very early and is physically and emotionally packed as the participants fly to Washington, D.C., participate in commemorations honoring them, and fly back. Being WW II vets, they are all elderly to begin with. Other than the fatigue, though, there were smiles, handshakes, hugs, and more than one elder wiping tears away. If it was overwhelming to watch, I can only imagine how overwhelming (in the best of ways) it must have been to be the veterans participating in the day.

Veteran Support

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., where the Honor Flight Ceremony Takes Place

Support Honor Flight Tallahassee

The Chiles High School Student Government Association is presenting A Night of Stars Benefiting Honor Flight Tallahassee on Monday, March 6, at 6 p.m. Proceeds from ticket purchases will go toward this year’s Honor Flight experience, to take place on May 20, 2017.

Veteran Support

Chiles SGA members meeting Honor Flight participants at the December 2016 kickoff for Night of Stars.

A Night of Stars will feature two WW2 liberators, Mr. Bryce Thornton of Tallahassee and Mr. George Aigen of Valdosta. Aigen, who has been featured in a Georgia PBS documentary honoring the state’s veterans, was recently nominated for the French Legion of Honor.

Here are the Details:

Where: Cross Creek Banquet Room at 6701 Mahan Drive in Tallahassee

When:  6 p.m.

Meal:    Meal provided by Marie Livingston’s Steak House

Cost:    $25

Tickets/Donations:  Get tickets or make a donation by visiting the Chiles High School website and scrolling down to Events, by purchasing one from a Chiles SGA member, or by emailing Rebecca Bandy, SGA sponsor.

For More Information: Click here to learn more about Honor Flight Tallahassee.

Veteran Support

One Night To Support Those Who Gave So Much

You may feel like there isn’t anything you can do to support veterans BUT as Laura and I learned last year, if you keep your ears open, you’ll be put in touch with a way. Please consider, this year, making one of your “ways” the purchase of a ticket to the Honor Flight All Stars event.

NOTE: Thank you to Rebecca Bandy for sharing information about this event through her blog.

Veteran Support

Six Lessons From Six Years

When I read “Six Lessons Learned From Six Years of Life,” part of a tribute Aaron Sherinian paid to Rakan Stormer back in October, it moved me in its profound simplicity.

Rakan was born on April 20, 2010, and died in September 2016 from a Wilms Tumor, a rare pediatric cancer that currently has no cure. (Several of the children who have I Run for Michael buddies have Wilms Tumors and their families help inform those of us in the group about this disease.) Rakan’s mom is part of the incredible United Nations Foundation communications team, so I knew of Rakan because of my affiliation with Shot at Life, a UN Foundation program.

These lessons are timeless, compact thought packets to tuck away for those times when you feel like you may be losing your way.

Six Lessons Learned from Six Years of Life

Life is great when you are accompanied by that person you look for first thing in the morning, the person who you know and who knows you best. If that person is your big brother, even better.

Even little people have the power to do hard things.

Embrace your many heritages. They are what make you- and us- who we are.

It feels great to help people, and to be helped by loving friends, family and community. We all need each other.

Great things come in small packages, sometimes with giant, light-up-the-world smiles. Like Minions.

Our work here is unfinished. We are all still writing the pages in Rakan Stormer’s life.

~ Aaron Sherinian

Pediatric Cancer

Write a Page in Rakan’s Book

You don’t have to have known Rakan to help fill the pages of his life that are still to be written. Here are a few ways to help:

Follow his website here.

Make a contribution to support Wilms tumor research at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s National in Rakan’s name.

Register to become a marrow donor through this link, which tracks people who got matched in memory of Rakan.

Pediatric Cancer

As Aaron said in his tribute, little people do have the power to do hard things. Whether you are “big” or “little,” let these six lessons from six years empower you to make a difference today.

Photos Courtesy of Zain Habboo, Rakan’s mom.

Nigerian Famine: A Call to Action

While I was out of town last week, my daughter was having a medical issue that was causing her to be in a great deal of pain. I felt so powerless to comfort her or do anything specific to provide her some relief, because really all I had was a smartphone, the ability to text back and forth, and an overload of maternal love that had no place to go. It was frustrating.

As I began learning about the famine and acute humanitarian crisis in Northeast Nigeria that is just coming to light, I felt a similar powerlessness. What can one woman do to keep 184 children a day from dying of severe malnutrition?

While I can’t go to Northeast Nigeria to help, I can use my voice, my social media advocacy, and my dollars to help mobilize those who can make a difference. So can you.

Facts on the Nigerian Famine

Northeast Nigeria has for years endured poverty, violence, and political marginalization, but humanitarian needs have recently escalated due to a drought-induced water crisis, waves of violence and displacement, and inaccessibility for humanitarian organizations. As the Nigerian government regains control of territory previously controlled by insurgents, parts of northeast Nigeria are beginning to regain some stability. In turn, access to previously unreachable communities has brought to light extreme levels of deprivation and suffering as well as the need for urgent humanitarian action.

More than five million people are in need of critical food assistance across Northeast Nigeria. The crisis has hit children the hardest and the Boko Haram conflict and ensuing violence has compounded this overlooked humanitarian emergency.

Nigerian Famine

More Specifics:

In Northeast Nigeria, nearly 2,500,000 children¹ are severely malnourished and one in five of them will die if they receive no treatment. That equates to 184 children dying every day until the crisis is addressed.

More 3,000,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and are in need of humanitarian assistance. The majority of displaced people, including the most vulnerable individuals, are living in  host communities — not camps.

In Nigeria alone, 18,000,000 people are food insecure² and there are 3,000,000 internally displaced people from the insurgency. 2,000,000 people are living in inaccessible areas in northeast Nigeria, so the extent of hunger and urgent need in those areas is still unclear.

Most of the people who have fled this violence are farmers, herders, and traders. They left their land and homes with nothing — and often watched them being destroyed as they fled.

Mercy Corps Shares:

Recent assessments, including those conducted by Mercy Corps – show that an estimated 800,000 people are living in burned villages and unstructured camps in 15 different locations across Borno state, facing widespread malnutrition, little-to-no food or assistance and no means to earn a living.

Nigerian Famine

Zainab, a child Nigerian child suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition. Photo Credit: UNICEF

During an extensive needs assessment this summer, 97% of people interviewed reported they could not afford to buy food in the previous four weeks. Mercy Corps also found that at least 80% of shelters in these areas were damaged during the recent conflict. Because of continued insecurity, many farmers cannot reach the land where they cultivate food to eat and sell.

Many people in these communities survive by selling foraged firewood, begging or laboring for less than the equivalent of $1 per day.

More on the Challenges:

How did it get this bad this fast, you may wonder. There are several factors. 2,000,000 people are living in in accessible areas in Northeast Nigeria, so the extent of hunger and urgent need in those areas is still unclear (access was cut off completely by Boko Haram for months, impeding access to report on conditions and provide relief). According to Mercy Corps, the few aid organizations that have made it to newly accessible areas in northeast Nigeria have been sounding the alarm bell for months, urging the international community and government of Nigeria to hasten a response to this dire situation.

An article from MSF/Doctors Without Borders describes the situation in July of this year. The article details how up to 800,000 civilians had been cut off for over a year, and it describes emergency actions taken:

  • Under military escort, a MSF team delivered some 40 metric tonnes of food last week to Banki, a town of 12,000 near the Cameroon border, including emergency supplies for more than 4,000 children.
  • It vaccinated children against measles, which can be deadly in under-fives.

The article described how some roads are unsafe due to mines, prohibiting the delivery of aid. It concluded by sharing MSF General Director Bruno Jochum’s assessment:

“Probably the medical and epidemiological indicators are the worst we are facing today in the world.”

 

What You and I Can Do

Get Educated

This article from the Washington post provides a comprehensive description of the situation. (Please note the fact that polio has returned to this region. Until these reports, polio had been eradicated everywhere except Afghanistan and Pakistan.)

Show Your Support

Sign this petition established by Mercy Corps, which will be forwarded to your Senators and Representative.

Share on Social Media

Let your social media connections know about this issue (today is especially pressing because government discussions about funding are occurring next week, but sharing information at any time is appreciated). You can share the petition linked to above, and we encourage use of the hashtags #feedherchildren and #fightthefamine.

Advocate

Call the offices of your Senators and Representative. Ask them to support allocations of $1.6 billion for Food for Peace and $2.8 billion for the International Disaster Assistance account. These are funds that help humanitarian issues across the globe. Please also urge an additional $100 million in emergency funds for Fiscal Year 2017 specifically for Nigeria. The number is 202-224-3121. I called the offices of Representative Gwen Graham, Senator Bill Nelson, and Senator Marco Rubio this morning. Every additional constituent  who calls makes the case that much stronger for helping these people in this dire crisis.

Donate

Two organizations I recommend are Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps (that’s who I donated to this morning).

In Closing

Aid workers have reported that mothers no longer carry their children on their backs in Northeast Nigeria, a visually heart-rending reminder that even the strongest love is impotent in the fact of severe acute malnutrition. Mothers don’t have enough nutrition to breastfeed their babies.

If you’re like me, and have the luxury of a weekend ahead classified by adequate shelther, more than adequate food, and the peace of mind that freedom brings, take five minutes and make a difference for those who don’t?

If you can only do one thing, please follow the big green arrow, click on this petition and make a difference now.

Nigerian Famine

*Some material in this post used with permission of Mercy Corps.

¹Nigerian INGO forum, October 2016

²Nigerian INGO forum, October 2016

 

Taking a Stand for Our Future

Social Security Advocacy

My level of worry about retirement financing is high.

I left a job of 20 years voluntarily in 2014, ready to “find my bliss.” Within three weeks my father-in-law moved in with us due to his health issues and bliss-finding was put aside. As we adjusted to a new normal of being a one-income family, I chipped away at my 403B until there was very little left.

I am responsible in many ways for the conditions that led to my elevated worry level, but it “is what it is” and I now have to plan for the future. If this chart is reliable, I can expect to live to be 80.8 years old. That’s approximately 30 more years in which I have to find resources to live on.

How Will Social Security Factor In?

I have been working since I was 16 (shout out to Spires IGA, my first official job), and I have been dutifully paying into Social Security ever since. Currently, 9.3 million of my fellow Floridians are paying into Social Security too.

Here in Florida:

The average benefit check is approximately $1,240 per month.

Of those receiving benefits, 27.2% rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their household income and 51.6% rely on it for 50% or more of their income.

While my spouse has State of Florida retirement, I will probably outlive him (he is six years older than me) and need the reassurance that in addition to any residual benefit I get from his retirement, Social Security will still be there for me. Any reduction, especially the 25% reduction that could become a reality unless our Senators and Representatives act, is a problem. Details below:

Social Security Advocacy

It’s Not Just About Me

Florida is home to more than 4,114,745 Social Security beneficiaries.

$56 billion comes in to Florida each year for Social Security payments.

Every $1 received generates $2.10 of economic output.

A strong Social Security program benefits the Florida economy as a whole. 

Social Security Is Not Prepared for the 21st Century

If our Presidential candidates, Senators, and Representatives do not act, Social Security faces a nearly 25% benefit cut in 2034, as I mentioned above (a bit more detail below also).

Social security needs to be updated for the 21st Century.

AARP’s Take A Stand

AARP has launched Take A Stand, a national campaign to press the presidential candidates to lead on Social Security and give voters real answers about how they’ll keep it strong for future generations. If our leaders don’t act, future retirees could face an automatic benefit cut of nearly 25 percent every year, after 2034 (source: The 2016 Social Security Trustees Report).

If a 25 percent cut went into effect today, it would reduce seniors’ income, push more Floridians into poverty, and reduce money available for basic needs like food, healthcare and utilities.

The Best Places To Do Your Research

Take a Stand, which is nonprofit and nonpartisan, is working hard to help us get educated about each candidate’s position on Social Security.

At the Take a Stand Site you can:

  • Research each presidential candidate’s Social Security-related platform
  • Explore the Congressional Action Chart
  • Watch video clips of candidates addressing Social Security Issues

You can follow Take a Stand on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

We don’t want to be left hanging; it’s up to us to elect the candidates who will advocate to keep Social Security strong, for us and for future generations.

Social Security Advocacy

Clean Air: There Are No Do Overs For Little Lungs

This post is made possible by support from Clean Air Moms Action. All opinions are, of course, my own.

Before I wrote this post, I printed out a few pages of material from Clean Air Moms Action to refer to while writing the post. I laid them on my bed so they wouldn’t get lost in the sea of papers near my laptop.

Little did I know that while I was on a lengthy phone call for work, my father-in-law had left our back door open (again) and the cats had taken advantage of the opportunity for fresh air (again).

I got the cats back into the house and went about my day. It was not until later that I found my Clean Air Moms Action materials, covered with the stomach-turning, grassy results of the cat’s adventure outside (I’ll spare you a picture … it was disgusting). The irony was not lost on me. The cat’s adventure in the fresh air ended up introducing contaminants that destroyed my “clean air” materials, something that didn’t impact that cat’s feelings at all. I had to start over.

Our Children Only Get One Childhood

The principle of “you only get one opportunity” is especially true when it comes to our children’s environment. Whereas I wrote recently about a multitude of issues, such as fair wages, the fight for paid sick days, and immigration reform after I participated in the We Won’t Wait 2016 conference, there is another set of issues I want to share: that of the threat to our children’s health from harmful pollution, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

We Can’t Take Clean Air for Granted

While I wrote in a previous blog post about the frustrated tears I shed the day my child was sent home for a third day in a row because the school nurse did not deem her hair lice free yet, that was nothing compared to the challenges children with asthma (and their families) face.

Over the almost 20 years I worked for Healthy Kids, conversations with asthma were among the most frequent. There is a reason:

Approximately 1 in 10 children in Florida have current asthma. For African-American children, the risk is higher (approximately 1 in 6). 

In a Scientific American series on the interconnections between asthma, poverty, and living in the inner city, author Crystal Gammon wrote:

Incinerators, metal producers, power plants, chemical manufacturers and other industries ring the city [East St. Louis]. Exhaust from cars and trucks on nearby highways blankets the area, as well.

The Florida Asthma Coalition describes other factors necessary to create a healthier environment for children, including promotion of influenza and pneumonia vaccinations; indoor air quality improvements including smoke-free air laws and policies; healthy homes, schools and workplaces, and improvements in outdoor air quality.

I’ve heard of teachers who were resistant to the additional work involved in implementing asthma-friendly measures until they were forced to breathe through a straw to understand their students’ struggles. I’ve heard of a school which worked hard to become a Florida Asthma Friendly School after losing a classmate to asthma. Asthma can sound abstract until it’s your child.

These initiatives are anything but abstract when it is your child struggling to breathe, your income or job on the line because your employer doesn’t provide paid sick leave, your heart breaking because you can’t protect the most important person in the world to you, your child, from the pollutants in the air they have to breathe to stay alive.

At Healthy Kids, I heard the desperation in parents’ voices as they sought an affordable health care solution that would give a child with asthma access to a medical home, critical supplies and medications, and an asthma management plan.

I have heard my friends struggle to find affordable housing that has hardwood instead of rugs (to reduce allergens). I have seen them sacrifice financially to purchase allergy-free bedding and make other accommodations to help their child cope with the effects of pollution on their lungs..

Our Votes Impact The Air Our Children Breathe

Mayor Christine Berg, of Lafayette, CO, is researching candidates because as the parent of a young daughter who is preparing for the birth of her second baby, she believes, as I do, that the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When evaluating your candidates for the presidency, state offices, and local offices, please consider the candidates’ positions on issues like clean air, climate change, and toxic chemicals.

I’ve Promised to Vote and I Encourage You to do the Same

Anyone who knows me or follows my social media knows I’ve promised to vote. But I’m not just asking you to promise to vote November 8. I’m also asking you to promise to vote for the city or county commissioner who recognizes, for example, that obesity is a factor in asthma and supports playgrounds. For the gubernatorial candidate who prioritizes cleanup of waste sites and contaminated water. For the senatorial candidate who supports the Clean Air Act.

An easy way for us to be accountable to one another (and most importantly to our children) is to take the Clean Air Moms Action Pledge from Clean Air Moms, which is working to build bipartisan support to protect our children from the health impacts of air pollution. Click the graphic below to take the pledge:

Clean Air

Learn more at the Clean Air Moms Action website by clicking here.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Twitter at @momsaction.

Follow Clean Air Moms Action on Instagram by clicking here.

We will all breathe easier once we make our voices heard with the candidates running for office.

Especially our kids.

Clean Air

Women, Don’t Wait. Change Our World Now!

I was recently participating in a thread on Facebook. It was a thread on the personal page of someone who is a co-moderator of one of the extremely fun running-based Facebook groups I’m in. I knew if he asked for honest political opinions, and requested that those of us participating in the thread be respectful, we would be deleted (or our comments would).

One person on the thread explained who he is voting for, specifically because of that candidate’s position on mandatory vaccines. He went on to explain that it may seem “laughable” to others that he is a single-issue voter, but he feels THAT strongly.

How Many Issues Do We Have to Have?

While I do not agree with the individual on the thread I referred to above about the issue that has resulted in him being a “single-issue” voter, I understand how one single issue, when it affects your family, will drive your political choices. But I have a choice to make: how to use my voice to impact multiple issues.

MomsRising is a group of more than a million moms who take on the most critical issues facing women, mothers, and families by educating the public and mobilizing massive grassroots actions to:

  • Bring the voices and real world experiences of women and mothers straight to our local, state, and nation’s leaders;
  • Amplify women’s voices and policy issues in the national dialogue & in the media across all platforms (from print, to radio, to blogs, social media, and more);
  • Accelerate grassroots impact on Capitol Hill and at state capitols across the country;
  • Hold corporations accountable for fair treatment of women and mothers & for ensuring the safety of their products.

Throughout the recent We Won’t Wait 2016 conference (read about it in the Washington Post here.), which I participated in as part of the MomsRising delegation, we were encouraged not to be single issue voters, to educate ourselves about the broad array of issues facing women, especially women of color and low-income women. Issues of emphasis included access to paid leave, the right to good jobs and fair wages, high-quality and affordable child care and elder care, care giving (yep, I could relate to that one!), immigration reform, reproductive healthcare, and racial justice.

Back when the awesome Sili Recio of My Mamihood asked me to consider being on the Moms Rising Steering Committee for Florida, I didn’t question the power of moms (as IF!), I didn’t mind adding one more thing to my plate (because the issues Moms Rising espouses matter). But I explained that some of the issues Moms Rising advocates for are ones I feel more passionate about than others. In fact, I am not always fully aligned with their position.

Her advice? “You’ll get info about all the issues but you run with what’s in your heart.”

Setting the Tone

Although Kelly Tsai, Spoken Word Poet/Filmmaker was the official first performance, the literal first performance came from the hundreds of members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who made an unforgettable entrance to the breakfast hall, chanting “We Won’t Wait! We Won’t Wait!” This was the first conference I’ve been to where we’ve been told “no chanting on the way from breakfast to the conference area”!

Political Advocacy

An attendee with the National Domestic Workers Alliance enters the room.

Wages

I learned more about the move to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, and the #FightFor15 movement. The minimum wage would be at least $15 an hour if the minimum wage we had back in 1968 were adjusted for inflation and for the productivity gains we achieved since then. (The previous fact and more can be found at MoveOn.org Petitions.)

Another critical wage-related issue I learned about was the continuing challenges faced by those who work for a tipped minimum wage. The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United had a large and vocal delegation at We Won’t Wait, supporting one fair wage. On their website, they share:

…most restaurant workers earn the bulk of their income through tips. With the federal tipped minimum wage being $2.13 an hour and lower than the regular minimum wage in most states, their base pay results in $0 paychecks. Although some restaurant workers do make great money living off tips, they are the exception.

The majority of tipped restaurant workers live shift-to-shift. The national median wage for tipped workers (including tips) is $8.75 an hour. They are dependent on the generosity of customers for their livelihood.

More than 70% of servers are women. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is all too often undermined as being ‘just part of the job’ in the restaurant industry. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the restaurant industry is the single-largest source of sexual harassment charges. Hundreds of our members have shared stories with us about being touched or treated inappropriately by their customers, and not being able to do anything about it because they depended on those same customers for a  decent tip.

Child Care, Elder Care, and Caregiving

Women often have to choose between their paycheck and caring for their child (or their elder in my case). Four in ten private-sector workers and 80% of low-wage workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, women are likely to spend an average of 12 years out of the workforce raising children and caring for an older relative or friend. Learn more info about the impact of caregiving for elders on women here.

I heard Emily Uy say, “Getting sick in America is very difficult. I was a caregiver unable to get my own care,” echoing the voice in the back of my head that says, “who’s going to take care of Dad if you get ill/hospitalized?”

I learned about the Fair Care Pledge, a joint initiative of Hand in Hand, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Care.com. The Fair Care Pledge is taken by people who employ others in their homes to provide fair pay, clear expectations, and paid time off.

Immigration Reform

Ana Cañenguez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador who faces deportation, accompanied by her young daughter, asked “what will she do if I leave?” Since We Won’t Wait, I’ve learned more about Ana’s story, visualized her life in El Salvador (remembering the time I spent there in 2014 and the conversations I had with people who face gang violence and corruption juxtaposed against a BEAUTIFUL country with beautiful people) and the perils of her journey to the US, and come to admire her tenacity and true grace in the face of a horrible conundrum. (More about Ana here.)

canenguez-daughter

For more from MomsRising about their efforts to protect family unity, ensure our public policies address the concerns of immigrant women and children, and end human rights abuses in the name of immigration law enforcement, click here.

Voting Rights

Infused through all the passionate speakers we heard was the one action almost all of us can take to make sure we elect leaders who will advance our agenda: VOTE.

When states make it difficult for qualified voters to vote, we can advocate for change. (A review of current challenges to voting rights here.) As speakers at We Won’t Wait shared about challenges voters face now, in 2016, my mind kept going back to Edwina Stephens, who told me about black voters being forced to count soap bubbles or solve complicated mathematical equations in order to prove their suitability to be registered voters. How are we still having discussions that echo THOSE scenarios in the 21st century?

One speaker urged us to implore Walmart (among other large employers) to allow their employees three hours of leave to vote. To me, this is a no-brainer. If it’s too much of an economic burden for Wal-Mart, I’ll go to WM and be the warm body with a pulse that keeps the ship afloat for three hours. Surely they can spare that. Get involved by educating yourself and signing the petition here. I did.

Gun Safety

I have been virtually silent online about my opinions regarding gun safety, Black Lives Matter, and the plethora of policy and societal issues inherent in these topics. The one single time I posted a black friend’s commentary on Stop and Frisk, about how he was stopped on the way to church for no discernible reason, about how his 5 year old piped up from the back seat, “did he stop us because we are black?,” a loved friend who is a law enforcement spouse pushed back about her disagreement and her contention that law enforcement officers and family, having families of their own, truly want the best for everyone whose paths they cross. I feel utterly stuck in a mushy middle ground between people who are pointing out systemic issues within our law enforcement community as they relate to the treatment of black people, and my many friends in the law enforcement community, who I love and respect.

I still haven’t figured out how to navigate that divide, to be honest.

What I do know is, as I stood among the 750+ people at the “Our Families Are Worth the Fight” vigil at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, that the grief of the mothers who have lost their black sons in law enforcement-related situations that have gray areas at best … that grief WAS PALPABLE. In that moment, I wasn’t a policy advocate, interested party, or generic fellow American. I was a fellow mother, someone who had brought someone into the world and held big dreams for that someone. I felt their pain. I determined to learn more and form a more strongly articulated position, while trying to remain respectful to everyone in my universe. More about the vigil here.

Political Advocacy

NOTE: Her name is correctly spelled “Lucia.” My apologies!

Representative Donna Edwards, of Maryland’s 4th District, a speaker at the vigil:

There’s much work to be done. You have to be the ones to define that work, to say “here is what our priority list is.”

The greatest leverage that you have right now is the leverage and the power of your vote. As black women, we are the most powerful and consistent voting block in this country, but we need to make sure that our elected officials know that we understand the power of our vote. When we give it over on November 8, we’re gonna come knocking on November 9.

I am the proud mother of a young black man and that means something for me.. that HIS voice needs to be heard on Capitol Hill too … for the sons and the daughters that we have to have our conversation with  and we have to say to them “be careful what you do when you go outside” and sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are. You are still in harm’s way.

Political Advocacy Is Not Just About the Specific Issues; It’s About Your Approach

In one lengthy blog post, I have seriously only TOUCHED on the issues affecting women and the strategies for resolving them. But I need to comment on something that is not an issue; rather, it’s a way of being in the world.

At the Freedom Square vigil, one of the speakers was Monique Harris of Hand in Hand, who lives with Cerebral Palsy.  She talked about living with a disability as well as her fears for her son, a black man with autism whose behaviors can be misunderstood. Due to her Cerebral Palsy, she has difficulty communicating verbally. BUT the organizers created a scenario where she spoke, then a facilitator repeated her words in the event that we had experienced difficulty understanding Monique. That sounds minor, but it wasn’t to Monique and it wasn’t to me. I have been at many other conferences where this type of message would just have been read by the facilitator, or printed in the program. It mattered to hear Monique’s OWN VOICE.

Another of the speakers was Aber Kawas of the Arab American Association of New York. As she spoke eloquently about facing anti-Muslim prejudice in America, someone with a mental disturbance tried to disrupt her speech. She kept speaking, completely nonplussed. The organizers of the vigil took the man aside and tried to de-escalate him. Simultaneously, a group of women lined up between Aber and the disruptor, a solid line of sisterhood, giving her space to share her message safely while demonstrating, visually, SOLIDARITY.

Women, Succeeding Together

I was blown away by Labor Secretary Tom Perez’s speech.  While there were many quotable sound bites, this one sums up the point of We Won’t Wait.

Political Advocacy

How to Get Involved

There are so many ways to get involved! As Feminista Jones explained, there’s a role for everyone: from the foot soldiers who make a difference by showing up, through the guides who support, the visionaries who write/document/photograph, the funders, through the change agents, who affect direct change.

Whether you’re a foot soldier or a change agent, or any of the roles in between, take that first step today. Do it for your daughter, your friend, your sister, your aunt, any woman (or man) in your life who needs your voice to be heard on any or all of the issues mentioned here.

Take that first step by going to www.momsrising.org and adding your email address:

Political Advocacy

(If you prefer Spanish, Moms Rising is available as MamasConPoder here. Si tu prefieres español, haga click aquí.)

In one of these week’s prompts, Mama Kat encouraged us to write a blog post inspired by the word “change.” I’m so grateful to MomsRising and We Won’t Wait 2016 for the opportunity to be inspired by continue learning, supporting, and advocating for my fellow women and moms. Because, indeed, every mother does count.

Political Advocacy

Political Advocacy

Aging and HIV: Why One More Test Matters

“Are you HAVING sex?”

My gynecologist asked me this question at a routine checkup to monitor my use of hormones to deal with the symptoms of early menopause.

In my head, my answer was, “well I’m married so why do you need to ask?” But his question indicated that he was making no assumptions. Me saying the medicine was working in the absence of being sexually active would be misleading. His question was a good one.

National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day

HIV PreventionAlthough assumptions are dangerous any time a medical professional rules out the need for HIV testing based on how a patient looks or acts, they are especially dangerous when the patient is 50 or older. Today, National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, is a day to make sure Americans ages 50 and above have full and complete access to HIV education, testing, and treatment.

Cynthia’s Mom

Cynthia shared her experience with me of having to insist her mother’s physician test her mom for HIV back in 1986. Her mom had been ill with pneumonia for a long time, and had had every other possible test.HIV Prevention

RUN THAT HIV TEST, demanded Cynthia.

It turns out her mom, who was in her mid-50s at the time, was HIV positive.

Her doctor had not thought Cynthia’s mom was the type of patient who was likely to be at risk for HIV.

There’s no “type of patient” likely to be at risk for HIV.

Consider this:

  • People aged 55 and older accounted for 26% of all Americans living with diagnosed or undiagnosed HIV infection in 2013.
  • People aged 50 and older have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, but may be less aware of their HIV risk factors.
  • Older Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV infection later in the course of their disease.

More from Cynthia in her own words:

We need to replace “MAY BE” with “ARE”

When I asked Cynthia, who works frequently with people ages 50 and above to educate them about HIV and encourage them to get tested, I asked about the main message I needed to communicate.

I said, “what I need to do is remind my 50-ish year old peers that their parents may still be sexually active, right?”

Her response?

“Not MAY BE sexually active, ARE sexually active.”

She is right. This is not the time to hesitate; it is the time to be specific, concrete, and to the point.

According to the CDC, many older people are sexually active, including those living with HIV, and may have the same HIV risk factors as younger people, including a lack of knowledge about HIV and how to prevent getting it, as well as having multiple sex partners. Older people also face unique issues:

  • Many widowed and divorced people are dating again. They may be less aware of their risks for HIV than younger people, believing HIV is not an issue for older people. Thus, they may be less likely to protect themselves.
  • Women who no longer worry about becoming pregnant may be less likely to use a condom and to practice safer sex. Age-related thinning and dryness of vaginal tissue may raise older women’s risk for HIV infection.
  • Although they visit their doctors more frequently, older people are less likely than younger people to discuss their sexual habits or drug use with their doctors. In addition, doctors are less likely to ask their older patients about these issues.

A Physician Knows

Dr. Cyneetha Strong, a family practice physician in Tallahassee, FL, shared:

If you are in a demographic that “doesn’t seem to be at risk for contracting HIV” you could have a delay in testing and diagnosis. The elderly is a growing demographic of new cases of HIV. Because of our hang ups about sexuality, it is difficult to think of the elderly engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors.

The advent of Viagra has played a significant role in increasing the spread of STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. Some retirement communities have been hotbeds (no pun intended) of disease. I will admit that I even have trouble broaching the topic with some “little old ladies.” I have also been shocked at some folks activities. So, that’s the problem.

One solution that has been proposed has been a recommendation of universal testing. Every adult, regardless of age or situation should be tested at least once. Also, it has been proposed to remove the requirement of a separate consent form for HIV testing, so providers could routinely test for HIV like we do for so many other things. Just like you might get tested for cholesterol, diabetes, or chlamydia as part of routine care, HIV could be done as well. The stigma that still goes along with the diagnosis makes testing without separate consent unlikely in the near future.

Why Are There Additional Challenges for Those 50 and Older?

Through Cynthia’s story as the daughter of an HIV positive aging woman (and as an HIV positive person herself), and Dr. Strong’s comments about her experience providing care to aging people at risk of HIV infection, several of the specific issues faced by aging Americans repeat themselves. The issues fall into two main categories: age-related risk factors and barriers to prevention.

Age-related risk factors:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Biological risk factors
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Accessibility of erectile dysfunction medications

Barriers to prevention:

  • Aging stereotypes
  • Low HIV testing rates
  • Underdiagnosis of HIV/AIDS
  • Late diagnosis of HIV infection
  • Discrimination
  • Internalized stigma

For details on each of these risks, visit this link.

Support, Don’t Stigmatize

If you watched the video above with Cynthia and Walter, you heard Walter explain what he told the participants in the treatment center where he worked when an opportunity arose to be tested for HIV:

I’m not like y’all; I don’t do what you do.

Stigma crops up in so many different ways. For Walter, he did not think his behaviors, as compared to those of the people in recovery from drug addiction, made him likely to be HIV positive.

It turns out he was more like them than he thought; he tested positive.

When it comes to your aging friends and relatives, cast aside stigma, assume they ARE sexually active (and therefore at risk) rather than that they MAY be sexually active, and you may save their life.

Being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence at all, but the longer someone waits to be tested the less options they have to get on treatment and thrive.

Here’s how you can help:

Be clear yet respectful when discussing HIV risk factors with aging adults. If you’re at a loss for words, there are some great conversation starters in How to Talk to Grandma and Grandpa About HIV.

It’s a longer-term action, but support efforts to have HIV Testing integrated into the standard laboratory tests that are conducted as part of annual physician exams such as blood glucose and cholesterol. Learn more in Routine HIV Testing in Older Adults.

I love the way the Diverse Elders Coalition expresses their wish for the outcome of this year’s National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day: we envision a present where no elder has to face HIV without support, and a future where no elder has to face HIV at all.

HIV Prevention

Cynthia told me her mom often feels that aging people who are HIV positive do not have their “own” support or attention. None of us can solve that problem overnight. What we can do, however, is give each aging adult who is at risk for HIV their own chance at maintaining their health.

We can help them get their own “one more test,” an HIV test.

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

Many thanks to Cynthia A., Dr. Strong, and Kaitlin Sovich for their assistance with this post.

 

Hope for Jose

As I write this, we have had power back on for almost 8 hours. Yes, we did do a happy dance of celebration at 3 am when the whole house lit up after a hurricane-induced outage of more than 48 hours.

Our outage was a “hardship.” Our home was really hot; we had to cook our eggs in a cast iron pot on the grill before they spoiled. My son mastered backgammon by flashlight. I was the first to volunteer for ANY outing that would take me out of the house and into blessed air conditioning. It was sad and frustrating to deal with my father-in-law’s constant requests for TV (he has short term memory issues).

In the scheme of things, however, we had it good. Our home is solid. Legions of utility personnel flowed into town and worked day and night to get us back up and running.

For families served by Unbound in Guatemala, the set of challenges is different. Because homes are often constructed of less-than-solid materials and methods. Because families rely upon day-to-day agricultural or other “get it as you can” work, a natural disaster poses daunting problems.

As this 2010 blog documenting the Unbound response to natural disasters in Guatemala documents, issues can include perilous roads, mudslides, volcanoes, and theft of personal property because homes are not secured.

For children like Jose, sponsorship can make a difference through providing food, health care, education, and support of his family’s efforts to make a living for themselves (via owning animals like chickens that produce eggs or by instructing a mom in a skill like sewing). In addition, Unbound holds two quetzales per child specifically to be able to respond immediately in case of disaster.

Child Sponsorship

A home we visited in Guatemala — it always humbled me that the family put so much work into creating the welcome sign and the dad said “I am sorry my home is so small.” It was very large in hospitality.

Unbound does an incredible job of balancing its imperative to help families learn how to help themselves, with providing support at times when survival is at stake. That’s one of the many reasons we love Unbound and sponsor three children (a young adult woman in Guatemala, a young girl in Guatemala, and a little boy in El Salvador).

Meet Jose, age 7, from Guatemala, who is seeking sponsorship now:

Child Sponsorship

Unbound shares the following about Jose:

Jose has fun singing and playing with toy cars, alongside his two brothers. He’s diligent in his studies and loves physical education.

At home, Jose helps his grandmother feed the pigs and he helps make the beds.

He and his family have lived with his grandparents for some time now. Their block home has a sheet metal roof and cement floor. His mother tends to the household chores.

Jose’s father is a mason’s assistant, but the work is unsteady. To augment his income, he also has a part-time job at a local store.

To help Jose:

If you are interested in sponsoring Jose, please outreach (at) unbound.org or call Clair, the Outreach Coordinator, at 800.875.6564 ext. 7309. I would also be happy to facilitate putting you in touch with Unbound.

Sponsorship is $36 a month. In the scheme of things, it’s a small investment which yields enormous results both for Jose and his family, for the good of humankind in general, and in the relationship you’ll develop with Jose and his family via letters (and, when fate really smiles upon you, VISITS).

You can also learn more about Unbound at their website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

I am part of an Unbound effort to help secure sponsors for 100 children by Christmas. Since Jose turns 8 on December 10, I’m shooting for about 15 days earlier than that for him to hear those happy words “you have a new friend.”

Child Sponsorship

A neighborhood we visited in Guatemala. The families are VERY grateful to the sponsors and humbled us with such a grand welcome.

Child Sponsorship

thoughtful-thursdays4

 

Coffee Grounds, Goats, and Soap (A #LiveUnlimited Post)

What does “living unlimited” mean to you?

When the Muscular Dystrophy Association began its 2016 summer campaign, #LiveUnlimited, I shared this picture on social media (which generated $1 from a generous sponsor).

What Does it Mean to #LiveUnlimited?

loved the ziplining experience at North Georgia Canopy Tours. There was a moment during one of the longer zips that felt spiritual. I was suspended high above a gorge, zipping along rapidly, all thoughts of mundane worries as well as life’s bigger problems stripped away as I flew.

Living Unlimited Is Conceived in Smaller Moments

I have become acquainted with Linda Freeman through my work at Weaving Influence. Every week, I help share her blog posts on social media. With every post (as well as our phone conversations and emails), I see her take something common as a starting point and nurture it into something BIG. Here are three examples:

Goats

Linda is incorporating goats into her work with the Kratie Province in Cambodia in several ways. She and her team are working to start a Goat Bank. Selected province families will receive goats to use for milk, and as the goats reproduce, they will donate a kid back to the bank to perpetuate the availability of goats for their fellow province residents. It’s not just the goat bank, though. There is the possibility of a biogas digester using goat and human waste, as well as lots of goat milk to be made into organic body products.

Leftover Coffee Grounds 

Did you know you can incorporate leftover coffee grounds into facial scrubs? I didn’t either until Linda and her KidPower Organics line started including them in their Vanilla Latte Coffee Scrub. (Linda has also shown the Kratie Province residents how to utilize used coffee grounds to help plants grow.)

Clean Water and Two Hands

According to the CDC, handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Linda provides more details about why it works in  this post. With her KidPower Handwashing Project, she explains how ambassadors will be appointed and trained from within the community. They will receive small stipends via the sales of Kid Power Organics as well as private donations to Cambodian Care.

Goats, coffee grounds, water. So simple, yet with such profound potential. These are three of Linda’s team’s projects, but the list is lengthy. There are

  • KidPower2015 with its bicycle generators and impact on families affected by incarceration through Children of Inmates
  • The NeighborhoodHELP program with its medical outreach in underserved communities which brings the household-based framework to life
  • The Future Ready program in Miami Dade County which uses an evidence-based campaign to help junior high and high school students understand the consequences associated with at-risk behaviors that lead to HIV/AIDS, STDs, and teen pregnancy.

How Can YOU Live Unlimited?

I hope Linda’s story has demonstrated how living unlimited isn’t always about something as daring as ziplining. Sometimes it is as daring as overcoming your own doubts and those of others to turn something common, like a scoop of coffee grounds, a cup of goat milk, or soap and water into a life saving gift of unlimited proportions!

Any time you reach beyond your limits — whether they have been set by someone around you or yourself — you are achieving a #LiveUnlimited moment. #LiveUnlimited moments come in all sizes, big and small. Yet, what unites them is that we all face limits, and we all have the power to break free of our limits. ~ MDA’s #LiveUnlimited Campaign

I am sending Linda this #LiveUnlimited bracelet to celebrate the ways she demonstrates the #LiveUnlimited principle. She may choose to keep it for herself or pass it along to someone else who needs encouragement, maybe to one of the many girls she has encouraged along the way.

Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

How can you incorporate the #LiveUnlimited idea into your life? If Linda can do it with coffee grounds, I’m guessing you can do it with something right at your fingertips or with some seed of an idea that has been aching to take root and thrive!

Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

Children in Kratie Province Cambodia

The #LiveUnlimited Bracelet and Campaign

If you would like your own  #LiveUnlimited Bracelet, you can purchase it by clicking here. $6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

If you would like to participate in the MDA #LiveUnlimited campaign, you can:

  • Created a custom graphic (like my ziplining picture above). For every #LiveUnlimited custom graphic shared, $1 will be donated to MDA. Click here to create yours!
  • Keep up with MDA and the campaign on Twitter at @MDAnews, @EndorphnWarrior, and the hashtag #LiveUnlimited
  • Visit MDA on Facebook by clicking here
  • Follow MDA and the campaign by visiting this Instagram account and using the hashtag #LiveUnlimited
  • Purchase a #LiveUnlimited tshirt by clicking here ($7 from each sale goes to MDA)

I was given a #LiveUnlimited bracelet for myself and one to give away to someone who inspires me. All opinions are my own, especially about the coffee grounds, because coffee rocks. 

thoughtful-thursdays4

One Simple Conversation at a Time: #StopHIVTogether

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

In the late 1980s, I explained how to use a condom to hundreds of men I didn’t know who had called the Florida AIDS Hotline as they tried to figure out what to do about the new challenge threatening their health. I had been volunteering and acting as an on-call supervisor at a local crisis hotline, and it was awarded the contract for the AIDS Hotline. I was not an ally yet; I was just doing a job.

Over on the west coast, Mark S. King was also volunteering for an AIDS-related project. When he chose to volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) in 1986, he was doing more than “just a job.” Having been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1985, he needed to do something, and coordinating the APLA speaker’s bureau was his outlet. He thought he would be dead soon and craved immediate gratification.

As it turns out, Mark did not die in 1986 (thankfully). Although he lived in “three year increments” for quite some time after his initial diagnosis (hear more about that in this video with his friend, Lynne), he has now been living with HIV for 31 years and the virus is undetectable in his blood stream due to treatment (although the antibodies which result in an HIV+ test result will always be there).

HIV Prevention

Lynne and Mark

When I had an opportunity to interview Mark recently, I learned that many facts about living with HIV have changed. Specifically, the definition of “prevention” is much broader than it was back in the late 80s. For me in 1988, it meant telling strangers “don’t have sex” or “use a condom.” Mark says the most powerful preventative among his community at the time was: funerals.

In 2016, Prevention and Living with HIV Are Different

In addition to condoms, there are now more options for prevention:

  • PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) – people at high risk for HIV can now take a medication that lowers their chances of getting infected. Learn more here.
  • PEP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis) – People who have been potentially exposed to HIV can take antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to prevent becoming infected. Learn more here.

For people who have tested HIV+ but are on treatment, remaining on treatment in order to keep the virus undetectable is an option. Partners who go this route should know that:

  • · Everyone’s “undetectable” status is only as good as their most recent test.
  • · This choice clearly requires a level of trust between partners.

HIV Prevention

Simple Conversations Can Dispel Misinformation

Ironically, having not batted an eyelash throughout Mark’s book, which chronicles his experiences owning a phone sex hotline and frequent cocaine consumption in the 80s, I found myself hesitating to ask what he meant when he said several times, “I am able to have sex safely with my husband because I am on treatment.” Finally, I just admitted I needed to know more about what exactly he meant.

That’s when he clarified that an HIV+ person on successful treatment can’t transmit HIV. This has been the case for five years.

If I hadn’t asked or he hadn’t been willing to share, I would not have known. The solution to clearing up my confusion was a simple conversation.

“At Risk” Can Mean Anyone

To be perfectly honest, I am not sure if a single person I know and interact with here in Tallahassee is HIV positive.

Even though I don’t currently have someone in my circle who is HIV+, my circle has gotten a heck of a lot bigger since I have gotten involved in (some say addicted to!) social media.

Is there someone among my 2500 Facebook Friends, 9500 Twitter Followers, 3000 Instagram Followers, or 225 Snapchat Friends for whom I can make a difference?
I can’t be sure, but I know that doing nothing is not an option when:

  • Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for more than 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses in 2014.
  • Young gay and bisexual males accounted for 8 in 10 HIV diagnoses among youth in 2014.
  • At the end of 2012, 44% of youth ages 18 to 24 years living with HIV did not know they had HIV.
  • My peers are re-entering the dating world as decades-old marriages end and/or discovering that their partners were not monogamous and may have put them at risk.

Will someone identified in one of the above bullet points see something I post and feel less alone, more fortified to proceed with testing, more confident in engaging in a simple conversation?

Even if the people in the populations mentioned above don’t see one of my posts, maybe you will (and I know you’ve read this far, so you are equipped to help!). Stigma is eliminated one chat at a time, and I am asking you to help make a difference.

HIV Prevention

A Year Can Change Everything

I love the fact that this post is going live on June 26. Last year at this time, rainbows proliferated as same sex marriage was legitimized. However, the year has brought with it the flip side of the coin: those who spread hate.

I was so very excited to speak to Mark. We both sort of threw out the pre-written interview questions and just …. talked. The only moment of silence was when our conversation wandered to the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Mark told me how he, at 55, an award-winning activist in a happy marriage having overcome so many hurdles, was shaken to the core, immediately transported back to feeling like an unsafe sissy at risk of daily beatings. I stumbled for words, failing to respond adequately but empathizing at the same time.

What does that have to do with HIV?

It has to do with HIV because it’s hard enough for some people to come to terms with their own sexuality, much less the strategies they have to employ in order to protect themselves and others from HIV infection. Feelings of being unworthy can be the most difficult barriers to self care. As Mark says, the enemy is a virus, not our humanity.

What Can One Person Do?

If you still don’t understand HIV, ask.

You can get the facts.

If you are ready to help, click here for tons of resources.

You can get tested or help someone who needs to get tested figure out how.

You can get involved and share a story.

You can get materials to share.

And to learn more about Mark, visit his site, follow him on Twitter at @myfabdisease, like his Facebook page by clicking here, or buy his book here.

Lastly

My journey to being an ally was, in retrospect, pre-ordained. I am grateful every single day that I was put in that little room talking to all those strangers about condom usage. I heard their fears. I went myself for an HIV test (never mind the fact that the behaviors I thought put me at risk were, um, hardly risky). For the long version of my ally story, Not About Me, click here.

Yes, Mark is HIV+ but the part that came through to me was our commonalities. We laughed about the fact that we both have “old fashioned” AOL accounts. We shared some fun word play as we exchanged messages. We talked about how each of us goes about life trying to live with joy and humor.

I don’t know about you, but I’m all for more joy and humor, and a lot less stigma.

HIV Prevention