Empowering Women: It Takes a Tribe

There is a mountain in Mexico I want to climb. I don’t mean in a “carabiners and ropes” kind of way, but in a “take a vehicle as far as you can and then walk the rest of the way” kind of sense. The goal? To help my friend Felisa Hilbert, one of my favorite examples of women empowering women, with the clinic she has established in a remote Mexican community that has no running water.

Felisa is a fellow Shot at Life champion. Although as Shot at Life champions, she and I have attended multiple conferences and trainings about helping children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines to prevent diseases like measles, pneumonia, polio, and infections that cause diarrhea, she has taken the next step: actually built a clinic from the ground up to help children in Tetzilquila, Veracruz, Mexico.

Empowering Women

The clinic is “up” a mountain but you have to walk “down” to get to it!

Empowering Women

Empowering Women Requires a Variety of Strengths

Felisa is the first person who came to mind when I learned of Heifer International’s new women’s empowerment initiative, which encourages us to think about four types of women in our lives: allies, entrepreneurs, artists, and den mothers. Read about her dedication to her clinic in this article (highlight below):

Hilbert has taken that philosophy to a rural community in Tex Tiquila, Mexico, where she is working to build a medical clinic. The community, made up of 40 families who speak Nahuatl, a native Aztec language, in place of Spanish, is completely isolated and lacks basic services, she said.

Although most people know Heifer International for their animal gifting program, they also do critical, impactful work to support and empower women. They believe that women have limitless potential, but limited opportunity and equip and empower marginalized women with resources and training as a means to sustainable livelihoods and community leadership positions.

Identifying Our Tribes

Heifer International developed a fun quiz to help us figure out our own tribe personas. Not surprisingly, I found out I am an “ally.” For Felisa, I would say she straddles two of the categories, “entrepreneur” (seriously, building a clinic on a remote Mexican mountain is not for the faint of heart or timid) and artist (check out the jewelry she makes then sells to support the clinic at the Jewelry for a Purpose Facebook page (pix of a few example below)).

Empowering Women

I’m also lucky to have great “den mothers” in my life. These are the people who don’t get sucked down by details BUT always seem capable of making sure no one gets left out and ensure there are snacks, drinks, and whatever other provisions we need at any get-together!

Honoring Felisa

Felisa, thank you for being you. Thank you for tirelessly supporting others. You inspire me to be better and today I am paying it forward to other women via a Heifer International Women’s Empowerment donation in your honor! This donation will fund a Heifer Women’s Self-Help Group that will teach women to read and write (empowering them to take control), give them livestock and training to increase their sense of self-reliance, and enable women to jointly better their communities through group savings and activities. SO INCREDIBLE.

Empowering Women

Celebrating the Sustainable Development Goals, especially HEALTH, with Felisa at the Social Good Summit in 2015.

Other Ways to Help Women Through Heifer International

To learn more about Heifer’s women’s empowerment efforts, check out heifer.org/joinhertribe. I would love all of my women readers to share about an incredible woman today!

There are several ways to be involved. While donations do, of course, rock, here are some additional social media actions you can take via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter between now and April 15 to be a part of this effort to amplify the #JoinHerTribe initiative and support women worldwide.

  • A photo of you + a woman who has inspired you (to grow your business, prioritize self-care, pursue creativity, help others, etc.)
  • A compilation graphic — 4 faces to fit the tribe roles of The Ally, The Den Mother, The Entrepreneur, and The Artist
  • A dedication to a mom or friend who has helped you through challenging parenting times
  • Public personalities you aren’t connected with personally but who inspire you to do great things (Oprah, Maya Angelou, etc.)
  • A video dedication to someone who inspired you to vlog

Who has made a difference by being part of your tribe? Give them a shout-out today!

Empowering Women

The Difference Only Planned Parenthood Can Make

***UPDATE — APRIL 14, 2017*** 

As referenced in this New York Times article, Trump Signs Law Taking Aim at Planned Parenthood Funding, President Trump “signed legislation on Thursday [April 13] aimed at cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood.”

***END OF UPDATE, NOT THE END OF MY ADVOCACY”***

Here is my original April 2, 2017 post:

I have received services from Planned Parenthood precisely once, but that one visit places me among the “one in five” women in America who have visited Planned Parenthood at least once. As I alluded to in this post when I disclosed my experience of being tested for HIV, I tended in my early 20s to be fanatically cautious. Just like my it was probably scientifically impossible for the activities I was engaging in to expose me to HIV, neither did I technically need the diaphragm I was fitted for at Planned Parenthood.

Fast forward to 2017. At 52, I am a member of a demographic that does technically need services such as testing and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Opponents of Planned Parenthood try to paint a picture of an organization which zealously lures women into having abortions (fact: abortions account for less than five percent of Planned Parenthood’s services). These opponents support the rollback of Title X program funding, which in turn allows states to withhold certain funds to women’s health clinics.

We all need to understand the difference Planned Parenthood actually makes.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Middle-Aged and Elderly People Need STD Testing and Treatment

According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States is 50 or older.

Our issues around STDs are not limited to HIV risk, however, and they incorporate our emotions as well as our bodies.

Medscape breaks down the psychosocial factors behind our new middle-aged realities:

  • Divorce rates are increasing; in addition, the rate of people who remain unmarried is rising.
  • Midlife “repartnering” is increasing
  • As we stay healthier longer, our potential for engagement in sexual activity increases.

Medscape also lists the possibility, even though the research base is more shallow, that middle-aged women place a higher priority on intimacy over sexual health, leaving them more open to risk. In addition, older people may associate sexual risk-taking with their adolescent years and may ignore facts and dangers that they face.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Planned Parenthood Is An Asset for Women’s Health

Although you can learn the basics of the high-quality, affordable health care Planned Parenthood provides to women, men, and young people here, let’s focus for a minute on our middle aged and aging people facing a new sexual behavior reality:

Every year, Planned Parenthood provides more than 4.2 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including more than 650,000 HIV tests.

 

Why Planned Parenthood Needs Our Support

Fifty-four percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in health professional shortage areas, rural or medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood health centers provide primary and preventive health care to many who otherwise would have nowhere to turn for care.

In 2014, Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.5 million patients and provided more than 4 million sexually transmitted tests and treatment, more than 360,000 breast exams, more than 270,000 Pap tests, and birth control for 2 million people. Of Planned Parenthood patients in 2014, 15 percent were Black and 23 percent were Latino.

Although current efforts to defund Planned Parenthood cite Community Health Centers (CHCs) as a viable alternative health care provider for contraceptive and sexual health education needs, CHCs, while doing their own critical work for the health of our fellow Americans, are not equipped to replace Planned Parenthood.

Stepping Back and Taking the Long View

Right now, in April 2017, the dialogue around the future of Planned Parenthood is bookended on one side by supporters who strongly believe there is empirical evidence that blocking patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood comes at too high a cost.

On the other end, opponents believe sentiments like these expressed by Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Alveda King: “millions of abortions make Planned Parenthood a business that the federal government does not need to be funding with our tax dollars.”

Without Planned Parenthood, women would be less healthy, especially women in medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood makes a difference.

That difference is what Katharine Hepburn’s republican mother sought when she helped found the Connecticut Birth Control League in 1920.

That difference is what Republican Barry Goldwater’s wife, Peggy, sought when she helped organize Phoenix’s first family planning clinic in 1937.

That difference is ostensibly what Prescott Bush (George H.W.’s father and George W.’s/Jeb’s grandfather) sought when he served as treasurer of a nationwide Planned Parenthood campaign in 1947.

That difference is possibly what then-Congressman George H.W. Bush sought in a 1968 address to Congress in which he advocated for government support of family planning programs, referring to the “tragedy of unwanted children and of parents whose productivity is impaired by children they never desired.”

That difference is what President Nixon and then-Congressman George H.W. bush sought when they supported Title X upon its introduction (and subsequent passage) in 1970.

That difference is what republican Barry Goldwater intended when he supported upholding Roe vs. Wade in 1983.

“That Difference” Changed Lives

It’s one thing to cite surprising moments in history that demonstrate “that difference” made by Planned Parenthood. It’s yet another to know that, for countless individual, real life flesh and blood women, Planned Parenthood impacted their lives for the better:

People like Bethany, who said, “Their clinics enabled me to maintain my reproductive health, and control over my body at a time when I could never have afforded to have a child.”

People like the woman whose breast lump was diagnosed and treated by Planned Parenthood, who shared, “Thank-you, Planned Parenthood, for understanding that nothing is more important than your health, no matter what your socioeconomic status is.”

(The source for the above two quotes is this Huffington Post article.)

People like Cassandra, who wrote for Grounded Parents that Planned Parenthood’s early diagnosis and treatment of her Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) saved her life. She writes:

When I hear politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood what I hear is that they don’t understand the services that Planned Parenthood provides for both men and women. What I hear is that they don’t care if both men and women have access to low-cost reproductive health care.

How You Can Make “That Difference” For Yourself and Others

Please tell your legislator why “that difference” is so much broader than many opponents would have them believe. Call them (it’s easy!) and tell them not to defund care at Planned Parenthood Centers. There are several resources here.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Here are some more resources:

Birth Control Coverage Should Always Be Guaranteed

There’s a Long History of Republicans Supporting Planned Parenthood—Why Is No One Talking About It?

Why I’m a Christian Who (Still) Supports Planned Parenthood

A Voice in an Unlikely Chorus

When I attend the Requiem of Resistance performance here in Tallahassee on March 25, I will be thinking especially of Edgar Krasa, a member of the chorus directed by Rafael Schächter, who conducted 15 performances of Verdi’s Requiem at the Terezin Concentration Camp.

Edgar died on February 7. He was a friend and mentor to my friend Corie Walsh, who shared this remembrance:

Edgar was 96 years old and a Holocaust survivor. I met Edgar when I was in high school and he was a spectacular influence on my career and my personal life. He was one of those people who held such light and joy that you couldn’t help but smile when you met him.

Edgar Krasa Tribute

A portrait of Edgar drawn by Leo Haas in Terezin, 1943. Photo Credit: The Terezin Music Foundation

Edgar was originally sent to Terezin, the show camp for the Red Cross, in 1941, where he survived as cook. He was on the very first transport there. Edgar lived in Terezin until 1944 when he was transported to Auschwitz. He then participated (and survived) the infamous Death March from Auschwitz by pretending to be dead. If you asked Edgar how he survived the Holocaust he wouldn’t say through perseverance, strength, or faith. Instead he would tell you that an onion saved his life.

At one point, when he was struggling and quite ill, he was out on work detail and he found a whole onion. He planned on stashing it in his uniform and sneaking it back to the barracks to feed two younger boys who he had been looking after. However at the end of his work detail, the guards called for a random search. Edgar knew he had to eat the onion before he was searched. So he ate the entire thing in a matter of minutes. Raw, like an apple. Then the next day, his illness and sores started to heal. Edgar credited that onion with saving his life and he continued to make onions a focal point through the rest of his cooking throughout his career.

This story tells three things about Edgar: his humor, his selflessness, and his strength.  Edgar wasn’t spectacular because he was a Holocaust survivor. He was spectacular because he was kind and because he dedicated his life to making the world a little bit more like him.

After surviving the Holocaust and emigrating to the US, Edgar ran a restaurant in Brookline MA and spent his free time and retirement speaking at schools and colleges.  The first time Edgar had me over to his house for dinner he made a huge spread for dinner including his signature baba ganoush and hummus. The meal concluded with Turkish coffee, which was not optional. According to Edgar, it would “put hair on your chest.” He would wink as he said this, recognizing that a hairy chest was not exactly a desirable quality for a woman.

As I grew older and busier, Edgar and I saw one another more infrequently. We would see each other annually at the gatherings for the Terezin Music Foundation, but I believe we remained friends. He spoke with the sincerity and conviction to make me believe that I was the only person in the room and perhaps the only person on the planet. He would grasp my hand and say “Corie my dear, how are you?” And he meant it. We would get on about my dating life, gossip, cooking, and our respective forays into activism.

Edgar was the unique sort of character that brushes into one’s life and has the capacity to change it. He taught me that there is no beauty in martyrdom, no humanity without equality, no life without humor, and no good cooking without onions. I will miss him dearly, but I will carry his spirit and his story forward. I hope you do the same.

***

For information about the Tallahassee performance jointly presented by the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, FAMU Concert Choir, Temple Israel, and Holocaust Education Resource Council, please click here. Proceeds from the concert benefit the Holocaust Education Resource Council.

To support the continuance of the music of Terezin, please consider donating to the Terezin Music Foundation.

Editor’s Note: In this piece by Steve Uhlfelder, he shares about his grandparents, who both died at Terezin, and his trip there.

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.