Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It Takes a Village to Help All Lives Matter

The writing contest ended yesterday with these results. We have four completed stories ready to be sent to the judges next week. Two of the entrants did not complete the session in order to provide a completed story. Although the "results" will not be in until judging is done, I wanted to write something about my thoughts as well as feelings about the contest.

 I started this contest with the idea that maybe we in Portland could do something to find and encourage the adolescents there to spend a part of their summer reading and using their writing skills instead of other typical summer activities. That happened and I am  overwhelmed with the feeling I have after working with six of the children from my old neighborhood at the library that meant so much to me. This is because so much more happened that goes far beyond “readin’, writing and arithmetic.”

 The students ranged in age from 10 to 13 years and although they live in a depressed neighborhood with a lot of stereotypes about them and their home life, working with them was one of the most joyful experiences of my entire teaching career (25 years). There was a mix of so-called "races," although I personally detest this term.

There were two African-American girls and two African-American boys. There were two "white" boys for want of a better description. Only one child lived in a home with both parents. The others were from single family homes with females as the head of household. All of the parents were hard working and dedicated to making a safe, happy home for their children in a neighborhood that can be frightening sometimes. One thing that astounded me was the support that the African-American males had from men who were not physically related to them. These men were gentle and caring and made sure that those boys came to all the sessions and cooperated with all the adults working with them - and there were many. I could not have produced these results working alone. It does, indeed, take a village to raise a child in today's world.

Three experiences stand out for me. First was the socializing and talking over pizza that took place each week before the session started. What happened here left a lasting impression on me in terms of helping children from different living situations learn about each other and to respect differences. Not only did the adults get to know the children, but the children started to learn from each other.

There was one student who had moved to Louisville from a rural environment in Bardstown. His mother had home schooled him until last year when the demands of a growing family meant she sent him to public school for the first time. From day one, it was obvious that this child was a self-starter and also a little fearful of living in an urban slum. His family, however, was doing urban homesteading and had chickens. Their home near the river allowed the young boy to see hawks and other animals that he talked about with the other children “of the street.” There was a conversation about the family’s chickens and one of the street children said, “I would kill the chicken to eat it if I had a chicken.”
Before I could frame a response, the young boy stated very simply, “We use our chickens for eggs, but when they get too old to lay eggs anymore, we eat them.” What a wonderful teaching moment for everyone and how pleasant it was! I don’t believe the “street kid” really knew that chickens laid the eggs he ate.  I think this experience will make both boys feel more comfortable with students different from them in the fall.

At the start of the program, I took time to individually talk with each student to find out what they wanted to write about. As I sat at the table with a young African-American student who was a bit overweight, I noticed he was having trouble breathing and kept patting his chest. It suddenly occurred to me that his child was about to have a full flown panic attack. When I asked him about it, he said he was really nervous. I gently pulled away and told him to just sit there and breathe until he felt comfortable. This young man’s choice for a story was “How to Become a Bully.” As he told me the plot, I began to realize that this young man had had quite an experience with being bullied himself. His ending showed that he had had the opportunity to work with adults to help him understand this. The young man I had worked with during the first session did not return. Instead, the one I saw as I walked into the library the next week looked a lot like him, but he had a great big smile and came and gave me a big hug. If that had been the only thing that happened during this contest, it would have been enough for me.

The day of the last session I worked individually with the young man who had wanted to eat the chicken. The goal was to get the story he had written into a format that could be read and understood. I had worked with him before and knew that getting anything in writing was difficult. I worked with him the entire session and was able to get a story with an introduction, middle and an end. He typed it all and used the computer tools very well to help with spelling and grammar. The biggest challenge was in getting him to use periods and separate his ideas, but we did it! We were just finishing as his supervisor came to get him. When I told him we had completed the story, he smiled broadly and asked me if he could get a copy printed. Of course, we gave him a copy. Unfortunately, this young man will probably not win one of the three monetary awards, but what I saw happen with him was priceless and much more lasting than a Kroger gift cart that will buy some groceries and school supplies for him.

As I sit here typing these words, my heart is full and I cannot express what this summer has meant to me. I had a vacation the month before the contest and traveled to some great places with a wonderful friend. I also had the opportunity to “escape the heat” and travel to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for the month of July. I can’t say there weren’t some times when I wished I could have gone there, but now I know that no matter how many pictures I took to bring back with me, that would soon just be another experience on my “bucket list.” This experience will live in my heart forever and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Peace Needs Women

Peace Needs Women
According to peace activist Dorothea Sallee “To realize ourselves as women, to rise above poverty, rape and destruction of family, we must be women for peace. . . A woman cannot realize herself in war. The roles of being there for war and being there for children are oxymoron’s, and cannot exist side by side. The culture of war creates famine, rape and destruction of home and family.”
This is one of the themes of my book “The Peacemaker” available at
When the so called Republic of the United States was established, the major faults in that government were the disempowerment of women, genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of dark-skinned people from Africa. This has led us down a path of cyclical war and poverty throughout our history. The Women’s Rights Movement that began in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York and grew in force after the Civil War was begun to address all of these issues.

Women's voices had little power without the right to vote and that’s when the movement for the right to vote began and grew in force as the United States entangled itself in World War I. The voices quoted below span the time period beginning with the inception of World War I – The War to End All Wars- and one fought without the approval of women in almost every country involved in that War. If women had had more influence at the Versailles Peace Conference, Wilson’s Fourteen Points to end war and establish world peace may have taken a different route.

We have all heard the quote, “those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.” I am now engaged in writing a sequel to “The Peacemaker” which will take into account the women’s voices from the Middle East that are still stifled and drowned out by the angry voices of male controlled societies all over the world. I have been reading stories from the females of this region and taking note of what they are doing. There are a few quotes from Middle Eastern women below and more and more of the women’s voices from this region are speaking out. In order to be true to ourselves as women and the society we would all like for our children to have, we must join together and support each other in our common cause to end the suffering of women and children for once and for all. That can only be done by supporting peace.

Voices of the Founding Mothers
 “...each war carried within itself, the war which will answer it. Each war is answered by another war, until everything is destroyed...That is why I’m so wholeheartedly for a radical end to the madness...Pacifism simply is not a matter of calm looking on; it is work, hard work...those lovely small apples out there...everything could be so beautiful if it were not for the insanity of day, a new idea will arise and there will be an end of all wars...People will have to work hard for that new state of things, but they will achieve it.”
Kathe Kollwitz (1867 - 1945) Germany

“If you insist upon fighting to protect me, or ‘our’ country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex Instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or protect either myself or my country. For, the outside will say, in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world...”

Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) England

The Progress
And still we wear our uniforms, follow
The cracked cry of the bugles, comb and rush
Our pride and prejudice, doctor the sallow
Initial ardor, which keeps it fresh.
Still we applaud the President’s voice and face.
Still we remark on patriotism, sing,
Salute the flag, thrill heavily, rejoice
For death of men who too saluted, sang.
But inward grows a soberness, an awe.
A fear, a deepening hollow through the cold.
For even if we come out standing up
How shall we smile, congratulate; and how
Settle in chairs? Listen, listen. The step
Of iron feet again. And again - wild.

                                                                                                        Gwendolyn Brooks (1971) - - USA

“I believe that peace is not merely an absence of war, but the nurture of human life, and that in time this nurture will do away with war as a natural process....I can see no reason why one should not see what one believes in time of war as in time of peace....Only in freedom is permanent peace possible. To unite women in all countries who are opposed to any kind of war, exploitation and oppression and who work for universal disarmament...and by the establishment of social, political, and economic justice for all without distinction of sex, race, class, or creeds.
                                                                                                            Jane Addams (1860-1935) U.S.A.

“Women are not at the peace table. We are not there where our commitment to peace, our capacities to find solutions through dialogue, debate, our sensitivities to human needs, human rights are sorely needed. Therefore, we still must press - from the outside...Feminists can make clear that one does not have to agree with the political or economic systems of a country in order to like and understand its people...The feminist movement has a vision. We understand, first of all, that we have but one earth, shared by one humanity. ...We will make it a woman’s world, not in the sense of control, or power, or dominance, but those values that we call women-centered values, will be diffused throughout society.”

                                                                                 Margarita Chant Papandreou. Greece/U.S.A.

“When we carry our eyes back through the long records of our history, we see wars of plunder, wars of 
conquest, wars of religion, wars of pride, wars of succession, wars of idle speculation, wars of unjust interference, and hardly among them one war of necessary self-defence in any of our essential or very important interests.”
Anna Barbauld, English poet, essayist, critic, 1793

 “The half of humanity that have never bourne arms is today ready to struggle to make the brotherhood of man a reality. Perhaps the universal sisterhood is necessary before the universal brotherhood is possible.” 

Bertha von Suttner, Speech to the Federation of Women of America, 1912

“If brains have brought us to what we are in now, I think it is time to allow our hearts to speak. When our sons are killed by the millions, let us, mothers, only try to do good by going to the kings and emperors without any other danger than a refusal.”

Rosika Schwimmer, Speech at International Congress of Women at the Hague, 1915

“Women will soon have political power. Woman suffrage and permanent peace will go together. When a country is in a state of mind to grant the vote to its women, it is a sign that that country is ripe for permanent peace. Women don’t feel as men do about war. They are the mothers of the race. Men think of the economic results, women think of the grief and pain.”

Dr. Aletta Jacobs, (1851-1929) Holland’s first woman doctor and founder of the Dutch suffrage movement.
“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” And, “The work of educating the world to peace is the woman’s job, because men have a natural fear of being classed as cowards if they oppose war.”

Jeanette Rankin, (1880-1973) First woman to enter U.S. House of Representative in 1917. Lost her seat in Congress when she voted against entry in WWI.

“But the havoc wrought by war, which one compares with the havoc wrought in nature, is not an unavoidable fate before which man stands helpless. The natural forces which are the causes of war are human passions which it lies in our power to change.”

Ellen Key, (1849-1926) Swedish social feminist. 

“No tinsel of trumpets and flags will ultimately seduce women into the insanity of recklessly destroying life, or gild the willful taking of life with any other name than that of murder, whether it be the slaughter of the million or of one by one.”

Olive Schreiner, South African writer, feminist, 1911

“Where do all the women who have watched so carefully over the lives of their beloved ones get the heroism to send them to face the cannon? I am afraid that this soaring of the spirit will be followed by the blackest despair and dejection. The task is to bear it not only during these few weeks, but for a long time - in dreary November as well, and also when spring comes again, in March, the month of young men who wanted to live and are dead. 
                                                                           Kathe Kollwitz, German Activist and Artist , 1914                                   (Kollwitz’s son was killed in WWI two months after writing this note).

                                                                  The End and the Beginning 

 After every war
Someone’s got to tidy up.
Things won’t pick themselves up, after all.
Someone’s got to shove the rubble to other roadsides
So the carts loaded with corpses can get by.
Someone’s got to trudge through sludge and ashes,
Through the sofa springs, the shards of glass, the bloody rags....
No sound bites, no photo opportunities.
And it takes years.
All the cameras have gone to other wars.
Some, broom in hand, still remember how it was.
Some man listens, nodding his unshattered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
Who will find all that a little boring....
Those who knew what this was all about
Must make way for those who know little.
And less than that, and at last nothing less than nothing,
Someone’s got to lie there
in the grass that covers up the causes and effects
With a cornstalk in his teeth, gawking at clouds.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-) Poland

“[There is an] erroneous impression that this and other countries are at war with one another. They are not. Their governments, composed of men and responsible only to the men of each country, and backed by the majority of men who have caught the war and glory fever, have declared war on one another. The women of all these countries have not been consulted as to whether they would have war or not...”

Harriette Beanland, English dressmaker, three days after WWI declared, 1914.

“Ladies, do you know the numbers? Our taxes are higher than three billion and the ministers of the army and navy devour a third themselves....The household with six francs a day for expenses, for example, starts each day by throwing two francs away.”
Sylvia Flammarion, 1905 speech to working class French women

 “If war boosts the economy of the industrial nations that own the war supplies, it smashes the economy of the nations that consume them.”
Fereshten Gol-Mohammadi, Iran, 1983

“If a child grows up with the idea of violence, that you get what you can by force, what kind of world will this be?”
Julinda Abu Nasr, Lebanon, 1980s

“I am convinced that the women of the world, united without any regard for national or racial dimensions, can become a most powerful force for international peace and brotherhood.”
Coretta Scott King, (1922-) Active in U.S. civil rights movement and Non-Violence Center