Tag Archives: Social Media

One of the Voices of Social Justice: Tama Seavey

23 Sep

Tama and I became friendsTama through social media and we both do the same type of work. I had posted a story about Paula Deen and Trayvon Martin and received a great deal of rather nasty resistance from a particular white heterosexual male.  His comments opened the door to meet a great number of lovely people such as Tama. We both run companies that provide Diversity/Inclusion and Racial Equity workshops. Sadly, we are across the country from each other, but I still hold out some hope that we will get to work together.  As you will see from this interview, it is difficult not to fall in love with Tama.

Many of you may already know Tama by her last name or by the work she does. Her first husband was Neal Seavey, a news reporter for WNBC who died of AIDS in 1983.  Tama lights up when she talks about Neal and it is clear she was drawn to him because of his dedication and commitment to civil rights and social justice, core values which Tama shares. Her experience being married to a gay man helped Tama become a fierce LGBT ally and understand the intersections of oppression.  Her amazing compassion demonstrates that she operates from a place of abundance rather than deficit.  Like her late husband, Tama  challenges:  racism, heterosexism and the abuses against targeted people wherever she can.

Here is the interview with this lovely and amazing woman, Tama Seavey.

Tama is a black woman who will celebrate her 57th birthday in October.  She lived with her mother and her family in Newark, NJ until she was 11.  She left home at the age of 12 and lived in 14 different homes within the foster care system.  All 14 of the homes were white.  While Tama describes herself as “being a handful,” I suspect she was using all of her resources just to survive.  She managed to graduate high school with honors at 16. She was married at age 19 and graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She has three daughters — she lights up when she talks about her daughters.

Tama, what brings you to the  work of social justice? 

I worked for a number of years in administrative capacities in human service agencies noting the great disparity between their stated missions/social justice agendas and the reality of how people of color and other disenfranchised people were treated both staff and clients.  All of the isms were present internally and demonstrated to the clients. The stated agendas were there with the funding dollars flowing freely to the agency based on the missions, yet the reality was every agency failed dramatically to “live to the missions/visions.”

I was outraged at what I saw as mini racist and exclusionary societies supported and functioning primarily with government dollars and realized the true meaning of systemic racism.  How systems were linked together – networked together to bring about a complete system of organized oppression against targeted populations.  The understanding of this fueled my drive to turn it around, one agency at a time, sometimes one individual at a time and to be a voice of freedom from oppression.  I decided to work as a change agent in every aspect of my life.

Over the course of the following years, I have brought education, training, insight, and management change to boards, executives, and managers of diverse non-profit human services organizations working to create systemic change while teaching to build effective bridges between the mainstream population and those who have been denied access in our society.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Yes, very much so.  My roots are in activism and I believe in activism at the grassroots level.  I am an effective trainer, writer, speaker and have worked for years studying organizations, systems and the responses of systems to the pressure of duty and responsibility to be inclusive entities and non-supporting of racism and injustice.  I believe that change – the sustained change we are looking for — that will create change for excluded populations will only come as a result of grassroots activism and by those people who work outside of the systems that keep exclusionary/unjust behaviors in place.

People comprise the systems that keep racism, discrimination, harassment and overall exclusion in place.  This condition in our country does not come from some huge overall entities without names and faces.  Those people sitting in the positions of power need to be called to task for maintaining the power imbalance, the privilege imbalance and for denying opportunity to all people.  This tipping of the scale, I believe, can only be accomplished through grassroots activism work.

What should marginalized communities do to have a stronger voice?

Oh, the list is very long.  At the top though is that they must speak and must speak the truth of their experience (no sugar coating, no finding the exact perfect words to appease mainstream society’s [white men and women with power] delicate sensibilities) – they must speak the truth of the experiences of exclusion.  Marginalized communities must stop tolerating their experiences and “challenge with the purpose to change” when presented with discrimination and harassment.  They must use every resource available to seek compensation and force as much justice as is available.  We, as minority individuals, walk away from challenging what we meet up with far too often saying to ourselves “we must pick the right battle.”  This walking away and waiting for the right battle plays a part in strengthening the system of injustice.  Every instance is a reason to speak and every act of discrimination and harassment is actionable.  So, getting educated to your rights is probably number 1 with the rest following.  The system of injustice will not end/will not be changed until there are penalties in place and the penalties are paid by those who perpetuate it.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I believe there is a difference between duty and responsibility.  I have worked towards a legacy that will be that I fulfilled my responsibilities for the choices I made in my life and I lived up to my duty to humanity by being of service to others.

Tama, thank you for sharing just a part of your narrative. I hope we get to hear more narratives like yours and that we all can take action.  How lovely it would be if all targeted people could stand in solidarity with one another.  I am very grateful that I have Tama in my world.

Pope Francis Taking Catholics Back to the 14th Century

22 Jul
What Would Chaucer Say?

What Would Chaucer Say?

On July 5, 2013 Pope Francis and Pope Benedict issued a joint encyclical condemning marriage equality. Who better to give advice than two single bachelors who have never had sex? Their joint homophobic rant went on for 82 pages as they were frothing at the mouth thinking about gay sex.

Apparently, the anti-gay stand did not go far enough to prove how UN-Christian the Catholic Church has become.  Now, Pope Francis has donned the wardrobe of the Pardoner from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, selling indulgences.  Yes, welcome back to the 14th Century.  Pope Francis announced that if we follow him on Twitter we can get an indulgence: he will reduce the time Catholics have to spend in purgatory. If this does not send millions of folk to see the Pope’s Twitter, I don’t know what will.  Oh my goodness, that did not sound proper at all.

I also hear that he is willing to sell an actual piece of the cross to the highest bidder.  I wonder about all of the priests that were molesting children.  Do they too receive a “get out of purgatory” card if they follow the Pontiff on twitter? How long before my local priest can start selling indulgences and pardons?  Can I pay for these indulgences and pardons on-line?  Does the Pope/god take credit cards?

It almost makes sense for the leader of a group of millions to try the newest tools to reach his flock where they are. When all you do is use new toys to play old games while you ignore the larger issues, however, there is something horribly wrong. We desperately need a counterbalance to this craziness. How about @Chaucer and the Canterbury Tweets?

Hero of the Week Award: May 24, Eileen Peterson

24 May

RacismI need to say a huge thank you to friend, activist, and LGBT ally, Bruce Kestelman for nominating Eileen for HWA.  Honestly, Bruce needs to also be celebrated as HWA also for many of the same reasons we are celebrating Eileen.

Standing up for Social Justice seems like it would just be obvious and easy.  Working to ensure space for equity and equality and treating all humans with dignity and respect feels like it should be a no brainer.  Sadly, this is not the case.  I suspect all of us have too often witnessed very ugly behavior on different social media sites around human and civil rights issues.  I know I have seen my fair share of awful, nasty, ugly behavior on Facebook and on LinkedIn around the issues of racial equity and marriage equality.  Garbage that I will not bother to repeat here spews forth from the foaming mouths and frantic fingers of bigots everywhere.

Delightfully, within all of this muck there are gems I find that need to be celebrated.  People with tenacity, grace, and perseverance that gracefully — and at times with great wit — work hard to interrupt oppression.   Eileen Peterson is someone who does not shy away from social justice issues.  I admit that there have been times when comments get so ugly, I throw my hands up in despair and walk away from interrupting oppressive comments.  I recently read a thread on LinkedIn regarding marriage equality and I have to say that Eileen Peterson won my heart over.  She does not use accusatory or inflammatory language, but she does try to hold people accountable for their behavior and she asks great clarifying questions that help to expose they hypocrisy within people’s arguments.

Today I felt the need to celebrate the individual and collective voices that work with great respect and dignity to interrupt oppression.  Everyday people like Eileen, Bruce, Jennifer Carey, and the amazingly large list of friends I have had the honor and privilege to know in the past two years, need to be celebrated for their dedication to social justice and fierce determination to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and poverty. I applaud you all!

Honorable mention this week goes to the Peace Corps. Reversing a long-standing discriminatory practice, the Corps announced this week that it will allow same-sex couples to apply for joint service. Married heterosexual couples have been able to do so all along. The Peace Corps could have waited for DOMA to fall; instead, they took a proactive step and will usher in equality starting next month. Nicely done!

Following the President’s lead, social media get their gay on

23 May

President Obama’s announcement that he supports marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples may be almost two weeks old, but the impact on the Internet is still reverberating. A recent AP story indicates that both posting and viewing of YouTube videos related to marriage equality rose sharply and remains strong.

In fact, on the day of the President’s interview, searches for “gay marriage” and “Obama” spiked 458% between 10 am and 6 pm. According to the AP

Following Obama’s announcement, more videos with the key words “gay marriage” were uploaded on YouTube than ever before, drawing more than 3 million views and 100,000 comments.

In fact, a quick look at a few search terms on YouTube and its parent company, Google, is very informative. Searching the term “gay marriage” (which tends to be the most common term used although the LGBT community prefers the more accurate “marriage equality”), YouTube has over 6,800 videos uploaded in the past month, accounting for 17% of all relevant videos. On Google, the term yields nearly 28 million hits in the past week. For the same week (May 15 – 22) in 2011, the number was just over one million. Interestingly, that week also had big news, with a Gallup poll showing majority support for marriage equality for the first time. Searching related terms like “same sex marriage” and “marriage equality” finds smaller numbers but similar trends. For those of us on Facebook, the issue of marriage equality has become a dominant theme.

The intersection of gay rights and social media is no surprise. The LGBT community were early adopters, as isolated or closeted people found powerful new ways to build social connections. Age is also a factor. While interactive online sites and tools are hardly the unique province of the 18 – 25 set, younger users tend to be more embracing of and more deeply engaged in them. This same demographic is also more broadly supportive of gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular as well.

Social media also allow a broader sense of engagement with the stories, which allows topics that might not otherwise rise to national attention to go viral. Iowa student Zach Wahls wound up creating his own website to handle all the attention he received when he made an impassioned speech asking lawmakers to recognize marriage for his lesbian moms. Nerdy Apple, aka “Daphne’s Mom,” got the surprise of her life when a sweet post about her son dressing as a female cartoon character for Halloween got the attention of gay rights supporters and opponents both.

Even people in the news can benefit or suffer from exposure of their civil rights stands on YouTube. Former presidential candidate Rick Perry’s ad “Strong” — in which he opposes the active service of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military — has over 8 million views. Likes = 26,448; dislikes = 768,696. He also inspired dozens of parodies and responses.

Marriage equality is hot topic like never before. Strong popular (and Presidential) support is at odds with ballot box success. Upcoming votes in Maine and Minnesota and possibly Washington will either continue or break the trend. Whatever the case, social media and personal engagement in the story is finally driving a narrative in the “mainstream” media and that’s a good thing.

Wednesday Word of the Week, October 26: Epistle

26 Oct

Where is the SEND button?

This week’s word is EPISTLE

a piece of writing in the form of a letter

Over the past week, I have had two separate experiences which have caused me to ponder the value and relevance of written communication in the modern age. Both of these events are related to my work as a tutor for college students in the Boston area.

Although, at 29, I am barely a half-generation (at most) removed from most of the students with whom I work, the gap in communication strategies is wide. I willingly own a piece of this given my willful resistance to most social media, but as someone who participates in this online community and keeps in touch with many friends by email, I was surprised by how starkly the moments struck me.

The first event involved a conversation with a student about the novel Dracula. It was her first experience with an epistolary novel and she found the experience jarring. She understood the principle of writing letters and obviously knew that the Victorians had no email, but the art and value of letters as communication and persuasion was lost on her. Her entire context for communication was texting and occasionally exchanging emails. The results were immediate and the need for lengthy description and explanation was utterly absent.

Surely, she opined, the author was taking liberties with the form and no-one would ever have written letters like this in real life. This led to a fascinating discussion (and a good thesis for her paper, fortunately) about the very different requirements for communication in a pre-electronic age. Not only could weeks or even months pass between messages, but one party to the communication might well be in a place that the other would never see at all. This required a sense of description and a sensitivity to the information conveyed. It also meant that the writer of a letter had to reflect on his or her content in a way not required by modern communication tools. The result of the communication was INTIMACY

a close personal relationship; something personal or private that you say or do

not immediacy. Such reflection certainly prevented many of the consequences of thoughtless typing that we’ve seen in recent months.

The second event was a conversation with a student regarding his settling into life on campus. I asked, perhaps naively, how the transition from old friends and family to new acquaintances was going. He indicated that he hadn’t met many people outside of his roommate and casual classroom acquaintances because he was still so well connected with his friends from high school. This ought not to have shocked me, but it did. The prevalence of electronic communication (through a device always on one’s person) has evaporated the sense of DISTANCE

the fact or feeling that two people or things are far apart from each other

This student was accustomed to communicating frequently and consistently with friends by text and tweet. The physical distance matters to some extent, but the nature of the communication is not particularly jarring. Looking again at my own experience, things were quite different. I was certainly able to communicate with people via email, faster than the postal service and cheaper than the phone, but I had to be at a computer and had no expectation of an immediate response. That made electronic communication a poor second choice. As a result, I had to turn to the people around me for ENGAGEMENT

the feeling of being involved in a particular activity or group

I had left one home and was building an new community. That experience helped me mature as a person and develop new ways of thinking. The friends who remained from my life before college did so in new ways, reflecting their maturation and growth as well. Based on the conversation with the one student, I later discussed this with others whom I tutor. A significant percentage (not quite a majority) are at least as engaged with their pre-college friends as with any aspects of their new communities. This certainly provides a level of comfort and security, but it also stifles the valuable need to make the most of a new experience. One value of a college education is the development of coping and growth skills. How will people who have never truly needed to fully engage with a new environment succeed when thrust into a work situation that demands participation with new people? It will be interesting to see what employers are saying about this trend in three to five years.

Please do not misunderstand me. I believe that most modern advancement is a good thing. The abilities to maintain connections and receive rapid feedback can be worthwhile. I fear, however, that we are losing our sense of the art of communication. If all one’s friends are old friends and every message is a fixed length, where do we have room to grow as humans?

All definitions courtesy of Macmillan Dictionary Online.

The Perils of a Virtual Community: Take Three Breaths

18 Jul

The Perils of Social Networks

As a blogger and someone who participates in several social media networks, including Facebook, I have been able to celebrate camaraderie and people joining together in solidarity to work, via the keyboard, to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, I have also seen a darker side of humanity, where people seem to leave their manners aside when commenting, thus at times leaving a rather acrid taste in my mouth for human connection in a virtual world.

I am often surprised and disappointed seeing people’s comfort level leaving comments on people’s post(s) that are sanctimonious, disparaging, and presumptuous.  Existing in a virtual community also means that one often does not have the advantage of knowing a person’s background or history, nor does one have the benefit of hearing an accent, cadence, or inflection. I have seen this result in people commenting while operating without a full picture or context and in a very ungenerous manner.  I have seen people threaten others with: “Change the title of this post or remove it,” “Change the title of this post and when you do, I will remove my recommendation to hide your post.”  Unfortunately, even a group of people that purport to be interested in making the world a better place can get caught up in their own egos and fall into a mob mentality, resulting in bullying behavior that feeds off of itself. Here is a pair of related examples that demonstrate how immediacy of information in social networks can be either dangerous or beneficial: Chris Rock’s ill-considered Twitter defense of Tracy Morgan and the really quite wonderful Twitter response from Wanda Sykes.

Solution:

I wonder if it might be helpful for people (myself included) to take a few breaths when leaving a comment for another person. To keep in mind that we may not have the full context or backdrop for each person we interact with and it may prove beneficial to give each person the benefit of the doubt.  I wonder, if at times, it is best to say nothing at all, rather than say something ugly which you cannot take back. There is great power in social networks–in these virtual communities we have created, but there is also the equal power of damage and bullying that can occur.  I wonder if the anonymity of social networks gives voice to social bullying. Take three breaths.

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