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Of Brexit and Bigots: The Dowager Countess Goosenberry Weighs In

27 Jun
The Dowager Countess Goosenberry

The Dowager Countess Goosenberry

The past three days have been nonplussing at best, as voters in the UK have decided to leave the European Union. I was fortunate enough to catch up with my dear friend, The Dowager Countess Goosenberry by phone. She was exceedingly animated during our conversation and I fear given to the drink again while we were talking. Here is an excerpt she has allowed me to share.

Michael, I must tell you that at first, I had no idea what Brexit was. In fact, I was talking with my dear son Tarquin ( still a lovely bachelor, ladies), and he cleared it up for me. You see, I thought Brexit was some new type of American breakfast sandwich. Michael, I mean no disrespect, but you Americans seem so bent on vulgarizing everything you touch. 

I hear a long pause. Countess, are you still there? Oh goodness, I fear we Brits no longer have the moral high ground, do we? Our departure from the EU, motivated out of ignorance, fear, and outright racism, seems to put us in the same category of Swiftian Yahoos. 

I must confess, I have not been a fan of the EU, but leaving it just never made sense to me. Then I started seeing that awful racist, Nigel Farage talking about UKIP. Well, Michael, at first, I thought he was making some deranged command for us all to take a nap … and Farage does tire me. Finally, my dearest Tarquin explained to me that Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) were pushing for the vote to leave the EU.

I hear a long and dramatic sigh from the Countess, when she resumes: Michael, I will tell you candidly, I did vote for David Cameron, which I regretted, and my Tarquin was quite vexed with me, but now I find myself having to actually defend Cameron. 

I have been both laughing at and feeling sorry for you over there across the pond with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, but now we seem to be the target of much similar, well deserved ribbing. It is all I can bear to have to look at Boris Johnson. As my Tarquin says, ‘Johnson is Donald Trump without all of the orange base makeup gone wrong.” Is there such a thing as an albino cheeto? Michael, can you tell me is it true that your Mr. Trump has appointed right wing Christian fanatics and homophobes, such as Michele Bachmann and Jerry Falwell, Jr? Oh my! Well, I do suppose we are not quite as bad off as you are there. 

My hope is that your country will learn from our mistake. While the dissolution of the middle class is real, and we have overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of neoliberalism, this is not a time to yield to fear and hate mongering and to racism. Indeed, your Mr. Trump seems to thrive and give voice to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. As you know, Michael, the wave of regret is currently washing over the population here about leaving the EU. I hope your Yahoo Doodle Dandy Trump and his live reality television campaign do not prevail. 

I hear ice rattling in a glass during another pause. Finally the Dowager returns. Do forgive me, Michael, but I must dash. I’m heading to my Scottish property for a bit of fresh air. Whoever thought the Scots would get politics right?! Best of luck with your election…

Black History Month 2016: Nina Simone

21 Feb

nina-simone2Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Simone would have been 83 years old today.  I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  Emeli Sandé credits Simone as one of her major influences

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means. The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song. The song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written specifically for Simone. Her version works simultaneously as a love song and a protest song, showing her emotional depth and complexity.

Sadly, it is painfully clear how much we still need Nina Simone’s voice and activism. I suspect she still inspires many of us. Happy Birthday to the national treasure that is Nina Simone.

Women’s History Month 2015: Kathleen Saadat

9 Mar

ksaadatToday I would like to honor my dear friend Kathleen Saadat. I have known Kathleen now for seven years. I think I am more in love with her as each year passes. I am exceedingly grateful to have her as a mentor; how perfect to celebrate her during Women’s History Month. Kathleen is the commencement speaker this year at Reed College.

Kathleen is a tireless worker for social justice, equity, and equality. Kathleen constantly looks at issues of intersectionality and works to remove barriers for targeted populations. Born and raised in Missouri, Kathleen moved to Oregon in the 70s. She attended Reed College and received her BA in Psychology there. She held several managerial positions with the City of Portland’s CETA Job Training Programs in the 1970’s and 80’s and held the position of Executive Director for the Oregon State Commission on Black Affairs immediately prior to her appointment by the Governor as Oregon State Director of Affirmative Action in 1987.  She managed the Youth Services arm of the Portland Urban League during the 1980’s.

Kathleen has worked in a wide variety of government positions and as an independent contractor. From 1997 until 2001, she was the Strategic Plan Coordinator for Multnomah County Oregon’s Department of Community and Family Services.  During that time she also continued work as a private consultant and trainer in the areas of human diversity and organizational development and as a motivational speaker. She has served as a Commissioner on the City of Portland’s Human Rights Commission and should also be recognized for her amazing work to fight HIV and help those impacted by HIV.

Kathleen is a member of Class VI of the Oregon American Leadership Forum, a 1992 Fellow with the Advocacy Institute in Washington DC and recipient of fellowship to Hedgebrook Women’s Writers Retreat and a member of the 29thStreet Writers. Her list of awards and accomplishments is too long to enumerate here but includes being listed as one of 100 Who Lead in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine, a Harvey Milk Award, the Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Award, and a lifetime achievement award from the World Arts Foundation in recognition of her contributions to the efforts to “Keep Living the Dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Kathleen is concerned with social and economic justice, what happens to our children, and with the issues related to world peace. More than just concerned, she lives and breathes social justice. She is both passionate and compassionate, willing and able to speak her mind clearly but also able to help people move along their own path towards understanding. Her desire for positive social change is only matched by her generosity of spirit. Although she has retired from the formal work force, her passion and presence continue to be felt in myriad ways as she channels her powerful voice through her own wishes and time. Truth be known, while she purports to be retired, I look forward to her next project towards social justice.

I am privileged to know and honor her. Kathleen continues to help me learn how to build coalitions and bring disparate groups together – thank you, Kathleen, with love and admiration!

Kúkátónón: Social Justice and Dance

7 Jan

Kukatonon 2015 Gala Save the Date 11_19.inddOver the past few years, one of my favorite regular events has been the Annual Gala of the Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe. This amazing organization, founded by the amazing Rolia Manyongai-Jones, blends heritage, social justice, health, and teamwork into a dazzling tapestry of motion and music.

The mission of Kúkátónón is “to inspire confidence, commitment and vitality among the children in the dance troupe; and to broaden awareness of African and African American cultural traditions throughout Oregon.” To these ends, the Troupe teaches children traditional dance and music, engaging them in cultural awareness. An awareness much appreciated by alumni and now present board member Lionel Clegg who reflects upon his time in the troupe: “there were no groups out there that celebrated African culture or taught us about our heritage.”

Currently, all of the troupe members are African, African American or multi-racial; all the dancers and most of the drummers are girls. Approximately 80% of the members are from low-income families. Kúkátónón is dedicated to addressing the needs of black youth in Portland and altering racial disparities through a holistic approach: dance, drumming, culture, art, and identity.

As an exciting, dynamic program, Kúkátónón also meets many needs of its participants. Afterschool programs are essential to keep kids safe, engage children in enriching activities, and give peace of mind to parents during the out-of-school hours. They also help improve students’ academic performance, school attendance, behavior and health, and support working families. More than fifteen years of research points to how youth who participate in after-school – and summer – programs demonstrate increased academic achievement, better school attendance, and have fewer disciplinary actions such as suspension and expulsion. Programs such as Kúkátónón also address improved social and emotional outcomes such as decreased depression and anxiety, reduction in risky behaviors, and improved health and wellness. I must confess, I so appreciate looking at Kúkátónón as a health equity venture. My hope is we will open larger discussions around racial disparities and health inequities and how we as a community can do more to support our youth of color.

Sixty-one percent of African-American parents say they would enroll their children if programs were available compared to 38 %of parents in general; 28% of African-American children have no adult supervision after school and are responsible for taking care of themselves during the afternoon hours. Kúkátónón fulfills a critical social justice mission in our community by helping meet these needs.

The need is especially acute for African-American girls. As noted in the Unlocking Opportunity Report,  these girls face significant barriers to educational attainment, including lack of access to quality educational opportunities; pervasive racial and gender stereotypes that affect the decision-making of school leaders and educators; discriminatory discipline practices that disproportionately push them out of school; high rates of exposure to sexual harassment and violence; juvenile justice system involvement; and lack of support for those who are pregnant or parenting while still in school. These systemic educational barriers and challenges produce life-long economic obstacles, such as limited job opportunities, lower earnings, and disproportionate representation among those in poverty. As a result, African American girls are uniquely vulnerable to a “School-to-Poverty Pathway.” By building skills in teamwork and collaboration while building self-esteem and confidence, Kúkátónón gives its students a stronger chance to overcome these obstacles.

The benefits of arts learning are both immediate and long-term. Students are engaged, animated, thinking and working together as they learn about art through art. Young people who are highly engaged in the arts are also more likely to thrive later on, earn higher grades, graduate from high school and college, volunteer, vote, and participate in politics at school and in their community. An investment in Kúkátónón’s arts learning program is an investment in the health and well-being of our children, and a unique cultural resource.

How can we help? I’m so glad you asked. It is really quite easy. Click here to donate and to look at Kúkátónón’s website. While you’re there,  don’t forget to buy your tickets now for this year’s Gala on Saturday, February 14.

Social Workers Helping the Mormon Church to Embrace the LGBT Community

15 Sep
Friend or Foe ?

Friend or Foe ?

My dear friend and LGBTQ ally, Jennifer Carey inspired me to write this blog article and gave me permission to share a part of her narrative.  Jennifer grew up in the Mormon church and she has witnessed first hand:

I have witnessed myself the public and familial shaming and ostracizing of gay children, siblings, friends.

I have been friends with Jennifer for four years now and she is an amazing and humble ally for the LGBTQ community. As Jennifer pointed out to me, “One of the great internal debates of the church right now is its attitude towards homosexuals.”

Helping the Mormon Church look at and reflect upon its attitude toward the LGBTQ community is Dr. Caitlin Ryan, a medical social worker and self-identified lesbian. Ryan recalls her disappointment and despair with the passage of Prop 8 as she witnessed how the Mormon Church revealed itself as the wealthy, homophobic political and machine it is.  The Mormon Church wielded so much political power and economic power that it had a huge impact on the passing of Prop 8.

Dr. Ryan connected with Dr. Robert Rees, a Mormon and a religion professor, to address the homophobia within the church. I would say this is a lot to unpack, because it means also unpacking hundreds of years of established misogyny. Now in 2014, six years after Prop 8, Rees is working with Mormon families at ways to embrace LGBTQ family members.  Rees is working with Ryan’s Family Acceptance Project. Sadly, too many Mormons found themselves in the untenable position of feeling that they have to either reject their family members or reject their faith.

While I am not a person of “faith,” I do realize that the LGBTQ community needs the support of religious communities, especially of those religions that have done great harm to the LGBTQ community.  The Public Religions Research Institute found that the Mormon Church was second only to the Catholic Church in its hostility towards the LGBTQ community.

We clearly have a long way to go regarding addressing homophobia, which is enixtricably tied to misogyny.  I am hopeful that the work of Dr. Ryan and Dr. Rees will help move conversations that create more space for different people.  If you know of any LGBTQ person that is expressing suicidal thoughts or feelings please contact the Trevor Project.

The ERA and Oregon

6 May

ERAToday I would like to address the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and Oregon.  My dear friend and social justice advocate, Nancy Campbell Mead, was kind enough to visit with me and talk about how the ERA benefits all Oregonians. I have known Nancy for five years and I am consistently amazed and grateful for her voice and dedication for social justice. Nancy stands in solidarity with those who face oppression. I was elated to learn that she has now taken up the torch for the ERA.  The message of equality for women is especially timely and poignant given that the House of Representatives just voted against equal pay for women.

Nancy, what will the ERA do for Oregon?

 The language of the proposed ERA is simple:

(1) Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on a count of sex.

(2) The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.

(3)  Nothing in this section shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution.

Equality for women is not currently expressly guaranteed in the Oregon Constitution.  Nor is it guaranteed in the federal constitution (The federal ERA, though passed in both houses of Congress, was only ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states; there is currently a renewed effort to get it ratified).  By passing the ERA we can make certain that Oregon women and girls have their equality written into the state’s constitution.  Twenty-two (22) states have ERA’s; Oregon does not.  Oregon women do have substantial protections through legislation and caselaw, but neither provide the security that the Constitution provides.  Both legislation and caselaw are much more “fluid” than is the Constitution; legislation and caselaw are constantly changing, but it takes a vote of the people to modify the Constitution.  Explicit constitutional guarantees of  sex equality provide legislators and judges a mandate to treat sex-based discrimination as highly suspect and provide the framework under which laws are written and court cases are decided.

How can we get this on the ballot for November of 2014?

 In order to qualify for the ballot we need 116,284 valid signatures by July 3, 2014.

We need everyone’s help NOW in making sure we have enough valid signatures to qualify.  With our statewide polling at over 82% support from Oregonians we know the ERA will pass if we get it on the ballot!

Here is how you can help us achieve this goal so all Oregonians have equality expressed in the constitution:

Volunteer:

Collect signatures, host house parties, speak to your organizations…  For more on how you can volunteer, email: Info@VoteERA.org

Donate:https://secure.c-esystems.com/voteera/donation.aspx

Nancy, what else would you like to share with people regarding the ERA? How is this a social justice issue?

Having an ERA in Oregon’s Constitution is important.  How important?  Just read these quotes from three of our nation’s leaders:

Former President Jimmy Carter:  He calls the treatment of women and girls “worse than any war we’ve had in history.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:  “If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment… I think we have achieved that [equality] through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered.  So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”   Nancy added that:  Bader Ginsburg was referring to the U.S. Constitution, but certainly the same argument can be made in favor of an ERA in the Oregon Constitution.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:   “Some people say, ‘It’s [the ERA] only symbolic,’” Clinton said. “Well, yes, but symbolism is important,  and it can also be a great message and even lead to actions that further equality, so I think if you can have that kind of debate here in this state [Oregon], you might be starting something beyond your borders.”  Nancy added that:  While I do not for a minute think the ERA is “only symbolic” I do agree with Clinton that “symbolism is important”.  Because it has been many years since any state has approved an ERA, Oregon passing a state ERA will hopefully serve as an impetus to get the federal ERA “rolling” again.  As Clinton said, we “might be starting something beyond your[our] borders.”

Having the Equal Rights Amendment in Oregon’s Constitution is important because it will mean future generations of women and girls can read our constitution and know that the people of Oregon believed that their rights were important enough to secure them in the constitution which can only be changed by a vote of the people.  The legislation and caselaw we currently have are generally good, but they are subject to being changed by the legislature or a judicial decision.  Expressly stated constitutional protections are much more secure.

I want to thank my friend Nancy for taking the time to visit with me and talk about the ERA.

Call to Action: Please click on the links above to get involved and stand in solidarity.

My Interview with Chris Christie

8 Feb

chrischristie_ap_img_0I was recently able to catch up with Governor Chris Christie for a brief interview.  While I want to be “fair and balanced,” I do worry that I need to be prepared for Christie to do a bit of sidestepping. 

Governor Christie, can you talk about what happened when Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she would not support your candidacy for President?

Yes, I will tell you! I told her she better be careful, or I Would Bust the Windows Out Her Car.

My, I see how that certainly would make people take you quite seriously. What about the allegations that you withheld Superstorm Sandy relief funds?

My management of money is none of your business!

Governor Christie, how do you wish to address the issues of your implication in the lane closures on the  George Washington Bridge?

Michael, what bridge doesn’t have troubled waters?

Governor Christie, can you talk about why you do not support marriage equality?

I am  so tired of all you people–you “friends of Dorothy” people

Governor Christie, what do you think of Speaker of the House John Boehner?

All I can say is: If only he had a brain.

Governor Christie, what would you say to those that are a bit fearful of the consequences if they do not support your presidential candidacy?  Is there a justified fear of further retaliation from you?

I would tell these good people they have nothing to fear but a final countdown.

While I had many more questions, Governor Christie reported in a mumble that he was in a hurry “to get out of this place.”

I tried to chase after the governor, but he was on a plane to go and visit Vladimir Putin.

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