Tag Archives: disenfranchised

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.

Happy Birthday, Octavia Hill

3 Dec
Urban living pioneer

Urban living pioneer

On this date in 1838 a British pioneer in housing reform, urban space, and social reform was born. Octavia Hill was the ninth child of a merchant banker and his third wife, an educator. Shortly after her birth, her father went bankrupt and the family began to rely on her maternal grandfather’s support. She ended her education at 12 and at 13 was accepted into a guild program for “distressed gentlewomen” –don’t you just love that phrase and the implications? When the guild expanded its program a year later, Octavia was put in charge of the children in the workroom.

She was so distressed by the poverty from which her charges came that she began to study the problem of urban slums. She also took on part-time work as a copyist for critic and philanthropist John Ruskin, and passionately shared her concerns with him. By her mid-20s she had become an expert on the laws Parliament had passed to reform living conditions for the poor and was convinced that the only way to change things was to create a new model for landlords. Ruskin purchased three cottages and put her in charge of the to implement her ideas.

In exchange for reasonable rent in a well-maintained building, tenants agreed not to overcrowd the home and to ensure that their children were educated and well cared for. Hill provided access to a number of after-school clubs and activities for the children. Her program included a weekly rent collection visit, during which her staff got to know the tenants, ensured that the building was in good condition, and verified that the rent conditions were met. Although she had a narrow view of social good that did not allow for self-determination, her true concern for the conditions of the working poor and regular visits to ensure the success of the next generation were an early form of social work.  While not perfect, I think it is worth noting how we see the early start of social work.

Recognizing the need for open spaces, she also advocated for protection of urban parks and green space. Her work in this area, combined with her pioneering ideas about housing reform, set the stage for great improvements in England that served as models elsewhere. She helped to found the National Trust and the organization that grew into the modern charity Family Action. Hill recognized that her work was a starting place. She famously noted,

When I am gone, I hope my friends will not try to carry out any special system, or to follow blindly in the track which I have trodden. New circumstances require various efforts, and it is the spirit, not the dead form, that should be perpetuated. … [more important will be] the quick eye to see, the true soul to measure, the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come – greater ideals, greater hope, and patience to realize both.

Very much the voice of a social worker!  Today, I hope all of us that are social workers respect self-determination while looking at the intersections of oppression.

Lech Wałęsa Done Drank the Tea

5 Aug

The Tea That Washes All Principles Away

When I used to hear the name Lech Wałęsa, I used to think of the words, courage, integrity, and social justice.  What happened? Well, it looks like our poor old Lech drank the Kool Aid Tea.  His disgusting support of Mitt Romney manages to undermine his legacy of fighting back against a corrupt Soviet Union and standing up for unions and the marginalized. A whole generation will be left with the bitter taste of Lech allying himself with a billionaire, anti-union, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-civil rights, homophobic, Chick-Fil-A eating white boy.

Is it any wonder that Solidarity (the group Wałęsa helped found) immediately distanced themselves from Wałęsa’s endorsement of Romney, so quickly as though they might be contaminated by the bitter brew of tea served up by the elitist Joe Stalin wannabe.

I’m not sure what has caused this fall from Wałęsa’s social justice principles and his dedication to giving voice to the marginalized, but I am sad that he is destroying a legacy for future generations and like many here in the United States is plummeting on the wrong side of history.

The Closing of Hull House: Sad Commentary on Our Times

28 Jan

Goodbye Hull House

Yesterday was a very sad day indeed. Hull House, founded by Social Work Pioneer Jane Addams, closed it’s doors.  In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams may well be best known for starting Hull House in Chicago.  Here is the mission statement of Hull House:

Jane Addams Hull House Association improves social conditions for underserved people and communities by providing creative, innovative programs and advocating for related public policy reforms.

Jane Addams Hull House Association provides child care, domestic violence counseling and prevention, economic development, family services, job training, literacy training, senior services, foster care, independent living, and housing assistance for 60,000 children, families and community members each year in communities in and around Chicago.

Hull House also advocates for social and public policy reforms and initiatives that impact the lives of the men, women, and children in the communities we serve.

Now after 120 years, Hull House is closed.  It would be delightful to say that Hull House closed because services were no longer needed–that poverty and discrimination had ended.  Alas, that is so far from the truth.  The truth is that the need for services continued to increase exponentially, but sadly funding for Hull House decreased at an even faster rate.

What doses this say about American Culture?  We are witnessing multi-millionaires spending millions and millions of dollars to run for President of the United States, but we as a culture put up no resistance to social services for the poor and disenfranchised being cut by 1% Republicans like John Boehner.  As someone who is currently getting his MSW, I am horrified that Americans no longer seem engaged in the battle against the inequitable  distribution of power and wealth.  We seem to have grown either amazingly stupid or apathetic  as our silence and non-action, or voting against our best interests supports an all white, heterosexual, Christian, male power structure.

I leave you with the words of Jane Addams:

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: March 24

24 Mar

Honoring Nancy Amidei

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Nancy Amidei. Amidei was actually brought to my attention by my friend and fellow do-gooder, Marla Moore. Amidei is best known as a social reformer and a, “relentless advocate for changing public policy to better serve the most vulnerable populations.”   I admit, I aspire to be the social reformer Amidei is currently;  I aspire to be a combination of Ida Tarbell, Amidei and Howard Zinn. Let us hope that more people will choose to give voice to the marginalized and disenfranchised–to help all of our brothers and sisters. Let us hope that the generations following mine will use their collective voice to drown out the ugly, bitter voices of bigotry and hate. Here is to speaking truth to power. To learn more about Amidei, click here.

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