Please, take your knee off my neck.


Many days, I find myself mesmerized by my daughter's brilliant eyes and vibrant confidence. She's enchanting, warm, and outspoken. I feel privileged to know her and love her. However, there are also many days I look at her, and far too often, think, "I am thankful that she does not look like me."


miro.medium.com

My daughter is biracial.

Even at three, we've already had many interesting conversations about race. Caroline sees herself as brown — dark brown. When we color our family, she picks the richest shade of mahogany and gleefully squiggles lines and circles to represent who she is. If you were to ask her who she looks like, she'll adamantly vocalize that she looks exactly like mommy, and is utterly confused by anyone who would say otherwise. It warms my heart that she views my skin as beautiful. And I agree. However, I constantly worry about the day when she realizes society feels otherwise.

Each day, I wake up fully aware of my brown skin. Every day.

I intentionally style my hair, walk, and speak, knowing how others might perceive me as a black woman while in the grocery store, at work, or in the gym. I am entirely aware of my race, as I've spent my entire life as an outsider. The token person of color in a world that is mostly white.

  • I remember being shown out of a craft store in elementary school as the shopkeeper screamed, "I don't want nigger children in my store."
  • In high school, I reported that I was raped. The white man, whose sperm was found inside me, denied touching me. The detectives told me he was innocent and called me a liar. At that moment, I recall feeling powerless and worrying, "What's the point of crying for help? Because, as a black woman, society will always value his words over mine."
  • In college, I remember having to console friends after a swastika was carved into a classmate's dorm room door at Miami University.
  • As a young adult, I've heard too many times to count, "You're really pretty… for a black girl. But I can't date black women."
  • As an adult, I worry about the day when I may be stopped, in my mostly white neighborhood, not because I did anything wrong, but simply because I look like I do not belong.

Now, before you draw your eyes away from this message:

  • If you have turned on your TV and only see a mob instead of protesters — this message is for you.
  • If you have shrugged your shoulders at President Trump's tweets as "not that bad," — this message is for you.
  • If you've replied to reading "Black Lives Matters" with "Well, White Lives Matters too," — this message is for you.
  • If in those quiet moments in your home, you've thought, "But I'm not a racist. I don't see color." — this is for you.
  • If you have watched the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park and thought, "I could never be her," — this is for you.

To my white friends, family members, and neighbors — this article is for you.


miro.medium.com


November 9th, 2016, I woke up with swollen eyes that were still stinging from hours of crying. The type of cry where your entire body aches and you simply feel worn — even hours after finally managing to catch your breath. I was sitting in our newly painted nursery, staring at the light yellow walls, and reflecting on the news of the day — Donald Trump Wins the 2016 Election.

I'm not writing this as a political statement — but as a plea to be heard. As it would merely be irresponsible of me to not mention the pivotal catalyst for my more vocal advocacy over the last several years.

I write this as someone who has defined her political views as conservative. I've worked for Republican leaders and have spent the majority of my adult life voting for and supporting candidates who believe in free enterprise and less government intervention in the lives of everyday Americans. Which, frankly, is all the more reason why I'm sharing these thoughts.

The 2016 election was devastating. It was devastating because I genuinely believed that it was impossible for someone who flooded the airwaves with so much hate could then become the leader of the country I love. A person who continues to falsely claim five young black men known as the "Central Park Five" are guilty of sexually assaulting a jogger in 1989, who is okay with continuously sexually assaulting women, and who belittles immigrants from "shithole" countries.

Like me, President Trump descended from immigrants. However, his continuous statements about immigrants from mostly black and brown countries are repugnant. It's hard not to be offended when the President of the United States says that my parents didn't deserve the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, like his, simply because of their country of birth.

Nevertheless, as I reflected on this new era, that we as Americans were about to venture into, I blamed myself.

The struggles of victims of violent crimes, immigrants, women, and people of color are real, and our voices need to be heard. However, I sat there crying and thinking, I did not do a good enough job sharing my experience as a human. I cried, thinking perhaps if I had more conversations that were open about my life and my experiences, maybe others would have a heightened sense of empathy and awareness for people like me.

As irrational as it sounds, I blamed myself.


miro.medium.com


With Caroline in my arms and only a few days old, I promised her I would not remain silent. I would be fearless in the face of adversity, and I would leverage every tool I had to be a better and more vocal advocate for myself and others. I promised her I would do everything I could to change the world. I promised this to my firstborn child, hoping that her experience as a black child would be better than mine.

We are approaching the four-year mark of this promise, and last night I had another one of those cries. I believe my therapist would say this is good, as showing tears and anger is not one of my strengths. Nevertheless, it was another night of hyperventilating and hot tears as I realized we have so much further to go.

The dismissive and indifference highlighted by some of my friends and family members who continue to look the other way when it comes to people of color, victims of violent crimes, and immigrants must stop. I need you to take a moment to understand what it feels like to walk in my shoes, in my daughter's shoes, and in #GeorgeFloyd's shoes.

  • I need you to acknowledge and take the time to understand what is at the core of our anguish and concerns.
  • I need you to realize there are systemic injustices that black and brown people face every day in our country.
  • I need you to understand and acknowledge institutionalized racism exists.

The issues listed above impact us all.

However, how can it be that a photo from 2020 can look like a photo from 1967? How can you then look at the humans marching in America's streets and dismiss them all as foolish thieves?

Do not let the small number of individuals who are using this moment and demonstrating violence as an easy excuse to dismiss the pain and injustice of an entire community. We are expressing raw anguish because we continue to share our stories, and we are not being heard.

You've told black athletes to stay in their lane. You've told black comedians to focus on jokes. You've mocked black politicians who focus on race as a public health crisis to look elsewhere.

I ask, who is supposed to speak out about our plight, and when will you hear us?
  • Imagine being a young black girl and receiving harsher discipline at school because you're perceived to be unruly, loud, and unmanageable. #BlackGirlsMatter
  • Imagine what it is like to go on a run and die because you don't look like you belong. #AhmaudArbery #LivingWhileBlack
  • Imagine what it is like to be violently assaulted and being accused of making it up. #SophiaFifner #MeToo
  • Imagine what it is like to be unfairly convicted of a crime that if you were just a few shades lighter would be a misdemeanor #FerrellScott
  • Imagine what it is like to be black and to die simply because you exist. #BreonnaTaylor

People who look like me are living with this injustice every day, and we are tired. The only difference between me and the protester's face you see on Fox News is that our anguish is released in different but equally valuable forms.

I have the privilege of access to health care, education, and resources to channel my frustrations through volunteerism, legislation, and countless therapy sessions. However, my plight is no different than the faces of the black and brown people you see on your screen. I am them, and they are me.

We are both living in a world where, whether we take a knee or protest in the streets, our concerns are not being heard — and we can not breathe.

I realize every person's journey for understanding humanity takes different shapes in forms. Some jump headfirst completely embracing words and phrases like #blacklivesmatters, intersectionality, and implicit bias. However, for others, you may need a more gradual approach.

For those who need a more gradual approach, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Actively listen more than you speak
  2. Admit your bias and check your privilege
  3. Learn with intentionality to understand people who do not share your same experience.

Change cannot happen in a vacuum. I refuse to live another 50 years, waiting for justice. I refuse to silently sit by waiting for you to listen. Therefore, I'll close with this simple ask.

Please, take your knee off my neck and help me breathe.


This article originally appeared on Medium. You can read it here.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less