Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Choosing Magis

Choosing Magis

Jeremiah Pennebaker
July 25, 2018

I am a proud two-time graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, both with a B.A. and a Master’s degree. Like many, college was a very formative time in my life. I met great people and made close friends. While Jesuit ideals and values were something completely foreign to me a few years ago, it was something that had been instilled within me since the first day I stepped on campus. My Jesuit education at Xavier has pushed me to be more reflective and better discern where my talents and efforts are most needed. It was at Xavier where I learned to walk alongside those who I struggle with and those with different struggles. I built relationships with people in multiple marginalized communities and if it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have the depth and understanding of injustices that they face.

It was at Xavier that I learned the values of engaging the uniqueness and wholeness of each person. I realized that I couldn’t just acknowledge the part of my friends that I relate to. I needed to be able to accept them for their entire identity. Because of my relationships with them, I recognized how they had often hid or toned-down parts of themselves when they stepped out in public. But because of my education and immersion into Jesuit values I realized that this was not the greatest good God had intended for them. There was more of themselves that was being unjustly hidden from the world, and that my alma mater needed to do more work to better live up to its own ideals.

For me to invest time, energy, and finances to this institution for 4+ years and not hold it accountable to the values that it taught me would be reckless and irresponsible on my part. So I knew that I had to push it to do more, to live up to its values of cura personalis: of caring for the whole person mind, body, and spirit. My Xavier experience wasn’t terrible; It wasn’t filled with discrimination, I didn’t have teachers who refused to help me, and I wasn’t forced to use segregated facilities. But that doesn’t mean that my experience wasn’t without hardship—particularly related to my identity. And it doesn’t mean that I should settle for the standard of “at least you get to go to a good school.” So we pushed for our alma mater to do more work around racial justice on campus, we asked for it to recognize and grapple with its history of human bondage, we pushed for a more comprehensive effort to create a culture of racial equity on campus.

As my time here at NETWORK comes to a close, I’m once again in a space of reflection and discernment. I’m trying to figure out my next steps and trying to figure out if I took the right ones while I was here. I’m once again asking myself if I pushed NETWORK enough, if I did my part in asking them to do more and holding them to the standards they set for themselves. How can we become an anti-racist institution? How can we move away from tokenization of people of color and towards empowerment of people of color? What is the more that we need to do to not be complacent as another White-ally organization? I would hope that I did my part in pushing this organization to do and be more.

Asking and pushing for more than what’s been afforded to us is what is needed in this complacent and complicit country. As a Black person I need more than good white people who wear pussy hats and safety pins, and who can recite Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes. I need people who are serious about dismantling white supremacy and racist institutions. I need people who are willing to fully grapple with what it means to divest from white supremacy and invest (physically, mentally, and financially) in full reparative practices. As a tax-paying American citizen, I need more than politicians who simply identify as democrats. I need more than representatives who justify their political affiliation by claiming at least they’re not a Nazi. I need Members of Congress who are willing to push for real policy solutions that will protect the most vulnerable in our society. This means validating those who are undocumented. Aiding those who work 40+ hours a week and can’t make ends meet. It means reinstating those who’ve had their rights stripped away because of racist, sexist, homophobic etc. laws. It means protecting those who face state violence on a daily basis. As a country we need more than just equality, we need full comprehensive equity.

We need to push for more, and not just accept what has been placed in front of us. Complacency and complicity have brought us to where we are now.  We have a government filled with white supremacists. Children are being stripped from parents and placed in detention camps. State officials are raiding communities and dragging people from their homes. I don’t believe in being either complacent or complicit in that. Especially in a country that I was taught is built on the ideals of liberty and justice for all. For me to invest my time, energy, and finances into this country, it would be reckless and irresponsible for me to accept anything less than what I was told I would receive – and same thing goes for you, too.

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Mary Cunningham
July 20, 2018

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas are just miles apart and yet they are worlds away. As you explore both, you notice the cities blend into one another: people living on one side, working on the other, Spanish and English spoken in both, and a shared industrial vibe. And yet, the cities remain two distinct realities – divided by a large border wall, 18 feet high in some places. People on one side are trapped by low wages, poor working conditions, violence, and persecution, and on the other trapped by their own minds and biases. But there is a deep inequality between the two countries, and, in the United States, an explicit denial of the experiences of people living south of the border – people most of us have never even met. It baffles me how a barrier can create not only physical separation, but a separation that is strongly emotional and visceral.

In early July I went to the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time. Working at a federal advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., I am constantly reading news about what’s happening at the border: people fleeing violence in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, debates on funding for the border wall, family separation, the list goes on. Despite this, I always felt a desire to go the border – to meet people and hear their stories. D.C. is geared towards engaging with immigration on a policy level, but it often feels disconnected from what’s happening on the ground. This trip was a chance to immerse myself in the reality of the border—learning about the working conditions for people on both sides, the process for seeking asylum, the experience of migrants, the conditions in detention centers, Customs and Border Protection, and more. It was a chance to learn, but also a chance to feel the impact of the border and the precise division it creates.

At the beginning of the week we helped serve dinner at Nazareth Hall, a shelter for migrants recently released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention centers. Although there was a language barrier, the stories of the people we served food to were written all over their faces. We noticed the timidity of the group as they entered the dining hall and the slight relaxation that took over as they realized they were finally in a safe place. One woman came up to us after dinner with tears in her eyes, holding each of our hands for a few brief moments, as she repeated, “thank you.” We also got a tour of Annunciation House, a shelter for undocumented immigrants started by Ruben Garcia. (This is one of the only shelters available for migrants who are undocumented.) Interacting with migrants who had just been released from detention was a grounding experience. I spoke with one man from Cameroon who had been detained for 18 months. When I asked how that was, he just shook his head despairingly, claiming, “horrible.” It was evident that the conditions in detention centers are deplorable. Many local advocates we met with told us “make no mistake: these are prisons.”

In addition to helping at local shelters, we met immigration advocates and attorneys such as Anna Hey, Deputy Director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS). Anna gave us an overview of the particular barriers facing migrants coming to the United States, explaining the snares they often get caught up in the legal process. Among all the things Anna shared with us, what stood out to me the most were the discrepancies between the number of people granted asylum from state to state, depending on where their case is heard. (In New York, New York the grant rate is 85%, while in El Paso the grant rate is a mere 6%.) Additionally, Anna noted how the whole “wait in line” argument is complete bologna. Some people applying for immigrant visas or Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) may have to wait over 20 years! Hearing about this and the lived experience of the clients Anna works with exposed the undeniable reality of our dysfunctional immigration system.

Towards the end of the week we crossed the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. While there, we visited the Bibloteca Infantil, “El Buen Pastor,” a children’s library started by Cristina Estrada. Cristina explained how the limited economic opportunity in Juárez dissuades many people from finishing their education. Maquiladoras (foreign-owned and run factories) are common in Juárez and many Mexicans – often multiple members of the same family– end up working in them. We talked to a representative from Foxconn (an electronics manufacturing company), who told us that the starting wage is around $60 a week. Broken down, that means that at least three members of a family would have to work to make ends meet. Recognizing that many Mexican young people see factories like this as their only path, Cristina’s mission at the children’s library is to provide a space for young people to learn, study, and grow. She provides books for students and helps tutor them so they are able to recognize the value of education and where it can lead them. When one of our group members asked Cristina what she hoped to accomplish, she replied with tears in her eyes, saying her dreams had already been fulfilled. Seeing so many kids achieve their educational goals over the years is her greatest accomplishment.

This immersion trip brought me many things, but perhaps among the most important was that nothing is more powerful than the power of experience. Some elected officials choose to paint the immigrant population with broad strokes, calling them criminals, drug traffickers, or burdens to our country. But how fair is that, when these are people just like us, who each carry their own pain, struggles, and joys? There are so many stories that simply don’t get heard, because we don’t have enough time or space to tell them. While I know this immersion trip and these stories won’t change immigration policy overnight, they certainly changed me. I find hope at the individual level, where the stories of each individual person we meet transform our hearts and minds and push us in subtle ways to see anew. As the Columban motto goes, “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.”

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Mary Cunningham
July 4, 2018

July 4, 1776: the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Since then, each July 4th we celebrate our nation’s freedom from an overbearing colonial rule and our fervent patriotism. We dress in red, white, and blue, enjoy cookouts with neighbors in our backyards, and watch from picnic blankets as fireworks erupt across the sky. Yes, the day has become commercialized, but the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as pertinent in our current political climate as they were when they were first written.

The document written by our founding fathers clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people. Thus, we see the intricate and fragile relationship that exists between the government and the governed.

Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we have do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what was meant by this term: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

The default on the promise of “inalienable rights” was evident during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and it is still evident today for people of color and all on the economic margins seeking to live freely in the United States. We see this in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, Congress’s failure to pass a Dream Act to protect DACA recipients, and state and federal attempts to impose work requirements on human needs programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. How do these political decisions enhance the life, liberty, or happiness of the people they impact? They don’t.

On a more personal level, we have begun to fail one another, as violent discrimination and exclusion continue to reign. Our nation has endured countless acts of police brutality and racial profiling. I am astonished on a daily basis by the attacks on communities of color, like the recent shooting of high school student Antwon Rose. If we set a standard that “all men are created equal,” shouldn’t we hold all people to that standard, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs?

A few days ago, one of my coworkers sent around a video from the show, Dear White People, to our staff. In the video, the character Reggie reads a poem he wrote for an open mic night—his rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal
that they are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights
Among these life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness
unless you’re loud and black
and possess an opinion
then all you get is a bullet
A bullet that held me at bay
A bullet that can puncture my skin
take all my dreams away
A bullet that can silence
the words I speak to my mother
just because I’m
other
A bullet – held me captive
gun in my face
your hate misplaced
White skin, light skin
but for me not the
right skin
Judging me with no crime committed
reckless trigger finger itching to
prove your worth by disproving mine
My life in your hands
My life on the line
Fred Hampton
Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd
Reggie Green
Spared by a piece of paper
a student ID
that you had to see before
you could identify
me
and set me supposedly
free
Life
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness
for some of us maybe
There’s nothing
self-evident
about it

The Declaration of Independence pronounced the individual rights that cannot be taken away. In 1776, that only included white, male landowners. After much hard work and sacrifice, we know that all people deserve these same unalienable rights. But, we see that as a nation today, we fall despairingly short of this. The words of the Declaration of Independence should not be an ideal or something that we aspire to. They must be the law of the land, the fabric which knits our country together. For if we cannot claim our freedom, what do we have left?

 

Not a Page in Your Handbook

Not a Page in Your Handbook

Garrison Mays
July 21, 2018

A few weeks ago, I took it upon myself to binge watch the second season of Dear White People, a series on Netflix. There was an episode where one of the supporting characters Lionel, a gay Black man, goes on a little adventure to find the right gay network where he can thrive and be himself. He goes through all the gay stereotype crowds: the Black gays, the theater gays, the overly sexual gays, etc. After his party hopping, he finds out that none of them accept him, regardless of the fact that they all share similar sexual identities. It should have worked out, right? Very wrong. Some people didn’t like Lionel because he wasn’t “gay enough,” others because he wasn’t “Black enough.” The list goes on as to why Lionel doesn’t fit other’s ideas of what he should be.

Like Lionel, I went to a Predominately White Institution (PWI) as an openly gay Black man.  However, unlike Lionel who had some sort of base network, I had a hard time finding a group  that understood and supported the three important attributes – my sexual orientation, my race, and my gender – that make me who I am.  In some groups, I got dumb questions about my blackness, and in others I got dumber questions about my gayness to the point where they weren’t inquisitive, but disrespectful.

Throughout my four years in college, it has been very difficult to feel 100% comfortable at this PWI. I have always bounced around from one white group to another, straight and gay groups alike, to better understand my place.  Lionel’s main network is made of thoughtful, smart, and decent Black people who don’t judge him by his gayness or his awkward blackness, but by his actions and the way he communicates. As my time was wrapping up at this PWI, I found a space that was judgement free with different types of people: straight, gay, Black, Latinx/Mexican, trans–all thoughtful and thought-provoking individuals that care about being inclusive and inquisitive about things that are unfamiliar.

I say all of this to say that Pride Month is a time for celebrating who you are. I for one bask in and appreciate this month so much as I try to find my place in this world that is just now coming around to the idea of the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing experience for me. I always try and fight the urge not to exclude a person because they don’t abide by the textbook or the website definition of what a queer person is. I’m not for everyone and vice versa–I understand that. But everyone deserves a chance to try and be comfortable in their surroundings. Happy Pride Month!

Garrison is a young chocolate smart-alec, who shares his opinion and wants to hear yours. He graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH in the spring of 2018 with a bachelor’s in marketing. He is excited to explore the opportunities that present themselves to him moving forward. He loves Beyoncé more than most, his favorite movies are The Incredibles and Reservoir Dogs, and you can find him lying in his hammock listening to the podcast The Read to decompress from people.

Juneteenth: A Celebration and Call for Freedom

Juneteenth: A Celebration and Call for Freedom

Jeremiah Pennebaker
June 19, 2018

“In its spread across the country and gradual supplanting of other emancipation celebrations, Juneteenth has always retained that sense of belatedness. It is the observance of a victory delayed, of foot-dragging and desperate resistance by white supremacy against the tide of human rights, and of a legal freedom trampled by the might of state violence. As the belated emancipation embedded in the holiday foretold generations of black codes, forced labor, racial terror, police brutality, and a century-long regime of Jim Crow, it also imbued the holiday with a sense of a Sisyphean prospect of an abridged liberty, with full citizenship always taunting and tantalizing, but just one more protest down the road.” – Vann R. Newkirk II, “The Quintessential Americanness of Juneteenth”

“What’s Juneteenth again?” I ask myself in my head because I did not want to admit out loud in front of my fellow interns that I didn’t know the meaning behind it. We were trying to figure out how to better integrate racial justice themes into our summer service locations. For the longest time my only connection to Juneteenth was an obscure Boondocks reference. Luckily for me there was another Black student in our intern small group who was able to explain what it was. “Juneteenth is the celebration of coming freedom,” she said.

“Coming freedom” tells us that freedom exists, but it is not here yet. The Emancipation Proclamation — the legislation that freed all enslaved Black women and men on U.S. soil — was signed into law on January 1, 1863. But like many things concerning the freedom and civil rights of Black individuals, the process was delayed. Juneteenth was established two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued Order #3 in the district of Galveston, Texas informing the residents that slavery was abolished and that the freed people should now operate under an employer/ employee relationship.

Over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news of liberation finally reached slaves in the southernmost parts of the country. Despite this, enslavement and mistreatment of Black people continued as slave owners took their slaves to the yet-to-be-unionized New Orleans, where emancipation was just folklore. There was no relief or instant jubilation as many might imagine; instead, some faced consequences if they celebrated too openly or tried to run away. This is evident in the account of former slave Susan Merritt in Leon Litwack’s book, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery: “Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ’cause they cotch ’em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ’em.’”[1] Although slaves were free in theory, they were not free in practice.

Coming freedom is the Black American Dream–the idea that we will be free one day as it has already been proclaimed. Growing up in the church I imagined that freedom was something similar to the idea of kingdom come. As my father would say, we stand on tiptoe anticipation for the day that we can lay our burdens down and rejoice in the presence of the Lord. But what I’ve also learned about kingdom come and coming freedom is that obstacles still lie between us and the freedom. Lynch mobs and police units still lie between us and the coming freedom. Protests and assassinations still lie between us the coming freedom. Colorblind classmates, coworkers, and Members of Congress still lie between us and coming freedom. But the hope within coming freedom and the jubilation of Juneteenth lies within the fact that regardless of what lie between us and coming freedom, it is still coming.

[1] What Is Juneteenth?

Questions to Ask Yourself for the 2018 Primaries

Questions to Ask Yourself for the 2018 Primaries

Mary Cunningham
June 14, 2018

With midterm elections rapidly approaching, it is time to start thinking about primaries. While certain state primaries have already passed, there are some that are just around the corner! Primaries are preliminary elections used to determine which candidates will face off for the general election scheduled for November 6, 2018. With a surge of new candidates on the ballots, particularly women, it is important to ascertain whether or not these candidates will implement the policies you care about if elected to office. So with all that in mind, what are the important questions you should ask yourself before voting in your state’s primary?

  1. How will the candidates lived experience and background contribute to a more nuanced and diverse Congress?

When you see photos of most Members of Congress you will notice a striking pattern: they are typically white, middle-aged men. Imagine what it would be like to have more diverse voices in our offices– people of different genders, races, and religious affiliations. Take women as an example: according to Vox, women currently constitute less than 20% of Congress. That boils down to just 22 female senators and 83 female representatives in a Congress made up of 535 people total. It’s even more discouraging when you look at the number of women of color in Congress. According to Axios, 30 states have never elected a woman of color to Congress. Instead of leaving it up to the men to decide, we need female perspectives on issues such as paid-family leave and childcare. There is hope in the fact that more women are running for Congress, but that hope will only be realized if we take the extra step and vote for them!

  1. What is the candidate’s approach to the importance of human dignity for all in local, state, and federal policies?

As Catholics we hold dear the belief that all people have an inherent dignity: rich or poor, citizen or noncitizen.  We do not get to decide whether or not someone is not worthy of love. In Pope Francis’s new apostolic exhortation he calls us to value the life of migrants as we would any other life. Multiple candidates for the midterm elections have come out with flagrant anti-immigrant agendas. There is no place for these egregious mindsets in Congress. We need elected officials who recognize that there is value in every human being and who will enact policies that allow all to reach their full potential. This means recognizing the plight of those who cross the border and the dignity of all people, not making unsubstantiated assumptions about them!

  1. How will the candidate respond to the most vulnerable members of their community?

Back in November, the Republican tax bill passed, promising tax cuts for the wealthy largely at the expense of the poor. The new law is estimated to increase the United States debt by over $1 trillion.  Almost immediately after its passage, Republicans pivoted and took aim at safety net programs. This can be seen in the recent efforts to introduce Medicaid work requirements, SNAP work requirements, and harsh policies imposed on those who receive federal housing subsidies.

In another blatant show of hypocrisy, several House Representatives voting for stricter work requirements and SNAP restrictions in the Farm Bill are themselves benefitting from the federal farm subsidies they will pocket if the bill passes. It’s one thing to claim to support the needs of your constituents, but it’s another to fight for policies that actually help them. Without access to federal assistance programs, many families will not be able to stay afloat. When casting your vote, ask yourself: can you rely on that candidate to protect the needs of people who are marginalized?

When voting for a candidate, it is important to be informed about their platform. Furthermore, as Catholics, it is important to make sure that the people we elect to office represent our closest held values—whether that be dignity of life, care for the poor, or others After all, these are the people that will be representing you and all you stand for over the next few years. That should not be taken lightly!

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

The Right to Vote: Then and Now

Claudia Brock
June 6, 2018

Every election my mom likes to remind my sister and me of the time we accompanied her to vote in the 2000 presidential election. At the ages of 4 and 6, we were convinced that voting was one of the most glamorous and exciting things an adult could do. After all, you had to be 18 and you got to have a say in who ran the country. On Election Day, my sister and I donned our finest tutus and costume jewelry to accompany our mom to the polls for this truly sophisticated event. Imagine our disappointment when we walked into our local elementary school’s cafeteria and waited as our mom went into the voting booth, only to head out the door five minutes later. I’m not sure what my sister and I hoped to see, but we were grossly unimpressed.

When I voted for the first time in the 2012 election, the experience was completely different—entering a voting booth at a local park pavilion felt plenty exciting. I had carefully researched all of the candidates on the ballot and even called my county election commission to make sure I could bring my notes into the booth with me. I took, and still take, my right to vote very seriously because not only do I help elect leaders I think will benefit my community, but I also understand that thousands of women fought for my right to be in the voting booth.

The Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits states and the federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex, was originally introduced in Congress in 1878 and was finally passed 41 years later on June 4, 1919 and submitted to the states for ratification. Suffragettes had marched, protested, and lobbied for the inclusion of women in the vote since the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York. For 71 years, these women built a grassroots movement, but they also were imprisoned, endured physical and sexual assaults, were disowned from their parents, and had their parental rights terminated as a result of their work and beliefs.

Despite their work for greater access to democracy, these women failed to address the dual oppression of racism and sexism faced by Black women. Suffragettes barred Black women from the movement and presented voting rights as an extension of white supremacy to make it more palatable to other white Americans. It was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory polling laws like voting taxes and literacy tests, that Black women secured the right to vote.

In the United States, those who vote have more representation than those who do not. This is a problem when you consider that there are still efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, including the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, strict voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, polling place intimidation, voting roll purges, and more. As I reflect on my first time voting, I realize my experience was ripe with privilege: I had the time and resources to go to the polls, my name was not purged from the voting roll, I was not asked to show ID, I was not harassed at the poll, and there were enough poll workers present so my voting lasted only 10 minutes.

Voting is a great step in reducing inequality of all kinds and achieving racial equity through public policy. It plays a large role in the allocation of government resources, who benefits from public policies, and the size of government. If you are able to vote, you should! You can register here. Around the anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, use your voice to advocate for voting rights to create a more perfect and inclusive union.

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Ramadan: Hungry for Spiritual Growth

Mehreen Karim
May 24, 2018

WHO: My elementary school teachers couldn’t fathom why a 9 year old kid would be ecstatic to wake up at unkind hours of the morning, only to begin a day long fast from food and water. Fourteen years later, my adult peers grapple with the same doubts when hearing that Muslims voluntarily fast and actually reap boundless pleasures and joys from Ramadan. As one of the foundational practices of Islam, all Muslims in good health (excluding children and those that are pregnant, nursing, ill, or menstruating), are required to participate in fasting during Ramadan. That’s at least a billion Muslims.

WHAT: Ramadan is one of the holy months in the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims fast from dawn till dusk every day of this month. By abstaining from food, water, and sinful behavior, Muslims devote their entire days to purging bad habits and implementing better ones. From a young age, I fell in love with Ramadan for its heart-changing virtues. I was, in fact, the 9-year-old that loved to rally her siblings at 5 AM to sleep-eat breakfast foods and chug glasses of water. And at every sunset, I was comforted by the sight of family coming together for the sole purpose of breaking fast and praying together—no questions asked—for thirty days.

WHEN: Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Historically, God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during the month of Ramadan.

WHERE: Muslims are fasting in every country around the world. You can find us breaking fast at home, a restaurant, or at any local mosque. Every night of Ramadan, communities come together at local mosques to provide a free dinner to all who wish to join. If you ever want to experience the foods, customs, and hospitality of Muslims during this blessed month, drop by a mosque near you at sunset!

WHY: Thirty days of restraining from food, and yes, even water, comes off as an unreasonable and often dreadful experience to the average onlooker. However, the physically challenging practices of Ramadan rarely compare in difficulty to the equally crucial practices of self-improvement and spiritual growth. Holding off on a staff lunch is a cakewalk (pun intended) in comparison to holding off from lying, backbiting, jealousy, greed, and every other toxic sentiment you may come by in a regular day. The mental challenge of fasting from one’s bad habits and inner demons is perhaps the most taxing, and therefore, the most cleansing form of self-restraint Ramadan enables. When understanding the “why” of Ramadan, one must correct a common misconception: to restrain oneself is not to deprive oneself.  Reward lies in restraint.

When fasting, we are dusting off our relationship with God— polishing it with the utmost attention to detail. We reflect on the crevices in our faith, noting that each crevice is proof that there is only ever more room to grow towards our Creator.  The greatest unsung truth about Ramadan is this– Muslims dedicate 30 days of the year to forging heights in our spirituality, expanding the bounds of our mental health, and living out our love for God in honest self-revelation.

Mama Knew Love

Mama Knew Love

Jeremiah Pennebaker
May 12, 2018

It’s a cool Easter Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky and family and friends have filled up this tiny house wearing everything from church clothes to sweatpants. It may be a cool 68 outside, but it is no less than 85 degrees in the house from the combination of body heat and the oven stuffed with fried chicken, baked beans, and my personal favorite: my granny’s mac and cheese. Granny calls me from upstairs to come and give her a kiss. She proceeds to do this every 30 minutes, and each time I hustle up the stairs and give her a hug and a kiss, she brags about me to the other grownfolks. It is a great day with great food and great fellowship.

A few weeks later on April 12th, 2011, my father’s 40th birthday, my granny died. It was all pretty blurry, but from what I remember she was over worked and had a stress related seizure. Granny was working several jobs and had recently taken in some of my younger cousins as a foster parent. She was taking care of her mother, my Nana, and still was saving up and storing things in layaway for me and my siblings. I knew this because she was already asking me what I wanted for Christmas during the Easter cookout. My Granny was doing a lot and when she died it shifted everything for my family.  It especially impacted my father to lose his mother in such a tragic fashion. He always remarks that she was the bedrock of the family and it shows as going back to Louisville has never been the same.

Fast-forward to 2018 and it’s a week from Mother’s Day, and I’m trying to figure out what gift I can get my mother, the new bedrock of the family. What gift can I give to the woman that of course deserves everything? What gift can I give the woman who got pregnant with me her senior year in college and decided to put her wants on pause to make sure that I had what I need? What do I get the woman who spent every dime she had to make sure that Xavier wasn’t pushing me out of the door after my freshman year? If I had enough money, I’d buy her a house and tell her to quit her job like all the newly drafted athletes do. But all I can afford to give her is a nice Facebook post, and maybe a coupon for a spa day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this predicament with Mother’s Day less than a week away as I write this essay. But I’m also sure that no matter what I get my mother, or whatever anyone else gets their mother, that they will love it unconditionally like they do every year. What I wish I could give my mother above all though, is simply some rest.

The shockwaves of my granny’s death continue to reverberate within my life, and I constantly worry about both my parents as many do, but specifically my mother because of all of the things that she is holding up. I can’t fathom all of the things that she is carrying on her shoulders, and I wish in some way that I could give her some rest so that she doesn’t burn herself out and I lose my mother too soon as well.

In my experience, Black women have been the foundation of many families regardless of the presence of fathers and father figures. This quasi-matriarchal type of culture is the result of the systemic separation and destruction of Black families through slavery and the justice system alike. While the longstanding impacts and results of these things are under constant debate, what I’m focused on is the impact this has on the psyche and the mental well-being of the Black woman.

It is widely know that stress can have many adverse effects on the body and overall health outcomes. Stress greatly increases the chances of heart disease and stroke, and can lead to heart palpitations, and depression in extreme cases. Being a woman in and of itself brings about stress. According to the World Health Organization, “Depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms and high rates of comorbidity are significantly related to interconnected and co-occurrent risk factors such as gender based roles, stressors and negative life experiences and events.” The stress of sexism, social pressures, and misogynist culture have dire effects on the mental health of women by simply existing within this patriarchal world. To continue to pile on race-based stress can kill Black and brown people almost as effectively as the criminal justice system. Situations involving racial microaggressions and/or violence can leave many with PTSD-like symptoms. Even the anticipation of a potential racial interaction can have physical reactions: “Just the anticipation of experiencing racial discrimination can be enough to cause a significant spike in stress responses. A study showed that Latina students who interacted with a person with presumably racist ideas showed an increased ‘fight or flight’ response with higher blood pressure and faster heart rates.” On top of the physical ramifications of this country’s capitalist, sexist, and racist culture and institutions, there are many more consequences for the mental wellbeing of its citizens.

May is largely about Mother’s Day, and rightfully so, but it is also mental health awareness month. Stress impacts people in poverty, women, and people of color, so imagine the impacts of those at the intersections. I can’t imagine the weight carried by people like my mother and my grandmother who hold onto all of these identities and history. I recognize my mommy as one of the strongest people I know, but for how long must she be strong? Why is it that she’s been put in a position that she needs to be this strong? Hopefully one day soon I too can tell my mother she won’t ever have to worry again. Because I don’t always need my mother to be strong, but I need her to be here.

Growing up with a Working Mom

Growing up with a Working Mom

Claudia Brock
May 12, 2018

My mom has been a working mother all of my life. When I was born my mom was working at a health sciences college in Omaha and in my baby book there are several photographs of me having some tummy-time on the floor of her office and of her rocking me in the on-site day care center. When I was in kindergarten my mom founded her own nonprofit, Concord Center: a mediation and conflict resolution center serving families, individuals, businesses, schools and community groups. In her office she has a picture frame with photos of my sister and me the year she started her organization: my early 2000s school picture featuring some missing teeth,  and a picture of my curly-haired, three-year-old sister.

Starting her own non-profit while my sister and I were young children meant creating a family-friendly work environment and flexible schedule were essential. My early memories include playing with my sister in my mom’s workspace, coloring on her whiteboard with dry erase markers, watching Disney VHS tapes on a small television in her office, and roller skating around her conference room table. My mom’s flexible schedule allowed her to pick me up from school and spend time with me in the afternoons. But I also have memories of accompanying my mom to meetings and attending day camp if my sister and I had a school holiday that could not be accommodated by my parents’ work schedule.

I feel very lucky to have grown up with a working mom. As a young girl I benefitted from seeing my mom as a boss, a leader, a collaborator, and a problem solver and learning that being a dedicated mom and an engaged worker were not mutually exclusive. I grew up around coworkers who respected her in both a professional and personal capacity. I am proud of my mom’s career and feel grateful that she and my dad always spoke about their careers as a way to share their gifts with the world, and as something tied to their own spirituality and concern for community- they had vocations, not jobs. When I envision my own future it always involves being a working mother.

While I so admire my mom’s accomplishments I am very aware that she had to make professional sacrifices to be fully available to my sister and me. In fact, it is a national trend for women’s careers to have family-related interruptions more often than men’s careers. These interruptions contribute to the gender wage gap and limit the number of women in top-level jobs.

As with most issues, the rights and privileges extended to working parents have a class and racial dimension. People who make more than $75,000 a year are twice as likely as those who make less than $30,000 to receive paid leave, with only 14% of workers in the United States having access to paid family leave. Balancing childcare and work often lead todifficult decisions for many families, and in particular African American families who, “are doubly penalized by lower wages and higher rates of parental labor force participation.”

The United States remains one of the wealthiest nations and yet the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers. In the U.S., 1 in 4 new mothers go back to work just 10 days after giving birth. So this Mother’s Day let’s ask policymakers for family friendly workplaces; for paid leave, flexible hours, and affordable and accessible child care in addition to making mom breakfast in bed- it’s the least we can do.