Take Down That Flag

by Chrysula on June 26, 2015 in defining,listening

Black Lives MatterA friend just posed a question on social media, asking for views on the Confederate flag. As a foreigner but long-time US resident I view the flag as completely abhorrent; mostly because when a group of people consistently tell me that their blood has been shed both historically and in the present in the name of that flag, I believe them.

It actually doesn’t matter if some don’t think it’s a racist symbol and that it’s part of their history, when a significant group of people feel their very lives threatened by what it represents. What it has BECOME completely trumps what some perceive it to have been in the past.

The flag doesn’t take away the core reasons behind the horrific shootings in Charleston last week. Racism. The word makes white people uncomfortable. “Not I” we say. However, just like the flag, it actually doesn’t matter if we don’t think we are racist, or that the past is the past, when a significant group of people feel their very lives are under attack. It’s time we believe what our brothers and sisters of color of telling us.

charleston-victims-nine

I beg you to check out this Systemic Guide to Racism.  Rewind a few times at min. 2.21, pay attention to the practice of “red lining” and stop telling me African American communities don’t want to work, are criminally minded and ‘do this to themselves.’ No really. Right now, and watch it twice!

Friends, we’ve got to get out of our echo chambers. We’ve got to listen to the keen of agony and pain that is tearing at the fabric of African American communities and white people have. to. get. involved. HAVE TO.

Here are some places to start from women I love, trust and deeply admire. There are MANY more.

  • On Charleston, forgiveness and black pain. ~ Luvvie Ajayi
  • On having a conversation, a simple place to start. ~ Gabrielle Blair
  • Talking (or not) about racism from the pulpit. ~ Kelly Wickham
  • A white person’s take on ‘otherness’ and how it’s made her think about racism. ~ Allison Czarnecki
  • Getting to the nitty gritty of how to tackle racism. ~ Kelly Wickham

In the meantime, we can’t all attend the viewings and funerals of those murdered in Charleston. However we can pay our respects virtually, as thousands did in person at the South Carolina state house for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

P.S. When people say “black lives matter”, remember the rest of the sentence. What that phrase means is black lives matter just as much as white ones. When you say “but all lives matter” you are demonstrating you are not listening. No one is saying for one minute that all lives don’t matter. People of color just want to ensure that their lives matter as much as yours and mine. I for one, am damn sure they do.

 

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart here.

{ 5 comments }

Be Still My Soul

by Chrysula on January 4, 2015 in dreaming,life,mothering,social good

When my grandfather died, my three brothers and I sang at his funeral. My grandfather was a professional singer and had a divine voice, well suited to liturgical music. He would have been a little critical of our diction no doubt – getting those consonant endings crisp enough was a pet peeve. We acquitted ourselves in our parts well enough, until three of us broke down in tears. It came to my youngest brother to hold the piece together with these words, “When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past…”

Sixteen years later, these words never fail to bring me to tears and remind me of the great power to be found in quiet and stillness.

BeStillMySoul

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Sydney

This past year (or ten) stillness has been very, very elusive. I thrive on accomplishment, on ambition, on getting a lot of things done. I’m a natural multi-tasker and find my satisfaction in knocking out to-do lists and operating at full throttle. 2014 was an extraordinary year for me.

I had some bucket list experiences like:

  • being able to take my family to Australia and work down under for a few weeks covering the Y20 Summit and International AIDS Conference
  • curating and project managing the Global Moms Relay to unlock matching funds from corporate partner Johnson & Johnson, for three UN Foundation campaigns benefiting mothers, girls and kids — MAMA-Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, Girl Up and Shot@Life ($300,000 was raised for the three campaigns in a digital relay that ran from International Women’s Day to Mother’s Day with contributors like Annie Lennox, Victoria Justice, Toyin Saraki, Monique Coleman and Arianna Huffington)
  • collaborating on social media strategy for EngenderHealth’s “Where’s the Family Planning” campaign (#wherestheFP)
  • curating “Blogust” for global vaccines campaign Shot@Life that led to 60,000 vaccines donated by Walgreens
  • being called by my church community as the Stake Public Affairs and Community Relations Director for a chunk of south-east Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York
  • and being chosen as an International Reporting Project Fellow to Mozambique, reporting on global health issues around vaccines, HIV and AIDS, girls education, maternal health and community impact

But 2014 also almost did me in. I ended the year depleted in energy, spirit and health. I was running on empty. It’s taken me several days, some binge movie watching, not enough sleeping in, and a lot of snuggles and games and time with my family to regroup to the point of coherence. In searching for my guiding theme for 2015, I knew instinctively my word, my mantra, my focus, had to be to reclaim stillness in my life. 

I need more stillness to hear and feel the presence of the divine. I need more stillness to see the hearts of my loved ones, especially my Beloved and our children. I need more stillness to find the best and most creative solutions for my clients. I need more stillness to find the joy I know and believe is the purpose of life. I need more stillness to see and act on the needs of those around me — near and far, great and small. As I reread the words of the hymn I sang with my brothers at my grandfather’s funeral, I need more stillness so I can go out into the world with substance to share and contributions to make.

IMG_7817

The tactics to find the stillness my soul craves are not new, to me or to you. But they are essential. Daily prayer and study from words that matter, meditation, a life generally free from refined sugar, back to my running and swimming, and some simple extras like singing in my church choir more often, reading for pleasure for a few minutes each night before sleep, focused playtime with my family (scheduled if there’s no other way!).

My eldest becomes a teenager this year. My youngest moves into second grade. We have the next twelve years jam-packed with milestones, and then they will all be gone. If I don’t infuse those years with moments of noticing and being present, I will miss the whole thing.

This post joins a series on reflections of the past or hopes for the future

 

Be Still My Soul, Text: Katharina von Schlegel, b. 1697; trans. by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart here.

 

{ 3 comments }

Since coming back from Mozambique a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been asked over and over, “How was it?” It’s a question I’ve never known how to answer because you simply can’t parse complex experiences, people and their stories into a quick sentence. I landed on a mantra of “it was amazing and complicated and depressing and inspiring and frustrating and beautiful and enraging and full of hope and optimism — all the things, all the feelings.”

I witnessed, as I have so many times in my life, the stark constrasts between wealth and poverty, between knowledge and ignorance, between opportunity and obstacles. I kept coming back to a single question — when are the mothers of Mozambique going to get angry? Behind that question is my firm belief that when people have information and knowledge about how things could be, about what their rights really are and how far their leaders are from keeping the promises of those values and rights, righteous anger and democratic process can change societies.

I’ve been mulling on that belief as I consume so many traumatic stories from around the world. I am an optimistic person. I rarely experience depression. I am resolute in my conviction that despite evil and hardship, the world is a truly wonderful, hopeful place. It is filled with good people, mostly trying to do the right thing.

And yet these past few months have been crushing.

Seeing Color

One thread running through some of the world’s toughest stories is racism. There is no such thing as color blindness when it comes to skin. We can pretend all we like that we don’t see difference, but society doesn’t play by the same rules. With recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I am intent on listening, learning and paying attention to the stories of black America.

I’m learning from brilliant writers, many of whom I get to call friends. But there’s one lesson I didn’t need them to teach me because I’ve known it for such a long time. When someone tells you they are hurting, you believe them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think they should hurt. It doesn’t matter if you completely disagree with how they express that hurt. It is a basic human desire to be seen and heard. And believed.

When I was giving birth to my third child, I kept telling the medical staff that I felt the need to push. In their minds, the last time they’d checked me I was only dilated 4 cms and it was too soon. Finally I got in the attending doctor’s sight line (because he would not look at me), and inches away from his face I begged, “Why won’t you believe me?” He immediately packed up his things and left the room. I knew exactly what was happening inside my body. I just needed someone to hear me so I could get the right support to deliver my baby as safely as possible. I ended up giving birth to that child alone. When help finally did arrive, it was awkward and honestly a bit useless. When my baby emerged, I roared, scooping him up and demanding “give me my child!” because all trust was gone. I hadn’t been heard.

Being Heard

When friends of color tell us racism is real and they experience it on a constant basis, we have to believe them. When black co-workers share they are frightened for their children, especially their sons, we must hear them. I don’t for one minute agree with or condone the raging and looting in Ferguson. But when you’re pushed and pushed and pushed again, and no one will believe you, it explodes. Many communities have experienced moments where frenzied youth decide to smash windows and burn cars – often over matters like a sports team win or loss, or pumpkins. I have no words for the vitriol and hatred I’ve seen in my social media channels against black youth doing those same things because they are sick and tired of not being believed. They are sick and tired of not being heard.

We must challenge our filters. We must examine our biases. Do we have friends with skin colors of hues not the same as our own? Do we have friends of different political and social persuasions? Do we have friends with varied religious backgrounds? Do we take in information from news sources we don’t agree with? We can and must do better at seeing, listening and hearing each other. We must not only start seeing color, but we must call it out when we don’t.

Please don’t respond to this essay with “but what about black on black violence?” unless you’re truly ready to grapple with why it exists in the first place. Do you really think black communities in this country aren’t heart-sick and weary of dysfuntion and senseless violence in certain neighborhoods? Do you really think mothers of color aren’t grieving when their children are shot by other members of their community ? Do you really think those communities aren’t doing everything they can to try to solve these crises? The issues are interconnected, deeply rooted in history, and until there is more listening and hearing and believing, we cannot ever be the truly equal and free society America claims to be. Don’t post quotes from Martin Luther King calling for peace and love, unless you’re also willing to acknowledge he died a violent death for daring to believe black men and women were equal to white men and women.

As I answer those asking how my recent trip to the third poorest country in the world was — a country decimated by the racism of colonial past and a civil war egged on by external players interested only in preserving white supremcy — I echo those same sentiments for the state of race relations in my beloved America. I am angry, I am hopeful, I am frustrated, I am encouraged, I am heart-sick, I am learning, and I am ultimately optimistic that as we start hearing and believing each other, we can change our society. We can change all the things. All the feelings.

Recommended reading

Kelly Wickham, 13 Essays on Race, especially Explaining White Privilege
Kristen Howerton, Why the lack of indictment for Mike Brown’s shooting is a devastating blow.
Heather Barmore, Why Don’t My White Friends Talk About Race? Here’s What They Told Me
Rebecca Woolf, Protest is Exactly What We Need
Amy Mascott, Something has to change, and it must start here – with you and with me.
Jennifer Borget, Police and Black Men Are at War, and the Two Men I Love Are on the Battlefield
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
K J Dell’Antonia, Talking About Racism With White Kids
Jamie Utt, 8 Things White People Need to Know About Race
Denene Millner, 12 Year Old Shot By Police. No Safe Place For Black Children.
Important links via Gabrielle Blair, on getting a job, being 21 more times likely to be shot by police, or shopping while black.

Compelling viewing

4:15pm 11-28-14 Edited for minor punctuation and grammatical corrections.
5:55pm 11-28-14 Edited for additional recommended reading.

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart here.

 

{ 5 comments }

It has been too long since I’ve been under an African sky. More than 25 years have passed since last I breathed in this amazing continent. I left her with South Africa still under apartheid, AIDS unheard of and the Mozambican civil war endlessly raging.

DSC_0367 Veronica with her youngest child in Boane.

 

Most of us think we know the narrative of Africa: corruption, poverty, starving children, dying mothers, AIDS epidemic, warlords and dictators. There is truth in each one of those words, but they paint only a portion of the story. It’s easy to forget that a continent made up of 53 unique countries and island states cannot be labeled in a singular fashion. Within each one of those nations are regional and tribal communities with their own rich sub-cultures, languages and traditions. In Mozambique alone there are 43 languages and dialects spoken. There is another set of words: resources, music, wildlife, faith, community, love, growth, democracy, booming, excitement and passion: each equally truthful. In Mozambique these past two weeks, I’ve seen evidence of them all.

DSC_0361 Two of Veronica’s five children in Boane.

 

The last time I was in this part of the world, Mozambican refugees were regularly crossing Kruger National Park, a massive game reserve in the north east of South Africa. The only way these families were making the news was when they were attacked and killed by lion. South Africans ignored the civil war between rivals Frelimo and Renamo, most ignorant to the fact that the South African government was supporting Renamo to destabilize the Mozambican ruling party. Frelimo had taken power in 1975 after the Portuguese left the country stripped bare in the name of independence.

Initially under a Marxist government, the country moved to a democratic multiparty system in 1989. Renamo became a political party and peace was finally negotiated in 1993. Frelimo still dominates and has won every election since independence. Streets named Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Karl Marx are just some of the remnants of the country’s socialist past. Colonial architecture meshes with design from the early 70s and modern (mostly Chinese) shiny construction. Down the street from my hotel Chinese investors are building a massive stadium and casino complex. In sharp juxtaposition across the road, locals sell wooden carvings and fabrics.

IMG_7381 Mozambican batik fabrics

 

It’s a cliché to talk about the changes, and perhaps even more of a cliché to talk about all that hasn’t changed. Mozambique is still one of the world’s poorest countries. Recent mineral and natural gas discoveries, combined with the longest coastline of any single nation on the continent make this an enticing place for foreign investment, especially now that the government has shown some stability in recent years. Still, it’s estimated only 8% of the country’s budget goes to social services. 124,000 Mozambican children under 5 years are still dying each year and it is consistently towards the bottom of Save the Children’s list of worst places to be a mother.

I’ve been sharing the stories of mothers and their children in the developing world for three years now. But this is my first chance to be a witness. Mozambican families face a staggering range of problems. Malaria, HIV AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea, pneumonia and cervical cancer are just some of the big killers. Health services are generally free, but mostly funded by donors. There are service quality challenges, overwhelmed and grossly underpaid medical staff and still so many without health care at all.

DSC_0048 Felismina and her daughter at the Moamba Health Clinic. She walked three hours to get there.

 

In the almost two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve talked with countless mothers.  They all work incredibly hard. I am in awe of their strength, of their patience, of their endurance. But burning through my mind is a pivotal question: when will the mothers of Mozabique get angry? I am waiting for the day when they loudly demand more of their government and society. This country has a big future, as long as government leaders remember they serve the people.

Africa is rising and it is a thrilling time to be here. I am convinced more each day that the voices of her mothers are the key in determining which direction she goes.

I am in Mozambique as an International Reporting Project (IRP) fellow, covering global health stories with a team of journalists from all over the world. Follow the whole conversation on Twitter and Instagram at #IRPfellows or see our collective reports here.

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

 

 

{ 6 comments }

I’ve had four opportunities to test my body’s limits and be the co-creator of new life. Four chances to bring a child into the world, four first breaths, four beginnings. With each birth, I learned more about what I was capable of, and with each birth, I found power, courage and voice.

My eldest child, the one who birthed me as a mother, came on the first anniversary of 9/11. It was a hard day to be a New Yorker but after laboring for 15 hours (through a Soho dinner, a midtown meeting, long walks on the Upper East Side and the taxi ride from hell the night before) she finally arrived with her fist in the air declaring her girl power!

11956823375_ced1dc6c15_z

In the process, I received wonderful care. But I also felt pushed around and a little bit frightened to speak out about what I was experiencing. I wanted natural child birth, but I’d been awake for 40 hours and laboring for 12. My blood pressure crept up a little and the attending insisted on an epidural *, which I did not want. As a result, labor dragged on for another 3 hours. I vowed next time to listen to my body and speak up.

With my second child I went into labor at church and promptly insisted we would walk the 1.8 miles home through Central Park back to our apartment. I labored against trees and storefronts on a hot Sunday evening and delayed hospital for as long as I could. Another taxi ride from hell (a running theme when you have babies in big cities?) thumping over pot holes and praying traffic would magically dissipate. Twenty minutes after shuffling through the hospital doors, baby girl was in my arms. No one had time to tell me what to do!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My third was another experience in not being heard, but boy, did I find my voice. From the moment we arrived until five minutes after his birth, the attending physicians ignored everything I knew about my body. To be fair, labor and delivery was packed to overflowing. But I now knew that once dilated, my body moved fast. 45 minutes later I ‘caught’ my son, by myself (I’d sent my husband out for help) behind a curtain in a triage room with eight other women. I had dilated from a ‘four’ to a ‘ten’ in 40 mins. The registrar who’d repeatedly ignored me when I’d told him what would happen was completely gobsmacked (yes, that’s a technical term). When my son took his first breath, I reached down and roared in a loud mama bear voice, “give me my child” and wouldn’t let anyone near him for hours. Body listened to, voice finally heard — check!

11857320984_57bf3199b7_z

Finally my last son, a much wanted miracle after a couple of miscarriages (one particularly tough). I gave birth with midwives, in a bright beautiful room larger than my Manhattan apartment. Beloved was sadly 2,100 miles away at the time (our son was a few days early), but my mother was Beloved’s eyes and hands via speaker phone! As I went from a ‘five’ to a ‘ten’ in five minutes (yup, you read that right), everyone listened. Everyone trusted I knew exactly what I was talking about and calmly went about supporting me as my baby arrived into the world.

1947_62356581904_5440_n

With each birth story, I was born a mother all over again. I also found my voice. Strong and clear and loud and present.

May is the month of motherhood. My friends at Every Mother Counts are fighting every day for all mothers to have the right to be heard, the right to decent pregnancy care and safe births. Every two minutes a mother dies from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Instead of a 20 minute taxi ride across bumpy Manhattan streets, many women walk for hours to a clinic, or are thrown around the back of a truck that scales massive ditches over the miles it takes to reach an emergency care facility.

You can take two simple actions to help prevent unnecessary maternal deaths.

  • Upload two photos
  • Donate two dollars
  • Share two facts
  • Run two miles
  • Buy two gifts

You’ll find them all here. Add your voice for all mothers everywhere.

Chrysula-Signature

 

 

 

 

xo

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

* I am not against epidurals. But I am for being listened to!

{ 2 comments }

When Mandela Asks, You Say Yes

by Chrysula on December 6, 2013 in dreaming,reforming

In October 1990, just a few months after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela toured the world to thank those countries and people who agitated for his release and the end of apartheid. One of his stops was at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia, for an non-denominational service where he captivated the packed church with his humility and dignity.

My brother and I lined up with a thousand others to greet this man and were able to have a brief moment with him. Just a man, Not perfect. And yet oh what he taught us.

A few years prior, in 1986, I’d lived in apartheid South Africa. It was a time of great violence and tension. Even as a seventeen year old exchange student, I could sense the change that was coming. The cracks of the old regime were widening. Most of what was really happening was censored. In fact there were events that year I only learned about after I returned to Australia. I was fortunate that one of the families I lived with were deeply involved anti-apartheid activism. In the darkened room of an artists’ commune in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, my host sister and her partner would carefully share underground newspaper articles and stories, teaching me about the other side of South African politics during weekend visits. On Mondays I would return to my wonderful, but very sheltered girls school in Pretoria. I recall a bold newspaper printing an issue that showed, with large blocks of blackened text, just how much of their content had been deemed incendiary by government censors. Almost three-quarters of each article was blocked out. But what a statement!  To this day I wish I had kept a copy of it. I don’t know what happened to their editors. But I do know they were part of a larger group of people of all races fighting to end segregation.

Many countries and communities face racism. Those issues are far from over in our own country. But the difference at this time in South Africa was that racism had a name, and a body of legislation behind it called the Group Areas Act. Laws that said where you could live or not live, where you could work, or not work, even whether your homeland was called by its traditional name or the arbitrary “homeland” name assigned by the government.

In 1990 in Australia, Mandela was a free man. But apartheid, whilst crumbling, had not yet been dismantled. Even so, what my brother and I heard that day was consistent with everything I saw in him when he became South Africa’s first black President. Forgive. Reconcile. Move forward. Acknowledge all of humanity and bring people together. It is the only way.

Much of Madiba’s* dream for South Africa has not been realized. It has been too many years since I lived there for me to comment with authority on who is at fault or what has to change. But I do know what the potential was for devastation when the end of apartheid as a formal structure finally came. Mandela demonstrated from day one that he was a President for all of the people of South Africa. It is with that spirit, a passion for peace, a hunger for justice and equality that I will remember and honor this great leader.

I once heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu say that when Mandela asks you to do something, you say yes. The Archbishop is right. Mandela has asked all of us to stand up against poverty; to stand up for education; to stand up for equality and peace for all.

We are compelled by his legacy to say yes.

* Madiba is Mandela’s clan name and used to show affection for him by many throughout the world.
Image: Nelson Mandela at a St Marys Cathedral mass in Sydney, October 1990 | News Limited

I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.

{ 0 comments }

30 Days of Gratitude

Nov 1:  God. For offering me forgiveness and atonement. Nov 2: Beloved. There are not enough words. Nov 3: Our children with all their fierce fire and energy. Nov 4: My parents, brothers and their families who are so far away. Nov 5: My work. LOVE what I do and who I do it with. […]

More …

Faith, Mercy and Letting Go

Last night in a special church meeting, I received a pink balloon (not a typical church experience!), along with my 400 fellow congregates. It represented two things. The first was to honor the memory of Emilie Parker, who lost her life almost a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The second purpose was an […]

More …

Back-to-School-Mom’s Kids Get Their Revenge

Last August, during standard “back-to-school” photos, one mom (a dear friend of mine) in a split second decision, asked her kids to make a sad face for a fun photo. The pic was snapped by her husband in one take. She slapped it up on her Facebook page and thought nothing of it.  A bit […]

More …

5 Reasons I Love My Husband, Even in the Moments When I Forget

It is a truth universally acknowledged* that marriage isn’t easy. I’ve never met a perfect person, and therefore I’ve never encountered a perfect union (neither human nor country). I could storm and rage and tell stories and give you a litany of imperfections in my own marriage. Beloved and I, we’re flawed and human. We […]

More …