Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shout Outs to Georgia Battered Women's Advocates and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and so I am sending a shout out to the following women that I worked with many years ago in Georgia in the Battered Women's Movement before I have another senior moment and forget their names.

BJ Bryson, Priscilla Vandecar, Margo Smith, Victoria Toone-Jackson, Susan Schrader, Susan Mays, Cheryl Christian, Sylvia Gafford Alexander, Kathleen Carlin, Delbra Thomas, Geraldine in Milledgeville and Geraldine in South Georgia, Barbara Gibson, Lisa White.

I was also on the steering committee of NCADV for several years back in the day! (mid to late 1980s). It was really one of my most transformative experiences as I began my evolution into an activist in the battered women's movement. Again, before I forget some of the names I want to speak them aloud! Beth Richey, Val Kahuna, Ruth Slaughter, Diana Onley-Campbell, Caitlin Fullwood, Nan Stoops, BJ Bryson, Barbara Hart, Tilly Blackbear, Suan McGhee, Susan Schcter, Ginny NiCarthy and Rita Smith.

To all those whose names I cannot recall! May the work that we do no longer be needed as the world becomes a safe place for women, children, men and all its inhabitants!

Blessed Be! Qiyamah A. Rahman

A Walk Down Memory Lane: Preparing for South Africa

This is Poomla. She was a staff person with Illita Labuntu. Her job was basically community education and awareness. It is amazing that I remember her name even though I was last there in 1994.

That is me at the far left with the staff of Illita Labuntu. If I recall, they had a picture of Malcolm X, AKA El Hajj Malik Shabazz on the wall. I remembered thinking, "hmmm" and was impressed with them even more.
This was a drawing hanging on the wall at Illita Labuntu depicting two individuals in the throes of violence that cycles through so many of our lives, encroaching on our happiness and our ability to function at an optimum level.
As I begin to prepare for my trip to South Africa next year I am renewing contacts and going through photo albums thinking about my previous experience. In the picture above the woman on the right is Mandisa, the Director of Illita Labuntu. On the left was the only male, and they jokingly called him their token male. Mandisa is holding a t-shirt that I gave her from the National Black Women's Health Project's HIV/AIDS campaign. The shirt was very popular everywhere I went. It reads: "You can get a new man but you can't get a new life." I have always thought how powerful that statement is. It gets at the heart of sometimes how we sacrifice our lives for those we love because we are so used to giving ourselves away as if we have no value or worth. However, that observation in no way seeks to minimize the violence that oftentimes serves to keep women in relationships. However, the emotional ties to partners that sometimes is stronger than our self interests and self love because we are so conditioned as women to be care takers of others and to put everyone else first so that it becomes second nature. Some of that socialization also results in us becoming dependent on others emotionally as we may find that we are dependent on them economically.
South Africa was my first real field research trip and I experienced the grass roots fund raising process I call scrounging around to get funds. I received small amounts of funds from various sources such as the Department of Health and Human Services out of Washington, DC, the Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation, and the Unitarian Universalist Association to conduct a month of field research on violence against women.
While at the Rape Crisis Centre in Cape Town, the staff told me about a sister, Mandisa, that had previously worked with them and then had started an NGO in one of the black townships, either Gugalatu or Khailetcha. The NGO was named Ilita Labuntu. I recently googled Mandisa and discovered to my delight that she is still carrying on the work of educating the community about violence against women. At that time they had a youth component that trained the young people as peer mediators in their schools.
Keep your eyes and ears tuned to this blog as I begin to introduce you to some of the individuals that I was fortunate enough to meet in 1994 and that I am communicating with as I prepare for 2008.
Blessed Be!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The End of Poverty

If you have not read the book, The End of poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs then pick up a copy. This is a book that will make you hopeful that we can turn things around with determination and commitment. The book will make you angry when you realize that "we" are letting people die through pandemic disease, spread of uncontrolled infections, conflicts that are about encroaching on other populations and manipulation of natural disasters. And as we know,conflicts generate displacement and refugees. Sachs reminds us that when the rains fail in Africa, war is triggered. He contends that we will solve Darfur by peacekeepers, sanctions and disinvestment.

Sachs is one of the few authors that provides an insightful explanation about why some nations fail to thrive. Some explanations are suspect because they omit colonialism. Not Sachs. But he goes even further back and demonstrates how developing nations tapped innovations that allowed for the use of transport along with colonialism that shifted the wealth in the world. He talks about the parodox of the world of affluence and the worl of poverty. And reminds us that this is a resolveabl problem.

Furthermore, he believes there is enough wealth and technology to go around. He reminds us that 43% of the world is living on less than $1 a day.

Sachs not only believes that we can end poverty but he has begun a campaign to do so. He spoke at the University of Chicago this year about some of the things that he is doing in the area of malaria. Malaria kills 2-3 million children a year. These are all preventable deaths.
Sachs is currently working with China who he claims is providing the "single most important medicine in Africa for the prevention of malaria." He sponsored a village of 5,000 individuals in Tanzania. The government of Tanzania went door-to-door in September and handed out mosquito nets that cost $5 each that had been treated with a chemical that repels mosquitoes for five years. As a result, malaria was reduced by 90%. They did an assessment in January and determined that there had been no cases of malaria. How is this related to his campaign to end poverty? Malaria leads to poverty when people cannot work due to poor health. And as he reminds us, this is a resolvable problem.

The USA's military budget alone, 650 billion dollars, is greater than all of the rest of the worlds budgets.

Poverty and hunger are pervasive in Africa. Chronic hunger results in undernourishment. Chronic shortages of food production reflect in part, the poverty of farmers who cannot afford fertilizer and without the fertilizer they can't make use of high yield crops. Yet, fertilizer an seeds actually can triple the yield. One hundred million farmers are working the fields, mostly women. Farmers get one third of their yield. They cannot feed their families, much less have a surplus to take to the market.

Some of the statistics he shared:

Over 1 billion people around the wold live in extreme poverty, surviving o less than one dollar a day
Every 10 secnds, an African child dies of malaria
Across the globe, more than 800 million people go bed hungry every nigt
Every year me than 10 million children diebeore their fifth birthda from completely preventable diseaseslike diarrhea ad pneumonia
Every day over 20,000 pple die because they are too poor to stay alive.

Some Solutions
Sleeping under a bednet will preven children from getting malaria
Vitamin A and iron supplements willelp fith malnutrition and make children stronger
Basic fertlizer will replenis depleted soil and dramatically increase crop yields
Anti-retrovirals will keep people with HIV/AIDS alive in poor countries justs they do in rich ones
Free, daily school lunches will help ensure that students stay in school and are better able to learn.

Finally, bundling critical, life-saving interventions in agricultula productivity, health, educati and rural infrastructure in a comprehensive investment strategy will provie that the Millenium Development Goals can be achieved within five yes, and make the difference between life and death.

Finally, we have to break the mindset of "us" and "them." We are in this together. We will either survive and thrive together or we will perish together. The decision is ours!

For more information go to
Blessed Be! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Monday, August 27, 2007

Amazing People and Amazing Events are Happening as I Speak

L to R Jeremy, Rev. LaDonna Saunders and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman in Chicago, IL sharing our amazing experiences and energy about South Africa.

L to R Rev. LaDonna Saunders, alum of McCormick and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman. We hooked up by accident - no by destiny, having met for the first time in person the previous night. It was like we had known each other all our lives. We brainstormed for hours. She is doing amazing things around HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Of course we had a lot to talk about. She has already been to South Africa three times and is ready to go for good. Hearing about the orphanages was particularly heart rending.
L to R Jeremy is a photographer and was sharing with us how beautiful his time was in South Africa. Taking pictures of the children was an amazing experience for him as well as for them. We all talked about our calling to South Africa and how blessed we feel to be able to be a part of things there. The energy between us was absolutely amazing.

Blessed Be! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Intergenerational Friendships

Welcome to a pictorial display of some of events from Norma Poinsetts life. This is my birthday gift to her. She will be eighty years old on September 2. Happy birthday Norma.

Second from the right - second row is Norma as a young girl and her six sisters.

Besides celebrating her birthday, Norma is also celebrating fifty years as an active Unitarian Universalist.
While the picture is a little fuzzy, there is nothing unclear about Norma's title of Dr. Norma Poinsett. Here she is shown receiving an honorary degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School.

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an African American Unitarian in the nineteenth century that was involved in five movements: childrens, black literary movement, suffragette, abolitionist and temperance movement. She was a member of First Unitarian in Philadelphia. In this scence, a number of Unitarian Universalists gathered to pay tribute to Harper and to place a headstone on her gravesite.

This is Norma Poinsett, my friend. She will turn eighty years old on September 2. Happy birthday Norma and many more happy returns.

She gave me my first tennis lesson on Monday, August 27, 2007 and almost ran me into the ground. I want to be her when I grow up!

Norma was very patient with me and even told me I had potential! Now if I can just hang in there!

Norma and I played for an hour and then she played another game with her friend Terri. I am not sure that I could have played another hour. But Norma was all ready for another game.

Norma said that she does hundreds of leg exercises each morning and whenever she wakes up during the night. And her game showed it! She was running me ragged! I am just a little sore!

This summer, Norma and I worked on capturing some highlights from her life. She is not quite ready to write her memoirs but this came pretty close. I will be posting it later in the year once I finish the other essays. Norma is a great cook and I had fun writing while she talked about her life with her family and friends and her accomplishments. I would go to her house on Sundays after church and she would feed me a delicious home cooked meal. Then we got to work!

Norma has devoted fifty years of service to Unitarian Universalism and has served on almost every committee and entity that exists.

Norm, thank you for your friendship, the tennis lesson and your many contributions to Unitarian Universalism!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Listening Into Each Others Lives: Recovering Our Lost Stories

The first three women from left to right are all seminarians. The one on the end worked for a non-profit and is I believe a minister. Forgive me for forgetting names.

We took a trip to the Seminario Engelico de Puerto Rico and the President, Dr. Sergio Ojda-Carcamo, brought greetings to us in the chapel. Afterwards we took a tour of their beautiful facility.
Chancellor of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Marilina Wayland, welcomed the conference participants. The chests in front of the podium contain books that conference authors gifted the Chancellor with for their library. What a great idea! I donated two books.

L-R Zorina and a local Rev. that presented the morning worship. She was just recently ordained.

L-R Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman, Dr. Luis N.Rivera-Pagan (Princeton Theological Seminary) and Zarina from NYC.
L-R Brother Dr. Jesus Rodriguez Sanchez and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman. Brother Jesus was an incredible host and addressed all of our needs.

A view from the hotel!


Today is my day for random reflections and telling stories. So if you are expecting something profound you might want to look elsewhere today. Because, as my daughters' ESL hip hop client says when he is not prepared for his session, "I ain't got nothing for you." (smile)

Well, that is not totally accurate. What I am saying is that I feel the need to express myself without worrying whether it all makes sense when it comes out. Sometimes I simply like to be the vehicle for my "Inner Teacher" the "Divine" to speak through me. So I am channeling so to speak. I am partly channeling some of the voices at the Post Colonial Pastoral Theology in Puerto Rico Conference along with some random thoughts and reactions. I am listening to the voices that want to speak and trusting that you all can receive at least some of what is given.

Pastoral Theology
In a previous blog I talked about my theology of pastoral counseling and my sense of calling from the space of being able to be with others in their pain. Why not times of joy and celebration you might ask? Because there are others that can do that. Not everyone can be present with someone in their darkest hours of loss and emotional devastation and grief. That is what chaplains, ministers and those in pastoral counseling do. But even so pastoral theology is a little different. It is the river from which it all flows. Many pastoral theologians teach even though they are also ordained by their denominational leaders.

Pastoral theology is a theology that emerges out of a theology of care and conversation. It is a reflexive process. It is about the care of the soul. Pastoral theology is a praxis based theology. In pastoral theology much of what we have come to understand is that we intersect and deconstruct the pain of people's lives. We also pay attention to and help them to claim and create community because we have learned over time that people can't be healthy without community. When I begin to speak more about colonialism then you will understand the relevance of healthy community. Suffice it to say that colonialism seeks to destroy any ties that stabilize people.

For years, much of what I will be speaking about was so complex because it is simply how things are. So it is not easily discernible. I used to think black folks were crazy. I was so happy to learn about things like capitalism, racism, oppression. I could better understand the things I was seeing. It was like someone had turned on the light after I had been journeying in the dark so long. I knew something was wrong but I assumed we were what was wrong! It was like someone gave me the play card. Then I could watch the game of life and understand what was going on.

So when others that seek to control groups of people attempt to conflate ideas and concepts, like culture, like race, class, gender etc. - these complex phenomenon are rendered pale in the face of their actual realities. Reality becomes distorted. Yet, I believe now that there are so many points of affinity that can open up if we pay attention and nurture different ways of being in the world so that we are not dependent on others that would seek to manipulate us.

Post Colonial Pastoral Theology
As I was typing in the above subheading my fingers typed "post colonial theology"and when I realized that I had made a mistake I corrected it. However, it was not a mistake. It would be a mistake to attempt to discuss post colonial pastoral theology without first deconstructing post colonial theology because theology is born of practice. Thus, post colonial theology by virtue of the lived realities of oppressed peoples would have to out of good conscience be about healing and recovery of people. Post colonial pastoral theology would have to be about identity recovery and formation. If post colonial theology is to be a legitimate discipline it has to be about the business of demystifying colonialism and its the systemic oppression that it historically subjects on people. It would be still another crime to leave people reeling from the effects of colonialism and not challenge the pathology and dysfunction that is produced as a result of colonialism. Just as I was relieved to know that my people, black people were not crazy, but that there were some factors at play that no one had bothered to point out to me. As a matter of fact, some individuals were dedicated and appointed to see that I along with many others stayed in the dark.

While colonialism is not monolithic it can be characterized by some of the following:

Dominance Model - Colonialism is usually based on a dominance model that seeks to gain power and control of another group of people. While the tactics and strategies may range from very sophisticated to brute force, the outcome is virtually the same - the enslavement of people's minds and the motive is a need to assert superiority or ethnocentrism and the need for greed. In order to assert ones authority over others one hasto render them "other." Thus, they are not like "me" and therefore it is alright to mistreat, exploit, manipulate, displace, kill, etc. Relationships of domination are privileged in such conditions.

Cultural Imperialism - In order to establish and maintain order and control the dominant power must disavow existing culture and assert its own as the normative reality. Over time it completely dominates all other cultural realities. Sometimes in order to survive, the remnants of cultural expressions are driven underground and will surface by way of militantancy or cooptation into the consumer market. Rap, particularly ganga rap is an example of this.

Matrix of Oppression - The systemic nature of oppression/colonialism is all consuming and overrides most efforts to claim a different reality. Thus most people are content or too weary to "fight the power" and without very intentional counter cultural campaigns of resistance waged by oppressed peoples life goes on for generations with few changes that are not accommodated by the matrix of oppression that serves as social controls at every step of the way.

Psychological Devastation
The psychological warfare and mental disorders that Franz Fanon articulated in his book, Wretched of the Earth, was one of the pivotal works that resounded around the world. Activists in the civil rights movement and black power movement in the USA and the national liberation struggles in Africa, Asia and Central and South America gained an understanding from Fanon's work that recognized and named the effects of colonized peoples living under colonialism and the resulting mental illnesses. His works provided a manifesto of sorts for revolutionaries and activists in their recognition that the battlefield and its casualties were not merely relegated to physical injuries but that the weapons of war were non- traditional that could not always be seen or confronted directly. Such enemies use stealth weapons. Jaco Hammond, professor at Western Theological Seminary contends that persons shapeby colonialism have an undeveloped heart that is life depriving. Hammond, having grown up in South Africa during apartheid speaks from his life experiences. He further contends that hyper masculinity and different manifestatins of manliness are emphasized under colonialism. While he did not clarify whether this was the case for oppressor and oppressed males it appears in my estimate that it affects both.

Distorted Reality - Only the most primitive form of colonialism operates on brute force. That is a limited existence and depends on resources to staff a military and a constant reign of terror. Thus, colonialism seeks to immobilize the ability of people to think clearly. It manipulates te decision making abilities of people. If people can't think straight they can't clearly understand what is going on nor see where the oppression is coming from. Thus they will always be like the boxer in training, that shadow boxes with an imaginary opponent. Nothing is as it appears under colonialism. Besides, they have built everything around the lie that they are somehow entitled to more than others. And that this is the way things just naturally are. "Common sense" is rendered invalid and replaced with "group think."Even when our gut tells us something ain't right, we still go for the okey dokey. This gets at the next factor.

Internalized Oppression - The nature of colonialism is that must rob people of their way of life, that is, their identity. Then, in a weakened state, colonialism replaces their existing identity with a consumer mentality that supports and promotes the coloial life style. With nothing left that fosters a sense of constructive identity, oppressed peoples are forced to operate from a sense of "less than" "not good enough" that is, a deficit model of self. It is no accident that oppressed and marginalized peoples live in areas that have depressed incomes, substandard housing, education, poor or no health care and high crime rates. Then society blames them for their situation and justifies its law enforcement campaigns to clean up the "lawlessness." The dehumanization and alienation that the colonized people endure desensitizes them and creates a disconnect between what they feel and their ability to respond to stimuli until it is almost impossible to discern between those that desire to help and those intent to harm. The level of hopelessness, rage and futility remind me of the Jews plaintive cry when asked to sing their songs in Babylon by their captures. And they cryed, "How canwe sing our sings in a strange land?"

I have attempted to lay out a few key aspect of the colonial process in order to provide a context for talking about post colonial pastoral theology. Given the scenario that I have just laid out it should be clear that the role of post colonial pastoral theology is to demystify oppression and help transform society and its citizens to heal and recover from the colonial experience. Listening becomes more than a passive exercise learned a seminary. It becomes a listening for the places of both brokenness and health in order to be able to hold up as a model of encouragement, while at the same time the mirror offers up the pain of brokenness.

Accountability is another important element for working with oppressed peoples. The colonial mentality has encouraged destructive behaviors such as violence, lack of compassion, and other predatorial behaviors. Challenging these behaviors while working towards healing is critical. We must be knowledgable about systems of oppression and capable of critical critiques of injustice. Let us look for opportunities to pay attention to ways that we can build bridges with our clients and oppressed peoples.

Also, engaging in theological reflections in our personal lives allows us to name the places of brokennes within. We must be creators of safe spaces while creating vulnerability for ourselves. So that at the same time tha we serve as lament vessels for people we are ablet to sit with their pain without being too quick to move to the praise and to comfort them because our need for comfort requires it even more.

Engaging the Voices of the Oppressed
As seminarians, ministers, chaplains, people serving others, we are in key positions to raise our prophetic voices and to hold our faith community relevant to the world. Valuing ourselves as change agents we must think about diverse venues for our work and to think about multiple ways that we can channel our academic work, our community work, etc. It is critical that our formation tasks of being pastoral emphasizes our doing and looking at everything that we do, the papers we write, the sermons we craft, the way we speak to others, or not speak!

We must interrogate our multiple identities and be at home in our own and diverse skins. Trying to be someone else and neglecting to do our own work with our own ethnic group or our own faith community is not healthy or productive.

Bringing a post colonial framework to oppressed communities means that we are intentional about what we do and why we do it and that we take the time to understand the history of our clients and that we listen to their stories as we help them to recover. Becoing border people means going where they are - at the borders. Our priviledges afford us the luxury of moving back and forth from the margins to the center. Helping to connect them with resource to translate the storys of people we engagewe can help provide the "gift of tongue" while learning to speak from diverse perspectives.

How do pastoral theologians make a difference outside the classroom? Outside the sanctuary? We can make a difference by focusing on the recovery of self and acts of restoration for our clients and for ourselves. We can learn to listen to those on the bottom who in the eyes of society have been marginalized as we also try to eliminate the bottom. We can identify sacred texts utilizing motifs that are empowering. We can develop comfort for ambiguity. We can become ranscultural and most of all we can become border people.

All is Known and All is Forgiven - Let Us Begin Anew Each Day!

Blessed Be!

Puerto Rican Pentecostal Feminista

Workshop presenter, Rev. Miriam E. Figueroa-Aponte, on June 14, 2007 espousing on her topic, a Puerto Rican Pentecostal Women's Pastoral Theology.

Rev. Miriam E. Figueroa-Aponte on right - Luncheon on final day of the conference. That is sister Zorina the third from the right. We discovered that we both were participants of the Venceramous Brigade back in the early 1970s.

The Voice of a Pentecostal Woman in San Juan, Puerto Rico
By Qiyamah A. Rahman

I attended a conference sponsored by the Society for Pastoral Theology, June 14-16, 2007 in San Juan, Puerto Rico titled, Doing Pastoral Theology in a Post-Colonial Context: Intercultural Models of Pastoral Care and Theology. I listened with great interest to a two hour workshop conducted by the Reverend Miriam E. Figueroa–Aponte, B.S., M.Div..

Figueroa-Aponte is the first woman admitted into the doctoral program at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico – School of Theology in 2002. She has served eight years as co-pastor with her husband at a local Church of God congregation in San Juan. Figueroa-Aponte’s dissertation title is, Towards a Reconstruction of the Theological Understanding of the Pastoral Ministry of the Puerto Rican Pentecostal Woman: A Documentary and Ethnographic Study of Four Female Pastors of the Church of God, Mission Board in Puerto Rico. Figueroa-Aponte contends that, “the theological and the denominational policy on the pastoral ministry of the Church of God-Mission Board (CG-MB) in general and, in Puerto Rico in particular, allows women to exert positions of pastoral ministry, which are limited to the second level of credentials, according to the administrative system of the CG-MB.” Furthermore, Figueroa-Aponte asserts the following: “the CG-MB has surpassed many limitations, such credential policies are influenced by prejudiced theological constructs against women in the ministry and therefore, this is not simply an administrative problem but a theological issue.” Figueroa-Aponte’s research employs document analysis to establish historical and denominational manuals data. In addition her research will include ethnographic interviews with four key Pentecostal female subjects.
Figueroa-Aponte defies the stereotypes of Pentecostal women as passive, docile and submissive. From the onset of her presentation she declared to the audience that she was a feminist. Furthermore, if any further trepidations were harbored she contends that, “sexism is a sin. . . . It is an oppressive structure (the church). They should be modeling change to society. . . But as you know the church is always behind,” she asserted. She believes that women in the Pentecostal church struggle because they are marginalized. The third level of credentials required by the church apparently does not allow women to become recognized pastors. They can serve the church at the first level and be ordained at the second level. But only males can become Bishops and licensed at the third level. Nevertheless, women can minister, baptize and bury in Puerto Rico. Initially, women were ministers in Puerto Rico and Figueroa-Aponte reminisces about her earlier childhood days when she saw women functioning in all sorts of roles. “Initially women were ministers, but now, years later they are not allowed to be ministers,” she states. Even now, it is only in Puerto Rico that women can be ministers. In the States it is not permitted. “I feel so different. When I was growing up it was not like this. Women could talk, she said. “Women are in the struggle for survival. . . We have done so much in just forty years.”
“I feel an obligation to do things for Pentecostal women. . . . But I know I have to knock on doors at a higher level. . . I joined with me and women that believe in the ministry of women ministers,” she said.
There has to be an analysis of the oppression, she says. What is my struggle as a Puerto Rican woman? “We are dealing with the cure of the soul and we are convinced that God has called us by our name. We women have responded to the call,” she declares with passion. Figueroa-Aponte’s bishop has sometimes felt the need to curtail her enthusiasm and advocacy. On more than one occasion he has told her, “Miriam, you have to take it slow.” On still another occasion Bishop asked the following question as she approached the podium, “Mariam, are you going to take your earrings off?” Marian replied, “not really” and headed to the podium. “No one ever asked me about the earrings” she tells the audience. She sometimes poses the rhetorical question to those who would challenge her commitment and authority, “Do you believe I am a servant of God?” This question usually silences any opposition.
“Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes this anger helps me. I try to be polite and sometimes I am angry.” As for what she is learning she has this to say, “I am learning. Men seem to know abut the politics, but I am learning. I keep learning.
During her research Figueroa-Aponte was exposed to womanist theology after reading Sisters in the Wilderness by Delores Williams. She stated, “I began to understand the struggle of African American women.” As pentecostal women they consider the Bible to be the word of God. “Womanist theology gave a new meaning to the story of Hagar for example. Womanists have a slave heritage culture that transmitted to the liberating message of the Bible,” she explained. “Womanist theology extracted from the Bible those things that assured Blacks awareness and understanding of Gods love for the downtrodden. Pentecostalism is rooted deeply among the poor. They took the Bible stories and began to understand that God was the provider and healer.
Figueroa-Aponte explained her strategies for changing the policies of the church. “ I began talking at General Assembly years ago. The women used to have to sit in the back. Now they’re sitting in the front row,” she stated with a mischieveous grin on her face. “I am not in competition with men. We are in a complementary relationship. We complement each other.”
While the denominational headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee does not allow female ministers, Figueroa-Aponte states matter of factly, “We convinced the (Puerto Rican) Assembly to allow women to be “counselors.” They have a council of twelve. Not surprisingly, Figuero-Aponte was elected as the first women council. A Latin American Bishop told Figueroa-Aponte, “I can’t believe we are arguing about women being a part of the council.” In the USA women are still not allowed on the council. However, Figueroa-Aponte maintains that many of the Caribbean and Latin American people are open to women being ministers.

The solutions that Figueroa-Aponte proposes are as follows: 1) women must begin to be theologians; 2) reread the Bible with suspicion; 3) reconstruction of ecclesiology and theology; 4) establish a center for the study of Puerto Rico and 5) consciousness of oppression

Figueroa-Aponte concluded the lecture with the following reminder, “to be silent is the worst sin.

Let us heed Rev. Miriam's words and not be silent in the face of oppression!

Blessed Be!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kitchen Table Talk: Critical Space to Think

Here I am in my former kitchen. I did a lot of cooling out, writing and critical thinking there in 2006 in Charlotte, NC. I have since blessed and said goodbye to that home that my daughter and I built (had built) and which we lived in for five years as three generations with my grandson. I am now living in a tiny dormitory arrangement about to make still another move which will be my fourth since January, 2007. I am conjuring up my next residence in South Africa.

Kitchen Table Talk and Reflections
There is something to be said about having the luxury of leisure that includes critical space to do some critical thinking. Now one could be unemployed and have plenty of time to think. But that is a stressfull externally imposed type of leisure. I am talking about being able to spend some quality time reading, writing, reflecting and doing activism, that is, working in whatever way and using whatever gifts you have been blessed with to uniquely contribute toward healing the planet. And, of course, self care is an important part of that work.

Yesterday and today, I have set aside my fellowship application and I have gone through my notes from conferences I have attended. I transcribed the notes to share with others on my blog. One of the research discussions I had the pleasure of attending this past year was sponsored by the Center for Race, Class and Politics here at the University of Chicago. I am sure that I massacred their name. I apologize. The point is that Cathy Cohen, PhD and former Director of the Center was presenting research on her current book. She is the author of, Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. She also served as co-editor of Women Transforming Politics. The book she is currently working had a working title of, The Conception of Black Moral Panic. It was a fascinating process for me to be a part of and observe. It is like having ones own "think tank" to critique a research idea with people from different disciplines. Cohen was linvestigating how young black people think about their world. She contends that the outward panic of middle class blacks about youth really signals an internal panic. This internal panic is fueled by the following: threat of undermining their (parents and societal) respectability issues that are often incompatible; perceived counter cultural behavior on the part of youth; and feelings that youth are out of control and often acting sexually inappropriately. Thus, the recent outcry by blacks like Bill Cosby personifies this moral panic of the black middle class. In response, the black middle class has assumed the role of "generational policing." The form that this policing often takes is to put pressure on themselves and their children to "help our children do better." That might take the form of academic pressures and incentives. This in and of itself I would assume is not such a negative thing. However, the second type that Cohen identified that I am placing some judgment on is, more intrusive and tends to result in negative encounters, that, "keep them under control and protect class interests." This I suspect is where a lot of the demonizing of youth by the black middle class surfaces. Furthermore, the black middle class has created its own "politics of respectability" that they expect youth to adhere to. Music, particularly hip hop music was one of Cohen's examples where there is ample evidence that there clearly is a generational divide that results in dissidence and hostility between middle class blacks and youth. While there is a range of violence depicted in hip hop music, it also is a celebration of youth culture that even marginalized youth culture embraces. Yet, how many of us old heads look at it like take?

Cohen's research indicates that 70% of all women believe images of women are too violent in music. Forty percent of young people believe adults over 40 don't respect them. "They see us as the future and as a threat." Cohen emphasized her belief that "young people tell the most honest and open story's " about our/their lives.

One of the notions that was considered is that the stakes are different for the black middle class. They perceive youth as threatening their stability. But they are also concerned about black youth perceived inability to function in a hostile and racist environment that exploits consumer potential but will also be very intolerant of acting out behavior which they use different standards for white white. Two factors that the group decided are different for youth of today and in past years is the absence of a movement and the use of television and technology that bombards them with instant images of materialism and sexual behavior . Thus, the denigration of black women has no familiar historical context that allows youth links to these racial/racist stereotypes that are steeped in a less familiar Jim Crow mentality. Furthermore, there is no control of these images.

The moral panic that occurs as a result of narratives of pathology, state oppression and the perceived need for internal policing from the black middle class poses a moral dilemma and a generational divide between youth, their parents and society. What black adults want are better education, jobs and their children to make better decisions on their own. There was no discussion about what youth wanted that I recall.

Cohen's multi-level analysis was a helpful way to approach such a complex issue as how youth think. At the same time she looked at how and why the black middle class thinks the way it does. Look for her book. I can't tell you its name because some of the feedback she received was the need to change the name of the book. "Moral Panic" and even the word "panic" was not an accurate depiction of what she was addressing and some felt it was to reactive.

What a wonderful process for scholars. I love this process!

You know I have to close with an anecdote. My oldest daughter, Libra emailed me and a number of sista friends inviting a comparable process that allows them to use the group process to think through relationship issues, career issues and anything that requires more than just one perspective. I am proud of her recognition that collaboration and partnerships are required to make it in these complex times. Quiet as it is kept, not only does it take a village to raise a child it takes a village to keep each of us sane and whole in this life.

Well, that's it for now!
Blessings! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil

L-R Dr. Emily Townes and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman in Chicago, Illinois at the Disciples Divinity House, the Disciples of Christ facility that houses its seminarians. A lecture and reception were held for Emiliy Townes summer, 2007

During a one and a half hour presentation Dr. Townes reminded the audience not to be afraid to address evil because evil and goodness sit side by side. She talked about the process of writing and publishing her most recent book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. In other words, she investigates how evil is produced. She contends that this book is her "singularly important work." So I encourage everyone to get a copy and start reading.

"No one wanted to publish the book. . . it doesn't quite fit in the typical genre's," she said.
The book she maintained took her ten years to write and she admitted that it is easier to read aloud because it "speaks more easily" when it is read aloud than when read silently. The book she contends, "wrote itself" I was trying to think about evil in a linear way but it isn't linear. .

Townes encouraged the audience of seminarians, ministers, teachers and lovers of her books to, "be not daunted - keep a dictionary nearby. . .The entire book is counter memory. . We are inheritors of People of the Book . . .these stories remind us of who we are," she exclaimed.

Townes appears to use "counter memory" as an antidote to evil, that is, putting these images of good and bad to better understand them.

Townes asserted that it is important to look at the issues around us and refuse to accept the standard explanations. She cited the Don Imus controversy as a concrete example. The aftermath tried to make it about racism rather than the sexism it was she contended. . . One has to pay attention always. . . I have to pay attention," she stated . . "because memory is both fact and fiction."

Another example of memory being both fiction and truth is the cultural icon, Aunt Jemima that conjures up disdain for many blacks and for others fond memories. Many whites love her fatness, blackness, happy go lucky persona. But as Townes reminded us, Aunt Jemima is a lie! She appears in white women's magazines and emerges as memory. Somewhere in the midst of all of this is where we live our lives Townes reminded us.

"Every morning that I get up is an act of defiance. . . I don't want to participate in this (evil)," she asserted.

Thus, a counter memory to some of the socialization is the belief that you, I, we are children of God. This is what oppressed peoples have to know for themselves. These are our conversations for healing and wholeness. It is through constructing such narratives that we can explain HIV/AIDS using the lens of evil. But historically oppressed peoples everywhere were raised to be children of hope, otherwise, many of us could not get up in the morning. We have to counter the evil fiction with the power of myth and counter the mythology with fiction and vice a versa. The genius of listening to how we do things and how we process information clues us in on what myths we have internalized. Thus, as Townes stated, "knowing the history is as important as knowing the past because the future is dictated by both."

"It is the power of our minds to trump imagination . . . sometimes I sin and sometimes I don't," she offered, pushing us beyond our intellectual and emotional comfort zones with her "conversation starters."

She raised the question, "Why do we keep doing this?"

I pose a counter question - which it?

"I am layering things. I am using fiction writers because they put the world at a tilt. They give me just that angle (to examine things). . .

"If I knew then what I know now I would have picked my own cotton say, Sonia Sanchez.

Townes mentioned structured patterns of oppression which I didn't really understand, among many things. For example, treating our identities as uninterrogated coloredness reflects misbegotten attempts at solidarity. However, the rise of empire in the context of welfare policy reveals patterns, structures and institutions that allow us a look at phenomenon.

Perhaps once we read Townes book we will have some additional insights into her thoughts. Meanwhile, this is Qiyamah A. Rahman, reporting on life as I see, hear and filter it in this one moment of time from this one spot on the planet.

Peace out and Blessed Be!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rebound Rituals: Fifty Ways to Bounce Back After Breaking Up

Ok, ladies and gents: brothers and sistahs: Today's post is a little whimsical but nevertheless important and critical information to share.

While it doesn't rate very highly in the discourse on global warming and it would definitely be inappropriate talking about instead of world hunger. Yet the sudden termination, dismissal, removal, severing, fracturing, disembodiment, imploding, exploding, of a romantic relationship is not only news worthy in ones personal life even though it would not make headlines unless you were Ken and Brittany, Brad and Angelina or Russell Simmons and Kimora. But it can be so devastating that even global warming and world hunger sometimes grind to a halt while folks mend their broken hearts so they can get back to the business and work of healing the world.

Most of us have survived our share of breakups and could probably write a book or two or three ourselves. So, I dedicate this post to those who know the pain of beakup. I borrow the words of Kerry Colburn and Jennifer Worick, authors of Rebound Rituals: 50 Ways to Bounce Back After Breaking Up, "to those who have weathered a broken heart - may your recovery be swift and your new life glorious!"

I will just indulge you with a few of my random selections from Kerry and Jennifer:

Seduce Yourself - Next Saturday night, take yourself out to dinner and a movie. Buy yourself a huge bouquet of flowers and a box of your favorite candy. Gaze at your bodacious bod in the mirror and tell yourself how frekin' hot you are. Narcissism isn't always such a bad thing.

Stalk a New Guy or Girl - When you get the urge to drive by your ex's house or business, why not do a little recon and follow a new cutie instead? Google him/her, find an excuse to drop by her/his office, or take pains to be at the gym, cafe, or watering hole when you know he/she will be there.

Ex-orcism - to perform an ex-ordism, recite a freedom chant as you burn something of his/hers. You can make up your own chant or use our simple but effective poem to banish him/her forever:

I'm done with you
I'm finally free
God knows how much happier
I'm going to be!

Now shimmy and dance your victory dance!

Draft a mission statement - What do you want, no require, from your next relationship? Jot everything down in a personal mission statement. Declare what you will bring to the table and detail what you will embrace, accept, and refuse from the next girl/guy. Is it necessary that he/she rub your feet on a weekly basis? Want to have kids someday? Love teenage dramas on the WB? Bring you food when you're under the weather? Write it all down. then, like Jerry Maguire, make 50 copies in the middle of the night and send it to all your girlfriends/boyfriends so they can hold you to your credo in the light of day.

Finally, Fly solo! Have you always wanted to see Paris or South Africa? Would you love to take a cooking class in Tuscany or a jewelry making class in Taos, NM? or go sky diving in the California desert? Did you go to the Rose Bowl game with your ex when you really wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef? Now is the time to take a trip that's all about you. Celebrate your single status by going exactly where you want to go, and traveling at your own pace. You'll relish your freedom, meet interesting people along the way, and remind yourself that you can do anything you want to do - all by yourself.

If a major vacation isn't in the cards right now, check the Web for low low fares and take off for a long weekend. Whether it's Montreal for $209 or Miami for $89, pick your destination, throw a red bra, a pair of Jackie O sunglasses in a tote, and fly solo. Do it now! If you are a guy recovering from a breakup - buy yourself a pair of thong underwear if you usually wear boxers. If you already wear thongs then go au natural! Get your shades, a sexy shirt and head into the sunset for an adventure!

Get ready to make yourself number one again! Know that love is out there somewhere looking for you. So enjoy the in between time as much as the love and passion times. It is all part of the cycle of life.

Blessings! Qiyamah A. Rahman
ps Buy a copy or two of the book for your friends. Inevitably someone you know will need it. Also, I didn't share the really wicked ones because I know that some of you already have fiendish minds and can easily go there! Be gentle with yourselves and continue to love yourselves!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer is Slipping Away in Chicago

The precious flowers are even more beautiful knowing that old man winter is just around the corner!
I am thankful for the beauty in nature that reminds me every day of the beauty in life if we but look for it.
Now you know why Chicagoans love Chicago. This is downtown Chicago! Imagine a downtown with a river running through it. It reminds me of Paris. This is Lake Michigan. Chicago has water and I love it. It is in walking distance from Hyde Park where I live on the campus of the University of Chicago. Some residents wake up to a view of Lake Michigan everyday.

The Point on Lake Michigan is a beautiful spot to go to sit, read, picnic, hangout, make out, whatever!

Sadly, the summer is slowly slipping away here in Chicago. What happened to summer? When I wasn't looking it just slipped away. I can't believe that I have been here for eight months, almost a year. I have been coming to Chicago since January 2003 and this year was my first spring and summer in Chicago, a very different experience. It will be the last one that I will spend here. It has been great but my time is coming to a close. These are some beautiful scenes to remind me of Chicago in days to come.

The Feminine Epidemic: Global Intersections of Women and HIV/AIDS

L-R Dr. Rajan Gupta and Beri Hull
Beri Hull, Global Advocacy Officer for the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Rajan Gupta, presenter and theoretical physicist that works to better understand the evolution of AIDS.
L -R Beri Hull, Julia Dickson-Gomez, Rajan Gupta and Elizabeth Rowley
L-R Jennifer Helen Spruill, instructor and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology and an unidentified conference participant.
Spruill conducted research on sexuality, law, and nationhood in Johannesburg from 1996 to 2000 intermittenty. In 2004 she published a paper titled, (AD)DRESSING THE NATION: Drag and Authenticity in Post-apartheid South Africa.

Human Rights Conference
On May 26, 2007 I dragged myself out of bed and away from papers and course readings to attend a human rights conference presented by the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) at the University of Chicago. The conference was jointly sponsored by SGAC, The Center for Gender Studies, The Human Rights Program, Your Student Activity Fees and the Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation. It is always a good thing to witness this kind of collaboration in bringing important and timely issues before the student body. Unfortunately, the conference was poorly attended and there were some logistical snafus that resulted in a late start. On the other hand,folks, you missed some really excellent information from the five very knowledgeable panelists with important aspects of the HIV/AIDS crisis available to share with the audience.

The five presenters effectively provided an overview on HIV/AIDS and delivered their findings based on their research as follows:

Elizabeth Rowley- Her research focus is the delivery of humanitarian assistance with refugee issues in the post-emergency phase. Her presentation gave me a greater appreciation of the challenges that refugee women face and the vulnerable circumstances they endure because of their status as refugees and the risk of HIV/AIDS infection.

Julia Dickson-Gomez - a medical anthropologist at the Institute for Community Research has extensive field experience with urban high risk groups including substance abusers and commercial sex workers and HIV/AIDS prevention. Her research focus is sex workers in El Salvador. One story depicted the dangerous situations prostitutes are exposed to that included johns not paying the women. Furthermore, an even worse scenario described non payment and assaulting the women they exploit. Some examples depicted women driven to remote locations, gang raped, beaten and tossed out of the car nearly nude. These are horribly graphic reminders of the kind of exploitation some women are subjected to in their attempts to survive. Needless to say, the police are not an option in instances of prostitutes which renders them vulnerable to such exploitation.

Beri Hull, the Global Advocacy Officer for the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AID provided a face and a voice for women living with HIV/AIDS. Her presence was a reminder that we are dealing with real human beings and not mere statistics. She contends that as a woman living with HIV she will continue to advocate for love and acceptance for all people living with HIV. Her candor was refreshing. She is a strong advocate and spokesperson. She provided lots of great suggestions about how to be involved in addressing the crisis we are facing. Her website is and her email is Her organization is based in Washington, DC and also has an office in London, England.

Annie Dude - Her presentation depicted the links between intimate partner violence and the increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted infection, including HIV/AIDS. Dude's perspective is enhanced by her interdisciplinary approach. She received a Ph.D in June from the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Public Policy and she is currently attending medical school at the University of Chicago.

Rajan Gupta - The sole male presenter, a theoretical physicist, with a Ph.D works with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In 1989 Gupta began to work to better understand the evolution of HIV. In the following years, Gupta developed and conducted education and awareness programs on health and HIV/AIDS, starting in India in 1999 and then extended his work to New Mexico in 2001. Gupta's power point presentation was very compelling and included the usual statistics and overview on HIV/AIDS. However, it also showed the actual women, their children and aspects of their lives as sex workers. It was clear that he and his colleagues have worked very hard to establish personal relationships with the women. Some of the women have come out of the business to now help others. He reiterated what the global statistics reinforce, that is, being a woman places women at risk. In India, sexual assault is a concern he stated, but the statistics of women living with HIV/AIDS indicates that being married is the biggest risk factor. Women are being infected by their partners who conceal their disease from their wives until it is obvious, which by then is too late. The interviews with such women who were dying was heartbreaking. As Gupta contends, "being faithful is worthless."

The dimensions of the problem are much bigger than HIV/AIDS according to Gupta. He demonstrated this by providing statistics that indicate that poverty pushes people into survival mode. The behaviors and lifestyles can only be addressed in poor and marginalized communities if we change the economic realities. However, with the sex workers that he researched he discovered that 80% are coerced into sex work with false promises. These false promises include promises of jobs. The use of alcohol, drugs and debts were other enticements. Sad to say, husbands, relatives and gangs force some of the women into sex work while others were abducted and/or sold into forced prostitution. It is the last recourse for poor women. He described their lives. They are required to have sex with 5-10 customers a day. Most of these women have boyfriends who they do not use condoms with. This is the case because the use of a condom with a lover is the breaking of intimacy. Gupta asserts that empowerment is key to alterring their behavior. The program helps women work on exit strategies, that is, being able to build equity, money management, job skills and fostering supportive partners. Many of the partners do not work and rely on their women for income. Thus, there is no incentive for the males to ecourage their women to leave a life of prostitution. Gupta reiterated that a life style change is needed. Delaying the onset of sexual activity he believes would also help.

For more information go to his website at:

An excellent CD produced by United Nations Development Fund for Women through United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNDFW) was disseminated at the conference. It is titled: The Gender and HIV/AIDS. It is a collection of resources including research, publications, training tools, and multi-media advocacy materials comprised of 360 documents and over 15,600 pages. Go to the following website for further information to obtain a copy:

Peace Out! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Living History Initiative: Family History Preservation

L-R Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman and Dr. Niara Sudarkasa (key note speaker and alum of University of Michigan. )

Dr. Niara Sudarkasa in the middle with friends

L-R Dr. Sudarkasa on left and a City Council woman that brought greetings from the City of Atlanta.

Preserving and Sharing Family Histories
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan recently sponsored an all day program designed to encourage and assist families in the collection, preservation and sharing of their family histories. The seminar is part of a comprehensive initiative to train participants from area civic and faith-based organizations in preservation techniques that include photographs and textiles/quilts; family genealogy and oral history; the use of metal, paper and wood; diaries and journals; and the use of technology to preserve family history.

The June 2, 2007 program I attended was very comprehensive and included the following presentations:

  • Writing about our African Past: A Personal Journey

  • Writing Biographies: The Role of Family Records

  • Documenting Family Life in Revolutionary Movements: A Focus on the Black Panthers

  • Henry Ford and the Establishment of Inkster, Michigan: African American Migration and the Automotive Industry

  • Profile of a Family: Generations of Service and Sacrifice

  • The Ties that Bind: Family, Church and Communities

  • Creating Family History Records with Contemporary Technology

  • Rites of Passage in the Black Church: Collecting and Preserving the History of Socializing Black Youth into Adulthood

  • Preserving Family History in the Nation of Islam

  • Reclaiming African Family Values for Strengthening and Sustaining African American Families
So often events that feature high profile presenters that are well planned and executed are expensive and therefore not available to students, the unemployed and individuals on a fixed or low income. That was not the case with the Living History Initiative. The entire event was free including a scrumptuous lunch with appetizing refreshments throughout the day.I must give a shout out to Bamidele Agbasegbe Demerson, irector of Exhibitions and Research as well as to John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for providing funding that was obviously a wise investment. The printed materials were done in royal purple and were works of art. Mine actually have become a permanent document in my archives and one graces my altar. They used classic reproductions on glossy paper depicting The Great Migration that showed groups and families of Blacks staring out at the viewer with their battered suitcases and coats draped over their arms. They are either on their way up north or having jst recently arrived with all the hopes and dreams of a new life. The Living History Initiative helped me and others to hold even more sacred those photos and momentos that we are too often inclined to either discard or lock away to rot and deteriorate.

The roster of speakers included:
Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, formerly Professor and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan (U of M). She remembered me from my student days at U. of M.

Dr. Melba J. Boyd, Chairperson of the Department of Africana Studies at Wayne State University (and another of my alma maters)

Dr. Ahmad Rahman, Professor of History at University of Michigan-Dearborn

Dr. Patrick Pieh, Chief Academic Officer at Wayne County Community College (A direct descendant of Amistad)

Dr. Howard Lindsey, Assistant Professor of History at DePaul University

Dr. Genna Rae McNeil, Professor of History at University of North Carolina

Minister Daawud Muhammad, Michigan Representative of Nation of Islam, Mosque #1

There were a number of memorable moments for me including being able to see Dr. Sudarkasa again after many years and informing her that my DNA results indicate that I am Nigerian from the Yoruba people. This is significant because she holds a Chieftancy title in Ife, the oldest of the historic Yoruba Kingdoms in Nigeria. Meeting Dr. Melba Boyd for the first time and discovering that we are both admirers of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Charlotte Forten was a high point of the day. I had just come into possession of a treasured video on Charlotte Forten that Boyd had been looking for. Both Frances and Charlotte were 19th century African American Unitarians. This in itself makes them anomalies among only a handful of African American female Unitarians that I have been able to identify from that era.

The lady of the hour though was the Dr. Rachel Boone Keith, one of the early Black female physicians treating the African American population during the peak of the Great Migration. Her life told to us through her daughter and granddaughter who are third or fourth generation physicians was a powerful example of an inspiring woman. Having recently read Adam Hochschild's, King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, is even more thoughtprovoking in light of the fact that Dr. Keith's father and mother, Rev. C.C. Boone, B.D., M.D. and Rachel Boone were medical missionaries in the Congo and Liberia from 1900 to 1926 and authored the books: The Congo as I Saw It and Liberia As I Know. To read their books might provide some insight in understanding the role of Black missionaries and any eye witness accounts of the holocaust that King Leopold instituted. If you have not read the book and have the stomach to hear as accurate an account as is possible given that almost no survivors lived to tell the story of this rape and plunder of the Congo, I highly recommend it.

I say thank you to Dr. Charles H. Wright, a physician, and the 30 other Detroiters that founded the Museum of African American History in 1965. Everytime I have entered the doors of this magnificent structure it has left me with a sense of awe and newfound awareness of the contributions of African Americans and the richly tragic and triumphant journey that brought us from our roots to this country and for some of us the return home.
Blessed BE!

The next time you see me please remind me to tell you the story about the time I met the buyer for the museum in Ghana and the riot that she caused in the market place in the summer of 1996!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Violence Against Women in the United States of North America

Friends, I am currently working on developing a graduate level course titled, Violence Against Women From a Global Perspective. I have spent the entire day researching and identifying resource materials that would provide a comprehensive learning experience primarily designed for seminarians, ministers, women studies majors and other lay persons concerned about the issue. The course will primarily focus on the United States, England, India, Ghana, and South Africa. Here are some reflections I wanted to share:

Violence Against Women in the United States of North America - A Glimpse into the Past

Without a doubt, the most significant legislation passed in this country to date that addresses violence against women is the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. This legislation signaled a pivotal moment in the collective lives and efforts of women and their male allies that had worked tirelessly to galvanize the resources of this nation to address this shameful problem. Heretofore the problem was viewed as a personal problem, a family problem that others did not get involved in, very much like child abuse had been perceived in previous years. However, the valiant efforts of a few women grew over the years as their ranks expanded to include not just those "militant women" that kept pushing the issue into the light of day and out of the closets from behind closed doors, but the movement to end violence against women eventually spread to everyday women who didn't identify as feminists but simply got "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Grandmothers, middleclass women, poor working class women, single women, single parent mothers and the debutante, all had something in common - they were hiding shameful secrets and living in fear due to the violence in their lives.

I would like to tell you a story. The story is about how the first shelter was started in Minneapolis, MN in the early 1960s when a group of women were at an Alcoholics Anonyomous meeting sitting around talking while their partners were meeting. One woman revealed that she was being beaten, then another, then another. Before the evening was over they all admitted that they were in abusive relationships. They agreed to meet and do something about it. One woman offered her home and they all moved in together and began to share child care and to experience what it felt like to live without the fear of violence.

This story might be taken as a sort of urban legend if we didn't all know women that opened their homes to individuals down on their luck or hid a friend from an abusive partner? So while it may have taken on a life of its own over the years, I love to tell this story to illustrate how creative we become when we are willing to take the risk to reach out and change our lives for the better. Since that time we have developed shelters and transition housing and full service programs with staff and batterers groups. Battered women are no longer stigmatized and education is fairly accessible. However, the problem is still quite prevalent. Nevertheless, the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 reflected effective coalition building between grass roots women and organizations and institutions from all levels of society, from activists to elected officials. Its passage represented for activists, one of their finest hours in the movement to end violence against women. Many of these women, themselves marginalized because of the unpopularity of the issue had worked tirelessly either as volunteers or in low paying positions in shelters, rape crisis centers, on crisis hot lines, community centers, law clinics and in academia helping battered women and their children at a time when it was not chic or the popular thing to do. They raised the issues while educating and advocating for change.

I will share one more anecdote and then leave you to puruse the Act by clicking on the link below:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
The Steering Committee for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was an organization dedicated to ending violence against women and children. NCADV was comprised of Steering Committee members appointed from each state that met in Washington, DC . I was elected to the Steering Committee in the early 1980s. I remember walking into the room with these women seated around the table that I had read about and heard about. There was an energy around the room and I felt like I was home and that my life would never be the same after meeting these amazing women. They were the most powerful kick ass women that I had ever met. They baptised me in the fire of their passion and activism. The Battered Women's Movement was where I found my voice and what eventually become my ministry. Women like Ruth Slaughter, Caitlin Fullwood, Beth Richey, Gwen Davis, BJ Bryson, Tilly Blackbear, Nan Stoops, Suzanne Pharr, Kerry Lobel, Barbara Hart, Diana Onley Campbell, and Deborah Muhammad are some of the women that I came to know and respect. They were my role models while I was trying to find myself and to heal from the violence of my childhood and adulthood.

I saw Caitlin Fullwood several years ago. We were both reminising about times gone by when she turned to me and said, "We old broads are still going strong." We both laughed riotiously. I believe our laughter was partly out of a knowledge that we had survived and were not crazy, on drugs or dead. And partly just the joy of being alive, and older and wiser. Ginny NiCarthy just celebrated her 80th birthday folks, and she is still going strong and raising hell! I would love to see some of these individuals again. Occasionally I see their names associated with the wonderful things they are still doing, and I think about Caitlin's hilarious and insightful comment. Yes, we broads are still going strong!

On another occasion Steering Committee members had convened once again to handle the business of eliminating violence against women and children. However, in addition to our usual business meetings and caucasing we had scheduled visits with our congresspersons to talk about violence against women and children and to persuade them to support the pending legislation that we felt could usher in a dramatic shift in how our nation perceived domestic violence. We were a motley group because many of the women were what I call "earth women" who did not like to dress up. Although we certainly had our exceptions! We had strategized about what to say and we were all primed and ready to go. Each of us were organized in groups of two or three's. We were told that we would have no more than 10 minutes to make our case with legislative aides. Only some of us had been lucky enough to schedule with our congress persons. I had never seen so many panty hoses, suits and dress up clothes in all the time I had been serving on the Steering Committee. Some of the women complained about having to wear panty hose and bras. One member indicated the only time she wore them was when she lobbied. I was excited. I had never been to the capital, let alone paid a visit to my congressperson. Even now when I think about it I get excited that we had done the work to influence those in the corridors of power. While I was a little naive back then, it was moments like that when I look back in wonder, amazed at the shy, battered and wounded little girl that had managed to shed her docility and break the silence that my mother and some of my biological sisters had endured for almost a lifetime. This was only one of the many times that I have reflected on how far I have come, and yet how far I plan to travel in my journey toward transformation.
Blessed Be!

H. R. 2876 (Introduced-in-House)