Lots of Love

“To change our culture, we have to have difficult conversations across differences with lots of love..Knowing how to have those conversation[s] is just the beginning of changing systems of oppression.” –Laverne Cox–

 

Several years ago, my sister and I went to listen to Laverne Cox speak at the University of North Texas (UNT). Both she and I consider ourselves to be advocates, allies, and (of course) huge fans of her show, Orange is the New Black. It was amazing to listen and to become so absorbed in Laverne Cox’s story and how she is using her platform to create positive change in our society.

I wish I would have had the opportunity and the foresight to record her speech. It was motivational, inspirational, and authentic. If I had the ability, I would play it daily so I could have a constant reminder of her message and spirit.

I made two notes while listening, both quotes I feel everyone should hear. 1) “Empathy is the antidote to shame.” and 2) “To change our culture, we have to have difficult conversations across differences with lots of love..Knowing how to have those conversation[s] is just the beginning of changing systems of oppression.”

Just one week after the tragic massacre in Orlando, I encourage everyone to keep those words close to their hearts. In the days following the shooting, I found myself avoiding reading opinion pieces on news outlets and commentary on social media. The hatred that resulted and continues to spew from behind keyboards leaves me baffled and concerned.

The amount of hatred and xenophobia in our society is ridiculous.

What we need right now is lots of love.

What we need right now is to have those difficult conversations, and while doing so, approach our fellow humans with dignity, respect, empathy, compassion, and (did I mention?) lots of love.

Call to Action

WeAreOrlando

  • How can we be allies if we are not listening to the diverse stories of marginalized populations? I encourage you to be silent and to allow yourself to use the time to actively listen and to learn. Have those difficult conversations. Soak it all in. Grow.
  • Get out there and share the love. Each of you have your own unique sets of talents and gifts. Whatever it is that you do, do it with love.
    • If you are talented poet or artist, you might consider helping this 6-year-old with her cause.  Madison Lindsay is sending homemade cards to the survivors of the shooting, family members of the victims, police officers, nurses, and others affected by the nightclub shooting. You can contribute cards by sending them to Sharing Smiles PO Box 560566 Orlando, FL 32856.
    • You can also send messages of hope to survivors and victims’ families online here.
  • Give blood. To find a donation site near you, check out oneblood.org.

How are you spreading the message of love in your community? Join the conversation by commenting below.

 

Be the change,

Erin

 

 

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She’s Someone: Addressing Rape Culture and the Stanford Rapist

Last week my husband asked me about the direction that I felt this blog was moving and the tone that I want to maintain throughout my posts. Without hesitation, I explained that this blog is going to address heavy and often controversial topics. This is going to be a place where I shed light on social injustices that occur right under our noses and yet, remain unseen, unheard, and unaddressed. I intend to create an outlet where people can feel free to ask questions, express their opinions, debate issues, learn, and grow. I want to leave my readers with calls to action, inspiring them to create change.

Basically, I didn’t create this as a space to rant and rage, but rather to inform, encourage, and inspire…

But, I’m outraged and I felt that it was inappropriate to leave the issue unaddressed.

If you’ve read any headlines lately, you’ve probably read about what the media has been referring to as “The Stanford Rape.” A 23-year-old woman was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster as she lay unconscious. Her assailant, 19-year-old (at the time of the assault), Brock Turner. Two bicyclists noticed the victim survivor was not moving and confronted Turner who attempted to flee the scene. The two men restrained Turner and held him until police arrived. The woman bloodied, bruised, and dehumanized, was taken to a hospital. The case went to trial and Turner was found guilty by a jury of three counts of sexual assault. Turner could should have faced over ten years in prison for the charges, but instead only faces a six-month jail and probation sentence.

Six months??!!

Here’s what the victim survivor had to say about the reasoning behind the lenient sentencing:

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class. –Direct quote from the letter the victim survivor read to Brock Turner in court.

Only six months??!!

Meanwhile, nonviolent criminal offenses can lead to 25+ year sentences.

  • Weldon Angelos, father of 3, sentenced to a 55-year mandatory minimum for selling marijuana.
  • John Horner, father of 3, sentenced to 25 years for selling painkillers.
  • Richard Paey sentenced to 25 years for forging prescriptions.

And, others charged with sexual assault face much harsher sentences.

  • Genarlow Wilson, 21, serving a 10-year sentence for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old. He was 17 at the time and the 15-year-old was his girlfriend.

 

Yet, Brock Turner faces only six months??!!

 

While I do not condone the illegal acts described above, I find myself stunned at the severity of the punishments  and the countless lives affected by these harsh consequences. Then, on the other hand, I just cannot fathom how our justice system allows individuals such as Brock Turner to be sentenced to only 6 months jail and probation after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster!

Sexual assault advocacy and victim services aren’t my areas of expertise, but I am a social worker, an advocate, a woman, and a survivor of sexual assault. I wanted to show my solidarity with the victim survivor who has suffered immeasurably from the assault, the trial, and the judge’s sentencing. I couldn’t let another minute go by without telling her how sorry I am that we failed her.

  • We fail to teach boys that ongoing enthusiastic consent isn’t an option, but a requirement when you want to touch someone else’s body. It’s more than a suggestion or a defense to be used after you’ve committed the heinous act of rape.
  • We fail to provide real consequences when boys act inappropriately and excuse their actions saying, “Boys will be boys.”
  • We teach young men that, if they’re athletic, they don’t have to be kind, make good grades, or play by the rules. We emphasize the importance of catching a football, swimming the fastest, jumping the highest, and winning championships. We put athletes on a pedestal and treat them as if they are above the law.
  • We perpetuate rape culture by victim blaming and by asking victims what they were wearing, how much they drank, and digging into their past sexual histories after they’ve survived a sexual assault. When’s the last time someone was mugged and we asked them what they were wearing, how much they drank, and if they’re sure they didn’t “send the wrong signals”?  
  • We’ve created a society where cisgender, white, upper-class, male privilege is so blatantly obvious in our daily lives that we’ve learned to accept it as the norm. We’ve become socialized to this way of life and we’ve become silent about things that matter.
  • We place value on women only because of their roles as wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, as if women only have worth via their relationships with men.

Shes someone

So, yeah. I’m angry.

Sitting here tonight, tears fall for all the ways that we have protected rapists like Brock Turner and for all the ways that we have failed you. You, alone, have worth. You are someone.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re fired up like me, good! You should be. We have to make changes to prevent this from happening in the future.

Call to Action

  • If you think justice was not served and would like to see Judge Aaron Persky removed from the bench for his decision in this case, sign the petition here.
  • Don’t blame the victim survivor. It is never the fault of the survivor. Rape is always100%, without a doubt, caused by the rapist. The survivor did not “ask for it” and it doesn’t matter what they were wearing, how much they had to drink, or what sexual acts they’ve participated in previously. It is always the fault of the rapist.
  • Teach enthusiastic consent to your children, your friends, your siblings, whomever. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. It is vital that we teach consent as an enthusiastic, ongoing “yes” rather than a “no” or silence.
  • Don’t make rape jokes and don’t laugh at them. There’s nothing funny about rape. 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault while in college. It’s no laughing matter.
  • Participate in Take Back the Night rallies and other campaigns meant to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. Get involved in your community so that you can make a difference.

 

I participated in a Take Back the Night rally when I was an undergraduate student at Texas Woman’s University. I remember walking the streets holding hands with some of my peers chanting, “What do we want? Safe streets on campus! When do we want them? NOW!”

Fast forward, years later. What do I want? To end violence against women and to stop perpetuating rape culture. When do I want it? NOW!

 

What do you think? Join the conversation by commenting below.

Be the change,

Erin

Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

Because it’s graduation season (congratulations, 2016 graduates!), I thought this story was relevant. It is a little outdated, having made national headlines in 2014, but I still think its message is applicable and inspirational today.

Before we get Started

Close your eyes for a minute and envision what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like in your mind.

What did you picture?

If you imagined someone like these individuals, you aren’t alone. A simple Google image search will turn up countless images like the ones below.

My guess is, unless you work with individuals experiencing homelessness, you probably didn’t picture someone like this:

Now watch this video (it’s just over 2 minutes long).

America Strong

Takeaways and Discussion

  • Unfortunately, due to Mr. Furlong’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), he is at a statistically significantly higher risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. That does not mean that I think  he will certainly become homeless again (we’re all rooting for him to overcome the odds), but I do want to shed light on our vulnerable youth who have the deck stacked against them.
    • Additionally, children who are experience homelessness suffer higher rates of the following in comparison to their peers:
      • chronic and acute health problems
      • exposure to violence
      • stress
      • fearfulness
      • depression and anxiety
      • aggressive and antisocial behaviors
    • On any given day, it is estimated that over 200,000 American children do not have a place to call home (Greendoors, 2011).
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the greatest number of women and children who are classified as homeless.
  • Not all instances of homelessness are caused by mental health and substance abuse. Medical bills and the rising cause of healthcare are often cited as contributing factors of housing instability.

Call to Action

  • I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to work with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and those who are moving out of homelessness into transitional housing. If there’s one piece of knowledge I can impart on my readers, it would be the strength and resiliency of these individuals. Their stories are as diverse as they are and I find myself humbled and grateful that they are willing to allow me to play a little part in their lives. All that to say, get involved. You won’t regret it.
    • Volunteer to take part in the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count which happens every January across the nation. It is a coordinated effort to count those living unsheltered in places deemed unfit for human habitation (usually on the streets, behind buildings, and in parks).
    • Volunteer at organizations that serve this population. This could include donating your time working at your local food pantries, soup kitchens, street outreach teams, and anywhere that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
    • Make “Blessing Bags” with essentials and resource information. Carry them in your vehicle and give them out in addition to (use your best judgment) or in lieu of cash to those in need.
      • Blessing Bags I’ve made include:
        • Sunscreen
        • Hand sanitizer
        • Chapstick
        • Deodorant
        • Menstrual pads and/or tampons
        • Meal coupons
        • Restaurant gift cards
        • Socks
        • Hats
        • Non-perishable food items (crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.)
        • Instant coffee packets
        • Bottled water
        • Resource guide (Tarrant County puts out a Pocket Pal each year and I carry them in my car. This is the 2016 Pocket Pal so you have an idea of something you could create for your locality.)
  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your 
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Stay informed. Write your legislators and representatives. Be an advocate.

For more information about children and families experiencing homelessness, visit Greendoors 2011. The Pocket Pal was created by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC). Video credit to ABC News.

Have you made Blessing Bags before? If so, what sorts of items did you include? Have you volunteered with organizations serving the homeless population? How can others in your area get involved? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

 

Read, Start Something that Matters, and Read “Start Something that Matters”

Because I’ve had some time to read for pleasure, I thought I would introduce you all to a book that I think can transcend all disciplines. My social worker friends and colleagues will enjoy its uplifting tone and its charitable themes, my business-savvy friends can gain insight into a unique sector that is both profit driven and leaves a positive social footprint, and those of you who are avid readers in search of a meaningful, quick read, well…you’re in luck, too!

Oh, and did I mention that for each book purchased, a new book is provided for a child in need? Now that’s a cause I can get behind! 🙂

A child who reads

What I have found throughout my educational journey in social work is that social work students and recent graduates are searching for a way to apply their clinical skills in a way that can positively change the world. Unfortunately, these individuals often feel as though their empathy, active listening, and other clinical skills do not translate into social enterprise and entrepreneurship. Start Something that Matters written by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, provides an inspiring roadmap for anyone yearning to learn “how to make a difference in business and how to make a business out of making a difference” (Mycoskie, 2011, p. 20). Professionals of any discipline can find useful tips and tricks within this honest, straight forward, insightful text.

The book starts off my introducing a new definition of success, one that is adapted to today’s market of more socially conscious customers and employees. The author describes the foundation of a successful business model and business leaders as those that 1) have a story, 2) do not shy from an uncomfortable situation and who utilize fear to motivate and inspire, 3) are resourceful, 4) value simplicity, 5) establish and maintain trust, and 6) consider giving to be a main component of their business and personal lives. In addition to elaborating on ways to incorporate these six concepts, the author provides practical ways to develop appropriate an online presence, meet major players in the community, overcome mistakes, find and establish relationships with mentors, create community partnerships, make the most of free resources, promote creativity in the workplace, hire employees who are a good company fit, create titles and job descriptions for employees, become better organized, manage time effectively, and a myriad of other invaluable skills.

For each of the aforementioned concepts and skills, the author provides concrete examples from successful business leaders and the mistakes of those whose business ventures failed. Rather than learning only from the founder of TOMS, readers have the opportunity to gain insight from integral businessmen and women at Nordstrom, TerraCycle, Pepsi, Southwest Airlines, Donors Choose, OneShot, and a multitude of other companies that either began their business with giving incorporated into their model or have adapted with the changing times and redefined their ideas of success.

Further, the author provides links to a number of educational blogs, recommended reading, social networking groups to join, and a variety of free resources. Pages 92 through 94 list free resources to build websites, utilize conference calls, compare your company with competitors, and other services. By providing these resources, the author prepares readers to continue to gain knowledge and skills and to apply those skills as they implement their ideas. The book ends with a call to action where the author describes his evolving goals for TOMS and his supporters. “Today I would say that my goal is to influence other people to go out into the world and have a positive impact, to inspire others to start something that matters…” (Mycoskie, 2011, p. 182). Social workers and aspiring change agents will find Blake Mycosckie’s book inspirational and helpful as they go consider their options moving forward and, hopefully, Start Something that Matters.

Call to Action

  • What are you doing to incorporate giving into your business and personal life?
    • If you aren’t, what steps do you need to take to make that change?
  • What books are you reading/have you read that you feel could be helpful to inspire other change agents?

 

Reference

Mycoskie, B. (2011). Start something that matters. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau.

I have faith in you all. Let me know what you’re doing to Start Something that Matters. What do you think? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

 

Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless #AOTD 6/2/16

First Impressions

I struggled when deciding whether or not to use this article as today’s Article of the Day because I don’t feel that it does a great job of accurately depicting individuals experiencing homelessness. Unfortunately, the article reads as if author began his investigation with some negative biases regarding this population. It does, however, address a growing epidemic that does not often make headline news: the ever-changing needs of the homeless population as they age. I wish the author had done a better job of using person-centered language and of informing the audience that individuals experiencing homelessness have their own unique stories and experiences, rather than making generalized statements that perpetuate stereotypes.

Teaser: At some point in the future I’ll be able to share some interesting stories that will hopefully provide you with insight and a new perspective into the diversity of this unique population. I am working on a project with my mentor and some colleagues conducting interviews with individuals moving from homelessness into transitional housing. Using mixed methods (both qualitative and quantitative data), we are attempting to gain insight into the ever-changing needs of the population as well as their unique life experiences, trials, tribulations, goals, supports, strengths, and successes. Words cannot adequately express how humbling it is to hear these stories and the excitement and motivation that I feel working on this project. Expect more to come in the future…

Important Facts and Article Takeaways

  • “There were 306,000 people over 50 living on the streets in 2014, the most recent data available, a 20 percent jump since 2007, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They [individuals over the age of 50] now make up 31 percent of the nation’s homeless population.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “It is the emergence of an older homeless population that is creating daunting challenges for social service agencies and governments already struggling with this crisis of poverty.” (Nagourney, 2016)
  • “We are dealing with the same issues with a 50-year-old that a housed person would have in their 70s, in terms of physical and mental health,” said Anne Miskey, the executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides services for 3,000 homeless women a year in Los Angeles. “It is extremely difficult. And women are affected more than men.” (Nagourney, 2016)

Link to Today’s Article of The Day

You can find the article here: Old and on the Street: The Graying of America’s Homeless

For additional information, check out The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress.

Call to Action

  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.

What do you think? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin

Homelessness

Picture credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2015. The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress