STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 9th, 2009, by Staff

Questions abound. People want to know why former Chicago Cubs player Sammy Sosa appeared several shades lighter at the Latin Grammy Awards last week (pictured right) than he did several months ago at a People En Espanol event in May 2009 (pictured left).

What the heck happened?

His friend and former Cubs employee, Rebecca Polihronis, told the Chicago Tribune that it was a skin rejuvenation process.

Why does any of this matter?

Because historically, deeply entrenched racism and discrimination conditioned many people of color to believe that dark skin is bad. And therefore, lighter skin (and straight hair, and blue/green/light brown eye color, and thinner noses) are good.

So when Sammy Sosa goes off and rejuvenates his skin, people don’t just laugh and say, “I think you overdid the rejuvenation! LOL. Lay off the skin treatment, Sammy.”

Instead, people question whether his lighter complexion isn’t the result of deep-seated self-hatred, especially since it appears he also wears green contact lenses. They compare him to Michael Jackson and ask, “Do you want to look white, Sammy?”

What do you think? Does Sammy Sosa’s appearance have larger implications? Do you think the light skin vs. dark skin issue is still prevalent? Is it relevant? Share your thoughts below.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
November 6th, 2009, by MARTA EVRY

This post was first published at VeniceforChange.com.

I have a tiny, 750 square-foot house. But I’ve somehow made room for one of those enormous Obama “Hope” posters. You know the one. You’ve seen it a million times. This one sits framed in my kitchen. On it are the signatures of many of the volunteers I worked with on the Obama campaign last year.

Every day I am reminded of the miracle we pulled off. Every day I’m reminded how, in our congressional district alone (CA-36), 1,500 volunteers made over 600,000 phone calls to swing states all over the country, and sent hundreds of volunteers to Nevada and New Mexico to get out the vote and turn those states blue.

Every day I am reminded that change can only happen when citizens stand together and take ownership of their government, their country, their communities and themselves. Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign, but rather begins with a new
president, a new government, and a new day.

Republicans have taken the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. Yet in NY-23, Democrat Bill Owens beat out Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. And Democrat John Garamendi easily defeated Republican David Harmer in CA-10 by running as a staunch progressive in what had previously been considered a moderate Democratic district.

And in a heartbreaking reminder of Proposition 8 in California, gay Americans were again denied their rights – this time in Maine.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

Our president inherited a series of crises from one of the most venal and incompetent administrations our country has ever known. It is all he and his administration can do to keep our country from sinking into another Great Depression or stumbling into World War III.

What’s left of the Republican Party is becoming the American Taliban right before our eyes while conservative Democrats threaten to derail health care legislation at every turn.

President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and we are poised to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. My brother-in-law will be returning to Iraq for his third tour of duty this month, leaving a wife and three children behind. He joined the Army 15 years ago because when his wife became pregnant with their first son they couldn’t afford health insurance. They still can’t.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

I believe in my president. But I don’t expect him to “rescue” us. We entered into an implied contract when we helped get Barack Obama elected. We expected “change.” We expected to be respected, empowered and included. We expected him to fight, and we expected to join him in that fight.

That contract, in many ways, has only been partially fulfilled.

As way of example, I take Obama at his word when he says he believes the public option is the best way to reform our health care system. But here’s what I’ve never heard him say:

While the public option may be the best way to bring reform to our health care system, it’s not the easiest or surest road to passing health care reform through Congress – in fact, it may be the most difficult. I understand this risk and am willing to take it, because together I believe we can make this dream a reality.

Instead, I believe the president and his advisers have chosen a different path. One they hoped was less risky. One that would more likely give them a victory that’s eluded every president since Roosevelt. They chose triggers. They chose Olympia Snowe. They have, along the way, chosen to manage expectations for the public option instead of drawing a line in the sand and fighting for it. Not because they’re corrupt, or deceitful or because they don’t believe in efficacy of the public option, but because they don’t believe the system would allow it to happen.

They say politics is the art of the possible.

This is what they believe is possible.

I believe they’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and by doing so, have made the possible finite.

Every day I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

So it’s up to us – all of us – to hold our president accountable. To support him when he needs it, but also to hold his feet to the fire when he chooses the merely possible over the audacity of hope.

We have to make sure the path against the public option, against withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, against the climate change bill, against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and against federal marriage equality is more difficult than the path for it.

This is our end of the contract. We have to understand what the issues are, and understand that merely supporting the president’s agenda may not be enough.

Every day, when I walk by my kitchen wall and see that poster and see my volunteer’s names scrawled across his face, I am reminded that our work does not end with a campaign.

We did not ask permission then and we do not need permission now.

We will be the change we seek and we will move our country towards the possibilities of the infinite.

Marta Evry is a film editor and community organizer. During the Obama presidential campaign, she worked as a Regional Field Organizer for California Congressional District 36. Her musings on the state of local and national politics can be found at www.VeniceforChange.com.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 29th, 2009, by KATHY-ELLEN KUPS

I have been taking some college classes recently, with students just out of high school. It is exciting to get to know these young men and women and hear about their goals, their dreams and their strategies for the future.

When I tell a woman in her twenties that I had breast cancer, I see her eyes glaze over. It is pretty obvious that this is a topic that she is just not interested in.

Thirty-year-olds give a different response. I generally get a sympathetic sigh and genuine concern; they want to know if I am okay now. Eventually though, the conversation turns to their kids or something that is happening at their workplace or in their relationship.

Women in their forties, however, are another story. Generally, when I mention that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, these women want to know how I found it. They also want to know if my mother had it and what kind of treatment I received. Many are interested but afraid to ask if I lost my breast. These women are aware that they could be at risk for breast cancer, and many of them have already discussed it with their doctor.

Breast cancer awareness is just that – it’s being aware of your personal risk and how to detect breast cancer. And although women in their twenties shouldn’t have to think about breast cancer, they, like all women, should be aware of their risks.

Often that involves a brief review of family history with the doctor, who can determine if you are a candidate for genetic testing. In addition, learning to do a self-breast exam is invaluable at an early age. The more familiar you are with your breasts at a younger age, the more you will notice any changes as you age.

There are ways that every woman can reduce her risk. It may be through simple changes to diet or daily exercise. It might involve regular mammograms beginning in your thirties if you are in a high-risk group. Still, if you are a candidate, genetic testing is one of the best weapons we have against the disease.

When breast cancer develops, it is a formidable foe. It targets our breasts, but strikes at the heart of our home. Our partners, children, family and friends are affected too. It leaves no one unscathed. The best defense against breast cancer is an informed offense. Making yourself aware of your risks for breast cancer is the first step in preparing your army.

Kathy-Ellen Kups is the breast cancer blogger for Everydayhealth.com. She has appeared in “Beyond” and “Mamm” and is also a panelist debating healthcare reform for thewashingtonpost.com. Kups is a breast cancer survivor.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 23rd, 2009, by ADRIANNE GEORGE

I remember summer vacations with my family–my sister and I in the back of our parents’ station wagon. We traveled from Washington, DC as far and as wide as Canada, Mexico and many states in between. But I never left the continent until I was an undergraduate and joined a group of African American students on a pilgrimage to Dakar, Senegal.

I made a point of kissing the ground after deplaning. And I will never forget how thrilling it was to see Air Afrique’s all-black flight crew, to hold currency with a black person’s face on it, to meet the legendary Ousmane Sembène, to participate in a naming ceremony, to cry at Île de Gorée and to hear “welcome home” from the many friendly people I met.

Not long after my pilgrimage, I visited London for the first time. I was a guest of Mad Professor who owns Ariwa Records and has the largest black-owned recording studio in London. I fell in love with the coolness of the music, art, club, pub and theater scenes, the vibrancy of Brixton and the freedom one feels when being an American abroad. I decided then that I wanted to live in Europe.

It was during graduate school that I discovered Brussels and how affordable it is (at least compared to Paris). I moved to Brussels, practiced my French, worked at the American Chamber of Commerce, earned a second master’s degree, joined a small communications agency, and four years later moved to Sweden.

My move to Sweden prompted me to launch the Black Women in Europe blog and later a social network, in answer to the question Americans often posed to me: “Are there black women in Europe?”

Then, a fellow black expat introduced me to Reginald Smith. Reggie is a smart Chinese-speaking brother who wanted to start an online magazine for black expats. We both understood how living abroad forces one to grow and stretch and discover news things about one’s self.

So, together, we launched BlackExpat.com and set about finding black expats around the world to interview. Through that work, we have found that the reasons for moving abroad are as diverse as the individuals who have done the moving, but that there often is the common element of self-discovery.

While living abroad, I have discovered how adaptable and resourceful I am and also what it actually feels like to be an American. In my experience, I get treated like an American first and foremost. When I was in Brussels, that meant being met with hostility caused by the local’s extreme dislike of former President Bush. But now that pendulum has swung wildly. Instead of being asked menacingly if I voted for Bush, I am often greeted with, “Yes we can!”

Adrianne George is an award-winning blogger and a Washington, DC native who has lived in England, Belgium and currently in Sweden. She has been published in AnAmericanAbroad.com, Black Meetings and Tourism, The Scandinavian Insider, Afro European Sister’s Network, Boston Technical Recruiter and The Turnip.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 14th, 2009, by AMITA PARASHAR

It was an unseasonably hot day in Washington D.C. when tens of thousands of activists marched to the capitol Sunday demanding federal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. Supporters walked two miles past the White House, decked out in rainbow flags, rainbow tights, rainbow scarves. There was even a giant rainbow flag stretched on the Capitol lawn. If there ever was a day to march, this was it.

Not everybody was seeing rainbows, though. Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank called the march “useless” and said “the only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass.” Instead, he urged people to use their time to press their congress members to support pending legislation.

The timing of the march was deliberate. Forty years ago, the Stonewall rebellion sparked the American gay rights movement. And now, a sympathetic president and Democratic congress could be the key to passing some long-awaited legislation on a federal level.

The Matthew Shepard Act, a hate crimes prevention bill, just passed in the House and President Obama said he would sign it.

Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) just introduced a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars same-sex married couples from federal benefits.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from firing a worker because he or she is gay or transgender, has also been introduced in the House.

However, many in the LGBT community feel Congress and President Obama have been too slow to act.

Obama spoke the night before the rally and vowed to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that bans gays from the military. He repeated his support to the gay community: “It’s not for me to tell you to be patient anymore than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago.”

I noticed one supporter holding a sign that read “First Class Taxpayer, Second Class Citizen.” This march, fundamentally, was about elevating that status.

A recent analysis by The New York Times estimated that gay couples spend anywhere from $41,000 to nearly $470,000 more during their lifetimes than their heterosexual counterparts in health benefits, legal fees, social security and more. Nearly all of these costs would be eliminated if federal benefits were extended to same-sex couples.

Will the march spark a new movement like Dr. King’s historic speech did 46 years ago? Probably not. But it served as an important reminder to Congress, to President Obama, and, most importantly, to ourselves that there is a lot of work to be done and that we all need to be on the same page to do it.

Congressman Frank didn’t approve of the equality march, but that’s only a piece of a heavily fractured movement.

Gay bloggers are angry (see here, here and here) with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT lobbying group in the country, for allowing President Obama to speak at their dinner.

State marriage activists are angry at march organizers for detracting attention from pending marriage fights in Maine and Washington D.C.

But if we’re going to get anything passed, we have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and get some national leadership and a cooperative agenda. Really, we all want the same thing.

The shirt I saw at the march that summed it up had one simple message: “Legalize Gay.”

Amita Parashar has covered LGBT, health and international news for The Advocate, Channel One News and NBC News.

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STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 9th, 2009, by Staff
ObamaNobelCallRS

No matter people’s thoughts on President Barack Obama winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, many were surprised. Including Obama himself.

Two other U.S. presidents won the prize while in office–Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. And former President Jimmy Carter won after leaving office.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its statement:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics.
Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis
on the role that the United Nations and other international
institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as
instruments for resolving even the most difficult international
conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully
stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s
initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting
the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and
human rights are to be strengthened.

But since Obama has been in office for less than a year and had been in office for only 12 days before the nomination deadline earlier this year, reactions to the Nobel Committee’s selection of Obama are mixed.

What do you think? Is Obama deserving of the prize?

 

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 5th, 2009, by MATT PALAZZOLO

The passage of Proposition 8 in California led to a dramatically increased awareness of homophobia around the country as well as the launch of a new generation of activists.

What I didn’t realize until recently, though, is that Prop. 8 was also a unique catalyst in battling racism and faith-phobia.

Following the LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer) community’s sometimes racist reactions to false reports that the African American community overwhelmingly supported Prop. 8 as well as faith-phobic language written on picket signs in reaction to the Mormon Church’s key financial support of the November ballot measure, it became shockingly clear that the ugliness of prejudice lives within the LGBTQ community.

In addition, the general consensus of the LGBTQ community is that part of what doomed the “No on 8″ campaign was its inability to work with both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ communities of color and faith.

Since then, in the battle to win marriage equality back in California, a large emphasis has been placed on building those inter-community relationships. These relationships are being built very purposefully – an LGBTQ People of Color Collective has been formed in Los Angeles – and sometimes by accident. The fact that so many places of faith offer their space for LGBTQ organizing has led me to enter a place of faith more times this past year than in my entire life.

A great example of how the battle for marriage equality is breaking down prejudices is the group, Vote For Equality. The marriage equality canvassing effort, run out of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, meets every other weekend and brings together a broad base of individuals and organizations to go door-to-door in neighborhoods across L.A.

The organizers and canvassers include people of many ethnic, faith, & sexual/gender identities. These canvasses often occur in communities of color, and more often than not, a local church hosts the canvass home-base.

Whether one is knocking on doors, answering a knock at the door, or is a member of the church hosting the canvass, everyone is having personal, one-on-one conversations with people of a different ethnic background, a different faith, and a different sexual or gender identity. On any given canvass up to 45% of voters not supportive of marriage equality change their minds.

After canvassing in South L.A. I was able to see firsthand how many LGBTQ people had conquered the “myth of the gay-black divide.” And since the passage of Prop. 8 I have welcomed people of faith back into my life for the first time since I was scorned as an openly gay teenager.

It’s not a one-sided effort, though. In light of Prop. 8, a Mormon group, The Foundation of Reconciliation, will held a memorial for gay suicides at a Latter-Day Saints conference last weekend.

So barriers are being removed. Understanding is being extended from each corner of the table to the other.

And to those who led the way in passing Proposition 8 I would like to say thank you for reminding us how much work we all still have to do.

Matt Palazzolo is a co-founder of the Equal Roots Coalition, a grassroots organization dedicated to winning LGBTQ equality.

(Photo by Tony Miller)

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
October 1st, 2009, by Staff
faces-alainaronewicz

These are the faces of the uninsured. Look at their photos. Read their stories, told in their own words. And if you are one of the 46 million Americans without health insurance, share your story with us.

Age: 23

City of residence: Allen Park, MI

How long have you been uninsured? 2 years

What is the reason that you are uninsured?

Originally, my father had to take me off of the health insurance that he got through his work because it was becoming too expensive. However, now that I am a college graduate, living on my own, and without a full time teaching job, I still have no access to affordable health insurance.

How has not having health insurance impacted your life?

Not having health insurance is scary. When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with an AVM (or Arterio Venous Malformation). It was a birth defect, that was discovered after years of severe migraines. My neurologist and neurosurgeon believed that once the AVM was gone, my migraines would most likely disappear as well. After my gammaknife procedure and a few embolizations, my AVM was gone, leaving only scar tissue. And my migraines went away. For a few years at least.

My migraines began again a few months ago. My neurologist now wants me to get both an MRI and EEG to see what is going on in my brain to cause these migraines. These tests could cost me $1,500 or more, which is money that I don’t have. I saw how expensive my bills were for the procedures done on my brain when I had health insurance. Now my biggest fear is not that something could be seriously wrong with me, instead my biggest fear is that I may need more procedures that I can’t afford.

How do you obtain routine care?

There is no routine care for me. I don’t see a doctor unless I am sick. Luckily, I have found an amazing doctor. I’ve had to see him about 4 or 5 times in the last few months and he has not charged me one penny. I don’t expect that to be the case forever but nonetheless, I am so grateful to him.

What have you done/will you do in the case of an emergency?

In case of an emergency, I would have to either set up a payment plan with the hospital or max out my credit cards.

What do you want people to know about life without health insurance?

I believe that health insurance is a basic human right. Everyone should have access to food, clean drinking water, and affordable health insurance. If a person doesn’t have health insurance, that doesn’t mean that they’re lazy or uneducated. It means that the system is flawed. I’m not asking for charity, I’m not asking for someone else to pay my medical bills, all I’m asking for is the ability to get the same coverage that CEO’s and government officials across this country get, for a price that I can afford.

What do you want the government to know about life without health insurance?

If you are truly concerned with making the right decision for your constituents, for the people of this great country, health care reform has to be passed. All I ask of you is to listen. Listen to my story and the other stories on this website. Also, listen to all of the other stories that are being told across the country. If you truly listen, you can only come up with one conclusion, that the system needs to change. Although the voices against health care reform may be louder, the voices for health care reform are more clear.

For more on healthcare reform, watch the PBS special report. Tavis Smiley, NOW on PBS and Nightly Business Report collaborated to produce the in-depth special called “PBS Special Report on Healthcare Reform.”

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
September 24th, 2009, by Staff

These are the faces of the uninsured. Look at their photos. Read their stories, told in their own words. And if you are one of the 46 million Americans without health insurance, share your story with us.

 

Name: Karen Gadbois

Age: 54

City of residence: New Orleans

What is the reason that you are uninsured?

The cost of health insurance would be half my salary.

 

Name: Mary Sias

Age: 49

City of residence: Houston, Texas

What is the reason that you are uninsured?

I am uninsured because I lost my job and could not afford the COBRA or any other insurance due to preexisting conditions. I am a 18.5 year survivor of Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. I have also survived cancer, been blind twice, not counting the walking pneumonia with bronchitis. It is tough, not only to find a job, but especially one that I can get affordable insurance. I need help. I need medical tests that are costly, but necessary. I pray that something will be done about the insurance situation in America.

 

Name: Nicole Maron

Age: 37

City of residence: San Francisco, CA

What is the reason that you are uninsured?

I’m a freelance web designer, so I have no access to group insurance. I have mild asthma, a previous knee surgery, and am overweight due to inactivity during the … year I had to wait to be able to afford the knee surgery. Now, all of those count as pre-existing conditions, and because I am at risk for other health problems due to my weight, I am uninsurable.

There is one state plan I can join, but it has such a low lifetime payout limit – $75,000, that if anything happens to me I’ll go bankrupt … So I pay what I have to out-of-pocket. I avoid the doctor as much as possible, because they can never tell me how much their tests will cost, and I can’t afford to get surprise bills for thousands of dollars. I sprained an ankle and spent $1000 for the ER visit without even getting an x-ray.

 

Name: Ely Nunez

Age: 29

City: New York City

What is the reason that you are uninsured?

Layoff in November.

A million stories will be told along with mine. Perhaps my voice will become mute by the complaints, the tragedies, the circumstances, the stories, and the cruel reality of the whole. I sat for a few minutes before deciding to participate in this initiative. And not because I don’t believe in the cause, but because I’m exhausted by the excuses of my nation and my generation.

Millions feel repulsed when they hear that millions of Americans do not have health insurance but they go back to their life, because in the end it doesn’t affect them. I was once that gal – it didn’t affect me. I did the right things – I swear I did. I did everything I was supposed to do to avoid my situation today. I was not supposed to fall into the percentage of the uninsured but I did. Here I am, looking at America from a perception of lack and not of opportunity.

Yes, I did the right things! I graduated college, got a decent job, saved money for a rainy day, invested 10% and later 7% in my 401K, filed my taxes, and worked extra hard to secure my job. I worked in HR for five years within the book publishing industry. I wasn’t surprise when my fabulous boss visited my office on a Friday afternoon and told me “Liz, I’m sorry. We’re letting you go” as he handed me a severance package and tried to get me to talk about my state of mind. I saw the jobs being placed on hold and the decrease of HR projects. I wasn’t as much surprised as I was concerned. I had just paid an estimate of $1000 in the last few months with Health Insurance. I didn’t have to look at the severance package to know that I could not afford COBRA. I had once been responsible for putting together the severance packages … I knew employees couldn’t afford it. I knew I couldn’t either. Not even if they were giving it to me for $250 a month because unemployment was not covering my full rent, how could it possibly cover my health insurance? How?

For a healthy 29-year-old, not having health insurance is fine. For me it was fine too. I would find a job and get health insurance again – piece of cake, I told myself. Almost a year later, I have no job and no health insurance. I went from having to go to the doctor every month to not going at all. I went from complaining to praying. I went from knowing to understanding. I’m not your typical 29. I have a common condition that affects many women …

You ask, how did I become uninsured and why am I still uninsured? I thought I lived in a fair country. You ask, how am I feeling today? I don’t know. I haven’t been to a doctor in almost a year and I am terrified to go because I fear the results!

 

For more on healthcare reform, tune in to PBS on Thursday, September 24th at 9pm for a 90-minute report. Tavis Smiley, NOW on PBS and Nightly Business Report are collaborating to produce the in-depth special called “PBS Special Report on Healthcare Reform.”

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
September 22nd, 2009, by ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III

This excerpt is from a post first published at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Powell is blogging while in South Africa.

GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa – Here in South Africa, the downfall of apartheid, the first multi-racial election in 1993 and the victory at the ballot box of the formerly outlawed African National Congress remains a source of considerable pride and celebration. And there is also an examination of the public diplomacy tools used by the ANC – especially music, arts and culture – as key elements in the ANC’s victory over the apartheid government, which possessed far more “hard power.”

An article, “Remix of struggle songs hits a dissonant crescendo,” published here recently describes many of these tools; particularly music, much of it derived from the music of the church. This will be familiar to Americans familiar with “We Shall Overcome” and other anthems of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Since the election of the ANC in 1994, the South African government has developed a strong public diplomacy program, using music and culture to project the country’s identity to the world.

However, this article argues that the ANC in its role as ruling party may not be fully utilizing its musical and cultural tradition inside the country. Again, there may be parallels to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and with other movements in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. But that is another blog post . . .

Adam Clayton Powell III is USC’s vice provost for Globalization. He is also a university fellow at the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Powell recently published a book entitled Reinventing Local News: Connecting with Communities Using New Technologies (Figueroa Press, 2006). He has also written for a number of publications, including The New York Times, Wired Magazine and Online Journalism Review.

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