Friday, March 31, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 31: Jeremy Alexander

Jeremy Alexander, an employee at Georgetown University, made a shocking discovery when he had his DNA traced and he began exploring his ancestry. He learned that his great-great-great-grandmother, Anna Mahoney Jones, had been sold by Georgetown.

Alexander is an executive assistant at the university, and he's seen how the university has tried to atone for the fact it sold slaves in 1838 to help rescue it from financial ruin. Some of the slave descendants even visited the campus, but he had no idea he was one of them.

“Now I work here — to realize that this is my history, this is my story, blows me away,” he told the New York Times. “I have been really emotional as I learned about my ties to the university.”

Georgetown is trying to atone for its involvement in slavery. In September, President John J. DeGioia announced that those descendants would be awarded preferential status in the admission process. According to The Washington Post, Georgetown will hold a religious ceremony in April as an apology for its ties to the slave trade.

Anna Mahoney Jones was one of the 272 slaves sold at Georgetown for about $115,000, or $3.3 million in today’s Jesuit priests. It was not the only sale of slaves made by Georgetown, but the largest. Listen to Jeremy Alexander's story here, as he, Roland Martin, and others discuss how the Catholic church was involved, how many of the country's great universities were built on the backs of slaves, and possible restitution for Georgetown's difficult history:

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 30: Jo Ann Hardesty

Yesterday, I wrote about "Badass Black Women," and today I have another one!

Last night, Jo Ann Hardesty, president of the NAACP Portland chapter came to speak at our church, Spirit of Grace. She was amazing!

She spoke to a full room of mostly white, middle class adults and a few teens about what it's like to be an African-American in Portland. Sharing some shocking statistics from the Unequal Justice series in the Portland Tribune, she stunned us out of inaction by telling stories and waking us up. For example, in the past 12 years, African-American residents have paid $21.5 million more in fines than they would have paid had they been whites. Black residents are charged 27 times the amount as white residents for the "crime" of spitting on the street. And the list goes on. I encourage you to read the article.

She called on us to become "co-conspirators" instead of "allies" (more active rather than passive) and to come to an NAACP meeting. She shared tips on how to engage people in conversation and find common ground (e.g., ask lots of questions, rather than going on the defense!), and offered lots of excellent, tangible advice on how to get involved and what to do if we see a hate crime. And she kept us laughing, and moved, through the hard topics. She also invited us to join in her monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, a young man with mental illness who was shot by the police.

When one teenager from McMinnville (a friend's granddaughter)  about what she could do in her predominantly white, conservative, small town high school full of "white boys"), Hardesty suggested she start a racial justice club and offered to come speak at the first meeting. I spoke with this young woman afterward, and she's nervous and excited...and said Hardesty left her card.

Hardesty served as an aide to former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein before winning a House seat in the Oregon Legislature. Previously, she was among the first female sailors assigned to an American naval vessel on sea duty. Aboard the USS Samuel Gompers, she was one of 155 women among 5,000. Although petite and slim, she is a powerful presence. She’s served as the director of Oregon Action and has her own consulting firm. She also has a regular show on KBOO, Voices from the Edge. I will be listening!

The Portland NAACP Branch, founded in 1914, is the oldest continuously chartered branch west of the Mississippi! As Hardesty said last night, "can you imagine how brave they must have been back then?" They meet every 4th Saturday from noon-2pm at the American Red Cross, 3131 N Vancouver Ave. I hope to be able to get there soon!

An evening SOOO worth my time!

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 29: Badass Black Women

We weren't made to serve the Sabbath, and women weren't made to serve men...especially Black women. Yesterday I read about THREE instances of rich, powerful white men insulting Black women or commenting on their looks. Black women are not your plaything.

1. April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks correspondent, was treated rudely by White House press secretary Sean Spicer...who accused her of wanting to push an agenda, telling her to "stop shaking your head." "April, hold on, it seems like you're hell-bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays," he said. "I'm sorry, please stop shaking your head again," he added.

Ryan took the high road (necessary if she ever hopes to ask a question again): “Sean is being the White House press secretary, talking about and trying to make this administration look better than what it does right now, and unfortunately I was road kill today,” she said. Infuriating.

2. I've come to love Alicia Keys since I started watching "The Voice." A multiple award winner and philanthropist in addition to being an extremely talented musician and nurturing mentor and coach, Keys has been a vocal proponent of love and acceptance. At the Women's March on Washington, she said, "we want the best for all Americans. No hate, no bigotry, no Muslim registry. We value education, health care, equality." She cares about women's equal pay, war, women's rights, and environmental protection.

In May 2016, Keys began a makeup-free campaign, explaining "I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing." Of course, she's received a mixed reception, with some claiming it's easy for her to do so because of her attractiveness, and others calling it a PR stunt...because everyone feels the right to comment on women's appearances.

Adam Levine, her colleague on "The Voice," shared a story on the Howard Stern show about how he tried to tease Keys when he saw her putting on a bit of makeup. All the coaches tease each other on "The Voice," and Keys and Levine appear to have a warm working relationship. But I love Keys' response. "I do what the f*ck I want." Damn, woman. You are so right. As we all should do! She has no need to explain herself...not one bit. She is a star and a badass!

3. The right-wing racist, sexist blowhard Bill O'Reilly had the nerve to diss Maxine Waters, age 78, California U.S. Representative. The most senior of the 12 black women in the United States Congress and member and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Waters was fifth out of thirteen children and raised by her single mother. She has worked her butt off her entire life and has never suffered fools gladly or let right-wing blowhards tell her what to do. She's called Trump's friends and advisors "a bunch of scumbags" and has said Trump is heading to impeachment.

Yesterday Bill O'Reilly disparaged Waters on Fox News, saying that he couldn't pay attention to what
she was saying because her hair looked like a James Brown wig. Racist AND sexist. In an interview later in the day, Waters not only said she wasn't going to respond to O'Reilly or pay attention to him, but she also extended a message for all women:
"Don't allow these right-wing talking heads these dishonorable people to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are. Do what you do. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country...We also know that when a woman stands up and speaks truth to power that there will be attempts to put her down. So I'm not going to be put down. I'm not going to go anywhere. I'm going to stay on the issues. And the issues are basically these: we have a president of the United States that doesn't deserve to be president..."" 
Watch her badass speech here:

Another woman constantly criticized for her looks and badassery, Hillary Clinton, made a statement yesterday, too, commenting on how poorly both Ryan and Waters have been treated and discussing the everyday sexism (and racism) women face. These women were just doing their jobs.

So here's the message of the day, brought to you by Badass Black Women: "Be who you are. Do what the f*ck you want. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country." Keep on resisting and don't let the scumbags get you down.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 28: Muslims Standing Up Against Terrorism

On Sunday, Muslim women joined hands on the Westminster Bridge to condemn last week's terror attack in London, show solidarity, and pay tribute to the victims. Although people from all backgrounds joined the event, organized by the Women's March in London, the many Muslim women and their daughters present stood out the most. Some of the women shared their thoughts:
“When an attack happens in London, it is an attack on me. It is an attack on all of us. Islam totally condemns violence of any sort. This is abhorrent to us.” --Sarah Waseem 
“As a visible Muslim I think it was important to show solidarity with the principles that we all hold dear, the principles of plurality, diversity and so on.” --Ayesha Malik
“The feeling of what happened here on Wednesday was really strong. We thought of the ordinary people who were here and were mown down, standing here like this. It was very overwhelming.” --Fariha Khan
Elsewhere in London, Ibrahim Dogus, a Muslim-born businessman, fed hundreds of emergency service workers for free. When police ordered Dogus to evacuate and close his three restaurants after the attack, he asked permission to keep one of his restaurants open near the Westminster Bridge so police officers had a place to eat and keep warm.

“I went to one of the officers and said 'I can shut all the businesses, but I want you guys and all the emergency staff to use this place for food, drinks, and for warmth for free',” he told The Independent.

Dogus kept the restaurant open into the evening “until the last officer was fed." He fed between 300 and 500 emergency workers from the police, London Ambulance Service, and London Fire Brigade.
“We wanted to play our role in terms of supporting the emergency crew. This was happening right at our doorstep. If you walk two seconds on my doorstep I would be on the bridge. I use the bridge to take my kids to school, not on that day, but I live next to the area, I work next to the area.”
A Muslim-led fund to support victims and families has raised more than £25,000 in a few days. I've been touched to read the way Muslims, Jews, and Christians have come together in recent months to show interfaith support for each other, especially in light of the travel bans and xenophobia.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 27: Eat Offbeat

Do you love ethnic food like I do? If so, you might be interested in Eat Offbeat, a new cookbook by refugees. A year ago, Manal Kahi, then a student at Columbia University, couldn't find any Syrian-style hummus in New York City. She decided to make it her mission to bring new and underrepresented cuisine to the city by employing resettled refugees. With her brother, Wissan Kahi, they launched Eat Offbeat, a startup that aims to "introduce New Yorkers to new and off-the-beaten-path cuisines; create opportunities for talented home cooks who happened to be refugees by status; and, showcase the value refugees bring this country."

In the past year, Eat Offbeat has trained and hired 16 chefs from 11 countries, fed 15,000 New Yorkers, and been dubbed "New York’s most groundbreaking catering." Now the siblings are expanding beyond New York by gearing up to publish Eat Offbeat: The Cookbook through a Kickstarter campaign that launched on March 7. It quickly surpassed its $50,000 goal. For a $30 donation, you'll receive this great cookbook, which will include more than 80 recipes from 20 chefs from 15 different countries including Iraq, Nepal, Syria, Eritrea, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Algeria, and Egypt. With the additional money raised, Eat Offbeat will hire and train more chefs. Also, 10% of cookbook proceeds will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, which helps people who live in areas affected by humanitarian crisis.

The world has never seen such a high number of refugees fleeing their homes...and half of all refugees are children. This forced displacement has increased because of conflicts in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as growing resistance from other nations like the U.S. to provide asylum for refugees. We actually have a very small percentage of resettled refugees in the U.S. already, and this anti-refugee stance reminds me of the way the U.S. shut its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Have we not learned anything?

The one upside of Trump's xenophobia and the rise of white supremacy is the pushback on the travel bans and the radical welcome people on the other side of the political spectrum are showing toward refugees and immigrants. The smashing success of the Eat Offbeat cookbook is one encouraging sign.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 26: Mohamed Bezeek

Mohamed Bezeek, a widowed Libyan-American man in Los Angeles, takes care of the children no one else wants: he fosters medically fragile, terminally ill kids. Right now Bzeek is fostering a six-year-old girl with a microencephaly, which causes seizures and has left her blind, deaf, and mostly paralyzed. Except for his visits to the mosque (when a nurse takes care of his daughter), he spends the rest of his time by her side at their home or the hospital.

Bezeek has buried 10 children. He's the only foster parent in Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, to take in terminally ill foster children. Now 62, Bezeek came to the U.S. as a college student in 1978. He met a woman named Dawn, who became his wife. She had been a foster parent before they met. When they got married, they opened up their home to dozens of foster children and taught classes on foster parenting. By the mid-1990s, they decided to accept foster children with Do Not Resuscitate orders. And they also had their own son with Brittle Bone Disorder and Dwarfism. Now 19, he's a college student but only weighs 65 pounds and gets around in an electric wheelchair. Here's a beautiful PBS profile on Bezeek:

Dawn died a few years ago after many years of illness. But Bzeek still gets emotional when he talks about her and says she was always the strong one.

Bezeek receives $1,700 per month to care for his current foster daughter...not enough to pay for all the medical bills and medications. In February, Hailey Branson-Potts wrote a story about Bezeek in the LA Times, and word spread. The story was published just one day before an appeals judge reinstated Donald Trump's executive order to ban refugees and immigrants from countries such as Libya.

A reader was inspired to start a GoFundMe page for him, and in 24 hours, the campaign had hit and surpassed its $100,000 goal. Now it's up to $378,000, which will enable Bezeek to get central air conditioning/heating, respite care (he hasn't had a day off since 2010), his son's education, a new van, and roof repairs.

And now, this man who is the sole caregiver for his foster daughter and his son is facing his own medical challenges: he was diagnosed with colon cancer last November and is undergoing treatment.

He's been humbled by the outpouring of support. "I can't describe the feeling. You see how many nice people around us but we don't see them," said Bezeek. "There's always good in this world, more than the bad. That's what I believe."

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 25: Missing Black Teens

At a town hall on Wednesday at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington DC, one girl took the microphone and pleaded for city officials to find out why young black girls are going missing: "Why does stuff just have to happen to us?" the girl asked. "Why do people have to be so horrible to us? Why can't we just get more respect? Why can't we all just be family, get together and help each other? Why do they just gotta hurt us so bad?"

Did you know:
  • In Washington DC, over 500 kids and teens have gone missing, many of them Black or Latino, since the beginning of 2017. As of Wednesday, 22 of those cases remain unsolved. These numbers are consistent with the past couple of years (2,222 cases in 2014, 2,433 in 2015 and 2,242 in 2016).
  • In the U.S., 170,899 black children are missing — far more than any other racial category except for white, which includes Hispanic and had 264,443 missing children.
  • An estimated 42 percent of missing children are Black.
Until I saw these statistics this week, I had no idea. Performer and comedian DL Hughley brought attention to this issue when he asked why the FBI had recovered Tom Brady's precious missing jersey but had not been able to find the missing black girls. Many missing African-American children get classified as runaways, so they are less likely to get Amber Alerts or media coverage, which can help locate them more quickly and reduce their risk of sex trafficking, abuse, or worse.

The reason I had not heard about this is because of “Missing White Girl Syndrome"--news media is more likely to cover the murders and abductions of affluent or middle-class white girls than those of boys, poor kids, and kids of color, especially African-Americans. (However, the case of a missing white boy, Kyron Horman, was HEAVILY covered here in Portland, way more than children of color who vanished around the same time.) Although 32 percent of the U.S. population is a person of color, only 13 percent of newspaper journalists and 22 percent of TV newsroom staff are racial minorities. Journalists tend to cover what they know, and their racial bias comes through in their lack of coverage of these missing young people of color.

Comedian Jon Stewart calculated the following equation for how much airtime child abductions get on TV: y (minutes of media coverage) = Family Income x (Abductee Cuteness ÷ Skin Color) + Length of Abduction x Media Savvy of Grieving Parents.

We need to demand more from our local whitewashed media.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 24: Colin Kaepernick

My friends know I am no football fan, but I do admire the way Colin Kaepernick walks his talk.

What did Kaepernick do the day after "President" Trump continued to insult him for no reason? He donated $50,000 to Meals on Wheels! He also gave generously to #LoveArmyForSomalia, an initiative aiming to ease the famine gripping Somalia that has left millions in desperate need of food and water. Consequently, the organization now has a cargo plane to fly supplies into Somalia.

This at the same time that Trump and his friends have "oppressively blackmailed, plundered in robbery, wronged the poor and needy, and abused the outsider unjustly." Add to that list the clueless Sarah Palin, who claimed that Kaepernick's donation was a "political stunt." Really.

Who's the better Christian, I ask you?

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 23: Jussie Smollett

As someone who feels the hurts of the world, I continue to be greatly concerned and worried about the state of the USA at the moment, and the ways that those on the margins are being mistreated. And I'm furious at the "princes of Israel" among us, "abusive to outsiders, oppressive against orphans and widows."

Jussie Smollett, an actor on Emmy-award winning "Empire," recently debuted the “F.U.W.” (short for “f**ked up world) video that captures how I and many others are feeling under this new Republican regime.

Smollett captures how people are being disenfranchised and dismissed in the new Republican fantasy of a world...from LGBT rights to religious and racial prejudices.

“This song is for the oppressed. That’s why I feel like people will connect with it because it is very broad, because oppression is so broad,” Smollett said in an interview with The Associated Press.

In one scene, a man in a wheelchair runs over a Trump mask. “That mask is a representation of this false idea of patriotism. And that mask is a representation of this idea of white male privilege,” Smollett said. “It’s so much bigger than him. It’s what he represents, and it’s because of that representation, that’s why he’s the president of the United States currently.”

“It’s our opportunity to take those masks off and shatter them, so that’s what I did,” he added.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 22: Karen Gaffney

Yesterday while people around the globe were celebrating World Down Syndrome Day, the Republicans in Congress and the White House were making their proposed health care plan even WORSE for the poor and disabled by writing a new "manager's amendment" in a desperate appeal to conservative Republicans. The amendment makes Medicaid cuts even deeper, frees up governors to raid the program to plug other budget holes, and ends Medicaid expansion under Obamacare much sooner than Ryan’s original bill.

Trumpcare is devastating to the poor and benefits the rich, all studies show. For example, a family making less than $10,000 will lose $1,420, a cut that amounts to almost one-third of their income. Meanwhile, the average family making $200,000 or more would gain $5,640. But another less-talked-about effect is that it will be devastating to disabled Americans, forcing millions of them into poverty and possibly back into institutions. Add to that the programs being targeted and voucher programs being proposed at the Department of Education by Betsy DeVos and her ilk and the fact that the Web site about protecting students with disabilities was taken down, and it's clear that disabled people are facing huge threats to their livelihoods and ability to thrive.

So with all this in mind, I chose Oregonian Karen Gaffney today as my voice. In 2001 Gaffney was the first person with Down syndrome to complete a relay swim of the English channel. In 2007 she swam 9 miles across Lake Tahoe (in 59 degree water), in 2009 she swam 5 miles across the Boston Harbor, and she's completed 16 swims across the San Francisco Bay. She's also won two gold medals from the Special Olympics. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Portland on May 5, 2013, for her work in raising awareness regarding the abilities of people who have Down syndrome (another first for someone with Down syndrome). She is the president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, which is dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities.

Listen to Gaffney in her own voice in this incredible TED talk, with the unfortunate title of "All Lives Matter" (but it means something different entirely). She shares the story of her fifth grade teacher who called her from Germany to let her know she was expecting a baby with Down syndrome, and how that daughter is now a swimmer like Gaffney. She is inspiring and amazing!

Did you know that 92 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated? Although I'm passionately pro-choice, this statistic makes me sad.

Gaffney travels the country speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. She tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 21: Mary Nom Lee Leong

Mary Nom Lee Leong of Beaverton, who died in January at age 95, was a historian of the Chinese-American experience in Oregon and one of the last people to grow up in Portland's Chinatown. Most of her life was dedicated to preserving the history of Chinese-Americans who fought to overcome discrimination in their adopted country. She also founded the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Museum in Portland.

Mary's son Robert said,
"My mom was passionate about helping us understand this. She was not bitter or angry about it. She was a light-hearted person. She said that (discrimination) was the way things were—it's not the way things are now—but we need to have an appreciation of where we came from, so we can celebrate the journey we have been on."
Born in Tualatin, Oregon, Mary's parents both came from China, her father a few years after Exclusion Act in 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from coming to the United States. It was the first law to target a specific ethnic group. Her family moved to Chinatown when she was 2. Robert Leong once asked his parents why Chinese were confined to Chinatown. "My father said I did not understand; it was not a choice," he said. "Chinatowns were in the poorest, nastiest sections of town, because they are where the non-Chinese people forced us to live."

Sadly, Oregon has a racist history. Chinese were not allowed to own property or become citizens under Oregon law. Consequently, Oregon's Chinese population decreased from 10,000 at the start of the 20th century to about 2,000 by mid-century. The Exclusion Act and the state bans against property ownership were repealed during World War II when China was allied with the United States against Japan.

Racial segregation did not stop Mary Leong from contributing to her community. She graduated from high school and attended two years of college in California. She participated in the Portland Rose Festival on the Chinese float in the 1920s and sang Chinese opera to raise money for China's resistance to Japan during the Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1939. And she also protested against U.S. sales of steel to Japan during that period. Mary and her husband George (who was born in Portland) also became agents for New York Life Insurance Co.

In the 1970s, Mary became inspired to capture Chinese-American history in Oregon. She felt that if she didn't write it down, it would be lost forever. She interviewed elders, advocated for preservation of Chinese buildings and memories, and began collecting and documenting artifacts and stories, which are now in the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the Oregon Historical Society. In the 1990s, Governor Barbara Roberts appointed her as commissioner of elder services, and Taiwan named her as commissioner for overseas Chinese affairs in Oregon.

"My parents had a saying: The American melting pot is great, but don't let it melt you away," Robert Leong said. "The melting pot is not evil, but you will have lost something—an appreciation of things that occurred before you."

Because of Leong's leadership in the community, we have intact and unmelted memories of the Chinese experience in Oregon.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 20: Valarie Kaur

On New Year's Eve, Valarie Kaur joined Reverend William J. Barber II (who spoke at the Democratic National Convention) and other faith leaders at a "Watch Night Service" at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in DC. An award-winning filmmaker, legal advocate, theologian, and public speaker and third-generation Sikh-American, Kaur is founding director of Groundswell, a nonprofit initiative at Auburn Theological Seminary committed to building the multifaith movement for justice.

Kaur writes in her blog, "There was part of my soul that had been shattered since the election—a part that no one could reach. But the entire service—testimonies, music and song—touched and healed that part of me. So deep, I didn’t even know it needed to be healed until it happened. I will never forget standing there, tears streaming down my face with the deep knowledge that I will not bow down in the fire; I will not stand down, no matter how tired. Thanks to William J. Barber, II for that gift. Whatever I gave, I received ten-fold."

Her speech that night is a must-watch!

She spoke about her grandfather, of how she felt after 9/11, and how her love for her son inspires her actions. Tears came to my eyes as I heard her passionate, beautiful words:

"What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but of the womb?
What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born?
What if the story of America is one long labor?
What if this is our nation's great transition?
What does the midwife tell us to do?
Breathe and then push.
If we don't push we will die.
If we don't push our nation will die.
Tonight we will breathe.
Tomorrow we will labor in love, through love.
And your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children."

This message gives me hope during these hard times.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 19: Mary Johnson

Today's voice is Mary Johnson, who forgave her only son's killer. Her son, Laramiun Byrd, was shot to death at a party in 1993 by teenager Ohsea Israel. At his sentencing hearing, she hugged him and then became hysterical. "I just hugged the man that murdered my son.” "I felt something leave me,” she said. “Instantly I knew all the hatred, bitterness and animosity—I knew it was gone.”

I'm fascinated by this concept of radical forgiveness (I've read several books on this subject) but I'm not sure if I would be able to ever accomplish this feat myself. Johnson and Israel share their experience around the country as part of "From Death To Life," a nonprofit Johnson founded to provide healing and reconciliation between families of victims and those who caused harm. Johnson calls Israel her “spiritual son” and he refers to her as a “second mom.” They even live next door to one another.

Listen to them on this video and see if your heart is changed just a little bit.

Our Lenten hero of the day! Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 18: Barry Farmer

Barry Farmer is a single father to three boys he adopted. Raised by his grandparents and a third-grade teacher who took him under her wing, Barry knew he wanted to become a foster dad back in high school.“I was 17 years old when I wrote in my journal, ‘I want to adopt a child from foster care,’” Barry said.

At age 20, while working in a day care, he answered an ad for foster parents. He knew he was called to work with youth. “I've never been the type of guy to party,” Barry said. “I wanted a child I could take care of and share experiences with before I got too old.”

By age 21, he was trained and ready to take on his first foster child, a 16-year-old boy and a “high-risk placement,” but the boy stayed for eight months before moving onto a placement that could address his special needs. “I hated to see him go, but we have stayed in touch,” said Barry. “From the beginning he called me ‘Dad.’ Seven years later he still does.”

After that first placement, he continued to care for children in the short term and long term...and then he decided to become a more permanent parent: he adopted three boys: Darrell, 13, Xavier, 11, and Jeremiah, 3.

"Not every day is full of sunshine and rainbows. But if you work at it with understanding and compassion, your good days will far outweigh the bad ones." Farmer believes that everyone deserves a family, and that being family doesn't mean you have to look alike.

“In this day in time when it comes to family, and seeing color or seeing unity and belonging, and that’s what I was hoping to accomplish with my family anyway,” Farmer explained. “When I have them now, I can’t imagine them anywhere else, and it’s a typical family. We may not look alike, but it’s a typical family. I just want them to be someone that I can be proud of and they can be proud of, and that’s all it takes.” Farmer's our hero for the day, taking up the case of the stranger.

Our Lenten hero of the day! Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 17: Females Fighting Fear

Wednesday was the Ides of March, and thousands of Americans sent postcards to Trump expressing their dismay and dissatisfaction with the way he's tearing apart democracy. One of the funniest postcards I've seen said, "Because of you, I've met so many nice liberals."

The silver lining of the current disaster in the US is the way people are coming together, rising up,
and standing up for justice, in particular women. We had an unprecedented women's march and Day Without Women, and thousands of Facebook and Twitter groups have popped up across the country to protest the current Republican leaders. Activism lives in social media, and because I rely on it for a lot of news, Facebook is a headache and a salve at the same time.

According to Chicago lawyer Dee Armstrong, she saw an approximately 70-30 female-male ratio of people working with immigrants and refugees at Chicago O’Hare Airport. "As Rebecca Traister points out, women have been a major force in crafting the legal opposition to Trump’s administration: It was four female judges (plus one male judge) who issued stays on Trump’s executive order, while Sally Yates, Obama’s now-fired appointee for attorney general, became an overnight hero for refusing to enforce Trump’s executive order."

We had Elizabeth Warren being silenced, prompting our new feminist battle cry, "Nevertheless, she persisted." Patty Murray, Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, and others vigorously opposed the nomination of Betsy DeVos. Kamala Harris continues to speak up (future of the Democratic party). And then there's the divine Samantha Bee and Rachel Maddow, ruling the political commentary circuit.

On a local level, the most visible leaders I see in Oregon are women as well...standing up for those on the margins, for reproductive rights, for the poor and elderly and disabled, for LGBTQIA people, all of whom will be devastated by the Republican agenda and proposed budget. Women are challenging the Republicans on ethics and democracy.

Women are leading the resistance. And we are just getting started.

Our Lenten hero of the day! Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 16: Madam C.J. Walker

Meet Madam C.J. Walker,  the wealthiest African-American woman of her time, one of the most successful African-American business owners ever, among the greatest African-American philanthropists in history, and (arguably) the first female self-made millionaire in the US.

Born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove, she grew up on the Louisiana plantation where her family had worked as slaves, but the first in her family to be born free. Orphaned at age 7, she was raised by her sister and cruel brother-in-law until she left home to marry. Surviving widowhood and twice divorced, she did not rely on men for her success. While working as a successful sales agent for a hair care company, she married Charles Joseph Walker and decided to begin her own line of hair care products designed specifically for African-American women.

Her first large donation of $1,000 was to build a new YMCA recreation facility in a black neighborhood, explaining, “If the association can save our boys, our girls will be saved, and that’s what I am interested in.”
In 1910, she created the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company of Indiana. (She adopted “Madam” as a first name to avoid being called “Auntie” by whites.) And in 1916, she created the Madam C. J. Walker Benevolent Association. Walker was devoted to improving the lives of African Americans.

She funded anti-lynching programs run by the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women. She led the effort to preserve the home of Frederick Douglass in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D. C. And she joined a delegation of Harlem leaders who went to Washington, D. C. to argue that black Americans who fought in World War I should have full civil rights at the conclusion of hostilities. When she passed away on May 25, 1919 from hypertension and kidney disease at the young age of 51, she left most of her estate to charity.

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South,” Walker said. “From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing...I have built my own factory on my own ground.”

“I am in the business world, not for myself alone,” she told Booker T. Washington in 1912, “but to do all the good I can for the uplift of my race.” In addition to her philanthropy, she employed thousands of African-American women as commissioned, well-paid sales agents. As the New York Post wrote after she died, Walker’s rags-to-riches life demonstrated that the American dream of personal success—and then sharing that success with one’s fellows—applied to blacks as well as whites, and that talented and generous citizens of any color “may rise to the most distinctive heights of American achievement.”

She continues to be an inspiration today, especially for African-American women. And here's a piece of good news: the amazing Octavia Spencer has optioned a book about Walker and plans to produce and portray her in a TV series! I plan to add this book to my list: On Her Own Ground, written by her great-great granddaughter.

Our Lenten hero of the day! Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 15: Guadalupe García de Rayos

This is Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos. Arrested in 2008 during a workplace raid for using a fake social security number,* she was recently deported in Arizona--for trying to work to support her family--leaving her husband and two American-born citizen children behind, because the new administration believes she's "a threat to public safety." Truly.

Guadalupe García de Rayos had been living in the US since she was 14 years old. After her arrest many years ago, she had been allowed to stay as long as she checked in annually with immigration officials, because the Obama administration focused on deporting immigrants who were a threat to public safety, had ties to gangs, or had committed serious felonies. In February de Rayos went to mass to say a prayer before going to her usual check-in, where she was detained and deported 24 hours later under Trump's executive order that prioritizes deportation of "criminals."

Traumatized, her teenage children tried to block the van that would carry her across the border. “I don’t think it’s fair that she was taken away from us. Her only crime was to work here so she could support us. She is a very kind person,” 14-year-old Jacqueline said. “She treats everyone like family. She hasn’t done anything to harm anyone.”

Her husband, Aaron Reyes, is also undocumented. “This is our country, because this is where we’ve lived most of our lives,” Reyes said. “We went to school here. This is where we met and got married. This is where we formed our lives and this is where our children were born.”

We will continue to see more families separated if the Republicans have their way. The new Department of Homeland Security considering a policy that would forcibly separate undocumented children from their parents at the U.S. border.

Ray Ybarra Maldonado, de Rayos' immigration attorney, said the order “has nothing to do with public safety” and “has everything to do with separating families." "All because she was trying to work to support herself and her kids – which is the same thing any of us would’ve done if we were in her situation – she was criminalized, given a class 6 felony and now she finds herself on the other side of the border,” Maldonado said.

For her part, de Rayos has no regrets for any of it, as she shared at a news conference from Nogales, Mexico:
"The truth is I was there [in the United States] for my children. For a better future. To work for them. And I don't regret it, because I did it for love. Trump is not harming the adults and the parents who get deported, but it's different for the children left behind in the United States...I am not what he says. I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best...I'm going to keep fighting so that they continue to study in their country, and so that their dreams become a reality."
She's our Lenten hero of the day. Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

*Undocumented workers are often forced to buy fake social security cards so they can work. Contrary to what Republicans would have us believe, undocumented workers pay $12 billion in taxes each year, adding value to the U.S. economy and funding public schools and other government services but not being able to tap into benefits such as social security.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 14: Dreamers

These four young people are dreamers, literally and figuratively. They are enrolled in President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which makes it possible for 750,000 people to contribute fully to our society by driving and working legally. But now under the new administration, all of that is at risk. DACA participants have been detained in custody for no reason.

Worried after the election, Zaira Flores bravely decided to channel her fears into action. Now 25, she's lived in Oregon since she was 6. She graduated from PSU with a degree in economics. Under the DACA program, she has to reapply every 2 years and pay $495 (and $60 for a new driver's license every 2 years) or risk being deported. It's a scary time, especially not knowing what will happen with DACA.

I got the fortune to meet Zaira on Sunday when she visited our church. Zaira and her friends decided to write letters to our Oregon congresspeople to ask them to advocate for the DACA program. They mailed 200 letters in purple envelopes (the color of hope) earlier this year and recently delivered letters in person to Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader, who said:
"Every one of these stories matters and needs to be shared. Recent policies from the new administration will only serve to tear families apart (and) destroy American businesses. Oregon isn't going to turn its back on our immigrant community, and neither will I."
This grassroots group (featured on the front page of the Oregonian) is asking for supporters to get involved by writing their own letters. Email your letter to, and they will put your letter in a purple envelope and deliver them to our representatives.
With Senator Ron Wyden
As Zaira shared with the Oregonian reporter,
"For a long time, I felt like I was alone. I thought people didn't care or didn't know. But the response we're getting is so reassuring. We are scared. We're putting ourselves at risk, publicly saying we have DACA. But people are letting us know we are not alone. Our community cares for us."
I'm writing my purple letter today! 

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Monday, March 13, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 13: Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, American labor leader, civil rights activist, and "born-again feminist," has been fighting for labor rights, in particular for Latinos, for 60 years. She cofounded the National Farmworkers Union, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. She was born in New Mexico and raised by a single mom after her parents divorced when she was three. Her mother, Alicia Chávez, owned a restaurant and a 70-room hotel where she welcomed low-wage workers and farm worker families for affordable prices and sometimes even for free. This served as the inspiration for Huerta's caring and willingness to help farm workers later on in her life. Huerta stated that “The dominant person in my life is my mother. She was a very intelligent woman and a very gentle woman." Her mother’s generous actions during Huerta's childhood provided the foundation for her own nonviolent, strong spiritual stance.

"Don't wait to be invited; step in there."

She's been organizing since the age of 25, arrested over two dozen times. At 86 years old, she continues to be active, and she was an honorary co-chair of the Women's March on Washington in January 2017. Here she is a few years ago, after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama:

Here's her speech from the Democratic National Convention last summer:

"Every Democrat has to be an activist." And every person of faith should be one too.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 12: Chanpone Sinlapasai

The statistics are mind boggling:
  • Nearly 50 million children are refugees or migrants (uprooted from their homes because of violence, poverty, or other factors out of their control).
  • 28 million are child refugees who have fled conflict. An additional 20 million fled their homes in search of better lives.
  • More than 50% of refugees are children, nearly half of these from Syria and Afghanistan.
  • The number of child refugees has jumped by 75% in the past 5 years. Today, 1 of every 200 children is a refugee.
  • Women are heads of households in one in three families in Syria.
  • Lebanon is now home to over 1.3 million registered refugees from Syria, 80% of them women and children, of whom many are widows or wives of the “disappeared."

It's a given that life is much harder for widows and children...unemployment is rampant in war-torn countries, and it's much harder for women to find jobs (and take care of their families).

Today I was inspired by the story of Chanpone Sinlapasai, featured on the front page of our Sunday Oregonian. Sinlapasai arrived in Oregon as a small child (see photo above), after her family fled from the communist takeover of Lao. Now a lawyer, she has dedicated her life to helping immigrants and most recently, refugees like she once was herself. 

In Oregon, Catholic Charities has run a refugee-resettlement program since the 1940s, serving over 15,000 immigrants per year. Sinlapasai has been working with a group of lawyers and Catholic Charities to greet and support refugees as they arrive at Portland International Airport. She recalls her family's own terror upon arrival, when the pastor who had sponsored them was a no-show, and no one in the airport spoke their language. "For refugees, landing in the United States may be the best day of their life. It can also be among the most traumatizing. So much is new and inscrutable."

Since the latest travel ban was enacted (banning refugees from resettling in the U.S. for 120 days), Catholic Charities has had to cut its budget and lay off staff, and Sinlapasai will no longer be meeting refugees at the airport. Our country is turning away the most desperate people of all, shutting our doors and rejecting those on the margins. And to realize how heartless many Americans have become, all you need to do is read the comments on the website. (Surely, they do not reflect the majority of Americans; just the awful ones.)

I thank God for people like Chanpone Sinlapasai, restoring my faith in humanity!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 11: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as Notorious RBG, is a badass and a crusader for equal rights for all. "America is great because what makes America great is 'the right to speak one’s mind' and the 'idea of our nation being receptive to all people, welcoming all people.'" As the child of immigrants, she remains optimistic about the future of what she believes will be a welcoming America.

Last month my book group read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Israeli-American journalist Irin Carmon and lawyer Shana Knizhnik. The book grew out of Knizhnik's viral blog,, which she started in a tribute to RBG after her fierce dissent in a voting rights case. I've long admired RBG, but did not know of her history, legacy, or brilliance until I read this book.

Some highlights:

  • She was raised to be independent, but a "lady." Few mothers of her era taught their daughters to be independent, love learning, and hold fast to their convictions. After her mother died, the day before she graduated from high school, she learned that her mother had scraped together $8,000 for her daughter's education. "I knew she wanted me to study hard and get good grades and succeed in life, so that's what I did."
  • She broke new ground wherever she went, so she had to be twice as good as her male colleagues. When she entered Harvard Law, she was one of nine women in a class of 500. She was ranked first in her class at both Harvard and Columbia, where she transferred her senior year, but when she graduated, she was turned down by 14 law firms (she was a woman, a mother, and a Jew) she became a professor. She also founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU. Eventually she became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School. She was one of the first women nominated to a federal appeals court...and of course, President Bill Clinton's first nomination and the second woman (and first liberal, Jewish one) to be named to the Supreme Court).
  • She fought for women's rights AND men's rights long before she became a judge. While  a litigator for the ACLU Women's Rights Project, she represented a pregnant woman in the military who was told she had to have an abortion or leave the military (she wanted to give the baby up for adoption). It was all about reproductive rights and equality for women, including the right to make a choice about not having an abortion. In another case, she represented a man whose wife had died in childbirth and who wanted to get access to his wife's social security benefits so he could care for their child. RBG demonstrated that men were also harmed by gender inequality. 

  • She quoted Sarah Grimke, the abolitionist and suffragette, when arguing a case before the Supreme Court. "She spoke not elegantly, but with unmistakable clarity. She said, 'I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.'"
  • She is always evolving. She talks about how much she learned from the new crop of female law students (when she was teaching at Columbia Law), who made demands while students of her generation were afraid of making a splash. She recalls that time to be pivotal in her awakening. While soaking up everything she can read, she continues to learn and evolve, now wanting to tackle implicit bias.
  • She's pragmatic while also being radical. "If she didn't have this sort of conventional, traditional life with a husband and children, she would be seen as a flaming radical because of what she was working for," said Knizhnik in an interview with Rolling Stone. "So much of her persona, so much of how she actually sees the work she's doing and getting done, is by making compromises, by being tactical, by being pragmatic, and trying to figure out: What is the long-term strategy? How are we going to move toward a society that is more equal, more egalitarian, but without alienating the people who may disagree with you along the way?"
  • Friendships and family are important to her. AND she attended the opera, went clothes shopping, and celebrated New Year each year with Justice Antonin Scalia. They were close friends. RBG respected Scalia deeply for his wit and warmth, even though they disagreed on just about every case they studied. She is a better person than I am!
  • She is a supportive boss, mentor, and colleague. She believes in bringing people along with her, and she didn't like being the only woman on the bench for a while. I was touched to learn that when one of her clerk's parents was dying, RBG sent a letter to say how proud they should feel about the person they have raised.
  • She had a great romance and marriage. Married over half a century, she and Marty Ginsburg supported each other through several cancer diagnoses, two children, and ambitious, fruitful careers. Marty wanted them to find a shared career focus so they could keep working together. He loved the fact they were both lawyers so they could bounce ideas off each other and learn about the law together. RBG's new mother-in-law handed her a pair of earplugs and told her, "I'm going to tell you the secret of a happy marriage: It helps sometimes to be a little deaf." Marty brought the fun to their marriage and did all the cooking. RBG's former clerk described their marriage: "RBG didn't have a husband the way many men have wives. The model was of equality, where they both were crazy superstars in their own realms." Their long marriage and relationship were what we should all aspire to. As she said, "There's full marriage and then there's skim milk marriage." Toward the end of his life, Marty told a friend, "I think the most important thing I have done is enable Ruth to do what she has done."
  • She does pushups and trains with a trainer. Seriously. She used to do 30 a day, and now she's down to 20. Aging, you know.
  • She loves good English and good grammar. She is a brutal editor and careful writer. She's been known to copyedit minor punctuation in a draft of a speech that was only going to be read, never published. She sent a letter an applicant for a clerkship who'd made a typo in her application, saying "Note the typo." (The candidate was not interviewed.) One of her mentors told her that her writing was a little overwrought, so she took a knife to her adjectives after that.
  • She has no plans to retire. “I will do this job as long as I can do it full speed, and when I can’t, that’ll be the time I will step down." I hope that is a very long time away.
The book ends with these instructions from RBG. They are simple but powerful:
  • Work for what you believe in.
  • But pick your battles.
  • And don't burn your bridges.
  • Don't be afraid to take charge.
  • Think about what you want, then do the work.
  • But then enjoy what makes you happy.
  • Bring along your crew. 

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 10, I Was a Stranger: African Muslim Women Writers

One thing I've learned for sure during this Lenten practice: the Bible is EXTREMELY clear on how we should treat foreigners. In fact, all holy texts (not just Christian ones) have the same universal message. No ifs, ands, or buts. That's what boggles my mind about Trump-supporting "Christians" who either reject or ignore these widespread messages throughout the Bible. 

So today, I'm focusing on African Muslim women writers. This year I'm making a conscious effort to read books by women and people of color. (My book choices already heavily skew that way, but this year it's even more conscious.)

Bookshy is a blog focusing on African literature. The unnamed author has a Muslim parent, so he or she wrote a blog post about 10 Contemporary Books by (African) Muslim Women Writers in English. I'm adding several of these books to my "to read" list, and you should too! 

Join me on Goodreads and we can read together!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 9: Linda Sarsour

Today I honor Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the Women's March in Washington, who was one of several civil rights activists arrested yesterday for protesting in front of Trump Tower in New York City. 

A racial justice and civil rights activist, Palestinian Muslim American, and mother of three, Sarsour shatters stereotypes of Muslim women while also treasuring her religious and ethnic heritage. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she is executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPOWER Change.

Listen to Sarsour's inspiring speech at the Women's March on Washington:

Sarsour told the crowd to keep their voices loud for “black women, for native women, for undocumented women, for our LGBTQIA communities, for people with disabilities...You can count on me, your Palestinian Muslim sister, to keep her voice loud, keep her feet on the streets, keep my head held high, because I am not afraid,” Sarsour said. “Sisters and brothers, fear is a choice.”

As you can imagine, the right wing HATES her. I discovered this through a simple Google search. Breitbart and the like were celebrating her arrest yesterday. After the women's march, she was viciously attacked online by Islamophobes and misogynists, who claimed she supported ISIS and Hamas. Does this look like someone who supports ISIS? 

We should all be so brave to stand up to hate and injustice like Sarsour.