Friday, February 9, 2007

It's Not Rocket Science

NASA Watch
Space Love Triangle
Nowak Comes Undone
Attempted Murder Charges for NASA's Finest

The titles are endless. The reality quite sad. At a time when we are starved for things to believe in, NASA has become a media spectacle. Instead of utter sadness about the lives that have been irrevocably changed by recent events, we have a media sensation over the space love triangle. Many of those closest to me are asking the question - who do you think got busy in space first? I tell you, the glow of Dr. Mae Jemison going into space shouldn't be anywhere near the quandry of what happens when love in space goes bad.

Astronaut Nowak went into space with dignity. By all accounts she was hyper focused on doing her best, and exceeded at every task set before her. Colleagues have come to her rescue with comments about her support during their personal losses. We know that the training required to become an astronaut is extensive and full of testing from a to z. (Or....quantum physics to organic chemistry...) Yet, with one choice, she has become the latest in a series of playing to the lowest common denominator. Is this really news?

The mother of 3 children, my heart goes out to her family for what has to be a terribly difficult time. There are unspoken victims throughout her alleged crime, not the least of which is the former wife of the astronaut whose affections are at the center of the debate. It can be clearly seen that the woman who got the dose of pepper spay and the experience of being stalked didn't deserve that in the least. All that said - what should the media focus be?

I can understand a more thorough investigation of the psychological tests that are performed before and after any mission. I clearly get the necessity to do damage control for NASA - who at the core has a legacy of adultery that sends images of "the best and brightest" in collision with past notions of tremendous fearless space travelers. There is something dirty and seedy at the core of a sex/murder scandal that just speaks sadness for our country's elite program. All that said - can we focus on what is important?

Lives have been forever changed and shattered as a result of these actions. We can only hope that everyone involved gets the medical support they need. It surely isn't just Nowak that needs the help. Seems as if we should have a screening process that scans good judgment along with everything else. Then, at least in my opinion, let the justice system do its job. With all that we have at hand in our community - surely this case should not lead the evening news for weeks on end. I have rarely heard a news broadcaster ask the real questions. There are children at the core of this torrid controversy. Children and the credibility of a national treasure.

As a little girl I day dreamed about space, the stars and the planets beyond my view. I marveled at the Astronauts and the scientists that worked endless to learn more about the unknown. I remember a special education segment where it talked about "problem solving" in space, and the fact that it was impossible to know everything that would happen on any flight. The possibility of it all was grand. The coverage of this issue has been anything but grand.

It is not rocket science. In a web of adultery, sex, competition, evil and lust - some folks went crazy. No we'll have to see if they were crazy before space or shortly thereafter. The reality is that even rocket scientists are human. This story, played out in cities across America, would be less interesting if the people involved weren't smart, high achievers, national treasures of sorts. The least we can do is redirect media outlets to under - we aren't just interested in the sensational. If we are - aren't we a part of the problem too.
While families crumble and lives forever change, we passively watch human destruction. Maybe psychological tests should be required for us all.

The Power of ONE

“Money comes from places I never expect, and places I expect to get money from I don’t,” she said. “Part of my message is, you don’t have to have tons of money, but you have to have a willing heart.”
- Pam Cope

When you think you have it hard - look into the lives of those around you. When you see the children here - what do you see? Do you have the power of one? Can you imagine selling your child into slavery? What would you do if your back was up against the wall? African mothers enter that dialog daily. Hard choices are counter balanced with hope, sometimes from the strangest places.

Pam Cope might as well be known as Pam HOPE. She saw a picture of a child in Africa, her heart began to ache because she knew that it captured something very wrong, and she took action. As a result, many children who were labor slaves in the fishing trade are now safe, in an orphanage where they have access to safe accommodations, showers and education for the first time. She is an average person who did something extraordinary.

Her life was first touched by tragedy when she had to endure the pain of losing a child. For many of us life would never recover from that experience - our story would end there. However, she and her husband immediately knew that God had a plan for their experience. Memorial flowers were replaced with a memorial fund in the name of their son, and they set out to figure out a way to make a difference. She was subsequently touched by the plight of Ghanaian children who were forced to labor up to 14 hours a day for fishermen on Lake Volta. She and her husband read an article in The New York Times about how the child workers in fishing villages around Kete Krachi were deprived of necessities, schooling and freedom. This is where they distinguish themselves. They took action. It speaks to the Power of ONE.

Working from her home, she initially adopted seven children and began a steady communication cycle with a Christian orphanage, The Village of Hope. The process, far from simple, requires the fisherman to release the children - often by offering them additional equipment, support for their business, and resources to use in lieu of the child labor. The parents of the children - often responsible for selling their own children - have to determine or acknowledge that their lives will be more fulfilled by living in the orphanage. The experience transformed lives, not the least of which was Pam's.

Lately, I have grown tired of the television devotion to pop culture - even when I think I have contributed to it. In a time where we can learn so quickly about the love, addiction and scandal of choice - I was heartened to learn of this story on Oprah. Learning of the story simply isn't enough. If we are to take anything for this experience, it should be that the Power of ONE can change a life. From tragedy she brought transformation into existence. Now, what will we do to follow her example?

To support the Cope's legacy learn more about Touch a Life ministries in Ghana, Vietnam and Cambodia. Their dedication to touching the lives of kids sets the example for us all.

If you want to increase the power by supporting a Christian organization, with a mission to use the funds according to God's will - your tax deductible contribution can be directed to:

Touch A Life
~and mail to~
Pam Cope
Touch A Life
1510 Eric Road
Neosho, MO 64850

* You can designate your specific area of interest.

Please share your experience if, when, you donate.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Dr. Condi Lesson

By any measure, Condolezza Rice, Dr. Rice - is a smart, educated, accomplished and distinguished African-American woman. As the mother of a 7 year old daughter, I aspire to teach many of the lessons her parents so clearly taught her. At a time where she couldn't eat a cheeseburger at a Department Store counter - they convinced their daughter that she could be anyone, do anything, reach the stars if she decided that to be her course. Condi evidently believed them.

There are many lessons to be learned from Dr. Condi - I use her title because I think people forget, she has earned her academic and political standing. Her parents, both educators, realized that the most powerful lessons are taught at home. Her mother, an accomplished pianist, taught Condi how to play in the comfort of their home. There is a lesson to be learned right there. You can only teach - when you have something to offer. Further, when the world outside is ridiculous and cruel, the comfort of home is designed to be a safe landing place. I think both lessons are often missed in a society that seeks fame and fortune. Outside attention has become such an accepted lifestyle that we can easily become prey to what others think of us. We live in a culture that values the success story - earned and unearned. Or do we?

If we valued success, we would routinely praise Condolezza Rice for setting her own course. We would recognize that her pursuit of education didn't rest with what she was taught by others, she "actively pursued" knowledge and learning throughout her life. The daughter of two educators, their love for education was a living legacy for their daughter. She started college courses in high school and graduated at the age of 19 magna cum laude. From personal experience I know what it is like to change majors in the midst of your college education. No matter what the revelation, you need Jesus himself to help people to understand why your are making that choice. Rice decided that her love of Piano was not enough to make it a full time career - and thus began pursuing other options. I started off wanting to be a chemical engineer...that too was not to be.

The answer came in a classroom presided over by Josef Korbel, the father of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A lecture by Korbel on Josef Stalin mesmerized Rice. Fascinated by the intrigues and complexities of Soviet politics, she decided on the spot to major in political science. For more information about Rice there are numerous links. This paragraph comes directly from a free black history resource worthy of your visit. The lessons continue. Rice was encouraged to find her voice and to seek her highest calling, and she did just that. A parents ability to teach a child to find their own way in the comfort of their support is laudable. We can all take a page from their lesson plan.

Rice's parents had to do quite the job in teaching her to be resilient. When you can be on the receiving end of the extreme bashing from liberals such as barbara boxer and tavis smiley - you have to be resilient. Not that Rice is above criticism, but the slant of her critics tends to be so extreme you can't take it at face value. I secretly mourned Rice not slapping boxer as she went on a rant about not being in touch with those who are at-risk in the war. I am not supportive of the war as it exists, but I think boxer was low, no-dignity in her comments. Regardless of Rice's marital status, or her lack of children, I find it hard to believe she is devoid of any sensitivity to what is happening as far as the war. Barabara was equally low in her assessment of a black conservative judge in California - while signing every possible piece of legislation that sings the praise of pro-choice. Never mind that the choice happens after a baby is conceived, not before. She doesn't champion that choice. The criticism of anyone, regardless of their lack of moral backbone, can sting.

Tavis Smiley is an entirely different story. At a recent PBS fundraiser he gave a speech regarding love in political discourse - a part of his series about American living up to its promise. He did what he intended to do - for me that is - I left thinking more about the impact of race, politics and America than I had the night before. I agreed with his fundamental premise, we must live up to our personal promise, for America to live up to hers. I am working diligently on that pursuit. Meanwhile, he indicated that love should be the primary calling card in public conversation - and he showed no love to Condi. His comments at first were uncomfortable but ultimately showed me a dimension of hypocrisy that seemed lost on many in the audience. If we are called to show love, he did anything but when it came to Condolezza. He later sealed my discontent when he indicated that J. Jackson had earned his political stance while Barack Obama had yet to prove anything... clearly we should always look at where the criticism comes from, before we invest too much energy. Jesse Jackson can not be a political hero for me. I appreciate Condi's resilience.

In a day and time when role models are hard to come by, I appreciate the diversity offered by Condi. Her academic, political and foreign policy knowledge are worthy - not because she is a black woman alone, but because she is good. I don't have to agree with her loyalty to Bush to appreciate that she has a stance and an approach and has been unwavering to it. I doesn't make me like her politics necessarily, but I still admire her.

I admire Rice with some level of disappointment, however. In 2003, Rice was drawn into the debate over the Affirmative Action admissions policy at the University of Michigan. As a resident of the state at the time, I was deeply moved by the discourse and discussion about whether or not Affirmative Action was even necessary. The debate brought to mind a memory of being on Purdue's campus when a heated classroom debate led me to walk out of a classroom before tears rolled down my face. Short of cussing, I tried to eloquently inform the entire class that both my ACT and SAT scores were so far above the national average, that I was indeed not a product of affirmative action. I went on to give a litany of views on racism, favoritism, alumni preference, corn field preference - I was probably anything but graceful when I thought about the implication of the comments in the room. As one of the primary crafters of Bush's position on race-based preferences, Rice stated that she believed race-neutral means were preferable - although race "could" be considered with many other factors. Here we disagree.

Unlike her predecessor Colin Powell, Condi appears to fail to mitigate disaster or give unwelcome advice about the consequences of failure in Iraq. Instead, she has seemed to fade into the background at key times when her independent voice is most needed. I don't get a sense of who Condi is and what she believes, and thus it appears that she is a "Bush yes woman" at any cost. That stance has colored my impression of her, and I would be lying if I stated it any different. That, does not however, remove her from being significant in the lives of African-Americans, in the lives of women, or in the life of this country. She is a testament to what can be done when you tap into your skills, talent and passion. I simply wish that her presence was more powerful because of the voice she wielded independent of Bush.

As a mother I think there is plenty to learn from the Dr. Condi story. I want to raise my daughter to be clearly aware of her power and to pursue her greatest ambition without limitation. In that pursuit, however, I want her to be a voice for people who have come before her and will come after her. I don't want her legacy to be in the shadow of a man misguided or the criticism of people misdirected. I want her life to be a testament to the power of Christian women, African-American women, educated women, and women who believe that choice is best made before - - not after intercourse. Most of all, I aspire to be a woman and mother that teaches as well as learns, and then offers a safe place to land when life is not well.

One of my greatest wishes for Dr. Condi right now, would be a safe place to land. A place not filled solely with judgment, jokes and justifications for the liberal position - just a safe place to land. I'll trust that in the absence of her parents, her relationship with God will serve her well. With so much to offer, let not her legacy be determined by people who have neither balance nor perspective on what our future really needs. She's got a lot of life ahead of her. I hope history serves her well.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Raising Self-Confidence in Girls

My mother is a forward queen. She sends many articles and inspirational notes to my attention, but few have been as interesting as an article about a 17 year old aspiring film student, Kiri Davis. She made a short documentary about the impact of color and the ongoing debate about beauty standards featuring several young African-American women. The highlight of the film is a recreation of the experiment that was used in the historic Brown vs. the board of education case regarding education and segregation.

In her film, "A Girl Like Me ," Davis attempts, and succeeds, to complete an updated version of the experiment from the 1940s in which black children were given a black doll and a white doll, and then asked which one they thought was better, nice or "good." The sad case in this our current society is that they consistently chose the white doll.

I remember growing up in a predominately white school and aspiring to be Wonder Woman. That dream was never shattered, because I shared that aspiration with the only other African-American girl in my class. She was my savior in that regard. We were close for many reasons, the most essential - our common life experience. Together, though, we extended our hair, used aluminum foil for jewelry and embraced images of beauty that were not our own. Those thoughts could disappear - but I too see that not much has changed. Now we both have daughters of our own.

As the mother of a little girl I am both encouraged and discouraged with Kiri's work. I'm encouraged because she herself - a bright, creative, articulate and beautiful black young woman demonstrates the potential of young women in our society. I'm equally saddened by the number of little girls who without thought or hesitation selected the white doll. There is clearly more work to be done.

The reflections of the young women in the film speak to the Hollywood standard of beauty and their place in this society. They talk about their families, their hair, our ancestry and it is a painful reminder of all our children are forced to endure. My own daughter, with ample dolls of every hue, has been at odds over our relocation. "The girls ask me why my hair isn't out" she said to me just this past weekend. The words stung, as she is the only Black girl in her class and the twists, bows, braids and crossed tribute to Princess Leah are not enough to remove her from the white standard of beauty. Her hair is not out, in free form, flowing like her classmates.

As we continue our job as her parents to secure, build and reinforce her self-esteem - we know that our work is cut out for us. We have been playing Brandy's version of Cinderella for the last 4 days - because I was tired of the Disney array of princess consumption, for my daughter and my sons. We love American Girl products - from the Addy series to the modern girls of today, but Addy was a slave and we haven't seen a doll of the year yet that reflects a Black girl in our modern society. Doll choices and selections have changed, true, but it isn't all for the better.

The Bratz collection is still beyond me - dolls that reflect the worst parts of our society - belly out, skirts that show more than a little leg, hip hop gear and ice marketed to an audience of pre-school and elementary age girls. Our role as mothers, mentors and role models has to be to raise and elevate the expectations for girls in our society. There is no shortage of toy options - but we as parents have to fully invest in developing secure, well-adjusted and beautiful girls - from the inside out. Kiri Davis is proof that it is indeed possible. I'm proud of the potential the future holds.

When we look in the mirror we are faced with the collection of images that have shaped our thoughts, no matter what is looking back at us. Kiri Davis reminded me as a mother about the necessity to overcompensate for what the media, classroom, dolls, peers, etc. have to offer. Motherhood offers so much in the opportunity to raise the next generation. As evidenced by her video - our job should not only be to build up our own children, but the children of our greater community as well.

Friday, February 2, 2007

NFL (No Fun League)

Fall Creek Baptist Church wanted to host a SuperBowl Party. They were going to play the game on their mega screen and host a venue for their church members to enjoy the game. Undoubtedly, someone not affiliated with the church would have come out to enjoy the experience too. It was a tremendous outreach opportunity. For a league that saw more references to God for the championship games than 4 letter profanity options...I would have thought this was an easy one. Go Colts! Ummmm, not so much.

The NFL contacted the church to tell them to cancel the party. They sighted their Neilsen ratings, their copyright on the term, and displayed in the course of it all why dignity and character are rare in pro sports. You can't make me believe that this one party would have mattered that much. How many central Indiana residents were going to leave their Neilsen boxes at home to go to the church - few if any I'd bet. The NFL has simply taken this to an extreme.

All across America we'll be watching the game, at least many of us will. If you want to go to a bar, hang out in a club, get your drink on - have at it. If you want to go to the church to watch it though - beware. The NFL has enough time on its hand to edit church displays of the game while we get treated to ice times - pictures and stories about how many diamonds the players have on any given day. Instead of watching what the churches host on their coveted day, they would do well to invest in image control the other 364 days a year. After all, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are the exceptions to the rule. They are not the norm in a culture that practices hero worship for poor behavior, monetary excess and stud behavior by athletes far and wide.

I understand image control and licensing. The business of sports is not lost on me and I appreciate what the power of this one event can do in a community after attending the Detroit SuperBowl festivities in 0 degree weather. I just can't help but believe that the NFL should pick its battles more wisely. God is given the glory on the sidelines and I would just assume that watching the game in His house shouldn't have been the issue that it was. I would rant more - this is absolutely ridiculous - but I'd hate to take away from the dignity of those who have elevated the game atleast for this week. Fall Creek Baptist Church had the right approach - and maybe those who have dignified the game this year can add some balance to the NFL and their choice of who to shut down. Somebody that they listen to should whisper in their collective ear - this isn't just about the ratings. How about some display of compassion for a people who would bring more of a following with their licensed shirts, themed party merchandise and love of the game than the NFL can stand to lose. One more example of cut nose - spite face.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Tough Times Don't Last

I love quotes. For a very long time I've reflected on them for motivation and inspiration. There is however, a love/hate relationship with quotes and trite "pick me up" statements that don't mean much at all. I remain amazed at the number of people who ask "how are you doing?" and frankly don't even care. Those people are traditionally gone before you can even utter a polite response. I digress. One of the statements that creates conflict for me... is Tough Times Don't Last....Tough People Do.

That brings me to today. I had the opportunity to chat with a friend of mine, and we have had our share of tough times. Lately, we've been going through a really rough patch. I guess I didn't know how rough - however, until tonight. We were going through our traditional set of talking points - husband, children, work, professional aspirations, Christian character and the like when my friend suggested the unthinkable. "I got a call from somebody today about that idea we had a year ag0 - she wants to talk about partnering." The words stung a bit - a combination of the reality check about our inaction - coupled with the idea of compromising our promise - for current, real, urgent - NEEDS.

It may sound like the suggestion was light, collegial even, but I was just pushed out of my mind. I may sound a bit crazed even. I could rant about how someone who doesn't even speak on a half regular basis wants to now "collaborate" on any topic to build women. I could even digress on the new tendency to spur workshops, trainings and motivational seminars from women who lack transparency and honesty in such a way that people leave feeling like they have to have it all to be successful. The pursuit of the S on the chest of the American woman continues to be a myth that I no longer subscribe to. Can women have it all????? Sure, and you can die pursuing it. But that isn't what I'm writing about. Maybe next post.

I was caught off guard that my friend had been driven to consider a partnership with someone who has failed to demonstrate some of the core values that we hold. This isn't a statement about my friend - it is a statement about hard times. Tough times will make you look at options you would never otherwise consider. If you aren't careful, tough times can define you in ways that erase who you are at your core. It happens slowly, one crisis at a time, one experience at a time, one challenge after another. I know it all too well.

Tough people last, but do they last in the same condition? Can they preserve their fierce nature, their creativity, their lease on life - in the midsts of severe crisis? Maybe. I guess we are in the middle of that test. I will only speak for myself, I am in the midst of that test. In difficult times I have to guard against what I am willing to do in order to succeed. Hanging by a thread, there are times when I will consider a consulting client or a project that I would otherwise avoid. The cost of self-employment is pricey for many reasons - not the least of which is selling yourself. My product is me. My training ability, my speaking ability, my experience in development and when you look at the common denominator - its me. At the end of the day, my ability to last during tough times has to be centrally connected to both who I am and who I aspire to be.

I aspire to have such a level of integrity that I wouldn't partner with anyone who I didn't respect. I mean really respect. I aspire to be the person who fully lives the lessons I teach and train. Sometimes I fall short. I aspire to be the type of friend and business colleague that looks conflict in the face and is able to see a clear vision for resolution. I aspire to be so tuned into God and what He has planned for my life - that I do not waiver or linger in things that are not for me. What God has for me I know that it is for me. In the mean time, I need to last in a way that serves a greater good. I wish there was payment associated with figuring out how to last - authentically.

Either it will get figured out - or my friend is going to fire me. She unfortunately, got the full rant. Partnering with perfect people that really aren't - PUUUUUUHHHHHHHLEEASSSSSSSSSSSSSE.
Tough people last. TOGETHER.