Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Being Female, Black and Valued

I heard an interview with Carolyn Mosely Braun recently where she talked about leaving politics behind, and returning to her first love - agriculture. As I listened intently to the story, the issue of politics was of course brought up again and again. I was surprised to hear Carolyn indicate that she felt gender had been a bigger barrier than race in her own political career - as I had all but drowned out the rants of the Hillary Clinton supporters that I had heard sling mud on Barack for the entire Primary race. Yet, the more I discuss the issues with my counterparts and my peers, the greater concern I have that I have simply lost my ability to see what life should be like - vs. exactly what it is like.

As a community organizer early in my career, I learned about the power of people. That simple lesson has guided the work that I do in organizational and resource development, and has been as important as my formal education and advanced degree. So, I was struck again about the plight of being Black and Female and Valued when I learned about the case of LaVena Johnson. She was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. As my own children grow older I see how precious each day is, and I realize just how young 19 is. Although she made the commitment to serve her country and to wear the Army uniform for the United States of America- her life was certainly not valued.

Despite overwhelming physical evidence in the LaVena Johnson case, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case. It is becoming less and less hard for me to believe how little we value life in our country the older that I get. When I look at my 8 year old daughter and the battles that we've encountered ensuring that she realizes her value, her worth, her God given beauty and intelligence - we know that Indiana and the lack of diverse educational options are only part of what we battle. We battle the stereotypes, poor home training, intentional blinders and a society that plays favorites. While we have the opportunity to continually groom our daughter for when she leaves home, we know that she can settle in to unconditional love at the end of each day while she is with us. For the Johnson family, they sent their child to serve her country, and her country has failed her miserably.

Color of Change has done a good job using technology to mobilize people. I have been heartened that almost every time I'm contacted by the group they strike a cord in the level of grassroots action that could be taken to make a difference. There most recent request is simple:

Will you join Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in calling on Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, to mount a real investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's cover-up2? Will you ask your friends and family to do the same? If so, take action today.

What would being female, Black and valued look like in our society?

1. Young women would see images of themselves reflected throughout our society, in vehicles other than men magazine covers, videos and neglected posters about how long they have been missing.

2. Media coverage on the nightly news and primetime news shows would be representative of the demographics of our society, or better yet representative of the issue or topic being covered.

3. Those that say they represent our community would actual do so - covering topics, issues, people and action steps that matter - without regard to their personal image, fame or wealth.

4. There would be a focused effort to mentor, motivate, groom, direct and advance the life choices for young women - and it would start by reaching beyond those who are related to us by blood.

5. The countless stories that are told about our community would speak to everyday people and everyday issues - depriving pop stars who are turning 50 or cat fights between the least of us from any news attention.

And for me, every child within our nation would be introduced to the only correct image of their value and their life, through Christ. As much as I believe in collective action and the power of people, I know that God has already clarified our individual worth. So as I go about typing about what I would like to see, I have to go back to what I truly know. We have to take on a dual responsibility - educating, informing and changing our society is second, to raising our daughters to understand their value before they encounter what this world has to offer. LaVena Johnson deserved/deserves better.

What can we do? Maybe a society that values black females would look like each and every one of us spending a fraction of the time devoted to nonsense, to helping each other reach their fullest potential. The Johnson family won't have that opportunity - but what would you want to happen if it was you? your child? your daughter? We should have the right to live, and die, in dignity. Take action today.

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