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Archive for the ‘African Americans’ Category

This morning as I was sitting in the auditorium at Jefferson Elementary School with hundreds of excited children, teachers, parents and friends, it was an amazing experience.   I watched my children sitting in the audience while the whole Inaugural process unfolded on a big screen. Listening to all the children’s excited chatter validated that it was the only place I wanted to be on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration as our 44th President.  Tears streamed down my face as I thought about how significant and amazing this victory was. Born and raised in Berkeley, CA I never thought I would see the day when an African American multicultural man would become the President of the United States. People think that Berkeley is this ultra liberal city and it certainly is today. It wasn’t like that when I grew up in the “flatlands”. Where immigrants and minorities were allowed to buy homes but “red lined” out of the prestigious properties in the Berkeley hills where only the non-minorities were allowed to live.

Yes, while I attended public schools I met and befriended children of all nationalities. However, I encountered a lot of racist comments.  Labels like  “Ching Chong Chinaman” and “slant eyes” were something that I was called. I’ll never forget the feelings of being labelled something demeaning or some one  to be ridiculed and made fun of because of the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes. I learned to rise  above those situations and to fight back. I vowed to educate people who made fun of us, not contribute to the dialogue of cultural racism.

When my twin boys were born 5-1/2 years ago, I had the stroke of luck to meet our nanny, Carolyn. She is an incredible woman who had been a nanny for decades and raised a number of children in several families.  She is loving, affectionate and an important member  of our family. My children only know and love her as their nanny. They don’t notice that she’s an African American because they only know her as Carolyn.  They aren’t “color blind”, they just don’t think about the color of people’s skins as something important.

These are all the thoughts and images that flash through my mind as I watched Barack Obama proudly state his inaugural oath.  What a glorious time to be alive and to see that we are all people…all united….and that deep down inside, it is about how we treat each other as human beings that truly counts.

It was wonderful watching the millions of people in Washington DC. But nothing could be more magical than to be with my children to share in their wonder and belief in seeing our new President Barack Obama being sworn in. They will grow up in a time when an African American will be their President, a woman will be their Secretary of State, the Cabinet members will be competent men & women who happen to come from all the different communities that make up our country.  This is a moment to savor forever.  Mable

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2009 is a very exciting year for a lot of different reasons. An exciting new President, people coming together to work for a new America, voices of people engaged for the first time.  Something very cool coming from Obama’s election:  People wanting to volunteer and work together to “do something positive”.  It’s been amazing to hear of so many people who have been energized by the Obama campaign wanting to continue to contribute and volunteer to make a difference and have an impact.

While the reality is that we are faced with a serious recession that affects all of us: loss of jobs, loss of homes, budget cuts that slash services, teachers being laid off, cost of goods skyrocketing we historically have weathered the storm and emerged stronger and better.  Yes, it will be painful and it affects all of us deeply, but it also will teach us to “do more with less”.  It’ll teach us to work together, barter for services, buy what we need and not spend beyond our means.

Last year we created our documentary and discovered a movement. We never intended to create a movement or online organization…..we found women demanded it. So for the past few months we’ve been  planning what 2009 will entail for Engage Her and we are close to announcing some very exciting events, opportunities and partnerships that many of you have asked for.  Stay tuned…more to come.  Enjoy the inaugurals and then let’s get down to some serious work and develop our own solutions to the problems we all face.  Mable

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As we all hear about the great stories of women voting at the recent elections, one in particular stood out in my mind that I’d like to share with you all.  This is the story of Tameeka Kelley and the applause she received the day she brought her daughter to the polls to vote!  Tameeka is one of our members and strongest supporters.  Read on….
“Election day, I awoke with such new ambitions, not for myself, but for my children. I’ve never understood clearly why voting was so important, until the word “Change” became the desperate need for our nation.
Being a mother of three children, and not being able to afford a loaf of bread simplifies the need for change. Overall, this economy is deeply consumed by debt that my family and I had nothing to do with creating, but it is unfair that we the tax payers have to bail out the irresponsible. I seriously have to question, are we living in a country of democracy or enslavement?
I’m a very concerned parent and feel that it is very pertinent that we communicate with our children and expose them to what is necessary, especially  at time when it seems as if we are living in an abject society. As parents, mentors, and leaders,  we influence our children to make intelligent decisions by giving them options that can be determined often times by balance of good or bad. Well, the day of the election I gave my daughter no options but exposed her to the privilege  and power of voting. I had to drive 45minutes to from Hercules to Hayward  to get  the polls. I expressed to Thalia that voting was the only way we, as her parents can contribute to help change our nation. I also explained to her that we were not just voting for Barack Obama because he was an African American, but because he understood most of the problems that mommy and daddy were facing. Also, I told her that Obama has a plan, and is aware of what it is going to take to give her and her siblings a better opportunity in life.
We arrived at the polls, and as we walked through the door to vote, I explained to Thalia everything that I was doing at that moment and why. One of the most touching moments as I was signing my name on the confirmation list, is when  I glanced at the sheet and saw my parents signature. This was actually the first time they voted, which gave me even more of an adrenaline rush. I showed Thalia and she gave me this smile of honor and innocence that only a child can give, that she was proud and confident.
My daughter and I went through the ballot and the first thing we did was vote for our President.  She quickly spotted Obama and Biden’s names, and drew the line to accomplish our mission. I also explained to her all of the propositions as basically as possible.
As we completed the ballot and proceeded to place it in the machine, I couldn’t help but notice people staring.  As Thalia cast our vote into the machine, people began to clap and cheer. That was a special moment for my daughter and I, because from this historical experience she will remember and become a generational voter, when she is eligible to vote. I wonder, how many people will she encourage and impact to exercise their right to be heard. I’m already a proud parent, and now even more so, a proud American!! My vote helped to determine our 44th President-Elect,  Barack Obama.
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The footnote to this story is that Tameeka has been deeply involved with Engage Her and has motivated and inspired her parents to vote for the first time. So she has exercised the greatest power and influence of all. She encouraged her parents to vote who have never participated before. She also gave her daughter Thalia the experience of a lifetime to be celebrated when she voted at the polls.  Tameeka contributed mightily to helping us rebuild and encourage our families and communities to participate.  Congratulations and kudos to Tameeka for all her hard work and efforts.   Mable

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When Felicia Curtis was four years old, she was placed into foster care along with her older sister and brother.  Her mother decided that she no longer wanted the responsibility of raising them and her father was incarcerated in prison.  Fortunately for Felicia, her family was kept together in the foster care system.

She remembers a succession of foster placements that took place, but always took comfort in the fact that the three of them were brought up as a family unit. Growing up in a community with different ethnicities and races, she recalls getting into a lot of fights and always being sent to the principal.  Felicia got to the point that she didn’t want to go to school.  When asked if she had any early memories of her mother, she answered “No”. Since she was raised in foster care system since four, she said it was like a blank sheet of paper when she thought about her mother. 

Her family to this day remains very close and she sees her brother on a weekly basis. She now has two boys of her own and feels as a mother that it makes you think differently. She is very protective of her sons and makes sure that they are well taken care of.

We asked whether she exercised her right to vote as an act of caring for her children. She said that she voted in the 2000 elections but felt “let down” when the Supreme Court handed the Presidency to George Bush.  She remembered all the controversy with African American voters and people’s votes that weren’t counted. She said that a lot of African American voters felt that their votes didn’t count.

It turned her off to voting and in 2004 when Bush ran for re-election, she decided not to vote. Her feelings were that they were going to do whatever they wanted to and that her vote wouldn’t count, so why bother.

Now in 2008 with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigning to become the Democratic presidential candidate, we asked her how she felt about re-engaging and voting in this election.

She said that she would vote in this election cycle. However, she said “I think it would have been fair if Al Gore had won”.  There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether votes are counted.  “I personally think it’s a joke if people feel that our votes are truly counted”.  While she would like to feel optimistic about the elections, she’s practical about the harsh realities and the outcomes of our political system.

Today as a mother and an African American, she serves as  a Commissioner on her County’s Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Commission. When we asked her what were the most important things to her, she honestly said “My sanity”.  She feels that she has to keep everything in perspective so that she can be there for her family and community.

When I hear Felicia’s story and think about all the hardships she’s had to overcome in her life, I can’t help but reflect upon my own family and childhood. I’m thankful that I have memories of strong and protective parents and growing up in a large family. My parents provided me with a great education, support and caring that helped me to become who I am. For all the parents in the world like Felicia who care for her own family and the foster care kids in the world, we salute and admire your strength and fortitude. Thank you for being such great role models.  Mable

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As a young girl attending elementary school in El Cerrito, California Mina Wilson had to learn some hard lessons growing up. When she started, her family was one of the few African American families attending her primarily White elementary school. Everyday Mina had to endure taunts and verbal abuse from a group of girls about anything and everything about her that was different from them. The color of her skin, the size of her lips, the look and feel of her hair; anything these girls wanted to say to make Mina feel badly. Mina held it all in and didn’t share any of it with her family. Going to school everyday and being bullied and picked on was the torture she endured silently.

One day the girls crossed the line and said something really mean that got Mina furious. She couldn’t take it anymore and before she knew it, she found herself on top of the girls in a big fight. She was outnumbered but it didn’t matter. She was sent to the principal’s office, suspended and sent home. Needless to say, her parents were shocked. Mina didn’t know what to expect from her parents. Her mother was very upset but her father listened to the whole story and then spoke quietly to her. He told her “Mina, I am not going to punish you, because they were wrong, but you cannot go through life fighting with your fists, which he held up…but with this…and he pointed to his brains.” He went on to explain to her that fighting physically was not going to win any battles. However, if she developed her mind and learned how to outwit her opponents…she would win.

Now Mina’s father was not only a wise man, he was a very committed civil rights advocate and an important person in our history of the United States. Charles E. Wilson grew up as a young man in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the first person in his family to go to college. At that time, there were no colleges for African Americans in the Tidewater area of Virginia. So the African American leaders in the community got together and approached Virginia Union University in Richmond VA about starting a satellite campus of their University in Norfolk for African American students to attend. They were successful, and the school was known as The Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University. It has evolved over the years into the institution now known as Norfolk State University. Both Mina’s parents and her Aunt were members of the first graduating class. After graduating and marrying Lucy, his high school sweetheart, Charles volunteered for Military service. He knew he wanted to further his education, but without the financial means available, the GI Bill was his ticket to an advanced degree. Once he was honorably discharged from the Army, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He wanted to attend Columbia University in New York. However, in those days, Columbia only allowed one African American student to attend per year. Both he and his best friend wanted to attend, so they decided that he would go first, and his friend would follow the next year.

After Charles graduated from Columbia, there was very little demand for African American lawyers. He read in a copy of the NAACP periodical, The Crisis Magazine, that they were looking for leaders out west. He contacted Noah Griffin, who was the President of the San Francisco Branch of the NAACP, and after a conversation with him, determined that he would move himself and his family to California. Noah Griffin said that he was going on a 3 month sabbatical to Europe and that Charles could come out and live his house while he found himself a job.

While working to pass the California Bar exam, he took a job as a janitor at Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. He brought out his wife and children and settled in. Once he passed the Bar exam, he went into private practice. In the late 1950’s he applied for a job with the State of California. Once he was hired, he was asked by Governor Edmund Pat Brown to draft the California Fair Employment Practices legislation. Charles went to work and while drafting the law, was smart enough to include a position in the law for Legal Counsel to oversee this landmark piece of legislation. This was the first piece of fair employment legislation to be enacted and went on to become the basis for the Affirmative Action policies later adopted by the Federal government.

Charles became the Acting Director overseeing the implementation and enforcement of the Fair Employment Practices. In later years he was appointed as a Judge and retired soon after his youngest child graduated from college.

Mina’s father’ work, wisdom and guidance heavily influenced her. She was too young to comprehend the impact of her parent’s work. She didn’t know that many of the meetings that took place in her home, family church, and local community centers involved many of the prominent leaders supporting civil rights and legislation efforts to establish and protect the civil liberties for all people. Her father was an important spokesperson and leader of the NAACP, spokesperson and advocate for civil rights in the State of California, many counties around the state, and the City of El Cerrito, CA.

When Mina’s father passed away, people came to pay their respects and talk about the important contributions that her father had made. It really wasn’t until that moment that Mina began to understand the impact her father’s life had made and how he was truly a hero in many people’s lives. She only knew him as her “Daddy” who loved to take them fishing, play with them and always made time to listen and guide them.

Mina herself is now a single mother with two children: Malia Ophelia who is 6 and Malcolm Charles who is 4. Mina still experiences overt and covert racism and seeks to manage the effect they have on her children’s lives. Recently when she was talking to her children about the importance of Black History Month, Malia pronounced to her: “Mama, you don’t have to tell me who Rosa Parks is, I learned about her in school. She’s the Black woman who stole the White man’s seat on the bus”.

Mina sat there stunned and outraged. Please don’t let this be what they taught her at school. What were these people teaching her daughter at school? She responded to Malia gently and said “Baby, that’s not exactly the way it happened”. She dug through the family’s video arsenal to pull out movies that depicted accurate images of the movement. She shared those with Malia to correct her and to ensure she understood what truly happened. Mina was outraged and spoke to the school teacher. As a result, she spent four mornings presenting lessons on Black History to Malia’s class. Of course, Mina did not leave out one very important man whose contributions changed the course of our country and many lives……Charles E. Wilson. in her hunt to locate images, she ran across a tape of her father receiving the Contra Costa Board of Supervisor’s Martin Luther King, Jr. award from 1996. It was the ultimate gift and the first time her children had ever heard their grandfather speak.

“The most important lessons I want to leave with my children are the accurate knowledge of who they are, faith in God and practical life skills that will empower them to accomplish, develop their gifts and actualize their dreams.”

Mina shared with us: “I always vote, my parents did not just tell me, they showed me how important it was to vote. I bought my first bike with money I was paid for passing out flyers for a city council campaign. Voting is something many take for granted. As I reflected back upon my parents’ story to get ready for this interview, I realized that when my mother turned 18, she did not have the right to vote.” So many people sacrificed their lives to secure that right for us, how can we NOT exercise it?

It is vitally important for all of us whose ancestors toiled and suffered building the foundation upon which this nation stands and whose parents fought so hard for the right to vote, to claim our right and cast our vote. It is the only way our voices and opinions will be heard and counted. If you are not willing to stand up and speak up for what you believe in, then don’t complain when you receive the crumbs from the banquet table.

I now can thank Charles Wilson, for I know he dramatically impacted my life. Without Affirmative Action, I would never have had the opportunity to become the person that I am today. Whenever there are Black History Month celebrations I feel I now have a personal connection to honor the memory and life work of Charles Wilson and the people who have fought so hard to establish and defend our civil liberties. Thank you Mina for sharing your father’s wisdom and legacy with all of us.

Mable

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