Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why ending hunger deserves your attention

In the midst of my typical morning routine, it hit. Slammed, actually.
That urgent growl rising deeply, rumbling and stabbing my stomach. That normal, albeit painful, signal letting me know I was empty and it’s time to eat. But upon deeper reflection, I realized I can’t call it hunger. Momentary discomfort, even a little listlessness, sure. But not true hunger

Hunger is a near-insatiable sensation wracking your entire body, beginning with your brain flashing messages of despair, crying on behalf of your weakened state, due to missing energy-inducing nutrients. It’s a yearning for the luscious delights of food, dreams held but rarely realized. 

Hunger is an all-too familiar feeling around the world and eight American aid agencies are drilling down on this fact, focusing attention on a famine set to engulf some 20 million people in Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. 

Courtesy: Global Emergency Response
The Global Emergency Response initiative is admirable in its scope and purpose. Rather than wrangle for the spotlight or individual dollar donations, these known NGOs – CARE, World Vision, Save the Children, Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, Plan International, International Medical Corps and Rescue – are banding together to direct resources to this cause. 

In rallying Americans, and the world, they hope to effort to avert a horrible humanitarian crisis. And death by starvation among enough people to populate Canada is a looming crisis. And an avoidable one. 

This African-centered effort pinpoints one type of hunger in the world. But others just as horrific continue to unfold around us daily, as millions are displaced due to ongoing conflicts, both man made and natural. The devastation in Syria and the Middle East and the ongoing attempts to restore normalcy inHaiti are but two blaring examples. There, you have a hunger for food as well as a hunger for home, for safety and love. 

Stories of those struggling to survive – from treacherous seas to suspicious new neighbors in foreign lands – can break your heart, if you take the time to listen, to watch. Likely, that’s why many prefer the bliss of ignorance. Sometimes, the mind can only take but so much pain. Escapism is easier.

My escapes often are in the kitchen, as I relish the joys of food, both cooking and eating. The colors, textures, flavors and aromas long drew me toward pots, pans and plates, and continue to entice me there when life gets stressful, evident by my Instagram feed

Being without those comforts, both physical and emotional, is nearly unfathomable for a foodie like myself. Yet, that’s the reality for many, including millions of children. And the honest among us recognize that some of those kids and families are just a few doors down. 

Yes, the majority of Americans are “food secure,” meaning we have enough to supply basic meals. Still, hunger among our neighbors is one of our most oft-ignored facts. Some 1 in 8 Pennsylvanians don’t have enough food to eat, according to Feeding America’s latest tallies. In Philly, that number is closer to 1 in 5.  

Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there are 15.8 million “food insecure” households

Despite this down news, the up note is those numbers have been dropping, largely due to new policies and increasing philanthropy. Due to people like you. 

It’s the sort of infectious spirit we can stand to increase. 

There’s a food bank waiting for your drop off. A web site deserving of your clicked donation. A lawmaker’s office needing to hear your voice. Together, we can defeat hunger, in our neighborhoods and in the world. 

So let’s do this.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

DVR Alert: Latest media appearance

If you missed your friendly-neighborhood browngirl's one-day hit June 27 on WURD Radio, subbing for Steph Renee on the Midday MOJO, never fear! You can catch your favorite Philly pundit on 6abc-TV's Inside Story today at 11:30 a.m.

(L-R) G. Terry Madonna, the author, Tamala Edwards,
Sam Katz and Val DiGiorgio weigh in on the world.
Of course, if you're not in front of the TV or the DVR didn't record, you may yet be saved! On Tuesday, you should be able to retrieve the episode online here

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The face of privilege in America

There was a time that “kid” applied to a child who was not yet a legal adult, someone between the post-infant ages of 2 and 17. So it’s fairly perplexing to consider a 39-year-old man as a “kid.”

Or a 30-year-old man. 

Or even an 18-year-old, for that matter.

Then again, there tend to be convenient exceptions when reconciling poor judgment or criminal behavior.

Be wealthy, say, Donald Trump Jr., and flagrant actions that could be considered treasonous are tossed off as “mistakes” by a “nice young man,” a “good kid.” 

Be motivated, say, Edward Snowden, and impertinent activities may be considered “patriotic.”

Be sheltered, say, Brock Turner, and “20 minutes of actions” can be dismissed as a youthful yearning to “fit in.”

We claim to frown upon selling out your country or raping our women. But those standards clearly don’t apply across the board.  Our society can – and does, routinely – excuse the activities of those whom we value, even if those activities are antithetical to principles we have codified. 

Faces of American privilege (l.-r.):
 Donald J. Trump Jr., Edward Snowden and Brock Turner

Articles I and III of the U.S. Constitution give specific references and definitions for federal crimes, as outlined by the Founding Fathers – piracy, counterfeiting and treason. Given such prominent positioning, one could extrapolate that in the minds of the nation’s original framers, theft, even murder (which they got to in 1790), were considered of lesser gravity to the health of the republic than the other aforementioned infractions.

A traitor, then, would be deemed worst than a killer – or drug pusher – following Constitutional originalist theory, often attributed to conservative jurists such as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia,  Self-proclaimed political conservatives love to extol the views of these jurists. And traitors certainly wouldn’t qualify as people grinding to “Make America Great Again.” That may be why the unfolding case of Trump Jr. is marked as “a Democratic witch hunt.” The recriminations might make your head spin. In short: Nothing to see here!

Switch to Snowden, the infamous former National Security Agency contractor who leaked confidential cables casting the Obama Administration in a poor light, and find conservatives hailing him as a “patriot.” Ditto some liberals. The Kremlin extended his asylum last January through 2020, because of uncertainty about how the new administration would handle him. But these mink-cozy Russian relations fostered by the current president could mean an even earlier, jail-free return for Snowden.

When Turner’s father wrote to the judge presiding over his rape case and pleaded with him to release his son on probation, he argued that jail time would be too harsh for “20 minutes of action.” His mother sent her own save-my-tender-son letter, conveniently failing to acknowledge the Stanford swimmer’s arrest or disturbing behavior that predated the sexual assault charges. While his crimes could have landed Turner a 14-year sentence – or at least two years, according to minimum statutory requirements, Judge Aaron Persky defended his decision to release Turner after a six month stint in jail. After all, he did tack on three years of probation.

Yay, justice for all.

Except for average black boys in school, or walking down the street. They are instantly suspected of something, even if they demonstrate identical – and unpunished – actions of their white peers. Black boys as young as 10 are seen as “men” in the eyes of too many police officers. Teachers reflect the same biases, except the age of perceived guilt among black and brown boys drops to preschool level.

See, being privileged in America has many meanings. Being allowed to be a “kid” who “made a mistake” is one. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Verdict in Philando Castile slaying presents more heartache, cynicism and anger

Mid-week, America approved a $100 billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers who visited the worst terrorist horror on our country in its history. During his recent state visit there, the current president assured Arabian leaders that the United States would no longer seek to impose our values on them, trifle matters like improving human rights records.

Instead, the new policy would focus on making deals and boosting “partnership.”

By Friday, this administration rescinded moves by President Obama to help normalize relations with Cuba. Citing “infringement on freedoms,” the current president attacked both Obama’s leadership and that of Cuba, and asserted that American values would reign again. 

Because America values human life and human rights. Except when black people enter the picture.

Philando Castile's life mattered.
Courtesy: Facebook

You see, later the same day, a Minnesota jury acquitted Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the man who shot and killed Philando Castile in his own car last August. He was killed right beside his girlfriend as his 4-year-old daughter watched from the backseat, terrified.

Yanez wasn’t even being tried on murder charges; he faced manslaughter and endangering innocents.

He was cleared of it all.

By now, the shock and anger shouldn’t arise, right? Castile was only a black man, and our history shows black humanity remains a point of question, particularly when there’s an interaction with law enforcement. And it’s certainly difficult to see any justice arising in this verdict.

Licensed with a concealed carry permit, Castile had the temerity to tell Yanez that and he had a gun. Because not to tell the officer would, you know, be irresponsible. It’d cause him to risk posing an undisclosed threat and possible grounds to get shot.

So of course, Castile was shot anyway. While  trying to put up his hands. Demonstrating he posed no threat.

Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had the presence of mind to jump onto Facebook to live stream what unfolded after he was shot. All the while, she worked to comfort their daughter, who watched a man armed by the state shoot into their car and kill her father for no apparent reason. She wanted to document an atrocity she saw happening.

Meanwhile, Yanez seemed to take his time in calling for help. Castile, the elementary school food service worker beloved by children, co-workers and family alike, bled out.

If you were waiting for the ever-boisterous NRA to file an amicus brief or even denounce this killing, you’re clearly still waiting – as are some of its members. The Minnesota jury didn’t focus on Castile’s standing under the Second Amendment, either.

Instead, jurors chose to fixate on the fact that Castile had smoked marijuana that night, the rationale Yanez gave for declaring his actions justified. The fact that white people with guns approach  police AND return home unharmed mattered not here.

Yanez wasn’t too moved by Castile’s humanity in the moment, nor the lifelong scars he’d inflict on Reynolds or her pre-school daughter. But in court, he was moved to tears as he described the incident, and made sure to demonstrate the sentiment so often cited by police officers questioned for killing black people – fearing for his life.

Because whenever a police officer in this country encounters a black person – male or female – there seems to be instantaneous fear, and quite often, acquittals, no matter the circumstances or even video caught by body cams or bystanders. 

Because juries empathize with them, that these officers feared for their lives.

There’s seldom such empathy for those who are terrorized by experiencing or hearing about such events, time and again. That’s despite the fact that America proclaims itself completely and totally vested in preserving human rights. 

Americans shake their heads when they read stories about destruction-bent suicide jihadists who want to inflict pain on others. So many fail to imagine a rage that would drive someone to such a desperate and despicable act.

Living as a black person in America could give you a glimpse into that level of despair. Guess that’s why our sense of patriotism often feels tenuous, especially when any passion we have for our nation of birth seems unrequited, at best. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Terror unfolds in Virginia, upon Congress

The pop of a gun is an all-too-frequent sound in America's cities, of all sizes, especially when the weather warms. But lawmakers and their staff had no expectation that such a sound would ring in their ears not too long after daybreak on a baseball diamond in a tony part of Alexandria, Va.

But such a horror did visit upon U.S. representatives, senators and staffers, largely Republicans -- some of them longtime proponents of gun ownership under almost any circumstance. Democratic colleagues, also practicing on another field for the annual charity baseball showdown, grasped each other in prayer after getting the word.

Congress shut down for the day.

Today, people in the heart of power experienced the trauma that many children and young people witness and too often experience: an unexplained madman with a powerful weapon bent on delivering destruction and shattering any sense of security.

No matter their politics or bluster, public or private, the victims today did not deserve this experience. Their families did not deserve the uncertainty, the sheer terror and teeming tears after receiving news that gunfire erupted and their loved ones may not make it home. Their zip codes, income level or acquaintances should not make them, or anyone, targets.

Yet, so many unwittingly fall into such crosshairs. Now more members of the U.S. Congress intimately understand that, ferociously.

James T. Hodgkinson, an apparently embittered 66-year-old Illinois man, chose to take up residence in Alexandria, seemingly to use his guns to make an example of lawmakers he deemed as having sold out his American Dream for the highest bidder.

Hodgkinson was not a person of color. He was not Muslim. He was not an immigrant. He was not young. He was not any of the things Americans have been whipped to fear and hate in recent years.

Instead, he was economically hurting and desperate. He was a Bernie Sanders for President supporter, thinking his radial change would be the only thing that would save the nation. And what Hodgkinson saw happening under the current administration incensed and scared him. Enough so he traveled to Virginia, lived out of a gym bag for months, plotted revenge and chose to die in the process of exacting it.

His actions are not unlike the narratives we hear about suicidal jihadists. It would be equally crazy to simply dismiss this most recent incident as a mere aberration. It's time to look more deeply.
Fellow lawmakers say a prayer for the fallen in Alexandria, Va.

We could all stand to abandon left-wing/right-wing castigation for actual conversation with others of opposing views. There is no honor among those who have jumped on social media to praise today's action as some sort of worthy comeuppance. There should be no delight in seeing this perpetrator as "evidence" against a set of beliefs. What should be unquestioned is that a searing tragedy occurred, and stands to reoccur without putting serious thought into what created the conditions for such a violent outburst.

Perhaps our lawmakers will hold onto that more closely moving forward, as they deliberate legislation and policies that impact our lives. Rather than assuming "us-vs.-them" stances, settling for win-at-all-costs gamesmanship, pray they will reflect on and remember their feelings at this moment.

U.S. Capitol Police Officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner took bullets as they battled Hodgkinson on that baseball field, likely saving countless others.

Mike Mika, a Tyson Foods lobbyist, suffered extraordinary bullet wounds to his chest and lungs.

Zach Barth, who staffs U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), was struck.

U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise remained in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.

The nation is appalled by this latest public expression of violence, though we've been here too many times, as witnesses and survivors from almost every corner of the country can attest.

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords knows this pain, as does her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly.

So do the members of Mothers in Charge, an organization of bereaved parents who lost children to gun violence.

And do the parents of Sandy Hook, Conn., who continue to grieve their babies, nearly five years after a murderer stormed in and slaughtered 6- and 7-year-olds and their teachers.

Across this nation, there are a scores of families of every shape, make and color who have been impacted by gun violence, who are still hurting, still working through the trauma.

Maybe today will begin a new era of compassion for them, for the circumstances that led to their pain. Maybe then, we can actually move toward real healing. As one nation, under God. .