Girl Rising

By: Lisa Abuogi

Late in the evening on a crisp November evening, I went into labor with my first child. We drove 30 minutes to the pristine University Hospital where I planned to deliver. When the baby’s heart rate kept dropping a team of doctors and nurses from multiple specialties crowded the room prepared to save her life and protect mine. My daughter, Lailah Atieno was born healthy on the 23rd of November, 2010.

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I was living in Kenya at the time of Lailah’s birth, working in remote rural regions hit hard by the HIV epidemic. On one visit to a faraway clinic, I remember bouncing along the muddy roads 7 months pregnant thinking, “What happens if I go into labor right now?”. I chose to return to the U.S. for delivery. As a pediatrician myself, I knew the complications that could happen during labor and delivery. I wanted to give Lailah the very best chance.  I was privileged to have that option.

When Lailah turned 2, my Kenyan husband and I decided to relocate to the U.S. We wanted Lailah to have the best educational opportunities possible without having to pay top dollar for private schools. Again, we were privileged to be able to give her that.

But Kenyan girls and women are never far from my mind. I return three times a year for work on HIV. I see first-hand the challenges girls face trying to get an education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of girls start primary school but only 8% finish secondary school. Girls drop out for lack of money (only elementary school is “free” in Kenya), due to missing too much school during menstruation, after getting pregnant, and to help at home. They are 6 times more likely to become child brides without a secondary education.

I want all parents to have the options we have had for our daughter- health and education. We focus on girls because they are so often left behind and excluded which hurts us all. For every additional year a mother is educated, the chances of her infant dying drop by 5-10%. Each extra year of secondary school can help a girl increase their future earnings by 10-20%.  

Brave Coalition is joining Women in Security and Regis University to celebrate the International Day of the Girl by screening the incredible documentary Girl Rising. These stories will bring you to tears, inspire you, and push you to act. Get tickets to the screening on Friday, October 20th. Join us. When girls rise, we all rise.

#bebrave #wearebrave

Charlottesville

#bebraveblog

By guest blogger, Diana Dascalu-Joffe

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia may be a few weeks removed but the pain and shock are still very fresh. Witnessing that much hate, violence and anger perpetuated in the name of white supremacy and Nazi sentiment on the streets of an American city, shook me to my core. 

I am the immigrant daughter of two Eastern European immigrant parents, who fled a dangerous and violent dictatorship founded on the same twisted principles espoused by the white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville. My parents fled the “us vs. them” mentality. They fled the disturbing nationalism and fearmongering which led to a deep distrust in any dissenting voice, all for the purpose of keeping those in power at the top.  Many of the same themes that drove my parents away from that dictatorship are being celebrated among hate groups, in 2017, in America. 

The American dream was my parent’s salvation.  America was known around the world as welcoming of anyone looking for a better life and opportunity.  They came here with $20, two suitcases and a 2 year old.  No family to help support them or provide jobs or housing. Similar to many other immigration stories, my parents left the only home they ever knew, stability, family, jobs, their culture on a sliver of hope.  A leap of faith.  And a fierce determination to provide a safer and more just society for their young daughter.

The author, held by her mother, father to the left, Senator Ted Kennedy who sponsored their emigration and members of his staff. 1981.

The author, held by her mother, father to the left, Senator Ted Kennedy who sponsored their emigration and members of his staff. 1981.

The events in Charlottesville inspired me to re-visit my parent’s enduring bravery even when faced with endless hurdles. These events have also forced me to deeply acknowledge the struggles of Americans today who face discrimination and violence just because of the color of their skin, or what religion they practice, or what gender they are, or who they love.  Just participating in everyday society is an act of bravery for many people of color or LGBTQ in America.

The hate groups who have become emboldened in recent months are indiscriminate in their hate.  This makes me fear for my own kids. They are kids born of a Jewish parent and an immigrant parent. In fact, there is no one I care about that is safe from their hate. It is natural to feel helpless.  I have struggled a lot with outrage fatigue in the past few months.  There are constant blows both professionally and personally to grapple with.  Every day I struggle to defend and protect a planet that cannot defend itself. It’s infuriating and overwhelming at times. 

But then, I remember that justice and freedom and inclusion and liberty don’t come easy.  They never have, especially in America.  If my parent’s struggle taught me anything, it’s that we must face the hurdles together and be brave! Every day, people still risk everything to come to America for a better life. We owe it to them and the generations before to fight for that ideal. And to stand together against those that seek to divide us.  

Start small, in your own community.  Small acts of kindness and tolerance can change the world.  Connect with local anti-oppression groups like Brave Coalition! It’s times like these that will test our resolve and commitment to a better America.  I’m ready, will you join me?     

#bebrave #wearebrave       

We Must Always Take Sides

By: Lisa Abuogi

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate

The events in Charlottesville hit like a train. White supremacists marching openly for hate and violence. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise or shock.

We have known the undercurrents of hate and fear among white supremacists have been growing over the last decade and have surged in activity in the last few months in the form of hate crimes. But it was still painful and frightening to see.

Much has been said about what the right response is to the events and who is at fault. There is a great debate about if we should ignore or engage. If history has taught us nothing, it has taught us that ignoring hate does not make it dissipate.  Imagining that because we ourselves abhor white supremacist beliefs that is enough. It isn’t.

Every one of us, but especially those of us who are white, have an obligation now to stand up and be counted now. Most of us feel we are not racist but if you define racism as prejudice plus power you might reconsider. At an incredible workshop in Denver about how to be a white ally attended by a thousand people I learned several critical things. We can’t ask people of color or marginalized people (Muslims, Jews, refugees, LGBT) to educate us about their struggle. It’s exhausting and it puts an additional burden on them. It’s our job to educate ourselves and listen keenly. We must look at our own biases and how we have benefited from a system that oppresses others. We need to act in solidarity with marginalized groups and not expect recognition or gratitude for it.  As allies, we should gain nothing and expect to lose things that benefit us.

When I hear push back on white privilege (which is often) I consider a few personal experiences and I ask:

Have you ever been followed by a store employee as you browse the aisles?

My husband has.

Has your child ever felt unsafe because of the color of their skin?

My child has.

Have you ever considered how you will teach your son to be safe in an interaction with the police so he doesn’t get shot?

I have.

If you haven’t, you’re lucky. You’re privileged, just as I am.  

So, what should we do? This is my commitment:

1.     I will take a side. I take the side of people who have been marginalized by hate and bias.

·      Write a letter to the editor to move Confederate statues

2.     I will denounce hate in all its forms loudly and consistently.

·      Post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

·      Talk to neighbors, friends and family

3.     I will educate myself and self-reflect.

·      How to be a white ally

·      I will continue to examine my own biases

·      Read Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and I

4.     I won’t stop or take breaks, I will keep going.

·      Link to your local Black Lives Matter or Anti-Defamation League

This fall, the Brave Coalition will launch a book workshop to begin to explore bias, oppression, and privilege. I invite you to join us and begin your commitment.

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#bebrave #wearebrave