Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On the Passing of Poet and Leader Maya Angelou Today

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

― Maya Angelou. 

Ms. Angelou, you were a force for justice, wisdom, clarity, and depth in the world. Today, you have passed away, and I honor you. We honor you. What a loss, but you left a magnificent legacy for others.  Peace everyone.   

In life, I would like to strive to be someone who takes the time to help people feel heard, feel loved, feel edified, and feel cherished.  We can all learn volumes from Maya Angelou.

USA Today story on Ms. Angelou's life and passing: 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Schoolgirls Are Not for Sale

Last week I had my "Children and the Law" students to watch videos of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage girl who was shot on a school bus by the Taliban because she spoke out in favor of girls' education in Islamic countries and around the world.  Malala stated in an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that "They do not want women to get [an] education because then women will become more powerful..."  (  After showing several clips and reading articles about Malala's meeting with President Obama and his family (, I posed this question to my 38 students in the class:  "Is it really that simple?  Are the terrorists, are the defenders of patriarchy in any nation, simply afraid of girls and women gaining knowledge and intelligence?"

My students, representing myriad races and ethnicities, and representing faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, responded with certainty: "Yes.  They want females to stay in the home.  They are afraid females will not know 'their place' there."  I agreed and added, "Malala aptly named the issue.  It is about toppling a whole system of oppression."

I also shared an historical perspective with this class, one of four that I teach at Brooklyn College (CUNY):  Interpersonal, institutional, and structural control over women has eroded slowly, but not sufficiently enough in my eyes.  As we know, women in the U.S. did not gain voting rights until 1919.  At English Common Law, women were literally considered as property of their husbands, and the American Colonies inherited this legacy.  Women in the U.S. only began to gain stronger status as legal persons in 1839, and in a piecemeal fashion from that time until the turn of the 20th century (

Unfortunately, the subordination of women is still occurring.  Women still make $0.77 to every $1 that a man makes in the U.S., for equivalent work.  President Obama had to sign an Executive Order and a Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Labor this year even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed, to concretely ensure equal pay for equal work after Congress refused to act thoroughly (  Overseas it gets worse.  Some nations go as far as to force girls as young as 9 years old into marriages with grown men (, which perpetuates domestic violence and fatalities in childbirth.  In some parts of India and China, parents may even commit gendercide (slaughter of baby girls) because they so abhor the thought of raising a child that will not grow up to be a man (, (  According to the World Health Organization, in parts of Africa and the Middle East, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is also a shocking, horrific, and thriving practice (, (

The trafficking of women and girls (boys and men also suffer from this crime, but statistically to a lesser extent) has grown to astronomical proportions, which perpetuates a paradigm of abusive power.  The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that human trafficking is a $32 billion per year industry (, affecting over 2 million children according to the Polaris Project (  Girls Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS), an organization that serves young women in New York City victimized by commercial sexual exploitation, estimates that pimps make over $300,000 per year tax free.

In fact, things are out of control, and females around the world are still treated as second class citizens.  Contrary to what some might say, the facts are not really debatable.  I believe that patriarchy is essential to maintaining even more complex systems of oppression.  Racial and sexual minorities, the poor, and the disabled also fall prey to oppressive institutions, public and private systems, and profoundly lingering, insidious cultural norms.  Whether nations are predominantly comprised of people of European descent or people of color, patriarchy is quintessential for maintaining the harmful status quo.

 On April 14th, 2014, the extremism and bigotry of chauvinists reached new heights.  The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, trained by al Qaeda, and whose name literally means "Western Education is A Sin," decided to gain international notoriety.  They raided a girls' boarding school in a remote village in Nigeria.  The terror group seized 200 students from the school, all of them girls, and began to proclaim their intentions:  In this disturbing video, Abubakar Shekau, the alleged leader of Boko Haram, laughs and scratches himself compulsively while reading to the camera, "I abducted your girls...There is a market for selling humans...I will sell women.  I sell women." ((  The video reveals that Abubakar Shekau is clearly suffering from emotional disturbance and seeks to spark fear and grief in the masses.  Essentially, Boko Haram's recent move says that families in Nigeria and elsewhere who want their daughters to learn global literature, science, math, social studies, history, the arts, and independent life skills, are asking for an act of vengeance.  Why?  Because they believe females should be relegated to domestic, subservient lives without question.

The world is becoming increasingly attuned to Boko Haram's act of terrorism; and the U.S.'s commitment today to assist represents a first step.  However, President Obama pledged to send military and law enforcement advisors (  Peace activist A.J. Muste has stated that "There is no way to peace--peace is the way."  Sixteen year old Taliban attack survivor Malala Yousafzai reminds us of the need to discard the tools of the oppressors when she speaks of the Taliban making her an international kill target for promoting girls' education:

"I used to think [to myself] that if the Talib would come and he would just kill me...what would you do, Malala?  Then I would reply to myself 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.'" (The Daily Show audience laughs).  "But then I said 'If you hit the Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib...You must not treat others with cruelty.  You must fight others.  But through peace and through dialogue and through education.  So I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well...That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"

So what should be done?  International governmental alliances, human rights organizations, the private sector (yes, if there is a global economy then global industries need to play a more beneficial role), along with aware groups and individuals throughout the world, should trace the sources of funding, arms supplies, and public relations of Boko Haram and pull the rug out from under them.  Certainly envoys need to search for the 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls until they are found.  Moreover, we need to commit to empowering girls, women, and other oppressed groups with legal protections, social programs, civic participation, and opportunities for financial equality and leadership.

Sometimes I wonder if more world leaders were female, if the world stage would be as full of divisiveness, egotism, and violence as it is today.  We all deserve the chance to see this for ourselves, and we can start with the education of girls and with the education of all children and adults who seek to evolve.

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated on Twitter last weekend:

"Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls.  We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls."

These places are just a few examples of change agents:

The Malala Fund:

National Women's Liberation:

Girls Education and Mentoring Services (NYC):

Not for Sale Campaign:

Safe Horizon (NYC):