The Message is Clear after the Women’s March on Washington

The Message is Clear after the Women’s March on Washington

Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher

On January 21, 2017, streets around the world turned pink and shook from the passionate vibration of a unified message for gender equality at the Women’s March on Washington.

Although fiery passion could be felt at the Washington D.C. march and the hundreds of other marches worldwide—673 marches to be exact—the atmosphere was one of love and unity amongst the chanting crowds, at one point quoting former first lady Michelle Obama saying, “We go high!”

Most of the leaders of the Women’s March are women from all backgrounds who built this cause from a single Facebook post demanding that women speak up. Their principles, as listed on their website, are to create a non-violent movement to emphasize that “women’s rights are human rights.”

Activists and celebrities alike contributed their voices from a more personal perspective while simultaneously making a universal connection to the cause regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, or faith. Their words stirred the crowd and revved up the aura of revolution that took to the streets and social media.

At times, there was a wave of cheering that blanketed the National Mall in seeming praise for the unity and progress. And even with the negative commentary from a few supporters of the new U.S. president and his administration—some bashing the movement on social media—that did not deter the motivation.

The message of demanding basic human rights for women and negating any discrimination regardless of faith, gender identity, and ethnic groups was clear. With the energy of this movement in mind, millions of people agreed that we cannot be a force in voice and not a force of action. Therefore, it is important that people all over the nation take that same energy back into their respective communities and implement ways to ensure basic civil rights and equality as promised to us by the Constitution.

Photo Courtesy of C.B. Fletcher

Have no idea where to start? Here are five ways to keep the fire going and get involved in the fight for equality and protection against marginalization:

  • Research and support local organizations that deal with minority and women’s issues, in addition to outreach and educational organizations that are designed to propel others forward.
  • Educate yourself on local and global issues through major and smaller news outlets.
  • Push for consent and self-defense classes for students of all ages to help reduce the rate of domestic violence and sexual assault. Additionally, provide resources to students on basic laws regarding sexual assault.
  • Don’t allow the Women’s March to be your only movement. Join and support other causes that are affecting other large groups of people both locally and worldwide. We must acknowledge that there are blanket and specified issues that all need attention.
  • Connect with your local, state and federal officials to voice your suggestions or opinions publicly, then follow up with an email or letter. This can be done on social media, at a local town hall meeting, or even at a state convention as a way to maintain open dialogue with those who have the authority to make the changes to our legislation.

The overall message of the Women’s March in Washington and all over the world was clear: “We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all, ” according to the organizers’ website. Does this message sound familiar?

How do you plan to move forward in our nation’s fight for equality? Share your thoughts below.

President Obama designates historic civil rights sites including black churches

President Obama designates historic civil rights sites including black churches

(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.

The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.

And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.

“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.

Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.

In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”

In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.

He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.

The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.

“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

 

 

Rocking the Label: A Closer Look at the Millennial First Lady

Rocking the Label: A Closer Look at the Millennial First Lady

Millennials are the largest generation since their parents, the Baby Boomers, and already are making their mark on society and the church. As many young women are marrying and beginning their new lives, some will also take on the responsibility of first lady—the wife of the senior pastor—in their respective churches, a role with much spiritual and moral weight.

While the traditional idea of a first lady remains the same, many young women have a more contemporary view of how their lives can impact other women in their congregation.

LaToyia Ledbetter, 32, is a first lady at Mt. Pisgah MBC in Chicago. Her husband, Rev. Ernest Ledbetter III, is a third-generation pastor, so she is familiar with how the term “first lady” has evolved over the years.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the title … People just want to find a way to respect you as the pastor’s wife,” she says. “But I don’t want you to put me on a pedestal. We are all supposed to be working in the body of Christ … and bringing souls to Christ. We don’t want it to be like, ‘This is the pastor and first lady. Rise when they walk in.’”

Katie Windley, a millennial first lady from North Carolina, says she prefers to be called by her name rather than “first lady” because it’s simply a title, something she says pales in comparison to the moral role at hand: setting a godly example.

“To me, you should represent your spouse, carry yourself to a standard where others can look up to you. You should always carry an attitude of faith and not of anger, attitude, or animosity, but love and kindness, but you should never allow your being a first lady to become arrogant,” she says.

Katie admits that being a first lady is “challenging, but most desirable because God gives you the strength to handle things.” Many of those challenges also come from the pressures to live up to a position that many women regard as a real-life example of the Christian walk, something that LaToyia believes is every woman’s duty.

Rocking the Label

LaToyia Ledbetter poses with her husband Rev. Ernest Ledbetter III of Mt. Pisgah MBC in Chicago.

“At our church, we say that everyone is the first lady in her household,” LaToyia laughs. “You should be the first lady in your house, so technically, there should be a ton of first ladies. I don’t think the title ‘first lady’ [defines] a great woman. You can be a great woman without being called a first lady.”

“My responsibilities do make me feel different, because I have to set myself apart from others, even the ones that are my age that attend church or family members,” Katie says. “I can’t [be effective] in this role if my living doesn’t match up, but I am still down-to-earth and love to laugh and have fun.”

Regardless of the labels we use, LaToyia says there are major keys to being married to a pastor that all women must keep in mind.

“You have to love God for YOURSELF,” she says. “Have a personal relationship with him and a STRONG prayer life. That will get you through the toughest of situations, especially in those beginning years when learning to balance ministry and marriage.”

She also reminds young women to respect their husband’s calling, by always ensuring he has time to himself to pray, study, and listen to God’s voice—never make him choose between God and you.

Katie also emphasizes pursuing your own calling while you support your spouse. “I make time for my dreams because you have to. You can cause yourself to be mentally and physically depressed trying to follow right alongside your husband’s dreams. You still have to live for yourself and accomplish all you set out to do.”

LaToyia also points out that a first lady must have a congruent personal and spiritual relationship with her husband.

“I tell women who are dating ministers, go listen to a sermon while dating. You may love his company and think he’s a great guy, but you can’t be with half of him. If he is teaching something that you as a Christian can’t agree to or respect, then you should reevaluate and pray as you will have to support both the man and the ministry in marriage.”

The New-Aged First Lady

While the role of first lady in the church is an important one, millennial woman are increasingly independent and putting marriage among their generation on hold. In fact, only 27% of millennials are tying the knot nowadays compared to 36% of Generation Xers, 48% of baby boomers, and 65% of traditionalists at the same age.

With more millennial women holding out on marriage and pursuing personal goals, where does the concept of being a “first lady” fit into life? By definition, a first lady is “the leading woman in a particular activity or profession.” This means the status of first lady is not directly tied to courtship, as many of us grew up hearing.

“I think women of past generations have seen themselves through the lens of patriarchy, i.e., they saw themselves as helpmeets to those whom they married, and they worked within that space—but never out of it,” says 20-something believer Kristina Redd.

Photo Courtesy of LeToyia Ledbetter

“Women have conceptualized the power to be leaders outside of their husbands’ work. Now, marriage isn’t the requirement to be a first lady. The dynamic has changed where it’s understood that women may be married or single, but their passions and dedication to their own work is commendable and glamorized.”

Some millennials also agree that being a leading lady isn’t confined to being the bar-none, most excellent person in your field. For many, a first lady is someone who gives 100% of her effort, and doesn’t exalt or separate herself from her fellow women.

Student Kathryn Turner says she believes that “the millennial first lady can be the last lady in her profession, class, or whatever it may be as long as she performs to her best abilities. She understands that all people are different and will not judge anyone.”

Kristina chimes in that women of past generations have often “distanced themselves, so to speak, from [the women] they lead. A millennial first lady is admired more for her approach instead of being a figurehead. She rolls up her sleeves, and she isn’t afraid of the first lady crown to fall off while working.”

Leading Ladies of Tomorrow

While many millennials still believe the first lady role is a symbol of personal and professional success, many point to personal qualities that set a leading lady apart from the crowd, making her more than just a profitable working woman. Compassion, supportiveness, and humility were frequently cited as key traits.

“She’s someone who had a first-hand experience and clearly bounced back—a survivor of some sort,” says 24-year-old Jacquelyn Segovia, who also says many people want a first lady to “act right,” so it’s important that she stands up for herself and be a people person.

“She’s also a go-getter! Anything with Christ, she can do!” Jacquelyn adds.

Kathryn says the millennial lady is particularly unique because she doesn’t aspire to fit into a category, but instead “helps other women create their own category free from persecution or criticisms by others who have not learned to live as confidently and as comfortably in their own skin as she has. She brings women together, celebrating both their differences and common ground without attempting to overshadow or remold one another.”

Kristina points out that a first lady should be a dynamic person who understands her influence. Her faith is vital because her growth is based on a desire “for God to empty her fully so she can commit herself to the void her life was written to fill,” she says.

Most importantly, many young women agree that the life of a first lady is marked by interactions with her peers. Being a testament to God’s love and strength goes a long way in making today’s woman a first lady.

“A millennial first lady can look like and be any woman,” Kristina says. “She is present in the lives of those she cares for, and has expectations for those whom she gives her heart to. Any woman can be the leading woman of her life and for the story God has written her into.

 

4 lessons we can all learn from ‘Hidden Figures’

4 lessons we can all learn from ‘Hidden Figures’

“Hidden Figures” blew expectations beyond the stratosphere with wall-to-wall, movie-goers everywhere.

Audiences across the nation were enthusiastic to finally witness the story of three African American women—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—working as the driving force behind a historic event in American history.

It was these three women who played a significant role in the successful orbit of N.A.S.A. astronaut John Glenn around Earth. And, it was the film adaptation of this New York Times Bestseller that gave “Star Wars: Rogue One” a run for the top spot in just one weekend while grossing $22.8 Million.

Throughout the film, there were several laughs and boisterous commentary from the audience on everything from the intelligence capacity of a woman to racism and gender equality in the work place. Some audience members even had the book in hand while leaving the theater.

“‘Hidden Figures’ made me so proud to be a Black woman,” Kimberly Mayberry of Houston, Texas says. “It also put into perspective how long we’ve been fighting the equality battle and why we should be thankful for those who came before us.”

Although we are able to celebrate the success of “Hidden Figures,” the battle to be considered equal continues today, even with progress made. So, here are four key takeaways from this amazing depiction of lessons we can all learn from this blockbuster film.

“We all get there together or we don’t get there at all.”

The story of “Hidden Figures” takes place during the Civil Rights Era during a time when the race to space against Russia also made international headlines.

In order to make history, NASA recruited mathematician Katherine Johnson, played by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson, to help calculate the launch and landing for the upcoming mission. Although she demonstrated her capabilities to her superior Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, Katherine’s work ethic and abilities were hindered by the blatant racism shown by her all-white, male counterparts. This was particularly challenging when she was forced to sprint a half-mile to the “colored” bathroom across campus.

After learning of the situation, Al demands that all members of NASA unify for the progress needed in order to truly make history in the world of aeronautics.

Although African Americans have been forced to take a stand, it is also imperative that we as one human race empathize with the struggle of our counterparts which will ultimately help us move forward together for the greater good.

 

I am my sister’s keeper.

Although Dorothy Vaughan, played by Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer, is charged with supervising an entire department made up of all African American female aids and calculators (mathematicians), she is informed that she will not receive the official title and benefits of being a supervisor, because she is “unfit,” according to her direct report, played by Kirsten Dunst.

After a series of events, Dorothy learns that her department may eventually become obsolete which inspires her to find a way to show that both she and her team play a significant role in NASA operations.

In fact, the team’s performance was so effective that NASA calls on Dorothy for training her white counterparts in the future. Of course, Dorthy had the ability to just move herself forward. But instead, she paved the way for every woman in NASA because they were all worth it.

It is so important that we, as women, regardless of our race, spread knowledge amongst ourselves if we are going to succeed together as the sisters we claim to be.

Beauty and brains is not a threat to the mature man.

Mary Jackson, played by singer and songwriter Janelle Monáe, is an aspiring engineer, wife and mother. Initially her husband is a bit disgruntled by her absence in the home while she follows her dreams. However, when she is forced to take extraordinary measures in order to pursue a career in engineering he matches her effort by supporting and encouraging her to keep going.

Katherine, a widow and mother of three girls, receives similar support when she is introduced to Colonel Jim Johnson who is enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Although they get off to a bumpy start, the colonel’s admiration and support grows for Katherine throughout the film.

Both of these examples were important to see on film, as some are lead to believe that accomplished women are too smart or independent for love. Instead of seeing it as a hindrance to their overall beauty, the men of “Hidden Figures” see the brilliance of the women in their lives as an asset. That is why it is so important to emphasize to our girls and adolescents that intelligence and accomplishment are a critical asset to overall beauty, and the right man will love you for it.

Perhaps we’re already there.

“Think we can make it to the moon?”- Al

“We’re already there.”- Katherine.

The above exchange takes place between Katherine and Al after NASA’s successful orbit around the earth. Although the characters are speaking about the progress of NASA, the overall conversation is really about vision.

So often, people may have an idea, but they may be unsure how they are going to achieve it. However, it is important to remember that success starts with the mind. Although there are still many roadblocks ahead for women and people of color, no one can deny that we have progressed in unimaginable ways and will continue to do so. “Hidden Figures” teaches us to reach beyond our easily attainable goals by tapping into our well-equipped faith, talents. We are able to achieve greatness, because the truth is we’re already there.

 

Check out the trailer for Hidden Figures below, and see what all of the hype is about for yourself in theaters now.

Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

Retired Ugandan bishop seeks restorative justice for former child soldiers

by Fredrick Nzwili

(RNS) A retired Anglican bishop in northern Uganda is agitating for restorative justice – which emphasizes forgiveness and truth-telling over punishment – in a region where the wounds of a brutal war unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army persist.

Bishop Macleord Baker Ochola II, 84, has been responding to community concerns that the modern court system may not deliver justice for the people who suffered in the complex conflict.

In 1980s and ’90s, the LRA rebels, led by Joseph Kony, terrorized civilians in northern Uganda, abducting children and forcefully recruiting boys as soldiers and girls as sex slaves.

Kony turned child soldiers into killing machines against their own community.

By 2005, the LRA had abducted over 60,000 children and killed more than 100,000 people, while displacing 2.5 million people.

Ochola buried the dead, walked with returning child soldiers and at one point was forced into exile.

The conflict took a toll on his family. His wife died in 1997 after a land mine blast hit a car she was traveling in. Ten years earlier, his daughter committed suicide after being gang-raped by the rebels.

But Ochola has refused to remain bitter, choosing to promote peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation among his people.

“If there is no process of reconciliation, there is no healing, and if there is no healing there is no restoration and justice,” said Ochola, who served the Diocese of Kitgum.  “Healing and restoration brings transformation of life for those affected.”

The International Criminal Court in The Hague indicted five top leaders of the rebel group in 2005.

Last month, it put on trial Dominic Ongwen, a 41-year-old former rebel commander who was abducted at age 10. He faces 70 charges, including murder, attempted murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery and forced marriage. He is the first former child soldier to appear before court.

“In the name of God, I deny all these charges,” Ongwen said in court.

 

Dominic Ongwen, center, a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, sits in the courtroom of the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Peter Dejong/Pool

Ochola has been urging the court to carefully reconsider the circumstances under which children-turned-commanders were trapped in LRA captivity.

 

While he does not deny the court’s charges, he fears the court may not offer restorative justice but is seeking punishment or retribution. He is also concerned it will divide the community, which is in dire need of unity in the aftermath of LRA atrocities.

Like many other cultural and religious leaders in Uganda, he stresses a traditional justice system known as “Mato Oput,” which he thinks is more holistic.

Centered on forgiveness, it involves truth telling, compensation and a ritual in which food is shared and the accused drinks bitter herbs.

“It brings restoration to broken human relationships, transforms lives and heals the hearts of those involved,” said Ochola. “The court system, which is retributive, promotes polarization, alienating both sides.”

Mato Oput mirrors many of the forgiveness and reconciliation efforts central to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa and the Gacaca courts used in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

Mato Oput is the justice system of the Acholi people of northern Uganda, the community most affected by the LRA conflict.

The LRA left northern Uganda in 2005 and is now believed to operate along the border region of the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The LRA is still at large and they are still fighting … so we must continue with the work,” said Ochola.

In 1997, Ochola was one of the founders of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, an interfaith organization led by cultural and religious leaders that sought to peacefully end the LRA insurgency. ARLPI has been facilitating grass-roots and intercommunal reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

One aspect of that is trying to help the government and LRA go through a process of truth telling.

“This would involve accepting full responsibility and making public acknowledgment of what one has done,” said Ochola.

One problem, he said, is the government’s lack of political will to dismantle the LRA.

In the case of Ongwen, Ochola had hoped the former rebel would be brought to the community for truth telling. Since that did not happen, Ongwen will likely refuse to accept responsibility.

“As a victim, he continues to be punished twice,” said Ochola.

Sheikh Musa Khalil, a northern Uganda Muslim leader and the ARLPI vice chairman, backs Ochola, saying that with Ongwen, the traditional system could have achieved more.

“It mirrors what is in the Quran and Bible,” said Khalil. “It’s based on forgiveness. We feel he should have been brought to us.”

The bishop believes a change is needed in the general wordview that when a child is abducted — as in the case of northern Uganda — he or she must take full responsibility in adulthood for any crimes committed while a captive.

“For northern Uganda,” he said, “this is wrong because the children had their humanity destroyed.”

(Fredrick Nzwili is a reporter based in Nairobi)