Black women sound the alarm about domestic violence

Black women sound the alarm about domestic violence

“Her story about Domestic violence | The Women in my church” — Video Courtesy of AndThis

This article was originally published on Mississippi Today.

LAUREL — On a windy afternoon in March 2002, Ishaunna Gully hoisted her young son onto her hip and listened intently as her grandmother presented her case.

The grandmother had a bad feeling about Ishaunna’s ex-boyfriend, Sammy, who had been controlling and verbally abusive during their year-long relationship. In the last few days, he was behaving erratically and making violent threats towards Ishaunna and her son from a previous relationship.

The first time Sammy attacked her, he only escaped arrest because Ishaunna declined to press charges. Days after that incident, fearing he might try to kidnap her son, Ishaunna sought a restraining order at Hattiesburg police headquarters but was told she needed to come back the following week.

Because of Sammy’s sudden violent temperament, Ishaunna’s grandmother didn’t want her to be home alone or even go out at night. But Ishaunna, who was a few months shy of completing a business-administration degree at Antonelli College, wanted to unwind from the stressful week before going to work the next day. She decided to stay home, but agreed to let her son spend the night with her grandmother.

“At that point, I was tired of running from him,” Ishaunna said. “This is my house, and no one is going to run me away.”

It was one of the last times Ishaunna remembers being able to stand.

Later that night, the wind howled outside as she rested in her living room sipping a cranberry-and-vodka and watching a late-night talk show; the aroma of cinnamon-apple scented candles hung in the air.

Around 10 p.m., there was a knock at the door. It was Mitchell Jones, the father of Ishaunna’s son, with milk for their son, a request made at the behest of her worried grandmother.

As soon as she opened the door for Mitchell, her cellphone rang showing the name of Sammy’s mother on the caller ID display.

“Call the police! He is going to kill you and then himself,” Sammy’s mother said.

No sooner than she told Mitchell to remain inside, she heard the security system beep, meaning that the deadbolted interior door that leads into the living room had been opened. A thud. Sammy, gripping a pistol, crashed through the door and pulled the trigger, striking Mitchell in the stomach as he fell to the floor. A second bullet struck Isuanna in the back. After gaining his balance, Sammy moved toward Isuanna preparing to fire, but he was shot in shoulder by Mitchell. The men exchanged several more shots, and Sammy fled.

“When he shot me, immediately I knew that I was paralyzed,” she said.

As she lay on the floor, her consciousness fading, Ishaunna’s mind raced.

“I thought to myself: this cannot be the man who said he loved me and wanted to marry me,” she said.

Video Courtesy of The Riverside Church

Our dirty laundry

Ishaunna had to be airlifted to a hospital in Jackson but survived the shooting. Doctors said she almost died. However, the bullet to her spine did result in paralysis from the waist down. Today, she uses a wheelchair.

Sammy was arrested at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg and charged with aggravated assault. A jury found him guilty of aggravated assault and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 20 suspended. He served 10 years.

Last year, Laurel (population 18,493) was also the site of the murder of 24-year-old Davokiee Ann Jackson, a mother of two. Jackson’s boyfriend, Eric House, was named the primary suspect and later surrendered to police.

“Domestic violence is a serious issue. Davokiee’s story has to be told, and she has to be remembered to prevent things like this from happening,” said Tracie Smith, Jackson’s aunt, with tears in her eyes at a domestic-violence awareness event last fall.

But the stories of women like Ishaunna, Davokiee and thousands of African-American women often go untold even though black women are more likely to experience domestic or intimate partner violence than women of other races.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2014 that four in 10 black women reported experiencing violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives, the highest among all racial groups.

The CDC also found that black women are murdered by domestic partners more than any race of women, with 57.7 percent of black women killed by a partner dying from a gunshot wound.

Eighty-five percent of black females killed by males were between the ages of 18 and 65. The average age of black female homicide victims was 35 years old, the agency found.

Overall, 53 percent of all murders of women between 2003 and 2014 involved a domestic or intimate partner.

In a 2017 study with data gathered between 2010 and 2012, the CDC estimated that 458,000 women in Mississippi were victims of sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

But intimate-partner violence in the black community has come into renewed focus in the era of Me Too, a movement started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago that gained new life in recent years with revelations that scores of powerful men sexually abused and harassed women for decades.

The tales of black women who have experienced violence at the hands of black men have often not come to the fore. However, a number of high-profile cases — such as that of the Chicago-born R&B artist’s history of sexual abuse highlighted in the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly” —  has sparked dialogue in the African American community and led to calls to listen to black women and protect black girls.

The South, experts say, present a unique set of challenges because of the culture’s reverence for religious principles, the endurance of ideals about masculinity, gun culture, poor education and poverty.

“When Men Murder Women,” a 2017 report of the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center ranked the states by rates of females murdered by males. Of the 10 highest ranked, five were in the South. Mississippi ranked No. 17 in the study.

“The reason I believe black women are victimized more is because of the disproportionate experience of violence in the home, schools, on jobs and in our neighborhoods,” said Eva Jones, founder of Butterflies of Grace Defined by Faith, a Mississippi-based non-profit organization that empowers women and teens whose lives are directly and indirectly impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.

“African American women are often fearful of reinforcing the stereotype of black men being violent. Although I can be debated on this, I believe this goes back to slavery,” Jones said. “Also, African American people often don’t trust the (criminal-justice) system, so they won’t tell because they feel it won’t work in their favor.”

She also points to a key African American cultural norm: “There is a saying in the community, ‘What happens in this house, stays in this house,’ which means, ‘Don’t air our dirty laundry in our community.’”

The Rev. C.J. Rhodes, the pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson points to other cultural teachings in the black community. For example, men sometimes manipulate women who were raised in the church to believe that no matter what problems exist “there won’t be any life outside of this marriage.”

“In some cases, with very, very religious women from certain church traditions, if (marital issues) are expressed to the pastor or other members of the church, there has been this history of saying, ‘Baby, just take it. Love your husband. Pray for your husband, and God will do something in the end. Tragically, and unfortunately, she dies as a result of his violence,” Rhodes said.

“For any number of reasons,” Rhodes adds, “African Americans don’t like to get help outside of faith traditions or not talk about it at all, so they don’t go to the therapist, they don’t go to the pastor until it’s too late. Then everyone is saying, ‘Why didn’t they talk about it?’”

Not talking about it is part of what he calls “the contradictions of respectability.”

“You don’t tell anybody what you’re going through at home,” Rhodes said. “You put on this façade that everything is O.K., so you go to church, to school and if you’re getting hit, cover it up with makeup or wear shades,” Rhodes said.

“You create this image of ‘Everything’s O.K.’ because you’re afraid that if anyone gets in your business they’ll talk about you.”

Patterns of behavior

Ishaunna tried to keep her and Sammy’s business out of the streets. The couple met in 2001 and dated for about a year until she could no longer bear Sammy’s jealousy.

“He was very controlling and had to know my every move,” she said. “I couldn’t really go out with friends without him somehow showing up there.”

After the relationship ended, Sammy revealed a violent temperament he had not shown while they dated. One day, Ishaunna met with Sammy in the parking lot of a barbecue restaurant to retrieve a cell phone she left with him. A relative had dropped Sammy off so he asked Ishaunna for a lift after giving her the phone.

“You can drop me off. I won’t bother you,” Sammy told her.

As they cruised down 4th Street, Sammy started strewing the contents of her purse around the car and ripping at her shirt. A Hattiesburg police officer noticed the car swerving as Ishaunna fought Sammy off and pulled them over. Sammy was detained when the police officer noted her ripped shirt, but Ishaunna did not ask that Sammy be arrested. She didn’t want to see him locked up — she just wanted him out of her car, and out of her life for good.

The police drove him home.

Days later, after receiving a threatening call from Sammy blaming her for his near arrest, she visited the Hattiesburg Police Department to ask about getting a restraining order or having the police take some other kind of action.

It was the end of the week, and the officer told her to come back the following Monday. That same police officer arrived at the scene of her shooting, she recalls.

According to the CDC, about 11 percent of victims of intimate partner violence-related homicide experienced some form of violence in the month preceding their deaths, and arguing and jealousy were common precipitating circumstances, the agency found.

“You have to understand that it is about a pattern of behavior,” said Wendy Mahoney, executive director of for the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Specifically, she adds, domestic violence involves coercive behavior where an individual uses their power and control within the intimate partner relationship to “humiliate, demean, degrade, embarrass and hurt the other individual.” She said the abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual and, often, sexual.

Of course, couples disagree, Mahoney says, but not all spats rise to the level of domestic abuse. “What makes domestic violence is when it becomes a behavior and it is rooted in power and control,” she said.

Video Courtesy of Markay Media

Why didn’t I just leave?

Eve Williams, a Sharon, Miss. native, saw how central power and control are to abuse during her 28-year marriage to a minister, which ended after a brutal beating that resulted in a hospital stay. It started five years into the marriage, when he beat her and dragged her around the house.

In hindsight, she says she saw it building up over time.

“Things happen, and before you know it you are caught in a situation where you are asking yourself, ‘How did I get here?’” Williams said. “Things were up and down throughout the marriage, but I had thought we had gotten to a place where we were good, but out of nowhere things went bad.”

“I shut down. I literally shut down. I was in shock. I didn’t talk about it for two years, nobody knew about it. I was mad at myself for years after that because I asked myself, ‘Why didn’t I just leave?’ If I would have left then, I wouldn’t have almost lost my life years later.”

There are many reasons why women don’t simply walk away from abusive partners, including economic barriers such as the inability to save up for travel or pay the deposit for a new place or utilities, say advocates who work with abuse victims.

In 2017, Mississippi utility regulators adopted a rule allowing women referred from domestic-violence shelters to put off paying utility-deposit fees so they can establish accounts in their own names.

Mississippi’s domestic violence statute covers simple assault, aggravated assault, simple domestic violence, simple domestic violence third, aggravated domestic violence and aggravated domestic violence third; each charge carries a different penalty.

In 2017, Mississippi became a flashpoint for national outrage when then-state Rep. Andy Gipson, a Republican, blocked legislation establishing domestic violence as the 13th ground for divorce, saying at the time, “We need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.”

After the backlash, Gipson relented and pushed through a bill that broadened the ability to cite domestic violence as a reason to end a marriage, but did not establish domestic abuse as a ground for divorce.

Lawmakers have filed several domestic-violence related bills, including measures to prohibit people convicted of domestic violence from carrying weapons, to establish that communications between abuse victims and advocates can remain confidential, and to establish domestic-abuse courts.

Despite these recent changes, Mahoney says escaping domestic violence is tough particularly for poor women and women of color, who in Mississippi tend to have less access to financial resources. She notes that most of the women in the shelters her organization operates are African American.

And black women in Mississippi face the highest wage gap in the nation when compared to white men. According to a report published last August as part of the Black Women’s Equal Pay Day campaign, black women working full-time, year-round earn 56 cents on the dollar less based on median wages compared to white non-Hispanic men. The study also found that the disparity means a black woman could make $830,800 less than the average white man over the course of a 40-year career.

“If you think about it, it is mostly individuals with low socioeconomic status and they may not have any other resources or support to help them,” Mahoney said.

‘Look at me’

More than fifteen years have passed since the night Ishaunna Gully-Bettis lost her ability to walk, and nearly her life.

Today, she works for a non-profit organization call LIFE (Living Independent for Everyone) of MS, which works in 17 Mississippi counties. She also helps young people with disabilities with peer counseling, advocacy, information and referrals, independent living skills and transition services to equip them for living independent lives.

She is also a Christopher Reeve peer mentor for the state of Mississippi, counseling people with new spinal cord injuries and teaching them how to regain their confidence and live self-sufficiently.

“I have learned that life is really what you make it. Sometimes in life you can’t control or change what people do to you but you can control how you react or deal with it. I am no longer the victim but a survivor — an overcomer,” Ishaunna told Mississippi Today, stressing that she has forgiven Sammy.

“God gave me a second chance at life. I felt the grace and mercy that God showed me and I believed he deserved the same thing,” she says.

Eva Jones said it’s important to make women feel safe when they ask for help and are ready to talk about the violence they are experiencing.

“You have to realize that until a person is ready to get out of that, you can talk to them until you are blue but they have to be ready to get out that abusive situation,” Jones said. “They have to make the decision.”

Advocates also urge men to make better decisions — and to encourage their peers to do the same. In 2014, the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence launched a men’s working group in the wake of the viral video of professional football player Ray Rice knocking his fiance unconscious in an elevator.

“Understanding … that men are more responsive to other men, we set out to encourage men to stand up against domestic violence,” reads a newsletter the organization published promoting the program, which urged men to pledge to be a “stand-up guy” against domestic violence.

Eve Williams finds strength through writing poetry. One particular poem she wrote when she was 16, has helped her to cope with sexual abuse that tormented her as a child.

Last fall, Williams recited her poetry in front of an audience at the Mississippi Capitol for a domestic-violence awareness month observation. For her, the poem wasn’t just for introspective healing. She hoped it would help heal others who have had similar experiences.

Her poem, titled “Me,” reads:

Look at me

Can’t you see?

I am as beautiful as can be?

God created me just like you, so you should feel the same way too

Don’t let anybody put you low

When I look in the mirror, I know what and who I see

Somebody, somebody, and that somebody is me.

And I may not be perfectly wise, perfectly witty, or as perfect as you want me to be

But I will always, always, always be perfect

The way God created me to be

About Eric J. Shelton

Eric J. Shelton

Eric J. Shelton is a 2018 corps member in Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms, and joined the team as Mississippi Today’s first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Mississippi. He has worked as a staff photographer for the Natchez Democrat and Texarkana Gazette after serving as photojournalism intern for the Associated Press. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining Mississippi Today’s team in June 2018. Eric’s photojournalism has won awards from the Mississippi Associated Press Managing Editors and the Arkansas Press Photographers Association.

Democracy in Africa: success stories that have defied the odds

Democracy in Africa: success stories that have defied the odds

Senegalese women cast their ballots in the presidential elections in February.
EPA-EFE/Nic Bothma

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham

When I first said that I was going to write a book about the history of democracy in Africa, quite a few people responded with a joke. That will be one of the world’s shortest books, up there with the compendium of great English cooking, they would say.

But, it turned out that there was a lot to talk about: Africa’s past reveals more fragments of democracy than you would think. And, its present has a number of important things to teach the world about the conditions under which democracy can be built.

The poor quality of elections in many sub-Saharan African countries, combined with a tendency for the media to focus on controversy, means that Africa is often depicted as a bastion of authoritarianism. But, it actually has some of the most remarkable and important stories of democratic struggle.

Countries such as Benin, Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Mauritius, Senegal, and South Africa have not only become beacons of political rights and civil liberties, they have done so against the greatest of obstacles. These experiences teach us important lessons about where democracy can work, and why.

Pre-conditions for a strong democracy

Political scientists like to talk about the conditions necessary for countries to build a strong and stable democracy. These lists are fiercely fought over, but there are a number of factors that most researchers would agree are probably important.

A cohesive national identity is likely to make it easier to maintain national unity, while wealth and economic success have been found to promote political stability. A strong national infrastructure, underpinned by respect for the rule of law, means that the government is likely to be effective without being abusive. And, a vibrant middle class and powerful civil society are usually seen as important to promote accountability and responsive government.

What is remarkable about the democratization of African states is that most did not enjoy a single one of these “pre-conditions”.

With the exception of South Africa, all of Africa’s democracies entered multiparty politics with low GDP per capita and high levels of unemployment. This was compounded by weak and underdeveloped states that had been designed – both in the colonial era and during the authoritarian rule of the 1980s – to exploit resources rather than empower citizens. In states like Ghana, this was compounded by a history of military rule, which heightened the risk of further coups.

Almost all of these states also featured civil societies that were fragile and fragmented, despite the strength of religious organizations. At the same time, in the early 1990s, the middle class was small. More often than not, it was also economically dependent on the government. It was thus poorly placed to fight against corruption or democratic backsliding.


These were not the only challenges that African states faced. With the exception of Botswana, they are all diverse multi-ethnic societies in which the question of national identity has been problematic. In Ghana and Mauritius for instance, ethnic identities have historically played a role in structuring political networks. This increased the tension around elections.

Worse still, under colonial rule and during apartheid, white regimes sought to entrench racial divisions and hostilities in Namibia and South Africa, creating a particularly difficult environment.

Against this backdrop, all of these states might have been expected to collapse into some form of authoritarian regime by now. Given this context, their success should be celebrated and studied for what it tells us about how democracy can be built even in the most challenging of contexts.

Bucking the trend

It is striking that, with the exception of Benin and possibly Senegal, these democracies have grown stronger during a period in which the world is supposed to be backsliding on democracy.

While Europe is convulsed by Brexit and the rise of right-wing populists, and Donald Trump is doing his best to undermine America’s reputation for political checks and balances, Africa’s most democratic states have proved to be remarkably resilient.

Ghana has experienced numerous transfers of power and, in 2016, the first ever defeat of a sitting president. Namibia has consolidated its position as a “free” political system with robust respect for civil liberties, according to Freedom House.

South Africa suffered politically and economically during the presidency of Jacob Zuma, but now has the chance to bounce back after the governing African National Congress (ANC) voted to pursue reform under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

For their part, Botswana and Mauritius – the continent’s oldest democracies – continue to combine respect for political rights with prudent economic policies.

Praising Africa’s democratic success stories do not, of course, mean that we should overlook its failures. A number of countries have taken steps backward in recent years, including Tanzania and Uganda. Authoritarian leaders also remain entrenched in Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea, and many more. But it is important to recognize that there is much more to Africa than authoritarianism.

Explaining success

In the absence of the conventional building blocks of democracy, we need to look elsewhere to explain these success stories. Some might be tempted to think that the role of the global community has been critical in keeping governments on the straight and narrow. But in reality, democracy is built from within, as the fact that aid-dependent countries such as Uganda and Rwanda have remained firmly authoritarian shows only too well.

We should, therefore, give greater credit to the politicians and people of Africa’s democratic states. African presidents are often lambasted for being corrupt and self-serving. But, in a number of countries, they have shown considerable restraint, establishing institutions capable of checking their power.

In Ghana, cohesive relationships among the political elite have underpinned a growing consensus on the value of democracy. In South Africa, inclusive leadership played a critical role in overcoming racial divisions and building trust in the new post-apartheid political system since 1994. In Namibia, successive presidents have refused to use the electoral dominance of the governing party to remove the opposition.

The role played by African citizens also deserves greater recognition. It was their willingness to take to the streets that forced democratic openings in the late 1980s. The same has been true in recent years, with mass action challenging authoritarian regimes in Burkina Faso and Sudan.

Despite economic challenges and democratic difficulties, high levels of public support for democracy in Africa mean that leaders understand the costs of backsliding.

At a time when people are questioning the value of democracy in many Western states, many African populations who have lived under one-party, one-man, or military rule are prepared to fight to prevent their return. This should serve both as an important lesson and a source of inspiration.The Conversation

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

850 religious leaders back lawsuit against DHS surveillance of pastor

850 religious leaders back lawsuit against DHS surveillance of pastor

Video Courtesy of Park Avenue Christian Church

RELATED: Pastor surveilled after ministering to migrants sues US government

Earlier this month, Manhattan pastor Kaji Douša filed a federal lawsuit accusing U.S. officials of violating her religious liberty by detaining and surveilling her over her ministry to migrants at the border.

Now, more than 850 ordained clergy from around North America have formed an interfaith coalition in support of Dousa, senior pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church.

“All of us feel as though this is an infringement on our right to preach and teach and lead,” said Rabbi Joshua Stanton of Manhattan’s East End Temple, who works with undocumented immigrants through the New Sanctuary Coalition movement that Dousa heads. “The idea that I could somehow be limited in who I could reach out to simply because of their country of origin or simply because of where they wanted the ceremony held is unfathomable. I couldn’t be a rabbi if that were the case.”

Stanton joined hundreds of leaders who signed an open letter in support of Dousa. Other signatories include faith leaders from the United Church of Christ, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Yale Divinity School, Muslim Community Network, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and hundreds of other houses of worship and organizations.

The coalition hopes to bring Dousa’s case to the limelight by advocating on her behalf to elected officials, said Corey Dukes from Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit that is co-counsel in Dousa’s lawsuit and helped organize support for her.

On July 8, Dousa filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after discovering that the agencies had listed her in a secret government database collecting information on the Central American migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S. border last fall.

DHS also detained and interrogated Dousa, as well as revoking her Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, or SENTRI, pass to expedite border crossings.

Those actions, her supporters argue, have interfered with Dousa’s ministry and endanger all U.S. faith leaders.

“Migrants face a desperate situation at the Southern Border,” a statement from the coalition reads. “And the work that we do as clergy is crucial to them. We believe there to be a right for us to offer our pastoral services. … In this country, the government cannot decide to whom we may preach or with whom we may pray.”

Faith leaders from more than 40 states have added their names – and at one point, Dousa said, more than 50 clergy members were signing the letter every hour.

“I have been really strongly supported by the clergy community and the faith community in general,” Dousa said. “People very easily connect my story with what could happen to their pastor or their rabbi or themselves, and they’re mobilizing.”

Her lawsuit notes that U.S. officials had “collected detailed information about her and her pastoral work” and argues that placing her on the watchlist, part of a project dubbed Operation Secure Line, violated her First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The DHS did not offer comment on the pending litigation.

Dousa said she fears that other clergy could face the same treatment from the government that she has received.

“I believe that placing me as the only clergy person on Operation Secure Line was a way to test out the boundaries of what kind of surveillance they can do,” Dousa said.

In late 2018, Dousa helped lead the Sanctuary Caravan, a 40-day volunteer mobile clinic of faith leaders who provided pastoral services to migrants seeking U.S. asylum in the United States.

When she reentered the U.S. in early January, federal immigration officials detained her for a secondary screening and interrogated her about her years of ministry near the border and in New York City.

“Rev. Dousa is one of the most respected religious leaders in New York and, I would argue, the United States,” Stanton said. “If the government is targeting her, I can’t help but think I’m in jeopardy and other religious leaders who look up to her are as well.”

Dousa, who is a member of the United Church of Christ, previously led a California church 20 miles from the Southern border.

Though she told Religion News Service that the possibility of continued surveillance has compromised her ability to minister to migrants with complicated immigration statuses, she has continued her advocacy work.

Earlier this month, Dousa helped lead the coordinated Lights for Liberty protests, in which thousands of demonstrators gathered in hundreds of cities to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“To reject a migrant is to cast away God’s angels, which I am unwilling to do,” Dousa said. “For this, my country has decided to punish me. But I will not look away. I will continue to look closely — to listen, to imagine and to call us into a better way. Free me and my colleagues to do our work with migrants and we will find that better way.”

The Marathon

The Marathon


It can be an eerie feeling to see everyone around you accomplish the same goals that you have for yourself, whether it’s graduating, getting married, having kids, or getting promotions. For me, it’s even more difficult when the people closest to me are achieving these milestones. But I’ve come to accept that everyone’s race is different, and people don’t achieve things at the same time. We can’t compare our personal races with other people’s races because we never know what hurdles they had to overcome to get to where they are.

For me, it took four-and-a-half years to graduate with my bachelor’s degree. I was able to see some of my peers graduate in the standard four years and even some in three-and-a-half years. But I needed an extra semester to complete my undergraduate journey. I was a little devastated that I wasn’t graduating on time. According to The New York Times, “only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.” But despite the statistics that the majority of full-time students take five-to-six years to graduate, I wanted to graduate “on-time.”

Being Twentysomething it seems that I haven’t been on time for any of the goals I made for myself when I was younger. By 25, I thought I’d at least be engaged to my college sweetheart, but here I am at 24 and have yet to have been in a serious relationship.  Sometimes I find myself getting upset that the plans I had for myself weren’t a part of God’s timing. How do we know what God’s “on-time” plan is for us? Did I miss the orientation where God told each of us when we would accomplish certain goals? It can be so frustrating, especially in this age of social media when you can see all the accomplishments of the people around you. It might make you feel like you aren’t doing something right. But trust me that isn’t the case. It’s all about God’s timing, not yours.


Despite things not happening the way I wanted them to, I know that as long as I keep my faith in God everything will work out. The Bible says, “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (from Galatians 6:9 NLT). Knowing that it would take me an extra semester to get my bachelor’s degree I could have easily gotten discouraged, distracted or maybe even thrown in the towel. How many times have we thought about quitting something because it’s not happening as fast or easy as we wanted it to happen? It’s not about how fast or slow we finish the race, but that we finish.

Graduating with your bachelor’s degree at 50 or getting married and starting a family at 20 will feel no different if you accomplish it sooner or later in life. What God has for you will be for you, no matter how long it might take. So take a deep breath and don’t rush through your race to catch up with the masses. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” God has a plan for your life. So go ahead and celebrate your friend’s engagement and know that if it’s in His will it will come to you.  If you are feeling down about something not happening when or how you want it to, stay faithful and hold on to God’s hand because He’s got you no matter what. And no matter what bumps in the road you encounter, remember life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Jordan Clayton-Taylor is a twentysomething recent college grad with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and English and a minor in Black Studies. As Jordan navigates her way through life, she tries to walk by faith and not by sight while staying positive despite all the things going on around her. 



2019 National Teacher of the Year on Reducing Suspensions

2019 National Teacher of the Year on Reducing Suspensions

Video Courtesy of TEDx Talks

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Kathryn Palmer on July 19, 2019

Rodney Robinson will never forget how isolated he felt as one of the few black faces at his Virginia high school.

“Growing up as the smart black kid in a white school is traumatizing,” said Robinson, who was named 2019 National Teacher of the Year. He spoke to more than 200 Shelby County Schools educators and summer school students at Southwind High School earlier this week as part of a two-day districtwide training.

Robinson, who teaches social studies at the Virgie Binford Education Center, located inside the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center in Virginia, recalled how as a high schooler that trauma came to a head in the mid-1990s when a white teacher made a racially insensitive remark.

“In my anger, I turned over a desk,” Robinson told the audience who attended his presentation Tuesday.

“The teacher sent me to the assistant principal’s office,” he continued. “I was scared because the code of conduct said damage of property could result in expulsion,” said Robinson, who has written extensively about rethinking school discipline.

Robinson’s experience resonated with local school officials, who are focusing new attention on ending Memphis’ school-to-prison pipeline, or punitive discipline tactics that can lead to higher rates of incarceration, especially for black boys. In the 2017-2018 school year, Shelby County Schools issued almost 2,500 expulsions, according to district data. That’s about 300 more than in the previous year — when, according to federal data, the district already had one of the highest expulsion numbers in the country.

“I care about all 110,000 students in Shelby County Schools,” said superintendent Joris Ray in a speech ahead of Robinson’s presentation. “But this priority group [of black male students] needs us the most.” Black boys, who make up about 38 percent of the district’s more than 100,000 students, accounted for 67 percent of expulsions in the 2017-18 school year.

“Relationships are the key determinant in changing student behaviors,” Ray said after the event. “For students to succeed in school, someone has to show interest in them, and set high expectations.”

Hiring more black male teachers, who make up 9.5 percent of the district’s workforce, is critical to making that happen, Ray said. He is about to start his first full year as superintendent and said next week he will give more specifics addressing the systemic barriers that have impeded the academic achievement of black male students.

Although the problem of black male students facing suspensions and expulsions at a disproportionately higher rate than their white peers is especially prominent in Memphis, it has pervaded nearly every district, city, and state in the country for decades.

But Robinson’s story had a better outcome than those statistics suggested it would, which he attributes to having a strong, relatable mentor. The assistant principal, Wayne Lewis, was one of a handful of black authority figures working at Robinson’s school.

“I sat down in front of Dr. Lewis and he asked me ‘where are you thinking about going to [college]?’” Robinson said.

The comment surprised Robinson. He was bracing for a harsh punishment, but instead, Lewis told him about Virginia State University, where Robinson received his bachelor’s degree in history several years later.

Then, the conversation circled back to the reason Robinson was in Lewis’ office. He said he wasn’t going to suspend Robinson because “he knew I was going to go home and do something stupid. But he told me I couldn’t curse at teachers and flip over desks — no matter how upset I was — so he gave me in-school suspension instead.”

And when Robinson showed up for his in-school punishment, Lewis did, too, carrying college application materials.

“He took time to get to know every student on a personal level — black and white,” Robinson said. “He took me from a confused teenager to a confident young man. He showed me what a black man should be,” Robinson said.

Now in his 40s, Robinson said all students, especially black boys, need more culturally responsive, empathetic teachers. “Our kids are coming into our schools dealing with problems we can’t even imagine,” he said.

Although his students are already incarcerated, he suggests a four-pronged teaching approach that can be applied to teachers in any classroom, regardless of the demographic of students they serve:

  • Don’t put students in a box — get to know them as people.
  • Make learning relevant.
  • Create new experiences.
  • Be a mentor.

District leaders are already working to putting those practices into action to prevent students from ending up in a juvenile detention center like the one where Robinson works.

“Kids don’t wake up one day and end up in a situation like that,” said Angela Hargrave, director of the district’s Office of Student Equity, Enrollment and Discipline, which organized the teacher workshop.

“It starts with addressing some of the minor behaviors first,” Hargrave said. “We want to make sure our first response is about support not punishment.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.