‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

‘This is something I can do now’: What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color

Video Courtesy of NBC News

RELATED: Kamala Harris, America’s first female vice president-elect, makes history

Across America, Black, brown, and Asian students look to the Biden administration with hope, pride, and great expectations.

As Kamala Harris becomes the first woman, the first African American, and the first person of South Asian descent to become U.S. vice president, many girls of color will be celebrating the multiple historic barriers coming down with a single oath.

In the days leading up to the inauguration of Joe Biden and Harris, Chalkbeat spoke with Black, brown, and Asian teenagers about the significance of this moment. They discussed the importance of having elected officials who look like them, wondered why it took so long to get here, and told us how they plan to hold the new administration accountable. These young women also shared their wide-ranging policy priorities, including COVID relief, combatting climate change, increasing the minimum wage, and defunding the police.

Their stories are interspersed with poetry by younger girls, and a performance of “Represent” by 16-year-old spoken-word artist Ife Martin of Detroit. “Do you feel that?” she asks. “The roar of change rumbling under our feet, under our All Star Chucks and church shoes. It’s hard to find but long overdue.”

Kellen Zeng, 17, Staten Island, NY

Senior, Staten Island Technical High School

I saw something on Twitter about all the vice presidents throughout the years. It’s all white men and then, all of the sudden, you see Kamala. I find that really inspiring.

I want to follow in her footsteps in a way. I’ve always had an interest in policy and advocacy and activism but I told myself: “No, you have to play it safe. You have to reach financial security.” And then there’s the whole idea that as a woman of color, you have to work twice as hard. But now, having a female vice president and seeing BIPOC women in office, I want to be able to pursue that path, too. I’d love to see the day that having a woman in office isn’t something to celebrate. It’s not a success story; it’s just a norm.

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Kellen Zeng is a member of the nonprofit civic engagement organization YVote.

For now, there’s a lot of pressure on Biden and Harris during their first 100 days. What are they going to do about the pandemic? How are they going to help Americans who are currently unemployed? The economy is not doing the best right now, and that should be one of the priorities. Both of my parents were unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic. My dad helps out in his friends’ restaurants, and my mom has a beauty salon that wasn’t open for a long time. They are immigrants from China, and I had to help them apply for unemployment.

The most pressing thing right now is rolling back some of the damage done during the Trump presidency. A lot of LGBTQ rights were violated. I know that the fight isn’t over. Just because Biden and Harris won the election, it doesn’t mean America is great again.

Ife Martin, 16, Detroit, Michigan

Junior, West Bloomfield High School in West Bloomfield, Michigan

Ife Martin performs an original poem titled “Represent,” reflecting on Harris’ historic role. Ife is a member of InsideOut Literary Arts and the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. She is the winner of the 2021 National YoungArts Award in spoken word.

Ashton Mayo-Beavers, 18, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Freshman, Mercer University in Macon, Georgia

When I moved from Tennessee to Georgia to start college last fall, I was expecting, well, another version of Tennessee.

Growing up in Knoxville and Chattanooga, I saw policies that impact women’s health designed by men. I saw a lack of representation of Black women in government. I saw police brutality and inequitable justice systems.

Photo by Nathalie Lopez
Ashton Mayo-Beavers started college during the pandemic.

I still see many of those things in Georgia from my dorm room. But now, I also see Stacey Abrams. I see Kamala Harris. I see the importance of local elections, and that every single vote really does matter.

Fall of 2020 was a crazy time to start college. The COVID-19 pandemic meant that some of my classes were online and some were in person, and I had to navigate the tension of trying to focus on friends and classes while staying safe. As we were trying to prepare for our first final exams — and on top of the pandemic — there was this election. One of my professors called it the most important election of our time. For me, it was the first election I ever voted in.

On Election Day, which was more of an election month, we were told by older African American students that we shouldn’t go out. Even though Kamala Harris, a Black woman, was on the path to one of the most powerful positions in our nation, I, as a Black student, didn’t feel comfortable going to all-campus debate watch parties. I worried that the color of my skin would make me a target if tensions escalated.

Even now, I’m not sure I have processed how big it is that Kamala Harris is going to be so many firsts. For so long, I was waiting for the results to be official. I was waiting for the carpet to be dragged out from under us. It’s happened before.

No one is fully processing how big it is or how long it took. There already are so many great local leaders that are women of color, and that’s amazing. But the fact is, we will have a woman vice president who is a person of color that’s going to open the doors for so many people to envision themselves as our nation’s future.

Kimora Guy, Memphis, Tennessee

First grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

I can
I can do what she can do…
She went to a Black college.
I can too.

She wrote a book.
I can too.
Look! She’s running to be Vice President for the United States.
Can she do that?

Not only can she do it, but she has done it!!
So I can too!

Munaja Mehzabin, 17, Queens, New York

Senior, Academy of American Studies in Queens

Growing up South Asian, I saw brown actors and actresses while watching Bollywood movies with my parents. When it came to Hollywood films, Jasmine from “Aladdin” was the closest it came. Of course, when I was younger I didn’t think about representation, about not seeing people like me in TVs or movies. (The exceptions were side characters in stereotypical roles — a math whiz, or an owner of a gas station store.)

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Munaja Mehzabin has critiqued Harris’ record as a prosecutor.

These days, there are more and varied roles for South Asians, and I’m extremely glad. But representation is about more than entertainment. Representation also matters when it comes to who is representing us in government.

Kamala Harris will be the first-ever South Asian vice president, even though that tends to go over people’s heads, and the first-ever African American vice president. She will also be the first-ever woman to be vice president. In this role, she is changing things for women of color. It is so important to see people who look like you make a change because it can push people to be “the next first.” Young girls can look to Kamala Harris and feel like it’s possible to have a seat in the White House. Sure, there will always be men who don’t think a woman is capable of an important job, but we must prove them wrong.

Even though Kamala Harris has accomplished something so extraordinary, she’s far from perfect when it comes to racial justice. She was previously a prosecutor, and has sometimes sided with the police. As California’s attorney general, her office fought to keep a man named George Gage behind bars even though there was evidence that he had been wrongly convicted. She also opposed a state bill that would have regulated the use of police body cameras.

As citizens, we have to hold our leaders accountable. We have to make sure they hear us. Vice President Kamala Harris will inspire others and hold open doors. I am extremely grateful for that. At the same time, I will not glorify her.

Brooklyn Cauley, 16, Rockwall, Texas

Sophomore, Rockwall High School

I live in a predominantly white community and attend a predominantly white school, where I’m a National Honor Society student and participate in several clubs. I’m the only Black girl and the only Black person on my robotics team. I used to mentor a younger robotics team, and I felt like I was showing others that Black girls — and girls in general — can excel in STEM. That’s a big, progressive step.

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Brooklyn Cauley has mentored younger students who are interested in robotics.

In a political office, where there is not that much diversity, Kamala Harris’ win is a big thing. It shows that people are moving forward. It’s making a change. Our voices are being heard.

Biden talks about raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. This increase would bring so many people out of poverty in the U.S. This could help make so many Black communities better.

I also hope they get more vaccines out, and they actually focus on the coronavirus. [President Trump] made a joke out of it. I know a lot of kids at school don’t believe that the virus is dangerous. I’m also in the agriculture program at school, and a lot of the students tend to be big Trump supporters, which is fine. I’m not judging anyone based on their political views. We are required to wear masks to school, but a lot of students don’t keep it up over their nose. Some won’t even wear them at all when school staff is not around.

Biden’s message at the inauguration should be something like: I know the country hasn’t been the greatest this past year. I know we have had a lot of racial issues, but we can persevere.  A lot of people are struggling financially with job losses, and some are struggling mentally. We can’t just break away and say, we hate this person or that person. We have to come together to fix these issues. They are not going to be resolved by violence or fighting with our neighbor. I believe we need to pray more.

Sharona Nagamuthu, 17, Queens, New York

Junior, Scholars Academy in Queens

When the election was called for Biden and Harris, I was sleeping because [since Election Day] I was staying up until ridiculous hours of the night, glued to my TV. I checked my phone at about 11 a.m., and all of my friends were texting me: “Oh my God. They won.” It was an instant sense of relief. It had been this whole week; it was this whole long process. I’d be in my classes online, and I’d have another tab with the news open just so I could keep myself updated. After I heard, I actually went back to sleep — that’s how relieved I was, that I could finally sleep.

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Sharona Nagamuthu said the new administration comes as “a relief.”

It was a relief because it showed me that this state that we’re in right now hopefully won’t always continue to exist, and we can ultimately improve on our lives and — especially, as a person of color — that new policies can be enacted that will help me and many others.

I’m an immigrant from Guyana. My family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 2. [Through YVote], I’ve done a lot of research on immigration policies, and we know the Trump administration has enacted a lot of policies that have impacted immigrants negatively — the travel ban from some Middle Eastern countries and countries in Africa and also the construction of the southern border wall. I know the border wall has done a lot of environmental damage. To add onto that, I’d also like to see policies that combat climate change. I think it’s kind of ridiculous that you have people who don’t recognize that climate change is real when scientists are literally proving it, and you can see the impacts in our life.

Megan Davis, Memphis, Tennessee

Fourth grade, Power Center Academy Elementary School in Memphis

A Little Girl’s Dream
Roses are red and violets are blue
The next Vice President is Black and she’s a woman, too!
2020 has been hard, but also great.

I can’t believe a woman is part of the Head of State.
This changes everything, history too.
Madam Kamala Harris, I want to be just like you.
The path you’ve set out for me and others means we can do anything,
if we help one another.

I’m proud to be Black and a young girl, too, so I can grow up and be just like you.

Melanie Gonzalez Castillo, 19, Newark, New Jersey

Freshman, Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania 

As a feminist, I am happy a woman is becoming vice president in the U.S. for the first time. This inspires me. Kamala Harris’ parents were immigrants to this country. I moved to New Jersey from Mexico when I was 14 years old. This gives me hope for me and for my future children.

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Melanie Gonzalez Castillo says Kamala Harris’ rise gives her hope.

I have been watching old interviews with Kamala, and she said that DACA recipients —  undocumented young people, brought to the U.S. as children — come here believing in the democracy of the United States, and it’s beautiful to see them trust in this democracy.

A lot of people don’t trust in this country right now.

With everything that happened in the Capitol this month, I’ve been thinking more about what it means to believe in democracy. Throughout history, a lot of negative things have happened in this country, but it is my second home and has given me much. Yet people from this nation are the ones tearing it apart.

It’s so disturbing to see what this has come to, but I do have a lot of hope for the future. I have hope because of my dad, who came to this country and works hard every day. He taught me how important the work ethic is when paired with honesty and positivity. I have hope when I think about my sister, who is about to graduate college with a psychology degree.

Even though there’s still a lot to be done, and many things we must change, I have hope when I think about the generations that will come after me. They won’t think of it as revolutionary to have a woman in the White House. I hope the new generation grows up in a world where they can see equality and opportunity as something normal — not something they have to tirelessly fight for. It is up to each of us to create that change.

Ama Russell, 17, Detroit

Senior, Cass Technical High School

When I heard Biden and Harris had won, I was with my 92-year-old grandma, so it was a really big deal. She didn’t think we’d have Barack Obama [in her lifetime], so it was special to share the moment with her.

Later that day, organizers in Detroit held a Count Every Vote action, celebrating that we got Trump out and gearing up to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable. We were very excited because Detroit, and most importantly its Black voters, carried Michigan [for Biden].

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Ama Russell says representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable means they are centering Black people in their policy, making sure that people don’t think that just because we got Trump out that injustices are solved. We will put pressure on them to do more for environmental issues and more for social justice, that we are pushing them to defund the police and to push the envelope to liberate Black people. Representation is important, but it’s not enough.

Before Biden chose Kamala Harris, there was talk that he was going to pick a Black woman as his running mate. When my father announced it was Kamala, I was like, “Oh, yay,” even though I really wanted it to be my girl Stacey Abrams. It was Stacey Abrams who ultimately made it possible for Democrats to win back the Senate. I think it’s important to honor her and all of the Black organizers who made space for Kamala.

For young girls, like myself, Kamala will make them see themselves in American politics. It will make them feel like they belong, in some sense, and see that they can do this. This isn’t a “when pigs fly” kind of thing. This is something achievable, it’s attainable, and it’s not something that has to happen in the next century. This is something I can do now.

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

Originally published by The 19th

It was the morning after Thanksgiving when her body finally gave out. The layers upon crushing layers of loss — her grandmother two days prior, her job at the start of the year — tethered her to her bed. As did all the little losses, the in-between bits this year where structure dissolved, order vanished and sanity waned.

Amy Kugler had reached the point where the answer to her husband’s question — are you OK? — came out as a resounding “no.”

But Christmas was only 28 days away, and even as she said it, her mind wandered to the tree they were supposed to be picking out with their 3-year-old son and the Christmas lights. My God, she thought, she couldn’t put up the lights.

In her head it was a ping-pong between obligation and exhaustion.

Can I do this? Can I rest? Can I do this? Can I not? 

Kugler had to mourn the grandmother’s death, which was not caused by COVID-19, but was still affected by it, through a funeral broadcast on a Facebook Live video. Would she mourn Christmas, too? She wondered whether for the first time, she wouldn’t be able to complete all of the tasks — the workthat needs to happen to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s work that too often falls on moms to perform, the same moms who have already endured an unmooring year that has displaced them from work, tested the reaches of their patience, and still asked them to give more and more and more.

Kugler could already see how Christmas day could play out: She would be the one fielding texts all day about when to Zoom the grandparents and when to FaceTime. She’d be the one cooking dinner, an extra special version that said, “we survived a pandemic this year.” And she would have to make time to play with her son so he has a memory to tuck away about his pandemic Christmas.

“It’s going to be the most stressful holiday, in my opinion,” said Kugler, speaking on Zoom from a Starbucks parking lot in Seattle — the only place she could go to get some quiet.

“I’m not a bare minimum person,” said Kugler, 39. “And that’s where the rub is. I feel more guilt put on myself for not being able to be that person.”

Pressure and guilt, in all their forms, converge around this time every year, when the invisible work women typically do at home gets ratcheted up a few notches for the holidays. Add to that the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives and, at its worst point, 20.8 million jobs. People are burnt out. Women most of all.

And yet, the household work — who keeps track of what groceries to buy, what appointments to make, the outfits needed for the holiday photos — continues to fall on women, as it historically has. In the paid labor force, women continue to make up the majority of caregiving positions. (They’re 95 percent of the child care workforce and 75 percent of the health care workforce.) In the unpaid labor force, gender norms ensure much of that same work was delegated to women in the household, said feminist sociologist Lisa Huebner, a professor of women’s and gender studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re gendering anything related to care, so the holidays become like, ‘This is how you show your love,’” Huebner said. “We don’t talk about those things in terms of workplace skills, like strategies and being creative and being intelligent. Instead we still frame those as being caring and focusing on family, and then we further attach that in gendered ways.”

Women are still socialized to be the organizers, cleaners and emotional managers — ideas that are further reinforced in the media, advertising, even at school.

“It’s not that men can’t or even don’t want to,” Huebner said. “It’s that they’re not practiced at it.”

All of that was already true before 2020, before the year that changed everything.

For Kugler, now it also feels like every task on the self-regenerating to-do list of the holidays will be mixed with grief and exhaustion.

For some, the pandemic has, somehow, impossibly, added even more pressure — the desire to give something positive to hold onto at the end of a year that has seemingly only taken away.

And for others, it has recalibrated the holidays, unraveling years of thinking less wasn’t enough.

Kristina Aleksander, for instance, is ready to cancel Christmas.

She had the talk with her husband, an attorney who promptly pulled out a yellow legal pad and started making a pros and cons list. It all boiled down to a simple flip: If he really wanted Christmas to happen this year, it would be his job to see it through instead of hers.

Reaching that decision feels like they’ve come miles from the time last year when her daughter was born and Aleksander plunged into postpartum depression. She’d hide away in her room at the end of a day working in communications at the Iowa State Capitol. Her husband once said her mood was affecting the entire house.

That labor, invisible and emotional, was hers alone to bear. Her husband helped with many tasks, but she was the center of the household for them, and that responsibility came with expectations about the work they relied on her to perform.

Not this year.

“There is a lot of forced expectation around Christmas and New Year’s where you just have to enjoy yourself and have fun. At least for my age group, women who are in their 20s to late 20s, it feels like a performance that we are putting up for Instagram,” said Aleksander, 26. “And I am just out of energy this year.

I don’t want to perform for anyone.”

The performative aspect is especially visible on social media, where people are spending so much more time as they stay socially distanced and quarantined.

“We have this very intensive Pinterest culture that backs up against these ridiculous expectations for homemaking,” said Eve Rodsky, who has spent a decade talking and writing about invisible labor. “Women were conditioned to have it all and do it all. And then doing it all is a lot higher level threshold because doing it is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram and a lot of counting and competing.”

But doing it all, especially at the end of the year, requires time — and at the source of the problem is the way we look at how men and women spend it.

“We’ve been guarding men’s time since the beginning of time,” Rodsky said. “Women’s time is infinite.”

Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” draws on her work talking to couples, most of them heterosexual, about the way they approach invisible labor and outlines a road map for addressing it. She usually guides couples through two key points.

First, there has to be buy-in. Most men Rodsky works with tell her the tasks their wives obsess over are unnecessary, and they don’t understand why they’re nagging them to do it or why it’s taking place at all. But, Rodsky said, part of it is men often don’t understand the unseen work: the cognitive load of keeping track of something, organizing it and executing it.

As an example, she told the story of Ed and Julie, a couple at a crossroads over a second grade DIY secret Santa project. Julie had to explain to Ed why it mattered: The girl their son got as his secret Santa had few friends — Julie, as the designated drop-off parent for school, knew this — and their son delivering on the gift would mean a lot. Once Ed understood the stakes, he could get to the second part of the equation: ownership of the task.

Watching Ed go to Michael’s, the craft store, and make popsicle-stick jewelry holder with glitter-covered hands changed their relationship that year. Julie felt Ed was really in it with her.

It started with creating room for a conversation most women don’t know how to start. It’s completely different in many of the same-sex couples Rodsky works with, she said, because many already have the context for starting difficult conversations — about coming out, or introducing partners or making health decisions for their children. “What a lot of same-sex couples will say to me is that the reticence of hetero couples to have these types of conversations because roles are already assigned feels sad to them,” Rodsky said.

I am just out of energy this year. I don’t want to perform for anyone.

Kristina Aleksander

This year, it feels like the pandemic has been the catalyst for some of the conversations to take place, she said. With so many people working from home, the labor that happened in the background is now happening at the fore, with everyone around to see it. And so more and more people are choosing to unburden themselves for the holidays, opting for a slimmed down approach to the festivities.

Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio who has been working on the city’s COVID-19 response, is exhausted after a year that eliminated the concept of a break. That’s why she’s planning a smaller Christmas at home, far from her family and without the opportunity to really start creating memories for her 3-year-old, who won’t sit on Santa’s lap or see her grandparents this year.

But even with abridged plans and being tired from a long, stressful year, Mayes admits there’s a part of her that likes the control of doing most of the holiday work herself.

“When I let go of control, then I get all anxious and I want to know what’s going on,” said Mayes, 33. “Where I’ll accept the extra work, I also know at the end I would have wanted it done in certain ways, too.”

That’s another tension point, one some women whisper almost shamefully. By admitting they like the organization or prefer to do it all themselves, that could absolve their partners of needing to help.

It’s even more complicated for stay-at-home moms. Carly Gibbs stopped practicing law to spend more time with her three kids — a first grader, a preschooler and a three-month-old baby — while her husband kept his job as a doctor in Salt Lake City.

If she’s not going to be an attorney, she tells herself, she has to be an excellent mom.

“I am very bad at feeling OK with not doing everything,” said Gibbs, 37. “My inclination is I need to do everything and if I don’t, usually the consequence I am most fearful of or anticipate is my kids being disappointed in any way.”

It takes some mental fortitude for her to reason out of that sometimes. They won’t really care if they don’t build the gingerbread house this year — right?

The pressure women put on themselves is common, said Celeste Headlee, a journalist and author of two books on communication and overworking. So is the desire to want to take up the task themselves because they’ll do it faster, better — in a more organized fashion with less fuss.

Headlee suggests making a list that makes easily visible all the invisible tasks and then dividing it by strengths. Each person puts their initials next to their task for accountability, and the list goes in a public place.

“We are dealing with centuries of pressure that come from religious forces, political forces and corporate forces that led us to believe we have to be working all the time, and we will never meet the bar,” Headlee said. “Instead, I would approach this like you would a project at work — who is going to do what?

Liza Dube and her two sons are going to celebrate their Christmas on their own timeline, a liberation from the years of big parties and coordinated family Christmas caroling.

“What’s driving all of that is really that emotional labor and that tradition-keeping and magic-making, memory-creating and relationship-maintaining,” said Dube, 42. “So this year I feel like we’ve really been trying to kind of get a little bit closer to what the intent is behind a lot of those things, and figuring out simpler ways to meet that intent.”

She plans to celebrate with the boys on a day of their choosing, and they’ll spend Christmas Day with their dad, where they can bake the cookies and do the traditions without having to be shuttled from house to house in their small Massachusetts town. Dube, meanwhile, plans to spend Christmas Day doing something she’s always wanted to do: volunteer, this year with a crisis hotline.

She wonders if she’ll ever do it the old way again.

“I’ve been saying a lot this year, ‘Everybody has to make choices,’” Dube said. “We are all just making choices and we can’t even compare them with each other’s choices anymore.”

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

’Tis the Season to Be Laid Off

The holiday season is a special time of peace, joy, goodwill toward others, and … job cuts.

Just scan the headlines of companies announcing layoffs.

It wasn’t always this way. But even before the pandemic, companies had become less gun shy about blasting employees around Christmastime. Shedding jobs in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year helps companies to balance their books and start fresh in January. For the jobless, it can make for a wrenching cheerless holiday. Meanwhile, those on the employment bubble are left thanking their lucky stars, that is, until the next round of cuts.

Heartless or just business?

Actually it’s both. The motive is certainly not about “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” This is why, ironically, losing your job during the holidays may be the best gift for you.

How do I know? It happened it me.

One November, a few years back, my supervisor called me into his office as if nothing was wrong, told me that my services were no longer needed and handed me a manila folder. This was just six months after I had joined the well-known company, relocated my family (with two teens in high school), and bought a home. As devout and God-fearing as I would like to think I am, I didn’t feel very spiritual at that moment. But the scripture is true: “What man means for evil, God can turn to good” (Gen. 5:20). I eventually chose to join God’s plan to use that dark moment to refocus me on faith, family, and a brighter future.

I got fired up.

How did it happen? My book, Fired Up, explains the four steps:

1. Talk About It. I immediately told friends and family what happened, instead of wallowing in shame.

2. Pray About It. Through daily prayer I reflected on my past accomplishments, which inspired and helped me plan my next career move.

3.  Feel It. I embraced my emotions, but managed them. When anger raged and I felt like hurting the guy and cursing the company’s owner for the cowardly classless way they fired me, I let it flow. I also took a kickboxing class as an outlet to kick and punch out anger.

4. Forgive. These first three steps helped me to learn from the situation and reject the bitter feeling of wanting harm to come upon my ex-supervisor and the company’s owner. They weren’t thinking about me, and so I was cheating my family and myself by ruminating about them. I refocused on “Me Inc.”

Job cuts come with the territory. Especially if you’re an at-will employee (and not under contract), you can be slashed at any moment. For those who have gotten the ax, wanting to return the favor to your former boss is a waste of time and energy.  The appropriate F-word is “forgive,” so that you can move up to what God has prepared for you.

As I mentioned, employers want to start fresh after the New Year, so December and January are actually good times to find your next job, if that’s what you want. Maybe God wants you to start that business he placed into your heart! Either way, stay focused, keep your head up and put your feet to the pavement. For those who are dealing with a jobless loved one or spouse, particularly a male, here’s some advice to help them press on:

1. If you’re married, encourage your spouse. The Bible teaches that women have the power “to build up” or “pull down” their homes (Prov. 14:1). Wise women understand “death and life is in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21). The guy is already feeling inadequate as a breadwinner. Instead of tossing more dirt on his fragile ego, show that you’re in the trenches with him. Likewise, men must encourage their wives through a job loss and love her sacrificially (Eph. 5:25-27).

2. If you have children, include them in the recovery process. Together, tell the kids what’s going on. Too often we shield children from bad news because we don’t want them to be disappointed. Forget that. It’s a disservice to them. Children need to learn how to handle hard times because they will become adults who will have to handle hard times. So, there won’t be any expensive Christmas gifts under the tree this year? Tell them why and that the holiday is about Jesus the giver not Santa the credit card debt creator. They’ll survive, and you will too.

3. Cut expenses and eliminate debt. Most of the economic pundits claim that America must spend its way out of the recession for jobs to return. Guess what? Those old jobs that required obsolete skills aren’t coming back. The banks — especially the ones that were bailed out by our tax dollars — are cutting expenses, investing and reaping huge profits. Do the same.

4. Pray together. Job losses often trigger divorces. God allows us to face challenges so that we can shed the excesses and distractions of daily life in order to refocus on Him — the source of our increase. Losing income is a wakeup call to recognizing who your Provider truly is.

It hasn’t been easy, but these God-directed steps worked for my family and me. None of us have been hungry or without shelter. I moved on to better employment. I have my own radio show. I’m pursuing a doctorate. My book and consulting business are doing well. (These things likely would not have happened had I remained in that old position.) Our two teens are in college. My wife and I remain on the journey.

Losing your job is never easy, but it’s not a death sentence. What you do afterward is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God and think more creatively about the days ahead.

The Christmas season is about faith, family, and future. Don’t let a job loss — a painful but temporary thing — take your focus off of what really matters.

Black Leadership Matters

Black Leadership Matters

Black lives matter – shout it from the housetops! But merely asserting the value of African-American lives is not enough to get our people to the promised land, nor is any party, politician, or program. Black lives matter most when they have purpose, and purpose comes from a destination. What we need today is a Moses, a Miriam, a Martin embodied in an emerging values-driven cadre to point out that destination and lead the way for the rest of us. 

Black leaders are imbued with the resilience of the enslaved Africans, who, like Harriet Tubman, stand up to guide their people towards a better future. Faced with impossible odds, they must be courageous. Burdened by the gravity of their task, he/she must be humble. Possessed by the faith of their mothers and fathers, they have integrity before God and humanity.

But though their conduct is crucial, the leader is effective only if they get Black people to where they need to go. So, where is Black America headed? A comprehensive answer is still elusive, but it must begin with the three pillars of our identity: America, Israel, and Africa.

We are Americans. This obvious statement is sometimes hard to say, not because we reject America, but because many Americans still reject us. Nevertheless, we are citizens of this land, and our destination is tied up with that of our neighbors, whether White or otherwise. The best Black leaders will recognize that reality as a necessary starting point for any vision of the future. 

We are the spiritual children of Israel. Roughly 80% of Black Americans identify as Christian, the vast majority of whom are immersed in the Hebraic thought-world of the Bible. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leading Black figures in modern American history, modeled the intersection of Hebraic thought and the Black experience in his pursuit of social justice. There would have been no Civil Rights movement without the message of Jerusalem, and there is no Black future without an eye toward Israel.

We are the proud sons and daughters of Africa. Kidnapped from our homeland and exiled across the ocean to build a New World, we remain captive to the soul of the Continent centuries later. Its memory is dim, but its energy flows through our veins. Its people are distant, but technology has begun to restore our bond — and restore it we must. Just as every future is an extrapolation of the past, any vision of the Black future without Africa is a contradiction. 

Here it is that we start to discern the outlines of a destination. Joe Biden ran on the promise of improving Black lives, and he chose a Black woman to stand beside him as vice president. In May, the sacrificial death of George Floyd brought our plight to global attention and sparked unprecedented support from people around the world. It is safe to say that no community has more moral authority in this historical moment than ours. 

And so it happens that a people cut off and beaten down for centuries finds itself seated in the palace just inches from Pharaoh’s ear. Could it be that centuries of suffering have formed us for this moment? Could our prophetic link to Israel hold the answer to America’s spiritual famine? Could it be that our place in the world’s wealthiest country might be leveraged to help our people in Africa? 

We have reached a turning point, a separation of paths in the desert, and it will be Black leaders who will decide what comes next. We must hold them accountable to our three pillars and begin to train a new generation to meet the challenge when they’re gone.

The rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter” reminded Americans of who we are and what we’ve suffered at America’s hands. Because Black lives are obviously precious, Black leadership matters more than ever. The time for decisive action is now.

Dr. David E. Jackson (@dejacksonii) is the Associate Director of African American Affairs at the Philos Project in New York, NY, The Philos Project is committed to increasing positive Christian engagement in the Near East. Dr. Jackson is an author, ordained minister, former police officer, instructor, and consultant. FB/IG @dejacksonii

Why do so few clergy serve in Congress?

Why do so few clergy serve in Congress?

Rev. Raphael G. Warnock delivers a eulogy at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Curtis Compton/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

While campaigning for Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins – a former pastor – attacked her opponent, Democrat Reverend Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, for his views on abortion rights.

“There is no such thing as a pro-choice pastor,” Collins said of Warnock. “What you have is a lie from the bed of hell.”

Their differing views on abortion reflect a range of views on controversial political issues among American clergy. Yet what made the sparring so notable is the infrequency with which two pastor politicians are even in a position to confront one another.

If Warnock were to win, he would join Republican Sen. James Lankford as one of two ordained ministers in the Senate chamber. Only about 2% of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are ordained ministers.

Their numbers are scarce despite the fact that members of the clergy often possess speaking skills, have an impulse to serve and boast strong ties to their communities – all qualities that are useful in politics. Furthermore, Americans are among the most religious people in the Western world.

So why do so few clergy serve in Congress? And what kind of effect might this have on the priorities and policies that emerge from Washington, D.C.?

Lawyers, business people lead the pack

In the “Congress and the Presidency” course that I teach, I discuss the prior professional careers of members of Congress and the way those backgrounds can influence lawmaking.

Almost half of U.S. senators worked as attorneys prior to their political careers, and 160 current members of the U.S. House of Representatives have law degrees. Other than politics, law is the most common former profession of Democrats in Congress, while business is the most common former profession of Republicans.

Lawyers in Congress can write legislation using language that can guide administrative agencies and judges, with an eye toward shielding laws from potential legal challenges. The downside of this practice is that legislative text can be weighed down in legal jargon that only other lawyers can understand.

Meanwhile, the growing ranks of Republican members of Congress with business backgrounds reflect the party’s ideological opposition to government regulation of the private sector.

Each party’s recent presidents reflect their orientation: The last three Republican presidents – Donald Trump, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush – all worked in business prior to entering politics. Once Joe Biden becomes president in January, he’ll join Democratic predecessors Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as having graduated from law school.

From the outside looking in

Members of the clergy, however, are far down the list of congressional occupations – behind agriculture, engineering, journalism, labor, medicine, real estate and the military.

Only one former U.S. president, James Garfield, has ties to a previous life at the pulpit – and even those are tenuous. While he’s sometimes described as an ordained minister with the Disciples of Christ – and he did preach to congregations as a young man – there don’t appear to be any clear ordination records. His primary professions before entering politics were as a Civil War general, teacher and attorney.

It’s possible that the lack of clergy members in Congress may bring less attention to spiritual issues in Washington. Morality may be deemed less important, while crafting public policies that help the less fortunate get short shrift.

At the same time, the clergy has long played an active role in American politics outside of elective office, usually working to influence policy and politicians.

Prominent evangelical preachers Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, James Dobson and Kenneth Copeland all spoke out in favor of Donald Trump’s reelection this year.

A woman brushes makeup on Franklin Graham's forehead as he stands at a podium during the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Evangelist Franklin Graham has been a vocal supporter of President Trump. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton have each run for the Democratic nomination for president, while Rev. William Barber has garnered attention in recent years for leading “Moral Mondays” protests to advocate for civil rights and progressive causes in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Legal and papal pushback

In the past, there have been legal and doctrinal restrictions on clergy members serving in government.

Up until the 1970s, several states had constitutional restrictions against clergy members serving in the state legislatures, which often serve as a stepping stone for candidates to run for national office.

But in an 8-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that such state restrictions violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision allowed Rev. Paul McDaniel, a Baptist minister, to run to be a delegate to a Tennessee state constitutional convention.

Church policy can also discourage clergy running for office. Two Catholic priests who had served in the House of Representatives ended their candidacies in 1980 when Pope John Paul II declared that he would begin strictly enforcing a canon law that priests should not serve in public office.

One of them was Father Robert Drinan, who had served five terms as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts. Drinan was known nationally as a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and he had introduced the first impeachment resolution against President Richard Nixon. Drinan’s support of abortion rights was especially controversial among Catholic church leaders.

Rep. Robert Drinan, wearing his clerical collar, poses in front of the U.S. Capitol.

After Pope John Paul II demanded all priests withdraw from electoral politics, Rep. Robert Drinan decided not to seek reelection. Bettmann via Getty Images

Separation of church and state a core value

Another reason for low numbers of clergy in national elected office may be tied to the country’s longstanding tradition of separating religion from government. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the language of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution indicated “a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Religion and government are more closely intertwined in many other Western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, 26 bishops who are leaders in the Church of England are members of the House of Lords.

While most Americans remain religious, the fundamental belief that religion and politics should operate in separate spheres remains strong in the United States. A 2019 Pew Research Forum survey found that 63% of Americans thought that houses of worship should stay out of politics, while 76% of Americans agreed that houses of worship should not openly support political candidates.

Finally, clergy may be at a financial disadvantage when seeking a national political office. The majority of current members of Congress are millionaires.

With the possible exception of some megachurch leaders, most members of the clergy do not enter their profession for financial reasons, and you won’t see many with the means to self-finance their campaigns.

Yet if Rev. Warnock were to win his election in January, it may signal a new trend. The U.S. House of Representatives currently has more ordained ministers than at any other time since occupational statistics began to be compiled in Congress in the 1950s. And if Rev. Warnock becomes a senator, it would be the first time in at least 55 years that the U.S. Senate has had two ordained ministers serving at the same time.

In the midst of a recession, a global pandemic, political polarization and climate change, perhaps more voters are looking for spiritual and moral leadership in Washington, D.C.The Conversation

Robert Speel, Associate Professor of Political Science, Erie Campus, Penn State

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

Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul

“…herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the [Twenty-First] Century.  This meaning is not without interest to you, gentle reader; for the problem of the [Twenty-First] Century is the problem of the color line.”  

W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

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Thanksgiving has arrived and that can only mean one thing. African Americans across the nation are about to enjoy some delectable soul food. A colleague from seminary asked me a seemingly simple question one day: What is the soul? To really understand my struggle with this query you have to appreciate my background. While attending a majority white seminary, it’s safe to say that I had a bit more melanin than some others. My flesh tone was a hue that resembled many from our historical past who were considered African Americans or Negroes.

He asked a question that evoked thoughts of pride as I pondered my godly heritage. Soul (at least from my perspective) was inextricably interwoven in my DNA. Soul music from the Harlem Renaissance resounded within as I began to recount the great jazz artists of the time (ranging from Cab Calloway to Duke Ellington). I thought of the great James Brown, who is deemed the “Godfather of Soul.” If anybody knew soul, it was my people. And soul in the African American community wasn’t just limited to melodic harmony and sound. Soul had a significant role in food preparation. Soul food, as we know it in this country, originated in the African American community. This delectable culinary genre included a wide range of items including, but not limited to, collard greens, ham hocks, pig’s feet, pork neck bone, fat back, and chitterlings a.k.a. pig intestines. (If that last sentence didn’t make you hungry, please check your pulse.)

During an oppressive era beginning in the late 17th century, slaves were afforded the “opportunity” to have the leftover pig parts from their masters’ tables. This normally included the parts the slave masters felt were unfit for human consumption. The slaves took them, carefully cleaned them, salted them up to make them flavorful, and served them to their families. As a result, soul food became a staple in the African American slave community.

So an inquiry about my soul transposed the generally perceived idea of soul in society (and the Christian community generally). It involved retained customs and traditions that accompanied thousands on an infamous Trans-Atlantic journey hundreds of years ago. When my colleague asked that question about my soul, many images, tastes, and sounds came to mind.

“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” —W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

Despite those elicited proud images of soul defined in my own experience, I can appreciate DuBois’ “twoness.” I live it out every day. There is a soul dualism that perpetuates itself. I am both an American and a Negro. For many, this is a comfortable idea. However, in reality this duality presents two warring ideals that have a profound impact on the way I live my life. Even in a seminary, where a majority of the books read were by white, middle-aged men, this duality impacted my experience. I’m quite sure this twoness had some role in issues presented in the “Jena Six” and Trayvon Martin stories. Both painted portraits of cities that still have some “color line” issues. When a group of black boys respond violently to a “noose” incident in a schoolyard, how could one not surmise that color line issues are still prevalent in society? When distrust of a local Central Florida Police Department mobilizes thousands of African American, how could we question the existence of the color line?

As I sat on the seminary campus and reflected, I realized that it was this twoness that led me there. I figured out that it wasn’t enough to say that I casually associate with people outside of my own ethnic group. Instead, I wanted to be able to experience community, fellowship, and dialogue with people who did not share my ethnic background. As I walked from class one week, I stopped to have a conversation with one of my classmates. We spoke about diversity and its real meaning for our seminary (and the Church generally). We both explained frustrations with tossing around diversity labels without authenticity. During our conversation, I had to apologize for assuming that he understood what I was talking about when I mentioned the acronym HBCU (Historically Black College and University) or when I spoke freely about tendencies in black church leadership.

Ultimately our conversation reassured me that there are others who wrestle with duality of the soul (whether a white Christian trying to genuinely understand other cultures or a minority Christian doing the same). I have learned that some people want to be able to function in that “twoness” to better understand others outside of their culture. Isn’t the body of Christ called to this kind of unity and understanding? Will we stand by idly as the color line widens? If the Church isn’t called to unite how can we expect it from a fallen world?

So as I lay into some Soul Food this holiday season, I remain grateful. I am grateful for the African American story. I am appreciative that my life is being grafted into a story of struggle and triumph. But the soul “twoness” is ever present. Reminding me that our story as a people is tied into God’s greater story of redemption. And for that I am thankful. Now pass me those collard greens.