Cassandra Wilson holds up a voter registration form and voter registration drive flyer in downtown Clarksdale days before her first drive.
CLARKSDALE — Frustrated by the response of elected officials after the pandemic slowed her business, Cassandra Wilson has used her down time for something she’d never done before: registering Delta residents to vote.
Wilson, the 35-year-old mother of three whose taxi and tourism business went from more than 50 rides a week before the pandemic to zero, was not qualified to receive COVID-19 relief funds.
She blamed the lack of federal, state and local government leadership to ensure the financial security for people in the Mississippi Delta, where the pandemic has heightened economic and health disparities.
“I felt like a lot of little people kind of got left out the loop,” Wilson said. “If you didn’t fall on the right end of the spectrum, you lost your house, you lost everything because of these big people who could not relate to everyday, average working people who were born into poverty. There are households around here with two full-time, 40-hour working people who are barely able to stay above water.”
She wanted to change how politicians’ decisions affected her life and those around her. So with the challenge of prohibitive voting laws and a deadly pandemic, she initiated the first step: registering people to vote.
In June, Wilson set up a tent and a table on a Clarksdale street with voter registration packets, snacks, pens, masks, and sanitizers laid across the tables. Whether residents walked up to register or drove through, each individual received masks and sanitizer. With her taxi business at a halt, she decided to drop registration packets off to others who could not attend the drive due to work, she said.
She took off from work at her other full-time job, sacrificing income to work on these voter registrations drives. With help from her 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old niece, the trio has helped 20 people register to vote so far across three Delta towns: Lula, Friars Point and Clarksdale.
Wilson’s goal is to get 200 people registered ahead of the Oct. 5 registration deadline.
One challenge Wilson has experienced is a lack of education around government and the voting process prevents people from voting.
“I think this young lady was maybe like 22 years old and she asked me, ‘What is voting? Who do you vote for?’ and I love that,” Wilson said of a registrant at one of her drives. “(I said), ‘This is how you vote, this is why you vote’ … We have a lot of that in the Delta.”
More than 23,000 people reside in Coahoma County, which has about 15,000 eligible voters. But voter turnout has remained fairly low. For example, in the March primaries, only 23% of eligible voters cast a vote, according to data from the Circuit Clerk’s office.
Ray Sykes, chair of the Coahoma County Democratic Party, said he’s heard “no one is coming out” to the polls because community members fear going grocery shopping, church and gathering in large groups.
Despite this, he expects a record turnout, but he said it falls on the local leaders to get folks out.
“Elected officials have a duty to push the turnout,” Sykes said. “Pastors have a duty to get the public involved.”
Some Delta-based political leaders expressed more concern with getting people to the polls rather than voter registration, especially now during a pandemic.
“Everyone wants to press voter registration … which is great. I’m not knocking it. The real problem is getting people out to vote,” said David Rushing, chair of the Sunflower County Democratic Party. “We’re under-resourced, and the state is under-resourced.”
But Mississippi doesn’t make it easy for people to vote.
The state has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation, and is one of only six states which has not taken action to make voting safer during the pandemic. For instance, Mississippians must provide an excuse in order to vote early.
In July, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law stating people could only vote early during the pandemic for two reasons: if they are under a physician-imposed quarantine or providing care for a dependent under quarantine.
“It’s not the intent (of the legislation) to make it harder to vote,” Senate Elections Chair Jennifer Branning, R-Philadelphia, told Mississippi Today.
To register to vote, an individual must be 18 or older, a resident of Mississippi, and cannot be convicted of disenfranchising crimes. On Election Day, voters must present a Mississippi voter ID, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Pam Shaw, a longtime Democratic political strategist and president of P3 Strategies, said it should be incumbent on circuit clerks and county supervisors to create innovative and safer ways to do voting. She suggested creating curbside voting and expanding voting hours in the weeks prior to the election.
“You do it in a way that does not compromise staff of the clerk’s office and the people who come,” Shaw said. “If you say, five days before, or two weeks before, it gives them time. … It gets rid of all of the people who may be hesitant and eases the burden you’re going to have on Election Day.”
But by taking matters into her own hands — battling a public health crisis, small town politics and what many call modern-day voter suppression — Wilson said she hopes that her small efforts will make an impact during the upcoming election, even if just one person goes to the polls because of her work.
“I just want to see a better Clarksdale, want people to do better, especially African Americans,” Wilson said. “We don’t know how this election is going to go in November, but I can tell you one thing — it’s going to be very difficult for us to go to the polls the way we used to.”
Cell phones and other digital devices can be a great way to keep up with the news and stay connected with friends and family, but using one excessively can increase your stress levels, negatively impact sleep and limit the amount of quality time you spend with your significant other.
Research shows the average American spends more than four hours a day using a smartphone. If that’s you, it might worth considering a digital detox, something many health experts recommend and a practice that’s becoming more popular in the digital age.
A digital detox is a period of time when a person refrains from using digital devices such as smartphones, TVs, computers, tablets and social media sites. Experts say digital detoxes can translate into more enriching interactions with others and a healthy reset of your inner psyche.
“Spending too much time on mobile devices can be a form of procrastination and a distraction from the things that matter most to us,” says Heather Partridge, a behavioral health counselor at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road in Myrtle Beach. “It’s important to ask yourself, ‘What are you missing out on during those four hours that you’re on the phone every day?’”
Tech devices have been linked to an increase in stress and anxiety, and research shows using such devices at bedtime can result in shorter sleep cycles and increased bouts of insomnia.
A digital detox can improve mental well-being, relieve stress and help strengthen bonds with others, Partridge says.
Is it time?
Consider a digital detox if:
You’re “phubbing” (snubbing by using your phone) family members with phone in hand when you could be spending quality time together.
Your phone is the first and last thing you see on a daily basis.
You freak out when you’ve forgotten your phone during a trip away from the house.
You turn to your phone when you’re bored and spend time mindlessly scrolling through social media.
You’re staying up late surfing the Internet on your smartphone and compromising quality sleep time.
You’re obsessive about checking your phone for texts and the number of likes a social media post has received.
Completely detaching for a period of time may not be realistic for people whose phones are important to their livelihood, but some separation could be beneficial. It’s about setting healthy boundaries and using the device in ways that enhance both emotional and physical well-being, Partridge says.
“Moderation is key,” she adds. “Set limits and boundaries. There is a great benefit to regularly doing a digital detox.”
Here are some ideas for a healthy digital detox:
Focus on self-care, such as treating yourself to a long bath or meditation instead of spending time scrolling, swiping and browsing.
Practice mindfulness; be fully present in every moment and recognize and appreciate everything around you.
Replace the time you waste on your phone with learning a new hobby such as playing the guitar or painting.
Create boundaries such as limiting the amount of time you spend answering work emails once you’re home.
Commit to no electronics at the dinner table.
Keep the phone out of your bedroom and instead try reading a book or magazine in the minutes before you drift off to sleep.
Use an alarm clock to wake you in the morning rather than depending on your phone.
Join your kids outside to shoot hoops, play catch or ride bicycles.
Detaching digitally might make you feel uneasy initially, but it can be a refreshing and rewarding experience when it’s all said and done. It can help you improve your mental health, become more personable, deepen relationships and sleep better.
Bishop J. Delano Ellis. Photo courtesy of Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops
Bishop J. Delano Ellis II, a Black church official who started Pentecostal organizations and emphasized ecumenism, died over the weekend.
He was 75 and died after a recent hospitalization.
“While you share your love, concern and prayers with us, God and Bishop Ellis had another plan,” the Rev. Sabrina J. Ellis, who co-pastored Pentecostal Church of Christ in Cleveland with her husband, said in a Facebook post on Saturday (Sept. 19). “My husband made his transition this morning. Please continue to pray for us in this season.”
Over the course of his career, the Philadelphia native was a teacher, pastor and a chief of chaplains in the U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol.
But J. Delano Ellis was also among a group of “High-Church Pentecostal” clerics who in the 1990s became known for adorning their necks with Roman collars, wearing priestly garments with links to their African heritage and reciting the Nicene Creed. They were part of a trend that reshaped a portion of American Black religion.
“Traditionally … the Pentecostal church maintained its ardor but was never really known for its order,” the bishop, then president of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ, told Religion News Service in 1995. “What we’re discovering … is that order is not blasphemous. Order best represents God.”
At that time, Ellis’ denomination had joined with two other groups, Pilgrim Assemblies International and Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, for the first Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops. They supported women ministers, which was a departure from some traditions. At their conference’s closing ceremony, Ellis and other bishops wore fuchsia zucchettos, or skullcaps, and episcopal rings, religious wear reminiscent of Roman Catholic bishops.
Bishop J. Delano Ellis visits with Pope John Paul II in 1991. Photo courtesy of Bishop J. Delano Ellis
Ellis’ ecumenical work included several visits to the Vatican during St. John Paul II’s papacy, including one in 2000 where he led 160 delegates on a pilgrimage in hopes of building closer ties with the Catholic Church.
He retired in 2014 from the role of national chief of chaplains for the Civil Air Patrol, according to a bio on his ministry’s website.
Ellis was recalled as a key leader by members of the Church of God in Christ, a denomination he served for more than 35 years, and other faith leaders.
“Bishop Ellis was the consummate churchman. He was a wise counselor, dedicated servant, and a wealth of information that was helpful to generations of preachers, pastors and bishops,” said Bishop Talbert W. Swan II, leader of COGIC’s Nova Scotia jurisdiction. “He was a mentor, a friend, and a church father. He will be sorely missed.”
African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie, a Texas-based leader, responded to Sabrina Ellis’ announcement of her husband’s death.
“Time will not dull his legacy,” McKenzie commented on Facebook, “you and his sons and daughters in the faith will flesh out the rest.”
In 2004, Ellis had to step down from his leadership of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ for health reasons.
But a couple of years later, he and more than a dozen other bishops started the Pentecostal Churches of Christ after he recovered from leukemia.
At the time, Ellis marveled at the convocation that came three years after he was preparing for his death.
“It was not a lack of faith in God’s ability to heal. It wasn’t that,” Ellis said. “It was more of a belief that maybe God was finished with me.”
About two weeks before his death, his last public appearance was in Cleveland, at a dedication ceremony naming a portion of an avenue in his honor. His family said he was hospitalized less than 24 hours later, a local Fox news station reported.
“I’ve got one thing to say,” he told the crowd at the Sept. 6 ceremony, “to God be the glory.”
Shamony Makeba Gibson was in her hospital room, recovering after giving birth, when she said something that worried her mother.
Gibson had just delivered her second child, Khari, a healthy baby boy, via C-section at Brooklyn’s Woodhull Hospital on Sept. 23, 2019.
But in the delivery room while prepping for her surgery, Gibson told her mother, doctors had briefly struggled to insert an IV in her hand — likely because of a blood clot, she said they informed her.
Shawnee Benton-Gibson’s concern for her daughter was based on her years of reproductive justice activism in New York City, working with mothers and families dealing with issues like postpartum depression and stillbirths.
Back at home after leaving the hospital, Gibson felt fatigued and short of breath, her mother recalled in a phone interview with THE CITY.
“I talked to her about pulmonary embolisms, but she said they checked her in the hospital for it,” Benton-Gibson said.
Besides, her daughter argued, she was taking anticoagulants — commonly prescribed after surgeries, including C-sections — and was wearing compression undergarments the hospital gave her to improve circulation. But her fatigue and shortness of breath persisted.
‘My Best Friend’
One evening in early October, watching TV in the Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment she shared with her partner and their children, Gibson collapsed. EMS workers resuscitated her and rushed her to Interfaith Medical Center, the nearest hospital.
There, doctors found blood clots had spread to her lungs and legs.
Gibson — an artist who was “very funny” and “loved to sing,” according to her mother — died 14 hours later on Oct. 6, two weeks after her son was born.
The cause of death was the condition her mother had suspected: a pulmonary embolism. She was 30 years old.
Her children live with Omari Maynard, their father and Gibson’s partner of seven years.
“She was very fiery like me,” said Benton-Gibson, 51. “She was my best friend.”
Stark Disparities Persist
On Thursday, Benton-Gibson joined other women like her — grandmothers left to help raise their grandchildren after the sudden deaths of their own daughters — for #HearUs, a virtual pre-Grandparents Day event to raise awareness about Black maternal mortality.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 700 women die in the United States each year from pregnancy-related complications. By the CDC’s estimates, two-thirds of those deaths occur in the days and weeks postpartum — and about two-thirds of deaths overall were determined to be preventable.
A 2017 study by the medical journal The Lancet found that the United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world — a trend that’s steadily increased over the last two decades.
Brooklyn, where Gibson lived, is home to three neighborhoods that rank highest in the city for non-fatal but serious pregnancy-related illness, or severe maternal morbidity, according to a 2016 study by the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In Brownsville, which has the city’s highest rate of such incidents at 497.4 per 10,000 deliveries, 79% of all deliveries were to Black non-Latina women.
The borough is also home to the neighborhood with the city’s lowest rate of severe maternal morbidity — largely white Borough Park, with a rate of 113.3 per 10,000 deliveries, according to that same DOHMH study.
Gibson’s death was particularly wrenching for Davis, who worked at the city’s health department for more than a decade.
She knew Gibson and her mother well from their reproductive justice work in Brooklyn. Benton-Gibson was the first person to offer Davis a public speaking opportunity on maternal well-being, she noted.
“I can tell you that she has saved lives,” Davis said of Benton-Gibson’s activism. “I can tell you that Shamony [also] has saved lives. And all that knowledge was not enough to save her own life.”
The Thursday evening event — equal parts memorial, group therapy session and rally — brought together women from New York, California, Alabama and Georgia who’d lost their daughters, and in one case, a grandchild as well, to complications stemming from childbirth.
‘All that knowledge was not enough to save her own life.’
Most of those women have embraced a life of activism after the sudden loss of their loved ones.
Among them were Maddy Oden, of Oakland, Calif., who became a doula after the 2001 deaths of her daughter, Tatia Oden French, and her grandchild Zorah, during delivery.
Also attending was Wanda Irving, mother of Shalon Irving, a 36-year-old CDC epidemiologist in Atlanta who died in 2017 from complications of high blood pressure weeks after delivering her daughter.
“Women know their bodies best and know when something doesn’t feel right,” Shanna Cox, associate director for science for CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, told THE CITY. “The campaign is encouraging women to speak up — during and after pregnancy — if they have health concerns.”
Calls for Justice
Benton-Gibson, a longtime community organizer and licensed social worker, founded The A.R.I.A.H. — Association for Reproductive Innovation through Artistry & Healing — Foundation, which “works to stop the devastation of Black maternal mortality,” in the aftermath of her daughter’s death.
“I’m conflicted: Do I cry? Yes. Am I upset about this? Yes. Do I sometimes wake up and feel like ‘What the…?’” Benton-Gibson said at the event.
“But my bigger stand is that that girl lived all the days that she lived, and I don’t want those days that she lived to be in vain so that the day she passed took over,” she added. “But how she passed — that’s what every breath in my body will be about, because I’m making sure that this never happens again.”
It’s a similar position to the one Bruce McIntyre found himself in nearly six months ago when his partner, Amber Rose Isaac, died during delivery at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx in April during the coronavirus crisis.
On Aug. 1, McIntyre hosted a “Mothers March,” a rally for Isaac and others who died from pregnancy-related causes. Dozens, including Benton-Gibson, attended the event and donned purple in Isaac’s memory.
Also at the march was the family of Sha-asia Washington, who died during delivery on July 3 at Woodhull Hospital, where Gibson gave birth last year.
“I’m staying up all night holding the baby that she should be here holding,” Desiree Williams, Washington’s mother-in-law, said at a separate rally in July in front of that hospital. “It’s not fair, it’s not right. My son is broken down, it’s not right.”
‘She Was Really Happy’
Gibson, an artist who specialized in dance, was “very savvy in graphic design,” and “loved to travel,” her mother said. The Medgar Evers College graduate had visited 10 countries.
She wanted a big family, Benton-Gibson said: five children, which she tried talking her out of, without much success.
“She loved the idea of having children,” she said.
Courtesy of Shawnee Benton-Gibson Shamony Makeba Gibson and her partner, Omari Maynard
When Benton-Gibson became pregnant for the second time in 2019, she knew exactly the kind of birth she wanted.
She had delivered her first child two years prior, a baby girl named Anari, via C-section. When she found out she was expecting Khari, she pored over information about natural births, and at one point even considered a home birth.
She researched doulas and midwives in her area and eventually hired one of each, including a Black doula who lived a short walk from her Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment.
“She was really happy, had a baby shower and everything,” Benton-Gibson said.
But after she checked into the hospital, doctors told her she needed another C-section.
Before that news, she had told her mother, “This birthing experience is going to be different.”
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When I first started studying the influence of pornography use on Americans’ lives six years ago, I found that people who watch porn more frequently tend to have poorer sense of personal well-being and more troubles in their relationships. But soon I noticed something that surprised me: The negative outcomes are strongest, and sometimes only, among those who are more religiously committed, and especially committed Christians.
In the below chart on personal and marital satisfaction, based on the massive opinion research operation known as the General Social Surveys, I compare the church attendance habits of Americans who did and did not use porn in the previous year.
Look at those who never attend. Whether or not they viewed pornography makes nearly no difference in their life or marital satisfaction. But look at the “happiness gap” for frequent churchgoers. Among those who attend more than once a week, there is a more substantial drop in both personal and relational happiness if they watch porn.
Predicted Probability of Americans Being “Very Happy” with Life or Marriage by Porn Use and Church Attendance. Graphic courtesy of Samuel L. Perry
Before I explain why, let’s look at a more specific indicator of personal and relational happiness, like sexual satisfaction, and a better measure of pornography use.
In the chart below I predict how satisfied Americans are with their sex lives using data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey. I focus on how frequently Americans watched internet porn and compare the sexual satisfaction of those who never attend religious services and those who attend most frequently.
Predicted Values of Americans’ Satisfaction with Their Sex Life by Frequency of Porn Use and Church Attendance. Graphic courtesy of Samuel L. Perry
Look again at those who never attend church. Whether they “never” view porn or view it “several times a day,” their sexual satisfaction doesn’t change. For frequent churchgoers who watch porn, it’s a different picture entirely: Though their sexual satisfaction starts off slightly higher, as their porn use increases, their sexual satisfaction declines in a linear fashion.
What’s going on here?
My frequent co-author, Bowling Green State University psychology professor Joshua Grubbs, and I have identified what we call “moral incongruence”: the experience of intentionally violating one’s deeply held moral values. Moral incongruence results in depressive symptoms and spiritual discouragement often due to shame and isolation. In other words, whatever the negative effects of porn alone, they are consistently far worse for those who seem to be violating their own moral values in watching it.
In subsequent studies (still under peer-review), we’ve found that these “moral incongruence effects” extend not just to pornography but homosexual behavior and non-marital sex as well.
When it comes to porn, studies show that, despite their beliefs, deeply religious Americans view porn only slightly less often than other Americans. They are choosing to experience psychological and relational turmoil, and not necessarily because of what pornography does to their brains, but because of what pornography means to their social group.
But beyond internal conflict, devout Americans who watch porn are also more likely than others to experience relational troubles because of their spouse’s rejection of pornography. Data from the Portraits of American Life Study show that if Americans have deeply religious spouses, the more frequently they view pornography the less satisfied they are in their marriage. Why? Because their spouses are more likely to view pornography as a betrayal, adultery, and an extreme moral failure.
Thus again, the consequences of pornography use for deeply religious Americans is more severe than for others.
The religious stigma against porn is apparently so strong that many committed Christians consider themselves addicted to pornography even when they rarely or never look at it. Let me say that again. They’ve never viewed porn but think they’re addicted to it.
The chart below shows the percentage of Americans who say they’ve never in their lives viewed pornography, but when asked about whether they were addicted to porn agreed that they were. Notice the stark difference between monthly churchgoers and born-again Christians versus other Americans.
Percent of Americans Who Say They’ve “Never” Viewed Pornography but Agree They Are “Addicted” to Porn. Graphic courtesy of Samuel L. Perry
This phenomenon may well be influencing public policy. Since 2016, at least 29 (mostly red) states have sought to pass resolutions declaring pornography a “public health crisis,” often citing pornography’s detrimental effects on marital relationships as well as on its ability to “addict” viewers.
Do my findings mean that, to paraphrase Hamlet, “pornography is neither good nor bad, but thinking makes it so”? I wouldn’t go that far. But if habitual porn use is bad, a certain kind of thinking undeniably makes it worse. Any assessment of pornography’s supposed “harms,” certainly, should recognize that these ill effects are often not universal but dependent on a community’s sanctions against it.
(Samuel L. Perry is an associate professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and the author of “Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants” and a co-author of “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
I was three months pregnant and working as a Web editor in New York City at iVillage.com when tragedy struck at the World Trade Center buildings. That particular morning, I had scheduled a prenatal appointment before going in to work. A mere few minutes after hearing my son’s heartbeat for the first time, a nurse burst into the room and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The doctor and I were puzzled, but we figured it was some random accident by a confused pilot in a small private plane.
But not after I left the doctor’s office, I realized what happened was no accident. When I first arrived at work, I learned that another plane had hit a second building. And these planes didn’t hit just any buildings — they made the World Trade Center buildings burn down in the most depressingly spectacular way. The entire staff was crowded around a small TV and quickly became very emotional. No one knew all the details, and my coworkers were telling fantastic stories, such as eight hijacked planes were circling all across the country. When I heard a plane hit the Pentagon, it became personal. My brother-in-law worked across from the Pentagon at the time. I couldn’t help it; the tears started to flow. The fear and sadness were overwhelming.
Fortunately for my coworkers and me, our company had a corporate apartment in the city. Most of us lived in Burroughs outside of Manhattan, and all the trains and busses were shut down. Around 15-20 of us squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment, but at least we had a place to go. That said, we still had to get there, which required a long, sad 17-block walk from upper Manhattan towards downtown and the direction of “Ground Zero,” which was the destroyed World Trade Center site’s former name. As we walked, we passed by several first responders, all covered in ash. Everything was covered in ash. Once in the apartment, we saw a hospital right outside the window. Several medical workers were clearly on high alert outside, waiting to take in survivors — but the slew of patients in need was far lower than expected. I called my husband. He never left Brooklyn, where we lived. He started work later than me and was standing on the train station platform waiting to board when he saw one of the buildings go down. A lady on the platform with him fainted.
The next day, I was so afraid to take in the air, fearful of its effect on my unborn son. It took me more than a year before I braved going down there, still afraid of what was in the air and how it might affect my breastmilk. It turns out that it was a smart move. We all know about the many 9/11 heroes who suffered from complications due to the poor air quality. When I was finally able to catch the train home, I saw flyers posted by loved ones desperately seeking information asking about missing people. The entire city was in mourning.
My son is now an 18-years-old son and grown into a young man. I’ve made sure to tell him about that day and those who we lost. I know that I am Blessed. For so many people, that painful day stole their children, parents, and loved ones. I saw firsthand the devastation and the deep wound inside the hearts of New Yorkers. I realize that 9/11 affected all Americans differently, but even amidst this ongoing and insufferable pandemic, we owe the victims and their families a moment of recognition and remembrance. I’m heartened by the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Tomorrow is not promised. We must #NeverForget.