When God Closes a Door …

When God Closes a Door …

For weeks, I have dreaded Fridays at the Chicago Tribune. Friday was the day that folks got tapped on the shoulder or called at home to tell them that they had been laid off. The company is going through a “reduction in force” to help keep the lights on. To pay the bills, employees have been used as collateral. So far, nearly 80 in the newsroom have been put on the block.

The fear of working with an ax over one’s head is enough to drive anyone mad. I tried my best to be a reassuring voice in the midst of it all.

We each had our own logic about how it would go down. There were talks of employees being taken to off-site locations to hear that it was curtains. Others feared that they would take an elevator ride to the balcony, be given the news, and then forced to jump.

Then it happened. I got tapped. It was on a Friday. One of the managing editors caught me while I was in the middle of editing a story for the Web. He said, “Emeri, do you have a minute?”

I knew. In one quick flash, my whole journalistic life passed before my eyes.

I thought about my days as a cub reporter at a small paper in Louisiana. I thought about how I spent my first day as a copy editor editing stories on 9/11 at Newsday. My mind drifted to the five years I spent at the Baltimore Sun. Then, I thought about how proud I was every time I walked into the Gothic Tribune Tower and how finally I was happy with my job. I loved my co-workers and the paper. I wasn’t stressed. Now, 11 months after reaching euphoria, it would all be gone.

I walked slowly to his office and took a seat. With no compassion or a hint of emotion, he looked at me and said, “Your position has been eliminated.” Just like that. I felt like I was just a faceless person on the “Older Worker Benefit Protection Act List.”

He didn’t care that I came to work nearly an hour early each day to get ahead. He didn’t know that I was the person who made that big catch in a story about a little girl’s death that made him so proud. Nor was he concerned that I worked my way up the chain to get to the mothership.

At the end of the day, I was just “Editor, Subject Asst. Age 30.” I was handed an envelope with my name on it. And, after a brief talk, I placed my badge on his desk and walked out of his office. I could take being fired. At least when you are fired, you know that you have done something wrong. However, when you are laid off without any rhyme or reason, it is much harder to swallow.

Maybe he thought I would finish my shift. I didn’t. I said goodbye quickly to the metro editor, logged off my computer, placed my nameplate in my bag, and left. Mama always taught me to never let them see you cry. I chatted briefly with a co-worker outside the building and hailed a cab. Once inside, I became human again and cried.

I informed my mother that the nightmare I had the night before about losing my job was now a reality. She reassured me that God didn’t bring me this far to leave me and that everything happens for a reason.

I got home at 10:50.

I slowly pulled out the blue folder and arranged each bundle neatly on the floor.

There was a ton of mind-numbing paperwork to sort through, and I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and realized that while my position had been eliminated, I wasn’t. I had two degrees and was an adjunct professor at Columbia College. My ultimate goal was to make the transition from newspapers to academia.

I just didn’t know my path would shift so abruptly.

A simple e-mail to my supervisor at the college turned into a blessing in the storm on that dark Friday. I wrote not asking for a job, but to just inform her of my situation. She gave me more classes to teach. I guess it’s true that when God closes a door, he opens a window. At 10:15 Friday morning, my position was eliminated. By 5:30 Friday evening, my other position had expanded.

God was putting me back on track to making my goal a reality. I cried again. This time not because I was broken, but because I was made anew.

But that’s not how the story ends. God opened another door for me.

Soon after I left the Tribune, I was contacted by an editor from Microsoft. I interviewed for an editing position with MSN.com and I got the job. The folks at Columbia College were very understanding, even though I was conflicted about it. But they encouraged me to take it. So, after losing my dream job, I walked into a bigger blessing that I could not have foreseen for myself.

Obama v. Romney, Round 1

Obama v. Romney, Round 1

DUEL IN DENVER: Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney face off for their first debate.

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates, but both candidates have declined invitations from the NAACP and other black organizations to participate in a forum about issues of concern to African Americans, The Charlotte Post reported.

Instead, they “will be making their cases with particular attention to white working-class voters,” according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. His organization’s recent Race, Class, and Culture Survey found that Romney’s “considerable lead over Obama” among these voters is skewed by high numbers in “the enduringly conservative South (62 percent vs. 22 percent),” but elsewhere working-class whites are “fairly evenly divided.”

Whether it is a sad irony or just a political reality that the first black president can’t or won’t appeal to black voters, I don’t know, but race isn’t the only off-limits topic this year. God talk also appears to be on the back burner (and presumably will be at the debates), according to sources that spoke to NPR.

President Obama is talking more golden rule than Christ’s disciple this time around, the article said, and Gov. Romney is playing down his Mormon identity. The economy has taken precendence over faith for many voters, Jones told NPR. The result, he and other sources said, is that the “2012 election is more like the days before George W. Bush — when candidates wore religion lightly, not on their sleeves.”

So what exactly do the candidates hope to accomplish?

Gov. Romney will be “angling for a breakout performance” in order to close the president’s lead in key battleground states, the Associated Press reported, while President Obama is “determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes” that could cost him a second term.

It’s all about the horse race people.

Ah well, the first round kicks off at 9:00 pm EDT and will include six segments, three of which will focus on the economy. The other three will be about health care, the role of government and governing, AP reported. Here’s to hoping the candidates say something worth hearing.

For a round-up of how you can watch and/or participate via social media, check out The Huffington Post’s debate roundup.

What do you think?

Do presidential debates inform voters or have they become obsolete?

Whose Bad Economy?

Whose Bad Economy?

In today’s economy, we hear a lot about the financial struggles of the country. But while we often debate issues of white-collar economics, the struggles of lower-income groups are disparaged.

It is nearly impossible for the average blue-collar worker to make a living wage to support her family. In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference) for most households.

There are serious consequences of this disparity. Workers skip meals so that their children may eat. Folks turn to loan sharks to make ends meet, which entrenches them in a spiral of debt. Families make tough choices to cut out “non-essentials” like medicine, clothing, and nutritious food.

When folks are desperate for work, they will endure any number of abuses or indignities. A friend of mine spends an hour on the bus to get to a potential job, only to arrive and find out he isn’t needed that day. Sometimes he’s able to work for a couple of hours, but then gets sent home. “Try again tomorrow.” And if he doesn’t show up for that chance, he knows he’ll lose the opportunity for later.

Or conversely, employees will be held at work hours after their shift is over, if that is what boss deems necessary. My neighbor needs to be able to be home when her kids arrive from school. But when her boss holds her late, she doesn’t dare risk losing her job by leaving at the scheduled time. And she is required to maintain open availability to be placed in a shift as is convenient for the company, but she is not told the schedule until the last minute, and so cannot arrange for child care or line up other jobs.

It also happens that workers are paid less than what they were promised. Or are given insufficient training and made to feel like fools when they don’t perform to standards. And yet, as more states put an end to collective bargaining, the wealthy receive a smaller tax burden now than they have in the last 80 years.

Take a close look at the words of Jeremiah 22:13-16. Woe to we that profit from injustice and gain economic security at the expense of others! We “who make our neighbor serve us for nothing and do not give them their wages.” Jesus himself urges that “the workers deserve their wages.

Part of our problem is that we have a warped perspective of economic reality. Particularly since housing in the United States is largely segregated by economic standing, people look around themselves and feel that, on the whole, there is equal opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

Last year, PBS NewsHour conducted an informal survey, asking people to identify the sort of economy that exists in the United States. The findings were telling. Watch the segment below.

Also, in his ever-insightful way, Jon Stewart points out the huge economic disparities that most folks gloss over. His analysis of Warren Buffet’s crusade to close the wealth gap is both humorous and sadly revealing.

For even more insight, I recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, or play this excellent interactive game to see what economic choices you would make given some stark realities about your circumstances. (If you do play, please share your thoughts about the experience in the comments section below.)

There’s obviously much more to this issue than I’m able to address in a brief blog post, but the important thing is having frank and honest conversations about the unjust situations around us. We may not be able to immediately see the inequalities in our midst due to our own privileged positions, but it won’t be long before those realities affect our own situations. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remarked in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail“:

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

This post originally appeared at Katelin’s blog, By Their Strange Fruit.

What Do Non-White Voters Want from the GOP?

What Do Non-White Voters Want from the GOP?

Opening night of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum will be a multi-cultural affair. Not only is ex-Democratic Congressman and former Obama supporter Artur Davis speaking, but so are South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and first lady of Puerto Rico, Luce’ Vela Fortuno. Mike Huckabee and Ann Romney are also on the agenda and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez will offer the benediction.

If you can’t be there, don’t worry, because the Republicans have organized their grand party as a “convention without walls.” Monday night’s theme will be “We Can Do Better,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus announced August 20. “Americans know we can do better than joblessness, poverty and debt,” said Priebus. “This convention will present our vision for a brighter, better future and it will lay out an optimistic, achievable plan to make it happen.” Given what seems like an obvious attempt to put a multi-racial face on the mostly White party, we’re wondering what Republicans will offer voters of color on the issues that matter to them most. Here are a few possibilities:

The Economy

In the seven swing states of Nevada, Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia and Iowa,  “jobless rates all rose or were flat in July,” Reuters reported. “A majority of Americans view the economy as the most important issue facing the country, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.” Check out our interview with Romney’s senior communications adviser Tara Wall for what she says her boss will do to address these economic concerns.

 Healthcare Reform

With Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Ryan’s “signature legislative proposal, the Path to Prosperity, has been widely criticized for its reduction of taxes for corporations and wealthy Americans — while deeply cutting social welfare programs,” The Root reported. “The Paul Ryan budget effectively destroys Medicare by turning it into a voucher program; slashes funding to Medicaid, which serves single mothers, children and the poor; and privatizes Social Security, leaving the elderly without a safety net.” And yet, conservative columnist David Brooks says it’s better than the Democratic alternative.

Education and Voting Rights

The NAACP and the National Education Association “are teaming up to register, educate and activate hundreds of thousands of voters ahead of the 2012 elections,” the NAACP announced August 20. “In the last two years, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous.  “The extremists behind these laws know that the right to vote is the gateway to protecting so many of the other rights we care about, including the right to quality public schools for the next generation.” Will Republicans address these charges?

Immigration

“The Obama administration’s [brand new] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could expand the rights of more than 1 million young illegal immigrants by giving them work permits, though they would not obtain legal residency here or a path to citizenship,” Politico reported. “Republican critics accuse President Barack Obama of drafting the plan to boost his political standing with Latinos ahead of November’s vote and say the program favors illegal immigrants over unemployed American citizens during dismal economic times,” the article said. But do voters care?

 Abortion and Same Sex Marriage

“Relatively few black Americans and Hispanic Americans believe that cultural issues such as abortion (17% and 30%) and same-sex marriage (18% and 26%) are critical issues facing the country,” the Public Religion Research Institute reported in July. Does the media make more of culture-war issues than voters do?

Gun Control

“Black Protestants favor stricter gun control even more strongly than Catholics, according to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll, with 71 percent saying they want tougher gun laws,” Religion News Service reported after recent shootings at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh house of worship in Wisconsin. Will politicians pay attention to everyday urban violence concerns when the news media doesn’t?

What Does It Mean?

The Republicans have their work cut out for them. A Pew Research Center Poll conducted in late July found that only 4 percent of Blacks and 26 percent of Hispanics would have voted for Governor Romney if the election was held on the day the poll was conducted.

What do you think?

What issues to you want to hear the Republicans talk about next week?

Jobs Report: Sunny With a Chance of Setback

Jobs Report: Sunny With a Chance of Setback

Unemployment Fell, but Remains High

The Labor Department reported on Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January from a high of 10 percent in late 2009, but unemployment still “remains higher than it has been for any presidential election since the Great Depression,” The New York Times reported.

Encouraging, but a Long Way to Go

“This report is encouraging, but it still underscores how far a distance we have to go and how many people are still long-term unemployed and disconnected from the workforce,” Harvard economist Lawrence Katz told The Huffington Post. “Even if we were willing to say that the scars of the great recession mean a couple of million people drop out permanently, we still have many years to go before we get back to where we were.”

Don’t Expect ‘Full Employment Until 2012

More precisely, the year began with fewer workers employed than in January 2001, said economist Paul Krugman at The New York Times. “At January’s pace of job creation it would take us until 2019 to return to full employment,” said Krugman.

Private Sector Remains Engine of Growth

“The private sector remained the engine of growth,” according to The Times. “While federal agencies and local governments continued to lay off workers, businesses added 257,000 net new jobs in January. The biggest gains were in manufacturing, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality.”

Companies Looking to the Future

“The past several recent jobs reports seem to indicate that private companies are beginning to look toward the future and consider hiring,” Brian Hamilton, CEO of financial information company Sageworks Inc. told Forbes. “We don’t know if the positive jobs trend will continue, but it is definitely a good trend,” he said.

Politicians Disagree on Interpretation

Republicans “downplayed” the report, “describing the improvements as welcome but ‘anemic,’” Fox News reported. “The White House, meanwhile, cited the report as ‘encouraging’ evidence that the economy is on the upswing, and urged Congress to support jobs measures backed by President Obama to keep that trend going.”

It’s All Good

“The strangest thing about January’s jobs report is that it’s pretty much all good,” said Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. “The bottom line is that this isn’t just a good jobs report. It’s a recovery jobs report.”

Austery Measures Will Backfire

Krugman warned however that renewed calls for federal austerity measures would backfire. “The sad truth is that the good jobs numbers have definitely made it less likely that the Fed will take the expansionary action it should. So here’s what needs to be said about the latest numbers: yes, we’re doing a bit better, but no, things are not O.K. — not remotely O.K. This is still a terrible economy, and policy makers should be doing much more than they are to make it better,” said Krugman.

What do you think?

Is there reason to be optimistic about the economy?