Category Archives: equality

A Teacher’s Take on the Cheating Scandal

I know that wealth equals privilege.  I know that students whose parents are wealthy will get into college more easily since they can afford tutors, SAT prep, personal trainers, you name it.

That is part of the reason why I love working in an urban school where over 70% of my  students are on the free and reduced lunch program.   I strive to help these students to build the tools that they need to make themselves college and career ready.

I love it when the spring arrives and my seniors begin to receive their acceptance letters.  I also love it when former students contact me to thank me for preparing them for their college English courses, or to tell me about their interesting travel abroad experiences.

This week I am particularly excited because a student I taught as a junior last year has been accepted to Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, and now MIT.  This is the student success story that the world loves to hear.  This student is incredibly intelligent, but simultaneously humble.  He is simply a phenomenal human being despite his modest upbringing and I am so happy to have gotten to know him last year.

I have other students who have graduated from Tufts and MIT who are now enrolled in grad school and others who are making the world a better place through their careers.  Teachers are sometimes under-appreciated, but every time I hear from one of these students, I know that I am making a difference.

I have a letter that I give to my students on the first day of school that allows me to introduce myself to them and then I ask them to write a letter back to me as their first assignment of the year.  The last line of my letter reads as follows:

This year, I seek to teach you not only the components of writing, but also a course in ethics, because ultimately, your grades means nothing if you cannot look yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you see.”

How fitting that sentence is in light of the recent college admissions cheating scandal.

Today, some of my students were saying how they know that it’s wrong to cheat, but they also know that they would probably do anything they could in order to get their future children into a good college.  They asked if I would do the same.

Now, granted, I’m not a parent, but I really don’t believe that I would.  I don’t want to raise privileged children who simply ask and receive; I want them to know the importance of hard work.  They should get rejected from some colleges they apply to because we all need some degree of failure in order to grow.

These celebrity parents are raising entitled children and no matter how much money I earn, that is not what I want for my kids.

Some people think it’s almost a waste to even fight the recent scandal, saying how there will always be parents who cheat (especially those who have the financial means to do so).  They mention how it’s always been known that some families make massive donations to Ivy League schools with the hopes that their children will then be accepted.

But here’s the thing: I don’t care about the fact that some cheaters aren’t caught.  Sure, there will always be cheaters, but that doesn’t mean we give up. We can’t just wallow in the fact that people will always cheat; rather, we must keep trying our best to eliminate as much of it as possible.

Every college placement that was filled by a student who cheated or whose parent cheated is a spot that a deserving student was unable to attain.

I teach some of those deserving students who are rejected because their family has no high standing in society.  Most of my students have parents who have never attended college, some of whom have never even finished high school.  Many of my students have parents who are not fluent in the English language.  These parents cannot fight for their children as much as they might like to because of language barriers.

These students grew up without tutoring and SAT prep courses.  They had parents who often could not help them with their homework. Many of them came home to empty houses after school, since their parents were working long hours trying to make ends meet.

These are the students who know that hard work pays off.  These students who were able to succeed in high school and enter college are one of my greatest sources of joy as a teacher.

I understand that some of them are upset with the recent scandal (I am upset myself).  They have every right to be angry, but I just keep reminding them that ethics and character still matter.  Students who got into college as a result of a scam don’t understand the value of hard work.  They have no idea what it means to struggle through the daily obstacles of life.  My students do, and I believe that because of that, they will be more prepared for the world they enter upon graduation because they know that everything in life will not simply be handed to them.

My students will be able to live with the confidence that anything they achieve is truly a result of their own perseverance.  They will be able to look themselves in the mirror every day and be proud of the person they see looking back at them.

It may sound naive, but that has to count for something.  I recently read a book entitled The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead by David Callahan.  He examines cheating in all aspects, from lawyers who lie about their billable hours, to pharmaceutical companies knowingly promoting drugs with major side effects, to plagiarism, to athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs.

What happens is that we see other people getting ahead as a result of cheating and this causes us to justify our own cheating.  He’s cheating, so it’s only fair if I do, too. This leads to a perpetual cycle of cheating, and there is no clear solution.

I try my best to avoid cheating, although Callahan makes it clear how we have all done this from time to time, even in minor ways.  Ever downloaded music illegally?  Gotten extra change and kept it rather than returning it to the cashier? Embellished a resume?  Failed to report under-the-table income?  Re-used a stamp that wasn’t cancelled?

We’re all guilty at times.  But the only way I can see a change happening is by maintaining a high degree of ethics and morals myself.  My students know that I strive to be an overall good person.  I try to instill ethical behavior into them as frequently as possible.  We have conversations about honesty and integrity and they see my disappointment when I catch them plagiarizing.

If my students see many of their parents, teachers, and peers acting in an ethical manner, they will follow suit.  But if they see all of us lying, stealing and cheating our way into success, they will mimic that behavior.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that character counts, even today when it sometimes seems like all hope is lost.  Because of my faith, I know that my ultimate goal of Heaven will only be fulfilled if I maintain an upright character.  It doesn’t matter how much power people achieve through false means here on earth; that will not help them to inherit the kingdom of God.  And even for those who do not believe in God, they can consider the idea that what goes around comes around.

So I will continue to be proud of the woman I see in the mirror because I know the hard work that was necessary to get to the place I am in today.  I know that I did not get any college admissions, degrees, jobs, or awards as a result of any cheating or fraud.  I do not have to fear the embarrassment and shame that would occur if I had deep dark secrets that I didn’t want to get released.






How Do I Live in a Country that Allows Infanticide?

I recently wrote a couple of blogs about New York’s new abortion laws (see: Abortion is Not a Celebration and Full Text of the Reproductive Health Act).

But now, our politicians are voting on whether living, breathing human babies have the right to life.  This has nothing to do with abortion.

People who are pro-choice used to determine whether abortion was acceptable based on the moment they agreed that life started.  Many would say somewhere around 21-24 weeks was the time frame.

Recently, many have decided that life only begins at birth.

But now, even babies that are fully born are not safe.  44 Senate Democrats voted on Monday to block a bill that would have provided protection to babies that were born accidentally during an attempted abortion.  It was called the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act and there were only 3 Democrats who did not vote to block it. THREE.

This bill was simply trying to protect the babies that were born alive; it did not change anything with regard to abortion laws.  It would allow for penalties (fines and jail time) for doctors who did not care for a baby that was born alive.  Everyone can agree that these are living babies, but some are arguing that they still don’t have the right to life, even after birth.  I truly cannot fathom this point of view.

If a live baby is born (even though an abortion was attempted), how can anyone choose to either kill it intentionally or let it die as a result of not caring for it or feeding it? People may not agree with my views on abortion, but I thought that most people agreed that infanticide was a heinous crime.

But this is what happens with the slippery slope of abortion.  First, abortion is legalized during the first trimester, then in the second, then in the third, and then any moment up until birth, but what is happening now cannot be called abortion.  Abortion requires a pregnant mother.  What is being legalized now is blatant infanticide –the killing of a precious and defenseless human baby.

Some people may argue that this type of situation is rare.  I don’t care.  Is murder allowed as long as it’s not common?  No.  One baby that is left to die from a botched abortion is one too many.

Many news sources are saying that babies never survive abortion.  Fine.  Then why block a bill like this?  In that view, a doctor would then never be fined, end of story.  They are incorrect.  No, it’s not common, but it’s possible and it does happen.

Yes, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 already exists, but it provides zero penalties to doctors and it mentions nothing specifically about what type of medical care is required.  The new act was going to ensure that a living baby was given necessary medical care if it was alive.  It would have also punished doctors who failed to heed that protocol.

There are plenty of parents who want to adopt.  We don’t have to force that mother to parent the baby, but let’s feed it and protect it and put it up for adoption.  How can anyone live with themselves knowing that they think it is perfectly acceptable to kill that baby?

I simply cannot understand.  I am heartbroken.  I am irate.  I am ashamed of this godforsaken country that thinks that it is progressive.  No, we’re not.  We’re shameful.

We’re full of thousands of people who agree with my stance but who are too indifferent to even make themselves aware of the news.  Too indifferent to care about what is happening outside of their own needs.  Too busy having “me time” and swimming in narcissism to care about things that actually matter.  Disgusting.

The Evils of Indifference

One of my favorite speeches to teach is Elie Wiesel’s “The Perils of Indifference.”  This speech was given on April 12, 1999 in Washington, D.C.  Elie Wiesel is the author of the book entitled Night.  He is a Holocaust survivor, political activist, and Nobel prize winner.

The message of his speech is that indifference is the greatest evil, even more than direct hatred.  That may sound confusing, but let me explain by pulling together quotes from his speech…

He starts off by remembering the day he was rescued, the day when the American soldiers entered his prison camp.  He “remembers their rage at what they saw” and he describes how he continues to feel grateful for that rage.

If the soldiers seemed unfazed upon entering the prison, that would show a lack of compassion.  That is the exact problem with many people today: their indifference.

I can tell people all about stories from my mission trips and although they are interested in the stories, they just don’t  care enough to donate money, volunteer, or get involved in any other way.  They believe that the people who are dying in other countries aren’t their problem.  They are indifferent.  Rather than feeling hatred at Joseph Kony or other genocidaires, they just ignore the problem and act like it doesn’t matter, or they say something about Africans being savages who cannot be saved.  This indifference is dangerous.

I think it is safe to assume that the majority of people on this globe suffer from indifference.  They are too concerned about the problems that only affect themselves and their inner circle of friends and family.  Anything outside of that circle simply isn’t their concern.

But that is exactly what allows evil to run rampant: a large group of people who don’t  care enough to do anything about these evils.

Wiesel continues his speech by emphasizing the gratitude he feels toward America for finally stepping in during the Holocaust.  He then defines indifference as, etymologically, “no difference,” proceeding to ask a few rhetorical questions about it.  Is it a virtue?  “Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?”

But then he quickly provides a clear response: no.  It is not a virtue. He admits that it can be “tempting” and “seductive,” but to the person who is the victim of such indifference, it can mean life or death.  While the indifferent person enjoys his glass of wine, the people who are victims of mindless atrocities are losing their lives.

Now, I think that at times, some indifference may be necessary so as to not be constantly feeling depressed about the state of the world, or feeling that there is no hope.  I don’t think it is wrong for me to go out to dinner, go on a vacation, or enjoy my own life.  However, this is only true if I also do my part in tackling such indifference.  If I always ignore the problems of the world, as many people do, then I have a serious problem.

I travel on mission trips to try to improve the lives of those I serve, at least in small ways.  I make donations toward organizations that are out working in the trenches to improve our world.  I teach my students to be ethical, responsible citizens.  I’m not a perfect person, as I know that my acts of service are not able to entirely change the world.  But there are many American adults who never give a penny to charity, who have never volunteered (or stopped after they didn’t need it anymore for college applications).  It is these people who shouldn’t have the pleasure of enjoying that glass of wine with dinner, forgetting about the children who are being raped and maimed at the hand of sadistic leaders who continue to get away with murder (literally) because nobody has stopped them.

“To be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman.”  

Sometimes, I feel completely overwhelmed by the problems of the world.  There are so many horrible problems that I wish I could solve.  Poverty.  Hunger.  Malnutrition.  Lack of access to clean water.  Sex trafficking.  Slavery.  Addiction.  Abortion.  Euthanasia.  A disregard for the sanctity of life at all stages.  Pornography.  Global warming.  The extinction of animal species.  Healthcare.  Racism.  The justice system.  The war on drugs.  Homelessness.  And on and on and on.

I cannot fathom how so many people live their lives without ever consider the people who suffer on a daily basis.  I probably donate more money and volunteer more hours than many Americans, but I still sometimes feel guilty when too much time has passed since I felt I made a significant contribution toward the betterment of society.  I just don’t understand how people can spend five hours each night watching Netflix and never feel ashamed by their wasted time.  It can make them almost inhuman because of their complete disregard for humanity.

Wiesel says that indifference “is more dangerous than anger and hatred.”  That may sound surprising.  Isn’t it the bigot who is worse than the person who ignores the problem?  Isn’t it the rapist who is more evil than the bystander?

No.  Because the bystander it a good person who is allowing that rape to take place.  That bystander knows that what he is witnessing is wrong, but he is too concerned about his own safety to help the victim.  I’m not making excuses at all, but maybe the rapist is high on drugs and not fully aware of his actions.  Maybe the rapist has a mental illness.  None of that excuses the rape, but if the bystander is aware of the evil that is taking place, doesn’t he have an obligation to help?  If he knows it is wrong and does nothing, then he might as well be an accomplice.  Society can agree that the rapist is evil.  The bystander, however, has now also become evil if he does nothing.

Take this 2010 story from The New York Post as an example.  A homeless man in Queens saved a woman from a man who was attacking her with a knife, only to be attacked himself.  Surveillance footage shows him lying in a pool of blood while 25 bystanders walk by.  He saved the woman and was attacked himself some time around 5:40am, only to be found by firefighters at 7:23am.  Were his wounds fatal at 5:40?  I don’t know, but by 7:23 he was dead.

Those bystanders should feel partially responsible for his death.  They didn’t have to face any danger to save this man’s life (or at least attempt to).  They could have just taken out their phone and dialed 911.  Was that too much effort for them?  Was it simply easier to turn their head and walk away?

This isn’t just the case in America.  A Chinese girl was run over by a truck and there is video footage of witnesses doing nothing.  In the very beginning of Peter Singer’s TED Talk, “The Why and How of Effective Altruism,” he shows the video.  People walk right past her body and do nothing, to the point that she is run over again before a man finally helps, though it is too late.  She is dead.

This is why indifference is more dangerous than hatred.  That doesn’t mean that murderers and rapists are good, but they are fewer in number than those who are indifferent.  The murderer is still committing an evil crime, but there are times when it has only occurred as a result of good people doing nothing.  They are facilitating the murder.

“Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”  Hitler would have loved those who were indifferent.  Why?  Because they weren’t stopping him.  No, they may not have been directly killing people, but indirectly, they were aiding the process.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from Birmingham Jail, asserts that “the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

It is easy to condemn the extremists whose horrible actions are broadcast all over the news.  But they are in the minority.  The majority of the world is comprised of good people who are silent.  They are people who are good, but timid.  People who are cowardly when it matters the most.

It is their silence that allows evil to continue.  There’s a line from William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar that reads “cowards die many times before their death; the valiant taste of death but once.”  Every time we good people are silent when we know that we must do something, we are “dying” to ourselves.  We’re too afraid to stand up for truth, for justice, for humanity.

“Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.”  If I act indifferently, I don’t just ignore the child soldier; I punish him even more by allowing his captors to keep him in that position without facing resistance.

If I am indifferent, I continue buying those diamond rings, thereby allowing the blood diamond industry to continue and to make profit from me.  Rather than helping those who are suffering, I am abetting the enemy.

Elie Wiesel says how the Holocaust consisted of three types of people: victims, killers, and bystanders.  Which group was the worst?

Most people would quickly say it was the killers.  But by sheer number, there were many more bystanders who were doing nothing.  Such bystanders could have stopped the killers before the extermination of millions of Jews.  But they didn’t.  That is the problem of indifference.

To me, the most heartbreaking moment of Wiesel’s speech is when he says how “our only miserable consolation was that we believed that Auschwitz and Treblinka were closely guarded secrets. If they knew, we thought, surely those leaders would have moved heaven and earth to intervene. They would have spoken out with great outrage and conviction. They would have bombed the railways leading to Birkenau, just the railways, just once.”

He and his fellow prisoners believed that the world didn’t know about their plight.  They thought it was a huge secret because surely, somebody would have stepped in if they had known, wouldn’t they?

But that wasn’t the case.  America knew.  Other nations knew.  But their indifference took hold.

Wiesel brings up something that we never learn about in American history classes.  He explains what happened with the St. Louis.  It was a ship that was carrying almost 1,000 Jews to safety in 1939.  They were going to enter Cuba and then the United States with visas that they had previously applied for.  The quick version of the story is the fact that this ship was turned away.  28 passengers were allowed to disembark, but Cuba refused to allow that for the rest of the passengers.  The boat was sent back to Europe.  Wiesel says he doesn’t understand why Roosevelt allowed that to take place.  He proceeds to ask numerous rhetorical questions:

Why the indifference, on the highest level, to the suffering of the victims?”

Why was there a greater effort to save SS murderers after the war than to save their victims during the war?”

Why did some of America’s largest corporations continue to do business with Hitler’s Germany until 1942?”

It all comes down to indifference, which is still a problem today.  I wrote a blog a while back entitled Hard Work and Determination Aren’t Always Enough.  After posting it on Facebook, I knew that some people would disagree. But worse than those who blatantly disagree are those who are indifferent.  Those who don’t care about the plight of the black race in America.

We must rally up good people who have the courage to stand up against the evils of this world.  Too many people feel like they can’t really elicit major change.  While that may be true at times, think of all the change that would occur if every indifferent person spent even a small amount of time fighting back.  This whole world would change.

The recent abortion laws have been my most recent frustration.  I believe that abortion is an evil that must be fought.  There are thousands of people in the United States who agree with me.  The problem is that they would rather not ruffle feathers.

They will tell me how horrible abortion is, but when I ask them to become involved in Pro-Life work, they sheepishly back away.

When I offer that they can come pray outside of the abortion clinic with me, they suddenly stop responding to my messages.

So although they call themselves “pro-life,” are they really?  They may think that they are, but in reality, they’re just helping the abortionists to continue the work that they are doing.

If we want the world to change, we need armies of people standing up against the evils.  We need groups of indifferent people realizing that they must end their indifference and use their courage for good.

Elie Wiesel was grateful that the soldiers who entered his prison camp showed rage.  He needed to see that people had realized the evil that was taking place during the Holocaust.

Let us all give up our indifference, even if only for short periods of time. Together, we can change the world.


Hard Work and Determination Aren’t Always Enough

I am aware that some people may be offended by this post.  If that happens, just know that that isn’t my intent.

I recently finished reading the novel, Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult, who is one of my favorite modern authors.  I just can’t stop thinking about some of its messages.

I previously wrote a post entitled My White Privilege and another one called Admitting Your White Privilege Doesn’t Make You Racist, but now, after reading the book, I think that I have to disagree with the title of that second blog.  I think that it does make me racist. Not racist in an “I hate black people” kind of way, but in a more hidden manner.

Towards the end of the novel, one of the attorneys makes the distinction between active and passive racism.  Active racism is blatantly obvious to the outside world; it is those who consider themselves to be white supremacists, those who yell obscenities to those who look different from themselves.

Most people do not fall under that category.  More people are passively racist, even those who, like myself, are sometimes aware of our white privilege.  The attorney in the novel provides examples: not asking why there is only one black person hired in your workplace, not asking why slavery is the only item covered in a child’s textbook in terms of black history.

I am a high school English teacher in an urban school district.  My classes are composed of mainly black and Hispanic students.  I like to think that I am helping to reverse the problems accompanying racism.

But then the book has a character on the jury who is just like me.  She feels like she couldn’t possibly be racist as a result of the students she teaches in her classroom.  But is that enough?  Does she understand their struggle?  She is actually the person that the public defender is most nervous about, since she has racism lurking beneath the surface, racism that she is completely unaware of.

I wrote a blog acknowledging my white privilege, but do I truly understand the extent of it?

I try to connect with my students in the beginning of the year by writing them a letter in which I open myself up to them.  I explain how my upbringing wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows.  I want them to feel a closeness to me so that they can be vulnerable in their own writing, particularly in their college essays.

I teach them all year that they can reach their dreams if they work hard enough.  But is that really true?

Did I become a teacher as a result of hard work and determination?  Absolutely.  But did my skin color facilitate the process?  I’d have to answer that as “absolutely” as well.

Is hard work and determination truly enough?  I don’t think I can honestly say that it is.  Sure, people will name a bunch of members of society who happen to be black and also successful.  Barack Obama is a name that comes up quickly, despite the fact that he is only half black.  Oprah.  Will Smith.  Colin Powell.

Sure, there are examples, but the problem is that they are still the minority, and I would argue that they had to work harder to get to their place in society than a white person in the same position.

Did I work hard to become a teacher?  Yes.  But I didn’t have to prove myself through a mask of black skin.

I had a mother who, despite being a single mom working multiple jobs to put food on the table, knew that my education was key.  Yet she, too, was white.  Had she been a black single mom, life would have been even more difficult.  She may not have been hired at some of the jobs she had.  She would have been viewed even more negatively than she already was for being a single mom.  People may have simply assumed that she had been promiscuous, not even considering that she could have been divorced, and for valid reasons at that.

I will never be able to say that I fully understand the black experience in America, no matter how much I learn about it.  I am fascinated by it since I teach so many minority students, but I can never truly understand.  I also read the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration and the Age of Color Blindedness  by Michelle Alexander since I am so frustrated by the racism that pervades the American justice system.  But can I say that I truly grasp it? No.

I was given a gift of privilege from the moment of conception: to be a white baby born in the United States.  I could have been born in a third world country.  I could have been born with the odds stacked against me.  I could have been born poor and black in America.  But I wasn’t.  My whiteness was and continues to be my pass.

If I am pulled over by a police officer, I do not have to fear being shot for no reason.  I will not likely have my car searched for drugs.  I have a good chance of getting away with a warning for speeding because I am white.

I can wander aimlessly through department stores without being watched by employees who think that I may shoplift.

I can be hired at a job and not have people brush it off and say that I was just a result of affirmative action and a school meeting its quota.

In the afterward to her book, Picoult writes that “In America, we like to think that the reason we have had success is that we worked hard or we were smart.  Admitting that racism has played a part in our success means admitting that the American dream isn’t quite so accessible to all.”

She explains how she asked white mothers how often they have to talk to their children about racism and they said that it was discussed either rarely or never.  When the same question was pointed toward black mothers, they said “every day.”

Picoult says that “ignorance is a privilege, too.”

I can pretend that I’m not racist by ignoring racism.  But could I ignore such racism if I were black?  No; rather, it would be a part of my daily life.  I can ignore racism if I choose because it doesn’t directly affect my life.

I can say that I understand because I will soon be marrying a man who is half black and half white.  But he is still viewed by most as a white male, thanks to his light complexion.  If he cuts his hair short, he can hide behind this false whiteness.  He knows better than to grow his hair out into an afro before a job interview.

If we have children, I don’t know yet what they will look like.  Will their quarter of blackness haunt them?  Or will they get my blue eyes and trick the world into thinking that they are Anglos to the core?

Ignoring racism or acting like it doesn’t exist perpetuates the problem.  Racism does exist and when we say that it doesn’t, we’re doing a disservice to all of the people who are victims of racism on a daily basis.

When I tell my students that they can all achieve their dreams with hard work and determination, I am telling them a lie.  Sure, they may achieve their dreams if they work hard, but what I fail to tell them is that they will have to work harder than I ever did.

They will have to live every day fighting against societal ignorance.  They will have to dress even more neatly and speak even more politely in order to be respected.  They will have to treat police officers with a higher degree of respect than any white person would, yet they may still be viewed as guilty.

They will have to conform to the standards of white society.  If their natural hair is too kinky, too nappy, or too wild, they will be viewed in a negative way.  If they happen to enjoy hip hop and rap music, they will be considered a thug.  If they pronounce a word differently than me, they may be seen as illiterate.  If their skin is too dark, they will be passed up for a job in favor for the light-skinned person who has no better qualifications, just less melanin.

I have my AP students complete what I call my “Be the Change” project at the end of the school year.  One of my Haitian students brought up race as a topic.

She said how her mother had her use skin lightening cream as a child since she was so dark.  She would be deemed more beautiful when her skin appeared lighter.  She also explained how this is completely normal for black people; yet this is something that I did not even know existed.

Fortunately, she is now proud of her natural skin and she is an incredibly intelligent, talented young woman.  However, she still has the odds stacked against her.  She will still be judged more harshly than I was.  She must push upstream against a current that is much stronger than the one I fought against.  Her work ethic may be mistakenly viewed as a simple result of affirmative action initiatives.  Why?  Because she was born into the “wrong” skin color.

And people who are unaware of their racism will call her African American, because they think that the term “black” sounds racist or rude.  Yet they will not even stop to understand that Haiti is nowhere near Africa.  She is not African American at all.

I am confident in her abilities, but me trying to wave around my own life as a success story must be a bit of a slap in the face to students like her.

Congratulations, Miss Q.  You got through being raised by your single mom.  In Brookfield, Connecticut, a quiet, white, middle to upper-class town, close to your stay-at-home aunts whose husbands could pay the bills, so they had time to care for you.  Or you stayed with your grandparents who had the privilege to be retired.  You graduated magna cum laude at your white, private university.  You got through Lyme disease, because you had health insurance that covered the cost of some of your treatment.

I don’t know what the answer is.  I don’t think that racism will ever cease to exist.  But I think that too many people today refuse to admit that racism is still a pervasive problem, which is even scarier than years ago, when our country was blatantly racist as a result of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

Today, our schools are desegregated.  Yay, what a happy, non-racist country in which we live.

Oh yea?  Enter my classroom in my high school and then enter the one just a few miles north.  You will see that segregation still exists.  No, it may not be forced by laws that forbid black students to enter the white schools, but it is enforced through societal norms.

Enter my classroom and you will see the books that my students use.  “I love dicks” written on the side.  “Butt cheeks” written on another.  And that’s the vandalism I’m not embarrassed to include here.  I assure you, it gets much worse.  How can I pretend that these students are equal to the ones in the other town with the shiny new textbooks?  These textbooks the students cannot even take home since we don’t have enough.  No, scratch that, those students don’t even have textbooks anymore.  Instead, they have the shiny new one-on-one laptops that they get to take home to their high-speed wi-fi connections.

My students aren’t equal.  They will need to work harder to get to the place where the student in the other high school can get thanks to his skin color or his daddy.  They will need to earn straight As while working all night as the dish washer at the local restaurant so they can help their mother to pay the rent, finishing their homework late at night (if at all), before getting up early to help their little sister get fed and ready for school while their mom is already out on her way to her housekeeping job that pays minimum wage and offers no benefits.

They will have no parent in attendance at Back to School night or parent-teacher conferences because their parent will not be able to pay the electric bill if they miss that night of work.

They will have every intention of passing class and trying to succeed, but their fatigue will get the best of them.

I, as their teacher, will offer extra help, but they will know that they have to rush from school to work and that they cannot stay any longer.

They could be a star football player, but they can’t waste those hours practicing when they have to be watching over their little brother, hoping that he can be the one who makes a difference.

They struggle to develop strong friendships since they move around with such frequency that they attend six different schools in just three years, building a wall around themselves that may seem harsh, but it is there to limit the pain of constantly evolving schools and relationships.

Would I be in my current position if I were born black?  I can’t answer that question with any degree of certainty.

Would I have had the perseverance to work hard at school to maintain my GPA only to leave school and work all night?  Probably not.

Has my white skin helped me to achieve the life I live today?  Probably.  It’s my ticket to the easy life.

That is the reality of white privilege.




My Jury Duty Adventures

A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.

Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year.  But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.

People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting.  I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.

I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday.  I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.

I changed my mind about my outfit so many times.  I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable.  I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far.  I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes.  I had my hair in a low ponytail.  I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it.  If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.

The morning of jury duty was extremely boring.  We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed.  We had the rules explained to us before checking in.

We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day.  I can’t believe it’s only $5.  This is 2017.  You can’t even go buy lunch for $5.  As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck.  If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15.  That seems absurd.  I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.

Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5.  He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.”  I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.

While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.

By 10am, nothing had happened.  Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop.  They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room.  I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.

Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch.  So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!

I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home.  It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.

After lunch, we went back to waiting.  Then they started calling off more names.  The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name.  Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.

Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name).  While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction.  I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process.  But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.

We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil.  The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case.  It was a civil case.  The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.

He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad.  Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further.  Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.

The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:

-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?

-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?

-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?

I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions.  I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury.  I definitely would have raised my hand.

I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had.  Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.”  The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything.  And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.

Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box.  Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.

Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them.  He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.

These questions went as follows:

-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields

-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations


-Favorite TV shows and new sources

-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)

-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?

-Would you make a good juror and why?

Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions.  I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to.  I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.

I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious.  Then I thought of the machine gun preacher.  Nope, still religious.  I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say.  I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.

Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating.  I loved hearing all of their answers.  More people watch the Food Network than I had realized.  Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much.  That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything.  Most people also didn’t really have hobbies.  Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids.  I thought that was a little sad.  I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids.  Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting.  One lady was a drummer.  But most of the responses were dull.

I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.

In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true.  Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.

The plaintiff was an African American woman.  The judge and all three lawyers were white.  The first seven jurors were all white.  I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors.  There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American.  There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman.  Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.

I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely.  From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county.  Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…

While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused.  I was correct about many of them.

-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”

He said he would meet his great-grandfather.  They clearly said not to choose a family member.  I would eliminate him for being a bad listener.  Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.

Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial.  Juror #5, gone.

-She just keeps saying how nervous she is.  I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time.  How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.

I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy.  I doubt they’ll take her. 

Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest?  It’s driving me crazy.  You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter.  More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc.  All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest.  Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!

Okay, you get the point.  Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.

“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.


“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.

“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning.  I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat.  I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much.  I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.

I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box.  I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.

I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant.  I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering.  I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched.  I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa.  And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious.  I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us.  I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.

When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation.  The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians.  Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier.  I though it seemed a little too extreme.  Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.

Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us.  My eyes widened.  The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers.  They went to speak to the plaintiff.  I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself.  These lawyers also said that they were satisfied.  YESSSS!

While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.

The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.

The judge explained all of the rules.  We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion.  We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.

After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.

I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected.  I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.

Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area.  Some of them seemed content with being selected.  One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week.  One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.

The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room.  After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.

What?  My hopes were crushed.  I was so excited to experience the trial.

He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.

I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court.  Oh well.

Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day.  It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.

I’m still excited that I was picked.  It was a fun experience.  Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial.  Or maybe not.  But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it.  Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.

I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me.  It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.


Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

If you missed the first blog, you can find part one of my trip to Uganda here.

Lake Victoria / Nile River

On our free day (Saturday), we went shopping for souvenirs in downtown Jinja.  Then we went out to an Indian restaurant for lunch, followed by a boat ride.

The boat ride started out on Lake Victoria.  We saw some prisons that have land that leads right into the water, but there were no fences.  Our guide told us that 96% of Ugandans are unable to swim, so they know that the prisoners will not escape.

We also saw fish farms in the middle of the lake where tilapia are harvested.

We stopped at a fishing village where we walked around and saw all of these little silver fish that they were drying out in the sun.


All of the children in the village were excited to see us, and they cried out, “mzungu!” (“white person!”)  They all wanted to hold our hands, but what was interesting is that many of them were also smelling our hands.  I have no idea why they did that.  I’m not sure if previous white people maybe had a lot of perfume or scented lotion on.  Or maybe our skin just smells different than theirs.  I’m not too sure.

After leaving the fishing village, we headed to the source of the Nile.  The Nile River is the world’s longest river and it flows north, from Uganda to Egypt.  The water started moving more quickly once we got closer to the area where the lake and the river meet.  The guide told us that it was because of the huge difference between the depth of the lake and the depth of the river.

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:


Then we took a group photo there.


After volunteering with Sixty Feet and Sole Hope, we spent our last three days at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja.

Initially, when reading about the trip to Uganda back in December when I registered, we were going to split all of our time between Sixty Feet and Sole Hope.  It was only more recently that the three days at Amani were added.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed at the addition of Amani to our itinerary.  I’m not a huge baby person.  I teach high school students because I prefer the older kids.  I was excited for the other two volunteer opportunities because I knew that there would be children of many ages.  Hearing the words “baby cottage” did not excite me at all.

Fortunately, I found out that Amani housed children from ages 0 to 5, so I was hoping to get to spend most of my time with the older kids.  Five year olds I could deal with (or at least I thought so); it was the babies I was not ready for.

Amani Baby Cottage

According to its website, Amani Baby Cottage (ABC), “was established in 2003 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children…Many are orphaned when their parents die due to AIDS, birth complications or other factors. Some are abandoned in the hospital after birth. Others are found abandoned at taxi stops, in latrines, or on the street…To date, a total of 328 children have been cared for in our home. 107 of these have been reunited with their parents or extended family members, 135 have been fostered into new families, and 26 have been transferred to other ministry placements. We do not refuse children in fragile health, thus 23 children have died while in our care.”

Everyone on my team had different tasks during our time at Amani.  There were 43 children there, ages 0 to 5.  Different team members helped with the infants, the toddlers, the preschool, cleaning, changing diapers, rocking babies, you name it.

There are Ugandan women working there who are referred to as “Mamas.”  It’s really cute hearing the children call the women “Mama.”  Any time the mamas hand out a snack or help a child with something, the kids say, “thank you, Mama.”

When volunteers come, they calls us “aunties” and “uncles.”  It was nice having that routine set before we arrived because even if they didn’t know our first name, they could still address us.

The first day at Amani, Rachel, Cortnie, and I were helping out with the preschool.  The students met as a group at first to do their morning routine, learning about the weather and the calendar.  Then they separated into three groups for different activities.  There were the zebras, giraffes, and lions, according to their ages.  They would rotate through different activities so that the groupings would be smaller.

It was amazing to see how well organized everything was.  The mamas had the schedule down to the minute and the kids were very well-behaved and polite.

The preschool children in their school uniforms

I was with the zebras and our first activity was to go outside to play.  They ran around, played on the swings and monkey bars, and the mamas led them in some fun exercises like frog jumps and songs that had body movements incorporated.

After that, all of the kids regrouped, said a prayer, had porridge and a snack, before separating into their animal groups again. Each of the kids in my group were given a card with a letter on it.  They had to replicate that letter by building it with blocks.  I was really impressed by their language skills.  The other children we met in Uganda knew some English, but here their English sounded perfect and they were completely fluent.

Their schedule shifted a bit after that because the Auntie Rebecca, who had been their preschool teacher for the past month as a volunteer, was flying back home, so she gave out lollipops and they spent some time taking goodbye pictures.

Then we watched some Australian learning videos that were absolutely hilarious to Rachel and me.  They were super corny and the main actor was really strange, but the kids loved them, marching and dancing along to the songs.  There were songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and then others that I hadn’t heard of.

We helped get the kids ready for lunch and then their nap, and then we left for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to play outside with the kids.  I mainly pushed kids on the swings.  Other people on our team were running around, playing with balls, or doing face paint.


The next day, we expected to return to Amani to similar tasks.  However, upon arriving, we learned that the Mamas had professional development scheduled that day.  They had tried to reschedule it, but there were people who traveled from Kampala to go there.

Due to the change in schedule, preschool was cancelled.  Mission trips always require flexibility and this is the best example of that.  There was no time to complain or ask questions; we just needed to get to work.

Kimi, Joe and I went to the one of the male cottages, which housed ten boys: Edmond, Solomon, Jimmy, Silas, Babu, Michael, Dominic, David, Jonah, and Jonathan.  Jonathan was the only baby and Jonah was around two years old.  The rest were toddlers.

I cannot even begin to describe the chaos that ensued.  There were a few times when I looked over at Kimi and asked, “Am I being pranked right now?  Is this Candid Camera?”  During those moments, all we could do was shoot terrified glances over at one another and then simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we were experiencing.

The boys had acted like little angels when their mamas were around, sitting in a perfect formation, saying thank you, and using good manners, but it was like a switch flipped the moment the mamas walked out the door.

They were stealing toys from each other, running around, and trying to climb the shelves.  We put on a movie, but they wouldn’t stop talking so they couldn’t hear the movie.  I found two books, so I tried reading to them.  They listened to the first book, but by the second, their attention span was gone.

Every now and then, though, one of the mamas would come in to check on something or to make sure that things were going alright.  The minute they entered the room, the boys returned to their perfect angel state.  All a mama had to say was, “boys, stop talking,” and there was silence.  Kimi and I just looked at each other in amazement any time this happened.

Watching a movie

Then it was time for their snack (porridge and a banana).  Mama Georgina told us to stir the porridge with a cup before serving them because it was too hot.  The boys were watching something on the TV while we stirred.  Then, one of the boys started the prayer before meals: “Hand together,” he said.  And they all repeated, “hands together” while putting their hands into prayer position.  “Eyes closed,” he continued, and they all shut their eyes.  They went through all of the prayer.  I couldn’t understand all of the words but it was something like: “Hands together, eyes closed.  Bless our porridge, bless our mamas, bless our aunties, bless our uncles, in Jesus’ name, amen.”  They would all clap while they said “Amen.”

Kimi and I thought that it was really cute that they just said their prayers on their own while watching the movie.  Then, a few minutes later, another boy started the prayer.  When he finished he said, “auntie, we would like our porridge.”  The problem was that it was still extremely hot.

Prayers before snack

The same thing happened a few minutes later, with another boy starting the prayer.  This time we decide to give them the porridge because we knew they wouldn’t stop praying and asking.  I have no idea how they drank it since it seemed to be burning hot, but they loved it.  One boy in the room has special needs and he doesn’t have full control of his arms or legs.  He spilled the porridge all over himself, so we had to find him a new change of clothes.  I hope that he didn’t burn his chest.

After snack, we were excited that we could bring the boys outside.  We expected it to be less crazy than being cooped up in the cottage all day.  Boy were we wrong!

There were people working on the grounds of Amani, doing various tasks like gardening.  The boys ran out of the cottage and made a beeline for the yard tools.  The workers weren’t there at the moment, but their shovels, hoes, and rakes were.

I found myself running toward the edge of the property, wrestling these garden tools out of the hands of the toddlers.  Initially, I told the kids not to touch them and to put them down and they listened, but the moment I walked away, I saw kids chasing each other with the tools.

So back I went, running around in an attempt to avoid witnessing a child being impaled by a gardening tool.  Rachel came outside of her cottage with the girls and she was somehow able to grab a rake out of one of the children’s hands, despite holding two babies on either hip.

Katie told us later that the whole scene was hilarious.  Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the chaos, but in the moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed.

At different points during the day, I paused to say a prayer asking God for help.  It sounds so funny now, but gosh, we were all feeling completely overwhelmed and unprepared.  I couldn’t have gotten through that whole day if I wasn’t confident that God had placed me there for a reason and that He was going to help me to continue.

After the garden tool fiasco, we just played outside and then we left for lunch.

We usually went over our highs and lows each day at dinner.  Every team member would discuss their day and it was a nice way to debrief.  This day, we decided to do highs and lows at lunch since we were all exhausted and less than enthused about the thought of returning to Amani.  Many of our teammates were peed on, pooped on, or spit up on.

Kimi and I had been thinking that we had it the worst with ten boys between us, but we came to find out during lunch that Cortnie and Rachel had it even worse in the girls’ cottage.  There were 13 girls and it sounded like they were behaved even more badly than the boys.

Serving at Amani that day definitely gave us a quick dose of humility.  It also increased our respect and appreciation of the mamas exponentially.  The mamas do such an amazing job caring for and loving those children and I’m sure that they have their fair share of difficulties.

The children at Amani come from a variety of backgrounds so although everything looked like it was down to a science on our first day there, I know that doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  Establishing the routines, rules, and procedures takes a lot of work and those mamas are simply amazing.  It is also clear how much they truly love those children.  If I ever considered adopting, I would have no hesitation to adopt a child from a place like Amani because it is obvious that they are extremely well cared for.

After lunch, we were all hesitant about returning, but it was much calmer.  We played with the kids outside.  We played on the swing set and we also brought bubbles.

Something that was really interesting to me was that the swing set was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It had a plaque on it that included the names and ages of everyone who had died in Connecticut that day, along with the names of companies and churches that had either donated the supplied for the swing set, donated money, or helped to build it.

There were stores from Bethel and Danbury, Connecticut listed on the plaque, which is where I used to live before moving to New Jersey.  What a small world that I was playing with kids in Uganda on a playground that was made with supplies from my former town!

Sarah and Mary brought their Polaroid camera, so the kids LOVED having their pictures taken.

We found out that afternoon that the professional development was a two-day course. Upon leaving, we knew that we would probably have another chaotic day in store for us the following day.  I was thankful for a calmer afternoon, but nervous what the next day would entail.

Yep, I’m holding a baby!

Some of us switched roles the next day.  I stayed in the same room as the previous day because I figured that it would be helpful that I knew all of the names of the boys in that cottage.  Rachel, Cortnie, and Joe were in that cottage with me.

This was our last day volunteering in Uganda, so I think that most of us hoped that it would be a better experience than the prior day.  Fortunately, it was definitely better.  There were definitely still crazy, chaotic moments, but not nearly as many.

The woman who is the current director of Amani bought new movies, hoping that the kids would behave better if they were interested in a new movie that they hadn’t seen before.  That worked really well; the boys were engrossed in The Lion King.


The only slight problem was that every kid wanted to sit in our laps, but there were only three of us.

They watched all of The Lion King, so we followed that with The Good Dinosaur.  They were less excited about that movie, so they got a little antsy.

We had snack time with more prayers, porridge, and bananas, and this time it was much better because the porridge wasn’t too hot when I got it from the kitchen.

We turned on Cars instead of The Good Dinosaur since they really didn’t like that one.  We could hear noises coming from the girls’ cottage and some of the girls ran into our cottage to show the boys some crafts they were making.  Cortnie, Rachel, and I were nervous that would cause the boys to become rambunctious as well.  We shut both of the doors so that the girls couldn’t distract them and then we brought out the crayons and coloring books.


It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:


We left for lunch and when we returned, the mamas had a variety of hand-made items out on display.  It was great to be able to support the mamas by purchasing some souvenirs from them.

Then the kids had pineapple for a snack before going outside.  They wanted us to play “Let it Go” from Frozen on our phones.  Katie had that song on her phone, so she had played it for them before, but she wasn’t with us.  They didn’t understand how it was possible that we didn’t have the song.  We had a phone just like her, after all.  I tried to play them other songs on my phone, but they were unimpressed.

Then it was time to go outside for the rest of the afternoon.  Mama Georgina handed me a pair of nail clippers and said to trim the boys’ nails.  I wasn’t too sure how that was going to play out, but the boys were actually really good at staying still while I clipped their nails.  I’m not sure if I have ever clipped anyone’s nails before that.


We had nail polish, so we painted their nails.  That was a bit of a mess since they kept moving too soon after and smudging the nail polish, but they liked it anyway.  We also had more bubbles.

It seemed like there were fewer kids that afternoon, so it was much calmer.  I was told that some of them were going to therapists or other appointments.

After playing for a while, it was getting close to our time to leave.  The mamas had the kids form a circle so that they could sing farewell songs to us.  That moment was really touching.

They sang some songs in English and some in Luganda; there were some that we were familiar with, such as “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and others that we had never heard.


One girl started singing a Christian song and it was just precious.  Both her and her twin sister had one hand on their heart and one hand raised to the sky, praising God.


The songs were really cute, but then it was time to leave.  One boy, Silas, had been sitting on my lap during all of the songs and he had been following me around a little bit that afternoon (he’s the one who ate the blue crayon).  He was holding onto my skirt as I got up to walk away.

I had to physically remove his arms from around my waist and then he started crying.  As we walked out of the compound, some of the kids (like Silas) were crying.  One boy, Edmond, ran up to the fence and waved goodbye.

I couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.  I couldn’t help but consider how many people the children must say goodbye to.

It’s awesome that so many people go to Amani to volunteer, but there’s always a goodbye.  Some of these boys were abandoned by their parents, and I just felt like I was continuing the cycle of loss.

It was bittersweet, though, because at the same time, we were really needed there.  Although we did a lot of work with Sole Hope, I’m sure that they could have found anyone to help wash feet or pass out lollipops or stickers.

But when the mamas needed their professional development, I’m not sure what they would have done had we not been there.  Us being there helped take a lot off of their plate and I’m thankful that I was able to show my gratitude to them by removing some of their daily duties for a few days.

I know that God placed me and my team exactly where He needed us, so I know that I shouldn’t feel sad, but walking down the road and away from those children was really hard.

After leaving Amani, we went back to our guest house to pack our bags since we would be leaving early the following morning to take the long drive back to Entebbe for our flights home.

We left around 6:30 to drive about three hours to Entebbe.  We had our last lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria.  It was nice to have one last team activity before heading out.


We had a five and a half hour flight to Dubai, followed by a four hour layover.  When we landed in Dubai, we had to get off the plane and board a bus to take us to the airport, but Rachel was flying to Germany and Cortnie was flying to Dallas, so they had to get onto a different bus than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t expected that, so we didn’t really get to say goodbye.

The temperature was around 95 degrees even though it was 10pm in Dubai.  It was so hot and humid that my camera lens fogged up when I tried to take a picture.

Now this is completely random, but something weird about Dubai International Airport is that the toilets seemed to have hot water in them.  I’m not sure if it was hot simply because it was so hot outside.  (It was around 107 degrees on our trip in the opposite direction since it was day time in Dubai at that point.)  Or maybe they heat their toilet water, though I can’t imagine that.  It felt like sitting on a steamer or something when I sat on the toilet.  TMI?  Probably, but it was interesting to me.

After our layover, we flew about 14 hours to JFK and luckily, that was my last stop.  We went through immigration/customs, got our luggage, and I said goodbye to my team, most of whom had to wait for another flight later in the day.

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

To everyone who donated money to help me to go on this trip: thank you so much.  I would have been unable to do this work if it hadn’t been for your great generosity.  Although you were not able to be on the trip in the flesh, I brought you with me in my prayers.

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were now jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

To those of you who prayed for me and my team: I appreciate it so much.  There were a few teammates who experienced minor illnesses, but we were healthy for the most part.  We were safe, and we had an excellent, rewarding experience.

To my teammates, Kimi, Bart, Jacob, Katie, Cortnie, Rachel, Sara, Haley, Mary, Mia, and Joe: I am grateful for meeting you.  I know that God formed our team with each of you in mind.  We each brought along our own strengths and weaknesses and together, we were able to help spread love throughout Kampala and Jinja.  I will continue to pray for each of you and I expect to hear more amazing things that each of you are doing in your lives.  You are all inspiring.



Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

I traveled to Uganda to volunteer with Go Be Love International from July 22nd to August 5th this year.  It was an amazing trip and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had and all of the stories that I am now able to bring back to my friends and family in the United States.  We volunteered with three organizations: Sixty Feet, Sole Hope, and Amani Baby Cottage.

We flew from New York City to Dubai, where we had a short layover.  That flight was about 12 hours.  Then we flew from Dubai to Entebbe, Uganda, which took about 5 and a half hours.

We flew on an Airbus A380, which has two floors (first class and business upstairs and economy downstairs).  I had never been on an airplane that big before.


I was really thankful that I live on the east coast because most of my teammates had to start traveling on July 21st to JFK or LaGuardia and then stay the night in the hotel before continuing on with their flights.  Instead of that, I was able to simply arrive at JFK on Saturday morning and head out from there.

Emirates Airlines was awesome.  Just walking onto the airplane, I could tell that it was really nice.  There was a flight of stairs heading up that was lit along each step.  I wish I could have just seen what first class looked like, but economy passengers couldn’t go up there.  I’ve heard that there was a bar and showers upstairs.

There were tons of options of movies, music, games, and TV shows.  I watched some good movies heading to Africa, like Lion and Gifted.

I know I’m unusual with this, but I really love airplane food.  I think all of the tiny packages are really cool.  On Emirates, they actually give you a menu when you get on the plane that tells you about each of the meals that will be served and what your options are.

We had dinner, then pizza as a snack in the middle of the night, and then breakfast in the morning.


Once we finally landed in Entebbe, we had to stand in the immigration line for what felt like forever.  Once we finally got up to the counter, we had our pictures taken, we were fingerprinted, and a visa was printed for each of us and stuck inside of our passport.  Once we grabbed our bags, we met Patrick, who would be driving our bus, along with another man who would be driving the truck that held our luggage.  Patrick is an artist who makes amazing metal sculptures that are really unique (you can view his website here).

Our team at Entebbe Airport

When we left the airport, we drove to a market to pick up bottled water and bread that we needed because we would be making our own lunches while staying in Kampala.  We brought our own peanut butter since it’s expensive in Uganda, so each day we made sandwiches with bread and peanut butter and then we would have tiny bananas to go with it.

Then we checked into Apricot Guesthouse.  We were pretty tired, but we needed dinner, so we went to an Italian restaurant that was in walking distance.  I had pizza with beef, calamari, and shrimp on top.

Apricot Guesthouse:

It was a nice place to stay.  I shared the room with a girl named Mia.  There were between one and two people in each room.  There was a nice patio with comfy chairs and the grounds were pretty.

I did a random workout in the parking lot and Joe joined me for part of it.  I did a little running, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, dips, squats, and some yoga poses.


I loved the food at the Apricot Guesthouse.  It was typical African food and I loved everything I had.  On the first night they had a delicious pumpkin soup, along with rice, beef stew, chicken, potatoes (which they called “Irish”), vegetables, and rolls that tasted like soft pretzels.  The next night we had spinach soup, chapati (a bread similar to the Indian bread, naan), fish nuggets, lasagna, and vegetables.


For breakfast there were eggs, fruit, cereal, and juice both days.  One day there were pancakes and meatballs and the other day there were green beans.


Sixty Feet:

Sixty Feet is an organization that, according to its mission on the website, “targets a specific category of children… the least of the least – those imprisoned in Africa and more specifically Uganda. Some of these children have committed serious offenses. Some are as young as 2 years of age and have committed no offense at all. Working alongside Ugandan government officials we work in the detention facilities, and in the villages where the children come from, to bring hope and help – immediate relief and long-term restoration.”

We volunteered with them for the first few days of our trip while staying at the Apricot Guesthouse in Kampala.  We also got to see the spot where the equator runs through Uganda after lunch one day.



The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with Sole Hope.

Sole Hope:

Sole Hope focuses on “offering HOPE, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief.”

I was particularly excited to volunteer with Sole Hope because I had been working on collecting jeans since last December.  Sole Hope used to have what they called “jean cutting parties.”  They mailed you a pattern to use to cut the jeans into specific shapes. Then you get a group of people together and cut old jeans according to those patterns, safety pin them together, and then they are turned into shoes once they get to the Sole Hope grounds in Uganda.

My high school students were very excited about the opportunity to take part in my trip by helping with the jean cutting process, so they donated a TON of jeans.  I was overwhelmed by their excitement and support.  I also had friends and family members who donated a bunch of jeans as well.

I was able to have my students help me with the jean cutting the day before winter break, which was a HUGE help.  I had not originally realized how difficult and time consuming it would be to so cut so many jeans.  I also had help from some other friends and family members, but a good portion of the jeans were simply cut on random days after work while I turned on a movie to distract myself from the monotony.

I was thrilled to have 100 pairs of jean shoes to bring with me to Sole Hope and they were excited to hear about how I had gotten my students involved in the process.  Right now, Sole Hope paused with the jean cutting parties in order to have Care Kit parties instead in order to acquire more medical supplies.

We took a tour of the Sole Hope property, so we could see the process of sewing the shoes and adding the soles, which are made of a few layers of old car tires.


The shoes are provided to people once jiggers (small bugs that burrow into feet) are removed.  They help to prevent the person wearing them from getting more jiggers in the future.

Thursday is Sole Hope’s clinic day, so we got to go with them to help out at a school.  There were about 150 children (and a few adults) who needed to have their jiggers removed.  We started by gathering all of the children in a big circle and playing some games with them.  We sang songs that had corresponding hand motions.  One of them was a song about jiggers that would teach them good hygiene to avoid jiggers in the future.

After the song, we separated into stations:

Station 1: paperwork.  A Sole Hope worker would fill out a foot note paper with the person’s information such as name, age, grade, and information about their home address and their parents.

This is what the foot note paper would look like once it was filled out at the end of station 3.

Foot note

Station 2: foot washing.  This was my station.  We each had a bucket with a scrub brush and a bar of soap.  We would scrub one of the patient’s feet and then let them practice scrubbing their second foot.  While we were doing this, someone else from our team would come around and pass out stickers to everyone.

I tried to speak to the children as much as possible.  They learn English in school, but some of them were too young to understand and others were too shy.  Some of them told me their names, ages, and favorite sports.

At one point, I washed the feet of an old man and it really hit me emotionally.  While I love volunteering, I don’t like feeling as though I’m the white savior coming to save the day by handing things out to people.  Those types of situations are times when helping hurts, which is common to some short term missions.

So I was just sitting on the ground, unable to communicate with this old man who could not speak English.  He was probably around 80 years old.  All I could do was scrub his feet and smile.

I considered how embarrassed he must have felt.  The clinic was set up at a school, so its primary patients were children, but he, too, had a jigger infestation.  Beside him sat children who were mostly under age 12.  It could have been humiliating, and it was undoubtedly painful.

Yet at the same time, he needed help, and I could tell from his smile how grateful he was that we were there offering him a future that would entail less pain.  I also considered how my simple action of scrubbing his feet was really not that significant; anyone could have done it.  But at the same time, I was able to show him love through that act.

Despite the language barrier.  I could get across the message that he is loved, has worth, and is deserving of love.  There I was, someone who had flown across the ocean to get to Uganda just to scrub his feet and offer him hope.

St. Therese of Lisieux was known for her small, humble acts that she always did with great love.  I am by no means trying to compare myself to her, but I felt similarly in that situation.  I wasn’t in Africa building a church or drilling a well, but I was spreading my love in simple, small ways in my scrubbing of feet.

And it was definitely a humbling act.  Many of the patients had feet that had wounds in addition to the jiggers.  You can tell it’s a jigger because it looks like a white circle and then there is a small black dot in the middle of it.  When you see that, you know a jigger has burrowed under the skin.

But most of them had other contusions on their feet, broken or missing toenails, and some deformities.  We were told to alert someone any time a person had an open wound so that they could change out our water in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I wasn’t afraid to wash the feet, but I did know that it was possible for me to acquire a jigger in the process.  We were sure to wear closed shoes on the clinic day, which would help prevent jiggers in the feet, but jiggers can also burrow into other parts of your body, mainly your hands.  Fortunately, none of my teammates got any jiggers.  We were sure to scrub our hands and feet in the shower each night since it takes a while for a jigger to actually burrow itself into your skin.

Station 3: Jigger removal.  At this station, Sole Hope workers would use a razor blade and a safety pin to dig out the jiggers.  While they were doing this, people from my team would be filling out the foot notes.  Every time a jigger was removed, they had to put a dot on the foot drawing to show its placement while also counting up the number of jiggers per foot as well as the total number of jiggers on that person.  Some people also had jiggers on their hands.  If anyone had over 20, they would receive a follow-up, or they would go to the Outreach House (more about that in a bit).

While the jigger removal was happening, Joe, the youngest member of our team, went around passing out lollipops.  Jigger infestations are painful, just like their removal.  The lollipops helped the kids to concentrate less on the pain.  There were some tears, but most of those kids sat so quietly while the Sole Hope workers removed the jiggers.  I was extremely impressed.  I don’t know if I would have been able to sit so still in that situation, no anesthetic helping to remove or even ease the pain.

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.


Station 4: shoe fitting.  Each patient received a pair of the jean shoes in order to hopefully prevent a future jigger infestation.  They also have to be taught to wear those shoes every day.  Sole Hope has found that some patients avoid wearing the shoes because they don’t want to get them dirty.  They save them for church or for the holidays.  They have to be taught that the shoes are there to prevent jiggers, not just to be worn on special occasions.

After all of the 150 patients had finished having their jiggers removed, we were able to spend some time playing with the kids, both those who had had jiggers removed and the others who also attended that school.  It was fun getting to spend some time with them in addition to the actual clinic.

The next day, we went to volunteer at Sole Hope’s Outreach House.  This is where people go if they have an extreme case of jiggers.  They typically stay there for two weeks.  They are treated by nurses for both their jiggers as well as any other underlying issues.  They are tested for illnesses such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.  They are also educated about jiggers, jigger removal, good hygiene, ways to keep jiggers away from their homes, and Bible study.

Inside the nurse’s station

Some of the people who need medical attention live far away.  Sole Hope has social workers in different areas of Uganda who scout out those cases.  Sometimes Sole Hope will take its clinic out to that village and other times, they will send a vehicle out to get certain people and then they bring them to the Outreach House for treatment, bringing them back to their villages once they are finished.

First, there was another jigger removal clinic.  Initially, I thought that I would try to take the foot notes since I had washed feet the previous day, but before holding the clinic, we had a tour of the facility and we were told how the average number of jiggers on a patient at the Outreach House is 150!  I didn’t know if I could handle that.

The previous day, many of the kids only had a couple of jiggers, and there weren’t too many really bad cases.  I knew that this next day would be different.

I’m usually okay at dealing with gross things, with the exception of vomit.  But I was not sure if I could handle watching and recording the jigger removal process in the likely event that I had a patient with a ton of them.

I opted to do arts and crafts while the clinic was taking place.  We colored in coloring books and I painted their nails. Everyone was  excited about the nail polish, even the adults and the males.


Part of me was disappointed in myself that I didn’t try to do the foot notes, but I knew that I needed to admit my weakness.  At times I can be too prideful, excited to be able to do any required task on a mission trip to my best ability.  But during that jigger removal, I knew that I might not be able to do an effective job.  Other people had queasy stomachs watching the process, so I shouldn’t let myself feel like I failed just because I didn’t watch the removal.

After the removal we had lunch and then we came back and they were doing Bible study.  In Uganda, there are many different dialects and languages, depending on which village a person is from.  For the Bible study, they were translating from English to Luganda to another separate language from that particular village.

Then we made bracelets and necklaces and played outside with everyone.

On Sunday, we spent more time with the people at the Outreach House in the afternoon after church, just doing some crafts and playing games outside.  I was helping out with one of the crafts.  We were gluing popsicle sticks together and gluing sequins, pom poms, and googly eyes on them to make crosses.

I played a silly version of hide ‘n’ seek with this one little girl.  I would bend down under the desk and she would pop up, and then she would bend down under the desk and hide while I popped up to look for her.  She was entertained for a long time just going up and down.


On our last day with Sole Hope, we spent more time with everyone, making crafts and playing games.  We told a Bible story that went along with a craft where they decorated construction paper people cutouts with stickers and sequins.

We played a bunch of different games with jump ropes, balls, and a parachute.  We taught them how to play freeze tag and duck, duck, goose.

After lunch, we listened to the hygiene lesson about jiggers and then we played some more.  I did more nail polish while other teammates painted faces, colored, or played games outside.


The lesson took a pretty long time since, just like the Bible story, it had to be spoken in English, translated into Luganda, and then into the other village language.

The little girl who was sitting on my lap fell asleep on me.


When we finished up that day, we had to say goodbye because we would be going to a different organization in Jinja, Amani Baby Cottage, for our final days in Uganda.

Sole Hope Guest House:

For most of our trip to Uganda, we stayed at the Sole Hope Guest House, which was really nice.  It felt very welcoming and homey, with a large living room where our group could gather.

It had really pretty African paintings all over the house.  There were these really cool chairs made out of wheelbarrows.  There was also a large outdoor sitting area.  We made our own breakfasts and lunches and then the cook would make us a delicious dinner each night.

The kitchen

It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.


Because the guest house is geared toward volunteers coming from other countries, the food was not typical African.  It was delicious, but I wish we had gotten to try more traditional African cuisine.  We had minestrone soup, vegetable lasagna, pot roast, enchiladas, etc.  One really delicious side dish, though, was pineapple mixed with cucumber and cilantro.

The yard was really big, so I worked outside there a few times like I had in Kampala, running around and doing burpees and things like that.


There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention.  Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.


Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope:


Dear News Sources, Did You Know that People are Dying in Somalia?

I’ve already written posts previously about American egocentrism (see: American Egocentrism Strikes Again and American Egocentrism – Back at it Again), but it is a constant source of frustration for me.

I have been hearing lately about the desperate situations in which many people in eastern Africa are currently finding themselves due to famine as well as violence.  Most of this information I have come across because I follow the Machine Gun Preacher’s Facebook page after having found myself very interested in his organization, Angels of East Africa, which helps those suffering, after watching the film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  The Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, started out by choosing to go to Sudan to rescue children from the LRA and Joseph Kony.  These children were taken from their families, often forced to kill their own parents, and then were trained to kill.

I could go on forever about Sam Childers, but that isn’t the point here.  If I had not been following him on social media, I would have been like one of many Americans who are completely unaware of the current devastation in Africa.

There are also major problems occurring in Syria due to their current civil war.  There are tons of Syrian refugees right now.

There was also a recent situation where 40 or more Somalian refugees headed for Yemen were killed by an air strike.

Many people here in the United States fail to pay attention to the news at all.  However, even those who try to maintain an awareness of the world around them may have missed what is happening in countries like Somalia right now.

Why? Because American news sources are doing a poor job reporting much about it.  Even the world news sources aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.  Here is a look at some recent headlines from the home pages of these news sources from Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

New York Times:

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CNN News:


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BBC News:

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Al Jazeera:

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Okay, you get the idea.

Out of all of those sources, Al Jazeera was the only one that mentioned the problems in Syria.  The crises in Somalia and Syria are devastating right now.  There are people dying every day.  Yet out of four major news sources, only one of them mentioned it on their home page.  I could have guessed that it wasn’t going to be the American news source.

Now, what would happen if I specifically looked for world news within these same sources? (I skipped Al Jazeera this time since all of their news is world news.)

NY Times world news:

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CNN News world news:

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BBC News:

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Yep, just what I suspected.  Even the world news sections fail to mention the travesties taking place right now in countries like Somalia and Syria.

Yesterday, I was watching Casey Neistat’s video and it gave me some hope that although our news sources do a pitiful job informing Americans about certain problems in the world, maybe other famous people can do the job.  Casey Neistat gained popularity for his YouTube vlogs.  In this video, he mentions a project that his friend, Jerome Jarre (famous on Vine and Snapchat) came up with, with the help of actor Ben Stiller.

Jerome decided to look into what it would take to get a Turkish Airlines flight to be loaded with food to bring  to Somalia to help the many who are starving right now as a result of their famine.  Fortunately, Turkish Airlines agreed to work with them.

Here is the video:

Casey Neistat posted his video yesterday, March 17th.  It is currently March 18th at 2pm and the $1 million goal was not only met, but exceeded:

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That is absolutely incredible.  They were able to raise over one million dollars to help those dying of starvation in less than 24 hours.  As of right now, there were 42,186 donations.  Many of the donations are small amounts.  $5 here, $8 there.  Obviously there were some larger donations as well, but this goes to show how far a small amount of money can go.  It also shows that people do care to aid those in need if they were just aware of the situation and given a way to help.

Why must it take people like a random Vine star to bring awareness to issues like this?  Shouldn’t we already know about these sorts of problems from our news sources?  From our president?

Despite my frustration regarding the media, stories like this give me hope. Maybe the news outlets will cover the story because Casey Niestat and Ben Stiller are involved, which will provide even more awareness about the issues.

I know that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own little circle of friends and family, to only pay attention to local news that affects us directly.  I am guilty of this myself at times.  But we have to remember that even when our problems seem like a major burden, we are blessed to be living in a country in which most of us do not find it difficult to meet our basic needs.

We are rarely, if ever, in a situation where life or death is dependent upon whether or not we are able to find a source of water.  We do not have to hide in the bush while the LRA soldiers come looking to kidnap our children, rape our women, and murder or mutilate the rest of us.  We do not have to fear that the next thunderstorm may decimate our home.  If we get diarrhea, it’s an inconvenience, but not a death sentence.

I am thankful to be an American, but America, I expect more of you.  I know that people are up in arms about some of the things that Donald Trump has been doing lately.  I can assure you that I am not his biggest fan.

But despite all of that, we must remember that at this moment, someone in Somalia is taking his or her last breath, simply because he or she has gone too many days without a bite to eat or a sip of water.

School Dress Codes are Not Sexist

Lately, I have been seeing articles about students and parents outraged over the dress codes at their schools and how sexist they are.  People have begun fighting back against these dress codes since there are more rules for the girls to follow.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, ladies, but let’s take a trip back to anatomy class: you have more private parts that need covering than men, plain and simple.  Nothing about the dress code in most schools is sexist.  Schools simply wants both male and female students to dress modestly and appropriately.

Image result for school dress codes

Let’s take a look at common dress codes and determine if any of the requirements are, in fact, sexist:

No exposed stomachs.  Boys don’t typically wear belly shirts, but if they wanted to, they couldn’t, just like the girls.

No exposed backs.  Again – boys don’t tend to wear backless shirts, but if they did, they would be breaking school policy just like the girls.  I’ve seen male students wear those workout tank tops where they basically cut the sides off of a regular t-shirt.  It exposes their whole side from their armpit down to their hip.  They get in trouble for those shirts just like a girl would get in trouble for a backless shirt.

No cleavage.  Men don’t really have cleavage, so it’s not sexist, it’s just the reality of female versus male anatomy.  Guys aren’t typically wearing low-cut shirts anyway.  If they were, then they would be breaking the dress code.

No spaghetti straps, tube tops, or halter tops.  I’ve never seen a guy wear a spaghetti strap tank top, but that wouldn’t be allowed either.  As a teacher, I would never wear a shirt like that without a sweater on top.  It’s not appropriate.  Students should learn that there are settings in which they can wear that type of attire, but that they must also dress appropriately when the occasion calls for it.

-No leggings as pants.  As a teacher, I really appreciate this rule.  Do you know how many girls wear thin or worn out leggings and don’t realize that their striped, polka dotted, or floral underwear is clearly visible to everyone around them thanks to the florescent lights?  Or worse, the tiny thongs that my female students were wearing under their leggings was also visible.  It’s awkward to see that.  Do I tell my student that her underwear is showing?  Or does she know and not care? Or do I just ignore it and act like I don’t see it?

Leggings should not count as pants.  They’re fine for the gym or lounging around on the weekend, but they aren’t school appropriate.  Boys definitely stare at girls’ butts when they are wearing leggings.  Do we really need those extra distractions in school?  In most schools, teachers aren’t allowed to wear leggings as pants either.  I am in no way offended by that.  Leggings are skin-tight.  Every piece of fat, muscle, or panty-line is visible.  They simply aren’t appropriate workplace attire.

I still wouldn’t call this sexist, since boys also wouldn’t be allowed to wear leggings as pants either.  Girls would probably be staring at the boys butts (or more than just that) if the boys were wearing leggings to school.  They’re distracting to both genders.  It just so happens that leggings aren’t popular for most males.

No vulgar shirts. This rule bans shirts with any vulgar language, drug or alcohol references, or inappropriate images.  I tend to see more boys who wear these types of shirts, but still, this has nothing to do with gender.

No hats. No gender is being discriminated against here.  I make both my male and female students remove their hats and hoods.

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An article from Teen Vogue asserts that these rules are sexist and that while it’s true that boys become distracted by some of the girls’ clothing items, it’s something that they need to learn to get used to since it’s a part of life.

I disagree.  Sure, there will be distractions, but do they have to be a part of our schools?  Absolutely not.

I know from male teachers that they feel very uncomfortable when their female high school students are wearing tiny shorts or skirts, or have half of their breasts exposed for the world to see.  They don’t want to get caught staring. But even as a female teacher, it’s sometimes hard to avoid staring when a 16 year old girl walks into my room dressed in an outfit that would be appropriate only for a nightclub.  I don’t want to see her butt hanging out of the bottom of her shorts, even though it’s not something that would ever turn me on.  It’s shocking, so most people would do a double take.

The article says that these dress codes “reinforce a message you’re already constantly given outside of school: the way you look is more important than your education. Of all places, a school should make sure it values a girl’s chance to learn over her appearance.”

No, not quite.  Rather, they teach students that beach attire is appropriate for just that — the beach.  In most schools, girls can still wear shorts and tank tops, if the shorts aren’t super short and the tank tops have more than a thin spaghetti strap.  When they have a job one day, we want our students to understand that their sexy nightclub outfit might not be fitting to deal with customers while working retail, let alone entering a more formal profession.

Why are people not arguing that these dress codes are sexist in the work setting?  Because they realize that we need some sort of standard to follow.  Is it a crime to see a glimpse of a girl’s back when her shirt slides up a little too far?  No.  But where is the line?  With the completely backless shirts that exist nowadays, we need some rule in place for our students.

The same is true for prom dresses.  It is now popular for girls to wear two-piece dresses, where the top is little more than the size of a sports bra, with a completely bare back and stomach.  Some of these dresses have a tiny little portion of the midriff exposed, but students are always pushing the envelope, looking for sexier dresses, so many schools had to ban two-piece dresses altogether.

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Others are completely backless, or have huge cut-outs.  While that may be acceptable on the red carpet, our high school juniors and seniors are 16-18 years old.  There is no need for them to be showing off their whole body.  Small cut-outs aren’t a major problem, but again, students take things to the extreme.

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Modesty should not come with such a negative connotation.  There are plenty of gorgeous gowns that still leave something to the imagination.

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It amazes me when parents fight back against these rules.  Why would you want your 14 year old daughter to expose her body?  You’re so mad that she can’t show her cleavage that you want to fight the school board?  Maybe you should put your time into helping her to excel in her classes and work on her career goals instead.

Students go to school to learn.  There is no need for such sexy clothing in the school environment.

Dress codes are there for a good reason — to remind students that their number one job at this point is to be just that — students.  They are not at the club or at the beach.  They are in school to learn how to be productive citizens of the world and with being a productive citizen comes the ability to distinguish which attire is appropriate for which setting.


Admitting Your White Privilege Doesn’t Make You Racist

I previously wrote a post about My White Privilege about a year ago.  This year, I used a new textbook for my AP English Language & Composition class.  We were working on the gender unit when I stumbled upon a new text that I assigned my students to read for homework last week.

It’s entitled “Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples, which is a piece in his memoir, Parallel Time: Growing up in White and Black (published in 1994).  Here is an excerpt:

“At night, I walked to the lakefront whenever the weather permitted.  I was headed home from the lake when I took my first victim.  It was late fall, and the wind was cutting.  I was wearing my navy pea jacket, the collar turned up, my hands snug in the pockets.  Dead leaves scuttled in shoals along the streets.  I turned out of Blackstone Avenue and headed west on 57th Street, and there she was, a few yards ahead of me, dressed in business clothes and carrying a briefcase.  She looked back at me once, then again, and picked up her pace.  She looked back again and started to run.  I stopped where I was and looked up at the surrounding windows.  What did this look like to people peeking out through their blinds?  I was out walking.  But what if someone had thought they’d seen something they hadn’t and called the police.  I held back the urge to run.  Instead, I walked south to The Midway, plunged into the darkness, and remained on The Midway until I reached the foot of my street.

“I’d been a fool.  I’d been walking the streets grinning good evening at people who were frightened to death of me.  I did violence to them by just being.  How had I missed this?”

In his piece, he explains how he is viewed as a criminal before he commits any crime. Being a black man is his only crime.

Staples is a well-educated man who has a PhD in psychology, yet he will continue to be viewed as a criminal based solely on the color of his skin and his gender.  It is now 2017, but being a black man still comes with many negative connotations that I will never be able to fully understand as a white woman.

My students have very diverse backgrounds.  In the one class in which I was teaching this piece last week, I only had two male students present, and one of them was a tall, black male.  He is an extremely polite young man.  He’s a good student with a great work ethic.  He plays on the football and basketball teams.  But he expressed agreement with the author’s assertions, providing instances when had been viewed as a criminal or a thug simply because he is a tall black male.  He even described some frightening instances in which police officers acted aggressively toward him or his family despite no crime having taken place.

Reading “Just Walk on By,” my heart breaks for a few reasons.

First, it is such a pity that this is still a problem in the year 2017.  Things have obviously progressed since the times of slavery and legalized segregation, but we cannot be content with the way things sit right now.  Relative to the 1950s, we’re living in a utopia for African Americans.  But that means very little.

It also frustrates me because I know that many white people deny their white privilege, which just perpetuates the problem.  It does exist and it must be addressed.  Denying white privilege does not do any good.  Accepting it does not mean that you are racist.  I know that I have white privilege.  Although I am half Brazilian, which could in some cases cause people to view me a bit differently, I appear on the outside as a typical white girl — blonde hair, blue eyes.  I am not intimidating.  I do not look like a criminal.  By accepting my white privilege, I am not saying that I am better than anyone.  Instead, I am acknowledging the fact that society puts me on a pedestal.  I am not feared.  My intelligence and education are not questioned.  I am not given second glances by the police.

And last, my heart breaks in knowing that I will never understand what it feels like to be in the position of Brent Staples or my student who related to the piece.  I cannot fathom walking down the street and seeing people cast back second glances, quickening their pace, locking their car doors, or crossing over to the other side of the road to get away from me.  I cannot imagine how it must feel to be feared simply because of being.

Staples says how it was at twenty-two years old when he “first began to know the unwieldy inheritance [he’d] come into–the ability to alter public space in ugly ways.”  He continues to say that it was “clear that I was indistinguishable from the muggers who occasionally seeped into the area from the surrounding ghetto.”

Those who deny white privilege must not understand the recent problems regarding police brutality.  It is undeniable that a black person who is stopped by a police officer must act extra kind, polite, and gentle.  And even if he does, there is still the chance of a wrongful conviction, or even death, simply because of his skin color.

Our society teaches us that the black male must be feared.  This is what we grow up being brainwashed by each day, mainly through the news and media.  Although Staples probably feels some frustration when people fear him, he understands and sympathizes for them.  He acknowledges that the “danger they perceive is not a hallucination.  Women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black makes are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence.  Yet these truths are no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect, against being set apart, a fearsome entity with whom pedestrians avoid making eye contact.”

My student is only 17 years old and he is already aware of this reality.  He was born into a body which will benefit him on the court and on the football field.  His mind and intelligence will be an asset through his schooling and future career, but ultimately, because of his body, he will be feared and judged without reason.

Staples explains how he eventually “began to take precautions to make [himself] less threatening.”  He says that he is careful where he walks, especially at night.  He tries to leave enough space between other people so that he does not feel as threatening to them.

My student actually admitted to doing similar things.  He told our class how he often notices people glancing behind at him, checking his proximity.  He said that he will sometimes cross the street to walk on the other side on purpose so that the person in front of him does not feel threatened.

I will never be able to relate to that.  Why?  Because I am white.

I am able to greet people I cross paths with on the street without them feeling unnerved.  I will probably not be mistaken for a criminal simply because I walked too close to a crime scene and was assumed to be connected.

I love my job as a teacher, mainly for all of the connections  that I am able to make with my students.  But along with those connections comes emotional grief.  It pains me to know that for this young black student, it does not really matter how much I teach him, or where he goes to college; he will not be able to change the body he was born into.

Can he accomplish great things?  Absolutely.  But unless this world changes, he will have a more difficult time achieving greatness than if he had been born a white male.  I know the shameful truth that in many situations, he will be viewed as a lesser version of a white male who has the same education, grades, and work ethic.

Maybe his height, size, and even race give him an advantage with football or basketball.  Some would say that his race could get him into college more easily thanks to affirmative action. But depending on his career goals, he will have to work so much harder than his white counterpart to achieve similar end results.

Some people like to say that this isn’t really true in America in 2017.  After all, we had a black president, didn’t we?  But one black president mean does not nullify the existence of racism and privilege.

I don’t know Obama’s full life story.  But I am sure that he had to work tooth and nail to achieve the success that he did.  The same is true for his wife, Michelle.

Neither of her parents had graduated from college, and some of her high school teachers even tried to convince her not to apply to Princeton because they believed that she was setting her goals too high.  She had to earn her respect as an intelligent woman despite her race.

Growing up without much money, I had an intense drive to succeed, to get through college, and to begin my career as a teacher.  I know that I worked hard in college, but did I have it a little easier because I was white?  I believe so.  Had I been black, I would have had to work even harder to prove myself equal to those around me in my schooling and college.  The intelligent black male or female is still viewed today as the exception, not the norm.

Admitting your white privilege does not make you racist.  It doesn’t make you the bad guy.

Instead, it means that you are aware that you were born into some level of privilege simply because of your skin color.

It means that you have a responsibility to admit and remember this fact so that you can work towards changing the status quo.

It means that you must use that privilege to enlighten those around you about that fact so that we can one day find equality.

I am a white woman.  I was born into a body that does not lead to doors being shut simply because of my appearance.  The same is not true for all of the babies being born into black bodies at this very moment.  They will face bigger obstacles than me for no reason other than the color of their skin.  That is the reality of white privilege.