Lessons I learned from Civil Rights SHEro Frankie Freeman

Frankie Muse Freeman will be celebrating her 100th birthday this November. She could be sitting at home, resting on the laurels of her innumerable accomplishments. But that’s not how she rolls. Instead, she is speaking out about the progress we have made as a nation in the area of civil rights, and what we can continue to do moving forward.

I read her book, A Song of Faith and Hope. I saw her speak at a local library event. And I was honored to speak with her over the phone. Here are just a few lessons I have learned from Mrs. Freeman.

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Mrs Freeman’s book. Don’t read it unless you want to be super inspired. (Image from Amazon.com)

 

 

1. Just do it.

Growing up, Frankie always heard people say they were “fixin'” to do this or that. Her parents didn’t love that. Instead, they encouraged Frankie and her siblings to get on with it– don’t “fix” to do it, just do it! (I think Yoda would have approved)

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Frankie carried this simple yet powerful message with her throughout her life. I can’t help but think that many of her accomplishments are largely due to this mantra– this drive to just keep DOing.

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Mrs Frankie Muse Freeman being escorted in to St Louis County Library Author Event featuring Mrs Freeman and Mr Koran Bolden.

 

At the last event at which she spoke (pictured above), Mrs Freeman was introduced as being the first African American woman to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. When it was her turn to speak, she corrected the mistress of ceremonies: “I was not the first African American woman to serve on the Commission. I was the first woman period. Black, white, yellow, blue, or otherwise,” to which she received thunderous applause.

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Mrs Freeman with her colleagues from the US Commission on Civil Rights in 1966.

 

The list of Mrs. Freeman’s accomplishments is staggering. Not only was she a rock star of a  civil rights attorney, winning a landmark victory that ended racial segregation in public housing in St Louis, she went on to serve on the very housing commission she had just defeated in court, to help them implement the changes she demanded. As mentioned above, she was the first woman to serve on the Civil Rights Commission, and went on to become Inspector General for the Community Services Administration (these are positions appointed by the President of the United frickin States, y’all). The number of hats she has worn is staggering– from being the national president of her sorority to serving on just about every board known to man, including (but nowhere limited to): the League of Women Voters, the National Council on Aging, the YWCA, the Girl Scout Council of St Louis, the St Louis Urban League, the National Council of Negro Women, the World Affairs Council of St Louis, oh, and the African American Jewish Task Force (no, she’s not Jewish, she just thinks its cool to reach out across cultural and religious boundaries). Now, with a resume like this, you might be thinking, “Oh, she’s had a great life.” You might even call it ‘charmed.’ You would be wrong.

Loss has not been a stranger to Mrs. Freeman. She has buried her mother, her father, and her husband. But she has also buried her son– a grief no human should have to endure. And she has battled cancer–twice– and won.

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Mrs Freeman’s husband, Shelby, with their son.

 

She has also fought one hell of a battle professionally. In her book she recalls one particular instance in Alabama, where she and the Civil Rights Commission were conducting hearings focusing on economic rights in Montgomery. In her words:

One evening, after the Montgomery hearings, I returned to my motel room after dinner. It was a pretty evening in April and I had the curtains open; I could look out– and anyone who wanted to could look in. I was sitting at a table with a member of the Alabama State Advisory Committee, reviewing the day, when boom, something struck the window and broke it. I thought it was a bullet. It apparently was intended for me, but I was not hit.

She was also fired, at least twice, for speaking up and being a “trouble maker.” But you think a little death, cancer, and possibly a bullet is going to stop Frankie?! She could have given up and not one person would have blamed her or said she hadn’t done enough. But nope. She just. Kept. Moving. As she says in her book, you have to keep your hand on the plow.

Even today, Frankie is a do-er. At the aforementioned speaking event, she was joined by youth activist and motivational speaker Koran Bolden. When asked about entities working to keep people divided, Koran spoke powerfully about how and why today’s youth needs our support. Frankie was so moved she jumped in and said, “What you just said touched everybody here, so there is no reason they can’t start tonight.” She went on to encourage everyone in the room to support Mr Bolden’s mission, saying, “Don’t wait until tomorrow for something that can start tonight. It is an individual’s responsibility to bring about change. Let’s begin it and let’s get on with it.” I have a feeling that Mrs Freeman has rarely waited for tomorrow.

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Freeman and Bolden at St Louis County Library Headquarters

 

Is there anything more beautiful than a woman who doesn’t say she’s “going to” do this or that, but actually goes out there and does it?

2. You are powerful.

Mrs. Freeman grew up in Danville, Virginia,  the last capital of the Confederacy. She and her family lived on the 200 block of Ross Street, where all of her neighbors were black. The 100 block of Ross Street was a white neighborhood, and young Frankie and her siblings would walk through that neighborhood on their way into town. Mrs Freeman remembers that white children playing outside would often smile and say “nigger, nigger, nigger” and she and her siblings would smile back and say “cracker, cracker, cracker.” When the Freemans needed their shoes repaired, they would take them to a shop in the basement of Mr Wrigley, a white man. When the shoes were ready, Mr Wrigley’s children would return them to the Freeman family. These were normal occurrences.

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Baby Frankie

 

Peaceful though it was, little Frankie grew up knowing that people who looked like her were treated differently, and that was not ok. She also grew up knowing that she had the power to change it. Her parents taught her that if you stand for something, there will be times when you have to say, “Enough”– but that doesn’t always mean you make a scene right then and there. She was always encouraged to do something that would be effective.  Public transportation was segregated in Danville, so the Freeman family simply walked everywhere they went. If a friend of the family was mistreated in the local department store, the Freeman’s would no longer shop there. Frankie’s parents, Maude and William, were very active in Danville so Frankie grew up seeing her parents making a positive impact their community, and she knew she could too.

3. Make your own path

When the black community in Danville could not get a loan from the white owned banks, Frankie’s relatives started their own bank.

After graduating from law school, Frankie applied to law firms in St Louis. She was told they could use her in the office, perhaps to do research, but they would not hire her to try cases. Following her relatives’ lead, she started her own practice. She met with judges in St Louis and tried the cases no one wanted. The first few times she showed up to the courthouse and told the clerk which case she was there for, she was told to have a seat and her lawyer would be there shortly. But it wouldn’t be long before they learned who Frankie Freeman was. (By the way, Mrs Freeman practiced law until 2009. That’s 62 years!)

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Frankie with NAACP attorney Constance Baker on the steps of the St Louis Federal Courthouse. Frankie was arguing Davis et al v the St Louis Housing Authority, the case that ended segregation in housing in St Louis.

 

4. You do not acquiesce.

Throughout her book, this mantra “Later for you” pops up again and again. I loved seeing it every time because I knew it was a promise, and I knew whatever the situation was, Frankie was going to make it right. Like at a restaurant in Flat River, Missouri. Or a coffee shop in Louisville. Here is how she explains it:

Sometimes when you beat your head against a brick wall, you have to realize that you are damaging your head, not hurting the wall. Therefore, you do the best you can so long as you do not acquiesce and you do not give up. You say, “later for you,” and promise yourself that when you can do something about it, you will.

There were times when Mrs Freeman chose to give in to the law of the time, in lieu of being arrested. She knew she could do more in the courtroom than she could in the jailhouse, so she promised, “later for you” then got to work changing the world. (More on that below).

When I spoke to Mrs Freeman, I asked her what she sees today that makes her think, “Later for you” — what do we still need to work on? Living in St Louis, I was expecting a comment on the police violence that we have been hearing so much about. But she surprised me when she said that every state in America still has segregated schools. “Not by law, of course, but it is true.” She told me that there is still racial segregation, or isolation, in public schools today. And I don’t have to look farther than my own childrens’ school to see that she is right. We live in a suburb of St Louis, and the majority of the students are white. In fact, the few African American students we do have are those who are bussed in from the city. Frankie laments that diversity is not yet as valued as it should be. She is saddened to think that children don’t have the chance to really play and interact with kids who look different from them until they are adults. She encourages working with teachers and parents alike to figure out a solution. She told me that she called for more diversity and spoke about the value of it in 1969, and can say the exact same thing now. As she said in her book, “To move away from racism, I feel we need to get to know one another.” And getting to know each other should start happening at a young age.

5. Speak. Up.

Frankie didn’t always say “Later for you” to herself. As a matter of fact, she spoke right up when she found herself in a situation she knew was unfair, unethical, and unconstitutional. For instance, in February of 1961, Frankie was making her way via bus to Hayti, Missouri to be the keynote speaker at an event held by her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. On the way, the bus stopped at a restaurant in Flat Creek. She got off the bus with the other passengers and made her way to the restrooms. A waitress loudly informed her that “The colored use another entrance.” When Frakie proceeded towards the ladies room anyway, a white customer blocked her path and repeated what the waitress had just said, “Colored can’t come in here. You have to go to the other side.” Frankie froze. The bus driver got involved and defended the restaurant’s policy. Frankie thought about pushing the lady out of the way– but what would that solve? Frankie would have been arrested and her sisters in Hayti would have no speaker for their event. Instead, Frankie headed back to the bus and re-wrote her speech. (This might sound like Frankie gave up, but stay with me).

At the next stop, Frankie called home and asked her husband to contact a friend of theirs, attorney Charles Oldham. She wanted to file a complaint against Greyhound and against the restaurant, and file a complaint she did. Greyhound soon issued an apology and the restaurant agreed to change its policy. Two weeks later, when some folks visited the restaurant to make sure they had carried out their promise, they found that the separate facility for “colored” had been eliminated.

She had a similar incident at a coffee shop in an airport in Louisville. She was denied service, she spoke up, and changes were made. Mrs Freeman was confident enough to stand up because she knew she had the Constitution on her side.

6. Stay humble.

In her book, Frankie tells the story of when she was nominated as president of her Sorority. Now, let me point out that Frankie did not join while she was in college. She had known about Delta Sigma Theta when she was an undergrad at Hampton Institute, but they did not have sororities on campus then. And while studying law at Howard, she had no time to join. So it wasn’t until after she had received her law degree and was living in St Louis that Frankie became involved in the nationally known public service sorority. She worked hard for the sorority, and in 1967 she was on the ballot for national president. Now, the results of the election were to be announced at a banquet on the third day of a national convention. But word got out that Frankie had won, and she was receiving congratulatory phone calls while she was trying to get ready for the banquet. Consequently, she was late. In her own words:

I was late, honestly late; I am never late, but I truly was that time. However, some people thought I was coming in late on purpose–that I knew I was elected and was trying to make an appearance. Jeanne Nobel teased me later that I had “flaunted in,” but I replied that “I don’t flaunt.”

When you have lived the life Frankie Freeman has lived, you don’t have to flaunt.

While I was talking to Mrs Freeman on the phone I confessed that I had been holding onto her phone number for a couple of weeks, but I hadn’t had the courage to call her. I told her I was a bit intimidated because she is such a big deal. She just laughed and said, “Oh, I am not a big deal. I am a 99 year old woman!”

Well, that didn’t convince me. Frankie is most certainly a big deal, and she has every reason to flaunt. But she stays humble, and that is beautiful.

 

(See, I told you she was a big deal)

7. Do your homework.

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Frankie’s parents, Maude and William Muse

 

Frankie’s mother was a public school teacher, and though she gave up her career to stay home with her children, she never stopped teaching. The Muses were strong believers in the power of education, and told her children that once they got an education, no one could take it away from them. Maude knew her children would go to college, the only question was where. She and William paid for their own children’s education, but Maude went even further and raised scholarship funds so other children could pursue their education as well.

Frankie remembers that her parents– her mother especially–filled their home with books. When I spoke with her, Frankie recalled: “There were books all over the place– and we had to read them all!” But she didn’t mind. She loved reading anything she could get her hands on.

When I asked her what the best piece of advice she had received was, she paused for a long moment and really thought about it. She finally answered, “My teacher told me to do my homework. That was the best advice.” And I can see that throughout her life, Frankie did just that. She worked hard, both in school and in the courtroom, and brought about real change in her community and her nation. That’s pretty damn beautiful if you ask me.

 8. Take care of yourself.

Looking at Frankie’s life, it is easy to get the impression that she was all-business. How else could she have accomplished everything that she did? That is why I love this story of her just throwing caution to the wind and doing something unexpected: After being fired (the first time), Frankie went out and treated herself to something she had always wanted– a full length mink coat (don’t tell PETA). She put it on her husband’s credit card, but told him not to worry, she would pay it off as soon as she got back to work. Which, was like, the next day.

When I talked to her on the phone, I brought up some things she had mentioned in her book that had brought her joy. One of these things was cooking. I could hear her smile through the phone when she explained that, especially in the beginning, she was working so hard to get her career going, that she had to take time to relax, and cooking helped her do that. She told me her favorite thing to cook is her famous corn pudding, or her veggie salad with marinated green peppers, celery, tomatoes, and whatever other vegetables she can find. (My  mouth is watering).

There is no arguing that Mrs Freeman worked hard throughout her life, but she knew how to treat herself as well. And that is beautiful.

 


 

At the end of my conversation with Mrs Freeman, I asked her what her definition of beauty is:

Beauty is Frankie
Image from HistoryHappensHere.com

 

I was honored and inspired to have to opportunity to not only see this beautiful woman in person, but speak with her personally. She is truly an inspiration, and an example of what one individual can accomplish if they would just get to it.



Unless otherwise noted, all information and images were taken from Mrs Freeman’s book, her speaking engagement at the St Louis County Library Headquarters, or from my personal interview with her.

Beauty is…making your own opportunities

 

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Sarah Breedlove was the first free-born child of her parents, Minerva and Owen Breedlove. She was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana. Though her parents encouraged their children to get an education, the KKK burned down many schools for African American kids in Louisiana.

 

 

 

Sarah’s parents were sharecroppers, and she worked the cotton fields for 12 hours a day before coming home to dig potatoes for the next night’s dinner, feed the chickens, and sweep the yard. On Saturdays, she and her mother and sister (Louvenia) washed clothes for themselves and white people. They got 1$ a week for washing. 

Sarah’s mother and father succumbed to disease and she and her siblings were orphaned by 1875; Sarah was 7. One of their brothers, Alex, went to Vicksburg to look for work, and the girls did laundry day and night in order to survive. When crops failed, the girls went to Vicksburg as well. Louvenia married a cruel and dangerous man, and Sarah lived with them until she could stand it no longer and got married herself. She was just 14.

 

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Sarah’s daughter, Leila

After her husband died, Sarah moved to St Louis where she had heard that laundresses could make good money and where there was a large black community. Her brothers were there working in a barber shop, and Sarah learned about hair care from them. She worked hard and was determined to save enough to send her daughter, Leila, to school. Sarah also collected money for St Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, where African Americans could go to learn to read and write, though it was illegal for them to go to school. By 1902, Sarah had saved enough to send her daughter Leila to Knoxville College.

Sarah spent time in women’s kitchens as they tried to straighten and restore their hair. Her own hair was weak and she was going bald. All of the so-called cures only made it worse.

At the 1904 World’s fair in St Louis, she heard Booker T Washington’s wife, Margaret Washington, speak. Sarah was struck by Margaret’s poise, her confidence, and her hair. Sarah went to bed praying that God would stop her hair from falling out. That night Sarah had a dream of Africa– the earth, soil, and vegetation. She knew she had her answer. She would seek out oils and herbs that were native to Africa and try them on her hair.

In 1905, Sarah learned that one of her brothers had died. She moved to Denver to be with his wife and children. In an attic room, she set up her laboratory and got to work developing a formula for her hair. During the day, she worked as a cook for Mr. E.L. Scholtz, who owned the largest pharmacy in Denver. When she thought she finally had her formula just right, she tried it on herself. And it worked! Her hair began growing back in faster than it had ever fallen out.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: Product

She began going door to door with her three new products: Vegetable Shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, and Glossine. She would wash women’s hair with the shampoo, apply the hair grower to nourish the scalp, then apply the Glossine with a specially designed metal comb that had been heated on a stove. She was careful to avoid using words like “good hair” (which usually referred to white hair) and “bad hair” (which usually referred to black hair) because she found them, and the idea behind them, insulting. Most hair care companies were owned by white men, who advertised to African Americans by telling them how unattractive they were and glorifying long straight hair. Black ministers, on the other hand, preached against women straightening their hair instead of remaining how God had created them. Sarah believed that what a woman did with her hair should be her own business, not a man’s.

She used her own before and after pictures in her advertisements, not images of light Madame-CJ-Walker-before-and-afterskinned women with long light colored hair. She conveyed confidence and self-worth in her advertisements, something that was often lacking for women– and especially women of color– at the time.

 

In 1905, Sarah married Charles Walker, and changed her name, and the name of her company, to Madame CJ Walker. She moved to Pittsburgh, where she and Leila (who had finished school by then), trained salespeople, or agents, to go into women’s kitchens and show them how to use Walker’s products. Every customer was a potential agent, and Madame Walker and Leila talked to them not only about health and beauty, but also about self-sufficiency. They told women they could earn money in a respected profession as a hairdresser or saleswoman, while still being good wives and mothers. Agents could expect to make $5.00 a week, which was a pretty penny in a time when black women typically only made about half that. Black men made about $5.00 a week, while white men could expect to make around $17.00 per week.


CJWalkerCar2In just two years, Madame Walker had nearly one hundred representatives and was making $400.00 a week. She opened the Leila College of Hair Culturists. Women flocked to the college to learn a new profession that would give them pride and independence. Madame Walker left Leila in charge of the business in Pittsburgh, and moved to Indianapolis to spread her products. By 1911, the company was making more than $3,000 a week (about $70,000 in today’s money). For a business run by a black woman, this was almost inconceivable.

In Indianapolis, Madame Walker was outraged when she was asked to pay more for a movie ticket than a white person had to pay. Then and there she began design plans for the Walker building, which would cover an entire city block and include office and factory space, as well as a movie theater for the city’s African American population. The more Madame Walker made, the more she gave, pouring money and energy into her community. In 1913, she made the largest donation of any African American to the construction of the Indianapolis YMCA. She rewarded her agents for making contributions to their community as well.

She divorced Mr Walker in 1913. That same year  she attended the National Negro
unnamed Business League convention in Chicago. She was the richest black woman in America, yet she could not get the attention of the speaker, Booker T Washington. Finally, she stood up and demanded his attention. “Surely you are not going to shut the door in my face,” she said. She told her story. She spoke of cotton fields and the Ku Klux Klan burning schools. She spoke of washtubs and starting her own business. Then she said something no man there had said, “My object in life is not simply to make money for myself, but to use part of what I make to help others.”

And help others she did. Along with giving thousands of women like her the training and opportunities they needed to create a better life for themselves, she was a voice for her people. She once demanded a meeting with the President to address violence against African Americans. When she heard Woodrow Wilson was in a meeting about a farm feed bill and could not be bothered, she wasted no time expressing her anger: “You are talking to us of animal feed when colored people are being murdered in the streets!” In 1919 Madam Walker became seriously ill while on a trip to St Louis. She was rushed home, where she ordered her accountants to make a donation of $5,000 to the anti-lynching fund of the NAACP. It was the largest donation the organization had ever received.

CJWalkerCarBefore she died she said, “I want to live to help my race.”

Madam CJ Walker not only helped her race, she has helped countless women by proving that when life doesn’t provide you with opportunities, you have to make them yourself.

She followed her own path. And that is beautiful.


Sources:

Vision of Beauty: The Story of Sarah Breedlove Walker by Kathryn Lasky

madamcjwalker.com

 

Beauty is…sitting down

These ladies, and so many others like them, were on the right side of history. And that is beautiful.

They sat. A nation stood. Celebrating Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin

 

Rosa Parks

“Mother Superior of the Civil Rights movement”

Today we celebrate Rosa Parks Day. And for good reason. It was Rosa who drew nation gty_rosa_parks_mug_kb_ss_130203_sshwide attention to Montgomery Alabama, where transportation segregation was rampant. And legal. What I didn’t realize– and you may not have known either– is that Rosa was sitting in “her” section of the bus. So, she was actually following the law. But when all the seats filled up and a white man was left standing, the bus driver demanded that Rosa give up her seat for him. She refused. And the rest is HERtory.

It is a very special thing to learn what happened from the woman herself, in her own words.  Take it away Tom Brokaw…

 

(I grabbed this video from YouTube, but it is also available on NBC Learn. It originally aired in 1995)

But before Rosa, there was Claudette…


 Claudette Colvin

Civil Rights activist, Medical professional (1939-)

I first heard Claudette’s story on an episode of Drunk History. I was in awe. Here was this fierce little 15 year old girl, who refused to give up her seat on the bus NINE MONTHS BEFORE Rosa Parks did it. According to the episode (and this article by NPR), Rosa Parks was a sectary for the NAACP who had a natural gravitas. Parks was an adult, with the right look and the right hair. She would be the face of the boycott. Colvin was young, had darker skin, and got pregnant soon after her arrest– not the poster child the NAACP was looking for.

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Recalling that day, Claudette says she remembers it was Negro history month at her (segregated) school. Her head was swimming with the stories of leaders like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Her class had talked about the injustices they faced every day under the Jim Crow laws. Injustices like not being able to eat at a lunch counter, or try on clothes. She remembers, “We couldn’t try on clothes. You had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot…and take it to the store.” With all of these images fresh in her mind, she had finally had enough. That day she would not be moved. She would not get off that bus– she says she felt like she had Sojourner Truth on one side of her and Harriet Tubman on the other, holding her down in that seat.

When Claudette refused to give up her seat, the bus driver notified police. I will let Claudette tell the rest of the story herself:

CLAUDETTE: One of them (the police officers) said to the driver in a very angry tone, “Who is it?” The motorman pointed at me. I heard him say, “That’s nothing new . . . I’ve had trouble with that ‘thing’ before.” He called me a “thing.” They came to me and stood over me and one said, “Aren’t you going to get up?” I said, “No, sir.” He shouted “Get up” again. I started crying, but I felt even more defiant. I kept saying over and over, in my high-pitched voice, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right!” I knew I was talking back to a white policeman, but I had had enough.

One cop grabbed one of my hands and his partner grabbed the other and they pulled me straight up out of my seat. My books went flying everywhere. I went limp as a baby—I was too smart to fight back. They started dragging me backwards off the bus. One of them kicked me. I might have scratched one of them because I had long nails, but I sure didn’t fight back. I kept screaming over and over, “It’s my constitutional right!” I wasn’t shouting anything profane—I never swore, not then, not ever. I was shouting out my rights.

It just killed me to leave the bus. I hated to give that white woman my seat when so many black people were standing. I was crying hard. The cops put me in the back of a police car and shut the door. They stood outside and talked to each other for a minute, and then one came back and told me to stick my hands out the open window. He handcuffed me and then pulled the door open and jumped in the backseat with me. I put my knees together and crossed my hands over my lap and started praying.

All ride long they swore at me and ridiculed me. They took turns trying to guess my bra size. They called me “nigger bitch” and cracked jokes about parts of my body. I recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm over and over in my head, trying to push back the fear. I assumed they were taking me to juvenile court because I was only fifteen. I was thinking, ‘Now I’m gonna be picking cotton, since that’s how they punished juveniles’—they put you in a school out in the country where they made you do field work during the day.

But we were going in the wrong direction. They kept telling me I was going to Atmore, the women’s penitentiary. Instead, we pulled up to the police station and they led me inside. More cops looked up when we came in and started calling me “Thing” and “Whore.” They booked me and took my fingerprints.

Then they put me back in the car and drove me to the city jail—the adult jail. Someone led me straight to a cell without giving me any chance to make a phone call. He opened the door and told me to get inside. He shut it hard behind me and turned the key. The lock fell into place with a heavy sound. It was the worst sound I ever heard. It sounded final. It said I was trapped.

When he went away, I looked around me: three bare walls, a toilet, and a cot. Then I feel down on my knees in the middle of the cell and started crying again. I didn’t know if anyone knew where I was or what had happened to me. I had no idea how long I would be there. I cried and I put my hands together and prayed like I had never prayed before.

• • •

MEANWHILE, schoolmates who had been on the bus had run home and telephoned Claudette’s mother at the house where she worked as a maid. Girls went over and took care of the lady’s three small children so that Claudette’s mother could leave. Mary Ann Colvin called Claudette’s pastor, the Reverend H.H. Johnson. He had a car, and together they sped to the police station.

• • •

CLAUDETTE: When they led Mom back, there I was in a cell. I was cryin’ hard, and then Mom got upset, too. When she saw me, she didn’t bawl me out, she just asked, “Are you all right, Claudette?”

Reverend Johnson bailed me out and we drove home. By the time we got to King Hill, word had spread everywhere. All our neighbors came around, and they were just squeezing me to death. I felt happy and proud. I had been talking about getting our rights ever since Jeremiah Reeves was arrested, and now they knew I was serious. Velma, Q.P. and Mary Ann’s daughter, who was living with us at the time, kept saying it was my squeaky little voice that had saved me from getting beat up or raped by the cops.

But I was afraid that night, too. I had stood up to a white bus driver and two white cops. I had challenged the bus law. There had been lynchings and cross burnings for that kind of thing. Wetumpka Highway that led out of Montgomery ran right past our house. It would have been easy for the Klan to come up the hill in the night. Dad sat up all night long with his shotgun. We all stayed up. The neighbors facing the highway kept watch. Probably nobody on King Hill slept that night.

But worried or not, I felt proud. I had stood up for our rights. I had done something a lot of adults hadn’t done. On the ride home from jail, coming over the viaduct, Reverend Johnson had said something to me I’ll never forget. He was an adult who everyone respected and his opinion meant a lot to me. “Claudette,” he said, “I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom. We’ve all been praying and praying. But you’re different—you want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”

Excerpt from Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose (via NPR)


 

Both of these ladies deserve to be honored today. As do the hundreds of civil rights advocates that made the Montgomery bus boycott a success. And the thousands of African Americans that demanded to be heard by peacefully boycotting. If they had given in and taken the bus, we might still be years behind.

These ladies, and so many others like them, were on the right side of history.

And that is beautiful.

Soccer mom,social worker, advocate

People like Marcy are what make this world beautiful

Meet Marcy, a working mom of two boys. She is proud to be a feminist, an activist, and a soccer mom. Like most moms, her kids keep her busy, motivated, and inspired. What sets her apart is her passion for making a difference. Marcy is tackling huge social issues like domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty every day. She works directly with the families who have been profoundly impacted by these issues.

Social work is a grossly under appreciated, and often misunderstood, line of work. People like Marcy are what make this world beautiful.

Vocation: Social Worker/Activist

Location: Orange County, CA

A bit of background

I’m a mom to two boys, ages 10 and 8. I grew up behind the Orange Curtain (aka Orange County, CA). I’m a feminist and an activist, currently I’m employed  as a social worker. I majored in Women’s Studies in 2007 and taught ballroom dance for a few years before going back to school to become a therapist.

When did you start doing what you are doing?

I finished graduate school in 2013 and although my degree is in counseling/marriage and family therapy, I’ve worked in various settings including a therapist at a domestic violence shelter,  a counselor at a group home for teenage girls on probation and a social worker.  I started as a social worker back in 2013. For almost two years I worked for a non profit that trains and assists foster parents in caring for children placed through Children and Family Services. Currently I work at CFS as a social worker in the continuing courts program. My caseload is generally focused on family reunification and if that doesn’t happen, looking for a permanent placement for the child.  I’ve been an activist as long as I could speak.

Why do you do what you do? Who/What inspired you to take this path?

I sort of just fell into what I do now because of training and past experience. I never aspired to be a social worker but it fits for now. It’s been an opportunity to work on a micro level with some huge social issues (child abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, poverty, incarceration, trauma). It was an adjustment at first and I had a lot of conflicting feelings about working in the system but those feelings make me work harder for my clients. I know how many people feel about child welfare  social workers, they see us as busy bodies and kid snatchers and you meet a lot of resistance and every day is a challenge but I love helping families. They don’t always want help at first but with a lot of patience and hope you see a change for the better.

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11 Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About Malala

You know her name, and you probably know some of her story. But did you know…

 

  • She was born in Mingora, in Pakistan‘s Swat Valley, in July of 1997. Mingora is a beautiful city with moderate weather and ancient Buddhist ruins and stupas nearby. When the Taliban sought to control the area, they destroyed an ancient Buddhist statue.
  • Not long after the Taliban began it’s takeover of the Valley in 2007, one militant began a pirated radio channel based just a few miles from Mingora. Over the airwaves, he campaigned against girls’ education and liberal ways of life. The center of Mingora, known as the Green Square, went from being a bustling hub of cultural and social activities to being the stage on which the Taliban showcased what they were capable of. They hung the bodies of those who opposed them on the electric lines. The area became known as the “bloody square.” This was the atmosphere in which young Malala lived.

 

  • Malala’s father founded the school Malala attended, and despite the Taliban’s calls for an end to the education of girls, she did not give up her right to an education. In 2008 she gave a speech calling out the Taliban entitled, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

 

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The school Malala attended in Mingora.
  • In 2009 Malala began anonymously blogging for the BBC. She wrote about living under threats from the Taliban. You know, the typical stuff 12 year old girls deal with.

Continue reading “11 Things You (probably) Didn’t Know About Malala”

Mary Wollstonecraft

So if we must define beauty as something worth attaining, let beauty be intelligence. And passion. And independence. Let it be what you say it is. Only then will no one have the power to take it away from you.

If I could sit down and talk to Mary Wollstonecraft, our interview might look something like this…


Who you are: Mary Wollstonecraft

What you do: Write

Where you do what you do: I have lived in various places around London, as well as Paris. At one point, I had hoped to live in America. I had fond visions of the simple and free life I might live there, but those visions were not to become reality.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood and background.

Honestly, I would really rather not. I do not have many fond memories of my childhood. My father was a gambler who pretended to be a farmer. We were shuffled around quite a bit growing up. Moving residences often become quite a common theme throughout my life. My father had a quick and fierce temper, the full force of which my mother, my siblings, and I often felt. I hated my father’s brutality, though it might be said that I inherited more from him than from my weak-willed mother. I have heard it said that I have his temper and the same hatred of restrictions. Better those than weakness, I suppose. I never understood why my mother didn’t fight back. Why she didn’t try harder to give herself and her children a better life. But, had she left, she would not have been able to support herself. And leaving him would have meant loosing her children (we were, after all, his property) and facing social ostracism. Early in life I vowed I would never be dependent upon anyone for my happiness and well-being. I grew to abhor the image of marriage my parents presented. I, instead, have sought a relationship between equals in which both parties are esteemed and respected. As I wrote in my Vindication, a woman who values and flaunts her weakness might “excite tenderness and gratify the arrogant pride of a man, but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves to be respected.”

My mother, though I most certainly never desired to be like her, was nevertheless dear to me. I yearned for her love and attention, like any child does. However, her affections were taken completely by my eldest brother, Ned. In him she saw no fault, and though it was I who held her hand as she breathed her last, I am certain her affection toward him remained steadfast. I will admit, I have felt resentment and jealousy towards him. He, who was free to pursue the desires of his heart without thought to family duties. He entered the military, and though I repeatedly asked for his assistance in the support of our sisters, he was aloof and unfazed in regard to our struggles.

Most abrasive to me was the education I was restricted from pursuing. At home I had learned to read, but I was hungry for more. I was finally able to attend school when we moved to Beverley in the summer of 1770, but I was sorely disappointed in the curriculum at the local girl’s school. While my brothers studied history, mathematics, and Latin, I was expected to be content to learn skills suitable to women, like needlework and simple addition. I have always resented this, and have written several treatises on the importance of education for women and girls. Indeed, how can men judge women as less intelligent and less capable if we are not even given the opportunity to increase our intellect. Determined as I was to be entirely self-reliant, and as I understood that education was the gateway to opportunity, I read and educated myself in earnest. Happily, men such as John Arden helped shaped my intellect and feed my curiosity early on.

Education was the primary focus of your early work. Tell us a bit about the role education played in shaping your life, as well as that of your sisters.

My thoughts on the matter are expressed in my book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, but the topic is touched upon in other works as well.

 Indeed, I recognized that a girl would certainly not get anywhere in life without the most basic of an education. However, I am not so naive as to think that education alone is a perfect savior. Growing up I heard girls be advised to hide their intellect as not to scare away suitors. What rubbish! Clearly, it is not only the education of girls that needs reforming, but the whole of society itself. As I wrote in Vindication, “men and women must be educated, in a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in…till society can be differently constituted, much cannot be expected by education.”

Nevertheless, education of the whole mind has always been important to me. I myself held many teaching positions early in life, and was gracious enough to employ my sisters in similar positions. However, I never saw teaching as my heart’s passion. As a woman in the 1700s being a governess or an educator are the only somewhat respectable vocations one may consider. So, I took positions as both, and even ran a school of my own at one point, as a means to an end. The end goal, of course, being to maintain my independence and self-reliance.

And what was your heart’s passion, if not teaching?

I wanted above all to be heard. I found the norms of society rather silly and outrageously confining. I wanted to shake people–especially women–out of their haze. Did they not see the bars they were behind? Beautiful though the bars they may be, they were bars just the same. The home is not the only stage on which a woman can shine. I have always been very aware of my social standing and the expectations put on me. And, when possible I have tried to meet them. For instance, as the eldest daughter, it fell on me to provide care for my mother as her health failed, and to support my sisters as they were unwed. I put my plans on hold to be by my mother’s side as she passed from this world. I rescued my sister from an abusive marriage, even when she had second thoughts about leaving her baby behind (again, the child, as the wife, was the property of the husband). I found gainful employment for my sisters, though they continued to complain about their circumstances. When I found constant work as a writer, I sent most of my earnings to them and subsided on less than what would have been considered reasonable.

So, you see, I did not abandon all the trappings of being a woman in the 1700s. But I so deeply desired to. My independence was of the utmost importance to me. I found the fight for independence in France invigorating and inspiring. I longed for a revolution for women, and was hopeful it would come to pass in Paris. After the king was de-throned, women gained many rights they had not enjoyed before, like the right to divorce and inherit property. But, their freedom was short-lived as those who rebelled against the king’s authority began showing us that they would be no better as rulers. Robespierre’s regime put women back under men’s thumbs, and began executing anyone who did not agree with them. They were bloodthirsty and vengeful, and I turned to images of America for inspiration. There, one could be truly free. There, I could be equal to any man.

And that, I suppose, was my heart’s true passion. The equality of all and the end of injustice and oppression.

Continue reading “Mary Wollstonecraft”

Beauty is…little hands doing big things.

Daniela and her family make beautiful birthday cakes for kids who are dealing with hardships. She hand delivers them to the birthday boy or girl and sings them “Happy Birthday.” All while fighting her own battle.

Daniela Delgado is just like any other 8 year old girl. She goes to school, loves reading and participating in running club, and spending time with her family.

But Daniel is also extraordinary. She and her family make beautiful birthday cakes for kids who are dealing with hardships. She hand delivers them to the birthday boy or girl and sings them “Happy Birthday.” All while fighting her own battle.

Daniela took some time out of baking and running and reading to answer a few questions for OperationalizeBeauty.

(Warning: you may experience renewed feelings of hope for our future after reading this interview.)


Who she is: Daniela Delgado from Daniela’s Little Wish

What she does: Bake birthday cakes at no cost  for kids with life threatening illnesses or disabilities and kids suffering a sad situation in their lives.

Where she does it: Stamford, Connecticut, but I travel all around Connecticut to deliver my cakes and now I am starting a project to deliver cake toppers to other states (sadly not the cakes, I cannot send them).

Meet Daniela

I am 8 years old and  I am  from Stamford, CT.  I do not have siblings. I live with my parents, both are immigrants from Colombia (my mom) and Mexico (my dad) and I am so proud to call myself Colombian-Mexican-American. Like a normal girl I play with my dolls, I love reading books (it is my passion, too) and do exercise (I am in a running club to be healthy). I have a beautiful 3 pound of “hair” yorkie and I love to camp. I love nature and animals.

My mom always said that I am very mature for my age and I agree! I help my parents not to worry about me. I am never mean to anybody and I am very respectful to others and especially adults (I love to talk with them).  My parents are raising me well, teaching me good values and morals.

I love to help others. I am so happy with myself!!

P.S I am a little disorganized but I am working on that!!

What is Von Willebrand and how does it affect you?

I have a health condition called Severe von Willebrand Disease Type 1. It is a condition that can cause extended or excessive bleeding. The condition is most often inherited (my mom has it too) and it is a deficiency in our impairment of a protein called von Willebrand factor, an important component in your blood-clotting process. In general, it takes longer for people with von Willebrand disease to form clots and stop bleeding when they’re cut.

I live a normal life. I just have to be very careful not to hit my head, my stomach, or my inner arms. I have to avoid contact sports and stay away from heights of more than 8 feet. I always carry with me special medication that could save my life in case of minor and big accidents. My school and my classmates have to know about my condition and avoid rough play with me. I feel special because I have a nurse in school that takes care of me and the secretary of my school, Patti, always takes care of my minor boo-boos and calls my mom about the incident. I am having nose bleeding episodes without a reason and my mom taught me how calm I have to be, lay down, pinch my nose in a special place, take my medicine and rest for a while.  I always wear a medical  bracelet with my condition and it is good because in case of accidents doctors and paramedics know what to do. My body is changing, so I can expect any effect related with my condition. I do not feel shy or different to anybody, I just have to be careful with myself.

Tell me a little about Daniela’s Little Wish. When did you start DLW? What inspired you to start? What exactly do you do?

Well, I started this community group when I was just 4 years old. My mom and dad were making a cake and I raised my magic wand (spatula) and wished that I could make cakes for kids suffering in this world with sickness, disabilities, domestic violence and any situation that makes them feel sad or different.

Continue reading “Beauty is…little hands doing big things.”

Beauty is…celebrating role models

Beauty is completely trend driven and changes from region to region and we are all chasing unattainable goals.

In February 2014, ad exec turned fashion designer Carrie Hammer made waves when she paraded Role Models Not Fashion Models down her runway at New York’s fashion week.

Carrie Hammer and Karen Crespo at Hammer's New York Fashion Week show Friday.
Designer Carrie Hammer and model Karen Crespo on the runway in September 2014 (photo via today.com)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: A model walks the runway at the CARRIE HAMMER 2014 New York Fashion Week Show on February 6, 2014 in New York City. (Pho...
Danielle Sheypuk on the runway at Hammer’s debut show in February 2014 (photo via today.com)

After graduating from UCLA, Carrie began working as an advertising sales executive. Carrie found herself surrounded by men, and well-dressed men at that. She learned that her male colleagues all had their suits custom made, and given the lack of well-fitting contemporary work wear available to her, she decided to give their tailor a visit and have some dresses made for herself. The tailor informed her that they did not do women’s clothes and in fact, no one did. So she sought out smaller, independent tailors and started designing her own pieces. After turning more than a few heads in her custom ensembles, she decided she could meet the need for custom contemporary work wear for all women. And Carrie Hammer (the label) was born.

When it came time to look for models for her debut show in February 2014, she was less than thrilled. She couldn’t stand the thought of hiring underage models to show off her designs. “Usually people watch fashion week and they’re reminded of how they need to go on a cleanse. It’s crazy,” she said. It just didn’t seem right. After all, the clients that she made clothes for were role models. And then it hit her– she would use role models, not runway models in her show. She reached out to friends and clients that she thought would be perfect. Model casting? Done.

Her debut show was groundbreaking. The designs were beautiful, but they were outshone by the breathtaking models. The most talked about model of that first show was Dr. Danielle Sheypuk, a psychologist, activist, beauty queen, and first ever Fashion Week model who happens to be in a wheel chair.

Danielle Headshot
Dr. Danielle Sheypuk (photo via daniellesheypuk.com)

   Seeing Dr. Sheypuk on the runway inspired Karen Crespo to accept her own body in a new way. The 30 year old nurse had contracted bacterial meningitis a few years prior. She lived through two heart attacks, a 15 day coma, and the amputation of all of her limbs. After the surgery that saved her life but took her arms and legs, Crespo was in a dark place. She had unanswered questions and was having trouble accepting her new self as beautiful. But after seeing Dr. Sheypuk on the runway, she turned a corner. She reached out to Carrie Hammer, telling the designer her story and expressing her gratitude for Hammer’s inclusion of Sheypuk in her show. Hammer was impressed with Crespo and her story, the two bonded, and it wasn’t long before Crespo herself was working the runway at Hammer’s September show.

“I want people to know we can still be beautiful regardless of whether we’re an amputee or in a wheelchair,” Crespo said. “We can still rock the runway.”

Continue reading “Beauty is…celebrating role models”

Beauty is…walking away alive

Melissa has said that she wants her story to be heard, so that she might “make a difference in someone else’s life.”

(Trigger warning)

She is strong.

She is inspiring.

She is hopeful.

She is beautiful.

And she won.

“I defeated him,” said Melissa. “He tried to take everything away from me but I won in the end. I did not give up.”