Beauty is…sitting down

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

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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.

Beauty is how you treat people

A conversation with Human Trafficking advocate Amanda Mohl

 

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Amanda Mohl is the Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator at International Institute of St. Louis, which focuses on refugee resettlement and immigrant services. Through a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the International Institute manages the St. Louis Rescue and Restore Coalition. The Institute also provides funding and technical assistance to United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) in Southeast Missouri so they can run the Southeast Missouri Rescue and Restore Coalition.  Both coalitions focus on outreach and education with the ultimate goal of identifying victims. Amanda’s job involves educating the public about human trafficking, increasing public awareness, outreach, and coalition building. Her end goal is to increase identification of trafficking victims, who themselves sometimes don’t even realize they are victims.  Victims brought to the United States to work, for example, might not be familiar with our labor laws and might think their situation is normal. So, it is important for Amanda to ask the right questions and develop relationships with communities whose members might be at risk of exploitation.

Amanda is on the front lines fighting against human trafficking here in St Louis. Her “typical day” includes reaching out to various communities throughout the area– keeping up with her contacts in those communities, and making sure she is present at their events. She organizes presentations and writes curriculum to teach different groups according to their needs and what will resonate with them. She works directly with immigrant communities, building trust and offering resources should they need them.

At a recent event to raise awareness about human trafficking, Amanda spoke about what she does and what the trafficking situation looks like in St Louis. Here are a few things that really stood out to me:

  • Here in St Louis, there is a large amount of Hispanic males who are victimized in the landscaping, construction, and industrial cleaning sectors.
  • Debt bondage is a common form of labor trafficking. Recruiters charge anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 to bring workers here LEGALLY (in a recent Urban Institute study, it was reported that over 70% of victims talked to were brought to the us-visa-webformUS on a LEGAL visa), where they then charge victims a huge interest rate on the amount owed, along with other “fees” for the use of tools, housing, etc. No matter how long
    a victim works, the debt is never totally paid off.
  • Many times, the victim’s visa is tied to the employer. So the trafficker has A LOT of control over the victim.

 

I had a chance to sit down with Amanda and talk about what she does, why she does it, and– of course– her definition of beauty.

 

668d12fe7ef735cd822e0e17e6eccd39Question: Human trafficking is undoubtedly a big problem. But just HOW big seems to be tricky to pin down–there are so many numbers floating around out there. I have read that there as many as 30 MILLION victims of trafficking worldwide today. Is that an accurate estimate? And how are these estimates made?

Answer: Really the only solid numbers we have are the numbers of people HELPED. There is work currently being done at Washington University to find a more reliable way to produce statistics, but right now it is very tricky. Looking at the number of human trafficking cases, for instance, isn’t as reliable as it might sound. Human trafficking is sometimes hard to prove in court, so prosecutors might go for a lesser charge that is more likely to get a conviction rather than risk losing a case and letting the trafficker back on the streets.

 

Amanda, and many like her, are committed creating a St Louis free of trafficking. She works hard for victims and at-risk populations in her community. She travels and teaches and raises awareness. She is making a difference, and that is beautiful.

Mama Said

Conversations with the most beautiful woman I know, my mom.

It had been a while since I had talked to my mom. So when I called her this past Sunday, I was disappointed when she didn’t answer. Disappointed, but not surprised. She works hard, and she takes care of herself by giving herself Sundays off. So, sometimes, her phone is tucked away on the weekends.

Happily, she called me right back, but she was not pleased. Apparently, there was some important football game going on (who knew?) and her most favorite football player in the whole wide world was playing (yes, she loves her some Peyton). So the ring of her phone had distracted her from watching the game, and that, my friends is just not ok. I apologized profusely and vowed to check the football schedule before I called next time. That seemed to appease her. My lesson:

Dont call your mama on game day
Peyton says, “Don’t be calling your mama on game day.”

Then she asked for my opinion on Peyton’s father, Archie Manning’s behavior recently. Apparently, at a critical point in a recent game, Archie covered his face and turned his back on the field where his son was making a very important play. My mom has a degree in Psychology, and is very interested in body language. So she thought that, while it might be understandable for Mr Manning to be nervous and maybe cover his face a bit, the act of turning his back really rubbed her the wrong way. I agreed that people often “can’t watch” tense moments, and I realized that we cover our face just in case the people we are watching fail. So the very act of hiding our face is basically communicating that failure is a very real option–probably not something we really want to communicate. And turning one’s back is even more powerful. Our conversation turned to body language in pictures, and how it people’s feelings for each other are very clear in photographs. Our natural tendency is to lean in to whoever we are in the picture with, so anytime I see one person leaning away, even ever so slightly, I have to wonder if they are really that into the other person. This is especially interesting with pictures of couples. Next time you are scrolling through Facebook, pay attention to people’s body language in their pictures!

archie manning can't even

body language

 

 

 

 

 

Then my mom shared a couple of revelations she recently had.

Continue reading “Mama Said”

8 Things You Can Do To Fight Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a huge issue that impacts millions of people worldwide. It is easy to feel powerless against such a pervasive issue. But there ARE things you can do to help. Here are a few:

Human trafficking is a huge issue that impacts millions of people worldwide. It is easy to feel powerless against such a pervasive issue. But there ARE things you can do to help. Here are a few:

  • Become a conscientious consumer. Labor trafficking and debt bondage are the most common forms of human trafficking. Our demand for cheap products encourages situations in which workers are either grossly under paid, or not paid at all. You can fight it by:
    • Shopping at local second hand stores to keep profits in your community.
    • Buy refurbished electronics to decrease demand for the minerals used in production, which are often mined by children and slaves.
    • Chocolate and coffee are among the industries most known for using children to harvest their raw materials. The Fair Trade certification isn’t perfect, but it is a good step in the right direction. Look for one of these symbols on your chocolate and coffee and rest assured no slaves were exploited in the making of your treats. fairtradelogobig
  •  Check out the companies doing the most to stop slavery in their supply chain by going to: free2work.orgf2w-logo-fb
  • Take this quiz to see how many slaves work for you, and ask your favorite companies to do more to make sure there is no forced labor in their supply chain.chain_330x170

Continue reading “8 Things You Can Do To Fight Human Trafficking”

3 Beautiful Female Civil Rights Leaders

All of these women, and many more, contributed to the civil rights movement we are so familiar with today. Though the image we see is usually of men in suits giving important speeches, lets not forget about the strong, passionate, brave women who were also on the front lines in the fight for civil liberties.

Martin Luther King, Jr. gets his day, but these ladies deserve to be celebrated, too.

Continue reading “3 Beautiful Female Civil Rights Leaders”

Dear Reader

So my goal with OperationalizeBeauty is to encourage a dialogue whereby women and girls think about what being beautiful really means. If they can see truly beautiful traits in other women, maybe they can recognize them in themselves, too. And then maybe, just maybe, the mean old so-and-sos of the world won’t be so powerful after all. And that will be beautiful.

I have worked with kids for close to a decade. I have worked with them in classrooms, on playgrounds, and at a crisis nursery (yes, it was as heart-breaking as it sounds). One thing that always bothered me was when a kiddo would come up to me complaining about some terrible thing another kid called him– “Mrs. Blair!! So-and-so said I was bad at baseball!” (I know, terrible, right?)

Continue reading “Dear Reader”