What do you think about when you hear I am from Israel?
(Don’t worry, I am not about to get into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But the fact that we go there, and not usually in a good way, is kind of my point – and what I am going to talk about.)
It is exciting and a real privilege to be part of an international community – it’s one of the blessings of our generation, the ease with which we can interact with anyone, anywhere in the world. But what is it that we will use this power for? What benefit can we create with this gift we have been given?
I have started about 10 different articles – for this – my first communication with all of you amazing people – and none felt exactly right. I love writing humorous pieces or sharing little moments of my life, but I feel that I first want to share something else. This.
Everywhere we turn, it feels polarities are gaining strength and becoming volatile. Either you are with us or against us. So often when people speak about a person with whom they don’t agree, it’s with vehemence, or even with hate. Sometimes it’s because those opinions themselves are so extreme that they feel anathema to the values which we hold dear. It’s not as easy as just to say – accept everyone when some of those opinions or thoughts feel so wrong – and harmful. So that’s where we are today, and it sucks.
I don’t think I really ever experienced anti-Semitism in my life. Except for once, when I was in middle or high school, someone dropped pennies in front of me, but I didn’t even know what it meant and the boy with me knew and started swearing at the perpetrators and I think at the time I was more shocked by the way he spoke. (Apparently, they throw it because Jews love money so if I bend down to pick it up then it shows how desperately greedy I am. Even if I pick it up to give it back, which is kind of what I was thinking of doing until I was told why they did that. I was incredulous. How could someone look at me and want to do that?) This year, in some liberal spaces, which is always where I have always felt most at home spiritually, I have seen such venomous anti-Semitism, towards me, that, although it did not insult me per se, I am old enough and maybe thick-skinned enough to not be personally insulted by keyboard warriors, but the hate, it shocked me to my core. And yes, I know the Israel issue isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism, but the conversations I am talking about were purely anti-Semitic. I have never felt anything like it.
And let’s face it – if those people who spewed hate at me really wanted to change something – would their calling me names make me change my beliefs? Would their wishing me dead make me go away? None of this does anything but make us more extreme. “Ah, you hate me. Ok, then, I will go in my corner and hate you…! Do you say awful things about me? I will say worse things about you!” Kind of back to 2nd grade. But it’s human nature. It feels scary to be sidelined, maligned, misunderstood, lied about. It doesn’t make someone want to engage, love, understand – it makes them want to hide, defend, protect. And this is true for anyone: democrats arguing with republicans, socialists arguing with libertarians, conservatives arguing with progressive. The more we polarize, the more we hide in our corners and send daggers out, to protect ourselves.
So where does that leave us? Good people of the world who want to change the energy? How can we create change in a real way, in a way that doesn’t disrespect anyone, that includes and connects rather than separates and polarizes?
There is one thing that I believe in with all my heart. It’s something that I spent years trying to implement and figure out. This thing is the power of our words.
Words create. In the Old Testament, we are told this straight out – with no filter – God spoke the world into being. And then, it continues to say something that we don’t always remember: that we were created in God’s image, and therefore, we also speak our worlds into being. And the Old Testament is only my most convenient source material for this information – it is everywhere, and not connected to one culture or another. I have encountered this theory, this knowing, in so many of the traditions and cultures I have become acquainted with in my life; the power of words to create is a universal belief. It’s a human power.
The way we talk about something absolutely affects what exists. I have known this for all of my life and still, I don’t always know how to implement it in real time.
In a lot of our self-help seminars we talk about this. Many of us use these concepts to help ourselves change our lives.
On a personal level, this means –
We can’t have what we don’t believe we can have.
We can only create what we imagine. And once we imagine our dreams, we need to speak them into being. Think about your own life and you will see how true this is. The things that exist aren’t necessarily what you have wished for – but what you believe you could have and what you have spoken about – and then taken action on. The action is of course important. But the belief and the words always come first.
And I always think – this is just as true on a societal level. We spend all our time in fighting injustice, angry at what’s wrong – but how much energy do we spend building what we want – with our words? I do it myself. I get angry at a political leader – and rile against things that I think are harmful. But how much do I concentrate my thought power, my incredibly creative and powerful thought power, to imagine what I want into reality? Why don’t I use my words to talk about what I do want instead of complaining about what is wrong? What would my world look like if I did that religiously and with intent?
There’s one more thing I want to talk about – it’s connected. I have a great friend. I genuinely love him dearly. (I was going to write “but” – but the proper term is “and”) – and we are diametrically opposed politically. I sometimes read what he writes on Facebook and I visibly cringe. I can’t understand how he thinks that way. I don’t like talking politics with him because I know we aren’t going to convince each other – but sometimes he really corners me into a conversation – and while I vehemently disagree with his conclusions – I discover that his reasoning is not as “evil” as I worried. He is not basing his ideas on a nasty world view but a difference of belief in how to achieve good for all. And so, in this, I discover that there may be a way forward – there is enough common ground to build a future. Because the result that we both want is a good future for all. We disagree – vehemently perhaps – at how to get there.
There is a concept in Judaism (probably in other cultures too – I just don’t know it from elsewhere that says “dan lekav zechut” – when we are appraising people, we should judge favorably, we should expect that they have good reasons – try to see them in the best possible light. Now, this is hard to do – we get angry at the person who cut us off in the road and it’s hard to think – oh, he is probably running home to pick up his sick child from school. But that is the idea. To try and judge favorably. Even in the most unlikely situations. When someone writes awful things about me and my people – like really awful – don’t run into my corner and think – what an evil person. What a monster! But, turn it around. This person is speaking from the knowledge that they know and coming to harsh conclusions. This person is speaking from a place of trying to do good in the world – but they haven’t been able to see me. Now, this doesn’t mean I accept the bad but I use my energy to send love to this person – not to send hate. I don’t descend into the spiral of sending hate as a result of hate. Now when I say “I send”, this is of course a figure of speech. I should be writing – I try. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. This is a work in progress. It’s where I am aiming. It is what I know to be the building blocks of crystallizing myself to transform my world.
And so this is my practice, and I share it with you. This is what I work on in order to create a world that I want for my child. Using my words to create what I want and when I meet the opposite, “dana lekaf zechut” I do my best to send good energy and judge favorably. And in a place of conflict, I send my energy to creating the best possible result for all involved. I don’t waste time “knowing the answers” – but send my energy to creating peace and happiness for all sides and let God or the universe – whatever we believe in – take that energy and turn it into gold.
At long last, my state of Missouri feels some relief as all immunization tiers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and more local vaccination appointments become available. No one thought vaccine rollout would be easy. Nor did Americans think it would be this hard. We watched Texans struggle when a February storm disrupted food, water, heat, and shipments of vials. I became an online vaccine hunter for friends and family, navigating a system that had city-dwellers traveling for hours, desperate to find the vaccine.
Such hardships reminded me of families in low-income countries who regularly lack healthy food, clean water, and access to health resources. I’ve visited rural Ugandan communities where mothers walk for miles carrying infants for vaccines. At least when St. Louisans drove to Potosi, they went in cars.
We’re now entering a new pandemic phase with greater freedom and less worry. Yet we should remember the desperation we felt when we scrambled for shots. It’s likely that vulnerable people in low-income countries will feel it for years to come.
Portia Nartey, a Washington University student from Ghana, says her family is aware Ghana doesn’t have the means to create a vaccine. They are resigned to waiting. Yet they have faith that the U.S. will help. Portia shared, “Some think that rich countries will not care about developing countries until they have vaccinated all their citizens. As a result, we are praying for them to quickly vaccinate their people and once that is done, we know they will send some vaccines to developing countries like Ghana.”
My cousin Rachel Stampfli lives in the Caribbean where my father grew up, Trinidad & Tobago. Rachel admitted there is a general feeling of having lower status. But Trinidadians worry that larger countries with uncontained spread, like the U.S., could easily reinfect the world through international travel, so they will wait their turn. In other words, she’s eager for me to come visit, but not until she knows I won’t bring COVID-19 to her island.
COVAX Can Help
There is a way to combat global vaccine inequity. COVAX, formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is an initiative dedicated to equitable vaccine access. It accelerates the development, manufacture, and fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for every country in the world with a goal to deliver at least two billion doses by the end of 2021. Without donor nation participation in COVAX, the virus will continue to mutate in unprotected communities and extend the life of the pandemic.
The very first COVAX vaccines shipped out on February 24 happened to go to Portia’s home country of Ghana to protect health workers and high-risk individuals. So far, COVAX has delivered over 38 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to over 100 countries.
Unfortunately, Rachel found out on March 18 that Trinidad & Tobago’s COVAX delivery was delayed. Her reaction looked exactly like Facebook posts from my fellow local moms when she wrote, “We have no idea when we will get it. It sucks. We need to get back to some semblance of normal and the kids need to be back in school.” The good news is that by March 30 they received a small shipment of 33,600 of vaccines for the 1.2 million citizens and over 18,000 refugees on the islands. It’s a start.
Action from Citizens
Even when it’s safe for those of us living in wealthy nations to gather again, let’s not forget how frustrated we felt. Remember what life was like when travel, school, hugs, and all sorts of activities were risky. We can turn negative memories into positive action in solidarity with people still waiting.
Americans can contact President Biden with this petition from the ONE Campaign to urge him to support donating excess American COVID-19 doses to COVAX. Canadians can do the same for their country. Our leaders should also do all they can to simplify intellectual property rights and remove measures that restrict or slow vaccine exports.
Meanwhile, Cousin Rachel is settled in for what she calls the Great Wait. She told me, “Until then Trinidad & Tobago’s borders remain closed, only receiving nationals locked out since March . We’ll just continue to mask-up and absorb more alcohol through our hands than from our glasses.”
Cynthia Changyit Levin is a mother, advocate, speaker, and author of the upcoming book “From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started.” A rare breed of non-partisan activist who works across a variety of issues, she coaches volunteers of all ages to build productive relationships with members of Congress. She advocated side-by-side with her two children from their toddler to teen years and crafted a new approach to advocacy based upon her strengths as a mother. Cynthia’s writing and work have appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Washington Post, and many other national and regional publications. She received the 2021 Cameron Duncan Media Award from RESULTS Educational Fund for her citizen journalism on poverty issues. When she’s not changing the world, Cynthia is usually curled up reading sci-fi/fantasy novels or comic books in which someone else is saving the world.
As we rejoiced in the “Guilty on all charges” verdict of Derek Chauvin, 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant had just been murdered by a white police officer in Columbus, Ohio. The use of a taser would have been effective in stopping Ma’Khia. It would have given the police officers the opportunity to form a clearer picture of what was going on.
Why is it that a trained police officer’s first reaction to a scene involving people of color is to shoot first and ask questions later? Violence is the first thing that seems to come to their minds. How many more lives must we lose to the people who have sworn to protect and serve us? Or have those police officers only sworn to protect and serve people who look like them?
I am not saying that all cops are bad, but more and more I am starting to think about their motives. In April of this year, 20-year-old Duante Wright was murdered by a female police officer outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, after being stopped for possible expired tags. The police officer, Kim Porter of the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Minnesota, reported that she thought she had her taser out. How can a 26-year veteran of the police make such a costly mistake?
As I sit here writing this, tears flowing, I am struggling with being happy, angry, and afraid.
Happy, because even though George Floyd’s life can never be restored, the conviction of his murderer can bring some peace to his soul and his family. I want to believe that this is a positive sign that police officers will now be held accountable for their actions when they discharge their weapons.
Angry because Black lives are still being taken at the hands of police officers.
Afraid that we will lose more Black lives before something is truly set in place to stop these murders.
How is this not a crisis? Why are we not training officers to handle situations better, without defaulting to violence? Why are Black people like Ma’Khia Bryant and Duante Wright met with bullets? If the roles were reversed – if Black police officers were routinely shooting and killing white civilians – would society not have already come up with better alternatives?
Happy, Angry, Afraid.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Dr. Denetria James-Brooks.
World Moms Network is an award winning website whose mission statement is "Connecting mothers; empowering women around the globe." With over 70 contributors who write from over 30 countries, the site covered the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good.
Most recently, our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan was awarded "Best Reporting on the UN" form the UNCA. The site has also been named a "Top Website for Women" by FORBES Woman and recommended by the NY Times Motherlode and the Times of India. Follow our hashtags: #worldmom and #worldmoms
Formerly, our site was known as World Moms Blog.
In May of 2020, the world was forced to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After Memorial Day, people from around the world watched as George Floyd took his last breath while former Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. For nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, we watched a man’s soul leave his body. We watched as his life was taken. We listened to him call for his Momma. People of all skin colors – from black, brown, gold, and white; from suburban moms to urban fathers; from politicians to clergy – took to the streets to protest this injustice which was not new to the Black community.
Two days ago, as I sat in my car looking at an alert that the verdict would be announced, I went through a series of emotions. I felt angry, sad, and disappointed before even knowing the outcome. Had the justice system failed us again? I felt physically ill not knowing if this man who so casually knelt on another human’s neck with his hands in his pockets would be held accountable, or if he would be allowed to go home and sleep in his own bed while George Floyd sleeps in his eternal rest. Would accountability finally occur in one of these cases?
A jury of Derek Chauvin’s peers took a little over ten hours to decide what we visually knew. Until the last of the verdicts was read, I did not realize I had been holding my breath. I exhaled for what seemed like the first time, yet there was no relief. Just minutes before the verdict was read, a fifteen-year-old Black girl in Ohio was gunned down by an officer.
The cycle continues.
Accountability in one case does not provide accountability in others. Sandra Bland’s family still wonders what transpired in her cell. Tamir Rice is frozen in time as a twelve-year-old child while his killer walks free. Officers who commit crimes against Black and brown people can often jump from city to city and state to state to find jobs, and their bad deeds are covered by unions who believe that Blue Lives Matter and they deserve more protection than the average American.
A surgeon, nurse, or any other health professional who voluntarily takes a life is held accountable. I do not fear seeing my doctor, seeing a nurse, but I fear seeing blue lights in my rear view mirror. I fear letting my six-foot-tall autistic son walk fifty feet to our mailbox. My son has been deemed a threat since he was born because of the color of his skin. I fear letting him just walk around in our front or back yard and having an overzealous neighbor call the police on the brown person lurking in his own yard.
In nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds, my life could be over. Yesterday’s verdict does not bring George Floyd back. Chauvin’s attorney attempted to use the big Black guy defense. But the only thing we saw was a Black man being ripped from his family, his life placed under a microscope for the world to judge.
The verdict has been read, but he is still gone. I did not know Mr. Floyd, but in his cry for his Momma, I could hear my son’s voice and I could not reach him. One person was held accountable, but the whole system needs to go on trial now to fix what is broken.
It’s been over 10 years since World Moms Network published its first post. We’re still all here in the trenches. Planning new things for 2021. Watch this space over the next few months. We are reorganizing and getting our site touched up!
In the meantime, I’d like to share a photo of me and one of my favorite women that I met from World Moms Network (when we were just World Moms Blog!), Purnima Ramakrishnan in India for International Women’s Day. What a ride we have had over the years, and the future is bright! That’s us at the BlogHer conference in Chicago in 2015 when Purnima was there advocating for global vaccines for children in the developing world. I look forward to doing more good with you and the rest of my most favorite women to make the world a better place, here, in this space!
Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India.
She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls.
Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.
So it started as a conversation with my husband in the car.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve written poems, lyrics and, for many years, contributed various articles to different publications. I started my blog, The Pinay Perspective, ten years ago, as a way to connect with other Filipinas and Filipina-Americans after moving from NYC to the suburbs of NY and giving birth to my daughter. I didn’t know what to expect from that venture, but I hoped to find like-minded Moms.
Writing on my blog was not just a way to connect with other women and Moms about motherhood and issues that were important to me; my husband challenged me to write 100 posts in 100 days. If I succeeded, then he would take me out to a fancy dinner…and yes, I did it. I wrote a post about anything that interested me, whether it was about family game night or about girls in Egypt doing Parkour.
The blog led me to attend BlogHer in NY, Social Good Summit, and Moms+Social Good. As a new blogger, I didn’t know anyone, but I put myself out there and met Elizabeth Atalay from World Moms Blog. I wanted to be able to write for an organization that reached out to women from everywhere, and WMB was it. I wasn’t taken in as a contributor right away since they already had so many writers from the US, but I kept blogging away and sending links to Elizabeth about international issues, hoping that one day, they would have the room for me. After sending an article about a group of English women donating menstrual products to Syrian women affected by conflict, that opened the door for me to become a contributor for WMB.
It would be an ordinary car ride with my husband that would spur me to create something new, to deal with my anxiety and fear about this pandemic. My husband and I are huge podcast listeners, and when the pandemic hit, we couldn’t do too much of anything, so we would go for a drive and listen to podcasts. My favorites were Ghost Family, What’s Her Name podcast, Fresh Air and Lore. Each one was different, but I was struck by how every storyteller had a great way of conveying their message to the listener. It was during one of our car rides when I broached the subject of creating my own podcast. My husband was enthusiastic but then asked what would it be about and what would I call it?
Initially, I told my husband that I wanted it to be about women. Now I know that there are a great number of podcasts about women, as well as those hosted by women, but I wanted it to be about women who are doing amazing work in their community. I’ve been a journalist for years, and while I love the way Terry Gross of Fresh Air does her interviews, I didn’t want my podcast to be an interview. I wanted to create space for conversation, to highlight women who were evolving with the times and doing revolutionary work in their community, despite controversy or lack of acknowledgment. After a few minutes, I came up with r(E)volutionary Woman. What is the significance of the “E” in parenthesis? It’s to signify that women have been evolving since the beginning of time and continue to do so, as well as revolutionizing the works they do for their community. Thus was born https://revwoman.com
As of this moment, I have published twelve episodes of women from different parts of the world and from different time zones. At last count, I have guests that will take me into the summer. We talk about their lives, their passions, their works, and their families. While we may not all have the same communities, language, and passions, we are connected as women. This podcast has given me a way to connect with women on a personal level, which I hadn’t done before. You can say that the pandemic gave me the opportunity to see how else I can connect with other women while the world was going through unimaginable loss and sadness. For me, this new venture has made it possible for me to explore a deeper way to connect with humanity. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want?
My advice for someone who would like to create their own podcast or anything creative? Remember that you can’t do it by yourself. Your dreams become a reality with the connection and support of those who believe in you. The connections you make are as much a part of your creative journey as you are.
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.