Celebrate Juneteenth!

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, the anniversary of the announcement of the end of slavery. It’s not a well known holiday for lots of reasons. One is that we don’t really like to talk about that part of our history. We don’t like to acknowledge the shadow side of our country and culture.

But “If you are serious about American culture and you are serious about Afro-American culture, you are in a lot of pain. You are not – you are not smiling about it.”–Wynton Marsalis

I was raised with prejudice; my mother justified slavery and the Confederacy without shame. I don’t think any one thing changed me, but a combination of events in my teens and early twenties. The book and movie, To Kill a Mockingbird made a huge impression on this little white girl.

2018 holds 50th anniversaries of so many seminal events in our racial history–the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Watts Riots that happened just a short distance from our Los Angeles County home. I graduated from high school in 1968–a watershed year by many definitions. That’s the way we become aware and sensitive to issues of race, culture and class–in bits and pieces.

Humility and openness are first steps to confronting shut minds and fearful attitudes that are often part of being White. We White people never ever have to face many many challenges; that’s the definition of White privilege.

Those circumstances are no secret these days, but it’s still possible to be blind to them. I continue to learn and grow in awareness; my latest effort involves joining a book club of Black women and White women to discuss how we can come to a better understanding.

Reading books like Root and Branch, Waking Up White and One Crazy Summer is providing a wealth of insight about the long fight for justice and the continuing injustices Black people face.

The point of Juneteenth is to bring attention to our history of slavery and to begin to right some of the wrongs committed over the last 400 years. Join in the celebration!

Ain’t I A Woman?

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”–Sojourner Truth, 1851

As I understand it, when Sojourner Truth  spoke the words above at the Women’s Convention in Akron Ohio, there was a glimmer of hope that Black women and White women might work together for women’s rights and for the abolition of slavery.

Those hopes were dashed pretty quickly as a “cult of true womanhood” developed. It basically said a woman’s place is not only in the home, but also keeping the gate closed on sex and sexuality–that was the job of White women anyway.

That left sensuality to Black women, according to Paula Giddings, author of When and Where I Enter, the book we’re reading now. As a result the reputation of Black women suffered long after emancipation. It’s still suffering today I think. “Welfare Queen“–really, we are a mess!

At the first meeting of our book club, I asked what we can do to get White women and Black women working together? Billie Wade–“I think we’re doing it now.” Finding our way through uncomfortable conversations, hanging in there through misunderstandings–I think books can help us turn those conversations and misunderstandings into shared experiences. I hope so.

Even when a lightbulb goes on in your head, and you understand some of the things that shaped you, reading this stuff is hard. Talking about it is harder. But we really must summon the courage and humility and compassion to do it.

Sojourner Truth said, “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.” There’s a lot of racket right now about poor treatment of women, and certainly there is much that is out of kilter. But this time let’s bring all our sisters, mothers, daughters and grandmothers along as we rise. This time let’s don’t leave anyone behind.

Black History Month 2018

The day after the 2016 election, I met with D Anderson, a young Black man I’ve worked with for a number of years. I hadn’t slept much the night before. Eating dinner at the Drake Diner counter that night​, the election results rolled in, and my dreams of a woman president rolled out. The night sky was a stunner as well​. However, ​unlike the election results,​ the stars​ gave me a sense that things might be all right.

But ​it was a breakfast meeting the next day that began the real shift for me. ​Over pastries and coffee at La Mie​, ​a conversation with D gave me real hope. I said I thought how much worse the election outcome was for him and for other Black people, for immigrants, and for all the less privileged than it was for me​. And so it is.

D works with the Backyard Boyz at CFUM, helping kids develop the resilience to face challenges like poverty and prejudice of all kinds. He, Emmett Phillips and the others are amazing role models for the young men they mentor. That morning after the election, D said he’ll continue to work for change in the local community, making a difference where he can. ​

His hope is rooted in connection to his community and working for change. Listening to his perspective open​ed​ my misery to accommodate his more hopeful view, and time has continued to move that view toward optimism. We can’t survive long without hope.

Even so, ​I’ve become convinced that the American experiment will not survive unless White Americans confront the question of race. ​For me, that’s nothing new​. Growing up in southern California, r​ace is something I’ve been very conscious of since I was a young girl.​ ​

Watching the Watts Riots on tv and living with my mother’s bigotry didn’t set me up very well to live in the world with people of color. I’ve worked on my attitudes, and I’ve never had the delusion that I was without prejudice. I think that’s the very first step to confronting Whiteness. But it’s definitely not the last.

Devastation in Puerto Rico

Shelly Johnson, Martha McCormick and I planned to travel to Puerto Rico this Tuesday. Next Step was chosen to present at the North American Association of Environmental Educators’ (NAAEE) Annual Conference in San Juan this week. Our presentations were planned, and we were looking forward to learning about a place we had never visited.

Instead, we have anxiously followed the news as two storms approached and hit the island, and through the weeks since. Here are some of the things we learned–

  • Eighty-four percent of the population in Puerto Rico is still without power nearly one month after Hurricane Maria.
  • According to the Washington Post, only 63 percent of the islanders have access to clean water.
  • Just 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are working. Food supplies and medical systems are inadequate.

People are dying. Three weeks of recovery, yet so many US citizens continue to live in devastation.  This is unacceptable.

If 3 million people were suffering in a different part of the country, perhaps even Iowa, I can’t help but think the response would be different. Constant media coverage would put a spotlight on the slow recovery. A stream of politicians would visit. Certainly, the president of the United States would not be threatening to abandon relief efforts.

Obviously, our conference was cancelled. The organizers have scrambled to make some of the conference topics available online. We’ve been invited to submit the materials we would have presented to a virtual conference site.

Here are some of our plans. Focusing on these projects has been difficult because my mind dwells on the families living in such desperate circumstances in Puerto Rico.

SESSION TITLE: Keeping Environmental Education Programs Fresh: Aligning with Next Generation Science Standards
SUMMARY: Naturalists’ interactions with school groups have a major impact on the next generation. By tweaking programs as school curriculum evolves, naturalists can expand their outreach.

  • Participate in an interactive online NGSS scavenger hunt to learn about Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
  • Align your own programs to NGSS with a template. An example is provided as well.
  • A description of Next Generation Science Standards, tips for aligning programs with the standards, and sample before/after lesson tweaks are in our slides. Contact us for a copy.

SESSION TITLE: Teaching with Mini Wind Turbines and Solar Panels: Opportunities and Challenges 
SUMMARY: Renewable energy production is on the rise, offering both benefits and challenges for our next generation.  Learn about these technologies as well as strategies for incorporating them into STEM learning experiences for students.

  • Experience a sample activity from our middle school renewable energy curriculum: VIP interviews.
  • To explore opportunities and challenges in renewable energy, take on various perspectives from the assertion jar. Find the Assertion Jar lesson in our middle school service learning curriculum.  This renewable energy add-on provides specific statements.
  • Build mini circuits using materials from the Teachers Going Green teaching kit.  Then search for energy lessons on the website.
  • If you would like a copy of our slides, please contact us.

Even though we don’t get to travel to Puerto Rico this year, our hearts are with the people of that small island. If you’d like to donate to the recovery efforts, here’s a link that may help you decide the best route to do so.

Run for Office

The loss of the 2016 election seems to have galvanized women to activism. The year of our next presidential election will be the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote. Just 100 years ago, our foremothers were still fighting for full citizenship in this country.

The US has terribly few women in leadership positions. It’s a problem from the highest office in the US–Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election–to local city councils and school boards.

Over the years I’ve thought about running for office, but I’ve never had the courage. And I’m probably too old. But since the election last November it’s been on my mind a lot.

Do you know someone you think would be a good candidate? Here’s a place to nominate her. Ready to Run is a national movement to get more women ready to run for office; here’s the link to the Iowa workshops.

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Read a Book

Black History matters. We are at a critical juncture in race relations in our country. There is so much conflict and very little understanding.

This February offers some unusual opportunities for learning about the Black perspective on American culture and history. Fences is a powerful movie based on a play about a Black family in the 1950s and early 60s. I had such a strong reaction to the acting, which has been nominated for a number of awards. And won some too!

Another important film that is doing well at the box office and winning awards is Hidden Figures. It’s about the key role a group of African American women played in the space race. It’s got so much good stuff in it and moves fast enough that you can miss some things if you aren’t careful. I’m thinking of seeing it again.

But wait! There was a book before there was a movie! Wouldn’t you know? Speaking of books, I want to share a couple reading lists that can get us started down a road to better understanding the Black experience of America. Powell’s Books published this Black Lives Matter Reading List.

The New York Times ran a story about a group of teenagers who vandalized a historic Black schoolhouse in Virginia. Their punishment was to read a book a month for a year and report on it.

I’ve read some, but not nearly enough of the books on these reading lists. I can personally recommend these though:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

So, take some time to see a movie or read a book. Then let us know what you think about them, and how they make you feel. And maybe even how you might change a little bit.

Black History Matters

What a great start to Black History Month. Attending a performance of Abraham In Motion wasn’t the mindless escape from reality I naively expected. I’ve been buying tickets to the Dance Series at the Des Moines Civic Center for several years, and I usually let myself be surprised at the three performances.

In other words, I hadn’t done my homework; didn’t check Kyle Abraham and his troupe out ahead of time. The three dances gave us lots to think about. The final image projected behind the dancers was a negative photograph–a line of Klansmen on horseback.

As European Americans, we don’t think about race very much. We don’t have to. That’s one of our many privileges.

We don’t recognize that Black history is a strong and intertwined strand of the history of these United States. When the first slave ship landed on America’s shores in 1619, its occupants began the learning and building that created the economy and infrastructure we enjoy today. Without pay. With abuse. It rarely occurs to us to think about this part of our history.

Last year Michelle Obama spoke about living in The Whitehouse which was built by slaves. Media made a big deal of that statement, but soon found that yes indeed, the first Black First Family was living in a home built by slaves. And presiding over a country built by slaves.

As we watched the Abraham in Motion tonight, I couldn’t help thinking about how much indignity, prejudice, persecution and hatred Black people have endured for the last 400 years. And still they dance. They make music and play tennis. Black people have helped us get to the moon, and they have developed food we eat every day.

And still African Americans endure discrimination in housing and education. They are killed in their innocence by cops who suffer no consequences. They crowd our prisons for crimes that are rarely punished when committed by white people.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the issue of race in America, and I still feel hesitant to write about it. I worry about offending. I’m not sure I have all the facts. Really, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

Today I listened to Krista Tippett interview Congressman John Lewis on her program “On Being.” He talked about love for everyone. Strong love. Love that can look a perpetrator in the eye with courage. This is the kind of love we need to take out into the world every day. That’s our homework.

Suit Up and Show Up

Nobody died. But it feels like a tragedy of major proportions. We have a president-elect who has openly expressed contempt for women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, disabled people and LGBTQ folks. What have we done? How do we respond to this?

I honestly don’t know, but I have some thoughts in this first 18 hours or so of pondering. My first reaction was that I don’t know if I can live in a country so hateful. Sometime around 2:30am the sky was bright, and I looked out several windows for the quarter moon I expected to see.

Instead I saw the sky filled with stars, unusual in the middle of Des Moines. The view of Orion’s bow and arrows gave me my first glimmer of hope.The constellation Orion

Somehow this morning I was still hoping to wake from a nightmare. But the stomach ache was real. What to do?

I got out of bed, put on my walking clothes and went for a walk. The sunrise was beautiful; the autumn colors magnificent. I decided my best response is to suit up and show up. Get dressed and do the work as best I can. Every day.Autumn leaves

We will need to take bigger steps as citizens if our country is to survive in any semblance of peace, fairness and justice. Take it local. Stand up for people who have way more at stake than I do. Be fierce, but diplomatic. Be a nasty woman, but with grace.

Volunteer for Poverty Simulation

We welcome anyone interested in participating in this meaningful and impactful exercise. Please contact Linda Hulleman at the WDM Chamber at 515-222-3679 if you would like to take part.


I’ve read that violence is decreasing in the world. It’s hard to believe this as we are bombarded with acts of violence nearly every day. Everyone is a potential journalist; we all have instant access to recording devices. And viewing devices. It’s hard not to know about the latest violence. Unless you hide under a rock. It’s tempting.

Young black men killed by cops. Cops killed by snipers. Trucks driving through crowds of random people. Men and women willing to kill themselves in suicide vests. Drones taking out whole villages. It goes on until we weep. Until we cannot weep.

What to do in the face of it? The numbers don’t really mean much to me. The why I can sort of understand. Fear and anger seem to be flooding the world. When we get to the limit of powerlessness or the height of ego human beings go over the edge of decency. Of humanity. I do get the anger and the fear.

But I am searching. Many are searching. What can we do? How do we somehow put one tiny fingerprint of hope on this desolate landscape?

Pause. Think before you act. Think before saying the first thought that pops into your head. So often anger sends forth a bad word or a rude gesture. Driving can bring out the worst. I’m making an effort to consider that the person who cut me off is just in a bigger hurry than I am. Breathe. Don’t react. Offer a blessing for the person who angers you.

Read. Educate yourself. This list of books seems like a good way to learn about the experience of being Black in America.

Absorb culture. After watching “The Free State of Jones,” I wonder how anyone can deny the need for reparation to those who were brought here as slaves. And those whose land the Europeans stole.

See? It’s pretty hard to even write about this without sounding lame. Fake. Patronizing. When I say “you” I mean we. I mean us. I mean me. I mean I. I read something like this and think that the burden is unfairly placed on the shoulders of the Black boy, the Black man, the Black woman. It’s time for all of us to pick up our share of the load.