Saturday, April 19, 2014

MLK Memorial Reflection: The Uncarved Block

Our most powerful works of art far transcend pictures taken of them. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of these for me. On this sunny day in DC with nothing in particular to do, I thought I'd go check it out so I would know where it was when I come back with my kids in June. I didn't have anything in particular on my mind except for a pleasant walk on the mall in the sunshine. So, maybe I wasn't really prepared for the power of this monolithic, but somehow dynamic force I'd find staring sternly down at me. Nor was I prepared for how some of the quotes rang so personally true for me. Had I heard his quotes as a student or other places and internalized them without knowing who said them? Or had I come to some similar conclusions by different paths?

I tried to reconcile the stern visage of the statue with the MLK presented in the children's book "My Uncle Martin's Big Heart" by Angela Farris Watkins, which I've read to my daughters many times. That book paints a tender and loving picture of the legendary man through the eyes of his young niece. Ultimately, I know he must have been multi-faceted like all humans and I know that both visions of the man are likely to be true. While the book celebrates his great love, this statue clearly conveys a lasting impression of his strength and immovable will.

I think my favorite thing about the memorial is the intentional unfinished nature. A stone is unmoving, but it seems like we have caught the artist unawares and in the motions of carving a continuing work. But we know this work is finished and this man has been laid to rest long ago. More is the sadness, but great is the glory of the what he had become for us in the time he had. Might that uncarved stone also be partly a metaphor for the unfinished work on injustice left to do? Maybe that's stretching it. Yet because of the inscription - "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" - we know that we're at least meant to know that this positive, strong image was able to emerge from, in spite of, and even because of the darkness of inequalities.

Being a Christian who believes in a creator of our souls, I also fancy the imagery of G-d as the artist shaping this man from the history before his life as well as the years he lived. I walked away quiet, pensive, and wondering...

What will I look like when my maker is done carving me?

My own life-journey is taking me quite a far distance from the life I envisioned for myself when I was a high school student touring Washington D.C. for the first time and I hardly knew what to hope for in myself, long before could imagine committing myself to the "noble struggle for equal rights." I seem to be half-way there, but will I truly be able to make a career of humanity? (If I use a metaphorical interpretation of the word "career" and take it to mean I don't have to actually draw a living wage doing it, then the answer - I think - is yes)

And as I sit waiting to board my plane to head back to the welcoming kisses of my children, I wonder what broad strokes or fine chisel work the creator is using my hands for in the shaping and molding of my daughters?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mommy-Activist Inspiration: The RESULTS International Conference

There are some turning points in your life when you clearly feel the course of your life changing. And there are people who - whether they know it or not at the time - act as joyful cruise directors, ushering you down the path where you want to go. But sometimes you have to seek out those turning points and intentionally put yourself where they're likely to be. This post is about meeting an exceptional advocate named Teresa Rugg at the RESULTS International Conference and Lobby Day. She helped put me on my path, which will soon include taking both of my grade school-aged children back to the same conference to lobby with me 7 years later!
I met Teresa when I was at an emotional crossroads. A stay-at-home mom just discovering my own citizen-power, I was preparing to lobby Congress for the first time in Washington D.C. I’d met a lot of activists who – while inspiring – didn’t have a lot in common with me. They talked about evening meeting schedules and daytime lobby meetings, but my chaotic mommy-life centered around diapers and naptimes. I wanted to become an advocate for mothers and children in poverty, but I couldn't quite see myself in the role.
How, I thought, could I possibly do what these incredible activists were doing when I was sometimes still in my pajamas at noon and covered in baby food? 
Teresa Rugg speaking her mind
Then, I met Teresa - an experienced advocate who knew how to juggle life and parenting, lovingly and simultaneously. Her kids were a bit older than mine, so she had already lived through those moments of having a congressional aide on the phone while a small child kept up the chorus of "Mommymommymommy" in her other ear. She didn’t quite do everything the way everyone else said that she "should," but rather in a way that involved her children and worked for her family. I thought, “THAT is an example I can shoot for.”
In the early 1990’s, Teresa was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching health in Cameroon. When she returned home, she made good on her promise to tell her stories and spread the word about how we in the U.S. can help. Later, while still being an active mother with her kids, she founded a RESULTS chapter in Snohomish County, Washington, bringing the issues of global poverty before members of Congress. With a degree in Public Health, she has helped shape the direction of her passion-project, TB Photovoice - an organization that amplifies the voices of those directly affected by Tuberculosis - of which she is now the Project Director.  She showed me how we can have tremendous impact on an international level with our passion yet still be great spouses, mothers, and all the other things we already are.
My advocacy is always kid-friendly!
After the conference, I went home and joined my local RESULTS Chicago-area group (whom I also met at the conference...but that's an amusing story for another post). They became my mentors about how to lobby and write media, but Teresa remained a role model for advocating while living a kid-filled, messy, paint-splashed, happy mom-life.

My eldest daughter on her first DC lobbying trip
Teresa changed me forever by being a supportive friend and role model. Simply by being herself, she gave me an example of how to be the kind of mom I wanted to be. Now, we are friends, RESULTS partners, and cheerleaders for each other. As mothers, we give voice to the voiceless and make the world a better place for all our children. If YOU want to attend that same conference that gave us the tools to fulfill our passionate activism, register for the 2014 RESULTS International Conference. I guarantee there are moms there who will be an inspiration to you!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Meet the Charity Miles All-Star Relay Team!

One of my favorite things about my friends is that they are not just like me. And they're not just like each other. The way we dress, favorite beverages (caffeine, beer, vino?), what we read, how we communicate...all of those differences make up a beautiful tapestry of friendship that keeps life interesting. However, three of my friends - as different as can be - are coming together this weekend to become the "Charity Miles All Star Relay Marathon Team" and share some very important similarities.

What we four have in common is that we are all moms, long-distance runners, and people who care deeply about making the world a better place for future generations. So, it makes sense that we use Charity Miles, an app that tracks distance and donates sponsored money to the charity of your choice based on your milage. Because we have different passions for varied issues, we tend not to run for the same charities. But because we have compassion and respect for each other's causes, we sometimes like to switch it up a bit and run for each others' organizations.

When I found out that the GO! St. Louis Marathon had an option to split the race up as a relay team, I called to see if they wanted to race with me to show people how easy and fun it is to use Charity Miles for their favorite cause...or several favorites. Without hesitation, the everyone was IN!

Two things we want everyone to take away from hearing about our race:
1) YOU can use Charity Miles for both your routine exercise and significant races to raise money for a charity at no cost to you.

2) Charity Miles offers sponsorship money for MANY powerful causes! You can run for the same one all the time or switch it up.
Whether you're racing this weekend or just out walking, load up Charity Miles and earn some money from one of the many charity partners. I'm sure you'll find one you like! If you see us at the GO! St. Louis marathon in our Charity Miles t-shirts, give us a shout!

So, now, please meet the team in relay order with their t-shirt colors representing the branded colors of our charities...

#1 Jen De Franco
(Lime Green for Shot@Life)

"I’m running for Shot@Life to raise funds and awareness for immunizations for children in developing countries.  Every 20 seconds a child dies from a preventable disease.  Diseases such as measles, rotavirus, pneumonia, and polio - all of which are fully preventable through immunization.  As a mother, I cannot image the thought of losing my children to an illness that could have been prevented with a simple shot.  But many mothers experience that fate every day.  That is why I advocate and - thanks to Charity Miles - I also run for Shot@Life.  All so that more mothers can have a shot at seeing their children have a shot at running a race, celebrating with friends, enjoying the glow of the finish line, giving back and a Shot@Life." 

#2 Kerry Galson
(Kelly Green for The Nature Conservancy)

The Nature Conservancy strives to preserve healthy ecosystems that support people and host the diversity of life on Earth. It's approach to landscape conservation is the perfect first step we can take in creating awareness about environmental awareness. First, because people can see and experience the beautiful green space. Second, because it creates habitat for wildlife. I'm running for this organization because if we don't preserve the environment, everything else is moot. If we don't have a planet, we have nothing.
#3 Myrdin Thompson, (Orange for Michael J Fox Foundation)
"I'm running for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research in memory of my step-father, Donald Ledden, who passed away from complications due to Parkinson's in 2011. I've only been running for two years and when I started I was a walk/run/catch my breath kind of person, making sure to use Charity Miles. When I started taking my running seriously and met MJFF Team Fox members, I started dedicating my miles towards the foundation. Why I run is simple: because I can. Every day I wake up and my body doesn't betray me by not working, I can do a something to make a difference for someone else. April is Parkinson's Awareness month, and I believe - like Michael J. Fox - that "our challenges don't define us, our actions do." So, I dedicate my 7.5 miles of our race in memory of my step-father. In the end, it doesn't matter how fast you run your miles, it's just important to know that in the end #everymilematters."

#4 Cindy Changyit Levin, (Red for (RED) Campaign)

 "I'm running for the (RED) campaign, which raises support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. I know the deep love I have for my daughters would turn to despair if I didn't have the medications and resources to protect my children from such diseases of poverty. I want to spare other families from that grief. So, I rejoice that we all can be part of helping the Global Fund, which saves 100,000 lives every month. Thank you, Charity Miles, for giving us such an easy way to turn our races and everyday workouts into a life-saving exercise!"