Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Visions of the Past, Inspiration for the Future

YWCA Pasadena Hosting Photo Exhibit Featuring the Women of the Civil Rights Movement

The YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley will be hosting a photo exhibit and reception celebrating the women of the Civil Rights movement, entitled "Visions of the Past, Inspiration for the Future." Photographs of known and unknown heroines of the Civil Rights Era will be displayed in an exhibit on February 28th at the YWCA facility in Pasadena. This exhibit features the work of veteran Southern photojournalist, Boyd Lewis, and highlights the courageous women and allies in the cause for racial equality.

"Women created the struggle for social justice in America," says Lewis, now a Los Angeles teacher living in Altadena. "And we ignore their heroic and often dangerous fight for human rights for all at their peril."  The photographs celebrate well-known women such as Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, and lesser known freedom fighters like Lillian Lewis and Ethel Matthews. There are over 45 black and white documentary photographs to be shown at the exhibit - most of the photos have never been published.
A special presentation during the exhibit will feature guest speaker, Rachel Thomas, a former YWCA member and Muir High School graduate. Ms. Thomas will share her inspiring story of breaking free from human trafficking, and how she uses her experience to help end this violence. Ms. Thomas speaks throughout Southern California, encouraging communities to get educated and get involved in the fight against sex trafficking today.

If you would like to hear more stories about the women of the civil rights movement, please join us at the YWCA's photo exhibit and reception on Friday, February 28th, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm, located at 1015 N. Lake Ave, Suite 105. The reception also includes food, drinks, and conversation about today’s fight for human rights.

Visions of the Past, Inspiration for the Future:
 Women of the Civil Rights Movement
Friday, February 28, 2014
5:00 - 8:00 pm

Special presentation at 5:30
Modern Day Slavery: Sex Trafficking in Our Communities
Rachel Thomas, M. Ed.

YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley
1015 N. Lake Ave, Suite 105, Pasadena, CA 91104
To RSVP, call 626-296-8433 or email jkubel@ywca-pasadena.org

Monday, February 24, 2014

Rosa Parks: The Spark of Revolution

Rosa Parks: The Spark of Revolution

Rosa Parks was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama to Leona and James McCauley. She grew up on a farm with her mother, her brother, and her maternal grandparents, Rose and Sylvester Edwards. Both were former slaves and strong advocates for racial equality. She was no stranger to discrimination herself; as she once saw her grandfather standing in front of their house with a shotgun while Klan members marched down their street. In elementary school, she had to walk to school while school buses took white students to their new school. "I'd see the bus pass every day, but to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world," said Mrs. Parks. Her secondary school, Montgomery's Industrial School for Girls, was burned down twice by arsonists. Parks began attending the Industrial School at age eleven, but left school in 11th grade to tend to her sick grandmother and mother. She never returned to her studies.

Instead, she began to work at a t-shirt factory in Montgomery, and shortly after, she met and married Raymond Parks. He was a barber and an active member of the NAACP. She joined the organization in December of 1943 and became active in the Civil Rights Movement. Mrs. Parks was elected secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and continued in her position until 1957.  As secretary she worked on numerous cases with the NAACP, including investigating the gang-rape of Recy Taylor, and the Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine black teenagers were framed of rape by an all-white jury and nearly lynched.

In 1944, Mrs. Parks held a job at Maxwell Air Force base, where she first experienced life without racial segregation, as the base did not permit racial segregation because it was federal property. She would later say that this experience had opened her eyes to see how the world could really be. Mrs. Parks worked as a housekeeper and a seamstress for Clifford and Virginia Durr on the base. They were a politically liberal white couple who encouraged and helped sponsor her to attend the Highlander Folk School, a training center for activists, where she was able to learn about utilizing civil disobedience for worker's rights and racial justice.

At the time of her famous refusal to give up her bus seat, in December 1955, bus drivers in Montgomery had become accustomed to requiring black passengers to give up their seats to white passengers when no other seats were available. Despite the fact that the city's bus ordinance did not give them specific authority to demand a passenger to give up a seat, they would routinely refuse service to those that did not comply, and often called the police to have them removed. As the bus filled with white passengers, the driver noticed that some white passengers were standing in the aisles. Because Mrs. Parks was seated in the front row of the black section, she was asked to stand and give up her seat. When asked "Why don't you stand up?" Rosa replied, "I don't think I should have to stand up."  She was arrested. People have assumed that her refusal was because she was physically tired; but she would later state that that she was simply tired of giving in. This was no coincidence, it was a thoroughly conscious act of protest.

Despite similar protests happening across the city, Mrs. Parks refusal became the spark for the boycott of Montgomery's city buses.  E.D. Nixon, the head of the local chapter of the NAACP, began to formulate plans to expand the boycott, placing ads in local papers, and printing and distributing handbills in black neighborhoods. Thus began the Civil Rights movement in earnest.

Mrs. Parks herself, however, suffered a great deal of hardship in the time following her arrest. She and her husband had received death threats, lost their jobs and apartment, and eventually had to move from Montgomery to Detroit to live with Mrs. Park's mother. There she began work as a secretary and receptionist in the office of US Representative John Conyer, and also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

She also founded the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development in 1987. This organization educates young people about important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country by providing "Pathways to Freedom" bus tours. In 1992, she published her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, and in 1995 she published Quiet Strength, which focuses on her faith and the role that it played in her work and her life as a whole.

Mrs. Parks received many awards, accolades, and distinctions in her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal, the Martin Luther King Jr. Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and was named on TIME's list of "20 Most Influential People of the 20th Century."
  Rosa Parks died at the age of 92 in Detroit. There were many memorial services in her honor, including lying in state at the United States Capitol.

"People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day...No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."
  - Rosa Parks

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ethel Mae Matthews: The Firebrand

Ethel Mae Matthews: The Firebrand

Ethel Mae Matthews was born in 1933 in the town of Loachapoke, Alabama to two sharecroppers. Her mother was a Black woman and her father was a member of of the Cherokee tribe. From a very young age, she helped her parents pick cotton on their farm, often leaving school when it was harvest season. Similar to many children of sharecroppers, the lack of a continuous education in regard to her circumstances made it difficult for her to keep up with school work. She was often reprimanded for having issues with literacy.  However, it was another hardship that lead her to leave school altogether in the sixth grade. At twelve years old, she became pregnant and got married, then moved to Atlanta at the age of seventeen with her four children.

Through her determination, Matthews gained her GED and became one of the loudest voices for the rights of the poor, especially mothers, children, and the elderly.  When she decided it was time to take action, it didn't matter if anyone else was with her, as she was not afraid to picket alone. As the founder and president of  the Atlanta Welfare Rights Organization, she became well known by the officials and politicians in Atlanta for organizing sit-ins, leading marches, and demanding the rights that she believed the poor were owed. In one such instance, she marched on the Georgia legislature looking for the Governor to protest welfare cuts. Matthews and her fellow protestors took over the Capital, and it has been said that they were singly responsible for the security measures there afterward. Mayor Sam Massel of Atlanta once told reporters that there were only two things that sent chills up his spine: the first was the failure of his cornerstone transit legislation and the second was his secretary saying "Mrs. Matthews is on line one."

Matthews was a force to be reckoned with. She stood in front of bulldozers to prevent the destruction of the Peoplestown Community Center, advocated for the rights of welfare recipients to see the welfare manual, fought for more surplus foods, and for housing rights under the "Model Cities" program. She was always a critical voice about police brutality, spoke out on sanitation issues, and kept aware of any welfare causes that arose.

She also ran for Atlanta City Council. When Matthews found that there were fees prohibiting her from running, she worked with Atlanta legal aid lawyer David Webster to change the law so that future candidates could have the amount waved. Matthews lost at first, but was able to get her own fee waived while she challenged the law in the Supreme Court. Before the highest court in the land was graced by her presence, however, the Georgia General Assembly changed the law so that all indigent candidates could have the fee waived.

Ethel Mae Matthews was not a great advocate solely because she could stand up to politicians, but because she truly cared about the concerns of the people in her community. Of course, once she had made up her mind about a solution there was no stopping her. As she said in an interview "I don't let nobody, I mean nobody, tell me what I can't do."

Shortly after her death in 2005, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Ethel Mae Matthews. She also has a housing estate named after her in the area where she lived.

"I was never afraid to speak up and speak out for peace, freedom and equality."
Ethel Mae Matthews

Friday, February 14, 2014

The First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement

Coretta Scott was born in Heiberger, Alabama and raised on her parent’s farm in Perry County, Alabama. She was no stranger to the injustices of the era, even from a very young age. She saw her father’s lumber mill burned down by white neighbors, and had to walk five miles a day to reach the one room Crossroad School in Marion though there was a closer more well funded all white school. However, Coretta was tenacious and sought to excel in everything she did. She was the valedictorian of her class and received a scholarship to Antioch College in Ohio. It was here that she began to take an active interest in social justice and the civil rights movement. She joined the Antioch chapter of the NAACP, and Antioch’s Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committee. After she graduated with her BA in music and education, she received a scholarship to study concert singing at the New England Conservatory in Boston. It was there she met Martin Luther King Jr.

After they were married in 1954, Martin received an opportunity to serve as Pastor for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Coretta was initially reluctant to go back to the South because of the racial injustice and violence that she had faced there, but she agreed with Dr King that it was because of this injustice that they were being called back. The Kings stay in Montgomery, Alabama was not without incident, as Dr. King was stabbed, their home shot at and bombed, and there were times that their families urged them to leave, but they were steadfast in their beliefs.

Mrs. King took an active part in the Civil Rights Movement. She participated in many of her husband’s campaigns, as well as her own independent efforts towards racial justice and equality. She took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and journeyed to Ghana to mark the nation’s independence from British rule in 1957. She also traveled to India on pilgrimage to honor the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violence work had inspired the Kings efforts to pass the 1964 Civil Rights act.

She also created and performed in Freedom concerts, became the first woman to deliver the Class Day address at Harvard, and was the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She also became a liaison to the International Peace and Justice organization before her husband had taken a public stand against the Vietnam War.

After her husband’s assassination in 1968, she continued to be a staunch advocate for the rights of minority groups.  King established the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta and served as the Center’s President and CEO until 1996. She fought against corrupt governments, struggled to establish her husband’s birthday as a national holiday, stood up against apartheid, and was a major protestor against the Vietnam War and the missile attack on Iraq in 1993. She also believed that "Homophobia [was] like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it sought to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood" and spoke out in support of LGBT rights, actively denouncing DOMA, and speaking at various conferences and rallies for LGBT rights.

King also received several honors and tributes. She received honorary degrees from Princeton, Duke and Bates universities. The American Library Association created a medal in her name to honor outstanding African-American writers and illustrators of children’s literature. Women’s Way awarded her their first Lucretia Mott award in 1978 for her work in the advancement of women and justice. She continued to receive honors even after her death. She had a forest named in her honor in the Galilee region by the Jewish National Fund, was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize by the government of India, had a school opened in her name to promote young women’s leadership, and had Super Bowl XL dedicated in her honor along with Rosa Parks. Lastly, she had two Congressional resolutions introduced upon her death in the Senate and the House of the United States.

Coretta Scott King was a powerhouse advocate for the rights of others. While her husband is the most famous figure of the era, she is truly the first lady of the Civil Rights Movement in her own right.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Girls Experience Twice as Many Interpersonal Stressors

For years, experts have known that by mid-puberty significantly more girls experience depression than boys.  Research out of the University of South Carolina recently confirmed that girls experience twice as many interpersonal stressors as do boys and they are 30% more likely to react with depression –which inhibits their ability to succeed in school or anywhere else. 

During a recent staff meeting the program staff told me of their experience with a girl named, Allie.  Allie was the older sister of one of our summer camp participants.  Her grandmother wanted to register both girls for camp but was afraid she would never get Allie to attend.  She said “Allie had issues with being around girls. “
Allie, a 16 year old high school sophomore had been dealing with bullying from numerous girls.  She didn't fit the mold for cool, she wasn't the right shape or size. 

Of course she was terrified to come to a camp full of girls. She would rather stay at home, alone than join. 

One day Allie came with her grandmother to drop off her sister.  Our program manager, Karen pulled her aside to talk to her and find out why she didn't want to come to Girls Empowerment Camp.  Allie was shy and didn't really respond. So Karen invited her to go on a whale watching trip –no pressure to come every day -just one trip.  Karen did however, bet her that she would want to come back.   

With the right encouragement, Allie found the courage to go on the trip with 35 girls she didn’t know.  The whale watching trip was a transformational experience for Allie. Everyone knew it wasn't about the whales.

Allie began to open up and risk interacting with the other girls and staff.  Her grandmother thanked the staff repeatedly for getting Allie to confront her fear and for showing her that not all girls were going to be ‘mean girls’. 

I hear Allie is coming back this summer 

Our programs are designed for girls.  We build the tools for healthy relationships and talk about the signs of abusive relationships.  We talk about sex and peer pressure.  We teach conflict resolution and dealing with stress.  We build confidence by supplementing their academics with new experiences in Science and Technology -all in a safe and nurturing environment. 

But we still have some work to do. 

Sharalyn Hamilton
Executive Director