Giving Thanks

The holiday season is once again upon us, and we begin gathering with family members celebrating old traditions.  Although the holiday season has since become associated with mass commercialism, this post is not about that because that sentiment is hackneyed at this point.  In fact, this post is not about being grateful for family and how the holidays are a time of year where people put aside their differences and get along for as long as tolerable.  This post is about the one thing anyone in a civilized society should be thankful for and never take for granted: the right to voice well-reasoned dissent. 

The way a democracy is supposed to work is that when people have differing opinions they can debate issues publicly and privately in the hopes of gaining a new understanding and hopefully persuade people to consider another point of view.  This concept was given life in the first amendment with the freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religion.  Oftentimes, rights have restrictions placed on them if they are deemed to fit the public good, but what these rights mean and how best to exercise them is a battle that has been waged since the founding of this republic. 

It is important to remember that these fundamental rights were not guaranteed to every citizen, and many had to fight to obtain these rights without reprisal from authoritarian forces; a battle which is still being waged to this day.  The desire to be seen as an equal and enjoy the same standard of living that the majority of people take for granted is what animates marginalized groups to protest and make their voices heard.  This battle starts with burning passions and rage that cannot be quelled by anything short of equal rights and dignity.  Advocates for positions that dissent from the mainstream view experience pushback from those who do not like change, but that is to be expected when a comfortable situation is disrupted. 

In order to achieve a desired goal – especially in this type of situation – it is important that a well-reasoned argument be put forth for why a proposed change needs to be made.  What the beautifully constructed argument will do is convince people why changes made to society will benefit the majority of people.  Appeals to reason may not penetrate the thickest of skulls, but it can get the ball rolling toward progress that will make life more rewarding for everyone.  Like the Battle of the Bulge, there will be a lot of back and forth in terms of victories, but it is a fight that needs to be fought. 

This post is about giving thanks to those who waged a tireless battle for the rights of marginalized groups who wanted nothing more than social and legal equality.  There are too many names to mention, whether they have been lost to the pages of history or just never had their story told, their anonymity is an historical crime.  For the notions of equality that was invoked at the founding of this country, but was limited to those who already had power, the warriors for the marginalized should be thanked and honored for their contributions to help make this country great.

 

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Historical Record

Throughout history the winning side usually writes the account of events that has transpired.  Because this is often the case, any and all biases the recorders have will inevitably distort what really took place.  Very important details are added and/or omitted, which does a great disservice to future generations and their understanding of the past and any effort to reconcile it with the present.  As is often the case, the minorities in the any story usually never have their side told in a way that reflects their point of view.  This is a truism in American history which often disadvantage black people disproportionately.  One such organization that is often vilified is the Black Panther Party and their attempts to gain equal justice guaranteed by the constitution along with their origin story.    

The origins of this group surprisingly begins in Lowndes County, Alabama, with the black citizens struggling in their attempts to gain the right to vote.  This is a place which had a violent history regarding civil rights which attracted the help of outside organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who assisted in gaining the franchise for black people.  In order to combat the forces opposing their right to participate in the democratic process the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, an independent third party, was formed.  The goal was to take control of local government through grassroots organizing.  The voter registration drives were often elicited violent reactions from whites in the area who did not believe black people should be able to vote.  With the passage of the voting rights act – citizens registered to vote by the hundreds – which could potentially change the balance of power throughout the country.  When the next elections were held the LCFO chose the black panther as their symbol because it is a peaceful creature until it is cornered.  State law in Alabama required symbols to represent political parties because of the high illiteracy rate. 

In the summer of 1966 the organizers from the LCFO and the SNCC mobilized candidates in support of the Black Panther Party.  The party focused a great deal of their initial efforts toward voter registration, selecting the right people to run for office, and establishing health clinics for the area.  In order to accomplish this task, it was vital that they create an informed electorate by running education workshops.  By election day the efforts of the LCFO and SNCC managed to get a great deal of people to the polls, but it was not enough to take over the county.  Voter suppression efforts – usually violent tactics – stymied any chance of victory.  Undeterred by the loss at the ballot box, the Panthers pressed on in their battle for democracy and efforts to improve the community.

The experience of community organizing is something that Making It to The Finish Line does quite a bit through various programs.  Nothing like change the seats of power in local government, but we play a part in community enrichment.  Knowing the true history of an organization and putting it into the correct context is important to honoring those who fought the good fight, and figuring out how lessons and battles of the past can be useful and inspirational to people today. 

Jeffries, H. K. (2016, September). Lowndes County and the Voting Rights Act. Retrieved November 6, 2016, from http://www.zinnedproject.org

 

News Release

Making It to The Finish Line is proud to present the Young & Elegant Cotillion Boot Camp at 2140 Holbrook, Hamtramck, that is currently in operation on Sundays between 5 to 7 P.M. to educate the youth in the area.

This is a program that last about nine months where the participants learn valuable social skills that will help them navigate through the twist and turns of social interactions.  Activities include etiquette skills, character building, college readiness tours, volunteering, financial literacy, public speaking, and ballroom dancing.

The program ends in May and at the end of the program there is an award ceremony for the person with the most points.  Points are awarded based upon the completion of the weekly activities.  The competition portion takes a backseat to the social interaction that they experience.

If you know if anyone is interested and would like to join call Gladys at 313-460-0596 for more information or go to http://www.mittfl.org

Ella Baker

It is quite rare that someone who advocates committing crimes is considered a mentor and role model.  The only people who can commit/advocate crimes are people in power who tend to occupy the upper echelons of society, or a social justice warrior whose legacy has been viewed as correct by history.  Ella Baker falls within the latter category because of her work within various civil rights organizations.  Her advocacy for nonviolent disobedience helped pave the way for successes that were later achieved during the civil rights movement.  Although she instructed people to commit a crime by staging sit-ins, history has judged this a justifiable crime for which the protestors were right to break the law.

What distinguishes Ella from other civil rights leaders is the fact that she was a woman; she helped to organize the famous Montgomery sit-ins that is mentioned in the history books, but she has been left out from historical accounts.  Most civil rights leaders in the history books are men which is a gross historical slight that should be corrected in future history books.  Although the term leader is not one that would sit well with her because she was adamant that participants in organizations should be empowered to make their own democratic decisions and not rely on charismatic leaders to guide them.  Reaching this belief is what leaderless movements of the present day have been striving for and not achieved 100%.

Unlike most adults who wage generational wars with the youth she saw the youth as the future of reaching the civil rights movements goals.  She started the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization comprised largely of black college students, and mentored them in the ways of nonviolence and social change.  Before starting SNCC she took major roles in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference where she met many of the most famous members of the civil rights movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.  She usually avoided the spotlight and unsuccessfully ran for public office on a few occasions, but she fought for change from below.

The thing about Ella Baker that not only Making It to The Finish Line, but social justice activist can learn from is her excellent quote “People did not really need to be led; they needed to be given the skills, information, and opportunity to lead themselves.”  She instructed the students that she mentored to start with the hamburger, then push for more.  This analogy deals with the concept of winning small victories and then push for the bigger victories.  To find out more about Ella and other great icons look at the source below.

Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.

 

Fitness

Taking care of the mind is as important as taking care of the body.  Think of the saying, that the body is a temple, and what that means.  This saying stresses the importance of taking care of the physical body by being aware of what we put into our bodies.  In this day and age, it appears that people do not take care of their bodies, because whenever a story in the media is about the health of the country, the story involves obesity.  The word epidemic is often used in these stories, yet there seems to be no solution to solving this problem.

Diet and exercise are the usual solutions given, but the problem with this solution is that no specific solutions are given in media reports on what type of diet and exercise is needed to stay physically healthy.  This presupposes that a one size fits all approach will solve the problem and that it is easy for people to find the right diet and time to exercise.  The way the discussion goes is problematic because diet is related to access and availability of food.  In the city of Detroit fast food places are in abundance, but grocery stores are hard to come by.  It is possible to take a walk and enjoy nature, but the elements may put those plans off for a while.

Another impediment to having a physically healthy lifestyle is knowledge of the proper diet and exercise routine.  Although there are some universal guidelines to what is good for a person and what is bad; individual results may vary.  Knowing what is good for a person and what is bad for a person is essential to living a healthy lifestyle.  For example, if a person has an allergy to a known food source, they should not follow the recommended guidelines because being exposed to an allergen could make their health worse.  Also, people are not educated properly on the best health options.  In an ideal situation schools would have health classes that would educate them, but access to funds is a barrier in some communities.  Schools do have gym class and recess which is great, but without the diet side of the equation being properly balanced the physical activity will not be effective.

Making It to The Finish Line is attempting to do our part to help the community strike the proper balance between diet and exercise.  We are in the process of starting a program called Move More-Eat Better.  This program is in the beginning stages and we are working out all of the details to shape the program into a tremendous benefit to the community.  This proposed fourteen-week program emphasizes cooperation as a way to meet the goal of a healthy lifestyle.  Right now you can help the program by offering suggestions, tips, and personal experience about healthy lifestyle choices, or attempts to live a healthy lifestyle.  More details about the program as further developments are reached.

Virginia Durr

It is amazing how people change their strongly held views that they were taught since birth.  Parents and culture shape individual values that stay with people for most of their lives and are very hard to transcend.  Virginia Durr is one of those people who was able to rebel against the mores that was taught to her since birth.  Virginia was born in 1903 in Birmingham, Alabama, as one of the more aristocratic members of the community who had elitist views about the lower classes.  White people who were poor are considered trash and black people were considered to be on the same level.  This was a time when it was publicly acceptable to say the Klan were noble heroes saving white women from black savages.  It is somewhat surprising that her legacy was as a great ally to the civil rights movement.

Her views started to change after noticing the cognitive dissonance about black people; how could they be excellent caretakers while being savages at the same time.  During her time at Wellesley College she was forced to interact with black people, thus changing her views entirely about an entire culture she was bought up to view as inferior.  After leaving college she met her husband, a Birmingham native who was a lawyer, and began her journey as a social justice advocates.  Her work began recognizing the economic problems that were plaguing people in Birmingham during the great depression.  In that capacity she helped to send milk to low-income kids, visit miners who developed illnesses due to work place conditions, and drive Red Cross workers into the countryside to help deliver services.  Clifford, her husband, would find employment in the Roosevelt administration regulating public broadcasters as part of the New Deal.

The Durrs moved to Virginia where they became part of the wide circle of New Deal culture.  By the end of the 1930’s Virginia founded the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, a civil rights organization that united black people, white people, unionist, and other social justice warriors fighting the poll tax, a then legal way used to keep black people from voting.  Her dedication to the cause of social justice came at a price; she was called to testify in front of the senate for associating with Communist.  Opponents of civil rights often claimed that the movement was infiltrated by Communist in an effort to discredit the cause.  Among the other obstacles that she faced was being considered a traitor to her race and class by her fellow southerners.  In the early 1950’s the couple moved back to Birmingham and set up a law firm.  Because of their reputation in the civil rights movement white clients shunned them so most of their clients were poor blacks who could not afford to pay for their services.  Her activism connected her to the Montgomery civil rights community where she was asked to recruit people for training for future civil rights battles.  She recommended Rosa Parks to receive training at the Highlander Folk School.  After her famous arrest Virginia’s husband Clifford help bail her out.

The lesson of being able to transcend malicious thoughts that are implanted in the brain is an important lesson Making It to The Finish Line instills in the community.  This requires hard work and dedication to in order to succeed, but it can be done.  For more information on Virginia and other great Americans check out the source below.

Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.

 

Ida B. Wells

The saying, that the pen is mightier than the sword, has a great deal of resonance and relevancy in shaping the thoughts and opinions of people.  Although the sword can change some views, it is the pen that creates committed participants.  A pen can be used more effectively than a sword if used properly because it can create a well-informed army that will battle injustice and strive for everlasting social change.  Ida B. Wells turned her writing skills into a force for social change that-while not successful in accomplishing her goals- bought awareness to serious problems that haunts America to this very day.

The legacy of Ida B. Wells is tied to her advocacy as an anti-lynching crusader who shined a light on the barbaric practice of a supposedly civilized country.  In the late 19th century and early 20th century saw a rise in the lynchings of black people.  Lynching, the unlawful killing of a human being, was not considered a crime because the victims were black and their lives did not matter.  Lynchings was used as a mechanism of social control by instilling fear in people that anytime-for any reason-they may suffer humiliation and lose their life for even the tiniest of infractions.  Although commonplace below the Mason-Dixon line, cultural norms dictated that lynching was not to be discussed in public.  Ida broke that cultural norm by publicizing the practice in several mostly black owned newspapers.  Put this into context; she was a woman born into slavery who challenged power by writing/speaking up about the dignity of people who are considered disposable was unheard of in those days.

Not all of her efforts to bring social justice for black people was in vain.  In the early 20th century she helped to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the longest lasting American civil rights organization which continues to this day. Like eventual NAACP member Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat on a bus which was an act of defiance that resulted in swift physical and financial punishment.  Along with racial issues she was a proponent of women’s suffrage, which highlights the intersectionality of race and gender.  One question that feminism has never fully addressed is what is the role of black women?  They suffer from two distinct and harmful forms of discrimination that combines the worst oppression experienced by blacks and women.

The impact and legacy of Ida B. Wells is much richer than what can be examined in a short blog post.  What makes her story so unique is that as a black woman she assumed an activist role that is usually associated with a man.  What she represents to an organization like Making It to The Finish Line is that despite being marginalized because of race and gender, it is possible to have an impact that can positively change human lives for the better.  Even in the face of adversity there can be some success that can lead to bigger victories down the line.  Her biography page at www.heavy.com was a valuable source for this article.

Cleary, T. (2015, July 16). http://heavy.com/news/2015/07/ida-b-wells-153rd-birthday-google-doodle-photos-bio-legacy-mississippi-african-american-black-journalist-newspaper-editor-suffragist-civil-rights/. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from http://heavy.com/news/2015/07/ida-b-wells

 

Julia Lathrop

Julia Lathrop is a puzzling figure, not for what she has done, but for the fact that she is relatively unknown to people in America despite her accomplishments as a social reformer. She was a person who advocated for social causes in favor of those who are the least amongst us in society: women suffrage, an end to child labor laws, the disabled, and assistance to the mentally ill.  Her assistance included operating facilities where they were cared for and sheltered from the cruelty of society, and worst of all the indifference that created so much social strife.

Her origin story began in Rockford, Illinois, as the daughter of a congressmen and a suffragette and abolitionist.  She received degrees from Vassar College in 1880, which is interesting because this was long before women had had the right to vote.  The event that changed her life and guided the direction of her legacy was meeting Jane Addams of the famous Hull House.  Julia joined Hull House in their mission to provide social services in the Chicago area.  During her time at Hull House she volunteered for the Cook County Charities, which spring boarded her into the state appointed position of the Illinois Board of Charities.  In that position, she became attuned to the problems of poverty and the effect it had on society.

In 1912, Julia became the head of the Children’s Bureau under President William Howard Taft.  In that position she focused heavily on child labor laws and juvenile delinquency because of the harmful effects they could have on the future development of children.  The most important public service she provided was issuing free pamphlets to women about pregnancy and child care.  She retired from that position in 1922 after a decade of service in that department.

Her retirement was short-lived because she worked on issues involving women’s suffrage and combating the stigma of mental illness.  As history shows her efforts for women’s suffrage was successful because in 1919 the 19th amendment to the constitution was ratified-giving women the right to vote in elections.  Her most enduring legacy was her involvement in the Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act of 1921.  This was the first federally funded social welfare law passed in the United States; which is significant because the concept of welfare is an anathema to many people.  This law allowed matching grants to states for women’s issues such as health clinics, nutritional information, midwife training, and hygiene.

One thing that Making It to The Finish Line stresses that relates to Julia’s legacy is that it is possible to have an impact on the community without major publicity or attention.  Also caring for the least amongst us is a way to strengthen the community by showing them that they have value to the community.  The information about Julia was found on her biography page at http://www.socialwelfare.library.edu

Mary White Ovington

Very few women in the 20th century has done as much as Mary White Ovington in bringing about racial equality.  Inspired largely by her Unitarian faith, she dedicated her life to the cause of social justice for black people.  She was born a few days before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and died after the second world war-meaning that she never saw the legal dismantling of separate but equal as a legal doctrine.  However, if not for her work as a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, that goal would not have been achieved until much later in the history of the republic.

Inspired by an article written by journalist William English Walling describing a race riot in Lincoln’s hometown Springfield, Illinois, she answered his call to revive the spirit of the abolitionist by creating an organization to protect the negro (this was the common term to describe black people until about 1970).  After starting a correspondence with Walling she gathered a group of journalist, educators, and philosophers in her apartment to form the NAACP in 1909.  The NAACP started out advocating for causes that directly affected black people such as anti-lynching laws, voting rights, income parity, and an overall integration of blacks into American society.

The early years of the NAACP was formed by a multiracial coalition, which was quite unusual at that time.  Before creating the NAACP, she lived in and studied areas that were predominately black, and witnessed first had the discrimination they experienced, while facing some discrimination of her own for associating for black people.  She was a tireless advocate for the organization serving various roles such as executive secretary, acting chairman, chairman of the board, treasurer, and directed several branches.  In addition to her management roles she was the chief marketing expert who operated fund-raisers and ran publicity campaigns.  Her public relations efforts involved creating a magazine, The Crisis, and writing several books on race relations.  These volunteer efforts expanded the presence of the organization to the point it needed trained and paid staff.

The NAACP took an integrationist and legal approach to gain equality for black people.  The integrationist approach stressed social and political equality for black people, as opposed to the more accommodationist approach advocated by Booker T. Washington.  In order to achieve these goals, the NAACP sought to win battles in not only in the court of public opinion, but winning legal battles.  Their efforts were largely successful, but in order for laws to be implemented-they have to have public support, otherwise the legal decrees are meaningless.  Considering the fact that the organization is still going strong today is a testament to her efforts that began over 100 years ago.  The bravery and risk taking of her actions is something organizations like Making It to The Finish Line promote in order to make a better community.  A more full length biography of Mary Ovington can be found at www.naacp.org and www.uudb.org.

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was one of those rare figures in American history who rarely compromised her morals.  She is most well-known for the publication, the Catholic Worker, which told the stories and gave voice to those who survived the Great Depression.  Although known as a religious figure her beginnings were anything but pious which proves that morality is not always linked to religion.  Before her conversion to Catholicism, she sought to give voice to the least amongst us in society.  In totality, her life’s work has put her name at the top of the list of American social justice warriors.

Her awakening to the injustices in the world started in her teenage years wandering the streets of Chicago.  Chicago at that time had an immigrant community working in conditions of extreme poverty.  In 1916 she moved to New York and started to attend the Catholic churches in the area because their mission aligned with her ideological beliefs in helping immigrants and the poor.  As part of her mission to become a better Catholic/public servant, (her actions made the two indistinguishable) she contributed articles to the Catholic Magazine Commonweal.  Her articles challenged some of the prevailing orthodoxy of the church when she felt that the needs of the disposed were not being adequately addressed.  In order to better relate to the plight of the poor, she lived a life of self-imposed austerity, which meant relying on the bare minimum to get through daily life.

On May 1 1933 she published a magazine for which made her a historical figure, The Catholic Worker.  Released during the years of the Great Depression the magazine had a great appeal to those who were out of work.  The tone she struck with the magazine was strident, but not doctrinal, which allowed for much broader appeal than many of the publications of that time.  Unlike most of the publications associated with the church, The Catholic Worker addressed issues such as racism and corporate greed.  Her following project ventured into community activism called the Worker School.  The goal of this project was to provide living accommodations for the poor within a self-contained community.  She imposed no conditions upon living there, and did not even proselytize her faith despite how she related it to her mission.  Like most churches she received donations to make the goals of the Catholic Worker succeed.

The selflessness and dedication that Dorothy Day exhibited throughout her life relates to the goals Making It to The Finish Line instills in young people.  Looking out for others who are in need is what makes a community survive and thrive.  However, these skills are not innate; they have to be cultivated through years of practice and commitment.  One way to carry on her life’s work is to get involved with this or any organization that is dedicated to helping out your local community.  If you or anyone you know is interested in finding out about Dorothy Day and other activist, check out the source below.

Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.