Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 28: Muslims Standing Up Against Terrorism

On Sunday, Muslim women joined hands on the Westminster Bridge to condemn last week's terror attack in London, show solidarity, and pay tribute to the victims. Although people from all backgrounds joined the event, organized by the Women's March in London, the many Muslim women and their daughters present stood out the most. Some of the women shared their thoughts:
“When an attack happens in London, it is an attack on me. It is an attack on all of us. Islam totally condemns violence of any sort. This is abhorrent to us.” --Sarah Waseem 
“As a visible Muslim I think it was important to show solidarity with the principles that we all hold dear, the principles of plurality, diversity and so on.” --Ayesha Malik
“The feeling of what happened here on Wednesday was really strong. We thought of the ordinary people who were here and were mown down, standing here like this. It was very overwhelming.” --Fariha Khan
Elsewhere in London, Ibrahim Dogus, a Muslim-born businessman, fed hundreds of emergency service workers for free. When police ordered Dogus to evacuate and close his three restaurants after the attack, he asked permission to keep one of his restaurants open near the Westminster Bridge so police officers had a place to eat and keep warm.

“I went to one of the officers and said 'I can shut all the businesses, but I want you guys and all the emergency staff to use this place for food, drinks, and for warmth for free',” he told The Independent.

Dogus kept the restaurant open into the evening “until the last officer was fed." He fed between 300 and 500 emergency workers from the police, London Ambulance Service, and London Fire Brigade.
“We wanted to play our role in terms of supporting the emergency crew. This was happening right at our doorstep. If you walk two seconds on my doorstep I would be on the bridge. I use the bridge to take my kids to school, not on that day, but I live next to the area, I work next to the area.”
A Muslim-led fund to support victims and families has raised more than £25,000 in a few days. I've been touched to read the way Muslims, Jews, and Christians have come together in recent months to show interfaith support for each other, especially in light of the travel bans and xenophobia.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 27: Eat Offbeat

Do you love ethnic food like I do? If so, you might be interested in Eat Offbeat, a new cookbook by refugees. A year ago, Manal Kahi, then a student at Columbia University, couldn't find any Syrian-style hummus in New York City. She decided to make it her mission to bring new and underrepresented cuisine to the city by employing resettled refugees. With her brother, Wissan Kahi, they launched Eat Offbeat, a startup that aims to "introduce New Yorkers to new and off-the-beaten-path cuisines; create opportunities for talented home cooks who happened to be refugees by status; and, showcase the value refugees bring this country."

In the past year, Eat Offbeat has trained and hired 16 chefs from 11 countries, fed 15,000 New Yorkers, and been dubbed "New York’s most groundbreaking catering." Now the siblings are expanding beyond New York by gearing up to publish Eat Offbeat: The Cookbook through a Kickstarter campaign that launched on March 7. It quickly surpassed its $50,000 goal. For a $30 donation, you'll receive this great cookbook, which will include more than 80 recipes from 20 chefs from 15 different countries including Iraq, Nepal, Syria, Eritrea, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Algeria, and Egypt. With the additional money raised, Eat Offbeat will hire and train more chefs. Also, 10% of cookbook proceeds will be donated to the International Rescue Committee, which helps people who live in areas affected by humanitarian crisis.

The world has never seen such a high number of refugees fleeing their homes...and half of all refugees are children. This forced displacement has increased because of conflicts in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as growing resistance from other nations like the U.S. to provide asylum for refugees. We actually have a very small percentage of resettled refugees in the U.S. already, and this anti-refugee stance reminds me of the way the U.S. shut its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Have we not learned anything?

The one upside of Trump's xenophobia and the rise of white supremacy is the pushback on the travel bans and the radical welcome people on the other side of the political spectrum are showing toward refugees and immigrants. The smashing success of the Eat Offbeat cookbook is one encouraging sign.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 26: Mohamed Bezeek

Mohamed Bezeek, a widowed Libyan-American man in Los Angeles, takes care of the children no one else wants: he fosters medically fragile, terminally ill kids. Right now Bzeek is fostering a six-year-old girl with a microencephaly, which causes seizures and has left her blind, deaf, and mostly paralyzed. Except for his visits to the mosque (when a nurse takes care of his daughter), he spends the rest of his time by her side at their home or the hospital.

Bezeek has buried 10 children. He's the only foster parent in Los Angeles, a city of 4 million, to take in terminally ill foster children. Now 62, Bezeek came to the U.S. as a college student in 1978. He met a woman named Dawn, who became his wife. She had been a foster parent before they met. When they got married, they opened up their home to dozens of foster children and taught classes on foster parenting. By the mid-1990s, they decided to accept foster children with Do Not Resuscitate orders. And they also had their own son with Brittle Bone Disorder and Dwarfism. Now 19, he's a college student but only weighs 65 pounds and gets around in an electric wheelchair. Here's a beautiful PBS profile on Bezeek:

Dawn died a few years ago after many years of illness. But Bzeek still gets emotional when he talks about her and says she was always the strong one.

Bezeek receives $1,700 per month to care for his current foster daughter...not enough to pay for all the medical bills and medications. In February, Hailey Branson-Potts wrote a story about Bezeek in the LA Times, and word spread. The story was published just one day before an appeals judge reinstated Donald Trump's executive order to ban refugees and immigrants from countries such as Libya.

A reader was inspired to start a GoFundMe page for him, and in 24 hours, the campaign had hit and surpassed its $100,000 goal. Now it's up to $378,000, which will enable Bezeek to get central air conditioning/heating, respite care (he hasn't had a day off since 2010), his son's education, a new van, and roof repairs.

And now, this man who is the sole caregiver for his foster daughter and his son is facing his own medical challenges: he was diagnosed with colon cancer last November and is undergoing treatment.

He's been humbled by the outpouring of support. "I can't describe the feeling. You see how many nice people around us but we don't see them," said Bezeek. "There's always good in this world, more than the bad. That's what I believe."

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 25: Missing Black Teens

At a town hall on Wednesday at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Washington DC, one girl took the microphone and pleaded for city officials to find out why young black girls are going missing: "Why does stuff just have to happen to us?" the girl asked. "Why do people have to be so horrible to us? Why can't we just get more respect? Why can't we all just be family, get together and help each other? Why do they just gotta hurt us so bad?"

Did you know:
  • In Washington DC, over 500 kids and teens have gone missing, many of them Black or Latino, since the beginning of 2017. As of Wednesday, 22 of those cases remain unsolved. These numbers are consistent with the past couple of years (2,222 cases in 2014, 2,433 in 2015 and 2,242 in 2016).
  • In the U.S., 170,899 black children are missing — far more than any other racial category except for white, which includes Hispanic and had 264,443 missing children.
  • An estimated 42 percent of missing children are Black.
Until I saw these statistics this week, I had no idea. Performer and comedian DL Hughley brought attention to this issue when he asked why the FBI had recovered Tom Brady's precious missing jersey but had not been able to find the missing black girls. Many missing African-American children get classified as runaways, so they are less likely to get Amber Alerts or media coverage, which can help locate them more quickly and reduce their risk of sex trafficking, abuse, or worse.

The reason I had not heard about this is because of “Missing White Girl Syndrome"--news media is more likely to cover the murders and abductions of affluent or middle-class white girls than those of boys, poor kids, and kids of color, especially African-Americans. (However, the case of a missing white boy, Kyron Horman, was HEAVILY covered here in Portland, way more than children of color who vanished around the same time.) Although 32 percent of the U.S. population is a person of color, only 13 percent of newspaper journalists and 22 percent of TV newsroom staff are racial minorities. Journalists tend to cover what they know, and their racial bias comes through in their lack of coverage of these missing young people of color.

Comedian Jon Stewart calculated the following equation for how much airtime child abductions get on TV: y (minutes of media coverage) = Family Income x (Abductee Cuteness ÷ Skin Color) + Length of Abduction x Media Savvy of Grieving Parents.

We need to demand more from our local whitewashed media.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 24: Colin Kaepernick

My friends know I am no football fan, but I do admire the way Colin Kaepernick walks his talk.

What did Kaepernick do the day after "President" Trump continued to insult him for no reason? He donated $50,000 to Meals on Wheels! He also gave generously to #LoveArmyForSomalia, an initiative aiming to ease the famine gripping Somalia that has left millions in desperate need of food and water. Consequently, the organization now has a cargo plane to fly supplies into Somalia.

This at the same time that Trump and his friends have "oppressively blackmailed, plundered in robbery, wronged the poor and needy, and abused the outsider unjustly." Add to that list the clueless Sarah Palin, who claimed that Kaepernick's donation was a "political stunt." Really.

Who's the better Christian, I ask you?

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 23: Jussie Smollett

As someone who feels the hurts of the world, I continue to be greatly concerned and worried about the state of the USA at the moment, and the ways that those on the margins are being mistreated. And I'm furious at the "princes of Israel" among us, "abusive to outsiders, oppressive against orphans and widows."

Jussie Smollett, an actor on Emmy-award winning "Empire," recently debuted the “F.U.W.” (short for “f**ked up world) video that captures how I and many others are feeling under this new Republican regime.

Smollett captures how people are being disenfranchised and dismissed in the new Republican fantasy of a world...from LGBT rights to religious and racial prejudices.

“This song is for the oppressed. That’s why I feel like people will connect with it because it is very broad, because oppression is so broad,” Smollett said in an interview with The Associated Press.

In one scene, a man in a wheelchair runs over a Trump mask. “That mask is a representation of this false idea of patriotism. And that mask is a representation of this idea of white male privilege,” Smollett said. “It’s so much bigger than him. It’s what he represents, and it’s because of that representation, that’s why he’s the president of the United States currently.”

“It’s our opportunity to take those masks off and shatter them, so that’s what I did,” he added.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Was a Stranger, Day 22: Karen Gaffney

Yesterday while people around the globe were celebrating World Down Syndrome Day, the Republicans in Congress and the White House were making their proposed health care plan even WORSE for the poor and disabled by writing a new "manager's amendment" in a desperate appeal to conservative Republicans. The amendment makes Medicaid cuts even deeper, frees up governors to raid the program to plug other budget holes, and ends Medicaid expansion under Obamacare much sooner than Ryan’s original bill.

Trumpcare is devastating to the poor and benefits the rich, all studies show. For example, a family making less than $10,000 will lose $1,420, a cut that amounts to almost one-third of their income. Meanwhile, the average family making $200,000 or more would gain $5,640. But another less-talked-about effect is that it will be devastating to disabled Americans, forcing millions of them into poverty and possibly back into institutions. Add to that the programs being targeted and voucher programs being proposed at the Department of Education by Betsy DeVos and her ilk and the fact that the Web site about protecting students with disabilities was taken down, and it's clear that disabled people are facing huge threats to their livelihoods and ability to thrive.

So with all this in mind, I chose Oregonian Karen Gaffney today as my voice. In 2001 Gaffney was the first person with Down syndrome to complete a relay swim of the English channel. In 2007 she swam 9 miles across Lake Tahoe (in 59 degree water), in 2009 she swam 5 miles across the Boston Harbor, and she's completed 16 swims across the San Francisco Bay. She's also won two gold medals from the Special Olympics. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Portland on May 5, 2013, for her work in raising awareness regarding the abilities of people who have Down syndrome (another first for someone with Down syndrome). She is the president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, which is dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, schools, the workplace and the community for people with developmental disabilities.

Listen to Gaffney in her own voice in this incredible TED talk, with the unfortunate title of "All Lives Matter" (but it means something different entirely). She shares the story of her fifth grade teacher who called her from Germany to let her know she was expecting a baby with Down syndrome, and how that daughter is now a swimmer like Gaffney. She is inspiring and amazing!

Did you know that 92 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated? Although I'm passionately pro-choice, this statistic makes me sad.

Gaffney travels the country speaking to a wide range of audiences about overcoming limitations and about what can be accomplished with positive expectations. She tackles any challenge she faces with determination and commitment, knowing she has limits, but not allowing them to limit her drive to succeed.

Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.
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