Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Scott Sisters to be released from prison!

Posted December 29th, 2010 by Tom

UPDATE (Jan 1): Gladys Scott calls NY Times columnist Bob Herbert. Read his column about their New Year’s Eve conversation here.

“I was happy for the Scott sisters and deeply moved as Gladys spoke of how desperately she wanted to “just hold” her two children and her mother, who live in Florida. But I couldn’t help thinking that right up until the present moment she and Jamie have been treated coldly and disrespectfully by the governor and other state officials. It’s as if the authorities have found it impossible to hide their disdain, their contempt, for the two women.”

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I just received the exciting news that Governor Haley Barbour has suspended the sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott, clearing the way for their release from prison in Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Moments Count

Posted December 23rd, 2010 by Tom

Earlier this year I got connected through Facebook to Brooke Leigh Sheldon and Valli Keller via a friend of a friend (that’s how Facebook rolls, right?). Brooke asked if I wanted more communication than simply the FB connection. We set up a conference call for the three of us to discuss the online internet magazine they put out every week and the work that I do.

We talked for more than an hour and discovered many mutual interests. The result of our invigorating conversation is that we agreed that I would become one of the contributing authors for The Moments Count Journal. The core concept of the journal is the belief that “every person has a purpose and a power to change the world.” Brooke and Valli approach this mission from many perspectives: arts, science, people, and humor. They also include a focus on the eradication of modern-day slavery.

I encourage all my friends to check out The Moments Count Journal and to follow it on Facebook. By signing up for a free subscription, you’ll receive the Journal via email each week. It’s an inspiring gift to give yourself this holiday season…

If there is something you would like to change, something in your life or your world you want to be different than it is, seize that inspiration in the moment. Immediately begin the process of creating the change. Start with you. Start with your thoughts, your ideas, the pictures in your mind of how it can be well served by your contribution. Do not wait for tomorrow or next week. Begin the transformation in the moment of the enlightenment.

“Jesus the man” by Grant Hayter-Menzies

Posted December 21st, 2010 by Tom

Too often at this time of year we rush about fulfilling our various obligations in gift-giving, card-sending, and party-attending, and battle lines are drawn between those who see “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” greetings as a religious war worth fighting.

When you have a few minutes I encourage you to read “Jesus the man”, the brief, gentle thoughts of Grant Hayter-Menzies about a man who taught his followers two thousand years ago to

…love no matter what.

Grant is a thoughtful man, a good writer, and a fellow member of the Coming to the Table community. He’s also a distant cousin of mine. We’ve not yet met in person, but we will. Grant has become a good friend. His words, I believe, will inspire you whether you celebrate Christmas or some other Holiday (holy day) this season.

Rebecca Skloot, “Henrietta Lacks” author, named one of “5 Surprising Leaders of 2010″

Posted December 10th, 2010 by Tom

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the best books I read this year. You can read my review from July here. I just learned that the author, Rebecca Skloot, has been named one of the “Five Surprising Leaders of 2010″ by the Washington Post.

My hope is that even more people will be drawn to the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor, African American mother of five who died of cervical cancer at the age of 31 in 1951. Cancerous cells that were taken from her cervix without her knowledge or permission allowed researchers to develop the polio vaccine and to create multiple great medical breakthroughs that have benefited all of us in ways that most of us remain blissfully unaware.

From the article:

Prior to 2010, Rebecca Skloot was a little-known science writer. But with the publication of her first book in February, Skloot has hit the national scene with a graceful thud. In writing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot is welcomed to our short list of the year’s great leaders. In her biography of the woman behind HeLa cells–those scientific wonders that have aided with the development of the polio vaccine, groundbreaking cancer research and advancements in in-vitro fertilization–Skloot tells a human story wrapped in racism, classism and hope.

While The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks may be regarded as one of the finest reads of 2010 (it’s even being made into an HBO film by Oprah), Skloot herself shares an interesting story of persistence, compassion and dedication. Tinkering on the project for years after first being inspired in high school, Skloot never abandoned her goal of finishing the book. Often writing in solitude in a cabin in West Virginia, Skloot’s efforts seem more akin to giving birth than simply putting pen to paper. And as if her persistent efforts to simply complete the project weren’t enough, Skloot worked to establish a scholarship fund for Lacks’s heirs, a testament to her compassion for the story she chronicled and the relationships she developed with the people she captured in print.

Fix Racism! the 10-point guide

Posted December 9th, 2010 by Tom

We’re excited to announce that ours is one of the websites where you can now download–FOR FREE–the “I Can Fix It” guide to ending racism developed by author/artist/speaker damali ayo.

You may have heard of damali’s books (How to Rent a Negro is a satirical look at race relations; Obamistan: Land Without Racism is her humorous guide to the new America), or watched her on ABC News or The O’Reilly Factor. She’s funny, thought-provoking, a little irreverent, and someone who can take the challenging issue of “race” and help others deal with it more effectively than they have previously.

Two thousand people were asked for five things individuals can do to end racism. The “I Can Fix It!” 10-point guide (five steps each for white people and people of color) is the result.  Damali has graciously given her permission for us (and several others) to offer this free guide to visitors to our website. Feel free to download, print, and utilize this guide to support your own journey—and those of your friends and colleagues—toward ending racism.

As damali says, “The guide is a fun, friendly way to deal with the nagging problem of racism. Spread the word – mess with people, make people laugh, cry, think, feel and most of all – change.”

The free download is available here. Thanks, damali!

Modern Day Slavery in New Jersey (wait… WHAT?!)

Posted December 6th, 2010 by Tom

When I [saw] teenagers going around, going to the movies and just being a teen … I just couldn’t understand why my life has to be this way …  –“Nicole,” human trafficking victim

Whenever I discuss modern-day slavery with audiences–no matter where in the world I do so–the vast majority of people are stunned to learn that there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history.

In my most recent post I highlighted the work of journalist Nicholas Kristof, including the book he co-wrote with his wife Sheryl Wudunn: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The stories in Half the Sky demonstrate clearly that the abuse and enslavement of women and girls is the most outrageous expression of terrorism of our time.

Now comes the story of two young girls from West Africa–one from a small village in Ghana, the other from Togo–who, rather than receive the education their parents were promised, were forced to work in a hair braiding shop in Newark, New Jersey. Against their will they worked, on their feet for 12 hours a day. At night they slept on the floor with groups of other enslaved girls. Their enslavement was enforced through beatings, the withholding of food, sexual abuse, and isolation.

A woman who heads a clinic to help young women after they are freed from such conditions said,

Sadly, the work of our clinic is necessary in every community in America. Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, exists in big cities, in small towns, in rural areas with no towns, exists in restaurants, in hair salons, in hotels and in farm work.

Learn about another aspect of this tragedy on December 6 and 7 when NPR’s All Things Considered airs a two-part series. “Trafficked” is produced by Youth Radio and discloses the system of enslavement of young girls in Oakland, California. The FBI says that more than 100,000 children and youth are forced into prostitution each year.

At our website we maintain a list of organizations dedicated to eradicating modern day slavery. Please check it out. Become informed. Take action. You can make a difference.

The Reporter I trust (and there aren’t many)

Posted December 3rd, 2010 by Tom

When I was a child television news in our home meant Walter Cronkite. In junior high school history class we watched his “You Are There” series of historical reenactments. There were reasons he was the most trusted man in America; why President Johnson once said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America” and became a one-term president. Cronkite was calm, thoughtful and balanced. His work and his words made a positive difference.

Most popular news celebrities today–from both the right and the left–remind me far more of Howard Beale in the movie Network (“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!“) than of Walter Cronkite. There are exceptions, of course. But for the most part it seems like so much screaming, interrupting, innuendo, corporate influence, and preconceived bias. What we see on television and hear on radio isn’t news. It’s entertainment. It’s opinion laced with vitriol. The focus isn’t on informing the public about the important issues of our day; on providing knowledge and understanding. It’s about profits.

And then there’s Nicholas Kristof.

Without the reporting of Nick Kristof the world may never have learned about the crisis in Darfur; certainly not as early as we did. I look for his columns in the New York Times because they always inform, they help me think, they broaden my knowledge about issues that matter around the world. I’d like to also recommend to you two projects of his outside of the Times.

Kristof and his wife, Sheryl Wudunn, wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Did you know that more girls have been killed in the last half century–because they were girls–than all the men who were killed in all the wars of the 20th century? The authors demonstrate clearly that the abuse and enslavement of women and girls is the greatest moral outrage of our time. This is one of the best and most powerful books I’ve read in the past year. I was honored and humbled when I learned that the United Methodist Women selected both Half the Sky and Inheriting the Trade for their 2011 reading program.

While participating in, and presenting at, the Bioneers Conference recently with my friends Belvie Rooks and Dedan Gills, I saw the documentary film The Reporter. In it, we follow Kristof in 2007 when he traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than five million people have been killed there over the past decade. Kristof’s mission is to make sure this humanitarian crisis is well-known; that everyone from typical citizens to international decision-makers knows what’s happening with the hope that with this knowledge will come the responsibility to make a positive difference there. He meets people from the most humble peasants in devastated villages to the Congo’s leading rebel warlord in his jungle lair. It’s a harrowing and important film.

Reading Half the Sky and watching The Reporter may give you the impression that Kristof pretty much reports on the most horrible and sad situations around the world. That is true. And we should all be grateful for his important work. We have choices. We can watch and read the bizarre “info-tainment” that passes for “news” in most places today. We can hide from the important news because so many places and situations in the world are horrible. Or we can seek out those who can help us understand the terror and oppression that continues to plague our world and, with that knowledge, do something about it.

Paying attention to Nick Kristof is a good place to begin.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry