Category Archives: Storytelling

Redefining Hero: Cheree

Cheree O’Shields is a registered nurse who works at Kateri Residence, a program of St. Stephen’s Human Services that serves Native American women and children. She has worked as a nurse and advocate for homeless youth in the Twin Cities since 2005. She is currently working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in Public Health Nursing and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.

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Rethinking My Own History

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“Power is the combined force of a multitude of voices joined together…”

 

Junior year in my high school US History class we held a presidential-election-tournament-deal, where everyone represented at least one US president whom has ever existed. I drew Ronald Reagan.

That was five years ago now, so the exact details are fuzzy, but when it was my turn to debate with the quieter, more reserved student portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt, I won. Method of victory: slander.

Years of viewing politics from only  an outsiders’ perspective, it seemed to be the correct way. Louder, more boisterous and arguably funnier than my opponent, I barraged  him with unfavorable facts about FDR; facts that were totally irrelevant to the true meaning of politics, but would nonetheless allow me to win (as many actual presidents before me) in a landslide.

At the time, my teacher was completely shocked that I, Reagan, had won the class vote—especially over FDR. While we were learning the politics of campaign work, we were not learning how to ‘do’ effective politics.

It was not until four years later when I decided to take part in the Inequality in America off-campus study program here in the Twin Cities that I truly learned what ‘doing politics’ meant. I was interning as a community organizer for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, while in the class was learning about organizing people to create social change. Not only did my course delve into community organizing through labor movements, but we also learned how to lobby for policies, and what that entails. This was a very transformative and empowering experience because I had never been told that my voice as a citizen and community member could create change—that my voice could, should and would be heard.

In Ken Burns PBS series Wynton Marsalis likens democracy to jazz, “In American life, you have all these different agendas. You have conflict. And we’re attempting to achieve harmony through conflict…that’s what jazz music is. It’s exactly like democracy… The real power of jazz is that a group of people can come together and improvise…negotiate their agendas with each other” (Boyte 2001).

I like this definition of politics. It represents how  as a democracy our collective voices are heard and harmonize to create effective policies. Unfortunately, in our day and age I feel that this view of our democracy has been lost. The only voices heard, are those loud enough to speak over others, usually with their dollars.

In high school I perpetuated this skewed political paradigm and took on the role of the only voice heard by trampling over my quieter opponent. If anything this victory could be likened to the victory of Reagan himself; a rich television actor who “fit” the role of president to a tee. How could he not win? His voice was extremely loud as a wealthy celebrity. But did his popular voice mean he was politically experienced and knowledgeable? Not exactly. Did it mean he knew what the people of this country wanted or needed? I’m not sold. But like in my high school, the silent masses simply went with my overpowering singular voice.

Having learned more of the political and everyday context around Reagan over time, I now see why my teacher was so shocked that I beat FDR. Personally, I am ashamed of my own pride in winning this debate. Looking back on this experience, I wonder how my teacher could have ever let that happen.

Now, don’t think that it was my history teachers fault that I was not an active citizen at that time—it was a variety of aspects made up by my entire environment growing up. If anything, I would consider this teacher one of the most influential women I had met up until that point in my life. She was my first glimpse at feminism and the level of inequality in our political system. Every day my actions and beliefs are shaped by the classes I took with her in high school. At that time though, my 16-year-old self could not grasp the ubiquitous concept of ‘isms’ because I was too wrapped up in my sports, volunteer work, school work, and student clubs to fully confront my own perceptions of inequality in our world.

This Rethink History project is important to me because I believe everyone should be empowered to use their voice in creation of a more equitable world. Especially in our world today where wealth influences our government and major power structures in place, not all voices are heard. Youth are taught not to value our place in this democracy as much we are pushed to get the best test scores. There is no way around the conflict of interest in our political world today, but at least through a rise of cohesive improvisation of all ideas brought to the table we can create a more inclusive view of our countries history and present tense.

 

Boyte, H. (2001). A tale of two playgrounds: Young people and politics. Retrieved from http://inside.augsburg.edu/publicachievement/files/2012/12/A-tale-of-two-playgrounds.pdf

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Rewriting our Story: Equal Pay

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Tuesday, April 8 is National Equal Pay Day.  A day dedicated to advocating, highlighting and eliminating the wage gap between men and women. Even after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, women in 2014 are paid $0.77 to the dollar earned by a man. On the other hand, women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) make 33 percent more on average. With the demand for STEM jobs and equal pay, join the conversation on #EqualPay and #STEM.

The YWCA’s across the US and the Department of Energy are teaming up to host a live panel and Tweet Up on “The STEM Promise: Opportunities for Economic Empowerment.” The conversation will focus on #EqualPay #STEMjobs and how the wage gap can be impacted.

TWEET with US! Raise awareness and join the conversation on April 8, 2014, from 3-4pm EST

• Watch #STEMEqualPay on Tuesday – @YWCA_NCA, @ENERGY, @YWCAUSA, @wusa9 talking #womeninSTEM go.usa.gov/KhMY

• #womeninSTEM have smaller wage gap. Join @ENERGY and @YWCAUSA on Tues to hear why. go.usa.gov/KhMY (#STEMEqualPay)

• join @ENERGY @YWCA_NCA #STEMEqualPay Tweet Up Tuesday & share entry-level #STEM job advice to advance pay equality go.usa.gov/KhMY

 

 

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ReThink History Project

Introducing the ReThink History Project:

From the moment that individuals are introduced to structures and individuals in ‘power’, there is an underlying systemic bias towards white individuals. The history of our country cannot be discussed without first addressing the historical trauma that colonialism has imposed on individuals of color within the boundaries of the United States, and beyond. Iris Young discusses the five faces of oppression as: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.  The main oppressive event that everyone’s mind jumps to is slavery. While slavery was not just taking place in the U.S., it has greatly shaped how our country developed policies and laws that may still be in place today. Not only have our political institutions been formed under this social construction of ‘whiteness’, but so has popular media, the entire academic system, and the cycle of socialization in our world.

In Winston Churchill’s 1946 Iron Curtain speech he addresses the all-too-often-phenomena of history being written by the victors. Our stories and our history should never be forgotten, yet so often there are individuals whom have made powerful changes in the United States, whose stories and names remain out of our history curricula and classrooms. In her TedTalks speech, Chimamanda Adichie speaks to “the danger of a single story” representing an entire group of people. The true American dream of a ‘Land of Opportunity’ has been lost.

Through the ReThink History project we aim to bring light to those individuals not recognized in our history textbooks, or discussed in the standard classroom setting – yet should never be forgotten.  We believe taking an honest look at the past and questioning the normal history narrative can help everyone understand, and improve, our world.  We would like to acknowledge the many different lenses and approaches that could be taken for this history project, yet we choose to specially focus on female identified individuals. Through this project we will post on Thursdays, around topics relating to this subject matter, in order to help us all become more educated on our past and present.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask either in the comments section below or through personal email: rethinkhistoryproject@gmail.com

Please take a look at the first project we will be leading:

Redefining Hero

Words—an interlocking web of significance. Life is breathed into an idea through them. With the power that a single utterance can provide, we began to think, “What does “hero” mean?  This word has worn many faces. A great uncle who beat cancer, a next-door-neighbor who volunteered abroad, a famous deep-sea diver—the list is endless. With this in mind, we wondered, “What is the commonly assumed embodiment of a hero?” “What is the stereotype?” “What is the definition of a hero.” According to Oxford Dictionary:

he·ro

ˈhi(ə)rō/

noun: hero; plural noun: heroes;


”A person, typically male, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

We are curious if this one-dimensional depiction of what a “hero” is limits the exposure of other important heroes. Throughout history, white males have been featured in many positions of power, and thus have been seen as heroes. Undeniably, there are countless white men who have done great things in this world. However, the way our media, textbooks, and cultural perpetuation shape our understanding of what it has meant and what it means now to be a “hero” often confines our perspectives to one narrative.

So, we are interested.

  • How do you define “a hero?”
  • Who inspires you?
  • Who is your hero?

We are hopeful that this project will bring awareness and exposure to many different types of heroes.

By submitting your story, you can add to a collection that will be un-uniformed and undefined. We are very excited to see the submissions! They can be submitted in the form of:

  • Written response: The length is subjective, however, the more concise you can be, the better!

  • Video response: A short clip can be submitted to the e-mail address provided.

  • In person video recording with our team: We will be conducting short video recordings at the U of M campus.

E-Mail Address: Rethinkhistoryproject@gmail.com

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“We Are Not Only a Mouth and Luring Siren We Are the Women”

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Lately when things have been feeling a little gloomy or when my body and my mind has been feeling unambitious, I’ve been turning to reading poetry, listening to rap and hip-hop (with a conscious message) or watching spoken word for that extra motivation and wisdom.
 
It’s compelling because poetry and spoken word have typically been a world for me untouched and unexplored. I have always appreciated, been more than curious, and admired the powerful individuals inside it. With their booming voices and insightful word choices, whether their content be delivered through pencil or mouth, paint brush or spray can, rapping or singing, sign language or Spanish, I’ve always been curious.   When it comes to the message and the content they are spitting it’s okay to agree and disagree, for I’ve always loved to question and to be questioned. The beautiful thing about art is there isn’t a way to “do” poetry, to “do” spoken word, to “do” art. Yet despite my long lasting envy, there was a part of me buried under my insecurities that did not feel like this world of poetry was my territory, even if it was in my own bedroom.
 
But lately… I’m all up in that territory and I’m not gonna lie that shit feels great and I’ve never felt more inspired.
 
So a few weeks ago, when I was having a… we can call it one of my “unmotivated moments”  lying in bed, slowly eating ice cream, I stumbled upon this spoken word piece called, “Khaleesi,” by Tonya Ingram and Venessa Marco. (and sorry no Game of Thorn Fans this piece is not about that Khaleesi). But this piece, these two women really blew me away. Every day since I first saw it, I’ve watched it for motivation because as weird as it sounds, I’ve been spending a lot of time discovering my voice and how I want to be heard, even if it is scary.
 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R0nuyEGq6E%5D
 
My two favorite verses from this are:
 
“we are not only a mouth and luring siren
we are the women
who dare think of ourselves as more than a fuck
when we lend our thoughts to breath
we know often
we are speaking the words that will kill us
for we are then called
bitch
cunt
whore
never a voice
just static sound”
 
I really also like the ending verse:
 
“This is our birthright
this is our inherit
we are women who capsize entire crowds
with the sayings of the wind
holy knuckles
full
of fight.”

So what or who has been motivating you lately? I would love to hear from you, even if you just post the link in the comments below!

pssst. other RLA’ers love spoken word and poetry too and hey, some of them even spit themselves (let me take you back in time and you can check out what they are writin’ or lovin’):

5 BADASS SPOKEN WORD POEMS ON BODY IMAGE

CHEERS TO A NEW YEAR

I DON’T WANT TO BE AFRAID

I CRY: WOMEN IN WAR

RISE WITH THE MORNING (AN ORIGINAL POEM)

ARTIST REVIEW: ANGEL HAZE

Just some Friday Fun Links that highlight spoken word pieces or poetry:

BLACK FEELS LIKE

SHRINKING WOMEN

RAPE CRISIS AT OCCIDENTAL COLLEGE SPURS SHARP CRITIQUE– IN POETRY

HEY GIRL HEY: THAT GAY MISOGYNY AIN’T CUTE

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Also not only shout out times a million to  Tonya Ingram and  Venessa Marco.  but also Button Poetry (where I found this link). Button Poetry is a  Minnesota-based organization dedicated to improving the quality of performance poetry media. 

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The Lies They Tell Us

When I was 14, I read a lot of magazines. I had a subscription to YM, and when that ran out of business, to Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Each month when these magazines arrived at my doorstep, I would take them to my room and read them cover-to-cover, devouring every word. I would take every personality test, rip out pictures of all my favorite celebrities (mmm…Orlando Bloom), and comb through every tidbit of relationship and style advice.

By that time, I had already heard all about the media’s negative representation of women. I was familiar with words like self-esteem, anorexia, body image, Photoshop. Even at 14, I knew, on some level, that I was being spoon-fed a deep and intricate lie about what it means to be a successful and beautiful woman in this country.

Despite knowing what these magazines were really saying about women and girls—about me, really—I still bought in. I still asked my mother to renew my subscription for years. I still read each issue cover to cover every month. I can’t say why exactly, but something in those magazines always got to me. Maybe it was because there, in those endless pages of workout regimes and mascara application tips, I found a perfect road map for how to belong.

10 years later, I am happily well beyond my teen magazine days, however, the narratives and messages these magazines continue to perpetuate are alive and well. And I know the messages they send are seeping into the next generation of 14-year-old girls in much the same way they affected me. Recently, I skimmed through a few issues of Glamour and Cosmo while waiting in doctor’s offices and airports. Below is just a very small sampling of some of the content I came across. It’s always amazing to me to find such adverse messaging in media primarily produced by women, for women. These are the lies our culture tells us, and that we sometimes tell ourselves.

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This was from an article about how to give a successful Maid of Honor speech. Because, you know, nothing endears you to your audience more than a healthy dose of insecurity and self-deprecation. Also, heaven forbid you let people see your ugly-cry face…

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Don’t even get me started on this one. There is this eternal myth in our society that the more a woman pulls back, the more desirable she’ll seem to a potential boyfriend. In actuality, this framework perpetuates rape culture by sending the message that “no” really means “yes.” For more about this topic, read this great article in Feminspire.

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And, here we have an exciting new announcement about disposable cups designed to protect us from date rape drugs. Along with the notorious anti-rape underwear that came out this year, companies continue to profit off of women’s legitimate fears of rape by creating products that teach women it is their responsibility to protect themselves against rape, and that if it does happen, it’s because these women didn’t take the adequate precautions. Women’s magazines continue to advertise products that promote victim-blaming by placing the burden of responsibility for preventing rape on potential victims rather than potential rapists.

Have you seen anything particularly oppressive in a magazine lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts–good and bad–about women’s magazines and their influence in American culture.

Rewriting our Story: Unspeakable Truths

To have a friend is to share truths,
but what if yours are unspeakable truths?

To have a friend means you cannot spread lies,
but what if your life is tangled in lies?

To have a friend means you cannot have secrets,
but what if you have horrible secrets?

To have a friend means you need to get close,
but what if you, your mind and heart are isolated?

To have a friend means a new concept of space,
but what if you have no room?

I lost my friends because of you.
Or was it because I was so consumed in our relationship?

I lost my worldview because of you.
Or was it because of all the lies I had to tell?

I lost my sense in self because of you,
or was it because I held both your and my secrets so tight.

I have many unspeakable truths and they begin long ago,

but the hardest truth is learning to commit to the most important person, myself.

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An Open Letter of Apology to My 10th Grade Health Classmates: It Wasn’t Her Fault

It would have been a typical day in my tenth grade Health class if we did not have a visitor that day.

I remembered looking at her confusingly as I tried to figure out why she was there. After she introduced herself and where she worked, she read a story to us…a story about a sophomore girl who went to prom with a senior guy who she had a crush on. As you can expect, she went on talking about how he persisted to pour drinks for her and how many drinks she ended up having that night. They went to somewhere private and he started to take her clothes off. She hesitated, said no, but they ended up having sex that night anyway. Another rape lesson, I thought.

After the story ended, she told us to organize ourselves and pick a table according to how strongly we feel about whose fault it was. The tables were arranged as “entirely the guy’s fault”, “mostly the guy’s fault”, “both parties’ faults equally”, “mostly girl’s fault”, and “entirely the girl’s fault”.

Majority of the class sat on the table that labeled “entirely the guy’s fault” with some disparity among other table, except for one table. The table I sat on was for “entire the GIRL’s fault”…and I was the only one.

The guest then devoured me with questions about why I felt so strongly that it was the girl’s fault. What I remembered is that other tables were not being asked the same questions I got asked. Regardless of how unfair I felt, I explained to her with my best knowledge of what I had been taught my entire life on the subject: if a girl is raped, she asked for it. Here is a background story that might help you understand my view a bit. I was born and grew up in a conservative small town outside the U.S., and I had only been in the United States for less than two years when this all happened. All my life I have seen how media and parents taught us that a good girl will not dress “slutty”. She will not speak to guys in a flirtatious way. A good girl will not go out with a guy alone, and if there is any alcohol involved, she is definitely the one to blame for no self-control. Therefore, if she had an unwanted sex, it is all her fault for not following those good-girl-guidelines. I was taught that sex is a natural thing for guys and they will always find ways to sleep with you…and girls are responsible for making sure that the unwanted sex situation does not happen.

So, I took my stance on this subject firm and proud I categorized myself as “a good girl” and blamed the girl in the scenario for losing her self-control.

There were many things happened in class that I did not understand. First, why did the guest asked me so many questions for saying that it is entirely the girl’s fault? Why did people on the opposite end were not being asked anything. I did not understand why there were so many people at the “entirely the guy’s fault” table. Moreover, many guys at that table seems unwilling to be there, as if they were there because it was what you supposed to choose. I also did not understand what I did wrong by speaking up for what I had been taught and for being the “good girl”. I did not understand why I was attacked like that. 

I discovered answers to the questions I had that day during my years in college. I heard, witnessed, experienced similar situations. I learned that what she/he was wearing or how many drinks they had doesn’t matter. I learned that without a yes, it is a no. I learned that this subject cannot be taken lightly as the experience is not forgettable, impossible to forget, and the recovery takes years if not a lifetime. Most importantly, I learned how our education, media, and society have been “preventing” the issue by focusing on the wrong spot. They said that the more cleavage you show is like the closer you hold the meat in front of a shark; you cannot expect it to refuse and swim away. Well, guess what? Men have brains and they are capable of thinking and acting responsibly if they want to. They are not sharks and will not act out of instinct and eat the meat just because it is in front of them.

Now that I understood everything that happened that day, I felt deeply sorry for my action. Blaming the girl that day was not only disappoint the guest presenter and my teacher, I hurt my fellow classmates. I don’t know how many girls and guys in the class experienced sexual assault or know anyone who is a survivor. I cannot imagine how much damage I have done to my friends’ feelings with a small action in that Health class. How many people did I blame as a byproduct of my action and make them even more guilty for what happened to them? They were all my friends and I ruined them…I am sorry.

I know that I am not perfect, but I try to do my best to not hurt anyone else intentionally. If you are reading this as someone who feels that rape happens because the victim was asking for it, I beg you to give people a chance to explain to you. You will see things the way I see it now.

Sincerely,

Beau Sinchai
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