Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snow Days leave many out in the cold

I love the snow. There is nothing so peaceful as fresh powder in the early morning stillness.

As I check my phone at 4:30 am I hear the familiar chime. Once. Twice. Three times.

There it is. My three different notifications from PGCPS letting me know to turn off all alarms and snuggle back in for a few extra hours of blissful sleep. Soon enough the kids internal alarms kick in and my bed is quickly invaded by little hands, feet, eyes and mouths. First they happily and quietly join me under the covers but after a short while they are fully awake and clamoring with excitement at the prospect of a Snow Day.

In our house Snow Days can mean movies and games, sledding and snow angels, snow ball fights and coming in from the cold to hot chocolate and cookies. I sometimes scour Pintrest and the internet using the time to try out new recipes. But I know all too well the worry some families feel when they receive the notification that there's no school today.

When you are operating on a tight budget an extra day at home can break you. Hourly workers will not be paid for the missed time at work and face both higher bills and reduced pay.  Financially, spiritually and emotionally the strain leaves you physically drained and on edge unable to enjoy the extra time with your children because you are concerned about what the extra hours home will mean for your heat and electric bills. You may not have the food to cover additional meals and many mothers will go without as they try to provide for their children. This is an unfortunate reality for far too many families in Prince George's County and the surrounding region.

In Prince George’s County, 15.6 percent of residents (134,040 out of 858,539
individuals) are food insecure. **

 11.4 percent of children (23,810 out of 208,106 children) in Prince George’s County are
food insecure

 ** Data comes from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap

This winter we have had multiple Snow Days that have occurred on or around the first of the month. This is an especially vulnerable time for families dealing with food insecurity. There is a common myth of the "First of the Month" for recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) commonly known as Food Stamps. In fact SNAP benefits are staggered anywhere from the first to the eleventh of a given month and depending on how well a family has budgeted for the 30 day cycle the last few days can mean having little to no food. Many families count on the children being out of the house at school to receive two meals during these lean times and Snow Days mean that these children, our most vulnerable population miss those important meals.

Having studied food insecurity and food deserts in the Washington Metro Region, every time we are hit with a storm and subsequent Snow Days I am reminded of the thousands of residents that will go hungry as a consequence of missing work and school due to the weather. The stillness of the snow masks women and children that are suffering in silence as they look at bare cabinets with hungry eyes. We can take steps as a community to help families in need during winter storms: As you are stocking up at the grocery store, buy a few additional pantry staples and donate them to your local food bank; Governmental agencies should proactively contact residents and remind them of options and locations where they may be able to get food to help stock their pantry in anticipation of winter weather events and Snow Days; Schools can become community resources for families to come and either receive direct services or referrals for food and other needs.

I know first hand feeding a family of seven on a tight budget is no easy feat. During Snow Days we often take a stew pot approach. I take pantry staples some veggies and a little meat and create a healthy filling meal that is low cost but we can snack on all day. Besides what is better than a yummy hot bowl of soup with homemade cornbread as the winds howl outside. Individuals, nonprofits and governmental agencies working together can make that Snow Day meal a reality for many families in Prince George's County dealing with food insecurity.  We will triumph together.

**Angela Angel is running for Maryland House of Delegates, Legislative District 25. Visit http://angelaangel.nationbuilder.com/join to learn how you can help us triumph together. **

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hampton we never can make thee a song....or an accurate headline

When I’m met with a snide comment about my alma mater Hampton University, I usually reply “ We’re not bougie, We’re just better” Its tongue in cheek (especially if you really know me) but at the same time it’s a shield against the constant refrain that Hampton’s well known requirements and standards for its students dress and behavior is something that is detrimental and elitist. Then came along the newest “Look what HU’s doing now” internet sensation. I actually read the stories as they came across my feed and at first I ignored the murmurs, seeing that most of the headlines were inaccurate and sensational. It started small, until my mother is telling me about it because she heard from Tom Joyner and Roland Martin about “HU’s Muslim profiling” and even fellow alumni are calling out our “Home by the Sea”. 

Let’s all stop the madness. 

There is no squad of HU Officials running around asking for papers and snatching scarves off student’s heads. The news portrayal has gone from slightly comical to ridiculous to absurd. The most recent post I saw said that Ms. Clarke will be kicked off campus if caught without papers as if HU has become some sort of regime. In the age of internet news, Facebook and Twitter one salacious headline becomes legitimized not by the content but the number of shares and soon you have people commenting and disparaging an institution and policy without a second thought as to the truth.

What’s worse is that many of the shares and comments were coming from fellow HU Alumni. If HU had actually instituted a policy that was discriminatory in any way, I would have been the first to call them out. That’s just not the case here. So first off let’s set the record straight on the actual policy:

1. Students seeking approval to wear headgear as an expression of religious or cultural dress may make a written request for a review through the Office of the Chaplain.
2. The Chaplain will forward a recommendation to the Vice President for Student Affairs for final approval.
3. Students that are approved will then have their new ID card picture taken by University Police with the headgear being worn.
I’m waiting for the next article to come across my feed to say “Hampton University expels every person in head wrap on campus..... Erykah Badu is forever banned” 
As Always folks,

As Always folks,

Basically – anyone can wear headgear be it because you like erykah badu style “cultural dress” or to support your religious views. Technically you are supposed to get permission by simply going to the office and filling out a form. The policy is not heavily enforced no one is hitting students up on campus about the issue. 

The Melona Clarke Issue
Ms. Clarke ran into a problem when she went to take her new ID picture and from what I understand part of the confusion may have come from the fact that she previously did not wear a headdress on campus so there may have been a question of whether this was an expression of her religious beliefs or a choice for style. TO BE CLEAR: Hampton University allows head gear for both of the above reasons but you need permission from the Office of the Chaplain to take an id picture in head gear.  Ms. Clarke wasn't asked to “prove she’s a Muslim”. She was asked for documentation that she had University approval to take her id picture in her headdress by the staff in the id office. 

According to staff in the Office of the Chaplain, that handles these requests, there have only been a few requests and no one has ever been denied for any reason. There is also no requirement for any additional proof from a religious authority. Anyone can simply write “I want to wear my headgear because it’s what I like” and unless the headgear is offensive or your basic doo rag you’re fine. 

So how and why did this become HuffPost, BYP, Tom Joyner and the rest of the world claiming :

"Hampton, Va. (WTKR) – Melona Clarke said she had to prove she was a Muslim so she could be a student at Hampton University." (News Channel 3) Really, that’s your headline but its nowhere in your story.

"She's not a tourist visiting a foreign country, but Melona Clark carries her papers with her at all times -- to prove she has permission to wear a hijab." (HuffPost) But you fail to mention that Ms. Clarke herself says she chooses to do that on her own accord and quite frankly there’s no justification for it.

"Melona Clarke wears a hijab as part of her faith, but if she doesn’t have documentation to prove it, she will get kicked off campus." (Black Youth Project) This was just an outright untrue, I have no idea where, why or how they got this. 

The sad part is why does this pick up so much steam? Why are we sooo quick to jump on a bandwagon condemning and vilifying HU? Hampton University state’s in their mission they are a comprehensive institution of higher education, dedicated to the promotion of learning, building of character and preparation of promising students for positions of leadership and service. When you attend Hampton, it’s indoctrinated in you from the first day of HU 101 – We have a standard here, it will not lower for you, rise to the challenge. 

There is a deeper sociological and subversive aspect of the media condemnation of Hampton University. Ask yourself: Why are we condemning a historically black institution for policies that are attempting to lead young black men and women away from behaviors and fashions that have been used as derogative depictions of black culture? Why have we and by we I mean black folks and yes some of my fellow alumni, WE have allowed ourselves to join in a chorus that says : Why teach them they shouldn’t twerk, why teach them to pull up their pants and not wear doo rags, rollers and shower caps in public. Isn’t that what you Black people do? Why is this “HU school” trying to set some sort of……standard? Aren’t they just teaching Black folks? 

Because honey if you don’t see that writing on the wall? You better look closer. 

HU is not discriminating against anyone, all faiths are welcome and however you choose to express yourself is respected and appreciated. There is a standard that is required but not for discriminatory purposes but to simply ask that the students hold and exemplify respect for themselves to empower them to demand it for their people. You see at HU we allow “our lives to do the singing” and every melody is welcome that’s why our harmony is so strong and beautiful.

Don't Just Kick It - Politickit


Friday, June 14, 2013

Land is EXPENSIVE...sow your seeds wisely!

My first landlord used my title phrase to describe her husband's child that he had before they were married. We were both married and expecting our first child and her husband's elder son came up in our conversation. We both chuckled at the truth of the statement. (English was not her first language so the contextual agreement is a bit off but you get the gist) Years later I began working as an attorney in Family Court and I would be amazed at the number of men and women that seem to have not only understood that concept but seem to be completely oblivious to the idea.

Men stood before me wondering "how in the world I got into this situation"? Women stood before me not understanding "Why he won't step up to the plate"? In my first years I was confused at their ignorance and utter surprise, as time passed it began to just piss me off. Now I am slightly sympathetic but only in the small Madeaesque sense that makes me want to slap the hell out of both parties.

Then along creeps Laurie Schrage's recent OpEd on "Force Fatherhood" http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/is-forced-fatherhood-fair/ a conversation I have had in many circles. Ms. Schrage raises some good points and there are many men who I'm sure applaud her. Those in the "I just met her at the club" " She was just a jump off/ side piece" and "we were just having fun" camps are giving Schrage a standing ovation as a woman that finally gets it and is standing up for them. However, if we  (as in legal systems and social norms) adopted Ms. Schrage's argument would it be the final nail in the coffin of our society? If men (and women) were to be free to have inconsequential sex not caring or responsible for any of the outcomes would our socialietal thread completely unravel as the "outcomes" (these children) grow and become human beings that in their essence and conception and subsequent raising/rearing were inconsequential?

I'm sure that's not what Schrage meant but as someone who has seen it and continues to see everyday the results of children that have been raised their whole lives as accidents, society will take the full brunt of individuals being allowed to abdicate their individual responsibility.

Alternatively, would women become more responsible about and with their bodies if they knew that their were no legal protections to obligate men to support "unintended children". In today's society many men don't support their children financially or emotionally but there are legal options women can utilize force a minimum amount of support. I have seen many women trying to use the courts to make a man participate in a childs life. I've never seen it be successful but hey, the options there.

So if we remove that option, would the woman think twice about having a child that they are completely responsible for with no hope of any support? Is it fair to put that type of pressure on a woman or is it the realistic reflection and proper fruition of repercussions that is a reflection of the position women already have in today's society? If a woman makes the final decision on whether to keep a child, as they should as it is their body, should they also bear the final and absolute costs of that decision?

Before this becomes an abortion debate as I can see it veering in that directions. It is my position and hope that women and men would make better decisions about who, when and why they have sex with someone as opposed to just how to deal with an unplanned pregnancy but that is for another day and another blog.

I can't say I agree with Schrage completely. Men can't divorce themselves from their Nether Regions. You know where you laid and who you laid with or at least you should. Whenever you lay down you open yourself up to the possibility of a child. So choose wisely. If you can't imagine being saddled with half this woman's dna mixing with yours and being linked to her  for at least 18 years financially and in other ways for life then you may want to find your jollies somewhere else. Unless we are becoming the human equivalent of feral cats.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I Call BS------- Food Insecurities is not a SNAP

I was innocently passing by the world wide web when it blew up over this #SNAPCHALLENGE. Cory Booker is doing it and many sites are abuzz. But hold up wait a minute. In the words of the card game of my youth:

   I.... CALL..... Bullsh*!

I do applaud Jennifer Turner and the UB SNAP FOOD CHALLENGE for bringing light to this issue. I just hope one thing that is underscored is not just about living on food stamps, because that in itself can be done. I'm not saying its not hard but it can be done and done well.

The issue is: FOOD INSECURITY I have invited some of my facebook and twitter friends who often talk about healthy lifestyles to join in the challenge and give their thoughts and opinions. I hope they participate and help shift the conversation.

 A few years ago I did a study and workshop with high school students on food insecurity and really what you are talking about with the SNAP Challenge is food insecurity. Just characterizing it as Food Stamp Challenge doesn't get to the heart of the issue, albeit it makes for a catchy name. Also anyone (whether for a challenge or not) using food stamps without properly qualifying runs afoul of quite a few laws. So even Mayor Booker saying he is going on Food Stamps for a week would be against the law. When he can just say he is limiting the budget and places where he can buy food to those within the SNAP guidelines.

 Admittedly not as great a headline but more based in fact. Also we have to look at the nutrition choices that are being made. Processed foods versus whole food items, staples versus quick fixes. When you tell me you can’t possibly imagine as one person figuring out how to eat for a week on $35.00, I think back on my grandmother who fed five children on the equivalent of less at the time. The shock of going by on so little is in part due to our mentality and the thought of going without processed foods and quick fixes like Starbucks. 

I’m not belittling the issue of food insecurity and I am ecstatic that it is something being talked about on such a grand scale. Well actually I wish we were talking about food insecurity and not “food stamps” I just pray that we don’t dwell in the hype of high profile individuals claiming they are “living on food stamps” that we lose the reality of those who in fact are.

 The problem is really all of the other factors that come with food stamps - what it means for families who qualify and have such low incomes, what type of shopping options are available, access to healthcare and other quality lifestyle choices like decent playgrounds. My concern is the stigma being just about food stamps and missing so many other items. Having to choose between food and rent or food and heat is really not about food stamps its about so many other problems. We could give folks hundreds of dollars in food stamps and still not resolve anything if they can't find decent housing, decent food choices, decent childcare and jobs with living wages.

 I myself will be taking up the challenge for a family of seven. I also want to show how it can be done positively and with healthy options. Let no one feel shamed because they are living on food stamps, in the projects or other less than desirable situations. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

 Don't just kick it....Politik it!