Past Programs 2014-2015

June 16, 2015

LEARNING ABOUT FOOD JUSTICE – EarthDance Farm

A dozen members of Women’s Voices managed to avoid the rain on a steamy June morning for a tour of EarthDance Farm in Ferguson.

“EarthDance is an organic farm school,” explained Suzanne Hart, permaculture projects coordinator.  All crops, which include vegetables, herbs, and newly-planted fruit trees, are grown without chemicals or herbicides, using time-tested principles of soil preparation and preservation, water conservation and planting.  It is also a school, where dozens of people who care about their food and how it is grown come to study, learn and work each year.

Women’s Voices members learned about the best ways to conserve water, how to plant a herb spiral, and the benefits of pawpaws.

 (click on photos to enlarge)

The truck that carries the harvest - farming bumper stickers!

Lettuce on harvest day

 

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Former St. Louis Ram player Will Witherspoon telling young apprentices about "the good food movement."

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  Enjoying the morning were:
  back row:  Bette Miller; Susan Talley; Judy Arnold;
  Deb Lavender; Mary Clemons; Madonna Rossell;
  Tonie Fitzgibbon
  front row:  Ruth Lee; Lise Bernstein; Barbara Finch;
  Chery Green
  Not shown:  Mary Ann Meyer

Produce from EarthDance Farm is sold at the Farmers’ Market in Ferguson on Saturday mornings.

May 14, 2105

A Decade of Making A Difference

Celebrating Women’s Voices 10th Anniversary

See photos from our celebration here!   click on individual photos to enlarge.

Blue party balloons over white background

April 16, 2015

Eight Months Post-Ferguson: The Journey from Recovery to Rebuilding 

Seeking Sustainable Solutions to Economic and Racial Disparities

Armantti Ambus

Armantti Ambus

“My greatest wish is when I have my children, they ask me, “Dad, what was racism?” With these heartfelt words, college student Armantti Ambus framed the challenge for our community in a future shaped by the death of Michael Brown. He said he hopes he doesn’t have to give his children “the talk” about how to act in front of police officers. He believes education is the key to eradicate racism.

 

 

Locha Williams Brooks, who will soon graduate with a teaching

Locha Williams Brooks

Locha Williams Brooks

degree, echoed this message, as well as her fears for children who have unequal education opportunities. Speaking from her own experience, she said busing students outside their home districts erodes a sense of community and also affects neighboring districts. “This generation needs to see the value of education,” she insisted, and urged the audience to work with schools to provide character education classes and to advocate changes that enable teachers to focus on students rather than test scores.

 

 

Rev. Starsky Wilson

Rev. Starsky Wilson

Starsky Wilson said education is among the Ferguson Commission’s top priorities. The16-member diverse group of community leaders has work groups for all of its priorities, which also include citizen-law enforcement relations; municipal courts and governance; economic inequity and opportunity; and racial and ethnic relations. The group, established by Gov. Jay Nixon to study social and economic conditions brought to light by the events in Ferguson, is called to lead a change process, Wilson said. “The process has to begin with learning. How did the problem get here? What’s keeping the problem alive? “

He described little-known realities the group has discovered about the region. For example:

  • With only 22 percent of Missouri’s population, the St. Louis region represents 46 percent of state revenue from municipal fines and fees.
  • Nine zip codes in the region have child poverty rates above 30 percent.
  • An 18-year difference in life expectancy exists between two zip codes less than 10 miles apart.

By September 15, 2015, he said, the commission will make recommendations designed to make the region stronger and a better place to live for everyone. (For more information on the Ferguson Commission, see www.stlpositivechange.org.)

 

Gregory Carr, Sr.

Gregory Carr, Sr.

Gregory Carr insisted that successful change for the region requires a paradigm shift in how people interact. That shift must come about through awareness of empirical evidence of discrimination, such as that shown in recent news reports of unethical court procedures and disproportionate arrests of African Americans.  Change, he said, depends on the region enacting an “ACT” plan:

  • Acknowledgement that white privilege and unconscious racism exist
  • Commitment to social justice for all people and to holding officials accountable
  • Transformation, including reforming education, courts, and police practices

Todd Swanstrom said that even though overt discrimination is

Todd Swanstrom

Todd Swanstrom

now illegal, many conditions promote inequality. For example, communities with lower property values suffer declining revenues, resulting in inadequate schools and services. The pressure to boost revenue leads to increased traffic fines. To help disadvantaged communities, Swanstrom insisted that the region must:

 

  • Stop subsidizing infrastructure that aids urban sprawl and benefits suburbs at the expense of older parts of the region
  • Create a system to support comprehensive community planning for distressed areas
  • Extend Metrolink to link northern and southern communities to the booming central corridor, where jobs are available

 

March, 2015

Stolen Childhoods: The Emotional Toll of Gun Violence

Speakers: Valerie Carter-Thomas, principal, Northwest Academy of Law
Duru L Sakhrani, MD, Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist, Mercy Children’s Hospital
Duru Sakhrani

Duru Sakhrani

Perhaps no city in the country is a more

Valerie Carter-Thomas

Valerie Carter-Thomas

tragically appropriate location than St.Louis to focus on the trauma children experience when they’re exposed to gun violence. Just 24 hours before the March 12 meeting, six-year-old Marcus Johnson died of gunshot wounds during a traffic dispute at O’Fallon Park in north St. Louis. His teenage brother and an adult family friend also were injured. Three other siblings were not hit by gunfire, but they are victims, too. How will they cope with what they saw happen to their brother? How will it shape the direction of their lives?

The facts are horrific: Children’s Defense Fund statistics report that a child or teen dies or is injured from guns every 30 minutes. Duru Sakhrani, MD, outlined how exposure to violence affects brain development, behavior, and long-term mental and physical health. “Reaction to trauma can be measured by the intensity, length and repetition of the violence,” she said. In the weeks following the violence, victims experience social and emotional conditions ranging from depression to acute stress disorder, characterized by fear, terror, or violent play. Months or years later, these victims can develop post-traumatic stress disorder and long-term conduct disorders that lead to crime and violent behavior in adulthood.

“Hypervigilance and agitation are frequent manifestations of exposure to gun violence,” Dr. Sakhrani said. “Children mirror what they’ve been exposed to.” Therapy is essential, but teachers, volunteers, and family members play critical roles, too. “The healing strategy must be infused with love,” she told the audience. “Make eye contact, listen, show them you care.” As devastating as the months following Michael Brown’s shooting have been for our community, the aftermath of Ferguson is ripe with teachable moments.

Valerie Carter-Thomas shared one of her own teachable moments at Northwest Academy of Law: A few months ago, she confronted a male student about why a security guard had handcuffed him. (The guard was new and unaware that Carter-Thomas was not onboard with handcuffing pupils.) The student answered her rather heated questions by asking if she’d ever known him to be aggressive, to lie, to be anything but respectful. She quickly answered “no.” So why, he asked, was she grilling him instead of the security guard?

“I realized that in an effort to help some of our kids just stay alive, we ask them to become small, to be quiet, to comply without question,” she said. In implying that they should become as invisible as they can be, she said, “we are telling them that they are a menace, that they can’t expect the benefit of the doubt, that they don’t have the right to full protection under the law. That has to change, and we’re committed to making that change.”

Northwest is working on becoming a Trauma Sensitive School, an approach with proven strategies for reaching and teaching students whose ability to learn, to complete a task, and even to sit still has been shaped by violence and trauma. “Imagine trying to learn calculus when you feel like you have to have a gun to make it home every day,” Carter-Thomas says. Northwest has 400 students – 58 percent boys this year – and under Carter-Thomas’s leadership has been recognized for improvements in attendance, academics, and percentage of college-bound students. Success is hard-fought and hard- earned, however. “We teach and value perseverance,” says the dynamic, inspiring principal, who sees light at the end of a still long tunnel. “It’s a good time to be in the city, doing this work,” she says.

More Work for Gun Safety
The Women’s Voices Campaign for Common Sense Gun Solutions Committee recently launched Lock It For Love, a program that provides free gun locks to households where children live or visit. Supported by the Deaconess Foundation, Lock It For Love works with members of the St. Louis City and County Police Departments to demonstrate how to use the locks. For more information or to schedule a lock giveaway event, email gunsolutions@womensvoicesraised.org.

Black Lives Matter
Yard signs with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” were available at the meeting for a $5 donation. The signs aim to spark discussions about how to ensure that blacks and other minority populations have equal opportunities, especially in education, employment and criminal justice.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

White Privilege: Have We Learned Not To Look?

Speakers: Amy Hunter, Director of Racial Justice, YWCA
Robert Good, Ph.D., Social Studies teacher, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

Rob Good and Amy Hunter

A record audience turned out for this especially timely program. Attendees lingered long after the meeting was adjourned to continue the discussion of the speakers’ personal experiences with racial injustice and their approaches for addressing it.

Rob Good said white privilege has opened doors for him that remain closed to nonwhites. Being white, he said, has provided him with numerous benefits such as access to job opportunities, medical care, and the ability to afford to live in a good neighborhood. Racial disparities are often not readily apparent to whites.

Because of access to money accumulated by earlier generations, the average white family has 13 times the wealth of the average black family and 10 times that of the average Hispanic family, he said, and nonwhites have higher rates than whites of Infant mortality, cancer, and heart disease. Amy Hunter described her experience with racial discrimination that prevented her from renting an apartment in Clayton.

Recently, discrimination in the criminal justice system has become especially visible. Good pointed out that Ferguson records show police are more likely to find illegal things when they search whites, yet they search blacks more frequently than whites. Hunter said she feels powerless to protect her two sons from danger in dealing with law enforcement.

But rather than dwelling on past injustices, Hunter focused on positive signs emerging in the wake of Ferguson. “This could be our moment of pride,” she said. She encouraged the mostly white audience to “question all the time” when they see a situation that seems racist. The way to reach racial equality is to work strategically to change structures and systems that perpetuate racial discrimination, she insisted. “If women could work together on this, this could be rock star!” she said, “but we have to be committed.”

More about our speakers:Amy Hunter is responsible for ensuring that eliminating racism, part of the YWCA’s mission, is incorporated in all the organization’s programming. She has provided strategic direction for organizational development for universities, school districts, and the corporate community. She has published and is a presenter on issues of race and social justice throughout the United States and Canada. She is pursuing her doctorate in Social Justice from the University of Missouri St. Louis. Rob Good teaches U.S. History and U.S. Government & Politics at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, where he serves on the African American Academic Achievement Committee, facilitates the STRIDE (Students Taking Rigorous Instruction Developing Exceptionally) program, and co-sponsors the Gay-Straight Alliance. He has facilitated diversity workshops and dialogue groups for A World of Difference, the National Conference for Community and Justice, the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and Focus St. Louis.

Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Exhibit. Students from

Lise Bernstein, Women's Voices President, with students from Northwest Academy of Law High School and teacher Sue Lampros

Lise Bernstein, Women’s Voices President, with students from Northwest Academy of Law High School and teacher Sue Lampros

Northwest Academy of Law High School brought a photo anddocument exhibit on the Freedom Summer of 1964 to the meeting. This series of panels from the Wisconsin Historical Society features the stories of ordinary people who braved police shotguns and Klan firebombs to secure basic rights. Go to www.wisconsinhistory.org/freedomsummer for more information. Documents are also available at fsxbt.tumbler.com.

Black Lives Matter: Yard signs with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” were available at the meeting for a $5 donation. The signs are designed to spark discussions throughout the St. Louis area about how to make changes in society to ensure that blacks and other minority populations have the same opportunities as whites, especially in education, employment, and criminal justice.

 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Investing for Good: Changing Corporations through Shareholder Engagement

Speaker: Brian Reavey, Director for Justice, Peace, & Integrity of Creation – Marianist Province
edit-DSC_3651Shareholders, even small investors, can successfully voice their social justice concerns to corporations, said Brian Reavey at the January 8 Women’s Voices meeting. The Midwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (MCRI)-a group of organizations committed to social justice-has brought about changes by building relationships with companies it wants to influence, he explained. MCRI convenes dialogues with company representatives on a range of social, environmental, and governance issues.

Its approach is to focus on “reasonable” requests for actions and on how the company can benefit by making operational changes-for example, by saving money. Corporations have thanked MCRI for bringing problems to their attention and helping them find solutions, said Anna Sandidge, Justice Coordinator for Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet in St. Louis.

Individual investors can also make a difference. The speakers advised individuals to review their own investments and work with socially responsible investment managers that guide investors in supporting specific causes and avoiding objectionable companies.

Shareholders can also support resolutions by understanding issues and voting their proxies, according to Reavey and Sandidge. They noted that resolutions can bring about change even if they don’t pass on the first vote. If a resolution receives only 3 percent of votes, it can be brought back the following year.

MCRI is affiliated with the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), an international organization that provides resources to its 300 member groups.

To learn more about responsible investing, shareholder advocacy, and the activities of MCRI and ICCR, see www.midwestcri.com and www.iccr.org. Another resource is Oxfam’s website, www.behindthebrands, which provides information on the performance of many food and beverage companies.

 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sweet Celebrations! Birthday Parties for Kids in Shelters

Beth Brockling, speaker for our annual December meeting, exemplifies how one person can change the 10750052_851125004939656_936445300745240647_oworld. She saw a need, figured out how to meet it, and then took action. Beth volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and when her little sister had to go to a homeless shelter on her birthday, Beth realized that for homeless children, birthdays are just another day-no party or gifts. Believing that all children should have a special day, in just a year she has provided 99 birthday parties in 11 homeless shelters. She has created a nonprofit organization, Sweet Celebrations, and a wonderful website: www.sweet-celebrations.org. Most important, she has built relationships that are making a difference in the lives of children, such as the little boy who was disruptive at the first party at his shelter but now volunteers as her party helper and is no longer misbehaving in school.

Beth, who is employed full-time, says she could not do the parties without the help of her family and volunteers, who help by devising games and party themes, making personalized birthday cakes, and wrapping presents. Individuals and organizations such as Baskin-Robbins have also made generous contributions. “The need is growing,” Beth says. She hopes to provide 300 parties in the next year and serve several more shelters. She will need more volunteer help with administration, which has become too much for her alone. Donations of toys and money for the parties, which cost $75 each, are always welcome.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation, you may send a check made out to Sweet Celebrations to:

Beth Brockling, CEO
1611 Foggy Meadow
O’Fallon, MO 63366.

Women’s Voices is grateful to Sweetology, 9214 Clayton Road, for providing a fun space for the meeting and delicious cupcakes for attendees.

 

November 13, 2014

Budget Blues and Other Sad Songs from Jefferson City

Speaker: Jessica Adams,  Missouri Budget Project
Jessica Adams of The Missouri Budget Project

Jessica Adams of The Missouri Budget Project

Missouri is headed over a cliff as it follows the lead of Kansas. Two years ago Kansas, following the advice of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes legislation for conservative state-level politicians, sharply cut income taxes. Kansas revenues took an 11 percent nosedive in 2014 alone. When Missouri’s SB509 goes into effect in 2017, tax cuts are likely to lead to results similar to those in Kansas. Missouri will face revenue losses of $640 million. In Kansas, after a predicted economic boom didn’t materialize to compensate for lost revenue, the state cut funding for K-12 schools by $300 a student, increased state sales tax and college tuition, and received a lower bond rating. Adams said tax cuts in Missouri, which ranks 37th nationally in elementary and secondary school funding and 44th in funding for higher education, will generate a shortfall in funding programs and services at even the same level they are funded now.

Women's Voices president Lise Bernstein

Women’s Voices president Lise Bernstein

Missouri is already a low-tax state. “Missouri’s income tax rate is lower than that of 30 other states,” Adams said. Nationally, Missouri has the 25th lowest per capita income tax, the 45th lowest corporate income tax, and the 42nd lowest state sales tax. Missouri’s spending on services such as health and education is not impressive as compared to other states’. Missouri ranks 37th in spending on elementary and secondary education, and 44th in higher education spending, Adams said.

Elected officials have claimed that Missouri spends huge amounts for Medicaid. In fact, the state’s general revenue fund pays only 16.2 percent of the cost of the Medicaid program, Adams said.

The Missouri Budget Project, a nonpartisan fiscal analysis organization, has projected that Missouri would pay even less if it accepted federal funds to expand the Medicaid program. In the current Medicaid program, the federal government pays about 60 percent of the cost (the federal matching rate).The state pays 16.2 percent from general revenue; and the remainder is covered by funds collected from hospitals, pharmacies and other health care providers, the tobacco tax, and other sources. Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost for individuals newly covered under the expansion. Some of those who will be newly covered, such as visually impaired individuals, are currently insured by Medicaid. But the federal matching rate for these persons will increase to 90 percent, under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, Missouri will pay only 6.2 percent of the costs of Medicaid from general revenue in FY2022 when the Medicaid expansion is complete.

By not taking federal monies to expand Medicaid and free revenues for other programs, the state deprives its citizens of health, education, and other services. Under the current system, many working people make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. If Medicaid expansion is accepted, they will be able to get needed care. Adams explained the ironic current situation in concrete terms: A single mother of two making less than $20,000 per year has to pay the same amount for health insurance as a single man with no children making over $100,000 per year.

Missouri’s large rural population stands to suffer if the legislature continues to reject Medicaid expansion, Adams said. Many children, especially in rural areas, will lose health coverage. Rural hospitals may be forced to close.

To get the General Assembly to take action to help Missourians, Adams urged audience members to talk with legislators, neighbors, and co-workers about the benefits of Medicaid expansion.

For more information, contact the Coalition for Missouri’s Future, the Missouri Medicaid Coalition, and the Missouri Budget Project.

 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lessons Learned:
Challenges & Opportunities for Missouri’s Schools

Speaker: Dr. Chris L. Nicastro, Missouri Commissioner of Education

A Missouri Supreme Court ruling in June 2013 launched sweeping and confusing changes in schools and communities throughout the St. Louis area. The decision, which allowed students to transfer out of the unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts, raised many questions, some of which still remain unanswered. As Missouri’s education commissioner, Chris Nicastro was in the eye of the storm that broke shortly before the school year began. She gave us an eye-witness account of what happened then and how the unaccredited districts are now responding to the challenge of becoming accredited.

A state-appointed board assumed control of the Normandy district, now called the Normandy School Collaborative, in July 2014. Nicastro explained that the failing districts are required to pay for their students’ tuition and transportation to accredited districts. They must pay these costs while at the same time trying to attain accredited status and also serve the students who remain in the district. “The stakes are high because the current program is unsustainable,” Nicastro said. The state legislature has failed to act to resolve the districts’ dilemma, and Nicastro couldn’t predict how 4,000 Normandy students will be accommodated if Normandy runs out of money, since most surrounding districts are full. However, the collaborative is taking steps to raise its accreditation status by supporting teachers, a third of whom are new. It has provided special training in math, science, and English, as well as classroom management. New systems for building and personnel management are in place, as well as new curricula and technology, she said.

Missouri’s Department of Education is committed to raising the performance of all districts in addition to the three unaccredited ones (Kansas City was also unaccredited). It has adopted “Top 10 by 20,” a program to make Missouri a top-ten state for education by 2020. Goals include ensuring that every high school graduate is college or career ready; that early childhood education prepares every kindergartener for school, and that Missouri prepares effective teachers. See the department’s website at dese.mo.gov for more information.

stems for building and personnel management are in place, as well as new curricula and technology, she said.

Missouri’s Department of Education is committed to raising the performance of all districts in addition to the three unaccredited ones (Kansas City was also unaccredited). It has adopted “Top 10 by 20,” a program to make Missouri a top-ten state for education by 2020. Goals include ensuring that every high school graduate is college or career ready; that early childhood education prepares every kindergartener for school, and that Missouri prepares effective teachers. See the department’s website at dese.mo.gov for more information.

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Unraveling of Our Reproductive Rights

Speaker: Paula Gianino, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

 

Paula Gianino

A crowd of nearly 100 women and men gave Paula Gianino a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks, which launched the 10th year of monthly educational programs provided by Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice.

Speaking just hours after the Missouri legislature overturned the Governor’s veto of a bill that triples the waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, Gianino described recent actions of Missouri legislators as “difficult and troubling.”

“We worked hard to stop this bill, and we had physicians from across the state advocating on our behalf, ” she said. “We staged a 72-hour filibuster in May, which gained national press and raised public awareness and put pressure on the Governor. There was nothing more we could have done, and at some point we just have to hope that our politicians will do the right thing. But make no mistake: 72 hours can make a difference for a woman who needs an abortion. It may take away some options entirely. And our politicians should know that long waiting periods do not reduce the incidence of abortion; they just force women to have later abortions.”

One-third of the women in America have had an abortion, Gianino said, and many of them continue to be harassed and emotionally assaulted. She expects lawmakers in Missouri to continue to attempt to impose additional restrictions in 2015.

In addition to operating the only licensed abortion clinic in the state, Planned Parenthood also provides a full menu of services for women, men and teens, Gianino said. These include tests for sexually-transmitted diseases, cancer screenings, breast assessments, and contraceptive services. The organization has been a vocal supporter for Medicaid expansion in Missouri and for more options for women for contraceptive care.

Gianino will retire in January, 2015, after 25 years as head of the local organization where she has been acclaimed as a visionary leader, both locally and nationally.