Hot Topic #31: Reforming The Police

First of all, I want to say that the word “defund” in this context is inflammatory and a poor word choice. I do not plan to use that word here when I am communicating my intentions. Feel free to reach out in the comments if you have questions.

John Oliver just covered this for Last Week Tonight: Police

There are so many analogies that I can make. The biggest thing that I’ve learned in my research is that we need to lighten the load of the police. Everything has been dumped on them. No wonder they’re overwhelmed and scared.


The following was written by Father Nathan Monk, posted to his Facebook page earlier this month.

“Imagine this with me for a moment. A guy falls asleep after drinking. He’s in line for Wendy’s because he’s needing some late night greasy food. He’s been out with his friends all night and he’s super tired. He falls asleep. An employee notices and goes inside.

They call 911.

The driver wakes up to a gentle tap on the window. He rolls it down. He’s a little confused and disoriented.

“Hi. My name is Stacy. I’m a social worker and I just wanted to make sure you are alright?”

“I just fell asleep.”

“I understand. This is my colleague, their name is Dominque. They want to go order your meal for you while we talk. What did you want?”

“A number four with a coke.”

“Would you mind pulling your car over there so we can talk? Dominique will be getting that meal for you.”

“Ok, just a second. Am I in trouble?”

“No, we just want to make sure you are safe and that everyone else on the road is safe. Can we do that together?”

“I can do that!”

After a conversation, Stacy and Dominique decide that they are pretty sure they can confirm that the driver has been drinking. They ask a lot of questions about his drinking habits. They determine that he clearly doesn’t have a drinking problem. He just rarely drinks, didn’t know his limits, and made a mistake to get behind the wheel.

After his meal, the driver is feeling much better. The social workers offer to have his car towed to his house and an Uber comes to pick him up.

In this scenario, Rayshard Brooks is still alive. He’s given compassionate and reasonable care. This is what community should look like. This is a way we could re-envision what our response could be as a society. This is what it would look like to defund the police.”


What Father Nathan Monk has imagined is perfectly reasonable. Putting it into practice, however, is a different story.

Do I think it can happen?

With the right people involved, the right resources, and the proper allocation and adjustments of funding, YES.

But, it’s not just reforming the police.

It’s reforming mental health services, social services, education, and the list goes on and on.


A lot more work needs to be done. That’s the one thing that is crystal clear.

So, what can you, as a resident of your community, do?

Get involved with your city leaders. Find out who oversees the police department. Here in Portsmouth, Virginia, the police chief’s boss is our city manager.

Participate, productively, in city council meetings. Demand change. Send emails to those directly responsible.

Most importantly – Vote in the election this November. Research the candidates that will be on your ballot. Exercise your constitutional right. Request a mail-in ballot if you don’t feel comfortable voting in person. This is the one big thing that EVERYONE can do, and it’s one of the easiest things. Look up your State Board of Elections for more information.


Resources

Reforming Police | American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Police Reform | The New York Times Magazine

The Change We Need: 5 Issues that Should Be Part of Efforts to Reform Policing in Local Communities | Advancement Project

Police Reform | The Marshall Project

How to reform American police, according to experts | Vox

The City that Really Did Abolish the Police | Politico

These New Jersey cities reformed their police – what happened next? | The Guardian

Fixing the Force | PBS FRONTLINE


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #30: Thoughts on The Murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Being An Ally

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.

Black Lives Matter.

If there’s one thing that I understand completely, it’s that I have white privilege.

I’m committed to being a better ally.


Over the last week and a half, I’ve asked a lot of questions. Shout-out to my wonderful husband for being my main sounding board!

Here are a few snapshots of my recent thoughts.

At the end of this post, I’ve included a long list of resources, ways you can help, ways you can educate yourself and others, and other sources that I’ve found helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, June 1st

I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m so angry about so many things. I’m personally not brave enough to join any of the Black Lives Matter protests, but I am committed to listening. I’ve been carefully observing my friends’ interactions on Facebook, which is my primary social media platform. I don’t have Instagram, and my Twitter is long out of date. I haven’t deleted or blocked anyone, but I have unfollowed a few since Friday. And I think that number may go up.

I deleted the CNN app from my phone, and removed the website bookmark from Google Chrome. I immediately felt better after that.

I have several friends that have participated in protests already, and I pray for all of them. I’ve tried really hard to limit my overall news and social media consumption since George Floyd was murdered one week ago, but it’s so hard to do so.


Tuesday, June 2nd

Today, I felt compelled to go through all my yearbooks – Elementary, middle, and high school. Part of it was nostalgia, but part of it was to study my classmates.

I’m from an upper-middle class, all-white family. Where I live in Virginia is largely “well off,” but each city has its own issues. I was raised in an affluent part of Chesapeake. I was educated in good schools, with excellent teachers and decent administrators. In eighth grade, I applied and was accepted to the second class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Oscar F. Smith High School. I was thrilled, but I recognize now how nervous and apprehensive my parents were.

Why? Oscar Smith is one of the high schools that has some of the poorest students in Chesapeake. And many of them are black.

I attended OSHS from 2003 through 2007. Were there problems? Sure. There were regular fights. The biggest news story, aside from our championship football team, was a fellow senior getting arrested just two weeks before graduation in the spring of 2007. I drove home from school, and saw a reporter in front of the school sign at the top of the 5:00 news. He’d had a loaded gun in his locker, and there were reports of buried marijuana on the football field.

But, in a way, I was shielded from a lot of the problems and issues. I was part of the “smart kids.” My IB class was fairly diverse – We had, what I think, anyway, a good mix of white, black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian students. But, we were only 41 students of more than 2,000 students at the school. The only times I truly interacted with students other than IB kids were in P.E., driver’s ed, and orchestra.

The staggering observation I made is that I’m still friends with mainly white people from my early school years. The black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian people I’m friends with are all wonderful people. My issue? I met them either in college or after that.

I think this is bothering me so much because I’m pretty sure, unconsciously, I valued my friendships with white classmates and acquaintances higher than others. And I hate that!

But, at least I’m recognizing that now, right?

Before we went to bed, Al and I watched the first 20 minutes of the ABC News special titled America In Pain: What Comes Next. I nearly cried three times in those 20 minutes. And I felt so much shame.


Wednesday, June 3rd

I made the following comment to a post on Facebook: “I’ve been coming to terms with a lot of things in my life since George Floyd was murdered. I’ve asked a lot of questions, and I’m learning every day. I’m committed to being a better ally. I know now that I haven’t been the best ally, even though I was blindly confident that I was a good one … I’m currently listening, but I’m going to use my voice on my blog soon about this. Thank you!”

I took the opportunity to participate in a landmark “Safe Space Discussion” through my work today, from 11:00 to 12:30. I was so moved that afterward, I wrote an email to the Chief Diversity Officer, expressing my appreciation for the work that was done on the presentation, as well as fully admitting that I’m not a good ally. She replied about 30 minutes later, saying how appreciative she was, and offered her assistance in helping me to be better.

I remarked to Al how my mom, years ago, had told me the story of the riot at her high school, Miami Killian High School, when she was a student. I want to sit down with her, when it’s safe again, and record that story. I want to learn more. So far, I haven’t found any evidence of it through various Google searches. I wonder if it was covered in the news at all.

A bit of good news came in the afternoon: The murder charge against Derek Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. I was happy to see people celebrating at the memorial for George Floyd, but I’m still apprehensive about a lot of things. Only time will tell.


Thursday, June 4th

I felt less angry this morning when I woke up, but still nervous, apprehensive, anxious. Over the last several days, it dawned on me: This is a watershed moment in American history. And I hope true change is made.

A friend shared an article from The Washington Post on Facebook this morning: Perspective | White parents teach their children to be colorblind. Here’s why that’s bad for everyone.

It was published in October 2018, but this article absolutely hit home.

“White parents often refrain from speaking with their children about race, racism, and racial inequality.”

“This silence reflects society’s view that white people ‘don’t have race’ — that race refers exclusively to people of color.”

“Without fail, parents responded with an expression of shocked dismay, and then emphatically stated, ‘No. What is there to say?'”

“Among the white parents I interviewed, the majority of whom were middle class, parents expressed a desire to raise non-racist white children. Most felt the best way to achieve that goal was to avoid speaking with their children about race, racism and racial inequality – past or present.”

“They also remained silent about the topic of police violence toward African Americans. When I asked parents why, many said they didn’t want to ‘upset’ their children. Others noted that the subject didn’t ‘relate’ to their (white) family’s life.”

“Most white parents who speak with their children about race adopt a colorblind rhetoric, telling their children that people may ‘look different’ but that ‘everyone is the same.'”

“As sociologist Margaret Hagerman argues in her new book, ‘White Kids,’ white parents’ decision about the best neighborhood to raise a family or enroll their children in school shapes the social context in which white children develop an understanding about members of their own racial group and members of outside racial groups.”

“As research demonstrates, identity development is relational. That means people develop an awareness of themselves as a member of a particular group when they spend time around people whom they perceive as being different from them.”

“White people aren’t ‘outside’ of race – they’re at the top of the racial hierarchy.”

——-

All those quotes to say – This is EXACTLY how I was raised. And it makes me sad.

I’m angry that it’s taken me to the age 31 to have my eyes opened. But, at the same time, I remember being afraid, hesitant, ashamed to ask “hard” questions of my parents. It wasn’t until I was in college that there were several late-night instances of discussing life and the world with my dad, long after my mom went to bed. But we didn’t talk about race.

There were glimmers of differences in my childhood and adolescence, but not many. I felt a lot of pity.

Example #1: One of my classmates, D., and his family were recipients of Angel Tree gifts from our church because his dad was in prison. D. is black, and his mom managed to hold the family together in one of the lower-income neighborhoods down the street from our middle school. I certainly didn’t know the whole story, and, at the time, I didn’t think I needed to know. One thing that was clear, crystal clear, was D. was an angry kid. He was always getting into trouble at school. And, now, as an adult, I think part of the reason was because his dad was in prison. I wish I’d reached out to him, offered to help him with his work. But, I knew, even at age 12, it would be frowned upon by my parents.

Example #2: My parents were not shy about their feelings with us buying a house in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is one of the cities in our region that has lower incomes, higher crime rates, and so-so schools. The main reason we chose Portsmouth is because we couldn’t afford the house we wanted/needed where we grew up in Chesapeake, or in northern Suffolk – We needed a house that split the distance between our jobs and commutes. We like our neighborhood, and it’s one of the safer, more affluent neighborhoods. I personally don’t want to think about moving anywhere else until after we have our first child. We have a lot of time to make that big of a decision – We’re not ready to have kids. And when we do, we have at least five more years to consider the schools. However, my parents have made snide comments to me about moving, the schools, and coming back to where Al and I grew up in Chesapeake. It’s frustrating. The other thing I noticed in the last two weeks – We have more white people in our neighborhood than I originally realized. We do have black, Latino, and Asian people. But, our street in particular is all white.

———

The other thing I’ve realized is my perception of the police has changed. I have a few friends who are law enforcement officers (LEOs), but not many. I know, as a white woman, I don’t have to have to worry getting shot when I get pulled over. And that’s just one of multiple instances of white privilege.

However, there has been too much police brutality. It has to stop. The “brotherhood” mentality needs to give way to full accountability. If you stop protecting the people to protect yourself, then you’re automatically biased. If you stop protecting the people to protect your brother or sister in blue, then you’re automatically biased. If you turn off or hide your body camera, you are biased and doing something shady.

There are so many things that need to change. I’ve posted a link to Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent letter to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer below. I agree with all of Sanders’ points, and I’m sure there’s a few more.

One of the biggest issues that currently exist is qualified immunity. I’ve posted links about that below.

So much needs to change.


What I’m Doing

I’m speaking out. I will no longer be silent. I have been afraid to use my voice. No more.

I am committed to supporting more black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) businesses, restaurants, authors, journalists, and elected officials.

I was already a registered voter, but I am fully researching every candidate that will be on my November ballot. I will be voting!

I’m examining the authors I read, and the subject matter of books. I want to read far more books, essays, short stories, and poetry by BIPOC authors. Just Mercy is next on my TBR. I’ve already ordered White Fragility, and The Nickel Boys. I’ve been researching books by Elizabeth Acevedo, Celeste Ng, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

I’ve prayed multiple times a day for many people and many things: Black Lives Matter, POC, our country, our LEOs, our military, and our world.


Resources

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – Southern Poverty Law Center

The BIPOC Project

Black Lives Matter

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Stand with Standing Rock

Sanders Calls for Sweeping Reforms in Senate Democrats’ Policy Response to Police Violence (Press Release)

Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review – USA Today

Qualified immunity – Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School

Best Books Written by BIPOC Authors – Goodreads

7 Books to Read Right Now to Help Support BIPOC in Your Community and Beyond

A Resource Guide for Anti-Racism + Being An Educated Ally for BIPOC

DiverseBookFinder – Multicultural picture books

Police brutality must stop – American Medical Association (AMA)

Solutions – Campaign Zero

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual (ACLU)

How to Register to Vote – United States


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #29: Banned & Controversial Books

Found on CNN

This is a topic that comes up every single year!

The idea for this post came from a recent article on CNN: These books are gaining ground in an Alaska town after a school board voted to remove them from class.


The books that are under fire in the town of Palmer are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Members of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School Board met in mid-April to “approve the district’s High School English Elective Curriculum and reading list.” After lengthy discussions, “an amendment was introduced during the meeting to scratch the five books off the curriculum. Five members voted in favor of the removal, two voted against. The vote has no impact on the books’ placement in school libraries. In the same vote, the board also removed ‘The Learning Network,’ a resource for educators from The New York Times Company as a mentor text for district teachers.”

Palmer is about 40 miles from Anchorage in the southern part of the state. It serves 46 schools and more than 19,000 students.

Board members received a one-page flier from the district’s Office of Instruction regarding the potential controversies. “Concerns about the pieces of literature, according to the flier, included sexual references, rape, racial slurs, scenes of violence and profanity.”

All this to say that the books have not been banned from the district. The article was written to make the point that the school board voted in favor of removal.


What about community members?

According to the article, “No community members had signed up to comment prior to the meeting.” And, “since the decision was made as an amendment, community members didn’t have a chance to give their input.”

“The material for the English elective class were reviewed through a stakeholder survey, a community survey and a council of educators — including teachers, librarians and administrators — among other reviewers in the 2019-2020 year, the school district said.” The recommendations were then brought to the school board.


Positive spin on the situation

There is some good news. A Facebook page was created after the meeting, advertising “The Mat-Su Valley Banned Book Challenge.” Any student that read all the works can enter for a change to win $100. However, the administrators of the page have considered upping the monetary prize because of the interest in the challenge. At the time the article was published, over 200 students had joined the page.


Protecting students?

There were several quotes in the article regarding the students, and the school board’s intent to protect them from the content of these books. Many of them depict abuse and violence.

“To think that by not reading ‘Why the Caged Bird Sings’ means therefore children will not be exposed to sexual abuse is … closed-minded and ignorant.”

“‘There are many, many students in our district who don’t know that the trauma maybe they’ve experienced is trauma that somebody else has written about and yes, they can go and talk to somebody then,’ Welton said in the meeting.”

‘”I think you’re putting your head in the sand,’ she said. ‘If you really, truly believe that you are protecting your children, you can protect them by just saying, ‘Don’t take that class.'”


The main takeaway for me is that these books are for an English elective class. To me, however, I think these quotes hit the nail on the head. If these students aren’t supposed to or allowed to read these books in school, what other opportunity would they have to read them? Would these students take them out of the library themselves? Apparently, the chance to win money is plenty inspiring.


If you’re interested, check out the links regarding banned and challenged books below.


For me, I’ve read The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried. I read Invisible Man and Catch-22 so long ago! I’ve read parts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I think I’ll add the last three to a future TBR. I re-read The Great Gatsby every year. And I think I should re-read The Things They Carried at some point.

Have you read any of these five books?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #28: Foster Care and Opioids

Research published in July 2019 indicates that the number of children entering the foster care system has more than doubled since 2000.

Other reasons for removal, including neglect and abuse, declined.

Coincidentally, Sesame Street introduced a new Muppet around the same time. Karli is staying with her “for-now” family while her mom is away getting better. The Sesame Street initiative focuses on addiction as a whole, but makes the connection to foster care. Karli’s mom is getting help for alcohol addiction.


Resources

More Kids Are Getting Placed in Foster Care Because of Parents’ Drug Use, NPR, July 15, 2019

At This Camp, Children of Opioid Addicts Learn to Cope and Laugh, NPR, October 9, 2019


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #26: North Korea

North Korea Quote

Image Credit: Wilson Center

Unless you’ve been living under the rock, it feels like North Korea has been in the news every single day.

I wanted to use this post to walk through several things: A brief history, news articles and documentaries, China’s concerns. and what the media is NOT reporting.


North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Korea was annexed by Imperial Japan in 1910. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided into two zones. The north was occupied by the Soviet Union, and the south was occupied by the United States. Attempts at reunification failed. In 1948, separate governments were formed – The socialist Democratic People’s Reublic of Korea to the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea to the south. An invasion by the north led to the Korean War, from 1950-1953. The Korean Armistice Agreement brought a ceasefire, but no peace treaty.

The North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world. With 1.21 million active duty personnel, it is only behind China, the United States, and India. Its population is estimated, in 2016 numbers, to be over 25 million people. The country shares land borders with China and Russia.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a strip of land, 160 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. It separates the two countries. It was established in 1953 by an agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations.

The country functions as a highly centralized, one-party state. They are governed by the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System. The Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) dominates all North Korean politics, and has an estimated three million members.

Kim Jong-un is the current Supreme Leader, or Suryeong, of Korea. He is part of the Kim dynasty, which has ruled North Korea since 1948.


Aside from general media coverage, there have been several interesting documentaries made about North Korea.

Al and I watched The Propaganda Game several years ago. I think we watched it through Netflix. It was incredibly compelling, eye-opening, and frustrating. I was so angry after we watched it.

In addition, multiple movies have featured North Korea, including The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Die Another Day (2002), Stealth (2005), Salt (2010), Red Dawn (2012), The Interview (2014), and Northern Limit Line (2015).


Over the years, concerns have arisen regarding the Kim dynasty, their treatment of their citizens, and nuclear weapons.

More recently, although North Korea has announced their intent to fully denuclearize, there are significant concerns from the Chinese government. North Korea has been blowing up and destroying some of their nuclear weapon facilities, and China has been very concerned about the radiation dust, and other environmental hazards. But, of course, the media here in the United States isn’t talking about that. But, they should be.

There’s a lot about China and North Korea that hasn’t been reported in the United States. It’s infuriating, really. I learned about investigative journalism early on in my education at Longwood. But, the current reporting has a certain strategy and angle. Not that any of that is an excuse. It’s crappy reporting, crappy journalism. I also believe there is a culture of fear now. Especially since Donald Trump is the President of the United States.


For more information, check out the links below. As always, I try to gather my news sources from a variety of United States and international news organizations.

 


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #25: Teachers On Strike

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: Vox

First, it was teachers walking out in West Virginia.

Then, it was teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

All of them have one thing in common: They have gone on strike, to protest numerous issues.

These include low pay, pension laws, and the abysmal state of the public school education system in the United States.


Timeline (so far)

  • February 22nd: The call for West Virginia teachers to strike comes from the West Virginia branches of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
  • February 23rd: Teachers rally in front of the West Virginia State Capitol, while others picket individual schools.
  • February 27th: An announcement of a deal between union leaders and Governor Jim Justice.
  • February 28th: Every county in West Virginia announced school closures.
  • March 3rd: The strike is extended into the eighth workday when the West Virginia Senate proposed a 4% pay rise, instead of the 5% pay rise passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates.
  • March 7th: School personnel return, after the State Senate agreed to the House’s position.
  • End of March: Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signs a bill raising spending on teacher and support staff pay by $405.5 million. This equates to average raises of $6,100 for teachers, and $1,250 for support staff. However, the teachers’ union had been asking for an average of a $10,000 raise for teachers.
  • April 2nd: Oklahoma teachers go on strike, concurrently with Kentucky teachers. Oklahoma teachers protest low pay, overcrowded classrooms, and tax cuts which created lower state-wide education funding. Education spending per student in Oklahoma has decreased 28 percent since 2008. Kentucky teachers are protesting changes in their state’s pension laws.
  • April 13th: Oklahoma teacher walkout ends. Teachers around the state pledge to continue fighting for more school funding and higher pay. Oklahoma teachers are the lowest paid in the entire U.S. The walkout ended when the union understood the state legislature did not want to contribute any more revenue for public education. The amount of extra education spending for the next fiscal year is roughly $479 million for teacher and support staff salaries, and school needs.

 

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: USA TODAY

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: Vox


For me, I’m glad that teachers are utilizing their voices. They have reached their breaking points. It’s not all about their compensation, but a host of issues. State funding has decreased. Schools are not being maintained. Teachers don’t have enough textbooks, and some of these books are more than 20 years old. Others have taken to social media to post photos of broken chairs, outdated equipment, and even their salaries. Several have questioned why they need a college degree to be making so little money.

Some teachers in Oklahoma have been working THREE additional jobs, or more, on top of their teaching. Some do landscaping, others drive for Uber and/or Lyft, and so on.

That’s absurd!

The most recent development was in the state of Arizona. It was looking like those teachers were going to strike, but the governor recently offered a 20 percent pay raise. We’ll have to see how this pans out.

Teachers are entrusted to give quality education to our children, and future generations. How can they possibly teach well if they struggle with so many issues? I could go on and on about:

(a) the detriments of standardized testing.

(b) teachers buying basic school supplies for their classrooms throughout the year, in order for their students to be able to learn effectively.

(c) teachers dealing with student hunger, either by recognizing how many are on free or reduced-cost meal programs, or having food pantries in their classrooms because their students aren’t getting enough to eat.

(d) administrators and school boards working against teachers, including issues such as continued disciplinary problems, vandalism, dysfunctional parents, and more.

(e) school administrators, school board members, and district/city school superintendents receiving substantial pay raises.

And there are more. Before she retired last year, my mom saw several excellent teachers leave their public elementary school in favor of private schools. These teachers did not feel free to truly teach and be creative in their classrooms, among other problems. It was incredibly sad!

And my mom taught English as a Second Language (ESL), so she didn’t have the full classroom of kids that were going through round after round of standardized testing. She did teach elementary school in North Carolina during the 1970s and 1980s – 13 years total – and it was completely different back then. The teaching environment has changed so drastically in the last few decades, and not for the better. No wonder there are less and less people majoring in education and becoming teachers.


If you’re curious, here are the five of the top-paying states for teachers. However, keep in mind that these states are also some of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.

  1. Alaska – Average salary: $74,122
  2. New York – Average salary: $73,247
  3. Connecticut – Average salary: $72,524
  4. California – Average salary: $68,711
  5. New Jersey – Average salary: $67,938

And, here are the lowest-paying states:

  1. North Carolina – Average salary: $43,059
  2. Arizona – Average salary: $42,875
  3. South Dakota – Average salary: $42,564
  4. Mississippi – Average salary: $42,393
  5. Oklahoma – Average salary: $41,088

Source: These states pay teachers the most. Where does your state fall?


Sources


In addition, the fight for teacher pay and benefits continues in my local area, as well. I live and work in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. There are seven major cities here: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach.

As recently as this week, teachers have been packing local City Council meetings, calling for raises and more school funding.

In case you’re wondering, Virginia ranks eighth in the list of teacher pay by state, with an average salary of $64,285.


What do you think about teachers going on strike?

Do you think other states are soon to follow?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #24: Thoughts on the LGBT+ Community

lgbtq-main-banner

Image Credit: Barnardo’s (U.K.)

Disclaimer: I have several friends who are part of the LGBT+ community. I tried to write this post as objectively as possible, and I mean no disrespect to anyone!

If you have questions for me, please make a constructive comment on this post, or use my Contact page.

Thank you!


What does the acronym LGBT+ stand for?

Source: We know what LGBT means but here’s what LGBTQQIAAP stands for

L – Lesbian

  • A woman who is attracted to other women.

G – Gay

  • A man who is attracted to other men, or broadly, people who identify as homosexual.

B – Bisexual

  • A person who is attracted to both men and women.

T – Transgender

  • A person whose gender identity is different from the sex listed on their birth certificate.
  • FTM: Female-to-male.
  • MTF: Male-to-female.

Q – Queer

  • Some want to reclaim this term, but others continue to find this offensive.
  • I personally do not use this term in my vocabulary.

Q – Questioning

  • A person who is exploring sexuality or gender identity.

I – Intersex

  • A person whose body is not definitively male or female.
  • Example: A male with a vagina, a female with a penis, etc.

A – Allies

  • A person who identifies as straight, but supports people in the LGBT+.
  • Since high school, I have considered myself to be an ally, or advocate for the community.

A – Asexual

  • A person who is not attracted to people of any gender, in a sexual way.

P – Pansexual

  • A person whose sexual attraction is not based on gender.
  • The person may also be gender fluid, or fluid with their sexual identity.

In addition, I want to list this as well:

GQ – Genderqueer (non-binary)

  • People whose gender identities are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
  • Having two or more genders – Bigender, trigender, or pangender.
  • Having no gender – Agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree, or neutrois.
  • Moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity – Genderfluid.
  • Being third gender or other-gendered – Those who do not place a name to their gender.

In a recent Facebook Messenger conversation with a friend, I expressed my commitment as an ally, which I believe they appreciated seeing / hearing.

In the same conversation, the topic turned to equality. As much as I would like for everyone to be treated fairly and equally in this world, we are still so far from it. There is still so much prejudice and stigmatization.

As an individual, I want to be as accepting and loving as I possibly can.

As a Christian, I have been taught that we should love others unconditionally.


Resources


What about you? What are your thoughts?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #23: Thoughts on Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and Our President

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Image Credit: ThoughtCo

The last few weeks have felt like forever.

It’s been a laundry list of natural disasters, yet another horrific massacre on U.S. soil, and I’ve felt helpless.

  • August 17-September 1 — Duration of Hurricane Harvey
  • August 30-September 12 — Duration of Hurricane Irma
  • September 16-30 — Duration of Hurricane Maria
  • September 19 — Central Mexico earthquake
  • October 1 — Mass shooting at Route 91 Harvest Festival, Las Vegas, Nevada

All the while, President Trump has continued tweeting, criticizing, and not being very presidential. But, that’s just me.


Texas & Florida

My family is incredibly fortunate. My dad drove down to Seminole, Florida, to be with his dad, my 91-year-old Grandpa, prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival. They lost power, but Dad brought a generator and plenty of supplies. Grandpa’s main power was restored within 24 hours. Cable, Internet, and the landline phone followed soon after. The Publix grocery store down the street was open the day after the storm. Dad came home safely just days after the storm passed, not two weeks like everyone was thinking / fearing.

My Uncle Richard (Mom’s brother) waited out the storm in Miami. He lost power, and endured four hours of 100-mph+ winds, but no significant damage.

A few friends and acquaintances suffered devastating floods in Texas, but most remained high and dry. John and Jackie, days away from their first child’s expected arrival, were pleased to report that their son smartly decided to “shelter in place” during the storm.

I’m still in awe at the heroes and heroines during Harvey and Irma. The first responders and the military presence were outstanding. If you haven’t seen the stories about the “Cajun Navy,” look them up online. These men and women, with their boats, are real heroes!

I know certain areas of these states still face months, possibly years, of recovery, but many have amazing survival stories to tell the future generations.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and others, have not been so fortunate. Hurricane Maria literally swallowed the entire island of Puerto Rico. It’s been absolutely decimated. At last check of various news sources, roughly five percent of the island has power now, and roughly 11 percent of the cell service has been restored.

The death toll stands at 34, for now. I fear that this number will rise.

The island was already struggling, with a crumbling infrastructure, debt-laden, declaring bankruptcy, and other issues. Add a massive hurricane to the mix? It’s a disaster zone.

It’s deplorable that the governor and many mayors have gone on national TV, live, begging for help. Everyone on the island is an American citizen, for heaven’s sake.

Ugh. I’m getting madder and madder with every word I type.

Las Vegas

Along with the rest of the world, I was horrified to learn of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Monday morning. I almost fell off the treadmill at the gym, in disbelief.

My first thought: “Oh, no. Not again.”

But, it happened. Nearly sixty innocent people lost their lives. Over 500 were injured.

However, in spite of the tragedy, there were so many heroes and heroines. My spirits have been lifted, gradually, throughout this week, as I read stories of courage, bravery, and sacrifice. Countless people literally took bullets to save others. Complete strangers protected each other. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming.

A GoFundMe page that was started by the Clark County Commission Chair earlier this week has set and re-set its goal several times. As of this writing, 77,232 people have raised an impressive $9.52 million dollars for the victims and their families. That’s awesome!

On Tuesday morning, I wrote the following on Facebook:

As a blood recipient, blood drive co-coordinator, and regular blood donor, I’m so happy to see the reports of people waiting 6-8+ hours to give blood in the wake of the tragedy in Las Vegas.

In Chesapeake, New Creation UMC is hosting their next blood drive this coming Saturday, October 7th. If you’re able and willing, your blood is very much appreciated. Every two seconds, someone needs blood. One whole blood donation can save up to three lives.

Give the Gift of Life. Give Blood.

I hope I can give blood on Saturday, and I hope we will have a good turnout. The need is constant.

Our President

I have so many thoughts about our President right now. It makes me want to scream.

The only thing I’ve been impressed with, so far, was his speech about the tragedy in Las Vegas. For once, he actually showed sympathy and compassion.

I don’t know who wrote it, but it was a good one.

With that said, it’s been tough to swallow his response to the hurricane relief efforts, especially in Puerto Rico. In addition to those issues, he’s angling for nuclear war with North Korea. Antagonizing someone like Kim Jon Un is not a good idea.

I wish Secretary Tillerson would admit that he called our President a moron. I wish people would stop trying to cover for our President, and admit the truth.

But, the truth is, I think most people in and around the White House are walking on eggshells every minute of every day, hoping and praying they don’t say or do something to piss him off.

For once in my life, I’m actually looking forward to voting in November’s elections. I’m so sick and tired of the attack ads for Governor, Attorney General, and the list goes on. There are so many things I wish I could change, but I know my vote can make a difference.

I’m also beyond ready to fast-forward to the 2020 presidential election.

For now, I will continue to educate myself with a variety of news sources, try to stay positive, donate blood, and sharing my thoughts with all of you wonderful readers on my blog. Thank you for being so supportive of my posts – I appreciate each and every one of you.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #22: A Week Since Charlottesville – Now What?

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Image Credit: Notable Quotes

It’s taken me a full seven days to even begin to fully process what exactly happened in Charlottesville last week, especially since the historic city is only 2 1/2 hours from where I live.


Here’s a synopsis of what exactly happened, from Thursday, August 10th, through Monday, August 14th. I tried to write this in my own words, but I also used the timeline of events from news station WJLA.

On Thursday, August 10th, two days before the “Unite the Right” white nationalist demonstration is scheduled to occur, event organizer Jason Kessler files a federal lawsuit against the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. The city moved the planned rally from Emancipation Park to McIntire Park.

On Friday, August 11th, a federal judge rules in Kessler’s favor. The rally is moved back to Emancipation Park, still scheduled for the next day.

On Friday evening, a group of white nationalists, carrying lit torches, march through the University of Virginia (UVA) campus.

On Saturday, August 12th, several hours before the rally’s scheduled start time, the rallying white nationalists and a group of counter-protestors arrive at Emancipation Park. Shortly before noon, violence erupts. Law enforcement quickly declares “an unlawful assembly” and works to disperse the groups as peacefully and as swiftly as possible. The Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, declares a state of emergency.

Around 1:30 p.m., a silver Dodge Challenger plows into a group of counter-protestors. One woman, later identified as Heather Heyer, 32, succumbs to her injuries. Nineteen others are injured. After the collision, the car is put into reverse and speeds away, as a crowd chases after the driver.

A press conference is held at 6:00 p.m. Governor McAuliffe vehemently condemns the white supremacists, and commands them to “go home.”

By Saturday evening, the driver of the Dodge Challenger has been arrested. He is identified as 20-year-old James Alexander Fields, Jr. Law enforcement announces three other arrests – Jacob Smith is charged with assault and battery after punching a reporter in the face; Troy Dunigan is charged with disorderly conduct after throwing things into the crowd; and James O’Brien was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

On Sunday, August 13th, dozens of rallies and vigils are held. The Governor of Virginia, along with other Virginia lawmakers, are seen worshiping in various churches throughout the state, and encourage others to do the same. “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler attempts to hold a press conference. Kessler is heckled by the crowd, tackled to the ground, and one man is arrested for spitting in Kessler’s face.

Interviews are conducted with those associated with Fields. Former teachers and classmates state that he was obsessed with Nazism, and held those beliefs starting in high school.

On Monday, August 14th, Fields appeared in court. No bail was set. The Department of Justice opens a civil rights investigation into the car attack.


“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

~ Heather Heyer

This was Heather’s last Facebook status before she died.


After the horrific events in Charlottesville, immediate attention was focused on the remaining Confederate monuments and statues around the country.

One of my former professors, Elizabeth Hall Magill, penned a powerful blog post:

My friend Becca posted this Facebook status on Wednesday, August 16th:

“You cannot claim to be a Christian yet worship these Confederate statues so much that keeping them up is more important to you than respecting that it pains your fellow humans to see oppressive people glorified. God said it best:

‘Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the Lord your God.’ –Leviticus 19:4

Every statue will come down. Anyone with compassion will support that.”


I wanted to include multiple sources of information surrounding these events:


There’s so much information to process.

Here’s what I personally believe:

  1. I’m sad that all of this has happened. I’m sad that Heather Heyer died. I’m sad the two Virginia State Troopers died in the helicopter crash outside of the city. I’m sad that many others were injured in the car attack. However, I’m also filled with hope. I feel like these events are a bit of a turning point for our country. In the last week, suspects have been identified and swiftly arrested, charged with crimes that they egregiously committed. People have come together, to stand together, and say, “Enough is enough. We will not tolerate this. Racism has no place in our country.”
  2. There’s a lot more work to do than just rallies and vigils and speeches. I hope the positive movements do not lose momentum. I hope people continue to push and press for change!
  3. The American people have a right to protest, but if, and only if, said protest is legal. Meaning, the proper permits have been obtained, and it is peaceful / non-violent. The second it becomes unlawful, law enforcement can and should step in and disband the group. In addition, protesters should meet with city officials and local law enforcement beforehand, if at all possible, to make sure everyone is aware of everyone’s intentions. Communication is key!
  4. All Confederate monuments and statues should be removed in a legal and peaceful manner. The city of Baltimore, Maryland, accomplished this successfully, just this past week. Other cities are beginning to follow suit. Confederate history belongs in museums, not in public places. The only exception that I personally make to “public places” is cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are buried and remembered. There’s more of those cemeteries in existence than you think.
  5. I encourage everyone to educate themselves. I don’t want people to follow a particular opinion just because it’s popular or it’s all over the news. I want people to look inside themselves, deep inside, and figure out how they’re feeling about all of this. If you’re angry, tell someone. If you’re sad, tell someone. Write about it – Like I am right now. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Now is not the time to hold back. We need more voices, more actions, to make sure changes occur. If the American people don’t want another Charlottesville, we need to stand up. We need to stand up together and make change happen!

All that said, what I just wrote is my own opinion. These are my beliefs.

I am a Christian woman, and I strive every day to be more Christ-like. I want to do as much good in the world as possible. But, I also want to pay attention to the issues in my world, and in the world around me. Turning a blind eye does absolutely nothing. That’s part of the reason why I wrote this post. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also firmly believe in the age-old saying, “Action speak louder than words.”

Personally, I applaud my friends and colleagues who were in Charlottesville a week ago, determined to counter-protest against the white nationalists and white supremacists. I think that is a powerful and respectable statement to make. Not everyone has the strength and courage that you do.


To conclude, I want to try to answer the question I posed in the title of this blog post – Now What?

For me, I think changes are already occurring. Changes started on August 11th and August 12th. But, as I said earlier, I hope the positive movements do not lose momentum.

I hope that, eventually, all cities in the United States peacefully and legally remove their Confederate statues and monuments, or relocate them to Confederate cemeteries. I hope museums are able to further educate people about the Civil War and the role the Confederacy played. The war officially ended in 1865, but I feel like, some days, we’re still fighting a portion of it, in 2017.

Here’s a few resources that I found helpful:

Together, we can make a difference.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #21: The Confounding Congress

Congress

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

Disclaimer: This post contains strong language.


Hey there, readers. Bear with me. This post is probably going to be long-winded, basically a stream of consciousness, and likely have a significant amount of profanity in it.

You’ve been warned.


As a result of a spirited discussion with my wonderful husband last weekend (Note – Not spirited as in angry or anything. We typically tend to agree on most things, including politics and things going on in Washington), I’ve been inspired / motivated to write out some thoughts about our United States Congress.

Simply put – It’s completely fucked up.

And it has been for a LONG time.

Meanwhile in Congress

Image Credit: Meme Center


I decided to read through the entire U.S. Constitution.

Friends, it’s been way too long since I read this (I think the last time I read it in full was, begrudgingly, for my 10th grade IB Government class). I’m glad that I took the time to read it – It was like another education.

The Patriot Post

Image Credit: The Patriot Post

Here’s some highlights:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Article I, Section 1)

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” (Article I, Section 2).

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]* for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” (Article I, Section 3).

“The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.” (Article I, Section 6).

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” (The 16th Amendment – Passed by Congress July 2, 1909. Ratified February 3, 1913.)

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.” (The 27th Amendment – Originally proposed Sept. 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.)


They’re fighting over healthcare, but they all know that they’re completely exempt from whatever legislation that eventually passes?

I say that every member of Congress should have to go through the same process that all of the other Americans in this country go through to sign up for healthcare. They should experience the hardships that so many others face!

There is no “employer-sponsored healthcare” in this instance – That’s only for people who work for businesses that offer health plans to them. Period!


Wouldn’t it be great if Congress also couldn’t vote for themselves?

I wish that every member of Congress could be knocked down a peg, so to speak. I wish we, the people, could mandate that every single member only makes $7.25 an hour. Yep, you got that right, make sure that those serving in Congress only make minimum wage.

Oh, and you’re capped at 40 hours a week. No overtime. Nothing extra. And during those 40 hours, you get your work done. If your work isn’t done … You can be fired. Kicked to the curb. If you’re kicked out, then you have to go back home and start all over. Plenty of Americans have gone through layoffs, corporate restructuring, and being fired. Why should members of Congress just be able to sail through?

You get two weeks of vacation per year – That’s it. No more ridiculous recesses that last WEEKS. Recess is for those in elementary school.

No more housing allowances – That’s only given to those who serve our country in our armed forces. Period.


Back to healthcare for a minute. Since you, as a member of Congress, only make $7.25 an hour – You have to choose your healthcare like anyone else who only makes minimum wage. Yep, that makes you have to take the time and go on Healthcare.gov or go through the exchanges to find your health plan.

Oh, and you have to make sure your spouse and all of your children are covered, too.

Not so easy now, is it?


Oh, and whatever happened to serving in Congress actually being a service to your constituents and this great nation?

If I remember correctly, not too long ago, there were no career politicians. None, zero. There were farmers who were elected in Kansas, businessmen elected in Arizona, dentists elected in California – Those men (and later women) maintained their households, jobs and/or businesses, and lives in their constituencies. When their work was done in Washington, they went back to their families and jobs and businesses at home, and worked with their constituents to help their districts change for the better. These men and women didn’t have apartments or houses in Washington, Virginia, or Maryland. They went home to Kansas, Arizona, California, and so on!

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Image Credit: PolitiFact — Based on numbers from 2014, this is nearly 100 percent accurate. *facepalm*


If you stuck with me through now, thanks for reading! I try really hard to not get political on the blog. But, sometimes, something makes me really mad, and the best way that I cope is to write about it!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂