Commentary #116: Thoughts on “LuLaRich”

Image Credit: Google Images, Amazon Prime Video

Buckle up, friends. This is going to be a long post. Strong language is used.

Some of you know that I used to buy LuLaRoe (LLR) clothing for two years, from 2017-2019. At the time, I had no clue it was a multi-level marketing company, or MLM.

Now, Amazon Prime Video has released a decent documentary that features the founders, former front office employees, current and former “retailers,” and a few more.

NOTE: I originally set this post to publish on September 20th after having re-watched Episodes 1 and 2, thinking I was going to be able to re-watch all four episodes before the post published automatically. That didn’t happen. It published automatically, and I forgot about it for a few days. I decided to update the scheduling to publish it on September 24th after needing to re-watch Episodes 3 and 4 and make my notes about it. So the updated publishing date is actually September 24th.


Episode 1 – Start Up

Image Credit: LuLaRich

I can’t believe the producers of this documentary were actually able to get DeAnne and Mark Stidham on camera! I’d love to know how that conversation went. Wow!

You are the boss of your business! — Hahahahaha. No, you’re not. MLMs are not legitimate small businesses. Period.

One of the commentators is Robert FitzPatrick – Author, MLM Expert – He was interviewed on Roberta Blevins’s excellent podcast, “Life After MLM.” He’s written two books on MLMs.

Independent fashion retailers — No, actually, you’re an independent contractor. And you have to pay taxes!

$5,000 buy-in (Say WHAT?!?!) Holy moly. This one blew my mind. What the fuck? I could do so much with $5,000 – So much!

Selling breast milk to afford start-up costs — Ummmmm. Yeah. That’s absolutely insane. Nope!

A million dollar company to a billion dollar company. — It grew way too fast, and no one was able to keep up. Plain and simple.

Weight loss surgery — What the actual fuck. No, no, no.

Roberta Blevins — Amazing woman! I have a link to her podcast above! She is awesome!

“Why are the leggings wet? Why does the whole house smell like dead fart leggings?“ — Right on, Roberta! Inferior product doesn’t sell!

“LuLaRoe tricked people into joining a pyramid scheme.“

Actual depositions from the State of Washington v. LLR — I laughed and cringed at the same time!

Mark spouting passages from the Book of Mormon — Yeah. Roberta was right. You are/were in a cult!

LLR logo is a pyramid!

DeAnne’s maiden name is “Startup.” Seriously!

DeAnne is the 10th of 11 children. She has a twin sister, Diane.

Mark is one of four kids. Never wanted to work a job or work for a boss. “When you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no upper limit.”

1988 – DeAnne went to a swap meet in California. Bought four dresses from a man. Started booking dress parties. The first party sold 300 dresses. DeAnne did that for 27 years.

She started making maxi skirts after her daughter asked for one. Sold 20,000 maxi skirts quickly. Mark started in production.

2012 – Brittany Hunter from Utah, came and got skirts out of DeAnne’s van. DeAnne and Mark officially formed LuLaRoe, LLC in 2013. The name comes from three of their granddaughters – Lucy, Lola, and Monroe.

What I really liked about LuLaRich was the group of people they interviewed. When I first saw the trailer, I was pretty sure the producers had only interviewed DeAnne, Mark, and both former and current fashion retailers. It was really nice to see journalists and other experts, too! And home office employees that really spilled the tea.

For those who may not know, MLMs have been around for a good long while. The first one in the United States was Nutrilite in the 1940s, and then they were purchased by Amway. Other MLMs include Tupperware, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Scentsy, Herbalife, and Rodan + Fields. But there are a lot more – I remember hearing for either this documentary or Roberta’s podcast that there are about 300 active MLM companies in the United States. And many of them have gone global to other countries. Ewwwwww.

What is really being sold is the opportunity.

You can only go about 13 levels, and you surpass the population of the Earth.

Even though MLMs have been around and growing since the 1940s, it’s really exploded in the last 10 years or so. It’s advertised primarily through social media.

Buy it for wholesale, sell it for retail. It’s not get-rich-quick. —- Yeahhhhhh. Right.

Mark: Underutilized resource of stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs). A lot of people of faith attracted to this business. It’s a pure meritocracy.

Meritocracy: Government or the holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability.

Sam Schultz, DeAnne’s nephew, joined LLR in 2015 as the events director. Part of the same demographic as the fashion retailers. He hired Mario Lopez to present DeAnne with an award. The photos went viral, and 11,000 people wanted to join the company after that weekend.

2016 – LLR made over $70 million, and expanded to a new home office in Corona, California.

Catastrophic growth, corporate tornado.

“Helping families, blessing lives.” — Wow.


Episode 2 – Show Up

Image Credit: LuLaRich

LLR created a video called “5 Ways to Finance Your Start Up Costs.” The smallest initial package was $5,000. The largest was $11,000!! Examples: Open an interest-free credit card, sell your breast milk.

LLR home office employees! I honestly wasn’t expecting these people to be interviewed, but it was AWESOME. LaShae is my FAVORITE. Worked at Macy’s originally. She met DeAnne in the hallway, she had Chanel on. She marched her to the warehouse and picked out a few pieces because she wasn’t wearing LLR! She was wearing Chanel!!

Derryl Trujillo came to LLR after working for Steve Madden, and reffing and officiating high school volleyball too. He found the ad for data entry and customer service on Craigslist. He was placed in the email department, which was the first line of defense for the company. They tried to be the filter of the building. Mark and DeAnne were seldom around the office, the window seat had to look out for their cars. The family had six Mercedes vehicles. Eight-five to ninety percent (85-90%) of the sixth floor was the family. No one had a clue to run the company of that size. “Data entry” was a Google Doc spreadsheet. Everyone kept editing it, and things would change second to second!

Creating the compensation plan on the fly.

Onboarding team – Fill out your application for LLR, and you were put into the onboarding queue. The team would call these retailers and let them know they were now a part of the family. Mark had a quota. What do you need to onboard 500 people on a Saturday?

These prospective retailers had the LuLaRoe phone number saved as “LuLaRoe – Life Changing Call.”

The number of retailers just grew and grew and grew. By 2016, there were 15,000 retailers! By the end of 2016, there were over 60,000!!

Unicorn hunting – Because you could only pick sizes and the type of clothing, you never knew what prints you were going to get! There were limited prints, too. It was nuts watching the documentary! I participated in multiple Facebook Lives when I bought LLR from three different consultants, so I understand the frenzy!

They talked about the Leadership Bonus Plan. It went from Retailer to Sponsor to Trainer to Coach to Mentor. There was a huge push to recruit and to buy. Recruiting was emphasized. Roberta purchased $78,000 worth of clothing wholesale, and made $83,000 total. And that didn’t include her business expenses. She made $65,000 in bonuses! It’s really easy to see how lucrative this was!

Social media posts were always supposed to be positive, and then attributed to LuLaRoe! DeAnne would become upset if a post didn’t have the #becauseofLuLaRoe hashtag!

And then there were the LuLaRoe cruises! You had to qualify for the cruises, which meant you had to sell $12,000 worth of clothes per month. That’s crazy! But there are/were people who qualified for 5-6 cruises!


Episode 3 – Blow Up

Image Credit: A member from the Facebook group your MLM is not a small business, Karen. https://www.facebook.com/groups/166294847640193/?ref=share

Mark and DeAnne would go live online. Every single Tuesday, people would tune in! There was so much idol worship and celebrity.

People started realizing that there was a lot of control. A couple of people started putting the pieces together and thinking, “Oh my God I’m in a cult.”

Enter Becca Peter. She sells washi tape online. For fun, she researches LuLaRoe online. The sales tax was strange, that was her first clue.

LuLaRoe takes advantage of these feelings that women have – They want to be great moms to their kids, but also contribute to the household. It’s the opposite of empowering.

Some of these women started involving their husbands in their LuLaRoe world. And then there’s the “retire your husband” thing. I hate that with a burning passion. It’s another control thing!! Paul said it perfectly – It’s devious and sinister! You’re trapped!

Over 80 percent of people have no one underneath them in MLMs. In 2016, 70 percent of LLR consultants made NO MONEY – ZERO.

If everything is possible, nothing is true. It’s all a farce, a fallacy. The documentary didn’t really discuss the cost-sunk fallacy, but it’s true of all MLMs.

Then there’s the gastric sleeve. DeAnne and her sister, Lynnae, were recruiting women to go to Tijuana, Mexico to get the surgery! The group chat was called “Tijuana Skinny’s.” DeAnne got the surgery and is on video where she lost 72 pounds. Courtney Harwood from North Carolina was looking into it, and ultimately decided on the weight loss balloon surgery in the U.S. – She nearly died! And then she was told that the gastric sleeve was the way to go.

Then the number of retailers went up to 90,000. And if you weren’t making money, it wasn’t the obvious over-saturation of sellers, but it was because “you weren’t working hard enough.” How demoralizing is that!?

Roberta opened a box of inventory in 2016, and realized one item was soaking wet – One pair of leggings. A couple of shipments later, there was a horrible smell from the box. When filing a return request, one of the choices was “Stinky leggings.” Seriously! They were selling moldy leggings, and there was product outside, exposed to the elements. The Mentors went to the home office, and it was met with agitation and being dismissive.

The material was changing! The leggings were arriving with holes, or ripping apart after one hour. The material itself was thinner. The company claimed that they weren’t distributing old product, but they were. The design theft was rampant. They told designers to find a print, change two things, and then voila! It’s a new print!

If you complain or criticize, then you’re the loser. It highlights so many insecurities! Negativity is a big no-no. Use the delete button! People were being scolded like children. For most of the consultants, they were used and betrayed. In my opinion, there was also abuse! There was gaslighting and love bombing.


Episode 4 – Toe Up

In June 2017, LuLaRoe changed their bonus structure. It would be based on sales rather than ordering. The checks were cut in half almost overnight.

Complaints were rolling in, and the question of whether or not LLR was a pyramid scheme kept coming up. And then there was the return policy. The company implemented a 100 percent buyback policy. Consultants would get a full refund, and there was no expiration date.

A bunch of people joined, and then a lot of people left. It was a mass exodus. LLR paid over $100 million during that time. Then they reverted back to the original policy with an additional stipulation, and leaders were not eligible for refunds.

News coverage swelled. Social media groups exploded, such as “LuLaRoe Defective.” And then a few people started talking about hiring a class-action attorney. The reason? Withholding approved refunds is illegal.

The case started as a breach of contract case because they changed the buyback policy almost overnight. They started a website called LLR Class Action. The number of people who contacted the attorney was staggering.

There have been dozen of lawsuits filed against LLR, in multiple states. They were sued for defective leggings, and then copyright infringement. The MyDyer lawsuit basically called Mark and DeAnne outright scammers – One claim is that LLR owes them $49 MILLION DOLLARS. LLR is also tied to many LLCs, in multiple states. Many of them were set up simultaneously in 2017.

Then, in January 2019, a civil lawsuit was filed by the Washington State Attorney General. It alleged that LuLaRoe was operating as a pyramid scheme.

Depositions were taken from DeAnne, Mark, Kenny Brady, and Jordan Brady. They have absolved themselves of all blame and/or responsibility. In my humble opinion, they are all fucking scammers and greedy bastards. There, I said it. All of them are awful people. Mark, especially, reminded me of both of my abusive relationships. It’s all about the money!


Resources & More Information

How LuLaRoe cost some women their homes, cars, savings, and marriages | The New York Post (September 2021)

4 Shockingly Manipulative Work Moments in the ‘LuLaRich’ Documentary | HUFFPOST (September 2021)

Amazon’s ‘LuLaRich’ perfectly explains the demise of the girl boss | MSNBC Opinion (September 2021)

Why Women Are Quitting Their Side Hustle: Leaving LuLaRoe | VICE (May 2019)


Have you watched LuLaRich? If so, what did you think?

If you haven’t, are you planning on watching it?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #115: “Israel Eases Restrictions on Blood Donations By Gay Men”

Photo Credit: redcrosschat.org

This article, from ABC News and The Associated Press, published in mid-August, is news that is long overdue.

Israel eases restrictions on blood donations by gay men

Israel follows the U.K. and the U.S. in easing restrictions due to a decrease in needed blood supplies. The U.K. made their changes earlier this year to allow more gay and bisexual men to become donors, and the U.S. updated their screening questions in 2020.

The health history screening in Israel has been updated to use gender-neutral wording, and changing the timeframe from 12 months to three (3) months.

While I personally think that the overall restriction should be dropped entirely, I also understand the continued need to protect blood recipients. I have several gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends who have not donated because of these restrictions. Their argument is that blood products are now tested, and have been for years, for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other life-threatening infectious diseases. While this is true – Testing for HIV with the American Red Cross started in 1985 and has been reviewed and updated since then – I’m honestly not sure this restriction will ever be dropped entirely. It’s very rare that HIV Type 1 or 2 will come up after a single blood donation, but it has happened.


Resources

If you’re interested in giving blood or other blood products (platelets, plasma), visit these websites for more information.

United States – American Red Cross

Blood Donation Eligibility Requirements | American Red Cross

United States Blood Banks (not affiliated with the American Red Cross)

United Kingdom – NHS Blood and Transplant

Israel – MDA – National Blood Services

The easiest way to search is to type in “giving blood” plus the country that you reside in.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #114: Viewpoints on Health – A Conversation with David Sheff

David Sheff, right, and his son, Nic. Image Credit: The New York Times

I had the opportunity to participate in a live-stream with the James Madison University (JMU) College of Health and Behavioral Studies and Mr. David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and the new book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. This was presented in collaboration with Sentara Healthcare, and I learned about this opportunity as a Sentara employee. It was open to everyone, and was presented through Facebook and YouTube.

The structure of the event was a conversation between one of the JMU staff members and David Sheff. Before it started, the JMU staff members commented that “Sheff will share about his family’s experience with addiction. He will also report on findings from the years he spent investigating the disease of addiction and America’s drug problem.”


With David, his family’s experience with addiction was with his son, Nic. He was plagued with anxiety and depression. He was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, Nic’s first experience with drugs was marijuana at age 11.

Sheff emphasized that parents can’t do it all. They aren’t their child’s social worker, psychologist, counselor, etc. The sooner that parents intervene, the better.

One topic that came up was “tough love,” Sheff and his wife did not go that route with Nic. Sometimes, it’s successful, but a lot of times, it’s not successful.

Family also sometimes adds to the problem.

One of the best things that parents can do is ask for help, whether that be from a counselor, coach, teacher, or doctor. There are a lot of support groups online, too.


What is Addiction?

“Addiction is the only disease that lets our family members hit rock bottom.”

Addiction is a health problem, not a problem of morals. It’s not bad behavior, either.

It’s a brain disease. We don’t want people to get worse.

Sheff said, “I didn’t know rock bottom had a basement.”

Using the term “bottom” is dangerous.

There are alternatives that work.

For healthcare providers – People don’t want to be addicted. We need more people to be trained to recognize the warning signs. And it’s not just a need for healthcare providers. So many others should be trained as well – Coaches, clergy, teachers, counselors, parents, guardians, and more.


How to Help or Get Help

Early warning signs include isolation, sadness, depression.

Don’t talk to your child or children – LISTEN to them.

There’s also a great, significant need for psychological testing in the substance abuse treatment system. For Nic, he had not had any psychological testing in the 10 years that he’d been in treatment, and that was years ago. After he had the proper psychological testing, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, more importantly, he hasn’t relapsed since then.

In terms of a healthcare system that treats disease, there simply aren’t enough providers.

“Diseases of despair”

There was a study conducted of pediatricians not too long ago. Nearly 70 percent of them couldn’t recognize a drug problem in a child.

In 2020, 80,000 people died from drug overdose.

Sharp increase: Isolation from lockdown. Also, drugs have normally/usually been social gatherings. Because of the isolation, no one was with them to call 911.

Money has been diverted form support programs to help with COVID-19.

Pharmacological: Brain disease, chemical issues.

Opioid addiction: Meds lower cravings.

Methadone and suboxone – These drugs help people function! It’s almost equivalent to cancer drugs.

Replace shame and guilty with knowledge and hope.

Irresponsible prescribing needs to stop. Educating professionals needs to increase. Not leaving people alone.

Medications must be monitored.

Teenagers: Opioids must commonly found / used in home medicine cabinets.

Identify stressors: It takes a village, support for everyone

Mental illnesses often go undiagnosed or not properly diagnosed, sometimes for years or decades.

Societal problems: No money, no food – Those things, and others, lead to violence. Also consider unemployment and abuse.

Be relentless: Make a million phone calls if you have to.

There have been successful Nurse-Family Partnerships, where a nurse is in consistent contact and communication with a family, offering support and medical assistance.

Teenage pregnancy is a significant factor, too.

A team that works together can help: Write resume, job interviews, proper nutrition, staying at a job.

Support includes making appointments, going to counseling sessions.

There needs to be an increase in and acceptance of harm reduction programs, community resources, needle exchanges.

There’s a JMU graduate who works for a needle exchange program in Tacoma, Washington.


I have not yet read either of Sheff’s books, but I plan to. See the links below for more information.


Resources

FRONTLINE | Chasing Heroin (2016) – Exploring what happens when addiction is treated like a public health issue, not a crime.

At George Floyd’s Treatment Center, Recovering Clients See Racism in Addiction Assumptions | FRONTLINE (2021)

Syringe Services Programs (SSPs) FAQs | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Methadone | MedlinePlus

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

What is Addiction? | American Psychiatric Association

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #32: Justice for George Floyd (Chauvin Guilty on All Counts)

Image Credit: Republic World

My hands are shaking as I write this post. I’m in disbelief. I never thought I would see and hear these words, live-streamed for all the world to witness:

Count I – Second-degree unintentional murder, GUILTY

Count II – Third-degree murder, GUILTY

Count III – Second-degree manslaughter, GUILTY

Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all charges in the death, the murder, of George Floyd that occurred on May 25, 2020.

I prayed before the verdict was read, feeling tears spring to my eyes. I couldn’t believe it when the first “Guilty” was read, I was stunned. And then I cheered. And then I cried. And I prayed again.

Chauvin’s bond was immediately revoked, and he was taken into custody.


I reflected on this in my post, Hot Topic #30, on June 4, 2020. Thankfully, less than a year later, I’m writing a post in relief and happiness that this verdict was actually reached.


With all that said, there is still more work to be done.

“The healing work begins,” spoken over and over in George Floyd Square in Minneapolis this afternoon.

Black Lives Matter.


Resources

The BIPOC Project

Black Lives Matter

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

BIPOC-Owned Businesses to Support Today and Everyday


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #113: Thoughts on “Richard Jewell”

Image Credit: IMDb

Al and I watched this biopic on HBO Max. I had been interested in watching it since the first trailer was released in October 2019. We typically enjoy Clint Eastwood movies.

This one hit me a little harder, since it’s based on the real events of the Centennial Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. I was about to turn eight that summer, and I was excited to watch several events on TV. I don’t remember much about the bombing until I was older.


The acting was superb in this film. I loved Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother. Sam Rockwell was an excellent choice for Watson Bryant. And Paul Walter Hauser was exceptional for Richard. The likeness of the actor to the real man was striking. Olivia Wilde was a good choice for Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs.

I won’t give away major spoilers – I try really hard to not do that in my Commentary posts and Book Reviews. But, this movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I really liked how they used archival footage of news coverage, and if it wasn’t archival, it was a really good reproduction. Al pointed out the differences in aspect ratio.

This movie is a really good example of how damaging the media can be. As someone who studied mass media and journalism in college, it stung a little, but what these people and networks did for a story was flat out wrong. And this film captures those emotions so well, and shows many angles.

If you’re interested in a true-to-life film that captures a variety of perspectives, this is a great movie. It’s available on HBO Max until the end of March.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #94: “Courtney: Friendship Superhero”

I wasn’t surprised at all when I powered through Courtney’s second book on Monday night before bed.

This book opens in the last few days of school of the 1985-1986 school year. The Hands Across America event is held, raising money for hunger and homelessness.

Courtney goes to the arcade, and continuing to work on her Crystal Starshooter character and levels of her video game. She meets a new friend, Isaac. He’s an even better video game player. Courtney eventually learns he’s also a talented artist.

As she navigates the waters of family and friendship, Courtney learns that Issac has an illness called HIV. Requests for privacy turn into anger about keeping secrets. Courtney feels like her friendship with Sarah, her best friend, is falling apart.

This book expertly navigated the fears of HIV and AIDS in 1986. I immediately drew parallels between Isaac and Ryan White, a teenager in Indiana who contracted HIV in 1984 through contaminated clotting factor that he received for hemophilia.

Courtney learns several lessons about true friendship along the way, even though she gets entrenched in the fight over Isaac and the local residents wanting to keep him out of school. How awful that these families and children faced such horrible discrimination, just like Ryan White and his family did.

The fun part of the story is when Courtney discovers the first Pleasant Company catalog, and falls in love with Molly McIntire!

I’m not sure if there will be more Courtney books, because American Girl revamped their book line several years ago. They changed the original six-book format to two longer books. This one covers the summer, fall, and winter of 1986.

However, I’m inspired to re-read Ryan White’s autobiography, Ryan White: My Own Story, and learn more about the 1980s. I was born in 1988, so I’ve always been intrigued by events that happened around the time I was born, and things that happened before I started forming core memories.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #109: Thoughts on “13th”

Image Credit: The Maine Campus

As part of my continuing education on Black Lives Matter and becoming a better ally, I wanted to sit down and watch this documentary on Netflix.

Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to watch it again. I was overwhelmed, horrified, and angry.


Ava DuVernay is a master. The interviews that were conducted spanned from activists, to authors, to former Presidents!


Saturday, July 25th

I need to write more after I watch it again tomorrow. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Update – Monday, July 27th

I sat down and watched this again yesterday. I had my phone out and took proper notes this time. Keep in mind – This was originally released in 2016.

The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The documentary is very much a timeline from the Civil War through 2016. One of the key points was D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) film. The burning cross symbol was created by Griffith, not the KKK, because Griffith thought it was a good cinematic image.

The Nixon era (1968-1974) was the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” Nixon took drug addiction and drug dependency and made it a crime issue, rather than a health issue. I also learned a lot about the Southern Strategy – Taking Democrats on multiple southern states and leading them to the Republication Party.

The Reagan era (1981-1988) was the modern war on drugs. Nancy Reagan embarked upon the “Just Say No” campaign. Crack cocaine came on the scene – It was in small doses, and cheaper than powdered cocaine. Mandatory sentencing penalties were enacted that were harsher for crack cocaine. Black communities were virtually decimated – Men started disappearing from the homes and neighborhoods overnight and not coming back for years because of getting arrested and convicted for possessing crack cocaine. At this point, economic inequality, hyper-segregation, and drug abuse were all criminalized. It turned into a war on communities of color. Black people have been (are still are) over-represented in the news media as criminals. The “super-predator” label was thrown around constantly. Black parents ended up, inadvertently, supporting policies that were criminalizing their own children. The Central Park Jogger case in New York City was absolutely awful.

The George H.W. Bush era (1988-1993) was affected during the campaign for President. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis was holding a commanding lead, until Willie Horton was let out of prison on a weekend pass, and went on a horrific crime spree that included kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder. The Bush campaign used Horton’s story as part of a campaign ad on crime.

The Clinton era (1993-2001) sent a strong message of “Democrats are not soft on crime.” More police were put on the street, federal funding for law enforcement was upwards of $100 million dollars. Polly Klaas was murdered. The massive 1994 crime bill ($30 billion dollars) included the “three strikes law” – Three felonies and you’re put in prison for the rest of your life, mandatory minimums for sentencing, truth in sentencing where prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, parole was virtually abolished. This led to a massive expansion of the American criminal justice system, including prisons and law enforcement. Even the smallest police forces were militarized with military-grade weapons and equipment. Years later, Clinton admitted that “I made the problem worse.”

The documentary then goes into the case of Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Florida on May 26, 2012, and the issue of “stand your ground” laws since then.


One of the most fascinating segments was about the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). It’s a private club that brings together politicians and private corporations. Walmart eventually left ALEC, but the American Bail Coalition and Koch Industries remain. One key stakeholder for years was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They make contracts with states to build private prisons, and then the states are required to keep those prisons filled. CCA has made $1.7 billion in profit – They’re getting rich off punishment. In addition, CCA holds contracts to detain immigrants. In essence, CCA has merged the immigration system and the prison system. After a major story from NPR in 2010, CCA left ALEC.

However, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to make money. Companies such as Corizon Healthcare, Aramark, and the National Correctional Industrial Association are involved with supplying healthcare, food, and “jobs” to prisons and prisoners. I say “jobs” in quotes because what I really mean is prison labor.

Another problem is the issue of bail and bond. Kalief Browder was arrested for a crime he did not commit. His bail was set at $10,000. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he sat in jail. They offered him a plea deal, but he said no. He wanted to go to trial. After three years, all the charges were dropped. However, by that point, he’d been in Rikers Island and in solitary confinement multiple times. The system is designed to break you in 30 days. Browder died by suicide at 22 years old after he was released.

In the United States, there has been 100 years of Jim Crow, terror, and lynching. If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote and you can’t get a job. How do you re-enter American society? You can’t. Some progress has been made in “removing the box” to take the felony conviction question off job applications, but there’s a long way to go.

The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men in 1 in 17. For black men, it’s 1 in 3.

Black men make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population.

There was footage of riots in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), Newark (1967), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson, Missouri (2014). The common thread? Police brutality.

The overarching message from the interviewees is that people of color want to have human dignity. And to live in the United States, the supposed greatest country on this planet, and there’s a significant number of people who don’t have human dignity? That’s not okay in my book. We need to do more work, America.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

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 🙂

Commentary #102: “More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules”

Image Credit: Politico

NPR is one of my go-to sources. I’ve written several posts on articles from them. When I read this headline a while ago, I knew I needed to write about it: More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules


I also saw this article as a challenge to myself.

I’m not a parent.

I grew up with eating some school lunches, but most of the time I brought food from home, since my mom made big meals that turned into leftovers.

In elementary school, we learned about the food pyramid and how junk food was “bad.”

Since I graduated from high school in 2007, the rules and guidelines around school nutrition have changed. In addition, the United States weathered the worst economic downturn, among other things.

So, I wanted to dive in, do my research, and educate myself. And then share that education with you!


I’m not going to go into the entire history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but know that the USDA is the government agency that sets the rules for school nutrition. These rules apply to breakfast and lunch served in U.S. schools.

One of most landmark pieces of legislation on nutrition and schools has been the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It became Public Law on December 13, 2010. It has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on August 5, 2010.

However, at the end of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes. The idea was to give schools “more flexibility in serving meals that kids will eat,” according to another article from NPR published on December 7, 2018.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

USDA FNS – Nutrition Standards for School Meals

One of the biggest issues that people have with the new proposal is allowing any entree at any school could be served as an a la carte item for students. This means, if the proposal is made into a final rule, schools can offer pizza and burgers as an option every single day, if they choose. It’s a potential loophole to the previous rules that have mandated balanced school meals.

NOTE: While starting to write this post, I clicked on the link to the proposal from the Food and Nutrition Service on the Federal Register. I couldn’t access the Proposed Rule. There was an Editorial Note in its place, stating, “This document was withdrawn by the Office of the Federal Register because it was inadvertently placed on public inspection. The record will remain on public inspection through the close of business on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.”

This post is nowhere near finished. My research continues!