In a country where we throw away edible food to the tune of 133 BILLION pounds annually, we still have 1 in 6 Americans hungry. And 1 in 4 of them are children. Little kids — like my adored (and well-fed) grandson.
You read those figures correctly: “In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten.” As for the 1 in 6 Americans? “As of 2012, about 50 million Americans were food insecure. This was approximately 1 in 6 of the overall population, with the proportion of children facing food insecurity even higher at about 1 in 4. One in every two children receive federal food assistance.” (Wikipedia)
FIFTY MILLION Americans. One-FOURTH of all our children. And we’re cutting the safety net. For children, America. For our children.
As my grandson picks up his Cheerios in one hand on FaceTime, and his cheese and veggies in the other, mashing them into a delightfully colourful (but nourishing) mess, I think of other parents and grandparents, with hungry babies in their homes. I wonder how many of them watch as children cry.
When my grandson’s uncle — my younger son — was in first grade, his teacher visited with me about how many of the other children in his class came to school hungry. This was before many schools had free breakfast. In a ‘good’ Oklahoma neighbourhood, 3/4 of his classmates were eligible for free lunch. THREE out of FOUR. What’s ‘good’ about that? That’s TERRIBLE. This is America, land of opportunity, folks. NOT the land of ‘the opportunity for children to go hungry.’
And yet my home state, Oklahoma, just this past month voted to further cut tax revenues. Further cut benefits, further cut education. And we never did expand Medicaid so that the working poor could have access to health care. If you’re poor in Oklahoma, you’re basically just hosed.
All of this is bad enough. But somehow, sending little kids to bed hungry strikes me as one of the worst of these many insidious evils.
I donate to several charities, most of them environmental or hunger-related. Because first, you need a healthy planet where we can live, breathe, and eat. And then? We need to feed our most precious resource: our children. And then each other. Because otherwise, it’s all just lip service. If we let our children go hungry, we do NOT care about them. We care about money.
And that’s not enough for me. It leaves me hungry. For social justice.
Today I celebrate two births: my elder son’s and my mother’s. Bittersweet, remembering how happy Mother was when Nathan was born on her birthday (the REAL Memorial Day, you know!).
Family. What really matters. More than almost anything, to those in mine. Of course, we define that wider than blood: the dear friend whom I sat by yesterday at a symposium, the man who was too late to join us at the table. The BFF in California, the mentors who have woven their own bright threads through my life’s tapestry. The almost-brothers, the not-quite-aunts.
And of course my mother, my father. My sons, my wonderful husband. My sisters.
But today? It’s son #1 and Mother whom I celebrate. Today I’m remembering the ‘real’ Memorial Day. And that there has never been better mother, dearer friend than she was. How grateful I am my mother lives on in her grandson, whose smile is much like hers — wide and spontaneous, if less frequent. And how I wish I believed she could see the great-grandson who is so much like each of them.
Where ever the dead go, where ever their fragile souls wing after death, I’m sending love to my funny, incredibly beautiful, smart and vibrant mother. And to the son and grandson who take after her.
Happy Birthday, Mother. Happy Birthday, Nathan. You are two of my life’s brightest lights.
I had the pleasure of listening to the keynote address for the 2014 John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation’s Symposium, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.
When I was in Birmingham last year, attending the National Humanities Councils conference, I had heard Dr. Hrabowski speak. He blew me away with his brilliance, his humour and his compassion. Today was no different. Anecdotes of his week in jail when 12 (he was a marcher in the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham) studded a passionate testimonial to the value of education, and the need for Americans to work together to help the young.
Today’s jobs require more than high school, he reminded us. They need at least two years of college, and specific training. And yet most of those Americans — black, white, & brown — whose incomes who are in the lower 40% will not get even a 2-year degree. How will they make good?
During the numerous statistics Hrabowski needed no notes to remember, he told us stories. What I was most touched by was a story he told of his mother, a career teacher. ‘Teachers touch eternity through their students,” she told him only a bit before she died. And yes, the teacher in me knows th is.
But that connection is only possible because of something else Hrabowski learned, he said, from his mother: the importance of relationships. Before a teacher can teach, or a student learn, or those roles switch — as they do in the best of classrooms — there must be a relationship between teacher & student, one based on mutual trust and respect. And that’s what missing from the discussions of education reform: real people and their very real relationships.
The tests and mandated texts and accountability we insist on today don’t create those relationships; people do. Given the achievement gap (Hispanic & black students graduate from college at significantly lower rates than do white students), and the reality of teaching as a predominantly white female profession, we need to figure out a way for white teachers to form closer relationships (and to have time to do so!) with their students.
A city as racially segregated as Tulsa doesn’t offer easy opportunities for interracial friendships. You have to seek them out, get up at 8 a.m. and go to breakfast. Show up. But if you do? You leave with a special present: hope that things can change. That people ARE changing, reconciling an ugly, bitter past where whites swept into the Greenwood area of Tulsa and burnt the entire neighbourhood to the ground. Because it was ‘black.’
Answering a question from the audience, Hrabowski laid out a plan for working with those who fear us, those we do not like or understand: Listen, he said. Listen to those who are different from you. And talk. That’s what I mean — hope. I don’t always believe that people WILL listen, Dr. Hrawbowski. I need constant reminders to keep trying.
Because if the boy who grew up in Birmingham, and was thrown in jail at 12 just because he believed in equal education can reconcile his past, so can we all. Even here in Tulsa.
This is total Buddhism, folks. Despite the hijab covering her head, and her Palestinian djellabah, this Muslim woman is practicing the most Buddhist of actions: living in the moment, making it into peace and beauty.
She has taken tear gas canisters, thrown over several years in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, and converted them into potting containers for flowers. She waters them by hand, in her garden near Ramallah.
But I suspect I’ve a long, far road to walk before then. In the mean time? It’s a goal for all of us. Make a garden where you are. Turn anger and hatred into beauty. If she can, we all can.