Commencing for a Better America

commencement2013_729_293_725_291_720_289_710_285 It has been a tough year in many places in America–from the weather, political histrionics, financial losses, civil unrest, and tragic deaths.  We have been throttled by tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, searing heat, droughts, and icy roads.  Political gridlocks have left us less than optimistic about the effectiveness of our government to improve the quality of life and potential of Americans and future generations.

Yet, as we enter commencement season at thousands of higher education institutions around the nation, there is a sense of cautious hope for our collective American futures.  As my husband and I, together with other family members, prepare to travel to Vermont, which is apparently just beginning to thaw out from the distinction of accumulating the most snowfall in 2015 in the Continental US, for our daughter’s commencement from Law School, we will be joining a small, but significant number of families who will be traveling to also applaud accomplishments of children, grandchildren, and relatives.  Like the other families who will gather to witness these commencements, we will share a sense of pride, relief, and optimism about the contributions these graduates can make to positive social action, to more effective governments, to numerous industries and agencies, and to global communities.

Even though I have attended more higher education commencements than I care to admit, I remember mostly the commencements of Winston-Salem State University and Cheyney University.  While the speakers and acknowledgements of my own commencements and those of my siblings have faded from my memory, the looks of elation, hope, and jubilation of the graduates of these two institutions seem to be permanently etched in my brain and my heart.IMG_0480

As I walked down the aisle with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. at one commencement at Cheyney University, I watched the beaming faces of the families of those in attendance.  With a little over 250 students graduating, there were over 3,000 parents, family, friends, and well-wishers cheering the graduates on to commencing a new life of opportunities.  These family members filled the Historic Quad of Cheyney University and celebrated with the exuberance and intensity seen at joyful family reunions.

As the Honorable Reverend Jesse Jackson walked in the commencement ceremonial march, parents, family members, and significant others thanked him for participating in this significant event in the lives of their loved ones. And, of course, Reverend Jesse Jackson did not disappoint in his graduation address.  Moreover, as an added bonus, actor and musician Terrence Howard also participated in the same commencement activities and gave remarks, much to the positive approval of the graduating students and their guests.

This and other such commencements warmed my heart.  I understood the sacrifices of money and the hopes for a better life tied to these graduates.  My husband and I carry similar hopes and dreams for our daughter, but our sacrifices pale in comparison to those made by first generation parents and families.  We believe our daughter’s and significant numbers of other proud graduates’ accomplishments will prepare them to commence or begin to make the world a better place for us all–and it does not get much better than that in America!

So, to all who are graduating, Congratulations on your impressive accomplishments!

Graduates, we need your innovations, your contributions to global sustainability, your fresh insights, team work, and new ideas to strengthen America!

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April Showers Bring May Flowers and Hopefully Needed Clean Water for Global Neighbors

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A good spring rain shower waters the trees, boosts water in lakes, cleans the streets, and sometimes soothes the spirit.  In fact, in many places, spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as we behold flowers opening, lawns greening, and the  beauty of the Earth unfolding.  As a kid, on the rainy spring days, I remember being reminded by my parents not to frown on rainy days because, yes, “rain showers bring May flowers.”  This statement was usually followed by “we need the rain!”  Without a doubt, water is one of the most basic necessities for life on our shared planet.
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Even though most of us know the significance of rain and the need for water to sustain our lives, many of us still view rain as a gift from the sky that will keep on giving.   Awareness of the need to sustain this valuable resource often only correlates with drastic climatic or pollution conditions that force us to plan and change our behavior to maintain sustainability.  Some environmentalists affirm that we are using water much faster than it is replenished. Other scientists have sounded alarms that global warming is producing profound changes in water availability, quality, and access. Thus, it is not a surprise that in some places in the United States a rainy day is a much appreciated day!  Like with many other limited resources, some states and municipalities are planning ahead strategically to maintain vital water resources.
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 As the USDA drought monitor map illustrates, there are states experiencing significant drought conditions in America.  Some western states with desert climates such as California are already engaged in a debate about the future of protecting water supply. Thus, not surprisingly, there are significant portions of America that employ water strategists and consultants to ensure that there will be adequate water for the citizens in the region.  According to some researchers, it is unclear whether droughts in some of the western states and adjacent areas are a new phenomenon or part of a cyclical rotation. Yet, issues regarding clean water possessions have social and economic effects for all of us.   Some urban planners project that protracted droughts in some parts of the US can lead to economic imbalances, as companies elect to locate in more verdant states.
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As my daughter, a fledgling environmentalist, recently reminded us, there is a great deal of drought in our global community that is literally a matter of life or death.  Even with the scarcity of water and drought protocols, many of us in America take clean water for granted.  We are usually only inconvenienced by monitoring our consumption and employing our sprinkler system on alternative days.  Yet, even with these practices, we function with limited knowledge about how the lives of our neighbors around the world are affected by lack of clean water.  Maybe if we knew more, we would engage in broader positive social action about managing water better among the Earth’s global citizens.
Most of us know that drought conditions can be linked to quality of life in many global communities.  The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation monitors drought conditions in various global communities and supports drought relief efforts and water sanitation services through generous donations.  According to their Foundation website, drought can be devastating, resulting in barren fields, malnourished families, and starvation for millions of global citizens.  Likewise, the lack of clean water kills. The website charitywater.org states that:

“Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.”

So what does this mean for most of us?  As we calibrate our sprinkler systems, and pause to admire our flowers and green lawns, let us be cognizant that for some of our neighbors, even though some may be far away–water is a matter of life and death.  Sustaining our natural resources is one of the most important efforts we can engage in to sustain global communities and the well-being of future generations. I have been convinced that access to clean water is a social and environmental justice issue.  Helping global neighbors attain an improved standard of living might be viewed as a form of effective diplomacy.

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 www.gatesfoundation.org

http://munchies.vice.com/articles/some-california-rice-farmers-would-rather-sell-water-than-plant-crops

 http://www.wired.com/2015/03/californias-run-water-act-now/

http://www.appalmad.org/slider/west-virginias-streams-are-in-trouble

Let Us Give Our Families the Gift of Tolerance For The Holiday Season

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Happy Holidays!
We say that phrase often during this time of the year.

Many of us attend, with our families, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other “places of worship” during the Holiday Season. Visiting these places of worship is a good thing, I guess–if it is more than a ritual or another box to check because we have been told we are supposed to do such.

Holiday Season 2014, many of us notice an undeniable undercurrent of unrest and intolerance in America, and other places of the world. Peace and civil discourse seem to be eroding, and some citizens believe they must take to the streets to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. Whether we are watching protests marches, vitriolic political campaigns, the frenzy over Ebola, viewing violent acts around the world, or interacting with persons in our community–one thing is sure–we need the gift of understanding and tolerance in our communities, cities, in America, and in many places in the world.

Like most fundamental orientations, the gift of tolerance probably begins in the smaller units of “family worlds”–in the conversations that parents have with their children and the examples they set when interacting with people who seem to be different from them.

From my perspective, there are at least a few basic essentials needed for giving the lifelong gift of tolerance that can be taught in our family worlds:

• Expanding the family’s knowledge base about other people, their lives, opinions and ethnic origins, by viewing them from numerous and historical perspectives. Do not assume….

•Treating other individuals and families as we would like others to treat us and our families (almost all organized religions profess this ethic of reciprocity).

•Gathering facts, from different perspectives, and discussing them in our families before rushing to generalizations or judgments.

So, Happy Holidays and spread the gift of tolerance in our families this season and into 2015. Such a gift will improve the well-being of all Americans, and it will be the gift that keeps on giving!