Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh Such Incredible Women!

This post will not be lengthy, much to your relief. This is because I haven't yet determined how best to share the impactful movie theater experiences I've had over the last two weeks.

Suffice it to say, I highly recommend Lion, Hidden Figures, and I Am Not Your Negro. These are "must see" shows.

There is a great deal to learn from these movies. They are potentially life changing. And what I found potent were the two inescapable themes:

1. Women are spectacularly strong.
2. A sense of belonging shapes our identity, and vice versa.

There is a universal need to feel accepted, to have family, to know your history and how that shapes your current sense of belonging. Understanding the connection of where you came from gives you the courage and wherewithal to pursue the trajectory of where you're meant to go. And these four women—Brierly's Moms, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Counts—in the midst of heartache and adversity, exemplified living in a manner indicative of pure love, unfettered determination, and inexplicable beauty all stemming from the foundation of believing in what their life's journey was meant to be. 

Like so many other women I look up to, I found these stories inspiring. It's a gift that there are these real life examples being shared in the theater for our young women to see. And it's about time. #StillShePersisted

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why My Daughter Marched...A Guest Post

The following was written by my youngest daughter. She gave me permission to publish her work as a guest post. I'm certain her words resonate with so many of us, and I couldn't pass up this opportunity. So thank you, Kira. Well done. I'm so very proud of you.

"Why I Marched" ~By Kira Bolos
In this photo my mom and I climbed up a fountain and were looking out at hundreds of thousands of marchers; the crowd extended literally as far as the eye could see. It was impossible not to get choked up, to not be moved by that sight. Everyone was kind, everyone was full of love, and everyone was fighting to protect one another. It was the largest sign of unity I have ever seen and likely will ever see, and the most beautiful part was that this is just the beginning of a fight we will not lose. This incredible experience and all the amazing women I met this weekend inspired me to share #WhyIMarch.
As a college student, I see and experience what happens to the women on my campus. We go to these parties and we keep one eye out for those men staring at us. We keep our drinks in our hands at all times because putting it down means we are a target. We go to bars where men touch our backs and grab our hips, and we don’t get a choice. We walk five minutes off campus and are cat called if we are alone. We walk home at night clutching our pepper spray, the whole time the “1 in 5” statistic ringing in our ears, permanently burned in our brains. It is not something we can escape. And maybe more terrifying than all of this, these instances where we are most uncomfortable are not even when we are most vulnerable. We are most vulnerable around the men we know and even trust. These women are scared, I am scared. And I am so tired of holding my breath and making myself small when an unknown man approaches me. Of having a slight alarm in my head whenever I start to have a close relationship with a male, because this is who I am taught to be afraid of. Most of all, I am tired of feeling LUCKY that I have not been assaulted—because it is absolutely unacceptable that this isn’t the norm.
This is why I march. But that is not all; the reasons are infinite. I not only march for my fellow college women, but for women of every shape, size, and color. I march for women all over the country who have the same statistic ringing in their ears. I march for the victims of domestic violence (which 1 in 4 women will experience in their lifetime). For the young girls who do not know they are allowed to say no, for the ones who were told not to be raped when no one told their attackers not to rape them. I march for 12-year-old me who was cat called for the first time. I march for the women who were born biologically a male and are now trying to find their place among our community. I march for the women of the LGBTQIA+ community. I march for the black women who are the most educated group in the country but yet are still among the most underrepresented, undervalued, and underpaid. I march for all the little girls across the world who do not have access to education. For women in other countries who are even worse off and unfathomably oppressed. I march for my incredible and passionate female friends and family members who are too beautiful and strong to put into words; for the dreamers, the fighters, the women who are unstoppable in a world trying to prevent us from soaring. I march because the patriarchy hurts us all. Because women’s rights are human rights. Because we will only be free when we are equal. We are the ones who will make America great. Girls, stay nasty ;)

Why I Marched: One Woman's Perspective

I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life this past weekend. I attended the Women's March on Washington, 2017. Sisterhood. Solidarity. Strength. With allies walking arm in arm. We were navigating in a non-male-created airspace. (Sigh!) This, along with knowing the sheer numbers of global marchers, made it an unprecedented historical event. And I felt empowered, connected, cared-for, valued, loved.

I've participated in multiple election cycles in my lifetime. I am not a member of any particular party; I vote on specific issues. I get excited about some winners and disappointed in others. In the end, I typically have mixed emotions for everyone who holds office. :) Tough to please, obviously!

This time around? This is different. We're all swinging without a net here. Every last one of us is experiencing something atypical post election.

And I am concerned (putting it mildly). Sexist, Islamophobic, racist, homophobic, ableist language has become normalized. I've never felt such tangible hatred in the air. Word choice matters! It clearly communicates an individual's beliefs. I understand how powerful my words are; others are affected by what I say.

Women's March on Washington w/ my daughter.
So why did I march?

I marched because, as a young girl, I was taught to:
  • fight for the underdog
  • walk in someone else's shoes
  • pay it forward 
  • keep an open heart and an open mind
  • love thy neighbor
  • fight for what's right 
  • do unto others
As a grown-up with experience, these lessons hold true in the following ways. I marched because I am a woman, and women are still being oppressed. I refuse to be objectified, belittled or silenced any longer. (Just today, I was greeted by a male colleague and was immediately given the top to bottom once over; he didn't think I noticed. I did. I do. Stop it.) I marched because, as a woman, I refuse to allow flippant dialogue about sexual assault to go unchecked. SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT A JOKE; IT IS A CRIME! A CRIME!! I marched because men can wear anything they like—as much or as little clothing as they choose—be surrounded by women and still feel safe; the opposite must also hold true. I marched because I have daughters, and I want them to know they deserve better. They will know that when I say "I have your back," it will always be met with love AND action. I marched because, as a woman, I know we are all gifted, beautiful individuals. I do not speak for all women, but I will unconditionally, unforgivingly, unrelentingly support, defend and fight for them as long as I live.

I also marched for my fellow brothers and sisters who are now experiencing even further oppression than they already tragically have to deal with on a daily basis. I marched for healthcare and reproductive rights, for racial justice, for equality, for protection against gender-based violence, for LGBTQIA, for religious freedom, for immigration rights. And I will continue to do what is necessary until such time that all are treated and protected equally and equitably under the law. We are a nation of immigrants, of diverse ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations, gender identities, sexual orientations, etc. We always have been.

When the product of an election can even entertain the promise of exclusion, dehumanization, and further oppression, it is imperative that I rise up. That We Rise Up.

And it is incredibly inspiring knowing I'm not alone. Marches in over 60 countries in over 600 cities took place around the world. In Washington, I felt safe. In fact, I have never felt this safe in my entire life other than in my parents' or siblings' arms. That's my truth. And that says something.

My heart is not only warmed knowing that we have a sense of who we are as a nation again, but that other countries got to see it, as well. We showed up. Determined, confident and committed. Peacefully sharing our discontent and anger. And the world bore witness. Tomorrow, I'm ready for Day 2.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Heartfelt Letter. To Students. Love Teacher.

October 11th was National Coming Out Day. Niles North's GSA Club organized a panel discussion that was made available every period for faculty, staff and students to attend. A host of very giving, insightful, courageous and caring students, parents and teachers shared their stories with a minimum of 9 audiences that day. A teacher colleague of mine composed and read a letter to our students. It was beautiful. And an authentic "life" lesson plan. I asked her if it she would be okay with using it as a guest post on my blog in order to reach even more individuals. My heartfelt thanks for her permission, authenticity, and generosity.

"While preparing for today, I’ve been reflecting on what it has been like to come to terms with my own sexuality as a child and to learn to live courageously as an adult.  But with all of the stories in the media regarding the injustice associated with issues of sexual assault, Islamophobia and Black lives, I have to admit that I’ve had a difficult time dwelling on my own struggles and journey. As a result of this reflection, I've written the following thoughts that I am honored to share with you today:

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a small town downstate where people were afraid of gays, blacks, women's lib, Russians and Jews, just to mention a few.  The only thing that I feared was public speaking, gay people and perhaps unknowingly, myself.  I was insecure, immature and in most situations, a follower. I recall playing coed volleyball during my junior year of high school. As I looked across the net, I noticed a very lanky and effeminate boy standing awkwardly. I shouted "fag" as he ducked and ran away from the spiked ball headed in his direction. Unknowingly, our mothers worked together and during the next summer, I finally met the boy whom I had bullied with a single word.

When I started teaching in the late 80s, I was one of three female science teachers at Maine East High School. I didn’t know of any other gay teachers and there were no organizations such as GSA that supported students. There were no state or federal laws that protected my job based on my sexual preference, no domestic partnership benefits, and gay marriage seemed an impossible dream. I pretended that my roommate, Dirk, who was also gay, was my boyfriend.

But by the early 90s, a brilliant PR and social justice movement emerged, driven by the impact of AIDS, which encouraged gay people to no longer live secretly.  “Silence equals death” was the slogan and stars like Elton John, Melissa Etheridge and Ellen "came out" to the world. As many families learned that either their uncle, child or even mother was gay, the gay community slowly but surely gained straight allies over the next two decades.  In 2014, perhaps one of the biggest surprises in my life, gay marriage was legalized in the US.

The LGBTQ community still needs straight allies, just as Blacks and other minorities need White allies. Women need men to stand up against sexist language and behavior. Rape culture cannot be ended if only women care enough to try to stop it. Muslims need Christians, Jews and even atheists to support their religious freedom. Transgender people need the support of all of us who are comfortable with our given gender. Silence equals death is for each of us, for all of our differences and all of our special needs.

Statistics are facts and facts cannot be argued or denied. According to the FBI’s latest report, there were 6,727 victims of hate crimes in 2014. Of the 5,462 single-bias incidents reported, 47 percent were racially motivated. Other motivators included sexual orientation, and gender identity which accounted for 21% and religion, ethnicity, disability, comprised 32% of the crimes. Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted, according to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia all have the same thing in common.  Fear. I have found that when people make or post sexist, racist or anti-gay comments, they create a false sense of self-empowerment and satisfaction.  Support from like minded friends gives them a bit more perceived power but it's the silence from the masses that empowers them the most.  If we say “No”, or question them, we take away that false sense of righteousness.  Driven by cowardice and fear, confrontation typically silences them, and in my experience results in quickly disappearing Facebook posts.

I am thankful that my religious preference is not the first thing people think about when they meet me and perhaps many of you didn't even know that I am gay.  I have the privilege of never ever having to think about racial discrimination affecting me or my family never having to give my daughter "the talk.” I guess I wouldn't be gay if I were transgender, but I can't even imagine the obstacles I would face and have to overcome to change my gender.  I do have the privilege of being White and I do pledge to spend the rest of my life advocating for under represented minorities. After a couple weeks reflection, I think my journey has been pretty easy for which I'm grateful.

Not much has changed in my hometown of Taylorville. The fear of Russians has transformed into fear of Muslims, gays are still scary but not as much as the transgender people (especially while using the bathroom) and people unhappy with the town’s increasing diversity blame the increase in Black population on the local prison which was built in the 80s.

This past June, one of my best friends whom I loved like a brother took his own life. He was 52 years old, a U of I graduate and an attorney for a federal judge. He was the kindest, funniest and most giving person I have ever met. Still living in Taylorville, he had never married, never dated to my knowledge, and was most likely transgender. His happiest moments were on Halloween when he dressed up as Cher or Stevie Nicks and danced, and spun and sang. He was incidentally, that very same boy whom I called a fag in high school.

Do you want to return to Skokie in 50 years to find that the same fears, racism, sexism, etc. still plaguing your community? If I can face and finally conquer my fear of public speaking, apologize for calling someone gay after coming to terms with my own sexuality, and learn why Black Lives need to Matter, then you can face your fear of others who are different than you.  You can learn to face and conquer your fears. Each one of you can become an ally for one person, one cause. It’s not who you are to today, but who you will become that is most important. The question is, what can you do with your privilege?

Male, female, Lesbian Gay, bisexual, transgender, straight, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Black, White, Brown.  They are all labels.  Human constructs satisfy our innate desire to categorize and divide in order to understand, but they CAN NOT be used to segregate and isolate us from one another. To learn, we must listen.  

In closing, I'd like to share a quote from Shannon Alder:

'There comes a time in your life when you can no longer put off choosing. You have to choose one path or the other. You can live safe and be protected by people just like you, or you can stand up and be a leader for what is right. Always, remember this: People never remember the crowd; they remember the one person that had the courage to say and do what no one [else] would do.' ~Shannon L. Alder

I thank you so much for listening today with an open heart and mind."