Marion
Wright Edelman

Marc Morial

Chris Van Hollen

 



Welcome to America

I recently had the privilege of meeting five outstanding high school students the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio’s Beat the Odds® program was honoring for overcoming tremendous adversity, demonstrating academic excellence and giving back to their communities. One of these inspiring young people was Sara Abou Rashed.

Sara has witnessed unimaginable violence. At age 13, Sara experienced shock and horror as a bomb exploded near her school in Syria, shattering classroom windows and throwing the entire school into chaos. Despite daily dangers, she pushed through her fears and continued to attend school long after many other students had given up. As the war in Syria crept closer to her family, Sara was left no choice but to leave her home. She moved to Columbus, Ohio with her mother and grandmother. Sara knew almost no English but worked long hours and sought help from her teachers to learn the language of her new home.

While making America home, Sara learned that her father had lost his life shortly after trying to escape the violence in Syria by fleeing to Egypt. But she did not give up. By the end of her freshman year, she was on the honor roll in her Columbus school and had a firm grasp of the English language. In fact, Sara joined the poetry team and blossomed into an accomplished poet. She hopes to become a politician and inspire others to work with her to better our world.

At a moment when Americans are struggling again with who we are, who we want to be and how we teach and reinforce core values like inclusivity, civility, nonviolence and tolerance, please listen to the powerful voice of this brave young poet saying, in her own words, I, too, sing America.

Welcome to America

by Sara Abou Rashed

 

Bring us your oppressed, your exhausted bodies, your hungry, unheard crowds and we shall set them free

“I’d like to welcome you
to the one and only,
the greatest America.”
Says the lady
in the white shirt behind a desk.
“Now honey, please fill out all these papers,
and don’t forget to send us your story,
why you came here, your hopes and expectations.
We wish you a happy life.”

16 springs I’ve witnessed,
not one
was blooming, there,
behind the shores of
the Mediterranean,
everything is a martyr, there—
we don’t dare
live lest we die,
even roses grow stripped
of colors.
Though, the scarred walls
there memorize
our names, though the
tarred roads
there know our stories.
But here,
to every ally, to every town,
I must introduce myself:
No, no, I am sorry, I am not who you think I am.
No, I am not who they say
I am.
See,
I am as much of a human
as you are;
I brush my teeth, I sleep,
I cry when hurt and
bleed when injured,
I walk the land you walk,
I breathe the same air
you breathe, your
American dream
is my dream, I am afraid of what you’re afraid of.
Please, don’t stop me on streets to ask what Jihad is,
don’t mistake me for one of them, don’t stare at me
like an alien,
like a one-eyed, four-legged, green monster of
your nightmares.
I am a woman of faith,
a citizen not a suspect.
I carry a breaking heart within, I hold mics not guns—
my story refuses to be told in bullets and word limits.
And no, I don’t celebrate the death of children,
I don’t wish to destroy homes and churches.
Trust me, I know what loss smells like:
the way fear and revolution play tug of war
on doorsteps, uproot loved ones from
framed pictures on walls,
steal a father
from the dinner table—
I can only hope
mine hears me now.
I know what loss smells like from a mile far,
the way friends
tell you they saw your
house tear asunder
like it was never there:
the old gate, the dolls, grandma’s garden and every
dream we’ve built on the roof with hands too small
to plant hatred.
Still, some fear me, they call me names, they try to break
me, to wreck me, to
ricochet me, but
my spine will keep
mountains standing,
my knees will only ever
kneel to my Lord:
Lord, make us whole again, all of us, make us human again,
forgive us for we have sinned, and Lord,
guide them to see me for
who I am, because
I, too yearn for peace, because I drop poems, not bombs.
May it be so!

 

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.


 

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Dick Gregory Pioneered Using Comedy as A Weapon Against Racism

“His comedy, one of the many weapons in his arsenal, was one way that he fought for justice. Dick Gregory has passed away at a time when America is reverting to the country he fought so desperately to change. It makes the need more urgent for more people to hold up the mirror to society as he did, to hit us with the funniest, most infuriating look at the bitter truth of injustice.”

—Comedian Ron Wood, Jr.

 

In the days following the sickening neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, the nation grappled with the best way to confront hostile demonstrations of white supremacy.

Eyes turned to Wunsiedel, Germany, where neo-Nazis had long been attracted to the gravesite of Hitler deputy Rudolph Hess. In 2014, the townspeople took to mocking the demonstrators with silly slogans and rainbow confetti, raising money for anti-racism causes. But the tactic of using humor to confront racism was pioneered decades earlier, by a man I was privileged to call my friend: Dick Gregory, who died last week at the age of 84.

Many of his sharpest, funniest observations were mentioned in the obituaries and tributes that followed his passing. The one I’ve seen most frequently was his response to a waitress telling him “We don’t serve colored people in here.” “That’s okay,” he would say, “I don’t eat colored people. Just bring me a whole fried chicken.” What most obituaries omitted was the line that followed: “About that time, three cousins came in. You know the ones I mean Ku, Klux and Klan. They said, ‘Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.’ So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, ‘Line up, boys!’”

And therein lies the power of using humor to diffuse racism. When racists are spoiling for a fight, nothing takes the wind out of their sails more effectively than exposing them as fools.

Even as he mocked the threat of open violence, he also tweaked the subtle bigotry that often poses as tolerance. “In the South,” he said, “they don’t mind how close I get, as long as I don’t get too big. In the North, they don’t mind how big I get, as long as I don’t get too close.”

As an outspoken and often defiant political activist, Gregory often lost jobs because of the stands he took. But he always said, “If you’re willing to give your life for a cause, what’s a few dollars?”

These days, taking a stand for social justice or lending support to a political candidate can be as easy as hitting the “send” button on a cellphone. But in 1994, during my first campaign for New Orleans Mayor, Gregory joined me in the trenches, walking for miles through city neighborhoods, knocking on doors and visiting community centers. I will always be grateful for his friendship and support.

“I chose to be an agitator,” he said. “The next time you put your underwear in the washing machine, take the agitator out, and all you’re going to end up with are some dirty, wet drawers.”

As we mourn his loss, I think of what he would have said about his own death: “You got to die of something because if you die of nothing, they won’t pay your insurance.”

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Van Hollen: Sanctions, Diplomacy, Leadership Key to Lessening North Korea Threat

Washington, D.C.—Today U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen Joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss tensions with North Korea and his bipartisan North Korea sanctions legislation, the BRINK Act. Below is a transcript of the interview, and the video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gjsbx1RtFw&feature=youtu.be.

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC: Joining us now from Washington, a member of the Senate Appropriations and Banking Committees, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, good to see you. Let’s pick up right where we just left off, talking about North Korea, the President’s rhetoric. And not just the President, by the way. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaking in strong terms about what could happen to North Korea if it continues in the direction of the pursuit of nuclear weapons. What’s your reaction just to the dialogue of the last 24-48 hours?

U.S. SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): I think the overheated rhetoric and statements from President Trump have aggravated the situation. They play into the hands of the North Korean leader. This is Kim Jong Un’s game, as your guest just said. This is something the North Koreans have done for 15 years. And when President Trump engages in the same kind of rhetoric, he actually elevates the North Korean leader and diminishes the United States.

So we should focus on diplomacy, backed up by very strong economic sanctions. One thing on the sanctions—we have had them in place for a long time, but they have not been adequately enforced. And the Chinese, especially, have looked the other way while Chinese banks and firms have dealt with North Korea.

So Senator Toomey and I have introduced bipartisan legislation, modeled after the Iran sanctions legislation, that would really ratchet up the pressure.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC: Senator, Sam Stein here. This obviously does fall in the purview of the executive. But there are some legislative vehicles that Congress can consider. You talked about one with respect to sanctions. I know Senator Markey has a bill that would essentially prohibit first strike unless an act of Congress came before that.

What do you expect lawmakers to do once they get off of August recess, come back and let’s say this North Korea issue is still lingering? Are there going to be hearings? Are you going to get momentum behind one of these bills? How will your chamber respond?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I’m absolutely confident we will have hearings in the Banking Committee. There will probably be hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I expect us to take up legislation.

Congress did pass some Korea sanctions legislation as part of the Russia sanctions and the sanctions on Iran. But many of us believe we need to go much further in terms of the Iran sanctions model.

Back then, we remember, the U.N. passed sanctions on Iran. They didn’t really bite. They didn’t really have any teeth until the United States passed what are called secondary sanctions, where we say to countries like China or others, you have a choice. Either you do business with North Korea, or you do business with the United States. But you can’t do both. So that is what got people’s attention with the Iran sanctions. That’s what we need to do now.

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC: Senator, you mentioned, with regard to North Korea, the need for China to play a larger role in helping to get us to some form of negotiation. And despite the great piece of chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago, it appears the Chinese are not playing the role that we want them to play. And it raises the question in some circles, a legitimate question. People we rely on, countries we rely on throughout the world—Pakistan, supposedly our ally. Not really. Saudi Arabia, supposedly our ally. Not really.

What is going on with the role of the United States and the world? I realize it’s a big question. But what is going on here?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think you’re right. I think our influence is being diminished. We have seen the Pew polls from overseas that show that people’s sense of the U.S. leadership is at an all-time low. And that makes it hard to translate our policies into successful influence overseas.

So I think when it comes to North Korea, it’s really important that we dial back the rhetoric, that we reach out to our allies. China was, at first, the best bud of the president. As you mentioned, he met at Mar-a-Lago. He tweeted out, best buds. Then weeks later, he said he was very disappointed in China.

The only answer here is steady, firm leadership. And we do need to ratchet up the pressure through the secondary sanctions. I do think that lots of Chinese banks and firms are continuing to deal with North Korea. We need to put an end to that through these sanctions.

GEIST: All right. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democratic of Maryland. Senator, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

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