Thursday, August 10, 2017

Losing our sisters, gaining grace

There are so many ways to mourn girls and women whom we've lost to violence, chronic and terminal disease, or just dying before their time. However, as I sit in Southern California at a conference preparing a panel presentation with scholars and social justice practitioners generations younger than I, there is the possibility of renewal, hope, and humility. I really need to see myself reproduced before I retire, but the realities of gender inequality are clear. From birth to death, it's a risk to be born a woman of color in both the Global North and South. Makiya Walls, the 12-year old 
California girl shot on Wednesday inside her home, the ‘Highway of Tears’ (the 18 young Indigenous women murdered/disappeared along the Trans-Canada Highway in British Columbia since 1969), and Maryam Mirzakhani, the 40-year old prize-winning Iranian American mathematician who died of breast cancer in July. Who knows but Makiya might have been the future research scientist whose independent investigation of truth might have uncovered a cure for cancer redeeming Mirzakhani’s death or been a social policy advocate for violence against women. Can we remember them and the legions of women and girls who have been devalued in female infanticide, gang raped in country after country, women activists, journalists, and politicians who've been murdered, preadolescent girls who have died in child marriages to grown men, and the millions of girls who've been trafficked, prostituted, become victims of STDs and died. This is an impossibly long list, a never-ending list that documents the girls and women we will never know, the girls deprived of childhood and choice, those women imprisoned for defending themselves against chronic abusers, and the perpetrators we are never able or motivated to bring to justice.  We can, at another time, chronicle the resilience of women who have resisted, innovated, sacrificed, raised children in the face of poverty and natural disasters through female austerity practices, and been warriors for social justice. That girls survive birth, childhood, adulthood and grow to become wise elders, we are witnesses to your empowered lives whatever you may have achieved and wherever on earth you live and breath. But today we need to decide to turn this corner at which misogyny, human devaluation,  beatings, educational underdevelopment, dysfunctional laws and policies, and psycho-social intransigence playfully ignores women as  sidebar of history. We also call out in praises, the men and boys who love us, work with us, fight for us, and see us as their spiritual partners in building spaces in which the equality of men and women is hammered out with love and an ethic of caring for one another. It will  not be easy.  We need more men, those who see themselves as decent, to step up their game, and play to win the race to social justice that leads to peace. The spiritual and emotional damage to all of us, women and men alike, so systematically perpetuated and socially sanctioned through violence against women and the patriarchal traditions that have falsely mythologized gender roles will one day lead to the true grace of a transformed masculinity when America 'leads all nations spiritually.' I leave you with this guidance as a promise of gender equality: "If long-cherished ideals and time-honored institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine." [Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah:41-42]

Sunday, July 9, 2017

SUPERHEROES!! Conscientious spirituality in KIDZ!

Real Superheroines and Superheroes exist. If you want insight into what will make the "real men" and the "real women" of a divine civilization of the future, go to Jaipur. In the spirit of social justice, camaraderie, and non-violent direct action, seven  boys and six girls at an informal school there pursued an absent 16-year old classmate who had been a victim of child marriage at 11 years. They knew what kind of society they wanted, believed in gender equality, and took positive collective action to 'practice what they preached' to protect the safety of a friend. By seeking help and being conscientious, they had their friend returned to school soon after! Can you hear the late Robin Williams in the background singing "You ain't never had a friend like [us]"

Conscientious Spirituality (CS) requires an awareness of the "divine embryonic order from within"and the "cataclysmic forces from without". It suggests a deeper awareness of what is moral and ethical and how to safeguard the human rights of all by acting in unity. There is always a sacrifice to be made, always fears to be overcome. Yet these kids were like a storm on a  mission of mercy and justice, engaging their spiritual qualities. Conscientiousness is a continuous dimension of human personality, rather than a "type" of person. Many of the behaviors of conscientiousness fall into the category of 'emotional intelligence'. In times of indecision or a crisis like this one, an emotionally intelligent person will ask themselves several questions: Why do I feel outrage? How can I empathize with my neighbor or friend? How can I independently investigate truth? And how can I act in unity, with others, to defend the victim(s) of oppression? The battle between the rational soul that is constantly evolving and the physical body that is finite is always testing our ability to have a longer view, a broader perspective, a deeper love of who we are as humans. These KIDZ went to that 'crossroads' spoken of by the Sioux shaman Black Elk, that "good road and road of difficulties" that is a sacred space for all who travel there. And....BOOM!!

What has Baha'u'llah said about conscience, a sense of shame, and the force and power of spiritual qualities?
Sooner or later, most of us figure out that life is an obstacle course. We realize that there are 'cataclysmic forces' operating in our neighborhoods and in the real world. Child marriage is a 'cataclysmic force' from the world of adults that these 13 children confronted. The vision and desire for equal education and gender equality superseded the injustices and brutalities of child marriage that is a reality in their societies. Their superhero clock was ticking, and they avoided the stereotype of 'dis-empowered kids'.
Childhood and choice are twin concepts I use regularly in speaking to groups about why we must protect the stages of growing up and prepare children and youth for a better world. Girls and boys must have choices while, at the same time, ensuring the haven that the family unit represents. We need to ensure that their childhood is protected, that the education they'll need as global citizens is delivered, and they they comprehend the role of developing spiritual qualities to make that better world that is the vision of the future civilization we all dream of. Baha'u'llah has spoken of the four things He loved to see manifest in people:1-"enthusiasm and courage", 2-"a face wreathed in smiles and a radiant countenance" 3-"they they see all things with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others" and 4-"the ability to carry a task, once begun, to its end"['Ali Akbar Furutan, Stories of Baha'u'llah]
These 13 spiritual warriors had these qualities in spades.
So, superheroes! Take a right at Hollywood, bypass Bollywood, and neglect Nollywood, forget CGI and special effects, opt for the spiritual technologies (service, prayer, meditation, fasting et al) we all have access to in the real world of human culture and the Baha'i Teachings. The 'heavenly training' 'Abdu'l-Baha has written about is exemplified in these young people as "purified, severed, and illumined souls."
'To infinity'!!
Read the full article below

Friday, June 16, 2017

Standing Rock still stands and is rock solid!

Visiting and hearing about our ongoing struggles at Standing Rock for human rights, social justice, environmental sustainability, and non-violent direct action is a spiritual peace0building journey.
We hope that our plans to build the first "Peace Door" on Native land in the U.S. will launch our wider mission-to  build justice, peace , and unity in every nation. Amidst global struggles, civil wars, governmental instability, corruption, and violence, it's important to recognize the causes of these seemingly never-ending crises that now plague every nation on our planet.
Standing Rock is, in fact, a centuries-old resistance movement that re-affirms the oneness of humanity, unity, and the sacrifices we must make to create a more peaceful world. From Boston, we have been involved in sending material support through the North American Indian Center of Boston  to the "water protectors" who have their eye on the prize-environmental sustainability!

Monday, June 2, 2014


Little girls deserve to be little girls. Forced to become women before their time, 'child marriage' girls miss out on normal human development in social, psychological, and emotional ways. The girl-to-woman pipeline is a critical transition in shaping the future development of the girl child, the family, community, and nation. Cultural, religious. and economic justifications for marrying off girls is an obsolete and paternalistic form of repression and a weak excuse for denying girls what little boys are entitled to by those who really don't like either like or value girls. Child marriage stunts the growth of families when girls are denied education. What do you say?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why deal with research and social action that is so sad?

The other day, my colleague here in Kampala (Uganda) were chatting. We are research scientist who work in gender studies at the School of Women and Gender Studies (Makarere University). Someone empathetically asked him recently 'Why do you do research on such sad topics?' Our desks sit across from one another and even though this is a busy place, we occasionally catch the other nodding, grimacing, or viscerally reacting to some aspect of our work. So I then told my colleague about my experience the other day when I was checking my email. The Boston Red Sox had won the 2013 World Series (again!!) and, although I am not a baseball fan, we all love it when the homeboys/hometown wins. It's especially nice when you're away to hear good news about where your roots are. The hard won victory gave me a high. But immediately after, I opened an email from a listserve. It narrated two mortality stories in Yemen. The first, an 8-year old girl who bled to death on her wedding night having been married to a 40-year old man. The second, a young girl burned to death by her father for contacting her fiance before the wedding. Being emotionally snatched from ecstasy to despair in a split second took its toll and I collapsed on my laptop. A few days later, I happened on a blog by David Zarza at

There is a great that can be said about the condition of the world. It is both disintegrating and being rebuilt simultaneously, on a new set of principles around which there is increasing consensus.
I do notice that on my Facebook page, when I post "sad stories", I get fewer likes or comments, except from 'the choir'-the strong of heart. People don't want to hear about this dark side of my work and I am not the only one who deals with tragedies of this magnitude.
My question is, who will speak for girls and boys, young people who cannot speak for themselves if we do not? Me personally, I am obligated by my religion-the Baha'i Faith-to "be a treasure to the answerer to the cry of the needy..a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression." It is a deepening learning process that began years ago and I do feel (not think) that we are all in a cosmic or spiritual way placed in this world in positions in we can do the most good for human well being, positions for which we have been armed with unique skills and inner qualities. So we press onward, until gender inequality, one day, will become a distant nightmare of a perverted generation past.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rap philanthropy may be focused on old power models of academic patriarchy

Depending on the curriculum design, programs/depts, instructors, and how the donations/finances from Dr Dre et al  are handled/invested institutionally (hopefully, as a partial endowment and scholarship fund), this could be a wise move, or a disaster. However, depending on which USC centers are the recipient(s) of such a cushy gift, the results may be academic business as usual.
Ethnic Studies units (programs/departments) have been strapped, since their inception half a century ago in U.S. higher education, for funding. The wiser units have broadened their scope, reinvented themselves intellectually, disciplinarily, globally, and pedagogically, and built partnerships with partners outside of academia. But those are few and far between. Many more are making themselves redundant. There is a trick to making the most of this level of donation for the future, despite whatever overhead the institution may charge. Internal partnerships, external "friends", and globalizing the potential impact of such an 'art, technology, and business innovation' center will
fail if it overlooks the gender and class disparities promoted by the more heavily marketed forms of rap culture which are one stream of the McWorld culture we export. It may produce a few first-rate game designers and music industry experts, but how many of these will be women and people of color? How will the philanthropy navigate the anti-Affirmative Action climate in the U.S.? What type of curriculum design, cultivated by new career pathways, will be represented in the ultimate impact of such a potentially lucrative program of learning and teaching? As a senior tenured faculty member  and gender specialist who introduced HH into the curriculum at an eastern U.S. institution in 1990 and who has served on a multimillion dollar NSF grant focused on culture and technology, we'll see if USC makes smart decisions about sustainability, resilience, and good financial planning resulting from this donation. For original blog article: [Photo credit: Nuri Chandler-Smith]