Civil rights and the vote: yesterday and today

During the 2015 International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies conference in Alabama, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau developed a travelogue about the discoveries she and her colleagues made. Those thoughts seemed even more poignant for this Election Day.

Amid ongoing national commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, in Philadelphia, people are being enticed to vote tomorrow with a chance to win $10,000.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha's Human Rights and Relations Department.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau poses at the Civil Rights Memorial Center with Julius Erven McSwain, her bus mate and a veteran investigator for the City of Omaha’s Human Rights and Relations Department.

It comes in stark contrast of the tour of the Yellowhammer State Landau and dozens of others committed to social justice work traveled the routes to the places where men, women and children chose to stand for equality and fight for their right to vote, facing improbable and daunting odds.

Among the hosts for this trip was Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who co-chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ My Brother’s Keeper initiative, along with Mayor Michael A. Nutter. Bell also chairs the U.S. Coalition of Cities Against Racism for the conference.

Those gathered heard from people such as former U.S. Attorney G. Douglas Jones, who led the cold case prosecution of former Ku Klux Klansman, some 40 years after their infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and retired federal judge U.W. Clemon, who handled school desegregation cases throughout North Alabama, including the vaunted University of Alabama’s football program in 1969. He also was one of two African Americans elected to the Alabama Senate post-Reconstruction, in 1974.

“For the past 150 years, states, mostly southern, have come up with schemes to overcome the 15th Amendment,” Clemon said. “That’s why we marched. That’s why the marching hasn’t stopped.

“It’s about the right to meaningfully participate in the American Democracy. The crown jewel in any nation is the right to vote.”

His words blended in with those of iconic and hidden heroes of the movement, from the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian to youth activists-turned-marchers who today are keepers of the flame, such as Joanne Bland, who served as a tour guide during the conference.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. "When you don't vote, it hurts me," Carrington said. "It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don't exercise that right?" Anthony added.

Kirk Carrington and Ruth Brown Anthony were youngsters during the march across the Pettus Bridge, but they were fully aware of what their actions meant. “When you don’t vote, it hurts me,” Carrington said. “It was our blood spilled on that bridge to get the right to vote, and now people don’t exercise that right?” Anthony added.

The presentations were seminal for attendees such as Akia Haynes, deputy director and general counsel for the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

“Reopening the case of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and the conviction in 2001 was one of the reasons I went to law school,” Haynes said. “If this doesn’t change you, if you don’t feel something, then you’re in the wrong line of work.”

In addition to the speakers, there were a host of workshops and presentations, such as the session Landau moderated on community-police relations. For many of the participants, the entire IAOHRA conference was a powerful experience.

“I’ve gone to corners of my mind that I’ve never been to before,” said Cheryl Sharp, deputy director of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

And it was deeply impactful for more than just the African American attendees.

“This tour made it clear to me that this was not so long ago,” said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, one of the largest in the nation. “Despite the Voting Rights Act, people are still living in such economically deprived communities.

“We have not done a good job of teaching our children about the need for fundamental human rights. We can’t always expect the generation that’s suffered to talk about it all the the time. The next generation needs to talk about it,” he said. “We need to honor the reality of the marchers and advance to a higher level.”

Landau agreed.

“The real-life history tour was a life-changing, soul-feeding experience,” she said. “From sitting in the pews of the 16th Street Baptist Church to hearing directly from the people who marched and risked their lives to make the Voting Rights Act a reality.

“I made connections from the past to the present that affirmed why our work is so vitally important. While discrimination and inequality are less overt now, attempts to roll back our civil rights and voting rights continue.

“We must continue to zealously fight these efforts, to honor the struggle and sacrifices of those who came before us,” she added.

Take a virtual trip with her to Alabama and look at our civil rights history with a new lens, through the text, photos and video that follow.

Gain a perspective from Joanne Bland, who at 11 years old was one of the youngest agitators marching across the Pettus bridge — and one of the youngest to be arrested during the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Some thoughts for creating a more harmonious Halloween

Americans love dressing up, especially for Halloween. And why not? It’s a time to get all funky, creepy and crazy with costumes and make up. All told, we spend in the billions to have a good time with a host of frightful tricks and tasty treats.

But too often, the fun erodes when good taste and common sense disappear amid hurtful actions — intentional and unintentional — as people opt for costumes with “ethnic” themes.

The offenses range from people donning blackface to distorted depictions of sacred dress. The offenders come from a cross-section of society, kids to college students to working adults to celebrities. Sadder still, a significant swath of Americans think white people parading in blackface — the act of darkening your skin for the sake of costuming — is acceptable. It’s not.

Even if spawned from an innocent desire to more closely resemble a person in homage, blackface has an ugly history.

Visually explaining why cultural appropriation for Halloween costuming often is a bad idea.

Visually explaining why cultural appropriation for Halloween costuming often is a bad idea.

Likewise, wearing costumes that attempt to mimic various ethnic groups generally is a no-no. The results often run toward the racist, rather than respectful, end of the spectrum.

Students from The Ohio University launched a campaign in 2013 that underscored that point. We’re inclined to agree.

Consider this a friendly public service reminder: people are people, not characters or worse, caricatures. Choose your costumes wisely.

Standing in solidarity with LGBT residents

With October being LGBT History Month, there have been a number of events and activities marking the past, but also several looking to the challenges of the present and promise of the future, with a mix of somber reflection and joyous celebration.

Mayor Nutter was among hundreds of the admirers of Gloria Casarez helping to create her tribute mural.

Mayor Nutter was among hundreds of the admirers of Gloria Casarez helping to create her tribute mural.

That certainly describes those who have been gathering for months to demonstrate their devotion to a departed, but impactful friend, Gloria Casarez. Some may have even dropped occasional tears into their paint cups as they assembled a mural in honor of the city’s first LGBT affairs director. In gyms, rec centers and other community locations, people ranging from former mentees to Mayor Michael A. Nutter strapped on aprons, grabbed brushes and poured themselves into their work.

In the midst of OutFest 2015, her family, friends and colleagues gathered to reaffirm their commitment to justice and equality as they watched the rainbow flag being raised over City Hall, amid the strains of “True Colors” performed by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. Afterward, they debuted their labor of love at the 12th Street Gym, home of the soon-to-be completed Gloria Casarez-themed mural.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau adds a stroke of brilliance to the Gloria Casarez mural.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau adds a stroke of brilliance to the Gloria Casarez mural.

She died last October from breast cancer-related complications.

Longtime city policy partner and PCHR executive director, Rue Landau, said the effort and its culmination had been “just beautiful.”

The Gloria Casarez mural will stand at the 12th Street Gym, in the heart of Philadelphia's Gayborhood.

The Gloria Casarez mural will stand at the 12th Street Gym, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.

“The flag raising last year was the last time Gloria was among us publicly before she died, because that event had such deep meaning for her,” Landau said.

“She was so incredibly feisty, and proud. That made this the perfect setting for this tribute. It’s just fantastic,” Landau added. “And we could definitely feel her spirit throughout the day,”

As a civil rights activist, Casarez fought fiercely for recognition and respect of all, with racism being one of her constant targets. It was in that spirit that the William Way LGBT Center hosted the Black Gay Pride Town Hall Discussion on Race.

Shared experiences with discrimination don’t prevent prejudice and racism from infecting relations within LGBT circles at times, attendees noted. Similarly, some black LGBT people feel pulled in two directions, being noted for being pro-black or pro-LGBT rights, but without enough crossover allies. This meeting sought to build trust, broader alliances and awareness to concerns too often obscured.

That’s a familiar call among those who populate the “T” portion of the LGBT designation. Trans women and men still struggle for the same level of acceptance as their lesbian, bisexual and gay counterparts. The burden grows for trans women of color, who often are marginalized and violently targeted.

The 2015 Trans Walk drew people from across the city and region to march in solidarity.

The 2015 Trans Walk drew people from across the city and region to march in solidarity.

In Philadelphia, high-profile murders of London Chanel, and more recently, Kiesha Jenkins, both trans women of color, rocked the sensibilities of many. They add to an unsettling national roster, including the longstanding local mystery of what happened to Nizah Morris in 2002.

Activists and allies assembled in Center City to march in support of their trans family, friends and neighbors.

Activists and allies assembled in Center City to march in support of their trans family, friends and neighbors.

These realities helped propel the 2015 Trans Walk — seizing the opportunity to raise public awareness about their concerns, challenges and aspirations.

“It’s important for the trans community to know that the city understands the unique situations they face,” said Ezekiel Mathur, of the PCHR community relations division, who observed the march through Center City. “That’s why seeing allies alongside activists, matters, seeing Councilman Squilla there matters, seeing PCHR there, matters. Because their lives matter.”

Disability rights clinic on Friday at PCHR offices

As we spend this year commemorating the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking American with Disabilities Act, we cannot forget the types of protections it helps to ensure. That’s why on Friday, PCHR will partner with the Public Interest Law Center to present a FREE clinic on disability rights.

If you live with a disability, or help someone who does, it’s a great opportunity to get the ins and outs of what you should expect from employers, access to public services and more. Equally important, you’ll be able to leave with a strategy in case you’re encountering behavior that’s less than acceptable.

Check it out, from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at our offices at the Curtis Center, 601 Walnut Street, Third Floor South.

pilc_clinic_101315

Conflict resolution, mediation & more – Human Relations Month

Conflict resolution is more than a catch-phrase, but a real way of engaging with your neighbors, classmates and co-workers in a productive, peaceful way. In fact, today is National Conflict Resolution Day, helping to close out National Mediation Week.

These skills are essential in daily interactions with others, and Human Relations Month is the perfect time to refine and improve upon ways that move us toward living with each other in harmony and while retaining dignity. Or, in more common terms, respect.

Here are six easy steps to get there:

Listen
Hear, see and feel the other person’s story.

Identify
Look for interests and common ground.

Share
Offer and ask for more information.

Talk
Speak from your point of view.

Empathize
Look at the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Negotiate
Work together toward resolution.

If you take the time and L.I.S.T.E.N., you can invest in building better relationships. And that will make the world a better place for us all.

Interested in other ways to help deflate conflict? Have some ideas of your own that don’t include knives, guns, poison or fists? Tweet us using the hashtag #pchrchat.

We’ll explore the thoughts you tweet us and a few of our own in greater detail from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30 during our next Twitter chat. Remember: find us on Twitter @PhilaComHumRel.

Conflict resolution Twitter chat

Examining intersections of religious freedom with other rights

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau joined an expert panel  at the Philadelphia Bar Association for a brown-bag discussion Friday on modern interpretations of religious freedom amid new legal protections for LGBT people and shifting reproductive rights.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (c.) draws attention to a point as co-panelists Molly Tack-Hooper and Rabbi David Teutsch listen.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (c.) draws attention to a point as co-panelists Molly Tack-Hooper and Rabbi David Teutsch listen. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Religious Refusals and Exemptions: Religious Opposition to LGBT Rights and Reproductive Freedom explored issues raised by recent cases and news, from the Hobby Lobby decision in the U.S. Supreme Court to the controversial decision by an elected Kentucky country clerk who refused to approve marriage licenses due to her objections to same-sex marriage.

Along with Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Rabbi David Teutsch, director of the Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Landau delved into where the lines lie today.

Dozens of attorneys and other interested professionals attended the session and engaged in a Q&A with panelists on Constitutional, moral and ethical grounds.

“It was a lively discussion, and it got a lot of us thinking about things in new ways as we forge new territory for newly instilled rights,” Landau said.

“Still, it’s important to remember that we already have laws in place from the Constitution to multiple statutes that protect religious freedom. So, we must reject any new religious exemption laws that are attempts to legislate discrimination,” she added.

Listen to the podcast

.

PCHR comments on the death of J. Whyatt “Jerry” Mondesire, civic activist

PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations issued the following statement regarding the death of J. Whyatt “Jerry” Mondesire, former head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP and past member of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. He died Sunday, Oct. 4.

“Jerry Mondesire’s passion for justice and elevating the next generation to be conscious crusaders for human relations may be his greatest legacy. In his work life and volunteer life – often they melded together – he advanced the cause of equality. And he did this not just here in Philadelphia but throughout the state, both through the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, where he served as a member.

“The clarion voice to do what is right is always needed, and for many years Jerry provided that voice. As a community, that loss stands to be great.”