Sojourn in India: Reflections from a Human Relations Perspective, Part 2: Chennai

by Randy Duque, Deputy Director – Community Relations Division

The following is part two of a four part series on my experience in India as a representative of the City and PCHR.

“We have to leave our sunglasses AND belts in the car, too?!”

Five days after arriving in India, my fellow travelers through the State Department and I were in a new city getting acquainted with the local and state-level politics and the Indian judicial system, thus security restrictions seemed to get more stringent with each visit.  We were also getting to know each other better and the strengths and interests we each had to contribute towards a meaningful trip.  Our group consisted of people in local government (including a city councilperson, a director for children’s programs, and me); state and federal government (an assistant director of legislative affairs, a former assistant to a governor, and a senior caseworker for a US Congressperson); and various non-profit  areas (such as economic development, business and governance, domestic violence, and of course; our fellowship coordinator) and today; it was our political specialists who took the lead in helping us make sense of everything from how differing parties exist on the state level than national to the reason why we basically couldn’t have anything on us when we went into the legislative assembly (so we have nothing to throw at the legislators).

36228592_10160669877110717_8423938023019773952_o.jpg

Having visitors to the legislative assembly from the US is big news.  Here we are with party minority leader, Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin, during one of the many political and judicial meetings that day.

The highlight for an intensive day of law and politics, was being granted a special audience at the majestic red brick and terracotta courthouse with the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Indira Banerjee, who is only the second woman in India to hold this high level judicial position.  She was very approachable, wise, and humble as she answered questions and spoke about her rise through the judicial system and role in breaking gender barriers in the justice system.

IMG-20180625-WA0002

With Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, Indira Banerjee

20180626_115614

Gathering for a photo with our hosts at Vellore Institute of Technology, Chennai

 

The next day, my interests piqued at a few meetings that brought up concepts that were directly related to the work we do back in Philly.  At India’s first green campus, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in Chennai, our hosts spoke of how they not only focus on applied learning in all their courses, but with each semester; students are required to take a soft skills course, that is, a course in interpersonal relations.  Basically, we were told, that while it is important for students to be able to learn through application, it is also just as important for them to be able to work and communicate well with others if they are to be successful leaders and professionals in their respective industries.

IMG_20180627_081553_787

Meeting with members of the Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers Forum

 

In our final meeting of the day, we gathered in an upstairs space of a restaurant converted from a 1950s bungalow to meet with the Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers Forum (TNYTF) where we were not only given a lesson on the culture of Tamil people and state, but also how the group  focuses on enhancing the quality of both public institutions and discourse and committing to direct grassroots intervention on areas that impact the socioeconomic profile of the state and its citizens through soft power.  Soft power is a term coined in the 1980s and is more recognized in the international areas of politics, economics, and such.  This concept at its core refers to the ability to influence others through attractive power rather than coercion.  Hearing more about how the group uses the rich culture and history of the Tamil people to promote change and growth reminded me of one of the best ways I recommend to address a negative bias—to learn and expose one’s self to a culture different than one’s own particularly if a person is unfamiliar with the culture and has filled in their understandings through assumptions and stereotypes.  By actually experiencing another culture [not just ethnic] and being open-minded—whether through books, videos, visits, or talking with people from a different culture—one’s biases can be influenced for the better which in turn makes one more empathetic and aware of their actions and behavior when interacting with another…and while I may not yet fully understand on a cultural level why people get so passionate at a legislative assembly that things are thrown; I can at least accept it as part of a societal norm that is different than my own….

Sojourn in India: Reflections from a Human Relations Perspective, Part 1 – Delhi

by Randy Duque, Deputy Director – Community Relations Division

The following is part one of a four part series on my experience in India as a representative of the City and PCHR.

I was hot…and tired…and a little cranky.  After all, since touching down in New Delhi the night before last after eighteen or so total hours in the air, we had already met with five different groups to get a crash course in the politics and social issues of India. While each meeting up to this point gave us a rich understanding of the complex social and political landscapes of India, the site that my group and I were visiting at this moment seemed to resonate with everything I was involved in back in Philadelphia.  We were standing in one of the many slums of India.

Nominated on a long shot by Citizens Diplomacy International Philadelphia, I received a surprising email in mid-May of this year from the World Learning organization congratulating me on being accepted into the Professional Fellows Program for Governance and Society, South and Central Asia—a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning.  From June 20th to July 4th, 2018, I, along with ten other people of various professional backgrounds from Ohio, Washington D.C., and Oklahoma; would travel to the nation of India to promote mutual understandings of good governance and social responsibility in the cities of Delhi, Chennai, and Bengaluru.  While only two days into the trip, the work we were witnessing at this moment would touch us all.

Despite it being late afternoon, the sun was still high (along with the temperature) when we stepped out of our transports at the edge of the encampment.  Over by a tree on a low rise of ground, a large number of children sat on a massive tarp receiving instructions by volunteers from the Save Child Beggar (SCB) group.  When we approached them, we were greeted with a mix of excitement for having visitors and apathy as several of the children were deeply focused on their lessons.  Our hosts explained to us that SCB volunteers work throughout the city’s slums teaching children various subjects like math, reading and writing; and art so that they can be successful in entering and remaining in school and in turn; staying off the streets.  We heard from one of the parents who was grateful to tears for the education her child was getting and we spoke to some of the children who also graciously gave us some of their artwork.  As I held one of these pieces, I was reminded of an operation focused on giving young women the skills and education to be leaders in technology that we visited earlier that day.

20180622_165523

Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) is situated in a colorfully decorated tight basement off a narrow street in New Delhi.  On the walls of their space were numerous photos and artwork made by participants of the program.  As our delegation sat around long tables, we heard about the social, educational, and professional issues girls and young women faced in India and that FAT seeks to break gender stereotypes and bring about equality in society and the technological workforce.  Not only did these young women learn about technology, but many applied their knowledge to create videos to address other social issues women faced in villages like early and forced marriage; and health problems associated with lack of access to sanitary washrooms.

20180622_125410

My mind raced as I thought about the extraordinary work that people were doing to address disparities in their communities—feeling hope and a sense of kindred purpose to help those in social inequities—when I felt a tug on my shirt.  I looked down at a small boy and read frustration and embarrassment in his eyes.  I had noticed him struggle earlier with a lesson and perhaps he was still feeling it or maybe he wanted to talk to us, but did not feel confident enough.  The boy handed me one of his drawings—on one side, a happy fish and on the flip-side; a house.  Through help from one of the SCB volunteers, I asked him what the pictures meant.  While he only shrugged at the fish, he said he hoped to have a house like the one he drew some day…and I hope that he and the other children will all be able to have a home for themselves and their families like the one I was holding in my hand.

Racism in the Gayborhood: Progress Report, 1 Year Later

PCHR Progress Report

Hearing 2016

October marks one year since the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) held their historic hearing on racism and discrimination in the Gayborhood. Tonight, along with the Office of LGBT Affairs we will be co-hosting a Community Conversation About Race & Inclusion in the LGBTQ Community.

October’s Community Conversation: Race and Inclusion in the LGBTQ Community will provide updated information and an opportunity for community feedback on this issue. Representatives from PCHR will discuss the continual work to address the long-standing concerns raised at the hearing last year and the progress they have seen in the past year. We will also work collectively with community members to identify strategies to combat racism and discrimination moving forward.

Community Conversations are led by the Office of LGBT Affairs and Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs to cultivate an interactive community forum—specifically addressing the concerns of the Philadelphia LGBTQIA community. Through discussion, breakout groups, and Q & A, the Community Conversations seek to engage the insight and expertise of the community in addressing pertinent issues and working collaboratively to identify solutions.

WHO:
Amber Hikes, Executive Director of the Office of LGBT Affairs
Rue Landau, Executive Director The PCHR

WHEN: TODAY, Thursday, October 26, 2017, at 6pm

WHERE: Gershwin Y, 401 S. Broad Street, Gershman Y is Wheelchair accessible. There is an entrance on Pine St. across from the Starbucks (corner of Broad & Pine).

 

PCHR trainings: Bringing messages and meaning to diverse audiences

Team PCHR was busy in the streets this week, deciphering laws and their practical impact for a range of audiences across the city.

On Tuesday, a partnership with the Nationalities Service Center helped boost the level of expertise for those assisting newly arrived citizens when it comes to areas such as countering discrimination in housing and employment.

Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney leans into the point made by Executive Director Rue Landau during a recent training at the Nationalities Services Center.

Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney (l.) leans into the point made by Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) during a recent training at the Nationalities Services Center.

Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney tag-teamed as they explained the city’s fair housing laws and provided an overview of the Fair Practices Ordinance. Assembled were dozens of people who work with migrants and recent immigrants, representing the NSC as well as the Migrant Education Program and a representative of City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr.’s office.

With Philadelphia’s shifting demographics, it’s essential those helping people settle and integrate into day-to-day life are fully aware of what behaviors are accepted as well as what things are prohibited — such as discriminating or retaliating against pregnant or nursing mothers. It was a day of information exchange that included fielding questions and providing insights.

“The people who came to this training work with some of our most vulnerable residents, and it is so important that they are clear on the rules so they can share that information,” Landau said. “It was a great opportunity and it is totally what we love doing — getting out there and helping people understand how to protect themselves.”

PCHR's Naarah Crawley reviews the city's

PCHR’s Naarah Crawley reviews the city’s
“Ban the Box” law with a participant at the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega 1310.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Naarah Crawley and Monica Gonzalez strengthened understanding of the city’s “Ban the Box” law for dozens of people on the hunt for work during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega 1310.

Private sector employers and the city set up tables with employment opportunities, while PCHR reps spoke about overcoming perceived barriers to claiming those opportunities.

City Managing Director Rich Negrin spoke about the power of education, opportunity and the rewarding nature of public service during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega radio.

City Managing Director Rich Negrin spoke about the power of education, opportunity and the rewarding nature of public service during the 2nd Annual Hispanic Job Fair at Esperanza College, sponsored by La Mega radio.

Men and women of all ages and interests stopped by the table to learn how a criminal background doesn’t have to impede future employment. Under the law, employers are not allowed to ask about criminal histories in the initial phases of the interview process — not on a job application or during the first interview, whether in person or on the phone. Likewise, past brushes with the law cannot prevent someone from receiving a merited promotion or raise.

“So many people lose out simply because they don’t realize these protections exist,” Gonzalez said. “Yes. They made mistakes. But they paid for them. And their punishment isn’t supposed to be forever, especially when they’re trying to do the right thing moving forward.”

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.”