Apr 14

What Makes America Great is Our Communities #SouthernService

As an intern with the SISGI Group I recently had an opportunity to attend the 2017 Southern National Service Training Conference in Orlando, FL. When I arrived at the conference, banners and logos from a variety of agencies were on display. Some organizations were familiar to me, such as AmeriCorps and City Year and some were unfamiliar, such as Volunteer Florida and State Service Commissions. At first, I must admit, I was perplexed by how these agencies were all connected but as the week went on it all began to come together.

The event was hosted by Volunteer Florida and the Corporation of National and Community Service (CNCS). CNCS, I came to find, is a federal agency that invests in thousands of nonprofit and community-based programs throughout the country, including AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, the Social Innovation Fund.

Throughout my three days at the conference I was able to connect with community and nonprofit leaders and learn best practices from them on grant writing, strategic program planning, advocacy and how to raise awareness about social causes through social media. However, what resonated with me most throughout my time in Orlando was learning about the vital role CNCS programs play within communities across the nation.

I met members who serve as Foster Grandparents and learned how their tutoring program helps students stay on track to graduate. I met employees of Volunteer Florida who taught me about how CNCS national volunteer networks are the primary responders after events such as hurricanes, forest fires or terrorist attacks, assist with everything from shelter and call center operations to case work and the construction of new homes. I had the opportunity to listen to Orlando Police Chief John Mina and Dr. Joseph Ibrahim, Trauma Medical Director at Orlando Regional Medical Center, discuss their experiences on the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the impact volunteers had during and after the attack.

I learned that beyond volunteerism, CNCS programs provide sustainable, evidence-based solutions to pressing social issues, such as poverty and climate change.

A prominent theme throughout my days at the conference was the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts. The new budget would reduce $18 billion from mostly education, labor and health programs in order to increase defense spending. CNCS programs have historically received bipartisan support since they have proven to be an effective and efficient approach to community challenges. However, CNCS programs are a particular target of the new administration. Specifically, the proposal would cut $439 million from AmeriCorps and $66 million from Senior Corps. Under these changes CNCS along with 18 other agencies would be eliminated and that is the intention of the Trump administration who affirmed: “It is not a core function of the federal government to promote volunteerism, and therefore, these programs should be eliminated.”

Members of The SISGI Group Team

This foreboding cloud was palpable in Orlando. Although the hundreds of conference attendees were concerned about their livelihood, their primary anxiety was over the effects these changes would have on members of their communities. Despite this apprehension over the unknown, I also saw rooms full of passionate people inspired and unwavering in their commitment to creating lasting change, a powerful coalition of like-minded individuals with more resolve than ever to fight for what’s best for their communities.

To echo the sentiments of a fellow conference attendee: “what makes America great is our communities.” Politics aside, without investments in our communities I wonder what they would look like without the thousands of volunteers on standby ready to provide relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts after the next hurricane; or without the tutors who provide critical support to students who are falling behind in nearly 12,000 schools across the country each day; or the altruistic college grads who are willing to put their careers on hold for a year to serve their communities.

I hope you will join me in letting our leaders know that national service is a necessary program that delivers results. Make your voice heard by contacting congress and asking them to protect national service from potential elimination. Visit Voices for National Service to take action today.

Want to check out more of the fun we had at the Southern National Service Training Conference? Click here to see more pictures from our photo booth.

Apr 07

Digital Communications and Social Good: Helpful Tips from Stefanie Weiss and Stefanie Cruz

This week I am writing about the lessons learned from Stefanie Weiss and Stefanie Cruz, two leaders at America’s Promise Alliance. Stefanie Weiss is the Vice President of Communications and Knowledge Management and Stefanie Cruz is the Senior Director of Digital Strategy. They both discussed their work in the field of communications and nonprofit work, and gave tips for how social workers can market themselves and get involved in digital communications.

First of all, its important to recognize that this field has probably changed the most out of any field in the past 20 years. The way we communicate today is drastically different than it was one generation ago. We have cell phones, email, social media…and we want and need to connect faster and more effectively than ever before.

At America’s Promise Alliance, “communications” refers to pretty much anything with words; speeches, blogs, publications, media, outreach, websites, fundraising, reports, events, social media…almost anything that is naturally embedded in nonprofit work. Digital communications plays a really important role in creating and building a community as well as a useful tool in bringing awareness to initiatives and campaigns they run. Digital communications plays a huge role in connecting with partners and others in our fields to share best practices and participate in national conversations.

The more that digital technology expands around our world, the more of a role it plays in our organizations. Nonprofits need people skilled in communications and technology, and ultimately skilled in listening, strategic thinking, project management, and executing thoughtful work. Both Stefanies discussed how important the listening piece is, as well as strategic thinking and planning. Communications take times and effort, and often nonprofits may need a whole team assigned to this one aspect.

How Can You Leverage Communications to Market Yourself?

When discussing application advice for people applying to jobs in the nonprofit communications field, each Stefanie had something different to share: one values cover letters, the other values resumes. On one hand, a cover letter can be extremely important. Make sure there are no silly typos and that is is written clearly – this reflects your thinking skills. Make sure its geared toward the job you’re applying to, not a template that you completely reuse. On the other hand, having a resume that indicates that you care about the issues that they work on – even volunteer and internship experience – is just as important. The structure of your resume is also relevant…is it consistent and clean? This can prove strong organization skills and attention to detail.

Another thing to consider is, are you persistent? Will you reach out on LinkedIn? Send emails? Can you express yourself and your interests in a compelling and persistent way? Of course there is a fine line between “pestering” and “showing persistence”, but it never hurts to reach out if it feels right. Both Stefanies agreed that they are much more likely to consider a candidate who comes referred. So use your network to connect with people.

Remember: You bring unique value to the organization you want to work for. Knowing your own skills and what you bring to the table is key. Stefanie stated they she keeps in mind that hierarchy does not determine the value that someone can contribute. Having many diverse people be a part of the development and voice of an organization is the only way to make that voice fair and true.

Whether you’re just starting our your career, or switching careers, you can bring value to an organization. Figure out what that is, believe in yourself, and put your value and strengths into words.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the Career Series with Stefanie Weiss and Stefanie Cruz, I encourage you to take a peek. They offer great tips on leveraging communications and social media and how these tools can assist organizations in creating lasting social change.

Don’t miss our next Social Change Career Series on April 20, 2107 at 3pm ET/12pm PST where our featured guest will be Lakeya Cherry, Executive Director of the Network for Social Work Management. Sign up here to watch it live: http://sisgigroup.org/careerseries.

Apr 04

Improving Student Behavior Through Engagement

Have you ever been in a long meeting, training, or school lecture, and found yourself falling asleep, or having your mind wander? If so, this most likely happens because the event is boring, and there is a disengagement between you and what is being presented. Similarly, students can find their classrooms boring and feel unmotivated to learn. The National Association of Independent Schools, High School Survey of Student Engagement found that 48% of students don’t find school engaging, and 87% reported that they want to have more classroom interaction. 

As a kid, and even as an adult, you want to feel entertained and challenged when working on a project or topic. Classroom interaction has the potential to increase student behavior. Material that is best learned through classroom activities increases mastery of tasks, grades, and overall student behavior. When students get to participate in hands-on-learning they are more alert and engaged, making them less likely to disrupt the class.

What kind of classroom activities best engage students?

  1. Field Trips: Who doesn’t love field trips! Not only are field trips fun, but they can serve as an excellent learning opportunity. For example, you can take children to cultural or art museums to learn history and art. Another example is taking the children to play performances to study literature. Just remember that the best way to ensure an effective learning experience from a field trip is to communicate goals and expectations before the trip, and debrief after the trip to allow students to reflect and apply learning.
  2. The Arts: Having an art session during class is also a best practice for engaging students. Whether it be learning to play an instrument, having a musical jam session, or painting and crafting, the arts will keep students entertained. the arts also encourages creativity and promotes problem-solving skills by allowing the students to express their thoughts and emotions better. The arts are more effective in teaching concepts to students with learning impairments, encouraging the students to construct their own understanding, and increase learning confidence.
  3. Socratic Discussions: Having student-led Socratic discussions, promotes critical thinking by engaging students in intellectual discourse. Socratic discussion activities are highly active and involves a lot of cooperating. Students get to learn to listen to others points of view and it helps to improve the reasoning process by actively connecting these experiences with their own learning.
  4. Group Work: Participating in group projects helps students to develop interpersonal skills like communication, and management skills, while also serving as an alternative form of learning. Group projects help students learn to build relationships and embrace cooperated, and collaborative learning.

Classroom engagement is an easy and low-to-no cost alternative to student behavioral management. Not only does student engagement decrease student behavior, but it also increases the chances of the student’s success in the future. Students who are engaged are 29% more likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to make healthier daily life choices. Lastly, engages students tend to have a healthier relationship with their peers and teachers, as well as a more positive outlook on their future.

Want to find out more about other activities to keep students engaged as well as get a deeper understanding of the overall benefits? Check out the infographic below.

Additional Resources:

Here are some great sites to help you with your lesson plan activities as well as some gran opportunities to help you fund your next classroom field trip.

  1. http://www.readwritethink.org
  2. www.neafoundation.org/pages/resources-other-grant-opportunities

What are some ways you keep your students engaged? Leave a comment below or join us for our #APYDCHAT April 6, 2017 at 12pm PST/3pm ET to add your voice to the conversation.

Mar 29

Defining Your Own Success: Guidance Inspired by Yvonne Siu Turner

Yvonne is the Senior Manager for Corporate Resources and Programs at Points of Light Corporate Institute. Points of Light is the largest non-profit in the world dedicated to volunteer service. Their corporate institute is the “go-to” resource for corporations to build strategic employee volunteer programs. She manages the learning programs and creates strategies, trainings, and toolkits to build successful volunteer programs. Yvonne highlights that she may do lots of different activities in one day but her focus is to help businesses understand their CSR roles, and how they impact the social and environmental world. 

Intersection of the Corporate and Social World

It’s a very exciting time to be at the intersection of business and society” – Yvonne Siu Turner

Today, Yvonne works on many resources and trainings that are targeted to large Fortune 500 companies. These companies employ thousands of people, and are powerful and capable of real change and impact if their CSR and volunteer efforts are successful and sustainable.

Yvonne also discussed her previous roles in engaging small businesses in nation wide campaigns and helping them connect to resources and other companies to get inspired. She surprisingly finds that most of the cutting edge work in CSR and civic and social impact is coming from smaller businesses!

Yvonne also talked about job trends and necessary skills for this field. This was significant.
How do we align every day with volunteer trends and social good? Ultimately, most people are looking for the kind of work that means something, whether that be met through volunteerism, or through the mission and practices of the business. the CSR role that businesses have globally and in communities is huge and trending. People want opportunities to give back. As social workers, we understand that. That is likely a large reason why we went into the field of social work to begin with.

Yvonne shared the hard and soft skills that she has developed which set her up to do the work she is doing now. Hard skills include project management, writing, research, and communication (communicate best practices in a concise way and communicate with many different types of people). Soft skills include flexibility, communicating across culture and time zones, navigating team dynamics, being comfortable with ambiguity, and paying attention to detail while having the larger picture in mind.

Many of these soft skills are highlighted in a recent video by HBX- Ernest Wilson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications & Journalism at the University of Southern California, discusses the top skills needed for the future, skills that social workers naturally possess and develop in their education and experience.

Where Should I Go From Here?

Push yourself and take responsibility for your own personal and professional growth and career . There is no one clear path to success, so you have to constantly keep defining success based upon what gives you the most purpose in your life”

To be honest, this is one of the most simple, but most motivating pieces of advice I’ve heard so far. Push yourself, challenge yourself!

Easier said than done? I have three suggestions that I’ve been pushing myself to try that have resulted in motivation and confidence.

1. My first suggestion is related to self awareness. Do you truly know the qualities you possess? Are you comfortable expressing and talking about them? This doesn’t include vague, impersonal skills or qualities like “hard worker” or “nice”. This includes real, personal qualities. What makes you, you?! What do you bring to the table? How do you work best?

Amongst many other self-awareness and personality assessments, I have tried Gallup’s Strengths-Finder. This is a great took to get to know yourself better, and to become more aware of how your qualities apply and translate into your everyday life and future goals.

2. Next, add these discovered skills, qualifications, and keywords to your resume, or at least be ready to talk about them. Do you have anything related to these qualities on your resume? How can you talk about your experience and sell yourself using this new knowledge?

3. Finally, my third take-away is (this may sounds familiar)…network!

Yvonne shared how many of her clients can learn from other companies that are doing well.

You look at other companies and find out how they are successful and then take their strategies!

This can be applied to networking as well. You can learn fro other people that are in positions in which you could see yourself one day. Reach out and find out how they got there. Get inspired and “connect the dots”!

What conferences and workshops can you attend in your area? Yvonne discusses many different conferences and training sessions during her conversation. Do a Google search! Remember you’re on your own path and there’s no clear, or right, direction. You won’t be given anything, you need to search for it!

So, how do you define your own success? What qualities do you possess that can help you market yourself to potential employers? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Yvonne’s entire Career Series Session, I encourage you to take a peek. Her words will surely inspire you to become more self aware and to challenge you to become familiar with your the professional qualities you posses.

 

 

Mar 27

Breaking the Bonds: Moving Away from Zero-Tolerance Policies

Many of us probably grew up witnessing classmatesbeing sent to detention, and some of us might even have feared being sent ourselves. Although our fear of detention was mostly due to the fear of getting in trouble with our parents, we were also aware that detention was a few steps away from being expelled from school. For some students today, school discipline creates another level of fear. Under a zero-tolerance policy, any disruption in class can lead to an automatic expulsion.

While zero tolerance measures were inspired by school shootings in primarily white suburban schools, they have mostly been adopted and enforced in urban schools, disproportionately impacting the poor, and students of color. Student’s in low-income areas with zero tolerance measures have a greater chance of being suspended and expelled. African-American students only represent 16% of the students in the U.S Department of Education, but account for 40% of students expelled, making them three times more likely to be suspended than white students. American Indian students represent less than 1% of the student population but account for 3% of expulsions.

Zero-tolerance policies do not distinguish between serious and non-serious offenses; students have been expelled for tardiness or simply carrying nail clippers. These policies don’t differentiate between students having behavioral disorders versus students intentionally causing trouble. Students as young as preschool have been approached with force and handcuff for minor disciplinary issues such as throwing a temper tantrumHow do suspension, expulsion, and arrest help change the child’s behavior?

It is time to reexamine school disciplinary measures. It is understandable that people want to
ensure school safety, but there is no evidence that zero-tolerance policies actually improve school safety. There is, however, evidence that zero-tolerance policies account for high percentage of juvenile arrests for 70% of African American and Latino students. Schools should be a safe haven for students, not a place where they are subjected to arrest. Students need a supportive school climate that promotes learning, not punishment. There needs to be a decrease in suspensions, and discipline needs to refocus on the social emotional and behavioral needs of the students.

If you are concerned about the prevalence and impact that suspensions have on students, let your local school district committees, and policy leaders know that you want to see a decrease in suspension referrals. Suspension and expulsion are not the best forms of discipline as it does not support youth development, they do not give students the opportunity to improve the behavioral issue. Removing students from school is excluding them from the opportunity to engage in prosocial behaviors and lowering their chances of graduating.  

For an effective student behavioral change, schools need to develop disciplinary approaches that are evidence-based. This video shows how schools are replacing suspensions with holistic approaches. Our children’s education depends on our dedication to implementing alternative disciplinary measures.

In order to bring awareness to the impact of zero tolerance policies as well as share best practices on alternative disciplinary measures, we invite you to join us for a tweetchat on April 6, 2017 at 12pm PST/3pm EST. Make sure to follow The Alliance for Positive Youth Development on Twitter @ideas4youth and use the hashtag #APYDCHAT. We look forward to coming together on this important issue and working towards positive and sustainable change in policy and perspective.

Mar 23

Persistence Pays Off: Words of Wisdom from Earnestine Walker

Earnestine Walker, the Vice President of Community Health and Inclusion at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Great Rivers Affiliate has over 15 years of experience in nonprofit, government, and university environments. During her feature on our Social Change Career Series, she offered advice about leadership skills, qualities that she values and looks for in job applicants, and what she has learned throughout her experience. This discussion reminded me how there is no such thing as failure; there are only learning experiences to help you grow and prepare you for future roles. When the job search becomes wearing, and you feel like giving up or feel as if you’ve failed, Earnestine’s advice will remind you to stay positive, focused, and open to learning experiences. 

Leadership Skills

After being turned down when she applied to her dream job for not having enough experience, Earnestine worked hard to acquire the skills that were required of the positive and proved herself, eventually landing the position she originally wanted. Some may have viewed not getting the position originally as “failure”, but she perceived it as an opportunity to learn and better prepare herself for it. She never gave up and always made it a priority to collaborate and learn from others who were “smarter than her”. 

I should never, ever be the smartest person in the room. There are so many gifted, smart people who you need to be surrounded by who will help keep you level headed. I do understand what I bring, and I hope I have some worth, but there are other people who have talents and expertise that I don’t. I worked with people who were smarter than me, I saw what they did and the I said, “aha! I can do that”.

In regards to her position at AHA developing and implementing new programs, Earnestine values discipline, research skills, and balancing being both flexible/adaptable while practicing structure and strict compliance. Organizations have funders they are responsible for, so following through with expectations is crucial. She also emphasized the importance of not being IN the community you’re working to develop for, but being OF the community. Get to know the community, play various roles, and remember that communities are “savvy”. Don’t assume you know best, but learn from the community and others and incorporate that into your program. That’s the only way your program will be sustainable.

Where Should I Go From Here?

There are three main takeaways from Earnestine’s career series that really resonated with me and that I am considering during my job search:

  1. Don’t be afraid to get your foot in the door. Sure, maybe you feel a bit overqualified for a position, but can you see yourself learning in this position, eventually preparing you for the one that you want? A lot of times organizations hire from within, so don’t be too prideful- everyone has to start somewhere. Starting at the bottom prepares you for the top. Get in there, network, and connect and learn from people who are smarter than you! There is no such thing as failure.
  2. Be able to tell your story in a way that appeals to the position and organization you are applying for. Learn how to identify your skills and get creative in understanding how they are transferrable to a new position. Earnestine shared an example of a veteran; “if you’ve done planning in the military, you can do planing at the AHA, it’s all in the way you tell your story and skills. Even if the experience is not a perfect fit, make a case for yourself!”
  3. If you get turned down, work harder, meet your goals, learn, and re-apply. Your career is a path, so don’t get too focused or let down by just one stop.

Have you ever experienced a professional let down? How did you handle and grow from it? Share your story in the comments below.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Earnestine Walker’s entire Career Series Session, I encourage you to take a peek. Her words will surly encourage you to use view your perceived set backs as stepping stones to your ultimate success.

 

 

Mar 16

The Importance of Adaptation: Lessons Learned from Erich Pica

Learning to adapt

One of our most recent speakers in the Social Change Career Series, Erich Pica, is the President of Friends of the Earth. He has a long career as a lobbyist and activist for the environment and works on policy development. His career series session offers some fascinating thoughts about the importance of today’s political climate; how this climate inevitably impacts the work that social workers and policy developers do; and finally, what skills and some advice to manage and be successful in this rapidly changing climate.  

Be adaptable – Take risks!

I took two major takeaways from Erich Pica’s career series. The first was the discussion around the challenge of sticking to your mission, while also being adaptable and comfortable with evolving. This is necessary for organizations to stay alive and relevant. The second is to remember that no one knows the answers to issues that we as social workers are trying to resolve; therefore be humble, collaborate with others, and take risks.

This advice can also be applied when thinking about our job search. We may know our mission, the overall goal that we want to achieve, but, it’s possible that the exact position that you are looking for is not available- maybe you don’t even know what it is yourself, yet. Erich’s experience of being a general intern at Friends of the Earth allowed him to learn the ins and outs of the organization, and eventually led him to being the director.  As job searchers, we need to find an organization or cause that we believe in, that aligns with our personal values and missions, and if we can be adaptable in the roles that we play within the growth of that organization, we will be successful.

“Have fidelity to your mission, be able to recognize where change is coming, and evolve and adapt to this change” – Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth

Where Should I Go from Here?

One great way to get involved in this type of work is by researching organizations that already exist that you are inspired by. Learn everything you can about them; discover what what they are doing and why they have survived. What specific projects are they working on that you could see yourself getting involved in?  Luckily, today’s world of social media and the world wide web gives you direct access to all the information you need.

Once you are inspired, reach out to people in the organization (Try LinkedIn)! A friend who was also on the job search typed up a short, general note that she sent out to about 40 people she found on LinkedIn who worked in organizations that interested her. This note explained a bit about herself, and more importantly asked to learn more about their experience and position. Her “no shame” approach got her about 4 coffee dates and a few interviews. One person who she reached out to at an organization she had applied for gave her feedback; they stated how she “stood out from the other 400 applications”, and they may have overlooked her otherwise.

Just like Erich Pica advised, TAKE RISKS!take risks

Finally, try and volunteer. Is there any organization you can get involved in on the weekends? Yes, we are busy, but even just once a month might be enough to make amazing connections and “get your feet wet”.

What are some ways you are taking risks in your job search? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Erich Pica’s entire Career Series Session I encourage you to take a peek. I have no doubt you will be equally inspired by his journey. 

Mar 13

Non-Traditional Social Work Careers: Where Do I Fit In? #alsoSW

Nontraditional Social Work Jobs

As I wrap up the final months of my MSW@USC program, I am officially deep into the post graduation job search. My goal is to find a job in New York City that provides me with financial security and is the right next step in my career journey. It is also important to me that I find a job aligns with my own personal values and the values of The National Association of Social Work.

When I start to reflect on my areas of interest in the social sector, I come to realize that my passions are deep, but they are also volatile. While I know I want to make an impact in the world, I’m not settled on my exact direction. The good news is that I seem to have a firm grasp on what I don’t want to do (I have pretty much excluded clinical work from my desires), but besides that, I am open, eager, and ready to tackle multiple social changes from human rights, to environmental protection. I can see myself working for the government, working for a large corporation or an EAP, working in a leadership or collaborative position for a social good non-profit, or even working for an international organization such as the United Nations. But the question becomes, what type of role does a social worker look to fill in these types of professional spaces?

OLF9880When searching for job opportunities, it is much easier to spot traditional social work jobs, such clinical roles in a mental health facility, or a leadership position at a non-profit organization. But, if you plan to do nontraditional social work, it becomes much less clear where to look, and how to sell yourself as a valuable potential candidate.

What do you do when you’re a young, green, generalist social worker living in New York City? At first glance, the options seem endless (which is good, right?), but the options are also difficult to identify and organize. So where do you start? Who do you align yourself with and begin to build a network? What are employers looking for in applications? How do you explain your skill set in a way that makes sense? Is focusing on your values and passions enough? And is there such a thing as going in the wrong direction?

These are just some of the many questions that flood my head on a daily basis. And while this journey can seem overwhelming at times, I can’t help but think that many recent MSW graduates are also experiencing a similar struggle. So, in honor of Social Work Month I am inviting you to join me in my quest to discover resources that will help to reveal the job opportunities that exist within nontraditional social work.

Starting this Thursday, I will be posting a #TBT blog post feature about one of the many professionals featured in our Beyond Good Ideas Foundation Social Change Career Speaker Series. This series highlights leaders in the social sector who have been successful in being agents of change in a variety of different career paths. Their tips and advice about their professional journey as well as some words of wisdom they have gained along the way will be the focus of the weekly blog post.

In addition, I will be posting resources I have come across on my job search on a daily basis so make sure to follow us on all of our social media platforms and look for the hashtag #alsoSW to catch some great tips on landing your dream job.

Thank you for following along with me on this journey. I look forward to you joining me in this ongoing conversation and to help us spread the word that policy makers, executive directors, consultants, communities organizers and other macro roles are also Social Work.

Feb 02

#WhyIMarch: A Personal Account of The Women’s March on Washington

#WHYIMARCH

I remember as a little girl always wondering why they had a Million Man March on Washington and never a Women’s March on Washington. When I finally saw that a Women’s March on Washington could possibly be happening, there was no question I was going! Initially, it did not garner much attention. I thought it would be something small and confined, nonetheless necessary and long overdue. Which, to be honest, reminds me of the way a woman’s voice has been throughout history, confined, if even given the chance to be heard at all. As the months went by, and the word got out, the number of people estimated to attend grew. But regardless of how many people were going, I knew I would be in the number.

march8 metro

Scene inside the metro

On the morning of the March, I was anxious. I had no idea what to expect. I met up with a friend and we drove over to the Metro and made our way through the crowd. There were already massive lines in the Metro to pay for the train and then another long wait to actually get on the train. Hundreds of ladies, some with husbands, friends, and children were ready for the big event. I guess you can say the Women’s March started in the Washington DC Metro Station! Ladies were harmoniously chanting, holding up their handmade signs as we followed behind each other waiting almost an hour to just get up the escalator. Despite the large crowd, there was no pushing. Everyone was courteous, respectful, and eager to get to the streets of Washington DC.

While standing in line to get out of the train station, an older woman and her husband started talking to us. She said how proud she was of us and the rest of the younger generation for our tenacity and boldness to stand up for what we believed in. I thought she might cry. If she had, I would have gladly offered her my shoulder.

I marched for women across the world who are shamed, persecuted for their beliefs, even murdered for choosing to speak up.

As we finally made our way into the actual March, it was packed! The feeling was so intense it gave me chills! So many women from all over. There were different ethnicities and backgrounds represented. And there were even men holding up their own signs in support of women’s rights. It was beautiful to see. We literally inched our way as close to the front as possible with a lot of “excuse me”, “sorry”, “excuse me”. I lost count of how many times I accidentally stepped on the backs of someone shoes. Despite our efforts, the crowd was so large there really was nowhere to move. So we stayed put for a while until our elbows grew tired of being pinned to our sides and we made our way to another section, or street.

In addition to the sounds of the songs and chants, there was a feeling of freedom and liberation in the air. A freedom from women being told we are too loud or have too much attitude. A freedom to finally shout “We were here and we were not going anywhere!”.

I marched for the overburdened, over worked, and under-appreciated women.

Kelli and Friend

Feeling inspired

Each woman had their own reason for being in the crowd. Mine? I marched for my grandmothers, my mother who raised me to be strong yet humble, my tight knit circle of friends. For all the times that women were told to be quiet, belittled, and disrespected for just for being a woman, being smart, independent, and ferocious. I marched because the strength of a woman is often misunderstood, feared, and made to succumb to other people’s insecurities. I marched for all the times we made our presence small so others could feel big. I marched for women across the world who are shamed, persecuted for their beliefs, even murdered for choosing to speak up. I marched for the overburdened, over worked, and under-appreciated women. I marched for all the Queens who have allowed their crowns to become contaminated by doubt and low self-esteem. That is why I was there. I marched for all the times I wondered as a little girl why there was never a Women’s March on Washington. Little did I know, there were millions of other women, little girls asking the same question, but only a handful who were proactive enough to bring it to fruition, growing that handful to millions.

I marched for all the Queens who have allowed their crowns to become contaminated by doubt and low self-esteem.

Attending the Women’s March was a profound and deeply humbling experience that will forever be ingrained in my soul, my mind, my heart and my thighs (that were left burning after it was all done). But it was a burning that I welcomed, a gratifying ache that has left me wanting to do more and be more.

 

Oct 13

Increasing the Minimum Wage: An Answer to Growing Income Inequality in the U.S.

Hillary Clinton opened the first presidential debate by addressing one of the prominent issues in this election, income inequality. She proposed: “First we have to build an economy that works for everyone…That starts with raising the national minimum wage.” However, when it comes to increasing the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, there is still sharp debate over what the real effects would be. Proponents say a higher minimum wage would lift people out of poverty while the opposition reports that it would negatively affect the economy by resulting in fewer jobs for workers. However, opponents often fail to consider the compounding, long-term effects poverty has on communities and their citizens.

Take Nicole Malone, for example, a 28 year old single mother of two who works 40 hours a week at a fast food restaurant in Atlanta earning $7.75 an hour. On her current salary, she cannot afford basic needs for her and her family. She relies on food stamps to feed her children and a government subsidy for her apartment. Like Nicole, a majority of low wage workers are older than 25 and rely on public assistance in order to live. Even more alarming is that 28% of these workers support children on low wages. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median income a two-parent, two-child family in the U.S. would need to earn is approximately $31 an hour. Even if both parents work and earn the current federal minimum wage, they would still make less than 25 percent of what is needed to afford basic living expenses. As a result, their children do not have access to necessities like the nutrition they need for healthy development which in turn affects their ability to learn and sets them behind their peers from an early age.  

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While an estimated 30 million workers struggle everyday to make ends meet, CEOs in the largest low wage industries (i.e. fast food, retail and leisure and hospitality) earn up to 1,000 times what their typical workers are paid, which equates to about $156 million per year. In fact, wages for workers have remained relatively stagnant over the past four decades while CEO pay has increased by nearly 1,000 percent. This means that corporate profit earnings are being distributed grossly disproportionately, and the workers who are integral in making businesses profitable are being prohibited from sharing in the profits.

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Since the minimum wage has not increased in over seven years and worker pay has remained stagnant, low wage companies have shown that they will pay their employees the minimum of what is legally necessary rather than what is adequate and ethical. This makes the minimum wage law an essential component in protecting exploited workers while also combating poverty. Nonetheless, because it has failed to keep up with the cost of living, millions of vulnerable men, women and children will remain poor, and poverty has costly socio-economic implications on society as a whole in the form increased medical costs, higher crime rates and incarceration levels, greater police and court expenses, homelessness and emergency shelter expenses.     

The burden that this extreme level of inequality places on middle-class taxpayers, in particular, is often left out of the debate over minimum wage. When profitable corporations are not tasked with paying their employees adequately, taxpayers pick up the tab. Low wage work is estimated to cost public assistance programs $152.8 billion per year. Meanwhile, when corporations are tasked with providing their employees with adequate pay, historically this has shown to have very little effect on a company’s bottom line because businesses absorb these costs through higher productivity, lower turnover, wage reductions of higher earners and small price increases.

This is why increasing the minimum wage is perhaps the most economically efficient and equitable way to lift 10 percent of the U.S. population from the brink of poverty while also addressing growing income inequality in the U.S. Find out which of your leaders on the ballot support a living wage, a policy that would have vast benefits across the country and minimal costs, and vote for them this November.

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