We Will Never Forgot – September 11, 2001

The Twin Towers - New York Times

The Twin Towers – New York Times

Dear Readers,

In a few hours we will commemorate the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States.  I am surprised at how vividly I can recall everything I was doing that day, even the outfit that I was wearing. This was truly one of the saddest days I can remember as an adult. So many lives lost, so much pain and tragedy.

Via imgls.com

Freedom Tower – imgls.com

Today I work a few blocks from the new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.  Whenever I walk past this stunning building, I am amazed at the tremendous progress that has been made. This is a true testament to our resilience as Americans.  However, there are times when an eerie feeling comes over me; just for a few moments and then it passes.  I imagine the time will come when I am less emotional, so I will continue to be patient.

For now, all that I can offer are my prayers.  I pray for the men and women, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters who lost their lives on that day.  I pray for their families as there are some painful memories that time may never erase.  I pray for those of us who work within walking distance of the new Freedom Tower, for life can change at any moment.

When I arrive home safely each night I am truly grateful, and count it as one of my greatest blessings.  In honor of the men and women who will never again be able to say “I’m home”, we will never forget you.

Fondly,
Monique

9/11 Memorial dedication - nydailynews.com

9/11 Memorial dedication – nydailynews.com

 

 

The People’s Champion – Public Advocate Letitia James

Dear Readers:

In a couple of weeks, we will witness summer’s seamless transition to fall.  For many, the shift in seasons ushers in a new set of priorities.  There is a renewed sense of purpose, and we are committed to finishing the year on a high note.

At a New York City Council Meeting - Observer.com

At a New York City Council Meeting – Observer.com

Last year at this time, Brooklynites lent their support to former Councilwoman Letitia James as she pursued her dream of becoming New York City’s Public Advocate.  She would be the first African-American woman from Brooklyn to hold this position.  For many voters, James was the perfect choice, as she has spent much of her career advocating for the people of Brooklyn.  Ascending to this new role was clearly the next step.  On November 2, 2013, she would be successful in her quest.

Outlining her agenda - article.wn.com

Outlining her agenda – article.wn.com

Since taking office, Public Advocate James and her team have charted a broad agenda, and are focused on creating effective change for all New Yorkers.  They envision: Good Work for Fair Pay; Access to Healthcare; a Common Sense Public Education Policy; Utilizing the Court to Preserve Public Education; Universal School Lunch; Keeping New Yorkers in New York, and Legislative Action for Working People.

This past April, Public Advocate James and her team published their first progress report – Our First 100 Days.  Many New Yorkers have expressed their gratitude for the care and concern that she, and her team, bring to today’s challenges.  As a Brooklynite, this does not surprise me.  James is a tireless champion for social justice, education and legislative reform.  While the title that she holds is new, her support for those in need is not.

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We will provide you with a closer look at these initiatives, and their impact, in future Brooklyn Legends posts.  Today we wanted to provide you with a glimpse of the many things our champion is up to.

Many of the people who I have come in contact with believe our Public Advocate is just getting started.  She is just sharpening her focus.  I believe that her best days are ahead, and I want to see her win.  Her successes will become our successes, and that suits me just fine.  Besides, everyone needs a champion.

Enjoy the rest of the week.

Monique

Elder Grace – Celebrating Brooklyn Centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones

Dear Readers:

On July 6, 2014, Brooklyn super-centenarian Susannah Mushatt Jones celebrated her 115th birthday.  A few days later there was a celebration for her at the Vandalia Senior Center in Brooklyn, New York Ms. Mushatt Jones is the oldest resident of New York State, the second-oldest American and the third-oldest person in the world.

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones Celebrates 115 years

Susannah Mushatt Jones was born on July 6, 1899 in Lowndes County, Alabama. This was one of the toughest times to be a person of African or Caribbean descent living in the rural south.  I imagine she witnessed the cruel indignities that were designed to strip African and Caribbean Americans of all hope of ever achieving the basic civil rights enjoyed by their white counterparts. Despite these challenges, she would also witness some amazing “firsts” in Civil Rights history.

Ms. Mushatt Jones - NY Times

The Lovely Ms. Mushatt Jones

Ms. Mushatt Jones migrated to New York City in 1923, at the age of 24. Like those who made the journey before her, she dreamed of creating a new life filled with hope and promise.  For many southerners moving “up north” this was a time filled great expectation, despite the harsh realities they would experience.  This was a period when segregation was woven into every facet of life in America.

Opportunities for economic and educational advancements were non-existent.  Often times, the only jobs available to African-Americans were as domestics or field workers.  If exceptions were made, they were given the most laborious tasks. When using public transportation, they had to sit in the back of the bus. The same rule was in effect when traveling on the interstate.

The legal system was equally as cruel. For many, punishment for the slightest infractions could range from life in prison, to a life of hard labor. There was no hope of a fair jury trial. We also know that, during these times, lynching was the order of the day. This was truly “the worst of time.”

Thankfully, Ms. Mushatt Jones made it safely through these atrocities and settled into life in Harlem. She must have been so excited! This was the time of the Harlem Renaissance and the beginning of a whole new world on so many levels – intellectually, financially, socially and economically. She worked as a child-care provider for 42 years, until she retired in 1965. As she made her way in the world, America’s history was going through a transformation. She had a front row seat.  Here are some of the wonders that she was able to see.

On the Road to Civil Rights – the mid 1950s through the 1960s.

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On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in public schools was illegal. I am not sure if I could articulate how Ms. Mushatt Jones felt when Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court delivered the court’s decision.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Surely she rejoiced on November 13, 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in the case of Browder v. Gayle that segregated bus laws in Alabama were unconstitutional.  This case was presented after Rosa Park’s arrest on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger.  Ms. Parks’ defiance sparked the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days, until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was repealed.

On August 28, 1963, she would see thousands of Americans participate in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I wonder if she was there?  This past August, we commemorated the 51st anniversary of this historic day.

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

Rev. Dr. King, President Johnson and civil rights leaders

One year later, on July 2, 1964, I envision Ms. Mushatt Jones rejoicing when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. I can almost see her listening to the radio as the provisions were read. Title VI prohibited public access discrimination and would lead to school desegregation. Title VII prohibited employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Title VIII was the original “federal fair housing law,” that was later amended in 1988.

On March 25, 1965, all eyes would focus on her home state of Alabama for the Selma to Montgomery MarchRev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in the campaign for voting rights. Residents in Harlem led their own demonstrations to show their support. Perhaps she was among them.

Justice Thurgood Marshall

Justice Thurgood Marshall

I would be remiss if I did not mention two additional milestones that took place in 1967.  The first occurred when President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. The second occurred when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving v. Virginia that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

As we know, the fight for Civil Rights culminated in the 1960s but is far from over. The decades that followed would be marked with notable firsts in education, housing, criminal justice and employment.

I would love to know what her reaction was when, in January 2009 and January 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States of America. His beautiful wife Michelle would take her place as America’s First Lady. When Ms. Jones was growing up the word “lady” was not given to African-American women. What a celebration this was for her on so many levels. She lived through a century of firsts with years to spare.

This list is by no means finite. I have presented it in this manner to provide a glimpse of what she lived through. I also imagine that she played an important role in securing many of the freedoms that we now enjoy.

As we help Ms. Jones celebrate another milestone, in addition to serenading her with the traditional “Happy Birthday” another song that was popular during the civil rights movement also comes to mind, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway.

Please join Brooklyn Legends in wishing Ms. Mushatt Jones a very Happy Birthday!

_____________________________________________

Credits:
Photos of Ms. Mushatt Jones – The New York Times
Photos of The Little Rock Nine – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of James Meredith – Wikipedia.org
Photo of Richard and Mildred Loving – Time.com
Photo of Jackie Robinson – via Pinterest, Mary Kay Ward
Photo of Justice Thurgood Marshall – images via Yahoo.com
Photo of The March on Washington – via Googleimages.com
Photo of Rev. Dr. King and President Johnson – via img.dooyoo.co.uk
Background information – Wikipedia and Google.com
Rosa Parks on the bus in Alabama – via Pinterest, Linda Wallace

In Search of Dignity

Dear Readers:

So much time has passed since my last post.  I truly miss connecting with you.  Now that summer is almost over, and my vacation and travel schedule has leveled off, you will be hearing from me much more often.

Michael Brown -  New York Daily News

Michael Brown – New York Daily News

Throughout my travels I have been following the events of the past few weeks. The first incident that comes to mind is the tragic death of Michael Brown, and the impact on his family and the people of Ferguson.  I also find myself thinking about Michael’s friends and classmates.  How will they cope?  Will steps be taken to ensure that his classmates have access to grief counselors?  How will history record this horrific incident?  Most important off all, after the media leaves, and the 24 hour news cycle moves to the next breaking story, who will speak for Michael Brown?  Will he and his parents be treated with the grace and respect that they so rightly deserve?

This tragic end to a young life, filled with hope and promise, has cut to our core; giving way to a resurgence of issues we naively hoped were in the past.  Despite the best efforts of our civil rights leaders, academics and influencers, prejudice, hatred and fear still exist.  Unless we can create a space where honest conversations can take place around issues of race and perception, these emotions will continue to confront and challenge us.

Shortly after the news of Michael Brown’s death was publicized, men and women from all over America made their way to Ferguson.  As with all tragedies, there are always opportunists and detractors, but I believe that the people who made the journey were motivated by a sincere desire to stand in unity with Michael’s family.  At the end of the day, their precious gift has been taken from them.  Nothing will take away their pain, but we can help hold them, and surround them with love up at a time when they need it the most.  I watched as Michael Brown’s parents spoke to the world with such great composure and “dignity.”  To be completely transparent, I spent the past few days searching for that word, which I have not heard used much since my grandmother died.  I remember hearing her words “dignity is the one thing no one can take away from you, unless you surrender it.”

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The next few months will be long and arduous for Ferguson, particularly as the world will be watching.  While those who made their way to stand in solidarity at the beginning of this tragedy will eventually focus on other events in their lives, new strangers will come to take their place.  They will stand united in their grief, their anger and their disbelief.  They will stand because this is what we, as people of African-American descent, have done throughout our fight for social justice in this country.  This most recent situation brings to my mind a quote on dignity:

I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have
three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and
dignity, quality and freedom for their spirit.
I believe that what self-centered men have torn down,
other-centered men can build up.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

almighty-yellowplant.blogspot.com

almighty-yellowplant.blogspot.com

We at Brooklyn Legends join the world in celebrating the life of Michael Brown.  We stand united with his family and we pray that God grant them peace.

Fondly,

Monique

 

 

On This Labor Day – I’m Grateful

Monique Brizz-Walker

Monique Brizz-Walker at work – NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Dear Readers:

As we prepare to commemorate another Labor Day, I find myself thinking about everything my grandparents instilled in me about the importance of hard work. They went to great lengths to remind me that job excellence was the highest form of gratitude that I could demonstrate.

There was a time when an African-American woman like me could only dream of having a full-time position with benefits and paid holidays. Of course there are days when I am ready to leave the building and retreat to the comfort of my home, but it does not take me long to realize just how fortunate I am. For me, this quote sums it up.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance,
and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Happy Labor Day to all. Thank you for the important contributions you make to our great society.

Fondly,

Monique

“Of The People, By The People & For The People”

Dear Readers,

I hope that everyone had a wonderful July 4th holiday. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed. I received many e-mails with best wishes for a happy summer, and just to say “hello.” Thank you for reaching out. I truly appreciate hearing from you. For today’s post, I am pleased to share information about The Honorable Yvette Clarke, one of Brooklyn’s favorite daughters.

Rep. Yvette Clarke - Wikipedia.com

Wikipedia.com

Many residents of Brooklyn’s new Ninth Congressional District were justly proud when Clarke was elected to be their Congresswoman in November 2006. The areas that fall under her careful stewardship include Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Gerritsen Beach, Madison, Midwood, Ocean Hill, communities within Park Slope and Flatlands, Prospect Heights, Sheepshead Bay, Windsor Terrace and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, which is where I live.

I am equally excited that Congresswoman Clarke’s office is within walking distance from my apartment. There is great satisfaction in knowing that my Representative is so accessible.

Rep. Clarke & Dr. Una Clarke - via Jamaicangleaner.com

Rep. Clarke & Dr. Una Clarke – via Jamaicangleaner.com

Prior to her election as Congresswoman, Clarke served on the New York City Council where she represented Brooklyn’s 40th District. She has the distinction of succeeding her pioneering mother and former City Council Member Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the Council.

As Brooklyn’s Representative for the Ninth Congressional District, Congresswoman Clarke stands by her commitment to the legacy of excellence set forth by the Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman and the first Caribbean-American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Chisholm would become the first woman of African-American and Caribbean descent to run for President as a major-party candidate.

Shirley Chisholm - via Makers.com

Shirley Chisholm – via Makers.com

Like Congresswoman Chisholm, Clarke is an unwavering champion for the people of her native Brooklyn. While she presently holds the title of legislator, Clarke has effectively used her experiences as an activist and community organizer to become an effective leader and tireless advocate on issues of paramount importance to the people of Brooklyn; particularly jobs, immigration reform, education and housing. These are indeed weighty issues for they affect our nation. Today, I will focus on Clarke’s recent movement in the area of job creation and her fight for an increase in the minimum wage.  I will share additional information with you regarding her advocacy for immigration reform, education and housing in future posts.

H.R. 803 signed by Speaker Boehner - www.speaker.gov

H.R. 803 signed by Speaker Boehner – http://www.speaker.gov

On Thursday, July 10, 2014, Congresswoman Clarke released a statement on the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 – H.R. 803. The bill passed by 415 to 6.

“The people themselves have always been our most important resource. To remain competitive in the Twenty-First Century in an economy that includes every nation in the world, we must support people in the development of their individual capacities.”  Congresswoman Clarke goes further to say “I believe that the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will allow more people to access training programs to develop the skills our economy needs.”

Photo via GerritsenBeach.net

Photo via GerritsenBeach.net

Two weeks ago, just before the July 4th holiday, Congresswoman Clark released a statement on the June Jobs Report, which indicated the long-term unemployment rate has declined to 2.0 percent, as more companies are hiring workers who had been unable to find a job for more than six months.  “This report demonstrates that our economy is rebounding.  Small business lead the way in creating 117,000 jobs last month and our economy has continued to recover from the economic crisis under the leadership of President Obama.”  Congresswoman Clarke also uses this upward movement to make the case for supporting an increase in the hourly wage.  “I’d also urge my colleges in the House of Representatives to allow for a vote on increasing the minimum wage.  There are millions of workers with full-time employment whose wages are insufficient to support their families.  An increase to $10.10 an hour would affirm the dignity of work, and allow millions of Americans to escape poverty.”

fortuneaskannie.files.wordpress.com

fortuneaskannie.files.wordpress.com

In early March, Congresswoman Clarke lobbied for a vote on unemployment benefits for Veterans. This request was based on a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities which determined that 200,00 veterans of the armed forces have already lost benefits this year.  This request was submitted to Speaker of the House John Boehner in a letter signed by 161 members of Congress.  In Clarke’s words, “the failure to extend unemployment benefits has been inexcusable.  The women and men of our armed forces who sacrified for us, their follow citizens and for their nation, deserve better from their representatives in Washington, D.C. The continued refusal of Republic leaders to schedule a vote on this matter demonstrates the intention to avoid the issue.  The soldiers who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, and cannot find jobs, cannot avoid the issue and their obligations to their families.  We have a responsibility to act.”

I would like to close today’s post with a video featuring Congresswoman Clarke’s plea for the passage of a Jobs Bill.  For me, this is a stark reminder of why we need a dynamic leader, such as our esteemed Congresswoman, advocating on our behalf.

We are all in this together! Continue to be inspired. Also, do not be afraid to add your voice to the many issues that challenge us in today’s economy.

Credits:
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke – Clarke.house.gov
Wikipedia – Congresswoman Yvette Clarke – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yvette_Clarke

 

 

Brooklyn Legends Inspirations V – Embracing Autism

Dear Readers,

A few months ago I came across an article that many in my circle are talking about – In Praise of Imperfection which was written for More Magazine by Priscilla Gilman.

Mrs-marine.com

Mrs-marine.com

Ms. Gilman addresses the complicated subject of autism. Many of us have first-hand experience, or know someone who is managing a child with autism.  Growing up, I always felt there was a high degree of insensitivity to individuals with this disorder.  Now that I am older, I attribute this behavior to insufficient and/or incorrect information. Additionally, there are long-standing myths about autism that need to be refuted.

It is well-documented that with open communication, coupled with a genuine commitment to understanding the effects, these myths can be dispelled.  “It is critically important to know that a person with autism feels love, happiness, sadness and pain just as everyone else does.  While they may be challenged around how to express these feelings, this does not mean they do not have them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This myth, and others that have been perpetuated over the years, are the result of ignorance.”

bobbiblogger.wordpress.com

bobbiblogger.wordpress.com

Thankfully we now live in a time where parents, caretakers, and professionals have been empowered with the information they need to discuss the challenges they face with candor and sensitivity.  I am pleased to share with you Ms. Gilman’s article which addresses how she came to terms with her son’s struggle with autism and what she learned from him in the process.

In Praise of Imperfection

Twelve years ago, at 31 years old, I seemed to have all the components of a conventionally successful life: a handsome and brilliant husband, a promising career as an English professor at Yale, an adorable toddler and another baby on the way. But when, shortly before his third birthday, my son Benj was diagnosed with a host of special needs, the illusion of my perfect life fell away. Benj had been reading fluently, spelling complicated words, reciting swaths of poetry and doing math problems with ease since he was two, but now these gifts were revealed to be signs of hyperlexia, a developmental disorder often found in autistic children and characterized by early reading, challenges with verbal communication and impaired social skills. He had gross and fine-motor delays and sensory sensitivities. He suffered from intense anxiety about changes of plan. Aloof, meticulous and compulsive, he spent hours lining up his blocks and toys in fastidious rows.

I, on the other hand, was affectionate, messy and creative. How could I support a child who was so unlike me? As we went from one specialist to another, I hoped that I could learn how to communicate better with Benj, even if I couldn’t completely understand him.

pekoedc.net

pekoedc.net

One day a speech therapist was teaching Benj how to ask for help rather than scream in frustration or shut down. As I listened to her repeat the phrase I need help, I realized that I, too, had a hard time saying those words. I was the one who helped. My father had struggled with depression, and I had been the sunny presence that buoyed and comforted him. In school I counseled and offered advice to my friends. I’d minimized my own problems, and all this caregiving and bolstering, this inveterate optimism, had taken its toll on me.

I found a therapist and shared with her my worries about Benj. For the first time ever, I revealed myself as I was: afraid, vulnerable, in need of assistance. What Benj did literally, I soon understood, I had always done figuratively. He marshaled his toys and became agitated if anything was out of alignment. I had married young, planned an academic career and been the first of my friends to get pregnant. I’d plotted things carefully and wanted all the pieces in place. Tackling my child’s special needs had inadvertently freed me from perfectionism and the need to micromanage my future.

The next few years brought great progress for Benj and me. Rather than accelerating my career, I slowed down, reflected and worked on accepting myself. I wrote a memoir exposing my dark, scared feelings—a huge step for someone who’d guarded her inner life and written only dispassionate essays.

IMG_0063Being Benj’s mother has taught me how to celebrate each tiny milestone (Benj accepted a hug! Benj asked his little brother if he’d had a good day!), how to let go and let be, how to not fret over anticipated disaster and how to inhabit the present more fully. Helping him understand that problems will be thrown our way and that there isn’t always one definitive right answer has deepened my own understanding of the essential mystery at the heart of life. No longer what the poet Theodore Roethke calls “time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will,” Benj and I live the questions together.

Priscilla Gilman is the author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy.

Stay encouraged!
Monique

Credits:
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Myths About Autism courtesy of Medical News Today
More Magazine, March 2014