Christmas Musings…

Cowboy & I in Stowe, Vermont

Greetings RLD Family,

I’d like to take this moment to thank you for your support over the last 6 years of the blog. I’ve learned that content flows better when I have time to relax, or something outrageous happens.

Sadly, downtime has been a fleeting memory due to an insane schedule, and outrageous acts seem to happen so regularly that at times you think we are in bizarro world. If you are a Christian, you may think we are at the end of days as per Revelations.

But this I know – we made it though 2019! We are on the cusp of a new year AND a new decade. We are stepping into our purpose, taking it to the next level, and making our goals come to fruition – together!!

Most importantly, we celebrate today (or this week depending on your faith). We pause, we spend time with loved ones, and we break bread.

The Cowboy and I are in at our holiday getaway in Stowe. Today we will get a few runs in on the slopes, and enjoy our brief respite from reality.

I can’t let the day end without honoring two people I’ve lost this year – Jake Burton and Marion Hughes. Jake Burton was The Godfather of snowboarding. On our last trip to Stowe in March, I was sitting in the lodge chatting with two guys while the Cowboy was getting a few more runs in. They talked about both surviving cancer, and living every day to the fullest. We joked around and they shared a few snowboarding tips. One of those guys was Jake Burton. He was so down to earth, so cool, that you would never know he ran an empire. He passed away this November after losing his battle to cancer.

Marion Hughes was a dear friend who I also met on a ski trip. We were close friends for more than a decade until cancer took her in November as well.

I dedicated my last run yesterday – which was flawless (trust me that’s rare with my skill set 😂) to Marion and Jake.

May today be filled with love and peace. If you are missing someone today, may their memory be a blessing. And as we approach 2020, consider this as your motto (always heard it as a little girl on the Caribbean radio station in NY):

“Live every day as if it was your last…because someday it will be”

Don’t wait. Seize the day. Make your dreams happen. And get ready for a whole lotta abundance!!!!

Happy holidays y’all!!

A toast with a local Vermont cider 💕💕

Cancer Steals Another…

Marion & I in Breckenridge, CO 2008

The evil disease cancer took another woman dear to my heart.

My beloved friend Marion Hughes passed away on 11.1.19. Today would have been her birthday.

We met in 2008 on the NBS Summit in Breckenridge, Colorado. We were introduced to each other at Denver Airport, and by the time the two hour bus ride to our destination was complete, we were besties.

That day, I got altitude sickness. As a nurse, she immediately sprung into action. From then on, she always reminded me to do the best for my health.

She loved tennis, skiing, golf and retail therapy (aka shopping). Most of all, she loved leopard print. When I first saw one of her fab leopard print pieces, I complimented her on it. Her response, in her crisp British accent “nuff respect for the leopard darling”.

Our ski/snowboard group – Marion always had an amazing flair…

Her favorite thing to me over the years was “listen to your Auntie Marion. X is not a good idea”. She always made me laugh. We had a tradition of having lunch at Neiman Marcus in Bal Harbour – it was a good midway spot between our homes. We shared so many giggles and memories.

As she was fighting her battle with cancer, we sat at University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center reminiscing.

I told her “you have to recover. Leopard is in this season. It’s your season!”

She replied “sweetie, leopard never went out of style. Quality never does”.

She didn’t want to tell me about her diagnosis because she knew how tough it was losing my mom to the same disease. Much like my mom, she downplayed the severity until she could not anymore. Even still, she was feisty —  we laughed to the end. And much like my mom, seeing me get married and be in a healthy, happy relationship made her so proud.

It’s always interesting to hear the untold stories at a funeral. Her family and close childhood friend from the UK shared how as a teen, she applied to work at a large grocery chain in her area. All was well until she arrived for her interview – suddenly no jobs were available. She was denied due to her race. In a concerted effort between her friends, community and family, she shamed the store and eventually was able to work there. I never knew the effect she had on race relations in her area. But that was Marion – never one to brag. She just did what had to be done and soldiered on.

A final toast to Marion by her friends – wearing leopard print in her honor

Losing her is a reminder for all of us not to put things off. We wanted to take another ski trip together, but never got the chance. And PSA – get your affairs in order. This includes both a living will, and a traditional will for your belongings.

My friend, my confidante, my adviser, my ever fabulous “Auntie” Marion. Thank you for blessing me with your presence in my life. I love you and will miss you eternally.

November 2018

RLD on DV: Raise Awareness & Support Survivors

Greetings RLD Fam!

It’s been six years that I have had my blog. For most of those years, I have done “The RLD on DV” series during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Having prosecuted domestic violence homicides for 4 years, and being a survivor, this issue will always be close to my heart.  This year, I’ve done a lot more attending events than writing – so allow me to share what the 2019 journey has looked like.

At the Pain to Purpose Ball with (L-R) Judicial Candidate Olanike Adebayo, Miami-Dade School and Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross- Mindingall

I began the month with the Pain 2 Purpose Survivors Ball where we honored survivors of domestic violence and mourned those who were lost.  Pain 2 Purpose is an organization founded by Shanda Roberts, herself a survivor of domestic violence, to empower survivors and educate the public.  Four brave survivors stood up, and shared their stories of violence, pain, but eventual triumph.  The story that resonated most with me was that of Shaqueenia Hanna.  She took us through the relationship with her child’s father — how his possessiveness and jealousy led him to shoot her thirteen times outside of her home. Shaqueenia shared a powerful slideshow presentation, which included pictures from the hospital interspersed with pictures posted on social media requesting prayers for her healing. There was an extremely moving video of her finally able to get out of bed and painfully, slowly, walk for the first time after the shooting. Her path to healing continues. In addition to internal injuries, she is now blind in one eye. Her ex is in custody awaiting trial. He faces a 25 year minimum mandatory – life for the use of a firearm causing great bodily injury.

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Next, I joined Tamron Hall, celebrities and regular folks across the country with the #PutTheNailInIt campaign by polishing the nail on my ring finger purple. The goal is to raise awareness about domestic violence, and to support Safe Horizon. Safe Horizon is the nation’s leading victim assistance organization; its mission is to provide support, prevent violence, and promote justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities. As I was telling my manicurist about the campaign, the lady next to me in the salon took interest in joining the campaign. We began to chat – and she revealed that she survived domestic violence. 

The odds of having two survivors sitting next to each other at a salon? Higher than you think. Every 9 seconds, a woman is abused by her spouse. 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner abuse.  10 million children witness adult domestic violence at home. They are more likely to grow up to be abusers, or be abused. It’s a vicious cycle. In the criminal justice system, we need to address these traumas to prevent more tragedies from occurring. 

Lastly, I had the privilege of being on the Law & Crime Network to provide commentary on the Markeith Loyd case. He was charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend, and a female police officer in Orlando. The case drew international attention due to Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s anti-death penalty stance. His testimony during the trial in his defense revealed a man deeply disturbed with clear mental health issues in excess of the traits of a batterer. He was found guilty; the jury chose to send him to prison for life rather than impose the death penalty.  See my thoughts below.

I hope you will join me in fighting domestic violence all year round – take the time to engage others in this fight through education, and sharing resources as well as encouragement to folks suffering in this horrible cycle.

 

 

Be Free or Die: Voting Rights & African American Suffragettes

Harriett
Photo Credit: Focus Pictures

This year, we celebrate 100 years of suffrage in America. On June 4, 1919, women received the right to vote via the 19th Amendment.

This month, we also celebrated the 170th anniversary of Harriett Tubman liberating herself from the chains of slavery – which enabled her to bravely return multiple times to the South to free so many others. Her story will be brought to the big screen this November, bringing historic context of the fight for liberation and equality to the masses. 

As we celebrate, we also must recognize that the freedom given by the 19th Amendment was not for all women — African American women were left out of the equation. While this has been a long road, we are not yet at the finish line. Women still face barriers to voting — and it is even felt more acutely in communities of color. 

Let’s look back in history through the eyes of African American suffragettes, and their unique role. Many of you have heard the names of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; there are lesser known names that have had a major impact on voting rights. 

 

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1800’s)

Frances.png
Photo Credit: WOSU Public Media

I say then that justice is not fulfilled so long as woman is unequal before the law (1866)

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a dedicated activist, poet, public speaker and author who fought for suffrage, the abolition of slavery and civil rights. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she discovered her love for the written word early. By the age of 21, she had written her first book of poems that was later published. She ultimately published seven books of poetry, the first four of which sold 50,000 copies. After witnessing the injustice that resulted from a Maryland law prohibiting free African Americans in the North from entering the state, she dedicated her life to the anti-slavery cause. She traveled the country lecturing and writing, raising awareness of the curse upon our nation. 

She had a high profile split with suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In 1869, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton left the American Equal Rights Association because it was supporting the Fifteenth Amendment, which would allow black male suffrage before white women won the vote. 

In December 1865 Stanton stated that white women had been staunch supporters of securing “freedom for the Negro.”  However, in light of emancipation, the Negro is no longer “lowest in the scale of being,” and “it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see ‘Sambo’ walk into the kingdom first.”

In 1869, the year of the split, 52 African Americans were lynched — which led Frances to the conclusion that political rights for African Americans was most urgent, followed by the rights of women. 

In 1866, Frances noted “I do not believe that white women are dew-drops just exhaled from the skies. I think that like men they may be divided into three classes, the good, the bad, and the indifferent.”

Despite the indifference and racism that Frances endured, she continued to advocate for the right to vote for all. 

 

Ida B. Wells (1900’s)

Ida
Photo Credit: Natalie Wade/14East

“The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”

Born in Mississippi, Ida B. Wells is known as an anti-lynching activist, and a trailblazing journalist. She became frustrated at the ineffectiveness of the court system as a vehicle for ending injustice, and turned to journalism to fight racism and sexism. She founded  the Alpha Suffrage Club in her home town at the time — Chicago — in January 1913. Through her work with the Alpha Club she realized that African-American women did not necessarily have the education to participate in politics and the electoral process. Ever the agent of change, she reached out to other clubs for black women at the local, state, and national level in order to encourage more women of color to become involved in politics.

In March 1913, Ida traveled to the first suffrage parade in Washington D.C., an event organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. On the day of the parade, Wells and sixty other Black women arrived to march with the Illinois delegation, but were immediately told to march in the back, so that the Southern delegates would not become upset. Ida refused, arguing: “Either I go with you or not at all. I am not taking this stand because I personally wish for recognition. I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.” She marched along her own Illinois delegation, supported by her white co-suffragists Belle Squires and Virginia Brooks. This event received massive newspaper coverage, shedding light on the truth of African-American participation in politics.

Ida would be defined today as a community activist/organizer. Her community work, especially with the Alpha Suffrage Club, helped the women’s suffrage movement reach its success. Her work helped pass the Presidential and Municipal Bill in Illinois in June 1913, giving women over age 21 partial suffrage (the right to vote in presidential and municipal, but not state, elections). She helped register women voters and constantly encouraged women who remained doubtful of their place in the electoral process. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted in 1920, Ida  traveled throughout Chicago and Illinois emboldening African-American women to vote and participate in politics.

 

Crystal Mason (today)

Crystal
Photo Credit: Ed Pilkington/The Guardian

In 2016, Crystal Mason, who was on supervised release felony tax fraud, did what millions of people across the country did — she voted. However, she did not realize that she was not eligible to vote. When she arrived at her voting place back in November 2016, since she was not on the voter roll, Crystal received a provisional ballot. But by casting that provisional ballot, she broke a Texas state law that says residents are prohibited from voting until their sentence is complete. By definition, a sentence includes probation, parole and, in Crystal’s case, supervision. In multiple interviews, she has maintained that it was an honest mistake, and that she wasn’t even aware of the law in the first place. Additionally, since she voted using a provisional ballot, her vote was not counted in the final tally. 

In March 2019, Mason was first sentenced to five years in prison for breaking the voting law, but was released on a $20,000 bond. She had requested a new trial on the grounds the court did not consider the evidence that she did not know she was  ineligible to vote. Her request for retrial was denied in June.  Her attorney was quoted as saying “She was never told she couldn’t vote. Not by a district judge. Not by anyone at the half-way house where she lived after she got out. Not by the probation officer.” The ACLU and other civil rights groups are fighting for her freedom through the appeals process. 

Crystal’s case is symptomatic of one of the current barriers to voting– being convicted of a felony. Until Amendment 4 passed in Florida in 2018, we were one of 4 states that permanently disenfranchises people with felony convictions. By contrast, Maine and Vermont allow people to vote while incarcerated. Now that Senate Bill 7066 has passed, having a felony conviction does not prohibit voting — but having a felony conviction and being poor does. If you finish your sentence, you are not able to vote until you have paid all of your fines and fees. If you are unable to work due to having a felony conviction — because most employers will not hire you — how will you be able to vote? Additionally, only recently are we viewing sex trafficking victims as victims — what about those who have felony convictions as a result? What about the victims of domestic violence who lash out at their abusers, but end up incarcerated instead? Environmental factors, such as abuse and sexual assault derail the lives of so many and funnel them into the criminal justice system.  The ability to vote is critical to reintegration into society. Caring about your community and having a say in your government is directly linked to a reduction in recidivism — which results in safer communities for everyone. In one study, among individuals who had been arrested previously, 27 percent of non-voters were rearrested, compared with 12 percent of voters. When the system imposes barriers to fully re-entering society — of which voting is a key component — we are not truly at equity. 

Another issue is that of the reduction of early voting hours which affects women who are working.  Truthfully, Election Day should be a holiday so that everyone’s voice can be heard. But in the absence of this, reducing early voting hours disproportionately affects people who cannot take off work for multiple hours to wait in line to vote. The voters that are disproportionately impacted are working women of color. 

In closing, I ask that you do not look upon these issues with indifference — stand with us and continue the fight for equality. In the words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper:

We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.

 

 

Cyntoia Brown is Home. Now What?

Greetings RLD Family,

Lacy Atkins (The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

Cyntoia Brown, who garnered the support of many celebrities as well as grassroots activists, is now back home. She was serving a life sentence for a murder she committed in self-defense as a teen. Cyntoia was a victim of sex trafficking, but was not treated as such by the criminal legal system. But once the fanfare dies down, where is the support to help her and other folks coming home from prison? This type of re-entry support is critical to help prevent recidivism (returning to jail for new crimes).

See my thoughts on the issue in theRoot.com. I was also interviewed by Buzzfeed – see the video here.

Share your thoughts in the comments!