On Friday, February 26, Google.org announced a grant of $1 million to Bryan Stevenson and the nonprofit he founded, Equal Justice Initiative. And I could not be happier to hear it. The grant, “to push America to confront its violent racial history,” will help fund online public education programs, as well as Stevenson’s efforts to create civil rights landmarks such as the nation’s first lynching memorial and memorial markers at lynching sites. Stevenson is an experienced and credible leader, as well as an inspiration. If you are not already familiar with his work, I strongly recommend reading his book Just Mercy (reviewed here by the New York Times), or taking a few moments to watch his TED talk.
I am just back from Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the great privilege of visiting Thistle Farms – a community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction, and established the most successful social enterprise of its kind anywhere in the world. Spending time with Becca Stevens, the organization’s founder and spiritual leader, and learning more about how the women harness the power of love to heal was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. Their accomplishments are far too many to share here, but I hope next time you want to buy a gift for someone you love you will shop for Thistle Farm products as well as those from their Shared Trade partners — small enterprises worldwide that are also protecting and economically empowering women. (Pictured right: Becca Stevens, Thistle graduate Anika and Isabel Allende)
Each year at this time, I like to share a few thoughts on giving. But these are tough times and this year, finding things to say about my brand of generosity (which is steady but incremental) was not easy. Nonetheless, I tried. My 2015 piece on giving is now available at the online blog Medium. I hope you will take three minutes to read it. Even more, I hope you will share it with those you know who might also need a kind of a pep talk to stay hopeful in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
You didn’t hear it here first, but it’s been a swell couple of days for envisioning a brighter future. First there was yesterday’s news from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition—a new global initiative aimed at spurring private investment in clean energy. And today, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan welcomed their daughter Max to the world by pledging 45 billion to “make the world a better place.” The cynics will say what cynics say. But after the darkness of the past two weeks, I’m going to ride this wave of hope and audacious generosity for all its worth.
Today, in The Atlantic, Michelle Obama outlines the case for addressing the global girls’ education crisis not just with resources like scholarships and supplies, but also by addressing “the broader cultural beliefs and practices that can help cause and perpetuate this crisis.” Obama promises to urge countries around the world to “both make new investments in girls’ education and challenge laws and practices that silence, demean, and brutalize women—from female genital mutilation and cutting, to forced child marriage, to laws that allow marital rape and disadvantage women in the workplace.” Time and again, it has been shown that when educated girls become healthy, financially secure, empowered women, they’re far better equipped to advocate for their needs and aspirations, and challenge unjust laws and harmful practices and beliefs. Thus, the virtuous cycle. I am grateful that another powerful female leader is committing herself to the cause.
As you know, although Hurricane Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, and trusted experts in Mexico predicted terrible damage and loss of life, the storm significantly weakened when it hit land and left much less damage than expected in its wake. American Jewish World Service is still reporting that there is significant damage from heavy rain and winds in the northern mountain region of Oaxaca and in other rural regions where vulnerable communities have a great deal of clean up to do in the aftermath of the storm. While the call for international aid is not as dire as it was a couple of days ago, help is still needed. If you’d like, you can help hurricane survivors and their families by donating to the AJWS Hurricane Patricia Emergency Relief Fund.
Thanks to Dave Pell for pointing out that “Timing is everything. That’s why you’ve undoubtedly already heard the story of Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen year-old who was taken from his Dallas high school in handcuffs after he showed up with a homemade clock. School officials and police (who opted not to file charges) contended that the clock could have been mistaken for a bomb. It turns out the only thing that exploded was the Internet. The story started to go viral last night, and by midday, the Potus had chimed in with a tweet of support and an invitation to the White House. This is a story of the power of social media; and it’s also evidence that when it comes to public attitudes towards something like the ridiculous arrest of a Muslim kid with a clock, times have changed.”
I hate mosquitoes and nasty chemical repellents so I can’t wait to try the Rose Geranium Insect Repellent from Thistle Farms. It’s organic, DEET-free, and made by women in Rwanda who have survived genocide. My friends at Thistle Farms swear by it and I adore them so it’s a must for me and I hope for you. Thistle Farms is a community of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution and addiction and their program and work are amazing. To learn about the repellent, watch this two-minute video. You can buy the Rose Geranium repellent for $14 a bottle or $26 for two by visiting Thistle Farms online here.
If you are looking for a last minute father’s day suggestion, consider a donation in honor of your dad to one of these organizations, whose missions feel especially important this weekend: Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society; Beyond Differences, dedicated to ending social isolation among students in middle school; Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by Gabby and Mark Giffords to seek commonsense protections from gun violence; the National Alliance on Mental Illness, dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
As an advisory board member of Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF) in Kathmandu, I trust them to know where the greatest needs are in Nepal right now. Already NYF is delivering mattresses and surgical supplies to hospitals, and has established a shelter for patients who are ready to be discharged from the hospital but have no place to go because their homes are destroyed, there is no transport, and their relatives can’t come for them. Looking ahead to the massive demand there will be for skilled construction workers, NYF is leveraging its experience in job training and construction projects to train 1,000 people in construction skills that incorporate seismic safety, mostly in villages where the majority of the destruction occurred. Using its 25 years of experience building schools and classrooms, NYF will be rebuilding 50 devastated schools. NYF is by no means the only group that has sprung into action to help in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake, but they are the one I most trust to address pressing needs in a cost-efficient and effective way. In addition to emergency relief through the Red Cross, please consider supporting long-term rebuilding efforts through NYF’s Earthquake Disaster Relief Program.