Black Feels This Is … Criminal
Although I am known for speaking my mind, I have never been one to publicize my passion projects. I get involved because I believe in what I am doing – not because I want others to know of my involvement. Decades ago, it was Make-A-Wish, but once we started Red & Black and detoured into the worlds of education and criminal justice, I added new projects. And “soapboxes”.
And, I saw how education and criminal justice were intertwined. Which is what compelled me to write a letter when the Texas Legislature held a hearing about a house bill related to programming within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and invitedpublic comment. It was the first time I ever went “on the record” (comments are in the public domain), but I feel very strongly about the topic, and specifically the lack of women’s educational programming.
When I sent a copy of my letter to Red, the self-proclaimed mere mortal, she was adamant (not a typical trait for her) that my words needed a wider audience than the legislators and people who follow legislative bills …
Mandy S. Williams
HB 3227 (86R) Comments
Women’s Programming In TDCJ
As a retired oil and gas executive, my background and expertise are in neither education nor criminal justice, so I am not sure how I got here, but we all know that life rarely goes as planned.
BACKGROUND … IT STARTED AT NEIMAN MARCUS?
I spent my entire life trying to stay out of prison, so imagine my surprise when a book I co-authored with my sister, intended as the basis of a sitcom and launched by Neiman Marcus, detoured into the world of education at KIPP Houston High School (resulting in it being approved as a Personal Financial Literacy textbook by the Texas State Board of Education) and then was embraced by the Chaplaincy Department of TDCJ.
The initial “Red & Black Personal Finance & Life 101” program at TDCJ was championed by Dr. Leticia Watkins, chaplain at the Stringfellow Unit. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback (both qualitative and quantitate, and available upon request) from the men, TDCJ allowed a film crew to interview the pilot group (the powerful video is available at http://youtu.be/426TrZ_N_sA), and the program was expanded within TDCJ.
The first women’s program occurred at Plane State Jail as part of their prostitution and human trafficking initiative. Even before the program was started, demand for the program exceeded the initial book supply, and additional books were requested. (Please note: our programs within TDCJ have been fully funded by my friends and business associates as once we saw the impact of the program, it became a passion project for me.) Again, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive (and available upon request), but what resonated with me was the dramatic impact educational programs have on the women’s self-esteem. And, the one quote that still haunts me is, when asked, “What, if anything, did you learn that you plan to share with your family and/or friends?” one woman replied,
That I am of value.
MY SISTER’S PERSPECTIVE … CLUELESS & STEREOTYPICAL
My sister, a straight-A student who went to Wake Forest University on an academic scholarship, was totally clueless about money (and, I would say, about life) when her husband was suddenly fired. The fact she was well-educated did not mean she was prepared for life, and as I started to guide her through her “crisis” (her word, not mine), I realized it was probably the best thing that ever happened to her as it forced her to learn life lessons she had managed to avoid. Today, she agrees, but adds, “The most important thing is that if I hadn’t learned these critical life lessons, I never would’ve been able to teach them to my daughters.”Take a moment to stop and think about that. And the ripple effect of knowledge.
In terms of people who are incarcerated, my sister believed in what are probably typical stereotypes – they are bad people who committed crimes. After reading the feedback from the men, and watching the video, they became people who had made bad decisions. A very different mindset. And, after meeting the women at Plane State Jail, she could relate to them as women who would do anything for their children, and wanted to learn what she had – to take control of her life versus having her life control her.
DO NOT GET ME ON MY EDUCATION SOAPBOX
Many program participants are questioning why these lessons were not taught in schools, and many indicated if they had, they might not have ended up incarcerated. They are also asking where people in the free world can take this program. I am amazed how many men and women are sharing the stories and “lessons” in the book with their families on the “outside”.However, the bottom line is … you should not have to go to prison to learn these lessons. But, the fact remains … participants in the program are trying to change the trajectory of their lives, as well as their family members.
If the education has failed them, that is not their fault. If we fail to offer programming to help them, that will be our fault.
Connected By More Than Chinese Food. Connected By Humanity & Respect.
May is Asian American Pacific Island Month (which prompted our conversation below about Jews and Chinese food), but we should treat all our fellow Americans with respect and kindness every day.
|Have you ever wondered why Jews love Chinese food so much?|
|No, but what prompted that? Did you take in Chinese food this weekend? Or, did President Biden signing the anti-Asian hate crimes bill make you think about how Jews can relate given all the antisemitism in the world?|
|Only you would connect those dots. I was straightening up papers in the kitchen and noticed how Chinese takeout menus look the same as they did when we were kids, and how we've laughed over the decades about how much Jews love Chinese food. But now you've reminded me about how we've recently talked about the recent increase in hate crimes against the Asian community . I simply don't understand how people can hate an entire group of people based on race or religion.|
|You are the history lover. It is not a new phenomenon. And, the reasons have not changed – Ignorance, prejudice, feelings of supremacy; the list has many "reasons". What I find scary is that people form stronger bonds with others based on what they hate than they do on what they love. But, there is no question that the Asian community and Jews have experienced hate for a long time.|
|I know, but in America of all places, that just shouldn't happen. Ever. We're a country built on immigrants, and the contributions of Asian Americans and American Jews have been so significant. From scientists to doctors, artists to activists, the list goes on and on.|
|The lists of contributions can be sliced and diced in so many different ways – gender, race, religion, nationalities. There are not enough months in the years to celebrate them all. However, some groups tend to be forgotten or overlooked, which is why President Carter signed the first proclamation celebrating Asian/Pacific Americans , which eventually led to May becoming Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. But now, with hate crimes increasing against them, celebrating by learning about their cultures is even more critical.|
|Well, I admit that I personally didn't know any Asians before I lived in Hong Kong, and then Shanghai, several years after getting married. Until then, all I knew was that I loved Chinese food. I know that might sound condescending, but that's not how I mean it.|
|No, it sounds like you just did not have any personal experience except for enjoying the food. And, except for dating Raman Sehgal, who was from India, when I was a graduate student at NYU, my experience before moving to Houston was basically the same as yours.|
|Sorry, but I can't keep track of everyone you've dated. Anyway, I learned so much about the people and their culture when living in Asia. It made me realize just what a young country America is and how many countries have so many more centuries of history than we do. And there I was the outsider, and although I might have been seen to be different, I was never disrespected in the way Asians are treated here.|
|A redhead in Asia. I bet you stood out like a sore thumb. Which is the problem they face here. Identifying Jews is a little more challenging, but that does not stop antisemitism. There was a very interesting article that interviewed Asian American Jewish leaders , asking them to share their experiences.|
|I never thought about being Asian and Jewish! But that explains the Chinese Kosher restaurant in Queens I used to go to when I was a teenager. I couldn't figure out why there was such a thing, but the food was so delicious I never gave it any more thought. Until now, when I realize Asian Jews must have run it.|
|I appreciate that food, and people, get "Americanized" over here, but what did you think about authentic Chinese food?|
|It's very different from American Chinese food, but both are delicious! They each have their own unique characteristics and flavors, and although very different, I appreciate them both, and there will always be a place for each in my culinary world!|
|Just as there should be a place for "different" people …|
Don’t Expect A Compliment From A Sarcastic Sister. An Important Message About … Sunscreen?!
I’ve always been a proud redhead, even though I used to wish that I could tan like those glamorous models in fashion magazines. Or maybe I just got tired of Black’s sarcastic comments about my white skin. Except for the one time when we played a rare round of golf together (see below), which ended up becoming one of my favorite memories! Although I do wish I had known back then about how important it is to protect our skin from the sun … So, now I invite everyone (regardless of hair color) to join us in not only observing Skin Cancer Awareness Month but also celebrating National Sunscreen Day.
I'll never forget the day. It was an "almost" ordinary day out on the golf course with my mom and dad during the heat of a Long Island summer. Now, if "Long Island" conjures up images of stately manors on the North Shore (think "Great Gatsby") or beachfront mansions in the Hamptons (think Robin Leach and his popular show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"), you can put those out of your head. I'm not talking about some fancy country club golf course, just a regular public course.
I loved the game ever since I learned to play as a teenager, and although I never got to play while at college (Wake Forest, which was renowned for its golf program, with its most famous alumni being Arnold Palmer), I'd try to get out as often as possible when I was home. I wasn't a phenomenal player but had a decent game and natural talent. And most of the time, I hit it pretty straight, so one of the things I enjoyed was walking down the middle of the fairway, pulling my clubs along (no fancy golf carts on this course), appreciating the day and the sport.
On one (very rare) occasion, my sister came back to New York to visit, as she moved out of state as soon as she graduated from business school. She also played golf, but unlike me, who relied on natural ability and played for fun, she worked extremely hard at her game, was overly competitive, and played "business golf". The result was that she was a far better player than me, although I was holding my own on that day.
As Black often says, the scorecard contains only numbers, no editorial. And it would ultimately show that she'd beat me, but as we were each walking up one of the last holes toward our respective balls, in the heat of a late summer afternoon, with the sun at our backs, I was secretly hoping that she'd be proud of me. So, after I hit my fairway shot onto the green, I heard her call out to me, and my hopes were high,
Hey, Red! I was watching you hit that shot, and well, I have been watching you all afternoon, and I have to say … you have the whitest legs I have ever seen, or are you wearing white pantyhose?
I wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry, or be angry. Or to just roll my eyes as it really was something only my sister would say. And to this day, I'm not even sure if she had even noticed how close I came to beating her and how well I played – "upping" my game driven by her much better game.
But I also know that I can never look down at my very pale legs without laughing just a little at how a lifetime ago (or so it seems), she was so right. Recently, when she treated me to my first pair of Birkenstocks, I stood in the store trying them on, and before she had a chance to say it I told her … Yes, I do look like I have on white hose.
P. S. – I feel it only fair (pun intended) to have a P.S. for a P.S.A. – Long ago, the harm of the summer sun wasn't as well known, but in the years since, we've learned how important sunblock is. Year-round. So, whether you're a redhead who never tans (I used to cycle between being extremely pale and burning red and back again) or someone who does tan, take care of your skin!
Mother’s Day is a celebration of moms – those with us and those in our hearts and memories. And that’s why we’re repeating last year’s post (that, and because Black was borderline warm and fuzzy) …
I appreciate that bullet points may not be the typical
approach to Mother’s Day, but it seems appropriate to me …
red head assets.rebelmouse.io
|This year I write about Mother’s Day with a heavy heart and still much raw emotion, as our mom passed in December. My pragmatic side (yes, that’s usually Black’s area although she did sound somewhat warm and fuzzy above) knows that she had been 94 and led a full life, but that really doesn’t make it any less sad or fill the emptiness. But I find myself, when I least expect it and triggered by the most unexpected things, finding comfort in wonderful memories. And although Black’s first bullet point hits too close to home for me, I’ll try my best to focus on the other bullets.|