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Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

The accomplishments of AAUW women never cease to amaze me, and Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee is no exception. Ferebee, a physician, health care advocate, and AAUW board member, tirelessly worked to ensure access to health care for underserved communities.

Dorothy Ferebee

Ferebee, a child of former slaves, was born in 1898 in Norfolk, Virginia. She graduated from Simmons College in 1924 and subsequently earned her medical degree from Tufts University. Although she graduated in the top five of her class, she met with discrimination when she applied for positions at “white” hospitals. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to black female physicians in Massachusetts, Ferebee moved to Washington, D.C. She became an obstetrician serving the African American community at Freedman’s Hospital, which is now Howard University Hospital.

Ferebee left her mark on Washington in many ways. In 1925, concerned about the lack of access to public health and family services in the black community, she established Southeast Neighborhood House. This group of physicians provided medical care and other community services, including a day care facility to meet the needs of working mothers. By this act alone, Ferebee was clearly ahead of her time; remember, this was 1925.

During the Great Depression, Ferebee volunteered her time as medical director of the Mississippi Health Project, a program sponsored by the first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Black physicians provided medical care to the residents of Mississippi, a state with notoriously limited access to doctors and hospitals for its black residents.

Within AAUW, Ferebee was a member of the AAUW Washington (DC) Branch. She also served as chair of the Social and Economic Issues Committee. Importantly, in 1969, she was nominated to become implementation chair for AAUW’s Human Use of Urban Space study. She was an especially fitting pick for the job since this fledgling program was created to come up with solutions to community problems left in the wake of urban renewal. No doubt public health concerns and a lack of access to basic medical services were challenges that AAUW leaders felt confident Ferebee could handle.

In addition to her AAUW service, Ferebee succeeded Mary McLeod Bethune as president of the National Council of Negro Women, was president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and served as vice president of the Girl Scouts. But to be honest, the complete list of her accomplishments and contributions is too lengthy to mention in its entirety.

In a quote from Ferebee’s obituary in the Washington Star dated September 17, 1980, the writer accurately said that Ferebee “was the sort of person who enlarges other people’s ideas of what can be done by those enterprising enough to want to.”

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KatyMiller_For_WebsiteCourageous. Inspirational. Groundbreaking. These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about Katie Miller, one of our 2013 NCCWSL Women of Distinction. Miller’s story is truly inspiring and gives me the courage to lead no matter what barriers stand in the way.

Ranked eighth in her class of more than 1,000 cadets, Miller was a model student at the U.S. Military Academy. But under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibited gay men and women from serving the country openly and freely, Miller felt she was living untruthfully. She could not keep quiet and had to speak out. The truth came out in 2010, when she announced her resignation from West Point — and her sexuality — on live television.

Reading Miller’s story is eye-opening. Being gay in the military then was a controversial issue and continues to be even after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”; but Miller saw no other way to live than to be honest. She showed her bravery by looking past the criticism — and, at the time, the apparent end of her promising military career — and coming out.

Following her resignation and announcement, Miller joined the founding board of OutServe, a then-underground network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members. She then advocated for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

A recent graduate from Yale University, Miller continues to thrive as an advocate for LGBT service members. Now the policy and government affairs chair for OutServe-SLDN (OutServe merged in 2012 with the Service Members Legal Defense Network), Miller has become the youngest board member of a major LGBT organization. She also recently joined the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress as their special assistant and plans on returning to the military soon.

All that Miller has done inspires me to go against the grain: Speak out, stand up, and make a difference. She has led gallantly and candidly and encourages me to lead with the same vision. Whether your passion lies within the LGBT community or elsewhere, Miller’s leadership can truly motivate anyone to take a stand and make a new way for tomorrow.

I look forward to hearing the words of strength and leadership that Miller will deliver at NCCWSL 2013! Will you be there?

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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Obama Inauguration speech 2013We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still. Just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall. Just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.                        

—    President Barack Obama, January 21, 2013

The chills I felt while hearing these words during President Obama’s inaugural address had nothing to do with the Washington, D.C., weather and everything to do with hope and pride in being an American. I went to the Mall with my parents and my 7-year-old daughter, and we waited for hours in the cold to see the president. But it was completely worth it.

It was worth it to hear the president unite the civil rights struggles of the last century into one sweeping idea — that we are fighting for the rights of every person to be treated and valued equally. It was worth it to hear him say that being born a woman or African American or gay makes you no less equal in the eyes of others and no less deserving of the full protection of our laws. It was worth it to hear him say that women should receive equal pay for equal work, something I’ve dedicated my own life to fighting for. It was worth it to hear the word “gay” said aloud for the first time in an inaugural address — a small word but a big step forward. It was worth the cold and the wait and the crowds to hear these words.

I attended the inauguration with my parents, who lived through the Jim Crow era and remember the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment, and my daughter, who doesn’t remember life before the United States had an African American president. To see the impact of history on my own family — is it any wonder I got the chills?

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Piggy Bank with back to school messageIn this installment of our ongoing Budget 101 blog series, we’re exploring what was in the “fiscal cliff” package passed by Congress over the New Year’s holiday. Late last night, the House of Representatives passed the Senate bill to pull us back from the fiscal cliff — the combination of tax and spending changes that were set to go into effect today and could have sent the U.S. economy back into a recession. But the deal, which President Obama is expected to sign, dealt only with the tax changes and merely delayed the spending cuts known as sequestration.

AAUW commends lawmakers from both parties for coming together to reach a true compromise (look up how your senators and representative voted). Like any compromise, the deal is far from perfect, but it includes several AAUW-supported provisions that will help women and their families, such as

  • Returning to the Clinton-era tax rates for high-income earners while continuing the current rates for individuals earning less than $400,000 and families earning less than $450,000
  • Extending the American Opportunity Tax Credit, an AAUW-supported $2,500 tax credit to help college students and their families pay for tuition and related expenses
  • Ending the payroll tax holiday and returning to the previous rate of withholding, therefore protecting Social Security’s long-term solvency
  • Extending federal unemployment insurance for another year, benefiting those unemployed for longer than 26 weeks
  • Delaying the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts for two months, giving Congress more time to find a way to protect key programs like K–12 funding, Pell Grants, and family planning from sequestration

Although the automatic spending cuts have been delayed, they are still dangerous. In the next two months, Congress will need to find a solution to avoid deep cuts to important investments such as education, funding for civil rights enforcement, women’s health programs, and workforce training programs.

obama fiscal cliffThe 113th Congress, which begins on January 3, is in for a bumpy next few months. The sequestration delay is projected to end at roughly the same time the United States hits its newly set debt limit (early March), setting the scene for a pitched political fight. This will likely be followed by another battle when the current appropriations bill that is funding the government expires in late March.

AAUW is a nonpartisan organization, but we’re also multi-partisan, representing a variety of political affiliations and viewpoints. Despite our differences, AAUW members come together to get things done and serve our communities. Congress should do the same. AAUW members will continue to press Congress to support budget policies that further the principles of fairness and fiscal responsibility and protect women and their families.

Make your voice heard! Sign up for AAUW’s Action Network and speak up for women and families.

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Piggy Bank with back to school messageWelcome back to the Budget 101 blog series, where we explore the federal budget and how it affects Americans’ lives. In this installment, we’ll look into the possible cuts to important domestic programs that would occur if we go over the “fiscal cliff.”

AAUW believes that any agreement made in Washington must take a balanced approach and not include further cuts to critical nondefense discretionary (NDD) programs that expand educational and workforce training opportunities, defend civil rights, protect women’s health, and promote gender diversity. NDD programs have already been cut to reduce the deficit, and AAUW strongly believes future cuts should come from other budget areas, such as Pentagon spending. An analysis by a nonpartisan organization found that there is no room to make additional NDD cuts “without threatening the government’s ability to provide crucial benefits and services and perform core public functions.”

If we go over the fiscal cliff and the dramatic cuts known as “sequestration” happen, women and girls will feel the impact. For example

  • K–12 funding would be reduced, meaning fewer teachers, larger class sizes, and reduced resources for school mental health counseling, anti-bullying programs, and other safety programs.
  • Higher education programs would be cut, affecting Pell Grants and student aid opportunities and limiting students’ ability to access postsecondary education. Although Pell Grants are exempt from the first round of sequestration and would therefore not face automatic cuts, the program actually needs additional funding just to continue serving current participants.
  • Women seeking workforce training would be hurt. Department of Labor programs fund the Women’s Bureau, One-Stop Career Centers, and other efforts that provide grants to help unemployed workers retrain for their industry or enter nontraditional fields. Cutting these programs means workers won’t get that training, and our economy will continue to suffer.
  • Women and girls’ civil rights protections would be in danger. The sequester would automatically cut funding for federal civil rights agencies, reducing their ability to enforce the law. An across-the-board cut would mean that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would have fewer resources to enforce fair pay protections and that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights would have less agency to enforce Title IX’s protections against gender-based discrimination.
  • Critical civil rights data would be lost. For example, AAUW relies on the American Community Survey and other surveys for our research on the gender pay gap; women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and other issues that hinder gender equity and civil rights in our society. Policy makers need this information to make informed decisions.
  • Women’s health would be endangered, as funding cuts would reduce the number of women able to access the Title X Family Planning Program. This program, which was signed into law by President Nixon, provides reproductive health services to low-income women. Cutting it would make it difficult for those women to access necessary medical care.
  • Programs that promote gender diversity in STEM would be threatened. Despite substantial progress since the enactment of Title IX in 1972, women remain underrepresented in STEM careers. Cutting programs that encourage girls’ engagement would likely lead to further stagnation or even declines.

AAUW is a nonpartisan organization, but we’re also multi-partisan, representing a variety of political affiliations and viewpoints. Despite our differences, AAUW members come together to get things done and serve our communities. Congress should do the same. Decisions about our nation’s budget and deficit will only get harder if a solution is deferred. Take action and tell your representative and senators to protect these important programs!

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Image courtesy of f_shields,used via Flickr Creative CommonsOn Thursday, a federal court blocked a Texas voter-identification law that the three-judge panel said would unnecessarily burden poor, minority citizens from exercising their right to vote. The court cited the fact that many Texans would have to travel up to 250 miles round-trip to get a free “election-ID certificate” and that the $22 cost to obtain an ID without a birth certificate was too much of a burden. The judges said, “A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote. … Simply put, many Hispanics and African Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by [the voter-ID law], likely be unable to vote in the next election.”

The Texas law is one of a handful of such voter-ID laws that have been passed or proposed throughout the country in the last two years. But the upcoming presidential election will mark the first time that many of these measures will be exercised, which means lots more voters will face the new rules for the first time.

Voter-ID laws are written and passed on the premise that voter fraud is a widespread problem. But it isn’t. A recent study showed that you’re more likely to get hit by lightning than to commit voter fraud. Even after a five-year U.S. Justice Department survey and the slew of new laws, “the number of prosecutions [for voter fraud] have been practically nonexistent,” says Elisabeth Genn, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program.

These laws don’t demonstrably protect against fraud and certainly don’t provide the legal basis for significant prosecution of fraudulent voters, yet the laws have the potential to disenfranchise many voters this November. An Associated Press study found that in Indiana and Georgia — which have some of the most stringent voter-ID laws — more than 1,200 legitimate votes weren’t counted in the 2008 presidential election, and hundreds more ballots were blocked in this year’s primaries in those states and Tennessee.

And though having ID might seem like a simple requirement, 11 percent of voting-age Americans don’t have ID. That’s 21 million people. The numbers are scarier for the elderly and women: 18 percent of people over the age of 65 don’t have a current ID, and only 66 percent of women voters have proof of citizenship that reflects their current name. The vast majority of women change their names if they get married, and most voter-ID rules require that your registration name match your photo ID name exactly. Genn says that while some women do have access to the entire chain of documents that connects their current name with birth name — including birth certificates and marriage licenses — that’s not always the case.

Texas might not join the states where these laws are implemented because of a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 of that law mandates that states with a history of discrimination at the polls have to clear voting changes with the Justice Department before putting them into practice. The recent lawsuit was the result of the Justice Department blocking the law in this “preclearance” phase. A few other such laws have been stalled because of the rule, which along with state laws and state constitutions is on the front line of fighting these laws. And AAUW has been doing just that for decades.

Genn says that women should be especially concerned about these laws in our current political climate. “This has been a difficult several months for women. Women have seen their rights be at risk in certain ways,” she says. “There’s a connection to be made for women’s right to make their voices heard. We should be particularly wary to make sure any population can participate equally at a time when that group is facing particular or unprecedented challenges.”

Check out the Fall issue of Outlook for more on the laws that AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz calls a “21st-century poll tax” and why they basically amount to old-fashioned voter suppression.

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AAUW Outlook magazine is on its way to your mailboxes now, and the Spring/Summer issue focuses on Title IX in celebration of the landmark law’s 40th anniversary. Read about how the law has revolutionized sports, hear from Bernice Sandler and Gwendolyn Mink about what it was like to get Title IX passed, and check out our exclusive interview with Russlynn Ali, whose job it is to enforce the civil rights law’s many implications — including sexual harassment and opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — at the U.S. Department of Education.

If you’re an AAUW member, you can log in to read the full issue online now! But anyone can check out this issue’s free feature, which explores how and why women are still fighting the same birth control battles from the 1970s.

Read this issue of Outlook to gain a deeper appreciation for one of the most important and influential women’s rights laws that has ever been implemented. Get inspired to celebrate Title IX’s birthday on June 23, and take action in your communities to make sure the law lives up to its full potential for students and academics in the next 40 years.

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