Friday, April 11, 2014

Privilege Diary #4

I went to the 2014 White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconson at the end of March with two of my co-workers. This week, my colleagues gathered to hear about our experiences. This is what I shared.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Privilege Diary #3

This post if for my fellow teachers.

I heard a song lyric today: ...there is no them, only us.

It is a line in U2's new song called Invisible. To me, this sentiment is at the heart of all bias issues.

Can you honestly say that you can see an Asian, Latino and African-American student in your class in the same manner? Do you think you can look at a third grader and see the potential doctor or lawyer within, regardless of their ethnicity, background, or skin color. Then read no further. But if you are being truly honest, you might confess that most people in the US would admit to a bias of seeing that potential doctor or lawyer in an Asian student much more easily than Latino or African-American students. Is this right? Of course, the answer is categorically no.

My compelling thought during my run today was that if we teach in a manner that doesn't facilitate an "us" and "them" mentality, the world would be a better place.

While I recognize that this is not a new WAS a thought that hit me profoundly today.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Privilege Diary Entry #2

All I have to say today is: how is this a headline?

That is akin to someone putting a headline next to my photo saying: Hartford Police Department says Suburban Housewife Jenni French is not a murderer. But you see, that would never happen.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Privilege Diary Entry #1

This is the beginning of a journey for me. With this blog post, I mark the beginning of my diary about white privilege, bias, racism and oppression. Yesterday, I came home from a week-long conference on this topic. Given my penchant toward communication, one of the ideas that arose from the conference was to document my thinking about privilege over the coming days. I don't intend to offer conclusions (yet), just transparent thinking and a chronicle/collection of experiences. And so I begin.

This was the sign I saw when I leaving the conference.

It is clearly appealing to the male provider mindset. Typically this mindset is coming from a white-framed mindset. Perhaps it should say, "Not bought your boyfriend here yet?"

Thursday, March 20, 2014

For Janie

Jane Turner French
(written on 3/21/13)

Nobody loved to tell a good story more than Janie, so I hope I do her justice. Stephen, Paul and Danny: this story is for you.

Jane was born in the Bronx to William and Edna Turner. She worshiped her father and revered her mother. She routinely quoted wisdom from her mom despite the fact that Edna passed decades ago. Her sister, Anne, was so important to her. Janie loved to brag with absolute confidence and a steely glint in her blue, blue eyes, and I quote: My big sister adores me. I mean absolutely adores me.

No story about Janie can start anywhere else but with Nelson. I used to tease Paul about his “Leave it to Beaver” upbringing, but the truth is that Jane and Nelson’s marriage makes Ward and June Cleaver’s example look paltry. Jane and Nelson’s love was one for the record books. Nelson cherished her and she him. They seldom went anywhere without the other. For them, life was more comfortable, complete, and happy in each others presence. Since Nelson’s passing in 2008, Jane was missing a vital piece of herself.

Since she was a little girl, Jane wanted to be a mom. She took being a good mom very seriously. She was so proud of Stephen, Danny and Paul; each for different reasons. She loved them ferociously. And what’s best, they know it to the very fiber of their being. They have never, and will never, have to question it for one second.

And if you think she loved her sons, you should have seen the outpouring for her grandchildren. She loved them in an unflagging, consummate way…with unwavering belief in each of their potential. Erin, Connor, Turner and Hayden were given the extraordinary gift of having a Nanny who not only delighted in their presence – literally, when they were around she would feast her eyes on them – but also she prayed for them every day. She prayed for every aspect of their lives and I can think of no greater gift that she could have given them.

While we are somewhat defined by our core relationships, I want to take a minute to attempt to describe the heart of Jane, the very core of her. The part of her that was God given – the mix of personality, interests and passions. Because, what you might not know is, she was exceptional.

Janie was a little bit shy, but once she knew you, well….you got the joy of seeing her exceptional intellect go to work. She was articulate, knowledgeable about so many things (fueled by voracious reading and nightly Jeopardy sessions), had a remarkable memory, and made lightening-quick connections to people, places and times gone by. She was funny, I mean really funny. Even in the ICU in her last weeks, her sense of humor was acute...dropping one-liners with a characteristic Janie eye-roll or wink. Sarcasm was often her humor of choice, and is a tool she passed to her three boys, and even some of her grandchildren.

If you know the Bible story of the sisters Mary and Martha, then you know that when Jesus came to visit, Martha busied herself with cooking and cleaning while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and just basked in his presence. Our Janie was definitely a Mary living in a very Martha world. If you came to visit her, she made you feel you were the most important person in the world…seriously, bombs could go off outside, and she would still be fixed on you. She was also staggeringly generous. Early on in my marriage to Paul I learned that I had to stop mentioning anything that I needed in her presence, as the next time I saw her it would be given to me. If she could solve your problem or meet your need, she would. Without hesitation.

The most important aspect of Jane’s life, without question, was her relationship with Jesus Christ. Jane’s faith was a simple one. And by simple, I don’t mean uninformed. She knew her Bible and she was extremely involved in her church and her church family. By simple, I mean uncomplicated. Her faith was rooted in the love embodied by Jesus Christ. The love of Christ was the rudder that directed her marriage, her parenting, her friendships, her work relationships. Jesus was her companion, her guiding light, and her savior. And while we have spent the last few days literally brimming with tears because we will miss her so, we rejoice in her faith. We rejoice in the hope that she and Nelson are reunited…I can hear Nelly saying, “Joan,” (that was his nickname for her), “what took you so long?” And we rejoice in the love of family and friends who share Jane’s faith in a loving God who has prepared a marvelous eternity for us all. We rejoice in the promise that Jesus has welcomed her into heaven saying, “Well done Janie, you good and faithful servant.”

Monday, January 20, 2014

Craziness is like heaven.

I am not the world's fastest runner. I am not the world's longest distance runner. I am, perhaps, the world's craziest runner.

By crazy, I don't mean the runner who gets up at 2 am to get in a run before work. I don't mean the runner who goes hog wild and runs hills with 17% grades just so she can talk about it at the next dinner party (though that does sound like a good challenge). I don't mean the runner who likes to run in unsafe places at unsafe times.

I mean that when I run, my mind just unlocks, free flows and I go a little crazy. In a good way.

To give you an example of what I mean, here is a random sample of the kind of questions I mulled over on today's five-mile run:
• Why are people deliberately unkind?
• Who came up with the name "Snuffleupagus"? (I think it is a brilliant children's character name)
• What constitutes family? Is it more than just a DNA connection? If so...what defines the family tie?
• What will my future daughters-in-law be like? And what are they doing now?
• In 2034, will be still have printed books or will everything be published on some sort of an e-reader by that point?
• Will Hayden (my 13-year-old), get to work in Silicon Valley (his current goal)?
• Why is there so much litter in my town? Haven't we (as a society) gotten past the point of littering? And if not, what does that say about us?
• If I wave at every single car that drives past me, I wonder how many will wave back? (I tested this at the end of my run and of the 13 that passed, 7 waved back.)

"You have to go on and be crazy. Craziness is like heaven." —Jimi Hendrix

Run on, my friends. Run on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

A final accounting of my Ragnar Relay Adirondacks experience.

I am forty-eight years old (as of yesterday, in fact) and just started running in March of 2011. I have done a few short races (5Ks and 5 milers) but the crowds and port-a-potties made me so anxious I couldn't even enjoy running. Despite the fact that I was starting to run longer distances and my pace was getting better and better during training runs, no one could entice me to race in a 10K or half marathon. Then 17 weeks ago, a friend asked me to run in the Ragnar Relay Adirondacks (RagnarADK), a 193-mile relay race that goes from Saratoga Springs to Lake Placid, New York. I was drawn to the fact that I could run with a team and the members of my team who had done the Ragnar in Cape Cod told me that the relay aspect would keep me out of large crowds. I said yes.

I trained for 15 weeks straight...many weeks doing multiple 10 mile runs within a week. In two of my three months of training, I ran more than 100 miles in a month. Truly, I am the least athletic person on the planet. (I have always excelled on the artistic side -- if you need a room decorated, a play directed, or a dance choreographed, I am your girl). I was training, running crazy hills, so much so that my Mom told me she was really proud of me (that doesn't happen as much when you are almost 50 as it did when you were 8!!!)

Plus, I married my training with fundraising to providing homes for the devastatingly poor Haitians who live on sugar cane work camps in the Dominican Republic (a cause I have been committed to for more than 20 years). I would post on Facebook using my Nike Plus iPhone app and I agreed to pay $1 for every “like” I got running during all of my Ragnar Training and racing. It works like this: each time I took off on a run, my Nike Plus app announced it on Facebook. Every time a friend I am connected to “liked” my run, I would hear raucous cheering in my ears. Many times, when I was really lagging on a run, I would hear those cheers and think of the dollars raised for my poor friends in the Dominican, and it would make me teary. I even thought that after a week of people “liking” my runs, people would get sick of it and forget. If anything, the opposite happened; the closer I got to race day, the more likes and cheers came in. In total, I raised $572! Then, three Facebook friends did the extraordinary…they sent me checks to add to what I had raised on my own, bringing my fundraising total up to $767 (a hurricane-proof house costs about $4000). Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks for the support, the cheers, the donations. Thanks for all of it.

I have told everyone who will listen to my RagnarADK stories that it was one of the top 20 experiences of my life. Being a non-athlete, I have never been on a team was transformative. I also did some of the best running I have ever done fueled by cowbells and cheers from my fellow runners in Van 2 of Team 224!!! I stepped out of my comfort zone when I said yes to the RagnarADK, and I am so, so glad I did. I learned that despite the fact that I am fast approaching 50, I still have the tenacity of my youth. I learned I love being a teammate. I learned that showing my kids that their mom isn't a quitter has power. And I learned that, like the 9th century Norse Viking after whom the Ragnar Relay is named, I am an adventure-seeking tough guy.

(And it's not to late to get involved! We don't leave for the Dominican for another month, so donations are still graciously accepted!)