Monday, May 12, 2008

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

Someone asked me recently where I felt the energy was on Shenandoah University campus... well there's a lot of energy to choose from, but notable this semester was Dr. Amy Sarch Schopick's Women's Studies classes. She's pulling in young men and women from all corners of the campus. Together Amy and her students are breaking taboos, enlightening the community and doing amazing interactive projects to empower and to heal.

One of the many creative projects was the "Break the Glass, Break the Silence" event where more than 40 people gathered to write messages against violence on pieces of glass and then threw them from a ladder, shattering below. The shards are being incorporated into mosaics.

These classes have had a stunning impact on the students and those around them. One student's mother told me her daughter took over the family Easter table in her eagerness to share all that she was learning.

"I had an awareness some sexual violence even against children was going on," said the mom, who is a retired elementary school teacher. "But this class has made it clear how deeply destructive the issues are."

A male student's writing further illustrates the impact. Here's what he sent to Amy at the end of the semester:

"When I first came into the class I could say I wasn't a feminist because I thought the whole thing was a joke just a class, but as I kept coming I started to see that I was....I had to change my mind on the whole feminist movement; I was rejecting it, not even trying to give it a chance, like girl I didn't like or something. But it started to grow on me, I started to see that it was more than just a word, people really had strong feelings about this stuff. ..."

He goes on to write about Betty Kilby Fisher, the character in the Wit, Will and Walls documentary who spoke to the class about her experiences with violence she experienced as a plaintiff to desegregate Warren County, VA schools in the 1950s.

"...the lady that came and told her story of how she was raped in school just broke me down and I wanted to snap. This lady seemed very sweet and nice and for someone to just take what's her without her giving it to them pissed me off. It felt like I knew her, like she was an aunt or grandmother of mine. That's when I really gained a new respect for the whole feminist movement. I feel like it's my duty to empower guys about feminism. It's been a many of day when I get out of class and go talk to my boys about what I learned in class... I feel I can help make a small change in my area where I live. So I'm proud to say I'm a feminist."

Photos Scott Mason, Winchester Star

Friday, May 09, 2008

Seeing Selma, Alabama

Took a slow train to Birmingham, Alabama and now making our way through Selma to Montgomery on a little tour of the Civil Rights South.

Selma is a German name meaning "divine protector" or "helmet of God" and it feels in this famously racially torn town there seems to be a surge of pride and realignment of priorities.

The historic St. James Hotel where we are staying is owned by black entrepreneur Nathaniel Goldston. He is revitalizing the entire block around the building. We met Chef Richard Graves out back this morning, watering his herb garden and he told us his cuisine is about health, freshness, goodness.

Just down the block at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, consultant Sam Walker presided.

Sam showed us the jaw dropping "I Was There Wall" where hundreds of notes are posted from foot soldiers and other participants in the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. One surprise was a note from a state trooper who had been called in as back-up from Mobile, Alabama on the day of the protest. He had no background on the march and took part in beating the protesters. He was so disturbed by his actions that one month later he resigned.

Segregationist icon Sheriff Jim Clark had less of a remarkable turn around. Sam told us he was tipped off several years back that Clark was at a local restaurant meeting with would-be writers of his biography. Sam took a busload of schoolchildren from New York over to meet with Clark. Clark refused to be interviewed and told the children that if "you had been there, I'd have whupped your asses too."