I don’t know H. Adam Ackley, the professor of theology at Christian Azusa Pacific University who was recently fired after coming out as transgender after teaching there for fifteen years, but having gone through my own difficult coming-out experience at Yeshiva University, I can imagine some of what Professor Ackley is going through.
Dr. H. Adam Ackley tells his students for the first time of his transgender identity. He had just written his name on the board. Credit: RNS/Annie Z. Yu.
Unlike Yeshiva University, Azusa doesn’t grant tenure. If I hadn’t received tenure before coming out, I am sure that like Professor Ackley, I would have been terminated, and for similar reasons. Some may think that religious universities are driven in this regard by fear of God, but there is no verse in the Bible in which God says, “Thou shalt not employ a transgender professor.” No, religious universities, like secular organizations that fire transgender employees, are acting out of fear of human beings: fear that students won’t register for classes with a transgender professor; fear of parents, who might send their children and tuition elsewhere; and fear, above all, of alienating alumni and other donors whose contributions keep the lights on and the doors open.
As I crossed the country on Friday, passing through three US airports, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, was on every TV I saw. She took the stand to testify that it was in fact her son crying out on the 911 call that came in moments before his death. After reading the news, I also learned that George Zimmerman’s mother testified that it was her son and not Trayvon crying for help.
I’m not sure we’ll ever know who was crying out on the recording. But I’m certain that Ms. Fulton and millions of other mothers in this country are crying out for something that our current justice system cannot give: the assurance that their black and brown boys will not be suspect before we bother to learn their name or their story.
Unfortunately for all of us, the most important cry in the Trayvon Martin case is one that will not be heard in the courtroom. The only reason this case has gone to trial is because Mr. Zimmerman is not an officer of the law. It is on record that he called in his concern about a young African-American walking through his neighborhood and was instructed not to pursue him. If Trayvon were my son, the legal question of whether Mr. Zimmerman later acted in self-defense would feel like a moot point. What I would want to scream is that he had no right to chase Trayvon down, and he knew it. Whatever the details of their struggle, the confrontation should have never happened.
Since April, a growing number of North Carolinians have gathered at our state’s General Assembly to collectively petition an extreme legislature whose daily decisions are attacking the general welfare. We have called these gatherings “Moral Mondays,” and an awakening of hope led by people of faith has been at the heart of them. Several weeks ago, our Moral Monday was led by hundreds of pastors, drawing attention from The New York Times. But pastors are not the only people whose faith is inspiring them to action. On this Monday in June, dozens of doctors, nurses, school teachers and environmental activists led the crowd of over 4,000 people. Holly Jordan, a Durham public school teacher, was among those arrested. This is the statement she made on the Halifax Mall before her arrest.
As a public school teacher in North Carolina – not an “outsider” that Governer McCrory alleges is at the helm of the Moral Monday protests, but an educator grounded in and devoted to the community of Durham – I am ardent to stand up for the future of my students. When I came out of college straight into teaching seven years ago, I believed that teaching English was going to be about, well, teaching English. I thought that my task was to impart in my students a love of, or at least a less fervent dislike for, Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Once upon a time in America, drunkenness was cute. We smiled at the loveable town drunk. In Mayberry, USA – the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show – Otis Campbell, the town drunk, would stumble into the jail, voluntarily enter a jail cell, and sleep off his inebriation. There was the period of the Rat Pack cool boozers where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and others had a Las Vegas good time with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. And then, there was George Carlin’s Hippy Dippy Weatherman who gave the impression that he had smoked just a little too much marijuana.
All the while in the real world, mothers were losing their children to automobile accidents caused by people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) started to change the culture. When Cindy Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver in May of 1980, she decided to channel her grief into activism, and she turned Cari’s bedroom into an office.
Others joined her and the organization is now one of the most successful charities and social change organizations in the country. The history of MADD shows the kind of persistence it takes not only to change laws but to change a culture. Through the years MADD has worked for stronger laws against drunk driving, to raise the legal drinking age to 21, and for a federal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard. It faced strong opposition from the liquor and hospitality lobbies. The organization was accused of wanting a return to Prohibition. Yet, while MADD continued to work on the legislative front, it also became a support network for families who had lost loved ones to drunk driving. Now, its mission has expanded to stop underage drinking. Its mission statement reads: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.” (http://www.madd.org/)
Ella Baker, community organizer and mother of SNCC
Ms. Juanita teaches three year-olds at the Head Start program downtown. She stays just a few doors down from us in Walltown, but I never see her in the morning. She catches a bus to work long before I come downstairs, put the kettle on for tea, and walk down to the sidewalk to get the newspaper. A room full of three year-olds is no walk in the park. (I know; mine usually wakes up before the tea is done.) But when Ms. Juanita sends the last kid home with her parents at the end of the day, she catches another bus to night school. She’s been keeping this schedule for over three years now.
Most nights after dinner is done and the dishes are washed-about the time we’re getting ready to start the bedtime routine with our kids-Ms. Juanita comes walking down from the bus stop. She’s tired, of course, which she’ll tell you. But she always has time to ask how our kids are doing, to tell a story from her day, to talk about the most recent neighborhood news. For the past couple of years, she and I have coached a 7-8 year-olds basketball team together. One night a week thru the winter, we head off for practice about this time in the evening. I’m always amazed that Ms. Juanita is still standing.
When we moved to Walltown ten years ago, we got to know Ms. Juanita’s kids. They’d come by our house in the afternoons and often stayed for dinner. They were middle school kids with sweet smiles. In their early twenties now, they both still live with mom. One is in school, the other has been in and out of jail for the past two years.
David Azerrad in a recent post at the Heritage Foundation’s site, “What the Left Misunderstands about Poverty and Dependency” offers a long list of right wing assumptions: that housing, food, and medical assistance prevent people from marrying and working, that government assistance “erodes the virtues that allow people to flourish,” and most astonishingly, that “all Americans – conservative and liberal alike – believe in a strong safety net.” I sent him an email with several questions (if he answers, I’ll provide that in an update). Here is the first:
When you mention, “the virtues that allow people to flourish,” which virtues do you mean and what would be “flourishing”?
by: Thad Williamson on March 15th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
After graduating college, many students lose sight of civic engagement as they focus on moneymaking.
Many college students today feel themselves to be under immense pressure to secure their own professional futures – to be able to repay loans and to avoid falling on the wrong side of the deepening economic divide. Others want to acquire money and comfort, or power, because this is how a successful life has generally been portrayed to them. But many also have a concern with community and social problems and have experience doing various kinds of volunteer work; others are interested in politics and public service.
However, the ideas that getting serious about social change requires more than just volunteer work, and that democratic action is not simply about campaigns, elections, and the deeds of politicians, remain relatively novel to college students. As a college teacher, it is easy to get frustrated when confronted with students who are clueless, disengaged, or unwilling to see beyond the moneymaking definition of success. But in my experience many students are in fact eager for an alternative definition of a good life, and eager to learn more about social movements and social change. This is true whatever the self-described political leanings (if any) of students.
Last night, Brooklyn College hosted a forum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent initiative targeting Israel’s suppression of basic political rights for Palestinians, particularly those occupied in the West Bank.
In the weeks preceding the forum, Brooklyn College was under intense pressure to cancel the event, pressure spearheaded by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who curiously chose to argue against the concept of academic freedom by claiming the forum would be a “propaganda hate orgy” and should not be allowed.
New York City Council members soon followed, threatening to cut off funding to the college if the event proceeded, with Assemblyman Alan Maisel stating, “We’re talking about the potential for a Second Holocaust here.”
Thankfully, champions of academic freedom stepped in to push back against such bombastic claims, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who bluntly told the City Council:
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
I have long maintained that when it comes to Israel, the distinction between right and left disappears in this country.
Check out this letter from Congressman Jerry Nadler, a West Side Manhattan Democrat, demanding that Brooklyn College not permit a campus group to discuss strategies for boycotting Israel to meet on campus. Nadler is joined by virtually every major “progressive” New York politician. Nadler and his cohorts make the case that they don’t mind the boycott group meeting but object to the political science department sponsoring an event that presents “only one side.” Of course, anyone who attended college knows that academic departments do that all the time because sponsoring a discussion does not mean the department is endorsing it, only that it favors airing of all sides.
Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (untitled)
…by the time [the infant] is taken to his [sic] mother’s home (surely it cannot be called his) he is well versed in the character of life. On the preconscious level plane that will qualify all his further impressions, as it is qualified by them, he knows life to be unspeakably lonely, unresponsive to his signals, and full of pain.
- Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept
I am not a parent, and I cannot speak with the authority of a parent. I closely followed one child’s upbringing, which has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had, convincing me, despite being a sample of one, of what’s possible. Sadly, I am limited in my ability to talk about the glorious vision of that possibility of parenting without alienating at least some parents. I am quite concerned that this piece, in which I talk about my own pain about how children are raised, can do exactly this instead of inviting reflection, dialogue, and mutual exploration to find ways of supporting both parents and children to find meaning, peace, and joy in their shared lives.
Before completing this piece, I spoke with a few people, including two parents, about this limitation of mine. I deeply long to find full, vibrant compassion for the extraordinary challenges that parents face, especially in today’s world, where the support systems for parents are so limited, where the harshness of the life we have created is reaching intense proportions, where the entire future of our species is uncertain. I hope very much that these conversations helped me move closer to embodying this understanding, and am explicitly inviting you, the readers of this piece, to give me feedback, especially if you disagree with me.