Ripple Effects

Kyra Sichinga, managing director, Urban League of Battle Creek, spoke to our branch recently. Her talk focused upon the acute need for educational opportunities for girls, particularly in urban settings. Salient points included:

~Education is especially significant for girls; it is the entry point to opportunity.

~Women’s educational  achievements have ripple effects within the family and across generations.

~ Just one extra year of schooling for a girl can increase wages up to twenty percent, while also lowering birth rates, which has a profound economic-societal impact.

~Investing in girls’ educations is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

~The dividends of education move across generations. More-educated people have fewer children and provide their children with better health care and education.

~More-educated girls and women know their rights and how to claim them.

~Parents’ educational attainments are linked to their children’s educational attainments. The mother’s education is usually more influential than the father’s.

~If we expect individuals to be held responsible for their own lives, they need to be given opportunities through which they can excel.

Although, women have been fighting for equality for a long-long time, there is a special
poignancy about the daunting challenges youth face in today’s misogynistic society.

Due to looks, school performance and familial relationships, 70% of girls don’t believe they measure up, that they are good enough to succeed! Peer pressure rushes many girls into decisions they are not ready to make. The consequences of their rash decisions are overwhelming:

~ 23% of teen girls are pressured into having sex

~ 25% of teen girls are pressured into using drugs and alcohol

~41% of teen girls are pressured into being mean to or bullying others

~44% of teen girls are pressured to lie, steal or cheat

~67% of teen girls are pressured into dressing provocatively

 Everyone has daughters, sisters, nieces, neighbors who suffer low esteem which makes it everyone’s problem.

Kyra Sichinga counsels wisdom: “Our girls need to know that we are each gifted in a unique and important way. When a person believes in themselves, they have the first secret to success. Of all the judgments we tend to pass in life, none is more important than the judgments we pass on ourselves.

She suggests we can help by being generous with praise, that we need to teach them to perceive themselves in positive ways. Criticism that takes the form of ridicule or engages shame must be avoided!  Girls must be taught to perceive themselves in positive ways.
“If we women, as mothers, teachers and friends continue to rally on their behalf, they will be able to get the education they deserve, develop self-esteem, fend off peer pressure and get the education they deserve.”

Kyra Sichinga expressed her gratitude for having been a recipient of grant funds from AAUW. Sojourner Truth Girls Academy in Battle Creek has an after-school program for girls in grades three through eight which emphasizes STEM education. Sichinga believes, “we need to be intentional about exposing them to science, technology, engineering and math if they are going to change the trend of mostly males gaining employment in those areas.”

Southeast Michigan needs to grapple with these ideas as well! Clearly, there is much work to be done!

How Beautiful a Thing

A Dandelion for My Mother

How I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s
big-headed children—the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turned themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems.   Like you.
Like you, in the end.   If you were here,
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.   – Jean Nordhaus

My mother has been gone from this planet since 1993. She was 79 when she died. Strangely her departure fulfilled her wish. From the day she turned seventy-nine until the day she died, she endlessly repeated, “I don’t want to be eighty.” I am not certain why that particular age concerned her so much, but clearly some issue motivated the determined monotony of her mantra. Nordhaus’ poem hit home when I saw it today, because I can still remember vividly my picking bouquets of dandelions for my mother when I was a child. In my mind’s eye, I can see her hand, now my hand, taking the proffered stems. Strangely, I can also remember how quickly those plucked bright gold bursts would droop and sag. Dandelions were never meant for the vases and tap water.  Before darkness falls, I’ll walk the dog, pluck a dandelion and recall the end of Nordhaus’ poem:

If you were here  [Mother]  I’d pluck this trembling globe to show how beautiful a thing can be  [that]  a  [final]  breath will tear away!

And this day was a beautiful thing, full of the gifts to be found for free in the natural world gloriously arrayed in spring beauty.

Sally Barnett and I have just spent a delightful weekend in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, learning about the 60th season of the Festival and peeking into theatre magic. Before departing today, we stopped to do a bit of impulse shopping at the best garden store there, Anything Grows. They always have singular garden art as well as unique tools for the passionate gardener. After packing purchases into the back of the van, we made our way south to London, Ontario and stopped to mosey through the Civic Gardens there.

Just like the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the the Garden Club of London, which maintains the gardens, will turn sixty this year. And just like AAUW-Dearborn, the club shapes the community into a better place to live. They have contributed more than $300,000 to the Civic Garden Complex! In addition to creating formal gardens, they also donate their energies to the conservation and enhancement of natural areas.

From there we meandered south to Point Pelee National Park, literally the deep south of Canada! The park was flush with migrating song birds, while eager birders engaged in the Festival of Birds which runs from May 3 to May 21 this year. Those birders were hauling some of the largest lenses I have ever seen! Their tasks looked cumbersome at best. By the way, for the obsessive-compulsives among us, more than 370 species of birds have been recorded in this premiere birdwatching location. For those of us traveling lightly, sans equipment, it was a perfect day to wander the beach and to savor nature in the marshes and the lush Carolinian forest as well.

From Point Pelee, we decided to wander the wine trail and stop in at our favorite vineyard, Viewpointe Estate Winery, with its splendid view of Lake Erie and sumptuous-oaked chardonnays. It’s only thirty minutes from Windsor and a great place to stop for lunch.

I hope your day showed “how beautiful a thing can be” and that you had time to savor joie de vivre.

Metaphorical possibility

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward.

So when life is drawing you back with difficulties,

it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.” — unknown

Mark Your Place

Yesterday in a delirious fit of spring cleaning, a dozen shelves in my home were cleaned, the books they support dusted and reorganized. In a number of volumes, I discovered book marks left behind long ago, used to mark my place. That triggered this: How do we mark our place in our community, our state, our country, the world?

One clear way is to advocate for “what should be.” In the political process individuals and/or large groups both influence societal outcomes. What’s wonderful about AAUW is that our members can have it both ways, through individual action or group action. Either way, we mark our place!

At the AAUW-Michigan Convention last weekend, one of the handouts was a bookmark.
The obverse side depicts six-active women, the state website URL, and a label:  AAUW of Michigan Public Policy Advocacy. The reverse side lists four arenas of concern.

In that little-laminated bookmark, I found hope. As so many other citizens have, I have been increasingly dismayed and even disgusted by dysfunctional politics and mendacity. The little bookmark reminds all of us to think about the bigger picture.

In AAUW, public policy is about a principled guide to action regarding a class of issues. For instance, the AAUW-MI bookmark focuses upon four areas — social justice, economic self-sufficiency, public education, and enforcement of Title IX.

Although shaping public policy is a complex-multifaceted process, it is one in which all citizens are welcome to participate. We can shape and mark our place! In AAUW  a range of conduits support legislative and judicial decisions. More importantly, in the midst of a cynical political atmosphere, our organization is principled in its actions! The dues from over 100,000 members fund researchers, scholarly analysis and professional practitioners. Answers lie in blending the core tenets of AAUW: research, education, advocacy and philanthropy.

Although we compete with a host of others to influence public policy, amidst increasing debt and shrinking resources, we have valuable-tactical tools at our disposal like the Lobby Corps, the Two-Minute Activist at the national level; a Public Policy Director of AAUW of Michigan, Barbara Bonsignore, who works tirelessly at the state level; and Dr. Sally Barnett, who serves as our branch public-policy liaison. Ultimately, our determination to create a more decent and a more just society gains headway. Although it takes time and energy and resources, be assured we are engaged in changing “what is” into “what should be.” Our aims are ethical ones, and over time they have created for AAUW a reputation of credibility and integrity.

As we attempt to educate supporters and the public in an effort to mobilize actions, consider how many avenues there are to advocate for a position publicly. Think about issues at the local, state and national levels about which you feel deeply. Then consider getting into the game instead of being a spectator. Here are ways to get involved on an individual basis: lobby, petition, write letters to editors and public officials, speak up in groups whether large or small, demonstrate, use the internet, participate in social media. Meanwhile know that your dues are commissioning research, conducting polls, creating media campaigns, and filing friend-of-the-court briefs.

Simply opening a search engine on your computer brings up metaphorical-mechanical Bookmarks to file your favored research sites. Make your mark. Whether it’s in your community, state or nation, participation will energize your mind and spirit.

Brava! Brava!! Brava!!!

As someone who was bribed, on a regular basis, by her father not to practice the violin because my awkward bowing caused such out-sized, horrific, scratch-laden screeches on my little-wooden, child’s instrument, I stand in awe of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and all their first-rate musicians.


As an AAUW-Dearborn branch member, I am delighted to report that the DSO has just hired Yoonshin Song to be the new concertmaster, their leading first-violin player. It is a job with enormous responsibility, second only to the conductor in assuring professional sound quality. The concertmaster sits in the front, immediately adjacent to the conductor’s left side. Aside from being the highest paid member of the orchestra, she decides how the violins will interpret individual pieces by writing in the bowing. She decides where each member of the violin section sits. She serves as liaison between the orchestra and the conductor. She plays music for violins marked “solo” as the other violins sit in silence. Before each performance, she tunes the orchestra to her A string to assure the correct pitch is achieved.


Yoonshin Song is a thirty-year-old violinist who was born in Seoul, Korea. She began playing her instrument at the tender age of five. After graduating from Seoul National University in Korea, she came to the United States of America. She has won major violin competitions in Korea, Germany, Italy and Poland. In addition, she has performed numerous solo recitals in the U.S.A., Europe, Japan and Korea.


She plays an Amati violin made in 1600!  Adrea Amati was the earliest violin maker whose instruments still survive. His violins are considered elegant. In turn, his sons further innovated designs, and they are noted for having perfected the shape of the f-holes. Amati’s grandson achieved the most eminence in the family line. His violins produce rich-potent tones. His most famous students were none other than Stradivari and Guarneri!


The immediate-past DSO concertmaster was also a woman who sadly for Detroit audiences joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2011. At age twenty-seven, Emmanuelle Boisvert became the first female concertmaster for a major-American symphony orchestra. She remained in that position for twenty-three years. Her professionalism and extraordinary playing touched many hearts and minds, as well as irrigating many a tear duct. With her leadership, the entire string section became known for its precision and rich-resonant clarity. Many patrons were despondent upon hearing of her departure.


In the interim, between Boisvert’s departure and the hiring of Song, DSO violinist, Kim Kaloyanides-Kennedy held the orchestra’s string section together and grew tremendously in confidence as she stepped up to play solos, each growing in quality.  She is a violinist of extraordinary talent and achievement as well!

Each of these three outstanding women is to be congratulated on her discipline, persistence, courage and leadership. They foster our imaginations, encourage us to pursue our own talents, and teach us the wisdom that only music can communicate. Imagine the vision of those who preceded them. Their mentors opened doors to talent, aural beauty and excellence. Nothing enriches our lives more steadily and consistently than the arts.

So in closing, I’ll thank my father for having recognized my modest talents were to be discovered in areas other than performance. I’ll also thank him for having worked so hard and tirelessly to underwrite educations for all three of his offspring, male and female.

Here’s a light-hearted, ekphrastic poem I wrote in response to one of the sculptures that enhanced the grounds of the Henry Ford Community & Performing Arts Center during
the second-annual Midwest Sculpture exhibition sponsored by The Community Fund.

Stilled-Strident Strings

In grade school, I studied the violin.
Instead of lovely music, celestial and thin,
I made raucous crow-like musical notes
which drove my dad from our house onto his boat.

Instead of achieving pastoral sounds
my playing sounded like screeching-baying hounds.
I had dreamed my playing would generate incredible power;
it only tormented as relations with neighbors began to sour.

Instead of grasping a transcendental function
my violin led to one of life’s dramatic junctions
Instead of entering a realm of extraordinary beauty
my instrument saw silence as its primary duty.

So when I gaze upon the sculpture “Strings”
my heart once more lifts and randomly sings
Strings’ grand tones would gather lofty purpose
with no-nearby listener in search of surcease.

This sculpture played would celebrate a launch into acoustic space,
the evoking of purest joyous and sad emotion securing its base
A community of listeners would revel in extra-ordinary-aural beauty
and no one would remind me of my bow-lifting duty.

Hope to see you soon at a DSO concert!



No more croaking!

I have just returned from the AAUW-Michigan Convention in Lansing and feel energized and informed. Four other members of our branch were in attendance as well: Sally Barnett, public policy liaison; Carolyn Blackmore, immediate past president; Kathy Gapa, book-sale co-chair as well as director of our Get-Out-the-Vote effort; and Lee Savage, Program Liaison for the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In addition, our five favorite UM-D students (Tina Nelson, Samara Joseph, Benita Robinson, Betty Ann Booker-Vaughn, and Courtney Carter) were there to tell their NCCWSL stories and how they created their unique AAUW student chapter.

Tomorrow I’ll start organizing materials, notes and useful information to share. Meanwhile I’ll settle for sharing the above, particularly apt in context,  photo-quote combo from the National Women’s History Museum website.

Pockets of Perception–We Are ONE Community!

EmmaJean Woodward believes art can ameliorate societal issues. She serves as  Executive Director of the Dearborn Community Fund, a 501 (c) 3, which invests in Dearborn’s future by supporting cultural, recreational and arts opportunities. Woodyard and others perceived a need to lessen tensions among the high school students in Dearborn. So she set about achieving an extraordinary goal: to challenge an ethnically diverse, high-energy, dynamic cross-section of students among the three high schools to create and install a piece of community art.

Working under the tutelage of two outstanding arts educators, Mohamad Bazzi and Wendy Sample, the students learned to compromise, to communicate, to pursue creative problem solving, and to commit to a long-term effort. After pulling together, the students became an effective-dynamic team sparking creativity, dedication and enthusiasm for what grew into a two-year project.

Students learned to persist and persevere. City factotums had to be persuaded. Permits had to be gained. Sponsorships had to be tapped. A fabricator had to be found and ultimately persuaded to stay true to the students’ vision when his own creative juices began to perc. Ultimately a wide-range of the community invested in the $60,000 project, and the students’ work became a genuine investment in the future of Dearborn.

They not only worked together, the students became a cohesive team. The fifteen students collaborated to create a unified vision in a divided art work. One piece arches around negative spaces, the other fills positive spaces around a bench. Considered together the halves mesh as smoothly as a lock and key. Halves being in both ends of town creates a sense of one community.

The result is a beautiful-permanent outdoor sculptural installation. If it were music, it would be consonant two-part harmony. One half of the sculpture is installed in City Hall Park at Michigan and Schaefer; the other is installed in the pocket park on Michigan Avenue in West Dearborn, located on the north side of Michigan Avenue between Mason and Monroe.

There is a lovely irony. The piece in City Hall Park is set adjacent to a statue of Mayor Hubbard who was never known to have celebrated ethnic diversity!

Having made a donation to the project, the AAUW-Dearborn branch can take pride in having helped this project succeed.

Help Feed the Hungry!

Empty Bowls is an international grassroots effort to fight hunger which began right here in Dearborn with former resident, John Hartom.

The art department within the Dearborn Public Schools has hosted an annual Empty Bowls event for over two decades now. During the school year, educators Wendy Sample and Dail Russel, as well as art teachers throughout the district, guided DPS students to shape and glaze hundreds of unique-handcrafted bowls.

On Friday, May 18, please join them to partake of a simple meal of soup and bread at the Arab American National Museum from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.  The food will be donated by Habib’s Cuisine and Byblos Banquets. In exchange for a suggested cash donation of five dollars (or more, if you wish) guests are invited to keep one of the three-hundred bowls Dearborn Public School students have made. You’ll want to get there early to get the best selection! Ideally, the empty bowl you select will serve as a tangible reminder of all the empty bowls and hungry bellies there are  in the world today.

Money raised is donated to Gleaners, the community food bank of southeastern Michigan, that works so hard to end hunger and food insecurity. Last year, Gleaners distributed forty-million pounds of food to over six-hundred partner soup kitchens, shelters and pantries the five counties that comprise southeast Michigan.

Empty Bowl events have multiplied across the United States and in other countries. Millions of dollars have been raised and donated.

Each event is designed around the needs of the individual community or region. Events are designed to be inclusive, to maintain integrity and to include an educational component.

Keep in mind that one-out-of-eight Americans struggles with food insecurity every day. The bursting of the economic bubble and the resulting recession have complicated matters enormously. Your help is needed now more than ever!

Close Female Friendships Proven Beneficial

Science is making us feel good once again. Recent studies with diverse animals are proving that the cultivation of close, long-lasting, female friendships, with affection expressed in myriad ways, leads to a better life. Having a few-close girlfriends is good for health and well-being and is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

Evidence is increasing that female camaraderie:
~lowers levels of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal gland.
~allows women to decompress, leading them to achieve more calm and equilibrium.
~allows closely attached women to live live remarkably longer lifespans.

Depth of friendship is more significant than numbers of friends. “To have a top three seems to be what’s important here.” Joan Silk, primatologist at UCLA asserts: “you see the kind of strong, stable relationships that help females cope better with stress.” (Think of how we associate three of something with a stabilizing force whether in triangles, tripods or stools.)

The force of close female friendship, not only binds existing groups together, but assures everyone involved that they share linked fates.

Close-knit female friendships are resilient usually lasting until death. Dr. Robert M. Seyfarth, University of Pennsylvania, declares “You have to have somebody to hang onto.  A friend gives you an element of predictability and certainty, and you can use that to buffer you against all the things you don’t have control over. There’s a biochemical component to this.”

Scientists are proving that close-female relationships become a powerful defense system over time.  Devoted-mutual friends serve as metaphorical sponges that soak up cortisol spills which, left untended, would weaken the immune system over time.

Dr. Silk says to go ahead and savor the traditional coffee klatch: “Yes, having coffee with friends is good for you, and we should all do it often.”

Senate Reauthorizes VAWA!

In a 68 to 31 vote, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), legislation dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence, last Thursday afternoon. Law enforcement groups and victims’ advocates helped craft the bill.

Hundreds of thousands of women and children have been helped since the original bill passed in 1994. Federal-state-local government programs provide support for the victims as well as prosecuting perpetrators.

VAWA has been “the single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in this country,” states the president of the American Bar Association, William T. Robinson.

According to The Centers for Disease Control twenty-five percent of women in this country have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, while nearly twenty percent of women will have been raped in the course of a lifetime.

Since 1994, deaths caused by violence inflicted-by-intimates have decreased substantially.  Because the social costs caused by such acts are enormous, VAWA saved almost fifteen billion dollars from 1994 to 2000 alone.

If the House acts in concert with the Senate, this will be the third reauthorization of the act. The first was in 2000, the second in 2005.

VAWA funds grants to prosecute domestic abuse and sexual violence cases, and provides for wide-ranging support to assist victims including: assistance to law enforcement, legal assistance, services to survivors of sexual assault, shelter and counseling for women and children,  protection for children during visits to parent-perpetrators, transitional housing grants, protections for elderly and disabled women, and violence prevention grants. It is believed such comprehensive approaches ultimately create cost-savings.

In addition to providing aid to hundreds of thousands of women and children, these programs have saved untold numbers of lives!

The latest reauthorization consolidates grant programs and creates new programs for colleges to raise awareness among students. No longer can sexual orientation and gender identity be used to discriminate against victims. Native American women and immigrants are being extended protections. The issuance of visas by law enforcement will be increased from ten to fifteen thousand to battered illegal immigrants who agree to prosecute serious crimes.

Senator Carl Levin, a co-sponsor of the legislation, says the reauthorization is nothing less than a moral obligation and a duty.