Bertie's Blog

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The New Normal: Black Quarterbacks Matter

I am an 86-year-old author and retired educator. This does not necessarily make me an expert on football. However, my grandson, Austin Fendley, a recent graduate from the University of Texas and an avid football fan, knows as much about the subject as many coaches and sports commentators. Also, he and I are “two peas in a pod” about racism. We have watched with interest as more and more black players have been named as starting quarterbacks on the national football scene. Capitalizing on our strengths, we decided to co-author this article.

Since the earliest days of professional and college football, the number of black players has increased exponentially. However, the ratio of black players and black quarterbacks remains disproportional with 67% black players and 17% black quarterbacks. The Canadian Football League was more open to welcoming black players than the leagues in America were. As an example, Warren Moon was not selected in America until he had won five Grey Cup championships in Canada. He became the first black Houston Oilers’ quarterback in 1984, and his success shattered the stereotype that black players could not succeed as a quarterback. He ushered more successful black quarterbacks into the National Football League in the 1980’s. When Moon first became the Oilers’ quarterback, I remember hearing people say he was not smart enough to function as an NFL-caliber quarterback. I happily watched him prove them wrong.

The number of black quarterbacks in the American professional leagues has grown, and Michael Vick was drafted in 2001, as the first black to be taken with the first overall pick in the NFL draft. In 2017, longtime quarterback, Eli Manning, was benched and was replaced with Geno Smith who was black. Since the inception of the game, two black quarterbacks and one multiracial led their teams to a Super Bowl victory: Doug Williams in 1988; Russell Wilson in 2014; and Patrick Mahomes in 2020.

America has, in fact, made progress in naming black quarterbacks on the professional fields. Still, many of them have experienced racial issues. For example, Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans’ quarterback stated that he did not want to be called a dual-threat quarterback because the term is traditionally used to stereotype black quarterbacks. In 2018, racial remarks were made about him after he made a bad decision during a game. A superintendent of a school district outside Houston remarked, that “when you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback.” Fortunately, that superintendent came under fire and he later resigned.

After reading a story about Deshaun’s upbringing, we were reminded that Deshaun gives credit to his mother who was a single parent of four children and living in "the projects". His mother held down a full-time job and after she got off work, she would spend the next few hours volunteering at a homeless shelter. That made her eligible to be the recipient of a Habitat for Humanity home. In 2011, when Deshaun was in high school, his mother was diagnosed with stage five tongue cancer forcing Deshaun to function as a high school quarterback and as a caretaker raising two of his siblings. Given the history of Deshaun and his mother, and the hardships the family faced, the challenges of being a black quarterback did not seem to be an insurmountable task.

A proven truism over the last two seasons is that we are clearly in the age of black quarterbacks. The remarkable advancement of black players to master the game’s most important position proves those who thought they lacked the leadership skills and intelligence are wrong. Clear evidence with 10 black quarterbacks starting the first week of the 2020 NFL season reiterates that the new normal is that Black Quarterbacks Matter.

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Lessons from a Legend: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed on September 18th, 2020 to pancreatic cancer, the dreaded disease that had plagued her since 2009. She earned her nickname “Notorious RBG” through years of fighting for equality. She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” As a result of that belief, she was able to stand firm in her convictions and respect those who disagreed with her. That ability to work together for the common good is sorely needed in our present society.

When asked about her legacy she replied, “I want to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” She has left that legacy and left it to the greatest degree having spent a lifetime thriving in the face of adversity.

Ruth Ginsburg never let her personal struggles diminish her drive for academic excellence. Just as my mother taught me lessons that helped me to survive against all odds, Ginsburg was greatly influenced by her mother who ingrained in her a love of learning during her youth. Our mothers played a highly significant role in who we became as we both grew to become trailblazers in our own rights. While I could never measure up to her accomplishments, I have spent my life attempting to make the world a better place for all people. She has been my inspiration.

I was born during the Great Depression as she was, and my family was extremely poor. While I was not aware of her at that time, as I grew older and learned about her and what she had to overcome, I was encouraged to keep striving to overcome any stumbling blocks in my pathway. I have followed her as a role model and have admired her for never giving up. While I could never reach her status in life, I have always felt that what small good deeds I could do might be significant to others.

Ginsburg had a difficult time getting a job despite her high academic record because of her gender. It appeared that she had three strikes against her because she was a mother, was Jewish and was female. She began to pursue and eventually gain a position that enabled her to devote her life to women’s rights. She eventually worked against gender discrimination for both women and men. She became known as the Champion of Gender Equality. Our nation has, indeed, lost a justice of historic statue who worked endlessly and with determination for our community. Even when she was ill with cancer she kept bouncing back like a “bad nickel” and showing up on the job. She changed the world for American women and gender equality. When I learned that she was only five feet one inch tall, and I am only five feet two inches tall, I realized that we both could be viewed as unlikely trailblazers. That lady was tough as could be because of her intellect and positive attitude. My toughness sprang from my determination and the fact that I have always been a “hope whisperer.”

I loved it when I learned that Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a rock star when she was in her 80’s, since I was also in my 80’s. She was featured in a documentary, an operetta, regular Saturday Night Live sketches and on the cover of Time magazine. She appeared to handle her celebrity status with wit and charm which made me admire her even more. Would that we all could have the desire to do good, the intellect to achieve, the determination to overcome, and the heart and wit of a rock star. She was one of a kind and my hero.

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In Support of School Police Officers

I have a growing concern about more and more pressure being placed on school districts to cut ties with school police since the death of George Floyd. For example, the Minneapolis School Board voted unanimously to discontinue the contract with their police officers, and others including Denver and Portland, have followed suit. School resource officers, the most common type of law enforcement on campuses, and their degree of involvement in student discipline varies across the United States.

Chalkbeat, a non-profit organization, reported that school officials have listened to the outcries of students, educators, and activists from across the country from Chicago, Seattle, New York City and Houston. Some school districts are calling for better training of the school resource officers. This training would include ways to de-escalate situations and move away from punishment toward building relations with troubled students. This effort would be an attempt to end the school to prison practice which affects a disproportionate number of minority students.

The question becomes, “What type school safety plan will be put into place should the districts decide to cut ties with the police?” The New York Times described the school officer’s job in Auburn, Alabama as “a job with many roles and one big responsibility.” School resource officers around the country described their roles as counselors, teachers, and law enforcement officers.

My experience of 17 years as principal of Furr High School in Houston, Texas taught me that school enforcement officers are a necessity on school campuses and can be trained to play a multitude of important roles successfully. They also appear to function more effectively if they are familiar with the neighborhoods served by the school.

When I arrived at Furr, the school had a plethora of identified gangs, was labeled a “direct pipeline from high school to prison,” and was labeled by the state as “a dropout factory.” A student had been shot on campus the previous year. The violence was so threatening that I engaged the gang task force. The abusive behavior of the gang task force toward students only escalated the violence on campus. I removed the gang task force and hired two school police officers, Craig Davis and Danny Avalos, who worked with me to transform the school into a safe haven. Both officers were from the school neighborhood and understood our students and their needs for counseling and mentoring.

In 2013, The New York Times visited the school to find out what made the difference in our campus and why the presence of school resource officers did not result in more students in court. That same year, reporters came from Spain and France seeking the same information.

Craig Davis remained with me at the campus throughout my entire tenure, and Danny Avalos received a promotion. When he left, Craig Davis remarked, “Congratulations to Captain Avalos. He was my partner at Furr High School for 2 years, and we helped change the environment with all the gangs there. We were featured on the front page of the New York Times due to our success.” During that time, the school did not practice zero tolerance, did not suspend students, and only expelled them when required by law. We implemented Restorative Discipline to restore relations and a student court to address minor infractions. Officer Davis played a major role in these changes.

I am strongly in favor of police officers on school campuses for two reasons: to provide a safe environment within the school and to protect from dangerous intrusions that might occur. I am also strongly in favor of hiring officers who understand the communities served by the school and who show empathy, good listening skills, the ability to establish positive relationships and the desire to ensure the success of each student.

I am fully aware that school districts across the nation are strapped with limited funding. I am also fully aware that the safety and security of the schools can be achieved by the careful selection and training of school resource officers. I know because I have lived it.

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It’s Time to Reimagine Schools

Perhaps the present pandemic will open our eyes to a new way of schooling our students. While politicians yell, “Open schools immediately,” teachers cry, “We beg you. Please consider our students and teachers.” Many parents ask, “What will I do with my children when I must go to work?” This unexpected and unwanted COVID-19 virus has school boards, administrators, and state departments of education perplexed and confused as they listen to the outcries of these various disparate groups. The problem is only complicated when the Secretary of Education and powerful political figures suggest a withholding of funds unless schools open by a given date. Meanwhile, the number of deaths from the invader and those testing positive mount. This has caused an unprecedented dilemma.

I believe this highly emotionally charged and dire state of affairs offers us an opportunity to break from the traditional practice of “straight row desks” inside our brick and mortar schools. Dr. Sharon Gray, nationally recognized specialist in early brain development, states, “A headful of fears has no space for dreams.” I believe that, in these uncertain times, all concerned individuals must be dream makers and work to replace fear with possibilities. Could we reflect upon how little our classrooms and instructional practices have changed over the years, while our world has changed dramatically? Could we spend more time considering the needs of the “whole child” and new ways of preparing them for life rather than for a state test? Is it possible to consider providing education outside the schoolhouse? I believe it could be done without being tied to the present methods of virtual learning. I am reminded of a quote of John Dewey, a pragmatist, who said:

“If we teach today like we taught our students yesterday, we will rob them of their tomorrow.”

In this new way of schooling, the teacher becomes a facilitator, curator, and resource for students, instead of a "fount of knowledge". The following are a few examples of instruction that could be accomplished presently on-line or face-to-face. They are meant to be examples but not an exhaustive list. This could be a first step toward providing a new way of schooling when the students return to campuses after the pandemic crisis. These and many other strategies could burst open the door to a new way of thinking about providing a real “tomorrow” for students.

· Use effective problem-solving strategies which would involve identifying a worldwide or community problem, investigating and seeking solutions.

· Implement project-based instruction which enables the student to create.

· Provide voice and choice for students where they can create based on their needs, passions, and interests. This might include a weekly genius hour during which students are offered a menu of topics from which they choose.

· Organize students, using Zoom, into small interest groups to collaborate on an assignment while the teacher works with one group at a time.

· Define for students the expectations for learning for the week and allow each one to create a calendar showing the order in which the work will be completed.

· Implement a personalized learning environment and management system where instruction is based on individual needs of students.

· Give an assignment requiring the students to define and give examples of how they could show empathy and persistence.

· Provide a menu from which students will choose how they will complete their assignment. Brooke Conley, my granddaughter, suggested the following as an example of what could be done when teaching a math skill:

1. Create a 3-D rectangular prism using paper and labels.

2. Film a video explaining how to find the volume of an object you found in your home.

3. Write a paper explaining how to find the volume of a rectangular prism.

4. Create a text message chain with a friend explaining an assignment.

5. Write a blog post of new learnings.

Let’s all work together to find ways to give “tomorrow” to our students. Please send your ideas to me at bsimmon82@gmail.com and I will post them to share with others.

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An Open Letter to My Grandchildren

Dear Brooke and Austin,

I am sure you are aware that an icon, Representative John Lewis, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. Representative Lewis was the son of a sharecropper who spent his lifetime fighting non-violently for racial equality. His death reminded me of the life-changing trip we took in 2003 to Gee’s Bend, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama. Lewis carried a cloak of authority when he entered Congress after having spent many years of his life in the bloody struggle to end the Jim Crow laws. He was one of ten young leaders who led the March on Washington, D.C. in 1963. You will recall when we visited Selma, I discussed with you the three protest marches for voting rights that occurred during March 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Lewis joined over 600 protesters during the first march. During this first march, state troopers and county police attacked the protesters with billy clubs and tear gas. Many, including Lewis, were injured when they passed over the bridge and stepped across the county line. Law Enforcement officers beat Amelia Boynton, one of the organizers, unconscious, and Lewis was beaten by a trooper resulting in a skull fracture. As a result, this event became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

There was a second march two days later led by Martin Luther King. When the troopers stepped back to permit the marchers to step over the county line, King directed the marchers to return to Brown A.M.E. Church in Selma where they had started. The third march started in Selma on March 21, 1965. Because Martin Luther King had been working with President Lyndon Johnson, the protestors could peacefully cross the bridge and march to Montgomery, the capitol of Alabama, while protected by the Alabama National Guard.

With all these facts in mind, when we visited Selma in the spring of 2003, one of our goals was to learn about the civil rights movement as it had occurred in Selma and Montgomery. We began at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church and marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and crossed over the county line. We spent time in the park that had been created under the bridge, and Austin, do you remember jumping upon the stage, throwing your arms up in the air and beginning to preach a sermon about the unjust treatment of the protestors of 1965? After we left Selma, we visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and learned of her bravery in the face of racial discrimination. If you will recall, while on this trip, we all gained a richer appreciation of the struggles experienced by the blacks before and during the civil rights movement. We also recommitted ourselves to the cause of social justice for all. The passing of Representative John Lewis reminded me of our commitment and the need to take action to make the world a better place for all people. It is my hope that you, as young leaders, continue to accept this challenge and work with your mother and me in our efforts to fight for the cause of social justice. John Lewis set the example for bravery, commitment, and getting into “good trouble” to be on the right side of history. He was said to be the “conscience of Congress.” Let us follow his example.

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Angels Do the Right Thing

Recently my friend’s daughter was visiting with her friend. She accidentally left her purse on top of her car and drove down the Southwest Freeway in Houston on her way home. After realizing she didn’t have her purse, she was panic-stricken. She described how the blood drained completely from her head, and she had difficulty breathing. She had a considerable amount of money in the purse, her mother’s credit card and all of her own personal identification. She retraced the route back to her friend’s house in hopes of having left it there. It was not there! Where could the purse be and what would she do if she could not find it? At that point, she frantically called her mother, my friend, to tell her what had happened.

Shortly, there was a rap on our front door. There stood our next-door neighbor, Roger, accompanied by two young men from Honduras who spoke only Spanish. Roger, fluent in Spanish, was able to translate for the two young men.

Roger relayed that the young men had been driving down the extremely busy Southwest freeway when they spotted a purse in the middle of the thoroughfare. They pulled off onto the shoulder of the freeway and darted through traffic to retrieve the purse. They found the address and were delivering the purse with all the belongings to our house in West University Place.

Upon learning the purse was returned, we were filled with such gratitude and relief, but also a sense of bewilderment. It was totally unexpected. We immediately had such warm feelings toward these young men whom we had never seen before and to whom we were strangers who could not speak their language.

What was their purpose in risking their lives to retrieve the purse? What do you think the other drivers thought when they saw two young men darting through the traffic to get the purse? Would you or they have had the vaguest idea that the intentions of these young men were to return the purse to its rightful owner? Many of us have a preconceived idea about the intentions of others, especially of those of a different ethnicity. This chance meeting with these two young men who were a model of honesty and thoughtfulness gave us cause to reflect upon our own belief systems.

Why are these biases embedded in our subconscious? How did they get there? Why do individuals have to risk their lives or do something extraordinary for us to see the good in them? The biggest question is, what could we do to open our minds to a new way of thinking and help us to see life in a different way? Perhaps we could be a part of a movement that spreads the idea that we are all more alike than different and that we should embrace and celebrate our differences in a positive manner. After all, we are all here together sharing the planet. Would you join us in this movement? Let the movement begin.

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In Search of Unity

The killing of George Floyd, a member of the Yates High School family, has poignantly exposed and made abundantly public the lives that blacks have lived for centuries in America. It is heart-breaking and calls several things to question: Why have we not, as the “privileged” class, done something over all these years to bring justice to the black community – a community that has made amazing contributions to our society? Why have we as the “privileged” closed our eyes to the unjust treatment they have endured all their lives? Our doing nothing shines a bright light on our lack of respect, understanding and empathy for others. The blame rests on our shoulders for our insensitivity and lack of courage to stand up for what is right.

Do you worry about your safety while jogging? Do you fear being killed by others who suspect you of doing something, even though they have no evidence of your having done anything wrong? Can you empathize with Ahmaud Arbery? Do you fear when your child wears a hoodie and goes to a convenience store to buy Skittles that he will be fatally shot on the way home by a member of a neighborhood watch as happened to Trayvon Martin? I could go on and on. The incidences are too numerous and are well-known but not acknowledged by everyone. While some of the acts did not involve law enforcement officials, many were committed by rogue police officers. Even when these tragedies occur, the perpetrators are rarely, if ever, brought to justice.

My grandson, Austin Fendley, a recent graduate of the University of Texas, and I were discussing our concern for the unjust treatment of the black population and why few people have ever taken a stand in support of them. He told me about a quote attributed to Will Smith that he had read. Will said, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s just getting filmed.” We discussed that perhaps it is about dominance and power. The empowered do not want to lose control. He also reflected on the fact that the situation is complicated by many things including the reality of poverty. In some cases, blacks are born into an environment where they may have had to steal food to live. There are many of the “privileged” class who have never had to choose between survival and legality. I responded that even though there are many whites who live in poverty, they are not treated the same by the justice system when they break the rules.

I asked Austin why he had always had blacks among his best friends and why he didn’t feel hesitant about those relationships. His answer was something we all know but do not acknowledge. He said, “Race was not a defining factor in picking friends. How they acted, not how they looked was the important thing.” He continued, “You learn your values from authority figures. You must be taught to discriminate based on race. I was never taught that.” He also said that he had heard some white people say to a black person, “I don’t see the color of your skin. I am colorblind.” Austin said, “That statement wipes away the identity of that person and diminishes the individual’s worth. We must go further to learn that we are more alike than different, and we must embrace and celebrate our differences.”

Austin’s statements reminded me of the song from South Pacific, You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.

  • You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.
  • You’ve got to be taught from year to year.
  • It’s got to be drummed in your dear, little ear.
  • You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Oscar Hammerstein

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned as to what we might be able to do to correct the discrimination that has been a reality for so long. Talking with Austin reminded me that the youth of today can change the world and make it a better place for all people. Perhaps they can bring unity to the nation. The following are steps that we must take to set the example for the youth:

· We must exercise our right to vote. We must vote for those people who will bring equity and empathy to our government.

· Rethink education in such a way that we model and teach all students to respect, embrace, and celebrate our differences. We must teach civility. Include all parents in the effort to rethink education.

· Individuals and groups must join hands to start a movement to

demand equal treatment in the justice system and insist upon systemic change.

· Rebuild the relationship between the police department and the community and insist on ethical leaders in these departments who will ensure all people truly receive equal protection and justice under the law. Unify and retrain law enforcement officers and make certain they police themselves and one another.

In Houston we are standing together. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee continues to be a champion for social justice. Police Chief Art Acevedo exhibited inspiring leadership when he offered to march with protesters in a constructive way and provide a police escort for George Floyd’s funeral. I was encouraged when our mayor, Sylvester Turner noticed a black man power washing to remove graffiti left by some marchers. Turner said, “This is the Houston I know and love.” Let us follow these examples and take action. Perhaps the unity we so desperately need will be found and we will create a better world for everyone.

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What a Wonderful World it Can Be - Message to the 2020 Graduates

Recently I have noticed that many celebrities and common folks are attempting to spread hope by singing such beautiful songs as “What a Wonderful World.” The thought occurred to me that graduating high school seniors, as well as college seniors, might be questioning what a wonderful world it is when their graduations have been mostly virtual and they are unable to immediately move forward with their lives. There are few if any jobs open to them, and there is a question of whether college classes will begin in the fall.

This reality was brought home to me Sunday when one of my former grandparents called me heartbroken. Her granddaughter, Omarian Vaughn, had been in school since pre-K and was graduating this year never having missed a day of school. The grandmother was so proud of this accomplishment, she had requested that an article be published about her attendance in local newspapers. She found that newspapers did not view this story as newsworthy. I was the former principal of the high school that Omarian attended. Most of the students were from underserved families, and I knew how this family and Omarian had struggled, and what an accomplishment her perfect attendance had been. I almost wept as the story was revealed to me by the grandmother. It goes without saying that empathy is not a part of newspapers’ decision making.

Simultaneous screen sharing provides a Zoom gallery view of participants happily singing in unison, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” I would submit to you that what the world needs is also empathy – “not just for some, but for EVERYONE.” To understand and to share the feelings of another is always important, but perhaps even more important now than it has been in recent years. Can you empathize with the renter as described in the Texas Tribune on May 19, 2020? The individual lived in a small house in Belton and did not want to move, but her landlord had placed a “For Rent” sign in her front yard, because on May 23,2020 the renter will owe $1650 plus utilities. When she told the landlord that she could not pay, she apologized by saying, “I’m sorry this is happening. It’s out of our control.” The landlord insisted that she had to leave since according to the Texas Supreme Court, their decision of halting eviction since March 19,2020 had been changed and, in a decision the previous week, the court ruled that evictions can resume. Clearly, empathy was not shown by the courts nor the landlord.

Lauren Powell Jobs often expresses her feelings of empathy by her behavior and on social media. In the New York Times recently, she stated, “…we don’t have to accept the world that we are born into as something that is fixed, impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms like us. And they move all the time and through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it.”

Van Jones and Oprah Winfrey reflect empathetic feelings when they speak in person and on social media. Is it possible that the 2020 seniors could use these and other role models to learn and express empathy to make the world a better place for all people? Having suffered through problems of a pandemic, this class, more than any recently, can change the world by collectively making it more empathetic. Below are suggestions for steps that could be taken:

· While psychologists suggest that empathy is usually learned by the age of four or five, perhaps it can be learned later by understanding the meaning of empathy, witnessing role models who are empathetic, identifying the empathetic skills and practicing them. By doing this, you can adopt empathy as a pattern of behavior, and it will become a way of life.

· Get outside yourself as you learn more about the problems that others are having because of the pandemic. This will require listening not only with your head, but also with your heart. Reach out and take steps to offer help. Find creative ways to let others know you understand their feelings.

· Be willing to take responsible risks to address the issues on a local, state, and national level. As an example, what could be done about the inordinate number of minorities dying from the Covid 19? Why is it happening in vast numbers on the Native American reservations? Be open to new learnings. Put yourself in the place of the people who are affected by their circumstances.

In my book, Whispers of Hope: The Story of My Life, I discuss the need for a new movement that will broadcast empathy across the land. I challenge the graduating seniors of 2020 to create a world of empathy that will communicate the need for honesty, kindness, caring, forgiveness, and justice. Consider this a call to action. Empathy will no longer be a whisper but a major part of this broadcast. Will they accept this challenge and run with it? Let us all join forces with these graduates to create a new way of being.

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Three Keys to Artfully Aging

It has been well documented that physical and mental health are of upmost importance to enriching the lives of older people. Recent studies have also revealed that older people tend to be happier than young adults. Here are three steps I recommend to maintain a healthy mind and body and continue to be creative and alive.

Never stop dreaming

It was Langston Hughes who said, “Hold fast to your dreams, for when dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” It is never too late to live the life of your dreams. Mary Morrissey, a noted life coach, encourages people to explore longing and discontent in their lives and focus their energy in these areas. Older age is a time when you might have the time and financial ability to realize the possibilities of acting on your longings and discontent. Bringing these realizations to fruition can increase joy, fulfillment, and a sense of well-being. Throughout my life I have been greatly concerned about inequities in life and have longed to make a positive difference in the lives of others. This desire has driven me to accomplish things, which at first glance, may have seemed impossible. I have continued to make these issues of inequality a priority and have begun conversations with others to create change. A national coalition has been built around a “call to action” to address and find creative solutions.

Share your wisdom

Reflect on your life and identify experiences that might inform, inspire, and give hope to others. Create a means of sharing those reflections through writing, painting, music or whatever form fits you. At the age of 84, I published my memoir with the hopes that it would make a positive difference in the lives of others and leave a legacy for my loved ones. Other generations can benefit from your wisdom and unleashing your creativity will not only be fun, but it can also enhance your sense of purpose.

Find a way to help others

Focus on the needs of others to give meaning, not only to your life, but to provide support and empathy in times of need. I personally make frequent phone calls to those who live alone or those who are struggling with issues. This action is my attempt to communicate that they matter and that I care. I also use social media to interact and stay in touch, and am inclusive in engaging them in activities or causes that they and I share.

I hope that my sharing these ideas will spark a realization that you have much to contribute regardless of your age.

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Dare to Disturb the Sound of Silence Revisited

In 2010 I did a TED talk entitled Dare to Disturb the Sound of Silence. I recently had an occasion to view the presentation and realized how relevant it is today because of the COVID-19 virus. The original Ted talk can be viewed on my website at bertiesimmons.com. I have become concerned about the significant increase in domestic violence due to our present state of isolation. While I discussed violence as one of the side-effects of extended isolation, watching the talk made me even more acutely aware of the problems we face today, especially as it relates to violence within our homes. This was one of the critical issues discussed in my book, Whispers of Hope, the Story of My Life.

Conditions created by the present pandemic have caused family violence (domestic violence, child abuse, and pet abuse) to flourish. Necessary restrictions implemented in an attempt to control the spread of the disease could be expected to result in such extreme actions. The United Nations called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres posted on Twitter. Clearly, the governments failed to consider this potentially dangerous environment when the “stay-at-home” order was enforced. This order provided a strong opportunity for an abuser to act. Isolation, along with contributing factors such as financial insecurity, stress, and uncertainty, has led to increasing accounts of intimate partner homicides around the globe. It has been said that confinement is a breeding ground for domestic violence. This has been true in countries throughout the world and some governments are working to create effective ways to deal with this serious problem.

It is common knowledge that domestic violence cases in Harris County have increased since the stay-at-home order, and two people were killed in suspected domestic violence cases. In one case a wife stabbed her husband to death and in the other, a man shot his wife to death. Police Chief Art Acevedo reported that the number of domestic violence calls requesting service from the Houston Police Department increased 6% this month when compared to last month.

In addition to domestic violence, I am deeply concerned about other health issues related to isolation such as depression. It is well documented that individuals who are isolated and have little contact with others, develop significant health issues such as heart problems. This is especially true for elderly individuals or those who live alone.

I feel that it is our moral responsibility to lend support to others by making regular contact with those who may be experiencing any trauma as a result of the pandemic. This can be done on social media, by making personal phone calls, sending notes in the mail, or having food delivered. We all need to be more aware of early signs that may be red flags of trouble brewing and then take appropriate action to provide support. A sense of caring is important in all situations. Sincere empathy goes a long way. Let’s make it happen!

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Super Heroes Needed-It's Past Time to Stand Up for Equality

I have been noticing that minorities are dying from coronavirus at an alarming rate. One might question why this is true. Inquiring minds dug deeper and learned that minorities are at a higher risk as a result of generations of political, economic and environmental factors. These factors result in widespread weakened immune systems that are evidenced by numerous chronic diseases. Among these are high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, cancer and heart problems.

In the deep East End of Houston, one neighborhood, Manchester, has the highest percentage of cancer than any other neighborhood in Houston. This problem is believed to be the result of the environmental factors of the area. The Manchester area is predominantly Hispanic. While I am not aware of any data pointing to the disparity related to the death of Hispanics due to the virus, an analysis by the Washington Post indicates that areas that are majority black have six times the rate of deaths from coronavirus as whites. Even in my former home state of Louisiana, while blacks make up only 32% of the population, roughly 70% of people who have died from coronavirus were black. This tells us something about their access to quality health care and economic inequality. As revealed in my book, Whispers of Hope, the Story of My Life, these racial divides existed then and continue to exist.

It is the responsibility of all Americans to expose these disparities and to take action to ensure political, economic and environmental equality. It is my belief that this is a moral issue and that by working together as individuals, we can make the world a better place for all people.

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Do Not Fear

We are presently living in a new world over which we feel we have little control. This world requires that we find ways to reduce stress, give us hope, and avoid joining our children in what is called “silent distress.” As I pondered the fear expressed by my friends and the way I often feel, several things came to mind that I would like to share.

In my recent book, Whispers of Hope, the Story of My Life, I wrote about Goldie Hawn visiting Furr High School and enlightening us about mindfulness. Then I remembered a class I taught at Furr when I worked with a group of girls who suffered from stress. I used Goldie Hawn’s curriculum MindUp. I taught them about the brain and how to practice mindful awareness. We discussed the amygdala which operates the brain’s “fight or flight center.” This knowledge helps increase the amount of control one has between an experience and the way we react to it. Mindfulness teaches us how to live in the world and gives us hope. One strategy to use is a silent walk. Become more aware of the sights and sounds of your world. Another strategy is to spend time with your pet and absorb its unconditional love. Listen to your favorite music. One thing that always relieves my stress is listening to Melissa Manchester’s song, “A Better Rainbow.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOzZ9US_g68

Learn more about mindfulness and practice it. You will learn to maintain a sense of control and reduce stress. Hope will no longer be a whisper but will be broadcast across the land.

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HISD School Safety Plan

I observed with great interest as Dr. Grenita Lathan struggled (HISD delays metal detectors, February 15, 2020; Jacob Carpenter) with steps to be taken to ensure safety in our schools. Her most recent recommendation was to install metal detectors in twenty selected middle and high schools. This recommendation begs the question, “If the shooting had not occurred, would Bellaire have been one of the first schools to receive them?” It occurred to me after 58 years in Houston ISD that a complete transformation of the culture of the district and its schools is required to ensure school safety – one built on trust, relationships, mutual respect and sincere concern. That includes concern for all students and schools built on intentionality. In such a system, nothing is left to chance. The school must focus on the whole child, including moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation. As Dr. Lathan was meeting last month with Bellaire students, Annie Zhu stated, “…some students voiced support for metal detectors, while others emphasized the need for increased trauma training and improved relationships with students.” Annie Zhu nailed it. When each student has at least one person on campus to whom he/she can go for support, it begins to transform the school. Teachers, staff, and administrators must all be committed to a new philosophy and willing to take the time to work with individual students. When a school has these kinds of close relationships with individual students regardless of their abilities, zip codes, and backgrounds, issues can be addressed in a timely manner and crises can be prevented. Perhaps we should rethink our policies and how our schools operate on a daily basis. There is no quick fix to school safety. Inquiring minds should dig deeper into the problem.