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Sunday Reflections: Empty Bellies, Starving Hearts – What happens when teens see compassion die

sundayreflections1A teen looks up from a project she is working on and realizes that she has been working too long, she has missed it. She comes to our Teen MakerSpace every day after school and stays until closing. But she leaves every night around 6:00 PM to go to the local dinner. You see poverty is so high in our town that a different church hosts a community dinner every week night – and she realizes that she has just missed it.

I have some candy in my office so I give it to her. I’ve also given teens the remains of my pizza, cookies, and whatever else I can scrounge up in from my office. Today I’m coming up empty. Later today I will, in fact, go use my bank card to try and buy something and it will be declined. It turns out I only have $5.00 in my bank account until payday. Thankfully, payday is tomorrow.

This teen, however, has no payday. She is a teenager, but just barely.

Another barely a teen teen delivers newspapers to help make sure her family eats. The library staff bought her a hat and gloves as we watched her deliver newspapers in the falling snow and in subzero temperatures. We remind her to wear her coat. If she gets done with her route early enough, she’ll stop into the Teen MakerSpace to make something, stashing her newspaper pouch under a table while she pretends for a moment that the weight of the world doesn’t rest on her shoulder and she’s just hanging out and making stuff.

Recently a young teen boy expressed his rage about poverty. Not that he lives in poverty, that is common place around here. But he knows what people think of him for being poor, he reads the news. And as I asked him to be compassionate about a girl at school who was a cutter, he startled me as he began to rage against the idea of compassion. “Why,” he asked as he stood and began pointing, “should he show compassion to others when the world showed him no compassion.”

This moment was startling to me. Not because I thought the world showed him compassion, I know that we don’t, but because this teen not only knew it and it was effecting the way he thought about having compassion for others. It was here that the ripple effect was clearly made known to me. His rage was palpable and clear, because no one was showing him compassion he did not feel the need to show compassion to others.

It is Easter morning and I have just brought my children home from church. We made dinner and sat around the table. We searched for eggs full of chocolate. We played games. Thankfully, my check when in on Friday. I was able to go out on Saturday and get a little bit of candy and a decent dinner for my kids. We live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to make ends meet, but I know that the lives of my biological kids – the ones I gave birth to – are different then the lives of my library teens.

During this past election there was a lot of talk about rural poverty and how it influenced the election. I drove every day past Trump signs in yards of falling down houses where I knew teens that would later go to the community dinner lived. Free lunch, financial aid, healthcare, these are just a few of the things that effect their daily lives that many people just voted against.

Tomorrow the library will open and we will once again see our teens. Teens coming in for books and movies. Teens coming in to user the Wifi or Internet because they don’t have access at home. Teens who come daily into our Teen MakerSpace for a safe space where they can learn, grown, and be social with their peers. Teens who parents come to the library to apply for jobs or file their taxes or to check their kid’s school grades. If the president defunds the IMLS as he has proposed in his upcoming budget, these families struggling to survive will be hurt once again.

As I write this post my youngest is pouring a box of Nerds into her mouth and watching Project Mc2 on a Netflix account that someone else generously pays for. Her belly is full, her mind is engaged, her heart is full of love.

But I know that for many kids across our country, their Easter looks nothing like this. Nothing. Those are my teens. Their bellies are growling, their hearts are screaming out for love, and we are failing them. Every time we speak in anger or judgment against those living in poverty, we are twisting the knife in their heart deeper and deeper. If we plunge it too far, they may never recover.

Because I am a Christian, I pray. And I pray this Easter is that we will prove that young man wrong and rediscover our compassion for the poor. And maybe, just maybe, we will start a chain reaction of compassion that will change his heart, and all of our futures.

Sunday Reflections: A Sea of Black Belts and the Myth of the Lazy Teen

Teenagers, they’re all so lazy and entitled, amirite?


Having worked with teenagers for a over 22 years now, I know that there are certain truths that the general public holds self evident. The most popular among them is the idea that teenagers are lazy, entitled brats who are a menace to society. I thought about this perception of teens a lot this weekend as I sat in a sea of teenage black belts soaked in blood, sweat and, sometimes, tears.


I spent my weekend at an International Tae Kwan Do Tournament in Dallas, Texas. There were 48 schools that gathered together to spend the weekend competing, among those competing were a mega ton of teens. I saw hundreds of teenage black belt walking around this weekend and having witnessed my own teenager get her black belt, I can tell you that a lot of hard work and dedication goes into the process. These kids spent more time and energy in this process than many of us will spend on any one single thing in our life time. It took my daughter a little over 3 years of 3 times a week classes, practice at home, and one of the most brutal tests you will ever witness. I don’t mean brutal in terms of getting beat up by other people, although that did happen, but I mean brutal in terms of the lengths of the test and the amount of physical and mental energy it demands of its test takers.

Many of the teens competed in a demo team competition late Friday night. Like my daughter, these teens committed hours and hours of time practicing to learn their routines and get their timing and precision just right. They practiced on Friday nights. They practiced on Saturday mornings. They practiced on Sunday afternoons. This is on top of the many hours of classes they attend regularly during the week. Every time I took my daughter to practice I marveled at this team’s dedication and hard work.


The Bestie went with us this week to support The Teen. She spent her Friday night cheering on her friend. We got home late at night only to wake up just a few hours later to get up, drive back and do it all over again. She sat patiently for hours waiting for her best friend to participate in a 15-minute competition. She enthusiastically cheered her on. She is loving, kind, supportive and everything I would want in a friend. And in this moment, she was selfless.

The Bestie herself recently spent her own hours dedicated to making the cheerleading squad for the upcoming year (we’re so proud!). She took tumbling classes to perfect her flips and jumps. She worked tirelessly to maintain the grades she needed to be eligible. And then she spent evenings learning the routines she needed to know for tryouts. She’ll spend part of her summer going to camps and getting prepared for the next year. Cheerleaders are another group who are harmfully stereotyped, when the truth is they put a lot of hard work and dedication into their craft.

Many teens will spend time this summer in marching band camp, two-a-day football practices, church camp, science camp, volunteering, or working summer jobs.

Don’t get me wrong, some days I look over at my teen and she is laying like an invertebrate slug on the couch and I think if she tries to move she will have to ooze like a liquid blob across the floor. But this is actually a normal part of adolescent development. The teenage years are rivaled only by the baby and toddler years in the amount of physical change and growth that takes place. We give toddlers tons of leeway for behavior and sleep, but teenagers often don’t get the same consideration even though we know biologically that the same types of demands are being made on their brains and bodies.

Do teenagers sleep a lot? Yes, they often do. And science tells us that they need to. The amount of energy being expended behind the scenes to help their bodies and brains grow is monumental. A two-year old can throw a full blown tantrum in the candy aisle of the grocery store and we all make knowing eye contact with the parents because we’ve been there and understand. But heaven forbid a teenager walk into the library with a sullen expression and a clipped verbal interaction after a regimented eight-hour day of school.

Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough – NCBI

Want to know another secret? Even though I love my job, my co-workers, and my community, I’m sometimes cranky after an eight-hour day at work. I just want a moment after meeting the demands of everyone else around me to decompress. Because I am an adult, I often get to do just that. I get to manage my time and interactions outside of work. Teenagers often don’t. In fact, I can think of no other time in my life then my teenage years when there were so many outside demands put on my time, attention and attitudes. Young kids are given a lot of freedom to explore the world and play, we try to be empathetic to their needs, but less so with teenagers. School, extracurricular activities, jobs, chores, church and more – the demands and expectations that society puts on teenagers can be overwhelming.

As a librarian who works with teens, I have fought against the stereotypes we hold for teenagers my entire career. I have seen toddlers throw fits and adults berate staff over 10 cent fines, and no one has ever said let’s shut down the youth or adult services department. But have a bad interaction with a group of teens and staff are lamenting that we have to have teen services at all. Why do we want them coming into the library, we ask, when there behavior is so awful.

Teens are just like any other group of people. Some of them are truly awful. I, the teen services librarian and advocate, will secretly loathe a couple of the teens that use my space every once in a while. For one reason or another, we just won’t connect or I genuinely hate their attitude and approach to life. I will work hard to make sure that none of them ever know this, but if we’re going to be honest, it happens.

But I also think that we as a society do a really bad job of seeing all the positive things that teens are doing, how hard they work, and the demands that we put on this group of people who have so little say in what we ask of them. Every day there are teens solving problems, helping others, supporting people they love, and pursuing their personal dreams. There are teens getting up early to go to practices, staying late for more practices, and sacrificing weekend mornings that could be spent sleeping in or playing video games to do things that they have a passion for. We just keep overlooking it.

It’s an old marketing saying that a negative experience will be communicated by your customer to 7 other people. We don’t pass on the positive, because our expectation is to have a positive costumer service experience. But a negative customer experience, we’ll pass that on to everyone. It’s the same thing with teens. We, society, tend to focus on the negative and forget to tell each other about the positives.

This is me sharing with you a positive and reminding us all that we need to stop being negative about teens. They’re working harder than we and the media often give them credit for. As I looked out this weekend and saw a sea of teenage black belts, I am reminded once again that the way that we talk about teens just isn’t correct.

Also, maybe we need more YA with teens who do martial arts. Pretty please.

Sunday Reflections: Who Gets to Decide What it Means to be “Real”?

sundayreflections1Real American

Real America

Real Christian

Real Patriot

Real Man

Real Woman

There is a lot of talking lately about being real.

Real America, many people argue, lies in the heart of the poor, rural Midwest communities with silos and farms. As if the big cities no longer matter. Coastal elites, they claim, don’t represent REAL America.

Real Christians vote Republican.

Real women have curves.

Real men don’t cry.

Real patriots don’t question their country or its leaders.

But who gets to define what it means to be real?

I have lived in both California and the rural Midwest. The view outside my window was different, but the issues were the same. Both locations are full of people trying to navigate life, trying to pay their bills and trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

I have been both a conservative and a progressive Christian – and even a nonChristian. But whether conservative or progressive, the people are wrestling with the same issues: What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in this day and age? There are different approaches to the questions and very different answers, but at the heart of it people are wrestling with the same questions.

I have no idea what it means to be a man, but I know that my husband was the realest and the rawest when I broke down crying after his father passed away. Emotions are real. Humanity is real.

I have been both anorexic and overweight, and in both situations I was a real woman.

My biggest freedom came to me when I decided that other people didn’t get to own the terms and make the definitions for me.

I am a mom who works. I love working and I travel and leave my daughters for several days in a row in order to do this job that I love. I love my daughters but I don’t always love the details of parenting. But I am a real mother. I’m even a good mother, though not a perfect one. I don’t judge mothers who choose to stay at home and they don’t get to judge me for making different choices. Those of us who raise children, whether they be children born to us or children that have come to us in other ways, are mothers.

Men who cry, men who make art, men who play video games, men who play sports, men in business, men who stay home and raise their children. They are all real men.

Women who decide not to have children. Women whose bodies won’t let them have children. Women who work. Women who don’t work. Women who are thin. Women who have curves. Women who wear make-up. Women who don’t. Women who play sports. Women who love fashion. They are all real women.

Americans who question their government. Americans who take a knee during the national anthem to make a statement. Americans who stand and place their hand over their hand. They are all real Americans.

The truth is, there is no one right way to be a thing. And we don’t get to define it for each other.

For me, being an active American citizen means putting country over party, and being a good Christian means putting people over both.

For me, that’s what loving my neighbor means.

Working with teens, I have often been privileged to see the moment when my teens stand up straight and say in their hearts, “you don’t get to define me anymore.”

You don’t get to define me anymore.

I may not think like you or act like you, but I am real. A real American. A real Christian. A real woman. A real mother.

No one gets to own the definition of what it means to be real. I define myself.

Sunday Reflections: There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

The tickets were a different color. That’s what I remember about being on the free and reduced lunch program after my parents got divorced and we tried to make it as a single income family. The tickets were a different color so every kid knew that you were poor. There was great shame that came with handing that ticket to the lunch lady. But that shame didn’t overwrite my hunger, so I handed it to her and I ate.


This past week, Betsy DeVos made the comment that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And that is technically true. Lunches, even lunches that come free to children in our nation’s schools, cost someone money. I, personally, don’t mind paying taxes to help make sure that children don’t go hungry.

Here’s the thing about children. They are our most vulnerable population. They are developing and forming and every thing that happens to and around them affects them. Hunger. Poverty. It affects them. And because it affects them, it affects all of us.

I am a Christian and since this is a Sunday, let me turn now to the Bible. Once there was a man named Jesus who stood before a large crowd and he was going to deliver what we would call today a sermon. He was teaching them. But he looked out among them and saw that they were hungry and he understood they would not be able to listen and learn while their bellies rumbled with hunger pains, so he fed them. This is the Sermon on the Mount. The feeding of the multitude. The story of when a man named Jesus took some loaves and fishes and fed thousands of hungry people so that he could teach them.

We can argue about the best ways to feed starving children. But there are hungry kids sitting in our public schools – current statistics indicate 1 in 5 of every kid – and they already have a lunch time and a lunch program, so free and reduced lunches make sense. It’s a distribution program in place that works.

There has been a lot of talk since the election about rural poverty. No one, they claim, cares about poor rural people and that is why we are here. Ironically, cutting school lunch programs would dramatically hurt those living in rural poverty. I know, because I work in an area with high amounts of rural poverty. In fact, I recently did a long series of Tweets about what is was like working with these teens. I share that story with you here because it seems relevant to this conversation we keep having.

It’s true, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone, somewhere is paying for that lunch. But I’m not in the business of punishing children, affecting their health and development, and compromising our future for some negative ideology that overlooks the very real causes of poverty and puts more money into the hands of rich people while children sit hungry in the classroom and can’t focus on learning because their teacher’s voice isn’t louder than the growling in their bellies. I’d rather my taxes go to feed hungry children then pay for our billionaire president’s many vacations or to increase our capacity to kill the world a thousand times over by developing more nuclear weapons. Investing in children is an investment in America.

This is what it's like working with teens living in rural poverty in a small Midwestern town//

This is what it's like working with teens living in rural poverty in a small Midwestern town

  1. If you would like, please gather round for a look at teenage life in poor(er) rural America. Multiple tweets to follow.

  2. Just five minutes ago, I sat in a busy, active Teen Makerspace with 24 teens. In a moment, they are all gone. Just like that. Why?

  3. They all left to go to the local hot meal. This happens every week night like clockwork. They're here, then there are gone. Poverty & hunger

  4. are so rampant in this rural town that local churches/organizations have a steady, weekly rotation of hot meals for the public. My teens

  5. know the schedule by heart. The staff does as well, because it is the most frequent question we get asked after where's the bathroom.

  6. They come here after school and stay until closing. Sometimes parents come check on them in between going from one part-time job to the next

  7. Many of them are in foster care. They share stories of abuse, sexual violence, drug use and more. They are bored, restless, scared.

  8. Our schools are failing because there is no $ and no one will vote for a levy because they can't afford higher taxes.

  9. One girl wore broken glasses for months because she can only get new ones 1 day a year when the local place has a free clinic.

  10. Some of my teens have teeth rotting out because they can't afford to go to a dentist. No one makes fun of them because they all know and

  11. and understand here what it's like to live in poverty. They know what it's like to be hungry. To have your electricity or water turned off.

  12. They talk openly about it all because it's all they know and they have no shame. They don't have space for your shame. They are surviving.

  13. There are a few pockets of more middle class in this town, but overall we have a high amount of poverty, poor health, instability, low ed.

  14. These parents are trying hard in a system designed for them to fail. There are no jobs locally, not good paying ones. And you need cars &

  15. childcare to get out of town for the better paying jobs. Or for cultural experiences. Or for anything that isn't mass marketed & cheap.

  16. It's a never ending cycle. One illness, one car break down, and they fall back down the ladder. And it keeps repeating, because the system

  17. that's designed to hold them down is very good at it.

  18. These are children. Teenagers yes, but children. When they turn 15 many of them will get jobs. They will try & go to school, but they need

  19. the $ more immediately then they need the education. They need to eat. Electricity. Running water. Education is a luxury here for those who

  20. can afford to stay in instead of dropping out and working.

  21. So remember when you are talking about poverty, you are talking about real people. Most of them the hardest working people you'll ever meet.

  22. And remember that these kids love like this because of us. Because of our laws, our systems, our decisions. But we can also work to change.

  23. Things they need:
    To be valued, respected, cared for
    Parents w/jobs that have livable wages & benefits so they can be more present in the

  24. Life of their children
    Quality public education
    Health care
    Nutritious food
    Cultural opportunities like field trips to museums & plays

  25. Side note: so many schools no longer have field trips, which is the only way many kids go to museums, plays, etc. Another huge loss for all.

  26. Some of these teens are born and raised here & have never been out of this small town because how could they get there? They can't.

  27. In a half hour they will all walk back to the library in the freezing rain and stay until close. Then they'll go to wherever it is they are

  28. sleeping tonight. For some, it will be home. For others, it won't. In the mean time, I'm honored to sit in this space w/them & listen, teach


Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 



The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.



From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.


From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.


From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

Sunday Reflections: Dear World, Here’s What We Want You to Know about Teen Girls

The other day, in attempt to express contempt for President Trump’s Twitter use, Judd Apatow disparaged him by comparing him to a 14-year-old girl who tweets. This is not the first time that I have seen a tweet like this. The idea of being “like a girl”, especially a teenage girl, is a tried and true way of putting down others, especially men. For many, being like a girl is the worse insult they can think of. Teenage girls are so reviled that we effortlessly use them as insults and then we wonder why they are growing up feeling unempowered and rejected by the world around them.

So in response to not just Judd Apatow but to a culture that wants to continue to use teen girls as an insult and a put down, I tweeted about the various teen girls that I know, love, raise and spend time with in my life. You can read those tweets in a Storify here. But I want to tell you specifically what two 14-year-old girls spent last week doing.


For some time, The Teen, a close personal friend and I have been talking about starting an initative to try and get books into the hands of needy children and teens in our local community. One in five children go to bed hungry each night and if you can’t buy food, you are most certainly not buying books. And as a librarian I know and preach the value of libraries exactly for this reason, but I also know that there is something special about owning a few books and having your own personal library that is open all the time and you get to call yours. So these past few weeks we worked really hard to start making it happen in our local community.


We knew that getting books wouldn’t necessarily be a problem – many people have already donated – but we kept getting stuck on the how do we distribute the books portion. Then, our local food pantry announced that it was starting a backpack food program. If you’re community doesn’t do this I highly recommend looking into it. Each child who needs one gets a backpack full of food and snacks to take home on Friday afternoon so that they have some food to eat over the weekend. For many children, breakfast and lunch at school may be the only meal they get each week, and weekends are hard. The food backpack program helps bridge the gap over the weekend.

Making bookmarks

Making bookmarks

So we called the local food pantry, who will be putting the backpacks together each week, and asked if we could also put a book in each backpack. They said yes! So now we have begun collecting book donations (or the money to go buy books as some people prefer we buy the books). We also are making bookmarks and READ buttons to put with each book. Our goal is to put a book in each backpack a couple of times a month so that by the end of the school year these kids will have a handful of books to call their own and they can keep reading when they no longer have access to their school library.

Making buttons

Making buttons

So Friday night, out of all the things these two teenage girls could have been doing, they set up and assembly line to make buttons and bookmarks, placed them in books, and organized books by ages to be placed next week in backpacks. To date we have about 131 books.

b4fk5 b4fk1

We made signs and put collection boxes up around the neighborhood. And we brainstormed other ways we could get books into the hands of kids. For example, our community has a monthly farmer’s market and we talked about purchasing a cart that we can set up with a “here kids take a book” sign. The girls are excited about the prospect of spending their Saturday’s out in the community handing out books to kids.

These are just two teenage girls, there are tons more like them all over doing equally amazing things. So maybe we can stop using them as insults and instead start respecting, nurturing and empowering them. And hey, maybe once in a while tell them they’re awesome. Because they are.

Sunday Reflections: This is Why I Marched

The Teen and Thing 2 Marching in Fort Worth, Texas

The Teen and Thing 2 Marching in Fort Worth, Texas

Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education

Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy

An unqualified cabinet full of billionaires that donated to his campaign

Conflicts of Interest, including putting his family in positions of authority and influence


Freedom of the press


Climate change

Women’s rights

Human rights

There were a lot of reasons to attend the Women’s March yesterday. And a part of my heart marched for each one. But I also marched because we just swore into an office a man who is ON THE RECORD stating that he regularly sexually assaults women and has no qualms about doing so. That’s right, we put a man who has no regard for 51% of the human race in a position to make policy and legislation that effects them. Actually, he has no regard or compassion for way more than 51% of the human race when you consider his position on those with disabilities, immigrants, people of color, poor people, anyone who is not cisgender and heterosexual, and people of faiths that are not Christian. We put a fox in charge of the hen house and now we’re trying to keep him from eating his prey.

We made buttons to hand out at the march

We made buttons to hand out at the march

So yesterday I marched. I marched with my two daughters in Fort Worth, Texas. We talked about why we were marching, what would happen, and more.

On the way down to the march my dad asked me on the phone, “what do you expect to accomplish by marching?”

It is estimated that between 5,000 (low) and 9,000 people marched in Fort Worth

It is estimated that between 5,000 (low) and 9,000 people marched in Fort Worth

What I expected to accomplish was this: I wanted to make a strong, powerful, visual statement to our elected representatives at all levels of government that we are here, we are watching, and we do not support these policies. I believe we accomplished this goal and I thank everyone who marched everywhere to help make this happen.

Here’s what I didn’t expect to happen, but greatly needed: My heart, which has been full of despair since the night of the election, was encouraged. I looked around me and saw people fighting with me, and a light shone on this day that I had forgotten existed. I stood amongst people holding signs demanding accountability, proclaiming love, and promising to fight and I knew that although we were in for a long haul, we were not in it alone. I was inspired, invigorated, and encouraged.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

At each intersection as we marched by the police who had stopped traffic so that we could march, people cheered for the police. Many people walked up and shook the officers hands and thanked them for their service. I followed their examples and made a point to thank many of the officers along the parade route.

At one intersection, a counter-protestor, not part of the March, walked up to a police officer who had just shook the hand of a marcher and asked him why he, the police officer, was being nice to us, the protestors, because we hated the police. The police officer just shook his head and said nah, I don’t think they do man. This man started to get angry and was trying to tell him that we were against the police. He was legitimately an outside agitator trying to stir this police officer up against the marchers. Thankfully, the officer did not take the bait. He just kept telling the man that no, he didn’t think we were against him and we weren’t causing any problems.


I appreciated that this officer did not take this man’s bait and that he served and stood up for us. All the officers were pretty amazing to see.

But it was also interesting to see because maybe when protests get out of hand maybe it isn’t always what it seems. This man wanted to cause us problems and thankfully, that did not happen.

What Comes Next?

Though the march inspired me, the girls and I talked about how the fight is not over. They have heard me in these last few weeks call and talk to my representatives. They have heard me stutter and stammer as I nervously told my representatives that we need to investigate Russia, that we need to see Trump’s tax returns, that we do not support Betsy DeVos as head of the Department of Education.

I have written e-mails, signed petitions and spoke to truth. Truth is apparently in danger these days in this terrifying new reality.

We’ve made other little daily changes to spark change. Whenever we buy groceries now we make sure and buy some items to donate to the local food pantry. We have talked to community members about organizing some different types of things to bring members, particularly teens, in our community closer together and keep them engaged and learning and building relationships.

The Teen is investigating going and participating in the Girls in Politics Initiative. She wants to learn more and maybe be involved in politics when she grows up. We’re looking at costs and dates.

I’ve programmed all of my reps into my phone, bookmarked several sites that keep me informed and provide daily actions.

And last night, Thing 2 came to me with a DVD in her hand and said maybe we should cuddle and watch this again tonight. The DVD in question was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is why I marched.


Sunday Reflections: Greater words than ours


This week, TLT is taking a break from its usual Sunday Reflections. Instead of reading our words, please spend a moment reading or listening to words from The Honorable John Lewis’s long career.

Here is his  “Speech at the March on Washington” from August 28, 1963 when he was 23 years old.

You can view the speech below.

We invite our readership to share favorite words from or thoughts on John Lewis in the comments.

You may also like:

Book Review: March Against Fear

Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

Screening Ava DuVernay’s The 13th

Thinking About Ferguson

Sunday Reflections: This is what happened when they showed a picture of the “Real Jesus” in church today? A discussion on why Representation Matters.

Today has been a weird day for me. Yesterday, I took the girls to see Hidden Figures. We waited for months to see what turned out to be one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. We were excitedly not only because I want to signal boost girls in science to my girls, but because it highlights the struggles that women of color face in our world. It is part of my commitment as a parent of young women and as a conscious consumer to invest in both women and POC in all forms of media. We’re voting with our dollars. That’s not the weird part of my day.sundayreflections1

As a parent, and as a citizen of the world who wants to actively practice love, acceptance and basic humanity, I work hard to practice conscientious consumption and parenting. We talk about gender norms, religious and ethnic stereotypes, and more. My teenage daughter will watch a movie and exclaim, “Of course the one black character dies first.” These are kids that have been taught to think about what is happening in the media they consume and what it means about how both they and our culture think and feel about a wide variety of topics, including how we view other human beings.

For example, after we watched Hidden Figures, we had conversations about how it was hard for these women not just because they were women who wanted a career in science, but because they were black women who wanted to pursue careers. When The Teen wanted to talk about the challenges women faced in that day and age, I reminded her that these particular women had additional challenges because not only were they women, but they were women of color. I think it is important for my children, and for us as a culture, to understand that although yes there is a lot of discrimination against women, there is even more so against women of color.

In my family, we actively parent in ways where we try to break down gender roles, stereotypes and more.

Which is why what happened today in church surprised me.

Our pastor was preaching and he showed a picture of what he explained was an accurate representation of Jesus according to forensic scientists. It looked like this:


My 8-year-old turned to me and said, “he looks like a criminal.”

I tried to ask her why she thought this and her response was, “I don’t really know.”

It’s interesting to note that when I shared this story on my personal FB page and expressed concerns that my child saw a man of color as a criminal, many of my friends said that no, it looks like a mug shot. I even posted several other examples of painted portraits to demonstrate that this was, in fact, a typical painting portrait style. (And for the record, I find his eyes to be expressive and inviting.)

So what does this mean? Does it look like a mugshot because of something stylistically? Or does it look like a mugshot because we have internalized racism and our first response when we see a picture of a brown skin man is to think mug shot?

The truth is, of course, is that Jesus was – in fact – a criminal. He was a radically compassionate refugee who challenged the current political and religious institutions of his day. He asked his followers to feed the hungry, heal the sick, forgive their enemies, and serve one another. He called the religious leaders of His day Pharisees, and it wasn’t a compliment. He said to pray in private, turn away from greed, and to not store up for yourself treasures on Earth. He ate with sinners, washed the feet of his disciples, and proclaimed that the first would be last. He was so radical, they killed him. They killed him in very public ways to make an example of him. When we consider criminals, Jesus was public enemy number one during his lifetime.

But when we look at this picture and see a mugshot, is that the reason why? Or is there something else at work here, like internalized and institutional racism? Do we see a standard portrait painting of a man with brown skin and automatically think criminal because of something in us, something we have been taught to do through cultural indoctrination?

So in the interest of research, I googled “Portrait Paintings” and did an image search. Here’s a screen gab of what comes up.


I then did a Google image search for “Portrait Paintings Jesus” and this is what came up.


As I said, the picture of the “real Jesus” shared in church today is, to me, a pretty standard depiction of a portrait painting. I don’t see mug shot. (Although what the heck is up with that picture of smiling/laughing Jesus on the third from the bottom right? That’s just terrifying to me.)

What it means to me is this: as a parent and a librarian, I have to continue to do the work of challenging and breaking down stereotypes. There is a very real possibility that my child, despite all the hard work that I have tried to do, looked at this picture and thought criminal because in all honesty, we tend to depict people who look like the real Jesus as criminals and terrorists. I will continue to seek out positive representation for all people groups. I will continue to talk with my kids about the images they see, the tv and movies they consume, and the books that they read. I will continue to ask them questions and make them think about what they are taking in and how they are processing it.

In contrast, look at this amazing story that Diego Luna shared earlier this week about Star Wars Rogue One:

Representation Matters.

Sunday Reflections: The Cybils are Here!

For several years, I have had the honor of being a part of The Cybils. The Cybils are book awards given out by bloggers (and readers) for the best of the best in a variety of categories. As a teen librarian, I have been a part of the YA award category. In that category, we look at both literary merit and teen appeal.


Sometime in October, nominations open up. Then a group of first round panelists read all those nominees and create a “short list” of titles. The short list goes on to a round of judges who will pick one of those titles and declare it the winner of The Cybils for that year.

While reading a ton of books – seriously, this year there were over 200 in the YA speculative fiction category – we have intense behind the scenes discussions about the books we are reading. That’s my favorite part. These discussions always help me look at some of the books a bit differently then I did before. Sometimes, you champion a book; which means that you really have to be able to talk about why you think a certain book should be on the list. Other times, we might have intense discussions about concerns about a book, whether those concerns be about representation, messaging, characterization, etc.

Several years ago, the book I loved most didn’t make the short list at all. I fought long and hard for this book, but no, it was not to be. In the end, I was still super proud and excited about the short list we put together. The process is just as meaningful to me as the list we put together and share with you. I love talking about YA fiction with other people who love YA fiction. But it’s more then just that, these are people who love to really talk in depth about YA. And I can’t stress it enough, it’s challenging, rewarding, intelligent discussion and it can really change your point of view.

Want to know who made this year’s short list? Click on over to The Cybils website. It’s another great list and this year, one of my favorites did indeed make the short list. I’ll give you a hint – it’s the book I blurb!