Why #Puritymoms Should Not Dictate The Sex Ed Curriculum For Our Children!

The OPS school district in Omaha Nebraska held a public meeting to address changes to the ‘Sex Ed’ curriculum last week. Over 1500 people showed up for the meeting which had to be cut short because of disrespectful language and shouting from parents, most notorious was a woman now dubbed the #puritymom who yelled her disapproval at the thought of the school changing or improving the sex ed curriculum for her children. Omaha Public Schools haven’t changed their sex ed curriculum in 30 years.

Now let’s rewind a little bit, I want to share some statistics from the Douglas County Health Department, (www.douglascountyhealth.com › Health Statistics) Douglas County is the county responsible for the large majority of the OPS population. In the year 2000, 1,962 cases of Chlamydia were reported but in 2014 3,390 cases. Gonorrhea 1,161 cases in 2000 and 961 in 2014, Herpes 476 in 2000 and 321 in 2014. Syphilis 2 in 2000 and 37 in 2014. So while the numbers reflect the general trend of these communicable diseases each year, notice that the two that show a decrease from 2000 to 2014, have only decreased by a very small margin while the ones that show an increase have increased by a lot. Furthermore 15-24 year olds make up the bulk of Chlamydia cases in Douglas county, with 15-19 year olds making up 26.5% and 20-24 year olds making up 38.2% of all reported cases.

 

African Americans make up 37.4% of all cases while whites make up 36.3%, one thing we have to remember is that African Americans only make up 4.7% of the Omaha population which makes these numbers very problematic. Many of the parents present and in protest at the meeting happened to be African American. To me this knowledge alone is heartbreaking. While my children do not attend Omaha Public Schools as we live in a different county, I am a product of a teenage pregnancy. My mother had me at 16 and I know for a fact that this changed the entire course of her life. I wish that during her time comprehensive sex education had been part of her education. I remember growing up as a young girl in Zimbabwe with very little knowledge about my own body let alone other people’s bodies. I was so confused about not only my changing body but even my sexual identity. While I had known at a very young age that I had an attraction to females, nobody had ever given me the language to name what I was experiencing or to even tell me that it was perfectly normal. I remember feeling so ashamed when I started growing breasts, I started wearing oversized shirt that could hide my budding chest and when my menstruation began way sooner than I had been told it would at 12, I concealed it in shame and used very unsanitary methods to cope. Comprehensive sex education would have helped me tremendously just with understanding my own body. I grew up not knowing that people can identify differently from the gender they are born as, I did not know that heterosexuality was not the only way to identify sexually and this led to years of personal confusion and frustration. LGBTQ youths have the highest rates of suicide among all youths, surely comprehensive sex education can help reduce these numbers. If kids are not getting empowering information at home, then school should be the place that information comes from.

 

I want my two children ages 11 and 9 to have a different and more informed transition to teenagehood than I did. I have no idea why any parent would vote for less education for their child regardless of what the subject of discussion is. Our children are better off empowered and knowledgeable about their bodies. Many of the parents that showed up at the OPS meeting seemed to support ‘Abstinence’ Only sex education which has already been proven over and over again not to work. Research shows that places that implement comprehensive sex ed have lower teenage pregnancy rates, lower STD rates, lower sexual assault rapes. By the end of elementary school, most kids have already viewed porn due to the availability of the internet to children in this generation. Making sure kids never learn about sex sends a clear message that kids can’t talk to their parents, so if they are sexually abused they will keep the abuser’s secret. If they develop a yeast infection or urinary tract infection they will be too ashamed to get help.

But there is an even bigger issue at hand, specifically in regards to race and sexually transmitted diseases. African Americans are dying due to HIV related illness at double the rate of whites and hispanics combined. So when a school district that is responsible for educating the majority of African American students in a city like Omaha faces such challenges from parents who are not informed, the repercussions go far beyond just a ‘school issue’, it affects future outcomes. African Americans already have the highest teenage pregnancy rates, highest infant mortality rates and highest STD infection rates in America as a whole. As a black mother with African American children who are growing up in Omaha’s surrounding area I would like to see progress in this area. I urge all of us to be more informed regarding comprehensive sex ed, because it matters and does affect our very children’s future!

 

Waiting For #BlackLivesToMatter To Black People!

Black-Lives-Matter

As I start to type this blog, just a twenty minute drive North from where I sit is the most dangerous place to be black in America. Omaha Nebraska has a black homicide rate of 34.4 per 100,000 people, double the national average of black victimization according to ‘The Violence Policy Center’ (VPC), a research based advocacy group that promotes gun control out of Washington DC. This year alone more than twenty homicides have already been reported, the majority concentrated on the Northern and Northeastern parts of the city. To add insult to injury according to a recent report from Pew Research Center, the wealth gap between blacks and whites is the widest it has ever been since 1989 and sadly Nebraska again sits at the bottom joining Minnesota and Rhode Island as the states with the widest racial financial gaps. I, like many other people of all races and backgrounds was outraged by the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement, the death of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice broke my heart to the core because my son will grow up to look like these young men. Everyday I shouted at the rooftops how much #BlackLivesMatter, people of all backgrounds staged protests right here in Omaha as was happening all over the country, everybody was sick and tired of black lives not mattering. Then on January 23rd in one day alone three black people were shot and killed by other black people at a party in North Omaha in what was suspected to be gang violence, there was no outrage from the community at large, a prayer walk was organized which ended with shoving and pushing among the few that attended. This happens in every predominantly black inner city neighborhood in America. Black people die at the hands of other black people, and it has become so normal that there is no outrage, no protests, no marches. I hope this synopsis gives you an idea of why I am personally waiting for #BlackLivesToMatter to black people.

 

Anytime I bring up statistics such as this, black people are up in arms, ‘but it is because of #WhitePrivilege they protest, even as an immigrant to this country I am well aware of the effects of systemic discrimination against people of color in this country, I am well aware of how the school to prison pipeline works, I am informed on how much the justice system fails people of color and the poor, but even with all of that knowledge I also know this. I know that black people have a right in this country to move and live in any neighborhood they choose, I know that black people can go to college if they choose, I know black people can get any job they want as long as they have the qualifications for the job. How do I know this? I know because every single African immigrant I know, myself included, has come to this country and put themselves through school and almost always lives in a good neighborhood and almost always has a good paying job. I am aware that #AfricanPrivilege exists, I know that as an African I do carry some privilege over African Americans, I know that my accent gives me away as a foreigner therefore making me less suspicious in my everyday interactions with the world at large, but even knowing all of that there’s no way Africans who come here with nothing would be so successful in their own right if #WhitePrivilege was so suffocating for the progress of black people in this country. Africans are not off the hook by any means, I will get to African issues in African countries before the end of this blog. I am simply saying the success of Africans in America shows that race is not necessarily a prerequisite for failure in this country and yet so many of our African American communities are doing just that, failing. The CDC has just released its latest report on HIV deaths and African Americans are dying from HIV at a higher rate than Whites and Latinos combined, and can we blame white people for this? African Americans have the highest infant mortality rates in this country, is this because of white people?

 

Black lives have to start mattering to black people, African Americans cannot continue to score the lowest on national average test scores and then expect the numbers of incarcerated people of color to go down, research shows that the kids who are failing as early as 4th grade are the same kids who will likely be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime. So even if we changed the entire justice system and made it as fair as possible, if boys of color are still scoring the lowest then men of color will likely continue to be the majority of those incarcerated. It is time for black people to literally change the way they think and the way they live. Why are African Americans still concentrating on physical ability? Singing, dancing, and playing sports are all fine, but where are the academic black people in America? Not every black boy who dreams of playing in the NBA will make it, the NBA like any other sport only has a few allotted spots. So can someone explain to me why the only videos of black kids you ever see go viral are those in which they’re dancing or doing something that does not require intellect? When will people of color start raising their kids to want to be doctors, lawyers, neurosurgeons, engineers, etc? When will black lives really start mattering to black people? When will people of color stop investing in clothing and shoes for their children and start investing in books? How about getting little man a little book shelf before he turns one instead of his first pair of Jordans? I can guarantee that a bookshelf in which a parent takes the time to read a bedtime story to their child will go so much further than a pair of Jordans a kid will outgrow in a few months. I only know this because I have two kids myself who are both advanced in mathematics and reading for their grades but neither has ever owned a pair of Jordans or an X-Box or a Playstation but have always had books since before birth, and yes I will argue that books at such an early age has everything to do with their academic progress now. Are you aware that the number of books in a child’s home is directly correlated to how well a child does in school? So without an exposure to books we may be failing our kids of color even before they get to kindergarten and is this necessary, when we have free libraries in America? If at this point what I am saying angers you, I invite you to think of how many people of color you know read bedtime stories to their kids, or take them to the library. How many did you come up with?

 

But it is not just about African Americans, it is really black people the world over. I come from Zimbabwe, Africa, a predominantly black continent. As I watched the movie ‘The Imitation Game’ just yesterday it dawned on me that while Alan Turing was able to design a decoding machine to crack the Nazi code way back in the early 1940’s, millions of Africans in 2015 are still using the most basic of man-made tools like fire for cooking and using the outdoors as lavatories, using leaves to wipe off. Millions of Africans still live in very basic of human made structures like huts plastered with cow dung and roofs made of straw. Yes, I am aware of colonialism and slavery and the entire history of those two major setbacks for black people, but it still makes little sense to me that with access to technology and information in the modern world Africa is still that far behind, many living in worse conditions than 17th century westerners. Is it really still white people’s fault? Africa as a continent has 15 of the 20 worst countries in the world as far as women’s rights go due to child marriages and very little rights for the girl child, the highest rates of HIV infection in the world are found in Sub-Saharan Africa with the rest of the continent not doing much better, I could write 5 pages of such statistics but I will stop here. Go to any country in the world, any continent and you will find that black people have the worst statistics and why is that? What really is holding us back from catching up? Which brings me to God, black people everywhere have to have someone or something else to blame, if not white people, then God, and if not God, then witchcraft, and if not witchcraft, then something else. I don’t know when it happened or why but we have become a people that have to pass the blame to someone else and when we are faced with reality our first instinct is to become defensive, we will bring up how everything happens in other communities of other races and so forth, but I don’t think that we are actually ever paying attention to the data and statistics because if we were, we would realize that we have to do something to hold ourselves accountable for what is happening to us regardless of how we got here and why. I want black lives to start mattering to black people because as a black lesbian woman living in this world my life is more endangered amongst people who look like me, whether it be in the homophobic, misogynistic patriarchal confines of African culture where I could have never become a queer author and an activist or right here in Omaha Nebraska, my current backyard, where black people die at the hands of other black people so often! I want #BlackLivesToMatter to black people. I will continue to speak and point out our failures and keep talking about the numbers we keep ignoring while I wait for black lives to really matter to us!

 

An Open Letter To My First Generation American Daughter.

On the eve of your tenth birthday I have so much I wish to say to you. I remember looking into your adorable face on the day you were born, here I was just a naïve twenty four year old who was unsure of everything, but as I held you I could feel certain broken parts in me heal. I knew then that even though I had lost my mother at such a young age and had never experienced the bond of mother and child, somehow things would have to be better for you. I have so many things I need to apologize for, the first being the fact that I allowed myself to stay with an abusive person for as long as I did. I am asking you now to not ever grow up and feel the need to be with anyone out of fear or loneliness or any benefit that isn’t purely based in companionship and love. I am telling now that I am not raising you to be someone’s mother or someone’s wife or to be anything that anyone else defines. My daughter you’re free to be yourself, know that your body as well as your mind, your dreams, your hopes and aspirations belong to only you and that you have a right to change your mind. So I am sorry that out of my inability to defy the status quo I chose to be with a man when I am not even heterosexual, my dear daughter I need you to understand that it is so complicated when you’re undocumented and young and alone in a completely foreign place. I did it all for survival and I will always be willing to tell you the truth. By now raising you as a single mother, I chose to give you safety while reclaiming my own truth. Whatever relationship you choose to one day have with your father, I need you to know that while you’re growing up, being around him would be unhealthy for you. I don’t ever intend to have you around abusive people and he is not an exclusion.

So much has happened in these ten years since your birth, I know in telling my story I have told some of yours as well and all the women in our family that have come before you but my child your full story is yet to be told. May you always have the courage to stand in your beliefs and restate your aspirations of one day wanting to be a neurosurgeon no matter how much your peers question it or how much adults compliment you on your beauty and suggest that you should be some supermodel. I know I started reading books to you early and have always stated the importance of a good education but you always surpass every academic bar that anybody ever sets but know that you are allowed to make mistakes and that you will make some. I don’t want you to think that you always have to be perfect, leave a little room for imperfection, sometimes it is the only way to learn and grow. Unlike me you will not ever be detained and taken away from everything you have worked for, for an entire thirty days for not being born here or being undocumented, you will not ever have to spend years fighting to stay in a place you have lived in all your adult life. In our home you will not ever be told that your gender or skin color is a limitation but the truth is everywhere you go in this world you will experience these things. Just your native name alone means you may not get called back for interviews one day when you’re older, but know that your name holds deep meaning, your gender alone means you one day may not make as much money working the same job as a man but know that you come from a line of hardworking women who defied the odds, your skin color alone means one day you may face discrimination without just cause but know that your skin color tells the story of your lineage which is everything from African to Irish to Native American. Your job will be to never let any of  those prejudices in society stop you, may you acknowledge privilege when you have it and reach down to help those who don’t, may you be strong and courageous but always with compassion. I hope you know that I speak and I write and call myself an Activist and a Feminist because I want a more equal world for you.

I want you to know that I go out of my way to make sure that you are surrounded by people from all backgrounds, diverse nationalities, gender identities and sexual orientations because I don’t want you to grow up blinded by ignorance, I don’t want you to ever think anyone is more deserving in this world than another. I want you to know that on any day I do all I can for you and your brother, that my love for you is bigger than my heart can contain and that I couldn’t be more proud of the person you are and that yes at only ten you have already read more books and crafted better power-points than I ever have. I wish for nothing but to always support all your endeavors, always cheering you on. May you grow up simply happy and know that you are loved beyond measure.1467288_10151769660062377_2084051733_n

Racism and Why the Shooting Death of Michael Brown is Everyone’s Responsibility. 

4535754561-e1408067346824I arrived in this country as a young and naive 19-year-old African girl. I was completely oblivious to racism. Yes, I had read all about it in history books and yes, I knew about the history of enslavement of black people in America.  My country of origin, Zimbabwe, was colonized and governed by Britain until its independence in 1980, the year I was born.  While Zimbabwe had experienced racial tensions prior to 1980, by the time I was old enough to understand, racism did not exist, at least not in the way it exists in America.

It was not until I started working at a nursing home in Omaha, Nebraska that I discovered what racism was when I experienced another human being show discontent towards me simply because of the color of my skin. I did not understand much about the racial disparities that existed in this country, but as an outsider that now existed in American society, one of the very first messages I received was that ‘African Americans were dangerous, especially African American males’. Now it wasn’t said so blatantly, but rather in undertones like, “You don’t want to ever go to North Omaha, you will get shot there”. North Omaha is a predominantly black neighborhood. Of course the notion of African American males being dangerous had already been planted in my head way before my arrival in America through movies that cast negative stereotypes of them as gang members, murderers, abusers, and mostly as prisoners that made up the majority of the population in jails. So in a way I’m not surprised that another young African American male was shot dead by law enforcement. Even though we do not know the complete details of what occurred in the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson Missouri police officer, what we all know is that in America everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. So regardless of what Michael Brown did or did not do, he just should not have been shot dead. I know for a fact that law enforcement encounters individuals of all races who are sometimes under the influence of drugs and are irrational and combative but we never hear of law enforcement retaliating with such aggression and force that results in death until it’s a case dealing with African American males. Michael Brown is not the first African American male and most likely won’t be the last. So far this year alone a reported 28 black people have been killed by law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. Until there are positive changes within the justice system, and society as a whole starts viewing African males in a positive light, this trend will continue. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect our children and make it a safe environment for them. As a mother of an 8-year-old African American boy and an almost 10-year-old girl, I feel compelled to talk to my children, especially my son, about some of the ways they maybe treated simply because of their race.

Domestic Violence Is Not Provoked

In the wake of Stephen A. Smith’s suspension from ESPN today, I feel it’s time to express my take on why his comments last Friday are harmful to all victims of domestic abuse. Back when I was 22 years old, I met a man who was nine years older than me. This man was to become my abusive boyfriend and later, my abusive husband. The first incident of verbal abuse occurred during an afternoon basketball game in which I was the only female playing. I was teamed with my cousin and a friend of ours while my boyfriend was on the opposite team with two others. As the game played on and my team was in the lead my boyfriend got progressively hostile, but his hostility was not directed at my entire team. Instead his hostility was targeting me. By the time the game ended he was fuming mad, and started yelling profanities. Besides the fact that his anger was unnecessary during a friendly game of basketball amongst friends, what astounded me most was the fact that I was the only one he directed his anger at.  I had done nothing in this incident to provoke his behavior as on the many occasions that followed where he choked me, punched walls, yelled and manipulated me, all because he was angry about something. When statements of provocation are made by people like Stephen A. Smith, it validates to the abusers out there that the victim is (at least) partially to blame for the abuse inflicted on them. People who are abusive, be it verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically, are not that way because others provoke them to be. They have their own issues that they haven’t sought help for and make their own choices. Like anyone else, how an abuser reacts to anything is really about them, not us, the victims. For goodness sake, can we please stop with the victim blaming? We must also realize that domestic violence occurs in all types of partnerships and affects people of all races and socio-economic classes. Abusers are men, and women, and people in same-sex relationships can also be victims of domestic violence.  At the same time, statistics show that women suffer domestic violence, or are murdered, more often at the hands of men than any other group. And women of color are at a much greater risk of being victimized by men than any other group- and that is why we need men like Stephen A Smith, who have a stage from which to speak, to not add insult to injury, but instead help end the domestic violence crisis.

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY FATHER, THE ONE WHO NEVER CARED TO KNOW ME!

I was completely taken aback when a few years ago after my self-published memoir was out I started getting all kinds of facebook messages and emails from people who claimed to be your brothers, sisters and relatives. They all had the same message “your father is looking for you”. So I grew up in the same country as you and I imagine even the same cities at times and now hundreds and thousands of miles apart and decades later you want to know me?

Dear Stanford, allow me to take you back in memory. I was born on January 17 1980 to Norah Goredema who was at the time only sixteen years old, I do not know the nature of your relationship with my mother but I understand that you claimed responsibility for getting her pregnant and even paid some type of ‘Lobola’ and stayed with my mother and I for some time after I was born. Your name appears on my birth certificate as ‘Father of child’, but I do not know you. I won’t go into all the details about how chaotic my childhood was after my mother committed suicide in 1985 at twenty one and my only sister died at three that same year when I was only five years old. All I remember from the time is the cheer look of pity in people’s eyes when they looked at me. A motherless child, but where were you?

I want to tell you about my life now, I will be thirty-five in about 6 months and I have these two amazing brilliant children. I want to tell you that I found happiness in this life without you. It was a long and painful road to get here, I would tell you all about my journey but I have actually taken the time to write a book about it. I don’t know where you live or if you even have access to books there but one day you should pick up a copy of my memoir and in there you can read every detail about the life I have lived without you. I want you to know there was a time I lost my two children too but I fought hard and with every breath in me to get them back and to love and support them in every little way possible. I will never understand how people like you who bring children into this world can just neglect their children and manage to sleep at night. There was no excuse for your neglect. There was no court order barring you from being in my life if you wanted to be. The relatives who raised me would have not kept you away from me if you had wanted a relationship with me. Even if you had been a poor man, love doesn’t cost a thing, I would have gladly kicked around a ball made with plastic paper-bags with you if you had come around but you never did.

As you know by now I have no wish to bond with you or even know who you are. I am not rich even though I live a deeply rich life, so I will not be your lottery ticket. I am not interested in being your daughter, I am a grown woman doing everything I have ever wanted to do in life. I do not need you. I am not bitter even though I feel sad for the little girl in me who grew up with so little love. She was brilliant and has grown up to be an amazing human being. So as I write this open letter to you, I need you to know this is really not about you. I am writing this for every parent out there who has neglected their child for whatever reason, for every parent who hasn’t seen their child because they think the child will be ok, for every parent who hasn’t paid child support to spite the other parent, for every parent who withholds love from their child because they think it is ok to do so. I am that child who was neglected by a parent. I want you to know that some of us grow up and find ways to heal and when we do, that is when you will wish to know us, but really it is too late. You cannot be a parent to a grownup whose childhood you were absent from!1782359_10152025964107377_2786428303295788218_o

THE ISSUE WITH BEING ZIMBABWEAN!

Today marks Zimbabwe’s 34th year of Independence, which makes my country of birth as old as I am. The first celebration of Independence Day I remember was in a stadium in the rural township of Mtoko. A sea of people packed the stadium, drums of Sadza, greens and chunky beef stew was served without hassle to people standing in line. On the stage legendary Zimbabwean musicians the likes of Paul Matavire performed. It was an all-day affair. Even as young as I was, I still remember the laughter and sheer joy on people’s faces. These extravagant celebrations which cost Zimbabweans nothing took place all across the country, in every city and every stadium, on this day Zimbabweans came together and celebrated like there was no tomorrow. But those days are long gone.

In November 2008 Zimbabwe’s inflation rose to an estimated 6.5 sextillion percent, forcing the Zimbabwean government to abandon its currency. To this day Zimbabwe still has no national currency and currencies from other countries are used. Way before hyperinflation and the confiscation of private farms which led to Zimbabwe’s lack of production capacity, greed and corruption had started to erode the fabric of that nation. The need to hang on to power which unfortunately happens in almost all African nations is perhaps the one biggest downfall of all of Africa’s nations. Robert Mugabe who was once Zimbabwe’s hero came into power as the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 and in 1987 he became the President and retains that post to this day. Yes you read that right, Zimbabwe’s president has been in power since I was 3 years old, I am now 34. (ZANU-PF) Mugabe’s political party has been the ruling party since 1975. How in the world can a nation thrive when people in power do not allow fresh ideas or leave room for democracy?

So while I never went a day hungry, or missed a day of school because everyone could afford to send their children to school growing up in Zimbabwe. The reality today is that thousands of Zimbabwean children are growing up without an education because their families simply cannot afford to send them to school, millions of Zimbabweans have died and continue to die due to high HIV infection rates in that country. While I do not recall going a day without electricity when I lived in the capital city Harare, going days at a time without power has become the norm these days even for people living in the best cities of that country. Tap water has not only become unsafe for human consumption it is also in short supply and people go days at a time without running water. I cannot fathom the thought of the conditions of healthcare facilities there today.

When I was growing up funerals were a rare occasion, today funerals are as common as bread in Zimbabwe, even though bread became a scarcity at one point and is now a scarcity for many living in that country. When I say I only know three to five people who were friends of mine who have died here in Omaha since my arrival in 1999 compared to at least a hundred to two hundred people that I knew who have died in Zimbabwe within the same timeframe, it is not an exaggeration. So while people living in Zimbabwe see death as an everyday common thing, I see it as a complete anomaly because people are not dying at such staggering rates the world over. Things have to change. I know that when Zimbabweans read these truths it is upsetting, I know that it stirs up anger in people, but how long can we continue to ignore what has become of that nation? An estimated 3.4 million Zimbabweans, a quarter million of the population had fled Zimbabwe by mid 2007, and that number has only grown since. I am one of those people. While I type this in the comfort of my home in Omaha Nebraska my heart bleeds for the nation of my birth. I feel powerless, even if my sexual orientation was not a crime in that country, where would one begin? zimbabwesq

THE COMPLEXITIES OF COMING OUT OF AN ABUSIVE MARRIAGE WHEN YOU’RE A SINGLE MOTHER WITHOUT LEGAL STATUS IN AMERICA! Part 1.

After my ex-husband’s attempt to have me deported did not work like he would have hoped. After spending the thirty days in jail on immigration hold facing deportation and finally being released after posting the $4 000.00 bond that had been reduced from the original $25 000.00. I found myself back in my aunt’s Papillion home, the job I had held as a CNA then a nurse at the nursing home for the past ten years was gone, my new hospital job as an RN was gone, my home the one in which I had purchased with my American husband was gone. My American children were also gone taken away to neighboring Iowa by their father. Where to even begin? In hint-sight I was in luck because my estranged husband was facing theft charges for refusing to give me back my vehicle and third degree domestic and strangulation assault charges from his most vicious attack on me just a month prior to my apprehension by ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) agents. I was out of jail in time to testify against him and he was sentenced to six months in jail, but he was out in four months. It was enough time for me to work with a divorce lawyer and get granted temporary then ultimately sole custody of our children. My house was now in foreclosure, catching up on mortgage payments when you haven’t held a job in two months with staggering lawyer bills was an impossibility. My immigration lawyer had submitted the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) application which I qualified for due to the fact that I had been legally married to an American citizen for six years and there was evidence of domestic abuse in the marriage. Why had I not adjusted my immigration status after six years? Because I married someone who had no birth certificate and whose birth record could not tie him to his alias he now went by. That situation needed him to take the initiative to fix which of course he never did, but his knowing of my illegal status also gave him leverage and a means to control me throughout our marriage.

 

So while the VAWA application was processed, I had to wear a GPS monitoring ankle bracelet for eight months, my nursing licenses in the meantime were suspended, yes I had done what almost every undocumented immigrant in this country has to do, I had figured out a way to get educated and have a job. When I came here in 1998 I was able to get a Social Security number and a driver’s license which was unbelievable luck as most undocumented immigrants cannot do this and therefore use fake social security numbers or other people’s identities to obtain work. You can’t survive if you don’t work and if you don’t work you will do everything in your power to be able to, even if it means breaking rules. Now I could no longer slide under the radar and continue to work like before, I was lucky to have a friend who was taking care of private patients that needed an extra person to help with night shifts. So after months of being broke to the bone, living at my aunt’s house with my two children I finally had an income again. The work permit that was supposed to come my way after my filing of VAWA never came. I found myself for the first time applying for Medicaid assistance for my children. I would not qualify in my current standing. RuthBlueCoat_website_511x419

Raising Whole Happy Kids From Broken Beginnings.

I’m typing from the comfort of my bed, my seven year old son is scribbling drawings he is calling the makings of his next comic book to my left and my nine year old daughter is writing her first story to submit to ‘American Girl’ Magazine to my right, she has titled it ‘The Clue Crew’. I was not surprised when my daughter was selected for the ‘Gifted Program’ in the third grade, I’m not surprised my son is writing and reading at advanced levels already. Today will likely be one of those days the TV won’t get turned on in our house. Days like today are normal for us. My kids prefer to spend hours baking, cooking, sewing imagined fashions on their basement sewing machine, weaving loom bracelets while watching YouTube tutorials, reading books. Their newest favorite a Vietnamese legends story book they received as a gift from my girlfriend while she was vacationing in Vietnam. We probably sound like such a modern family but things haven’t always been this way. I finally found the strength to leave my abusive marriage when Chido and Simba were only two and four. Their father was so determined to make me suffer that he had me arrested for being illegal which resulted in my kids being separated from me for about four months total. A period in which both myself and my children suffered deep emotional pain. One day we had a house with a back yard and I had a job as a Registered nurse at a local hospital and the next day I was gone and when they saw me again I had no job, we had no house and no car and no money. We now lived with relatives and every visitation exchange between their father and I involved the presence of police officers and then further torment for them as their father would usually drive them to the ER to false report none existent abuse he coached them to tell the healthcare staff. This happened for months until finally my children were ordered by social services to be evaluated to determine what was really going on. So even after we had escaped sharing the same roof with him, he had found a way to continue the abuse and there was nothing I could legally do to stop him. He had legal visitation rights and in the time that he had the children I could not control what he said to them or how he behaved towards them. Relief only came after my divorce was finalized in December of 2010 and I was awarded full sole legal and physical custody of the children. They both needed months of therapy due to separation anxiety and behavioral problems. I am fortunate that I never had to come out to my children, when they were three and five years old we moved in with my girlfriend at the time, I started to surround myself as well as my children with people and families of all sexual orientations and races and diverse backgrounds. I remember a specific day when my daughter was in kindergarten. My girlfriend and I at the time went to have lunch with her at her school and as one of her teachers passed by our table, Chido excitedly exclaimed “These are my parents” with the happiest expression on her face. Now in their everyday language my children speak of themselves as having ‘maybe a girlfriend or a boyfriend’ in the future without giving it thought. The idea that one could be attracted to someone of the same sex is not alien or foreign to them at all. They experience people like that in their everyday lives. My children also have a racially inclusive background by having a black African mother and a white American father. Their family has always consisted of diversity, it is the only world they know. So in this house we do laughter, truth, individuality and love of all human beings and it serves us well. We are all free to be who we want to be.Happy Mom and Kids.

Surviving Domestic Violence

When I hear stories about women in abusive situations today I often think to myself why can’t she just leave, why is she staying with such a person? She should just get up and go. Now that I’m about five years removed from my own domestic violence filled marriage and have done a lot of healing and growing it is easy to forget how encapsulating being in a romantic relationship that consists of verbal, emotional, physical and sometimes sexual abuse can be. It doesn’t happen all at once, the complacence that most victims in these kinds of relationships have. For me it started with forgiving the very first incident of verbal abuse which happened publicly in front of other people and then after a while his lashing out and screaming obscenities towards me became just part of our relationship and by now I had started defending his actions when other people mentioned something was off. Now I had to keep face and started silencing my own inner voice for the need to look like all was well to other people. This is almost always one of the first things that happen in the cycle of domestic abuse, the victim without even realizing it begins to be the abuser’s biggest protector by remaining silent and excusing their behavior. I had a pivotal turning point moment I could have taken advantage of to get out of my abusive marriage one night, but by this time I had become so numb and used to the abuse that I did nothing. My husband had driven the car onto oncoming traffic after punching me in the face, then had kicked me out of the car and when a female officer picked me up and gave me a four mile ride home being polite and persuading me to press charges I had silenced my abuse and protected him by telling her “no thank you” and remained in that marriage for another five years. There is something deeply paralyzing about domestic violence. They’re always other factors that keep you stuck there much longer than you ever thought you could. I had married this person with the hope of adjusting my immigration status, a desire that never came to fruition but also kept me threatened to stay. For a long time I also held on to the idea that I could be the one to save this broken man I was with, if only I loved him enough he would stop calling me names like ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’, he would stop choking me at the drop of a hat, he would stop punching walls. The idea that things will change and that I would eventually magically change the person I was with kept me stuck and as months and years went by it got harder to come out because our lives had merged so much. We shared a house and kids had now come into the picture.

For me having kids was what finally made me see the toxic environment I had put my kids in. I had endured the abuse for years I just did not want my children to grow up in an abusive household. I started by suggesting therapy or anger management classes, but almost always abusive people seldom see their abusive tendencies, they never believe something is wrong with them or are just simply in denial. When I was courageous enough to suggest separation the abuse only worsened which almost always happens. Unfortunately for me the only way I was able to survive and finally escape my abusive marriage was after the worst physical attack inflicted on me and after I finally involved the police and received counseling from the victims witness program and retained a protection order. All of that also came with bruises that remained on my body for weeks, swollen black eye and blurred vision. But what makes me a survivor is that I got out eventually, it was almost too late.