Maybe it’s the input

I have the book  Hidden Figures, which the movie is based on. There’s a part in the book where Mary Jackson (the person played by Janelle Monae in the movie) was given an assignment to work through some calculations.

John Becker gave Mary Jackson the instructions for working through the calculations. She delivered the finished assignment to him just as she completed her work for Dorothy Vaughan, double-checking all numbers, confident that they were correct. Becker reviewed the output, but something about the numbers didn’t seem right to him. So he challenged Mary’s numbers, insisting that her calculations were wrong. Mary Jackson stood by her numbers. She and her division chief went back and forth over the data, trying to isolate the discrepancy. Finally, it became clear: the problem wasn’t with her output but with his input. Her calculations were correct, based on the wrong numbers Becker had given her.

John Becker apologized to Mary Jackson. The episode earned Mary a reputation as a smart mathematician who might be able to contribute more than just calculations to her new group. …The best of the women made names for themselves for accuracy, speed, and insight. But having the independence of mind and the strength of personality to defend your work in front of the most incisive aeronautical minds in the world – that’s what got you noticed.

To me, this is what stands out about Black History Month. There were people, some extraordinary and some ordinary, who did the work based on what they had to work with, based on the inputs. Sometimes the inputs they were given weren’t the best. Sometimes the inputs were flat out bad. But either way, they did the calculations, they did the work, they produced results. The names of who they were and are is endless. Truly. Many will never get credit for what they did. Many will always be hidden figures and they knew that they probably wouldn’t get credit when they were working. They did their best anyway.

There is plenty of history from many years ago but there are also current figures making history right now. They are working with inputs but also creating the input so they don’t just have to wait for someone else to give them data to calculate. I found an informative podcast on some current day women STEM “visible figures.” They are three women with PhDs who graduated from Spelman College. Get familiar with some of today’s Black History: http://tbpod.com/blackstemfigures/. And, if you would like to read more information on black astronauts, there have been more than a dozen. Sadly though, not much more than a dozen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black_astronauts). But, if this country wants a robust contribution to the space program, maybe it’s the inputs. Maybe the pipeline needs to be larger.

Although the Hidden Figures movie did not win any Academy Awards (it did win Golden Globes and SAG awards), it is a magnificent story about Black History. It is a magnificent story about how “maybe it’s the inputs” and when the inputs are corrected, the outputs are better. When smart, capable women were included in the rooms to do the calculations, the outputs were better and our country was able to put an astronaut into orbit.

Black history is American history. When the inputs were segregation, inequality, separate and not equal, and discrimination …our country was not at its best. When the inputs changed, the outputs got better. When the intellect and capabilities of people of color was added to the mix, the outputs included carbon filaments for the electric incandescent lamp, the gas mask, the clothes dryer, a laser to vaporize cataracts, and open heart surgery. To listen to some podcasts about many achievers and their achievements, check out: http://www.greatblackheroes.com/podcasts/.

On a note about the end of the award season now that the Oscars are over, I think the same theme, “maybe it’s the input,” applies. Last year, there was great discussion about the lack of diversity in the Academy Award nominations. For this year, there was a big difference. The number of nominations of people of color, the diversity that included Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ, and talent at every level for director, producer, lead actor, supporting actor, supporting actress, screen adaption, etc. This year a big turnaround with much better nominations … inputs. And so, the outputs, the winners showed record-breaking results. From the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards to the Academy Awards, 2016 nominations pretty much proved the point, maybe it’s the input.

Our country should celebrate the historical significance of what blacks have contributed to the progress of America. Those celebrations can happen every day, every month and can prove that enlarging the pipeline, creating more opportunity, embracing the capabilities of many can all add up to improved inputs. When that happens, we all win with better outputs.

This is my President for Presidents’ Day

Across the country this week, we celebrate President’s Day so my blog this week focuses on one of the best Presidents I was a witness to: Barack Hussein Obama, our 44th President. One month removed from his historic Presidency gives us retrospect. And, one month into a Presidency that many of us are alarmed by, ashamed of, disheartened by and ready to fight for what we think is real democracy … we have perspective.

Sometimes we gain our footing and determine who we are by deciding who we are not. We look at what we don’t want to do in order to help us decide what we do want to do. We know light be seeing what dark looks like. Similarly, we have many Presidents to analyze and gain perspective on whether the current occupant of the oval office is serving our country well. We can look at who has done well as President to develop perspective on what the current officeholder is not doing well.

For the 44th President, what did he say that resonated? What did he do? How were his words effective in raising our consciousnesses while also lifting the ideals of what our country stood for? Were his actions a reflection of his words? Did he encourage us to be our better selves and did his Presidential appointments & recognitions and programs & policies  result in a better society? Here’s a simple view of how 45 is doing through the words of the 44th President.

And I think reading his words gives us energy for this journey we are currently experiencing. In getting myself ready for 2017 and to have a keepsake of the powerful words of President Obama, I bought the book “We Are The Change We Seek,” the speeches of Barack Obama. The book is edited by Joy-Ann Reid (of AM Joy on MSNBC) and E. J. Dionne, Jr. of The Washington Post. On this Presidents’ Day, I invite you to take energy from the most recent example of what a President should look and act like. I found two of his speeches very compelling and they happen to bookend his presidency. A speech in June 2009 at Cairo University and speech in May 2016 at Howard University. Reading those speeches has given me hope, energy and specific road maps for action in 2017.

My own hope is not blind to the struggle we are now in. Early in  the 2008 campaign, Obama said: “Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it and to fight for it.”

From a speech in June 2009 at Cairo University, where President Obama reached out to those of the Muslim faith and also spoke about the importance of valuing differences and democracy:

  • “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”
  • “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, ‘Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.'”
  • “Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second president, John Adams, wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.'” (Now how many of us knew that? I certainly did not and I would bet my pension check that #45 has no clue that Muslims have this much history with our country.)
  • “…the challenges we face are shared and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.”
  • “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.”
  • “I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.”
  • “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. …Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful, and secure.”
  • “All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.”
  • “It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. … There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
  • “We have the power to make the world we seek…”

To students at Howard University in May 2016, President Obama offered a treasure trove of wisdom:

  • “to deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice, to the legions of foot soldiers …to your mothers and your dads, and grandparents and great grandparents, who marched and toiled and suffered and overcame ….I tell you this not to lull you into complacency, but to spur you into action – because there’s still so much more work to do, so many more miles to travel.”
  • “be confident in your heritage … there’s no litmus test for authenticity.”
  • “…we cannot sleepwalk through life. We cannot be ignorant of history. We can’t meet the world with a sense of entitlement. We can’t walk by a homeless man without asking why a society as wealthy as ours allows that state of affairs to occur.”
  • “We must expand our moral imaginations to understand and empathize with all people who are struggling … the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender person.”
  • “You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes. You see, change requires more than righteous anger. It requires a program, and it requires organizing.”
  • “You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you.” “As my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them. Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position.”
  • “There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. …one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks. I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at every stage of your life.”
  • “Change isn’t something that happens every four years or eight years; change is not placing your faith in any particular politician and then just putting your feet up and saying, okay, go. Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.”
  • On Thurgood Marshall and his mentor Charles Hamilton Houston: “they knew it would not be easy. They knew it would not be quick. They knew all sorts of obstacles would stand in their way. They knew that even if they won, that would just be the beginning of a longer march to equality. But they had discipline. They had persistence. They had faith – and a sense of humor. And they made life better for all Americans.”
  • “We are only who we are because someone else struggled and sacrificed for us. … Now it’s your turn.”

E.J. Dionne and Joy-Ann Reid state in their book how President Obama regularly came back to the idea from the Constitution’s Preamble of a “more perfect union.” They remarked that “on his best days, Obama could inspire Americans in large numbers to believe that it was worth marching, worth engaging in a political system they often scorned.” As I looked to celebrate Presidents’ Day, I know that he succeeded in some way because the marching goes on. The union is not yet perfected and we rightly so are not satisfied until it is.

In the beginning, there was woman

Two topics to cover this week. The first is a health check-in. In January, I blogged about getting healthy and it’s time to give some reminders and give some new insights. Second topic is about what our country’s fetish about women & sexism says about where things stand in 2017.

Healthy you …we do all come from a Woman so if we can keep the women in our lives healthy, that’s a good beginning. And, if Laila Ali can do it for 7 minutes, we can too.

How are you doing with your health & fitness goals so far this year? Women sometimes put themselves last on their to-do list and fitness doesn’t get “to-done.” Men, you may have the same issues so this applies to you as well. All of us need to focus on taking care of ourselves. The month of February has a big focus on heart health so this week I want to remind you to take care of your heart, take care of yourself. If you slipped on your fitness and health goals, get back to them. And yes, particularly the women. We take the time off to take our kids to a doctor’s appointment or accompany our mother or father to their appointment. But, have you booked your annual check-up? Have you scheduled your dental cleaning? We wouldn’t procrastinate if our kids needed it so take a moment for yourself.

Fitness goals … what happened to those three times a week to exercise, strength training, stretching, walking or jogging. As for me, I am still walking although I must admit some days lately it has been two miles instead of three miles. The weather has been windy and I find that two miles of fighting the wind in my face is just about enough, especially with having a cold. I haven’t been as diligent with the strength training either but there’s today to begin anew. I found a strenuous but short workout to share with you.  Laila Ali did a 7-minute workout on Doctor Oz that includes some butt kicks, arms work, lower body and more, check it out: http://www.doctoroz.com/video-series/regimens-7-minute-workouts?video_id=5167081810001  Surely, we can devote seven minutes to a better body. We spend more time than that gossiping about Beyonce.

Mental and emotional health … And, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health. In many communities, it’s still taboo to talk about mental health but it is very important to have the conversation and more important to seek help when needed. Let’s remove the stigma. If we had a hurting back it is normal to go to a doctor so if we are feeling emotional and mental anxiety, it is also normal to seek help. Two weeks ago, I attended a local support group meeting in Washington, DC for National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI). The meeting was very affirming. The attendees were at various stages of their healing and recovery. Some were there for family members who needed to get help and they were seeking advice/support. Some were in their own healing and recovery. It was open dialogue and a no-judgement zone. I left uplifted and thrilled that such a group exists and meets weekly for anyone, family members and all. There’s nothing wrong and everything right with saying I am struggling and doing something about it. Their website is: http://www.nami.org. Find a local group, talk to your care professional, find a therapist or social worker. And, find time to get quiet and reflect each day on your blessings. My mother often reminded me that gratitude is good for our emotional well-being. She was right.

Sexism is alive and well in these United States of America … I went to my first Huddle last Friday, February 10th, which was action 2 of the 10 actions from the Women’s March 100 days of actions. We were 20 women and 1 man in the group. That’s kind of funny. One of the topics was the role that sexism had played in the 2016 Presidential elections. I believe that sexism is what helped elect Trump and sexism is what helped defeat Hillary Clinton. I told the Huddle group that I had an ominous feeling in October 2016 that Trump would win. I didn’t want to give in to that feeling and I still worked hard for Hillary to win. I canvassed, I did phone banks, I did voter registration, I stood at polling places, I went to rallies. The night before the election, Hillary’s very last campaign stop was set at the last minute for Raleigh. I knew that I had to go because in my heart, despite what the polls were saying, I knew it really was her last rally. My intuition, my gut feeling was that even with all the endorsements, all the logic, this country was not going to elect a woman yet. Before I left the rally just before 1 a.m., I turned and looked one last time at Hillary, Bill and Chelsea and felt my heart drop as I said to myself she did all she could do but sexism will win.

In the beginning, there was woman but a man who was the worst possible candidate even convinced 53% of women that a man should get their vote. If that hasn’t convinced us that sexism is still rampant, nothing else could. I told our Huddle that it is no accident that Republican state legislatures have an enacted an onslaught of laws to control women’s bodies in the years since 2010. If women can be forced on what to do with their bodies, their minds are controllable too. In fact, the 2016 Republican women proved the mind game is well under control. Evangelical Christians and bible-toting Catholics defied their faith teachings and voted for a faithless man who had demonstrated everything they preach against instead of a woman who lived by faith and had a lifetime of career jobs giving back. Can there be any doubt about sexism in these United States of America?

What can you and I do? Honor the men and women in our lives. Honor living. Honor where life comes from and honor life once it comes through the birth canal. Whether you see yourself as pro-choice or pro-life, women and motherhood deserve real respect not rhetoric. Women are leading the Resistance and yet they are not leading it alone. It will take all of us to eradicate the sexism that helped elect the 45th occupant of the oval office.Women deserve equal rights, equal pay, equal access to jobs and the day must come when this country is ready to elect a competent qualified woman to be the President. We had our chance, 65 million agreed and we may need to get rid of the Electoral College system to make it stick but even getting rid of the Electoral College system won’t fix the sexism we saw during the campaign.

We can stand up for truth. As the days move forward on the Resistance, we will sharpen the focus on what we are for, not just what we are against. More to come on that in future blogs. For now, in this beginning we must be once and for all against sexism. We have to be able to show our daughters that they really can grow up to be anything they want to be.

Tips and toes

We can’t take anything for granted. Each moment that we think everything looks just fine or we think we’ve got it made, it could fall through in a second if we didn’t take the steps to shore it up, to seal it, to insure it, to check and double check,  to defend it properly. Just ask the Falcons, just ask Hillary’s teams in Michigan & Wisconsin, just ask those who were insured by AIG  in 2008 or employed by Enron. So, being mindful of some good tips, actually following through on those tips and staying on our toes can be useful in many aspects of our lives. This week’s blog keeps us on our toes with some tips on what to do to keep the pressure on political leaders and what to do to keep our finances in good shape.

Toes — The Women’s March was always more than just one day. We will stay on our toes for as long as the oval office is occupied by a person who doesn’t accept equal rights for all Americans. It’s a movement to maintain focus on issues important to human rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, equal rights, and many other important issues. A major tip from the Women’s March website, https://www.womensmarch.com/,  was to commit to 10 actions every 10 days for the first 100 days of Trump’s administration.

For the first 10 days the action was to contact one of your Senators about what matters most to you. I visited the offices of both of my Senators and talked to their staff about the importance of the Affordable Care Act; my extreme displeasure on the immigration ban; my desire that they vote no on cabinet nominees Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos and Tom Price; and my dissatisfaction that they failed to do their jobs in holding hearings or votes on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland yet were quick to express support for Trump’s nominee Gorsuch. I was very clear in saying that Republican Senators were irresponsible and I was deeply disappointed and ashamed that they set the tone in 2016 of not doing their jobs by not holding hearings or a vote on Judge Garland. They disrespected their office as a Senator and they disrespected President Obama. And they showed cleared extreme partisanship by now quickly and simply supporting Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch. This is a disgrace.

On the Affordable Care Act, I made it clear that it was irresponsible for my Senators to fall into the trap of “repeal and replace” when there are so many strong and effective provisions of the ACA that are highly beneficial and that everyone believes should be kept. These include:

  • Not being able to charge women higher premiums just because they are women
  • Preventive health care, well-baby care
  • Sons and daughters being able to stay on their parents coverage until age 26
  • Elimination of the $1 million lifetime cap that insurance companies imposed

I mentioned that the Republican party is pro-life so they should be happy that the abortion rate has gone down for the past several years, largely attributable to the ACA and women being able to access birth control and Planned Parenthood services.

I hope each of you reading this blog has contacted your Senators or will do so soon to let them know how you feel about what matters to you. This is how we stay on our toes and keep them on their toes. Democracy works when we hold our elected officials accountable and they know we are paying attention to what they do.

Up next for Women’s March “10 actions in 100 days” is Huddles, I will attend a Huddle in Raleigh on February 10th to define our next steps and envision how to transform this energy we generated in Women’s Marches into local and national actions. #Wewillwin.

Tips — One of the topics for my blog that I indicated I would periodically give information on is financial tips / financial literacy. Even though that is my background, I am not the expert but I am lucky enough to be married to an expert who does financial,  CPA, tax and business advisory services for a living and it helps to fund his weekly golf habit. With one month of 2017 already behind us, here are a few thoughts to keep you on track for the year:

  1. The “fake / alternativefacts IRS” scam calls are still going on. Please know that the IRS is not going to call you and tell you they are filing a lawsuit against you. If you receive a threatening call either on your mobile / cell phone or your home phone, tell them you know this is a scam and hang up. Don’t give any personal information to anyone calling you claiming to be from the IRS. That is just not how the IRS operates. We know of several who got this call just within the past week. I got one of these calls while I was driving from a very heavily accented fellow and I proceeded to use some language that my grandmother would not want me to repeat here. Generally, the first interaction from the IRS is going to be a letter to you or your tax preparer.
  2. It’s not too late to establish a budget for yourself for the year. Don’t give up on the whole year just because you missed (or messed up) the first month. Look at what you spent for 2016 and do a realistic month by month budget … don’t be scared, stick to it!
  3. Charitable contributions – as you are gathering your receipts for your tax return, you can claim contributions that you made. Acknowledgements and receipts are required only if an individual contribution is over $250. If you made non-cash contributions, you should have an itemized list of  what was contributed and the value of each item on the list. You can go online to Goodwill or a similar organization to get a per item estimated contributed value.
  4. Estimated tax payments – If you are self-employed or own your business, you should be making estimated tax payments during 2017 so that you are not caught owing a hefty tax bill at the start of next year when you file your income tax return.
  5. S-Corp – If you operate under an S-Corp structure, you should be paying yourself a reasonable salary. Talk to your CPA to get more information on this.
  6. Retirement plans for self-employed – there are retirement plans you can set up as a sole proprietor. Some simple information is available by visiting the IRS regulations but you should also talk to your CPA or financial advisor. The IRS link to visit is: https://www.irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-for-self-employed-people.

Here’s a closing tip to keep us on our toes: we do belong to each other. We are on this life journey together. When we identify a topic that matters to us and call our Senator or Congressional Representative, it will matter for someone else too. The marches, protests and rallies have gone on now for more than two weeks. We are being heard. Trump and his team are rattled. Trump craves adoration and is used to bullying others to get it. The protests have shown that his policies are wrong and his lies will not be accepted with blind trust. So, stay on your toes and use what is available to you to stand for what is truth. We are not powerless. We are power-filled, powerful, full of power, filled with power to make ourselves heard by those in power. #Wewillnotbequiet

Post Script: the photo collage are photos that I took during my visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on February 2nd with our son.