8 Lies We Need to Stop Spreading About Teen Pregnancy



Cristina DeJesus was 16 when she first saw a plus sign on her pregnancy test stick. Like most new mothers-to-be, she rushed to the hospital anytime she experienced unusual vaginal bleeding. Once in a nurse’s care, however, her experiences changed drastically. Instead of concern and support, DeJesus was told that she’d be better off if she had a miscarriage.

The shame DeJesus faced for being a pregnant, baby-faced teen, while harrowing, is far from unique in the U.S., the country with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world.

In fact, the predominant message sent to young mothers and pregnant teens in the media, by politicians and from teachers at schools is that they are promiscuous, tarnished goods who are bringing “problem children” into the world.

It’s this kind of rationale that is forcing students “suspected” of being pregnant to take pregnancy tests,barring teen mothers from displaying their pregnant bellies in school yearbooks and allowing a New York City Human Resource Administration campaign that suggests teen moms are somehow “to blame” with slogans like “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” and “Honestly, Mom … chances are he won’t stay with you. What will happen to me?”

These stigmatizing anti-teen pregnancy messages, so often tinged with racism, classism and sexism, end up placing a greater burden on a group of people who need the most support. That’s why#NoTeenShame, a movement led by seven young mothers, aims to improve strategic messaging campaigns and shift conversations around young parenting to a non-stigmatizing and non-shaming approach, while also highlighting the importance of comprehensive sex education.

While the controversial Candie’s Foundation’s star-studded anti-teen pregnancy campaign claims that young women are “supposed to be changing the world … not changing diapers,” the #NoTeenShame women, along with the many teen moms who battle the unnecessary stigma and discrimination that come with young parenthood, say they are changing the world because they are changing diapers, not in spite of them.

Here are just a few of the lies we need to stop telling about teen pregnancy and young motherhood in the U.S.

1. Teen pregnancy and birthrates are increasing.

Nearly 6% of teenage women in the U.S. aged 15 to 19 years old become pregnant each year. While this may seem high to some, in fact it’s a record low. Citing the most recent statistics on teenage pregnancy available, a 2014 Guttmacher Institute report shows that in 2010, close to 615,000 teen pregnancies occurred, marking a 51% decline since 1990.

This decline in teenage pregnancy crosses racial and ethnic groups, with both black and white teen pregnancy rates declining by 56% and Latina teens experiencing a 51% decrease of their own.

This significant drop in teenage pregnancy, however, hasn’t halted the mainstream media from inaccurately claiming that teen birth rates are on the rise, especially in communities of color. In May, for example, Bill O’Reilly responded to Beyoncé’s appearance on the cover of TIME‘s “Most Influential” list by suggesting the singer’s presentation and lyrics are contributing to the growing rate of teen pregnancy in the African-American community.

2. Teen pregnancy and childbearing is an “urban” problem.

Despite the stereotype that teen pregnancy is primarily an “urban problem,” statistics show that the teen birth rate is nearly one-third higher in the United States’ rural areas, not metropolitan city centers.

In fact, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s 2013 study, teens in rural counties face the highest rate of pregnancy and the slowest decline in teenage pregnancy. Between 1990 and 2010, for instance, teen pregnancies in urban areas declined by 49%, while rural counties saw a decline of just 32%.

Furthermore, while the Guttmacher Institute reports that today’s U.S. teens are predominantly less sexually active and using more contraception, the opposite is true for teens in rural areas, who are having more sex while often not using birth control. Though the study doesn’t explain this phenomenon, researchers speculate that a lack of opportunities and access to contraception in rural areas contribute to a high pregnancy rate.

3. Young love is never “real” love.

Teen romance is often devalued as nothing more than “puppy love,” with some adults even questioningteenagers’ abilities to know what love is.

When Natasha Vianna, a young mom and #NoTeenShame advocate, would talk to her parents about her love for her then-boyfriend and the father of her child, her parents would reduce her feelings to hormones or rebellion. Eight years later, at 26, Vianna still talks about her high school boyfriend as one of the most caring people in her life at the time, someone who was genuinely there for her.

DeJesus, who was 16 when she got pregnant, also knew that the love in her teenage relationship was genuine. “Yes, I was young,” DeJesus, who at 24 remains with her children’s father, told PolicyMic. “But you know when you love somebody and when that person loves you too. [Age] doesn’t matter.”

Dr. Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor who studies lost loves and lost love reunions, agrees: “First love, young love, is indeed real love.”

While Vianna and DeJesus speak from experience, Kalish is able to support the validity of teen love through scholarship — more specifically, a recent study of 1,600 people, where 25% of participants said they would reunite with their first love if given the opportunity.

4. Young women don’t know what they want.

It’s a mistake to assume that pregnancy is always something that teenagers want to avoid, or that all teen pregnancies are unplanned. In fact, a 1998 report by the Guttmacher Institute looking at teenagers’ pregnancy intentions and decisions in California reported that 32% of teens had intended to become pregnant, while 25% had not cared and 43% had not intended to become pregnant.

DeJesus would fit into the 25%.

“It wasn’t planned,” DeJesus told PolicyMic. “But we weren’t using birth control, so we knew there was a possibility that I would become pregnant.”

While fewer than half of the teen women in the Guttmacher Institute study had not intended to become pregnant, theirs is the predominant story we see in mainstream media. From films and scripted TV shows like Juno and The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which both depict consenting teenagers who have unplanned pregnancies after engaging in unprotected sex, to Precious, which portrays a teen mother who was impregnated after her father raped her, popular media seem to only be concerned with sharing teen pregnancy stories that perpetuate the idea that young parenthood is never planned.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these representations — unplanned teen pregnancies do happen — but Vianna does think the propagation of the same teenage pregnancy portrayals furthers the idea that teens don’t know what they want and thus must be reminded to reject any notion of teen pregnancy.

“Teen pregnancy and teen parenthood is a feminist issue,” Vianna told PolicyMic. “We are repeatedly telling young women to say ‘no.’ If you keep telling them to say ‘no,’ do they have the power to say ‘yes?’ Who determines?”

5. Teen moms don’t enjoy motherhood.

ust about every episode of the MTV reality show 16 and Pregnant has a scene where the new mom is “reminded” that her pregnancy or baby has “robbed” her of her social life and ends with her talking into a web cam, expressing her regret for not waiting to have a child.

Putting aside the fact that these types of reality shows are often staged, these depictions ignore facts in the name of dramatic entertainment. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen moms are more likely than older moms to have postpartum depression.

With messages of loss and regret often regurgitated in the media, anti-teen pregnancy campaigns and even unconsciously among friends and family of a teen parent, it’s not difficult to decipher why young moms experience depression.

“How can I enjoy a punishment?” Vianna, who experienced postpartum depression the first year of motherhood, told PolicyMic. “It’s not meant to be enjoyed.”

But Vianna believes that if teen mothers weren’t bombarded with messages that shame them, their entry into motherhood would look much different.

“If young mothers had the support and resources to think about what makes teen motherhood so hard, they’d realize it’s not being a mother; it’s society. Life was hard because the people around me were rooting for me to fail,” Vianna said.

6. Only white teen moms can have a happy ending.

From advertisements to characters on hit shows and in films, the only teen mothers who seem to get their happy ending in the media are young white moms.

Amy Juergens, for example, the main protagonist of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, escapes a loveless relationship with her baby’s father and is able to move across the country to New York to attend Hudson University. In Juno, Ellen Page’s character Juno MacGuff has supportive parents, easily finds an adoptive parent and gets her guy in the end to top it all off. Meanwhile, Quinn Fabray of Glee is getting the “best of both worlds,” as she gives up her baby without incident, successfully pursues her high school love and ends up at an Ivy League school.

In contrast, Precious ends with Claireece Precious Jones’ plans to complete a GED test and the news that she’s HIV-positive. Details about The OC‘s Theresa Diaz’s pregnancy and teen motherhood are incomplete, leaving viewers guessing if she in fact doesn’t know who the father of her baby is, or, the more popular assumption, that Ryan is her child’s father, but she lies to him about it. A similar portrayal of a struggling, single young mom of color with boyfriend troubles is found in Chenille Reynolds in Save the Last Dance.

The contrasts are clear: Juno, Quinn and Amy are all white women and all seem to easily navigate the teen pregnancy experience. Meanwhile, minority mothers like Precious, Theresa and Chenille are left stranded and struggling, with little hope for a future in sight.

7. Teen pregnancy is young women’s fault.

From STIs to unplanned pregnancies, young women already disproportionately suffer the consequences of unprotected sex, and anti-teen pregnancy campaigns and programs only continue to tilt the scale against them.

Though we all know it takes two to tango, a Legal Momentum report titled “Sex, Lies and Stereotypes” shows that anti-teen pregnancy programs, specifically abstinence-only measures, teach young men that women are the gatekeepers of male sexual aggression. This places the onus completely on women to face the unintended consequences of unprotected sex, as reflected in anti-teen pregnancy campaigns, which are overwhelmingly directed exclusively to teen girls.

If the goal is to help prevent unintended teen pregnancies, however, it’s crucial to add teen boys and young men, who have as much control over unintended pregnancies as do young women, into the conversation. Even more important, surveys show that young men want to be armed with the information they need to prevent unintended pregnancies.

8. Teen moms are tarnished goods.

Once a teen woman in the U.S. becomes pregnant, she is often seen as sullied, no longer able to contribute productively to society.

While statistics show that teen moms are less likely to finish high school than other teens, it’s also true that when a pregnant teen or a teen parent has support at home and in school, their chances of finishing school increases. Further, most teenage pregnancies occur at 18 and 19, when parents have already graduated from high school.

But schools, clinics, government offices and greater society are generally not very supportive of teen mothers.

“Everyone is really good at being really terrible to teen moms,” Gloria Malone, a #NoTeenShame activist who got pregnant at 15, told PolicyMic. “Someone once told me that I’m stealing their tax dollars because I couldn’t keep my legs closed.”

The truth is that teen mothers are just like many other new mothers. Parenting is novel and challenging, but they too want their children to lead great lives.

“We are contributing members of society,” Malone, 24, said. “Maya Angelou was a teen mom. The MVP of the NBA is a child of a teen mom. LeBron James was a teen dad. Our president is the son of a teen mom. The idea that we are tarnished goods is simply not true.”


Latinas Leading the Fight Against Human Trafficking



Originally published in Latinitas: http://laslatinitas.com/uncategorized/latinas-leading-the-fight-against-human-trafficking

While Blockbuster films and news media portray human trafficking as a problem that takes place across our oceans, many Latinas are working to shatter that myth and inform Americans that this criminal act exists near their schools and on their playgrounds.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 300 thousand children – of various ages, genders, classes, races and ethnicities – are trafficked for sex in the United States every year. This figure doesn’t reflect those trafficked for labor or the number of adults also being trafficked within the U.S.

Recognizing this exploitation, Latinas – young and old – are taking a stand against this modern form of slavery.  They are joining forces with other people and organizations to spread awareness, instill programs and laws that prevent trafficking and console victims of sex slavery.

In Washington D.C., Dr. Carolina De Los Rios is serving as the Director of Client Services for the Polaris Project, a non-profit anti-trafficking organization.

She supervises case managers, social workers and fellows who work directly with victims of human trafficking. Her team provides survivors with counseling, emergency housing and more specialized assistance all intended to help and to rebuild their lives.

“Seeing survivors after you have helped them in an emergency situation is so rewarding,” De Los Rios said. “You’ve seen one of the worst moments of their lives, and then you see them after you and the team worked so hard – smiling, getting their GED, going to college. You see them thriving with their life, and then I know it makes sense what I’m doing.”

Del Los Rios, a Colombian, believes that being a Latina has given her a unique lens in her fight against trafficking.

“Being Latina makes me more aware about the challenges that you experience as a Latina, and it makes me more sensitive to the different challenges that women and girls experience,” Del Los Rios said.

She also said that although all young people are vulnerable to being recruited, Latinas who just immigrated to the U.S., who don’t speak the language and who don’t know how the system works here, may be in an even more vulnerable position.

Public interest attorney Norma Ramos understands that vulnerability firsthand.

The now executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) was once a child in New York’s foster care system.

“I always felt a strong sensitivity about human beings who are being commercially and sexually exploited,” said Ramos. “I felt that that could have so easily been me – I still feel that way.”

At CATW, the world’s first organization to fight human trafficking internationally, Ramos raises awareness about human trafficking and promotes the Nordic model – laws that penalize the demand for commercial sex and decriminalize victims of the commercial sex industry – as an approach to combat human trafficking.

“When a country passes the Nordic model, I’m very happy,” said Ramos. “Norway passed the Nordic model, then Iceland followed. These were ‘break out the champagne’ moments for me.”

Ramos, who is Puerto Rican, also hopes to encourage young people and Latinas to take a stand against injustice.

“The world has too little political courage; it’s the No. 1 disappointment for me when I see people not risk something in order to change and end a social injustice.”

A few hundred miles east of Ramos is a young Latina in Connecticut whose political courage would make Ramos very proud.

Ana Alarcon is a high school senior and anti-human trafficking advocate.

The 17-year-old Colombian recently traveled to Washington D.C. for the National Youth Summit on Abolition, where she was a panelist alongside human trafficking experts like Wesleyan University professor Lois A. Brown, founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation Kenneth Morris Jr., and U.S. Ambassador in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Luis CdeBaca.

As a young Latina, Alarcon’s voice and perspective was very unique at the event.

“It feels very empowering as a young person and as a female and as a Latina. There are generally a lot of men in this field,” Alarcon said. “I feel like I could give a voice to different groups, I feel honored, and I feel like I could give other people a sense of ‘you can do this, too.’”

The young Latina hopes to continue her advocacy beyond high school. She was recently accepted into Fordham University, where she will be studying international relations.

“Human trafficking is just a link to so many world issues – poverty, drugs, abuse – it’s all interconnected. If I can stop one thing, it will be a chain reaction to cause peace somewhere else,” Alarcon said.

Like Ramos, Alarcon also wants girls her age to be courageous.

“If you want to do anything, you could absolutely do it. Just because you’re a girl, a minority or you’re young doesn’t mean you can’t do something important or be someone important,” Alarcon said.

If interested in connecting with anti-human trafficking services near you or to obtain free training materials to help you with your advocacy, visit: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/the-nhtrc/overview.

Drawbacks of the Curvy Latina Stereotype

Originally published in Latinitas magazine: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/leader-in-feminism-hosts-rally-on-campus-1.2781516#tabs_article_comments_tab1

With the growing body positivity movement, the “women come in all shapes and sizes” mantra has been voiced both in everyday conversations and in the mainstream media. But with just a glance at Hollywood’s leading ladies, it’s clear that the catchphrase doesn’t apply to Latinas.

The sensual curves of Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Salma Hayek have created a curvy, sexy stereotype of Latinas, leaving many who don’t measure up, and even those who do, dissatisfied with their bodies.

“It’s a Latino mystique,” said body image author, teacher and speaker Rosie Molinary. “It has become the storyline for Latinas and creates an incredible pressure whether or not [they] are close to fitting it”.

The voluptuous Latina stereotype has become an ideal among Latina youth. And like all beauty standards, this curvy ideal keeps Latinas paying for products and services that are marketed to help them reach the unattainable ideal.

“The whole point of standards is to keep us as consumers. The more that we feel a level of unrest with our appearance, the more effort we would put into an ideal; and the more effort we put into fitting an ideal, the more we consume,” said Molinary, whose book “Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing up Latina” highlights Latina body image in America.

Many people believe that because the curvy ideal celebrates thighs that touch, it must be healthier than the more common white, thin ideal. But according to co-founder of Beauty Redefined, a non-profit that aims to redefine ideas of beauty and health, Lindsay Kite, the curvy ideal affects Latinas just as much as the thin ideal affects their white peers.

“The curvy ideal values thinness just the same, but Latinas have to meet those other ideals too: big behinds and big breasts,” said Kite. “That contributes to eating disorders just as much as the thin ideal does.”

The results of a survey by Self Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that three out of four American women have disordered eating behaviors.

Latinas have historically been left out of eating disorder research, leaving researchers with the assumption that Latinas and other minorities were less likely to suffer from disordered eating. But recent studies have found that Latinas have eating disorders and body image concerns at rates similar to those of white women.

And according to Kite, women who are closest to the curvy ideal are at the same risk of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction as those Latinas who seem to be the farthest from the ideal.

“Girls and women who are often closest to those ideals are the people who feel the farthest away. They’re the most critical of themselves … because they are valued primarily for their appearance,” said Kite.

That’s why Kite believes it’s important for young girls to surround themselves with positive, less critical people.

She suggests that girls make friends with people who aren’t critical of themselves and other girls’ or women’s bodies and who aren’t preoccupied with their looks.

But not all Latinas are interested in the curvy ideal.

Dana Heymann, 16, has no desire to look like Jennifer Lopez. But the young, slim, fair-skinned, light-eyed Argentine is miffed over the stereotype that tells her she’s not really Latina because she’s not so bootylicious.

“I am full Latina, but I don’t fit the stereotype of curvy or anything, and I don’t really like that stereotype that every Spanish girl has to be curvy because, no, that’s not true,” said Heymann. “It sometimes just slips my mind, and I’m like ‘wait I am Spanish.’ I sometimes think it’s because of the way I look. I’m not tan, I don’t have curly hair, I don’t have the big butt or big boobs.”

Heymann, unfortunately, is not the only young girl questioning the validity of her ethnicity because of the limited representations of Latinas in the media.

When researching for her book, Molinary spoke with a host of Latinas who all felt restricted by the fact that there was just one working Latina for a handful of Latino countries. They hoped for a wide scope of working Latinas who could illustrate to both Latinos and non-Latinos the range of Latina beauty.

Molinary believes that putting Latinos in decision-making positions could help remove the curvy stereotype.

“There’s a significant amount of diversification that needs to take place in Hollywood. On the screen is great, but I would argue that it’s even more important behind the scenes. There needs to be someone to say ‘this is not OK,’” said Monlinary.

Molinary’s call for diversity is important because she believes that young girls must understand that bodies of all shapes, sizes and colors are beautiful.

Here are three strategies Kite believes will help young girls on their path to fighting unreal beauty ideals:

1. Surround yourself with positive people: Our friends and peers can have a big influence on how we feel about our bodies, so try to spend time with people who aren’t critical of themselves or other girls’ and women’s bodies. At the same time, do your best to stop saying negative things about your body out loud. When a friend or family member makes a negative comment about her body, remind her that she’s beautiful. Set a goal with her to recognize when you’re saying negative things, and stop yourself by replacing it with a compliment for yourself or someone else.

2. Go on a media fast: Choose a day, a week, a month or longer to steer clear of as much media as you can. That way, you can see how your life is different without all of those messages and images; and when you return to viewing and reading popular media, you will be more sensitive to the messages that hurt you and those that are unrealistic. Tuning out of media will help girls better recognize what real bodies look like all around them and the wide variety of bodies that are considered attractive and desirable in their own lives.

3. Be critical of the media, not yourselves or others: We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives. Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions about what you see. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt you. Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel better or worse about yourself when viewing or hearing this media? Do you believe the females in your life would feel better or worse about themselves after viewing or hearing this media?
  • Who is advertising in these pages or on this screen? (Look for ads and commercials, and you’ll see who is paying the bills for your favorite media messages)
  • Who owns the TV show, movie, magazine, video game or website you are viewing? (Research the company and its owners and you’ll find out who the powerful decision-makers are behind the scenes of your media of choice)
  • Is the media you read and view promoting real health or impossible ideals meant to make you spend money and time? Who are those messages promoting impossible ideals usually speaking to?
  • How are women and girls presented here? Are they valued for their talents and personality? Do they look like the females in your life? Which body types are presented as beautiful or desirable?

Lauren DeSantis: The Cook of the Capital


DC Spotlight Newspaper

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/events-entertainment/bon-appetit/top-10-8-lauren-desantis-the-cook-of-the-capital/

Daytime attorney and nighttime blogger, Lauren DeSantis is the host of one of Washington D.C.’s most celebrated food shows. “Capital Cooking,” which takes its viewers on a culinary expedition to capital cities around the world, offers its audience exclusive recipes for unique cultural dishes.

The 30-year-old food-lover grew passionate about cooking as a law student at Duke University. Miles from home, DeSantis could no longer gobble down her mother’s traditional Italian meals, but she wasn’t ready to trade in mouthwatering cuisines for dormitory dishes.

“I started learning recipes and trying to make more simple dishes,” DeSantis said. “From there I kept learning more about food. I always had dinner parties in law school [and] I’d make all my roommates dinner.”

DeSantis, who snagged a job as a lawyer in the nation’s capital after graduate school, didn’t take cooking seriously until she relocated.

“Everyone [I] met were lawyers. I wasn’t used to that. I needed to meet other people and be creative and that’s how I originally started the show and did something with the cooking,” said DeSantis. Now “I have so many friends outside of law. I leave work and don’t have to talk about work.”

Her career as a lawyer, however, has been beneficial. In many ways, her experience as an attorney has helped DeSantis become a better host and producer.

“I make my money being a lawyer,” DeSantis said. “A lot of my legal skills help … with negotiating contracts with TV networks and setting up the company. Filming on the show translates to the courtroom [like] having to think on the spot when a judge asks a question. Some of the skills go hand in hand.”

The St. Louis native may have left the Gateway Arch when she moved to Washington D.C. in 2006, but she didn’t abandon the Midwest’s delectable treats. In DeSantis’ first episode, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” she cooked renowned Midwestern meals like chicken tetrazzini and toasted ravioli, while preparing a gooey butter cake and the famed St. Louis Cardinals cocktail.

Four years after the show’s March 2008 debut, DeSantis started taking “Capital Cooking” all around the globe.

“We just got back from Taiwan. That was a really interesting experience. We learned all about Taiwanese cuisine and Chinese cuisine. It was a really unique place. We tried a variety of food [including] Japanese food … It was almost like getting to do a trip in all those places, but all in one place,” said DeSantis. “It was nice because I got to meet with the ambassadors and local food writers and get a look at the seriousness of the people—they’re really serious about their food. Everyone is talking about food. It’s kind of fun [and] it reminds me of D.C. because you can find a lot of that around here.”

DeSantis and her crew will take their next trip in August, when “Capital Cooking” visits Sweden.

“Sweden and all of the Nordic countries are known for a lot of heavy food, but all of the Nordic countries got together and formed a Nordic council on food and … put in an effort to create a New Nordic, so now you can find all of this amazing stuff,” DeSantis said. “They’re using their local ingredients and … being very artful. [Their] plates look like a work of art when they come to your table. It’s a unique presentation [that’s] totally different from Taiwan.”

Just one month later, DeSantis and her team will pack their bags once again to learn about the varied flavors and colorful decorations of Mexican cuisines. “The U.S. has a dated version of what Mexican food is,” DeSantis said. “So it’ll be an interesting show of what real Mexican food is.”

Since 2011, when “Capital Cooking” started taking its cameras across seas, DeSantis has only been able to embark on a few trips a year. Each visit she makes out of the United States is time away from her job as a lawyer, and because filming takes about 10 days, DeSantis can only afford to take three or four trips a year.

As a full-time lawyer who has written her own cookbook, teaches private and group cooking classes, blogs daily and hosts and produces her own show, time is something that’s often not on DeSantis’ side. Friend and host of hyper-local news and lifestyle program “DC on Heels,” Vanessa Cammozi, jokes that DeSantis is the modern day Superwoman.

“I don’t even see how she’s doing it all. She writes the show, goes to events, cooks and hosts dinner and supper parties—I don’t know if she has 48 hours in her one day,” Cammozi said. “I think that she just gets it and understands it … The crazy thing is that she’s never one of those people that’s so stressed out and tired. She does it all—I literally call her Superwoman.”

To DeSantis, however, sometimes juggling two careers is overwhelming.

“Sometimes it catches up to me. I get exhausted [and] feel worn down … When I get like that I try to take a break. I’m really passionate about [“Capital Cooking”]—I love it. So when I get to the point when I don’t feel like that, I take a step back. I don’t want it to become an obligation; I always want it to be fun.”

“Capital Cooking” airs on WETA Create every Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday at 1:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Viewers can watch clips of the show and read DeSantis’ food blog at http://capitalcookingshow.blogspot.com/.



Linda Mahoney: Giving Harriet Tubman a home in the Capitol Building

DC Spotlight Newspaper

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/features/limelight/top-10-7-linda-mahoney-giving-harriet-tubman-a-home-in-the-capitol-building/

The Swinging Sixties was a decade of extremes that altered the lives of women and girls throughout the United States. As a high school student, Linda Mahoney had a front-row seat to the cultural changes taking place. She remembers feminists protesting against domestic violence and sexual harassment. She recalls the growing dissatisfaction among women regarding gender disparities in education, occupations, and salary. Now, more than four decades later, Mahoney believes that the ideals of those second-wave feminists have yet to be realized entirely.

“From early on I could see … the expectations were just different, and in a lot of ways, I’m not sure if they have changed much over the years,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney, a former middle school English teacher, moved from Arizona to Washington, D.C., in 1989 to study law at American University. She now lives in Silver Spring, MD, and is a senior legal assistant at the “Big Four” accounting firm Ernst & Young. However, even as a full-time employee for one of the largest professional service firms in the world, Mahoney makes it a priority to fight for a cause that she believes has insidiously carried over into the 21st century.

At 65 years old, Mahoney is the president of Maryland’s chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a position she’s held for three years. NOW, the largest feminist organization in the United States, was founded in Washington, D.C., when Mahoney was only 19.

“NOW is still around and we’re having a resurgence as people are able to assess what sort of constraints are being placed upon women,” said Mahoney. “There’s still a need for NOW. Until women have full equality and full equal treatment, there will be a need.”

 To Mahoney, presenting young girls with strong, smart, and powerful women to look up to is just one of the needs that NOW can fulfill. Her and Maryland NOW’s Harriet Tubman Statue Project is an attempt to do just that.

In 2000, Congress passed a law allowing states to rotate and trade the two statues representing them in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Mahoney, Maryland NOW, and a slew of various other progressive organizations joined forces in 2011 in an unsuccessful attempt to place Maryland-born abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman in the “Old Hall of the House.”

“We were concerned as an organization that girls and woman should have role models [and] heroes to aspire to. We settled on Harriet Tubman as one of the many stars in the Maryland constellation of women heroes,” Mahoney said.

According to the president of Maryland’s Women’s Legislative Caucus, Del. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery), Tubman is an ideal choice to represent Maryland’s populace.

“For myself, a woman of color …  I thought it was so important that we have a statue of an African-American hero. She made such an enormous contribution, not just to Maryland, but to our country,” said Del. Lee. “She got slaves out, she was a union spy, a nurse, and after the Civil War, she fought for women’s rights. To me, that’s a sterling role model for girls and women.”

However, in order for Tubman’s statue to be housed in Statuary Hall, it would have to replace one of the two men currently representing Maryland, Charles Carroll or John Hanson. Carroll was a senator for Maryland and the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence; John Hanson was a Maryland native and president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.

Mahoney believes that because “Marylanders don’t know what [of] significance [Hanson] has done” and because the former slave-owner’s “representation has been blown out of proportion to his achievement,” Tubman should have replaced his statue.

However, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. saw things through a very different lens. Mahoney remembers his visit to a women’s legislator reception.

“The first thing out of his mouth after, ‘Hello, I’m Mike Miller’ was, ‘We are not moving John Hanson,’” Mahoney recalled.

Unfortunately for Mahoney and all of the Harriet Tubman Statue Project’s supporters, Miller seemed to be correct. However, instead of giving up on the project altogether, Mahoney pressed on and continued organizing for the statue early this year.

“Linda Mahoney was just absolutely fabulous. She was the one who brought this to our attention … Religious groups, sororities, civil rights groups, Asian organizations, African-American organizations, immigration rights groups, [and] education groups all came together as a community in a consensus for this,” said Del. Lee. “Mahoney spearheaded the whole thing. She was just absolutely wonderful, tireless and relentless, she never gave up.”

With the help of those distinct organizations, especially that of Equal Visibility Everywhere (EVE), a group dedicated to achieving gender parity in the symbols and icons of the United States, and support from Del. Lee, Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), and the entire Maryland Women’s Legislative Caucus, the bill to place a statue of Tubman in the U.S. Capitol—though not in Statuary Hall—passed in April.

Mahoney, who worked on this project while juggling her full-time position with Ernst & Young and separate assignments for Maryland NOW, was thrilled to hear the news.

“In part I was not only, I guess, ecstatic, but I was also relieved because over time it’s harder and harder to dedicate the focus and to keep the communication going,” said Mahoney. “I was really trying to do my other volunteer job as president of NOW. It was, at times, pretty daunting in terms of energy level and lack of sleep.”

According to Del. Lee, however, the job is still not complete. Once the project has been authorized by Congress, they can start raising funds, through private donations and nonprofit organizations, for the sculptor and the statue.


Top 10 (#10) Ephonia Green: A Fairy Godmother for Military Brides

DC Spotlight Newspaper

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/features/limelight/top-10-10-ephonia-green-a-fairy-godmother-for-military-brides/

Most brides-to-be fantasize about their wedding gowns. But for many military brides, the lustrous dresses that should put the finishing touch on their fairytale weddings will never leave the racks of their local bridal shops. Ephonia Green of Prince George’s County hopes to change that.

Green is the owner of Couture Miss Bridal & Formal, a full-service bridal boutique located in downtown Upper Marlboro. For five years, Green and her team have been giving away wedding dresses to active-duty military personnel and their fiancées.

“They give to us, and, you know, when you’re getting married … that’s that dream,” Green said. We “just [want] to help with some of the expense and the cost.”

The giveaway is part of a program called Brides Across America, a national charitable organization that unites military brides and bridal shops across the country in an effort to help troops and their families achieve their wedding dreams. Through Brides Across America, Green has given away 275 wedding gowns to military brides.

Crystal Wesby, whose now-husband served in the military, received her wedding gown through Brides Across America and Couture Miss Bridal & Formal in 2011.

“I would recommend for anyone … either their fiancées or themselves who are in the military, to go in and do it,” said Wesby. “It’s so easy and it’s a great experience.”

In order to participate in the Brides Across America wedding gown giveaway, brides-to-be must be engaged, or have had a civil ceremony, and be expecting to wed within the next 18 months. They or their fiancés must have been deployed in the past five years, and they should not have had a prior formal wedding. If the bride-to-be meets those criteria, her next step is to register with Brides Across America online, which will then connect her with a participating bridal boutique.

Couture Miss Bridal & Formal offers a varied selection with well-known designer brands like Enzoani, Casa Blanca, Impressions, LaSposa and many more, along with various other private label merchandises.

“We actually have such a variety of gowns and sizes, we haven’t had a problem servicing anyone at all,” Green said.

In 2000, Green bought her own wedding gown from Couture Miss Bridal & Formal, which was then called Country Miss Bridal & Formal. After working as an employee for the boutique, Green became the owner of the shop in 2008.

The 30-year family-owned and -operated bridal shop assists future brides in finding their wedding gowns, helps to coordinate a look for the wedding party, and also offers on-site alterations and gown preservation.

Green plans to continue participating with Brides Across America and the bridal gown giveaways. In the future, she’d also like to provide military discounts on headpieces, shoes, and other accessories during the annual event, which kicks off every July.

Jacqueline Pelt: Hometown girl takes Congress to the community

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/features/metro-link/top-10-3-jacqueline-pelt-hometown-girl-takes-congress-to-the-community/

Political acumen, diligence and time-management are all important qualities to possess when running a local campaign. Luckily for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), she has a skilled and hard-working campaign coordinator whose passion for helping her community enables her to meet each of these standards.

Meet Jacqueline Pelt.

In 2009, after retiring from a 34-year career with the Internal Revenue Services, Pelt began working for Rep. Norton. The born-and-raised Washingtonian started off as a volunteer, offering her assistance at Norton’s free one-day Annual Tax and Financial Services Fair. The fair, which provides free tax-preparation services for D.C.’s low- and moderate-income residents, is where Norton first noticed Pelt’s character, expertise, and work ethic.

“Once she found out I was retired, that kind of made me perfect for the position,” said 59-year-old Pelt.

Since then, Pelt has been staying busy fundraising, scheduling events, and tackling smaller day-to-day developments.

“It’s a lot of little things you have to stay on top of when you’re managing a campaign,” Pelt said. “The worst part, I would say, would be meeting deadlines, but I manage to get it done.”

However, Pelt’s job is not all sweat and grind. Being Norton’s campaign coordinator has brought her some remarkable moments.

“The best part [of the job] would be attending a lot of events, meeting a lot of people, and networking,” said Pelt. “My favorite memory was attending … a town hall meeting. [I was] sitting behind the president on-stage. That was just indescribable … It was on CNN so my family got to watch me. It was just electrifying.”

For Pelt, an additional advantage of working for Norton is the satisfaction she receives from helping the District’s underprivileged. Even if she weren’t running the campaign, Pelt would still want to serve the general public.

“I would be doing more training for volunteers to assist the needy with the free income tax service. I’m passionate about that because it’s a service … that low-income residents of the District really, really appreciate. When you can provide a free service and the recipient of that service appreciates it, it feels good,” said Pelt. “[People] have to be trained specifically for this … and that’s one of my passions. When I have free time, I look to have more students trained, so I can help more people.”


The Black Church: How same-sex marriage threatens Obama’s re-election

DC Spotlight Newspaper

Originally published in the DC Spotlight: http://www.dcspotlight.com/features/living-the-life/the-black-church-how-same-sex-marriage-threatens-obamas-re-election/

In May, President Barack Obama caught the nation off guard when he announced his support for same-sex marriage. But no group has had more qualms over his historic decision than the black churches that, until now, have overwhelmingly supported the president.

Though scores of African-American pastors and Christian leaders have allied with the president, many of which find his decision threatening their faith, some contend that Obama’s decision is a direct contradiction to God’s word. Others agree with the president, citing the Golden Rule of the Christian faith as “[treating] others the way you would want to be treated.” Though still a number of leaders, whether embarrassed, undecided or uninterested in the topic, remain silent.

Promptly after the president’s announcement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supported his decision by releasing a resolution advocating marriage equality. All but two of the organization’s board members, who include many religious leaders, backed the resolution.

“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a statement. “The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

But Reverend Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative (NBCI), disagrees with President Obama and the NAACP.

“The NAACP is wrong by categorizing that [marriage]. It is not a civil right; it is a privilege and it is sanctioned by the church and blessed by the church,” Evans said. “[They’re in the] same position the president is in—nobody appointed them to the word. There is nothing in biblical, church or modern literature as marriage equality. It has no validity, so whoever argues this, made up words and the church will have none of that.”

Evans believes the president is asking the church to ignore God’s commandments. He said that the president’s endorsement of same-sex marriage violates his Christianity, because as a Christian, he is supposed to obey the teachings of the church.

“He is theologically out of bound. We are going to have to sanction the president if he continues to go down this path,” Evans said.

The NBCI, a faith-based coalition of 34,000 African-American and Latino churches comprised of 15 denominations, has already taken steps to excommunicate the NAACP and all church leaders who participate with the civil rights organization.

“By the end of 2013, there will be no more meetings by the NAACP in black churches. Most clergy who support biblical marriage will turn in their membership [to the NAACP] directed by me,” Evans said. “If you are a Christian, you can’t be a member of the NAACP. You cannot have two masters. It’s church tradition or world tradition. We’re giving them enough time to decide to turn in their membership.”

Eric Wingerter, vice president for communications for the NAACP, said he could not comment on the NBCI’s announcement because he was unaware of its undertakings and unfamiliar with the organization’s involvement with the NAACP.

But not all black churches are united in their opposition to marriage equality. In 2009, more than 100 clergy, mostly African-Americans, gathered in Washington, D.C. to support same-sex marriage. Reverend Dennis W. Wiley, who hosted the pro-gay marriage rally, has been very vocal about his thoughts on marriage equality. Wiley, a contributing writer for the Washington Post’s faith leader network, recently wrote a piece applauding President Obama’s pronouncement. “If we are to live with each other, and in accordance with a God of love, justice, freedom and equality, then we, like our president, must continue to evolve,” said Wiley, who pastors at the Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Maryland.

According to a recent Pew Research survey, the nation’s acceptance of same-sex marriage has grown in the last four years. One survey found that 47 percent of Americans now favor allowing gay marriage, up from 39 percent in 2008, while 43 percent of Americans opposed allowing gay marriage, down from 51 percent in 2008.

For African-Americans — especially those of evangelical faith — deeply held religious objections to homosexuality has made Obama’s stance more difficult to embrace. An October 2011 Pew Research poll found that 62 percent of African-American Protestants opposed same-sex marriage, while 54 percent of white mainline Protestants supported it.

North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage can be largely attributed to anti-gay marriage efforts made by black church leaders like Reverend Patrick Wooden, who led rallies advocating for the controversial Amendment One. And after President Obama announced his support of same-sex marriage, the Coalition of African American Pastors began gathering signatures on a marriage pledge that has already been signed by more than 1,000 African-American clergy and Christians.

Still, there is not a monolithic African-American vote on the issue. According to a Pew Research poll released in April, the proportion of African-Americans favoring gay marriage has increased. The poll found that 39 percent of blacks favor gay marriage compared to just 26 percent in 2008, while opposition has fallen from 63 percent in 2008 to 49 percent today.

Maryland Delegate Anne Kaiser, who is openly lesbian, represents Montgomery County’s 14th District and believes that number will continue to swell as leaders of the African-American community consistently voice their support for same-sex marriage.

“People get a lot of their advice or insights on different issues … in church, and at these mega churches, some of these pastors will be talking against [marriage equality],” said Kaiser. “But we have civil rights heroes like John Lewis in the Congress who led the freedom march and Julian Bond and now the current president of the NAACP Ben Jealous all speaking out in favor…of marriage equality so there are certainly many civil rights icons from the African-American community who are very supportive of this issue.”

Kaiser contends that many evangelical families will become more comfortable with gay marriage as they begin to speak about the issue with their children.

“The younger generation is far more supportive than middle-aged people or older people, and I know from statistics, for example, that evangelical kids under 25 support marriage equality,” Kaiser said. “I do think that these dinnertime conversations will in a lot of cases be the teenagers and those in their younger 20s asking their parents and their grandparents what the big deal is. So people may be hearing one thing in church, but I think they’re hearing something else, of course from the president and I think from these conversations from the community and at home.”

Some churches, like the Shiloh Baptist Church led by Reverend Lee A. Earl, have chosen not to discuss politics at all. Though the Obama for America campaign has opened an office in the church building in Alexandria, Virginia, Associate Pastor of Fellowship Danielle Bridgeforth maintains that it’s not promoting or opposing President Obama’s reelection or his position on same-sex marriage.

“[That’s] property that we own, but that we’re leasing,” said Bridgeforth. “That’s not a church facility. By us leasing it to them, we’re not making any political statement…they’re paying market price.”

An African-American woman leaving the church on Sunday, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also offered an indifferent opinion of Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage saying, “I think it’s up to the individual [to decide].”

Though many black churches such as the Shiloh Baptist Church remain uninvolved in the national debate on gay marriage, most feel strongly about it—some for it, others against it. But almost all agree that black church leaders and members will not stay home on Election Day.

“We fought. We have a history of blood surrounding our vote, so we’re going to vote. That doesn’t mean we have to support [gay marriage], we can skip that question and we can vote on every other issue on the ballot,” said Evans. “In Maryland, what we are going to do is pull the levy against gay marriage and ignore Mr. Obama. I’m not saying we’re going to vote against Obama, we’re saying that he does not support our stance.”


Travel Story: Chincoteague: A Relaxing Island Getaway with Scenic Pony Swims

DC Spotlight Newspaper

Just three hours from the bustle of Washington, D.C. is the scenic Chincoteague Island, a refreshing escape unlike any usual traveler’s getaway. Chincoteague, which sits off the coast of Virginia and just off the Maryland border, is Virginia’s only resort island. Every year, more than 1.4 million travelers savor the natural wonders of the island’s dunes, forests and marshes. But most tourists make their journey to goggle at the world-renowned Chincoteague ponies which actually inhabit the longer barrier island of Assateague.

Assateague Island, which lies on the eastern coast of both Virginia and Maryland, is just a walk or bike ride away from Chincoteague. It is here that the fanciful tale in Marguerite Henry’s 1947 book titled “Misty of Chincoteague” stirs into reality. Thousands of locals and tourists convene for a week-long carnival on the final days of every July.  Gobbling down their celebrated oyster sandwiches, visitors watch their children mount the carousel and delight in all the festivities leading up to the pony penning. Bystanders gaze into the waters watching Chincoteague’s “Saltwater Cowboys” herd about 150 ponies across the Assateague Channel during Wednesday’s Pony Swim. Children restlessly await Thursday, when the foals are auctioned and buyers have the opportunity to bring home their very own “Misty of Chincoteague.”

Things to Do
During the summer, visitors can roam the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and learn about the island’s rich wildlife and cultural history. Refuge employees or volunteers guide tourists on bird and marsh walks through photography hikes and beach camp fires, while also offering guests crabbing and surf fishing demonstrations.

Near the entrance to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can find the Museum of Chincoteague Island, formally known as the Oyster and Maritime Museum (CNWR). For 45 years, CNWR has been attracting audiences and sharing historic tales of seafaring legends, shipwrecks and chilling accounts of stranded seamen. Exhibits displaying ancient fossils and legendary images capture the story of Chincoteague’s oyster industry from the era when oysters were harvested with hand tools down to the development of the island’s aquaculture industry.

Today, knowledgeable captains take visitors around the inland waters of Chincoteague and Assateague where travelers can fish for flounder, sea trout, bluefish, croaker, kingfish and sea bass. These charter fishing boats also offer non-fishers a nature cruise, giving commuters a glance at the island’s native wild ponies, egrets, terns, osprey and many other dwellers.

Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction
Although the pony swim and auction only occurs in July (July 25-27 in 2012), year-round, Chincoteague Pony Farm sells beautiful and healthy fillies and colts, offering families everywhere a piece of Chincoteague starting at $1,500.  For more information, visit http://www.chincoteague.com/pony_swim_guide.html.

Where to dine
Most recurring travelers boast on and regularly return to Bill’s Seafood Restaurant. Since 1960, Bill’s Seafood Restaurant has been serving seafoodhand-cut steaks and chops. Open all year, seven days a week, travelers can end their day of recreation with an evening of beer, cocktails or one of the restaurant’s international wines.  (http://www.billsseafoodrestaurant.com/)

Allergic to seafood? Don’t worry. Famous Pizza’s fresh homemade pizza, pastas, subs, salads and sandwiches keep families stuffed without a visit to the emergency room.  (http://www.famouspizzaci.com/)

Whether before a trip to the beach or following an evening meal, visitors have enjoyed family-owned and operated, Mister Whippy, for a cold, delectable treat. On a hot summer’s day, sundaes, shakes, banana splits, waffle cones or Mister Whippy’s famous cyclones can be very appealing.

Where to stay
Although most of the attractions are across the bridge at Assateague Island, visitors stay at hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest cottages throughout Chincoteague.

America’s Best Value Inn and Suites  http://www.bestvalueinnva.com/
Chincoteague Inn Motel http://www.chincoteagueinn.com/

Bed and breakfasts
Cedar Gables Seaside Innhttp://www.cedargable.com/
The Watson House: http://www.watsonhouse.com/

Eagle’s View Waterfront Rental http://www.bayfronthouse.com/

Three students win Xerox STEM studies scholarship

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/three-students-win-xerox-stem-studies-scholarship-1.2722853

Three UCF students have won prestigious scholarships designed to support women and minorities in their pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees.

The Technical Minority Scholarship, a grant that is offered by Xerox Corp. to help adjust the underrepresentation of women and minorities in technical jobs, was awarded to UCF’s Jing Zou, Alexus Smith and Matthew Hulbert, along with 126 graduate and undergraduate students from across the country. They were recognized for their high academic achievement in the STEM fields.

For 25 years, the company that introduced the first plain paper photocopier has been awarding between $1,000 and $10,000 to qualified minorities enrolled in a technical degree program.

“We’re looking for students who clearly have an interest in completing a degree in a technical field,” said JosephCahalan, the president of Xerox Corp. “We don’t need dean’s-list people. We try to pick applicants that look like they have a chance at completing the degree, that are focused on getting through school with the degree and that have the financial need.”

But the most significant criterion needed to receive the scholarship has nothing to do with skill or dedication. Xerox Corp. primarily looks for students who are most underrepresented in technical fields. 

“There’s a shortage of technical people and engineers generally in two populations: minorities and women,”Cahalan said. “We need to specifically recruit a lot of new people, and we need to focus on populations where people haven’t been considered for these kinds of jobs.”

Zou, a Chinese woman who hopes to find a position as an electrical engineer in a green tech job, is a perfect representation of the “new people” that Cahalan believes should be given that opportunity. 

“I want to do something with power supply, power transition and green energy,” the junior electrical engineering major said. 

According to research conducted by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, just 6.1 percent of men and 8.2 percent of women working in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley are minorities.

That small number could leave Zou scouring for a job in the valley that has been dubbed the epicenter of America’s clean tech industry. By comparison, non-hispanic whites make up nearly 64 percent of the United States’ population.

The same study also showed that representation at the highest levels of the technical ladder is especially poor for women of color. African-American women hold about 4.6 percent of entry-level positions in technical jobs. Their presence significantly decreases to 1.6 percent in higher-level positions.

Smith hopes to work for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an agency that supports the Department of Defense by developing imagery and map-based intelligence. She may also be curbed by these statistics simply because she is an African-American woman. 

Xerox Corp.’s main goal in providing students with these scholarships is to prevent them from dropping out of college or switching their major. 

“It’s a rather small amount of money, but it’s intended to help minorities stay in school and complete degrees in technical areas,” Cahalan said. “There’s a lot of potential in those populations, but they’re dropping out at a larger rate than [white men].”

The fact that women and minorities have always been underrepresented in engineering and technology fields may create a sense of isolation among those who are currently pursuing degrees in those areas.

In small schools, men and women of color are often the lone African-American, Hispanic or Native American in their classes. This isolation can cause students to be less engaged and less motivated to continue studying within those majors. 

But by awarding students for their achievements, Xerox Corp. does more than just supply students with extra cash for their tuition. The company also encourages students to persist in their upcoming technical professions.

“At first I was kind of skeptical about my chances of winning it, but I just decided that it wouldn’t hurt to apply,” said Smith, a freshman computer engineering major who was awarded with $1,000. “I was just surprised when I found out that I won. … I felt ecstatic, surprised and happy.”

And Zou, who at the same time received a scholarship from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said that being a recipient of a scholarship from such a well-known company has “brought me confidence.”

Since its inception in 1987, the Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship Program has provided nearly $2.6 million in funding and helped about 2,000 students achieve their academic and professional goals.