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Monday, March 14, 2016

Hurry, Hurry … Step Right Up to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ...Divisiveness??

 Donald Trump supporters are their own worst enemy. Not Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims or any of those targeted by the ideological -- and as we've seen at his rallies -- physical – wrath of his particular branch of the Republican Party. 


This branch is infected with a particularly strong strain of vitriol and ignorance. Indeed, Donald Trump’s truth has poisoned and killed the Republican Party tree. 


The presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States speaks words that aren't just fueled with racism, classism, bigotry and misogyny, but with purposeful intent to divide and cause fear. 


A masterful puppeteer, Trump calls for his marionettes to do his overt and implied will, even calling for his followers to raise their right hands and pledge their vote/allegiance to him.  


Eva Schloss, Anne Frank's stepsister, wrote in a January essay to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, that Trump is “acting like another Hitler by inciting racism.” 


For Trump's part, he told media that he didn't know it was a problem. And that … his feigning ignorance … is a problem.


He has no idea how closely his call for people to raise their hands evoked the rise of Hitler? He doesn’t “know anything about” David Duke, the longtime Ku Klux Klan leader and Holocaust denier, even though he has spoken about him before? He has no idea that his followers are using the “N” word and screaming at people to go back to Africa? 


Donald Trump has no idea, until he compels his ideas to become those of people already void of their own. Those who have hopped aboard the racist I-hate-America-train.


Is Trump responsible for everything every single one of his followers say or do? Of course not. There are plenty of people who have been waiting at that hate train station since well before President Obama first took office. Content to wait to board until their conductor arrived; they applauded every obstructionist movement the Republican-led Congress made.


So, no, Trump is not to solely blame for that mindset; however, he is culpable. He has not denounced the overriding racist narrative that comes as a result. 


Of course, that would require him believing such sentiments and actions should be denounced, wouldn’t it?


To the contrary, Trump offers to pay the legal bills of those who do harm to protestors and has stood up on his stage speaking of the desire to punch them in the face himself. 


Donald Trump incites, commends and rewards such behavior. 


As Father Michael Pfleger posted on Facebook following protests in Chicago:


Imagine if the parents of Trayvon or Tamir, or Sandra or Rakia, or Eric or Michael Brown.......had been at Podiums telling people to "beat the crap out of them" "Knock them Down" " Drag them out of Here".....They would have been arrested for inciding [sic] a Riot....But Trump....a Presidential Candidate shouts these out on Campaign stops and NOTHING Happens....Wow.....Oh that's right he's a rich White guy whose using code words like "make America Great again" ...........My Bad!


Trump uses racial code words like "thugs" and "professional protestors" to deflect blame. Look back at your history books, or better yet, ask an elder; this type of talk has always been around. Even though I was approximately 14, I clearly remember Geraldo Rivera using the word "thug" to describe Trayvon Martin and Baltimore protestors. 


So Trump isn't the first ... but he's the first presidential candidate to do so openly. 


The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" 


While one may not be able to define Trump as perpetuating terrorism because he has not broken any laws of which we are aware, and by definition has not coerced, the argument could be made that through his manipulation of media and individuals, and of the very party he claims to represent, he is intimidating and bullying the civilian population in furtherance of his own political and social objectives. 


His weapons are his words. His army the people to whom he has given permission to hate. His enablers, many of his fellow Republicans and the media that has allowed him to speak and act absent accountability. 


Some say that Trump has tapped into a festering political divide.  He didn't tap, he purposely pried it open. And by doing so, let loose and nurtured a racism and misogyny in this country that has always existed. 


As the fictional character President Frank Underwood from House of Cards noted in one episode this season with his smooth southern drawl, "I'm not sure if you've noticed or not, but politics is no longer just theater, it's show business; so let's put in the best show in town."


Hurry, Hurry,

Boys and Girls!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Step right up!

Don’t be shy!

You won’t believe your eyes!

See how Trump gets thousands to his rallies!

Listen to how he doesn't give any detail to how he would improve our country!

You will be transfixed!

But pay no attention to the details ...

Just watch the show. 


Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Aren’t those the unalienable rights we want our next president to fight for, no matter from which party she or he comes


It's crucial we educate ourselves about the issues at hand and not be blindsided by a political carnival act. Failing to vote could mean we find ourselves one step closer to a pursuit of divisiveness.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speaking Truth To Power

Speaking Truth to Power


Those four little words comprise a powerful expression, one you’ve probably heard a lot this past year.

Coined by the Quakers in the 1950’s, “speaking truth to power” is certainly not a new way of taking a stand and mobilizing society around change.

“It is a powerful nonviolent challenge to injustice and unbridled totalitarian forces, often perpetuated by government, sometimes not,” says Judith Sherwin, Attorney at Law, Adjunct Professor, Loyola School of Law. “Sir Thomas More did it at the cost of his life when he spoke truth to power against King Henry VIII; Martin Luther King Jr. did it at the cost of his freedom when he ended up in the Birmingham jail and eventually at the cost of his life.”

Fast forward to the eve before 2016, set against a backdrop of #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins, #MuslimAmericanFaces and #codeofsilence. In this year of uncloaked injustice and agitation, we’ve heard plenty of people being heralded as speaking truth to… and/or for …. power.  

As we listen to Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel address some aspects of the tragic police-killing of Laquan McDonald; as we listen to the divisive machinations of presidential candidate Donald Trump's policies towards Muslims, Hispanics and black people; as we read Supreme Court Justice Scalia's racist ideology about black youth’s intelligence; as we hear the resounding call of the National Rifle Association above the silenced cries of fallen victims …
                and as their supporters audibly, or in their silence, lift up these professed truths despite evidence to the contrary …
we are left to dissect and wonder, does “speaking truth to power” mean the same thing to everybody? 

There does seem to be at least one common denominator when it comes to speaking truth in the name of advancing power – and that is courage. The courage to stand upon one's own convictions -- or maybe, as we've seen these past few weeks across the country, the courage to throw conviction out the window for personal or political expediency.  

After all, in more ways than one, a conviction does not always require truth.

Indeed, there's a reason the game "Two Truths and a Lie" is so popular. Very often it's hard to tell the difference. 

I reached out to a few people from across the country to ask what speaking truth to power means to them. Their responses are both insightful and inspirational.

“Speaking truth to power means comforting the afflicted, and afflicting the comfortable. None of us has a monopoly on the truth. There is the truth, and there is the way to the truth. We must be humble enough to accept that we only know the truth that we know, at any given point on our life’s journey. But the truth that we do know, we must speak it. We must have the courage to say what we see.”
Tavis Smiley, host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS, and author of My Journey With Maya.

“Speaking truth to power means believing deeply in what you say and fighting every day to have that heard.  It may not be popular; it means taking a risk, it means standing for something.”
                Shari Runner, Interim President & CEO, Chicago Urban League

"Audre Lorde teaches us that our silence will not provide protection. Speaking our truths helps us imagine and create the world we want to live in, despite systems of oppression that tell us that we are not enough."  
Charlene Carruthers, National Director at Black Youth Project 100   
@CharleneCac @BYP_100

“The ability to lead without fear. Many think of the issues that matter. Very few actually have the courage to speak the truth.”
Paul Porter, Founder, Rap Rehab and COO, New World Porter

 “I’m struck by the need to focus on the receiving end of this notion:  effectively speaking truth to power requires understanding that power isn’t going to give up its advantage.  But words and actions matter – used well, they compel the powerful to share their advantage for collective good.  Used well, speaking truth to power changes ‘me vs you’ to ‘us.’ “
                Kathy Tunheim, Principal + CEO, Tunheim

 “It means the courage to stand up for your beliefs, when your instincts tell you have to … even though sometimes there is a price to pay.”
Dwain Doty, Community & Public Affairs Producer, WJSU-FM88.95, Jackson, MS

“The #power of life and death is in the tongue. To speak truth is to speak life in a way that informs and encourages all who seek to preserve it. The inverse is too costly.”
Dometi Pongo, News Anchor, WVON1690, Chicago, IL

“The trick about speaking truth to power is to do it from your inner conviction of moral truth and  not for a desire for approbation --- and not to be deterred by condemnation either – and to let your sense of the rightness of things overcome the fear of not speaking.  While not all of us have the great causes of More and Dr. King we all have the obligation to speak truth to power in our lives to forces great and small – to defend the powerless, to stand for justice and to recognize the situations in which we are required to do so.”  
Judith Sherwin, Attorney at Law, Adjunct Professor, Loyola School of Law, Chicago

“I'll do one better...this is what ‘speaking truth to power’ looks like #ConcernStudent1950 #MUFootballTeam.”
Lisa Fager, Social Entrepreneur

YOUR TURN. What do you think it means to speak truth to power? Leave a comment or tweet me Speaking truth to power is _______________________________. 

 May we all speak truth to power – and give power to the truth we speak -- so that all people may hear.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missing In Citizen Action: Gen Z

Missing in Citizen Action: Gen Z

Much has been said about Generation Z-- today's tweens and teens -- and our endless selfies on Twitter, 6-second Vines and Snapchats. Though many demographers say this is the generation that will help bring better futures through our civic-mindedness, it’s still common to hear that apathy among young people is creating a generation of passive bystanders. 

The prevailing fear is that the next generation of leaders – two billion worldwide and more than one-quarter of the U.S. population – will be neither engaged nor equipped to lead transformational change.

Repeat after me: the phrase “youth apathy” is a misnomer.  It places the blame on adolescence, when it’s really adults that are disengaged from talking with us about the issues that concern us. 

Gen Z has the power to lead change at the community, state and national levels. However, this power is limited because of a perception that we don’t always have – or want -- to play a part in making the decisions that affect us. 

Think the average 14-year old doesn't have an opinion about climate change or the economy? If you said no, time to think again. According to a report from Northeastern University, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of Gen Z believe that healthcare should be free for everyone, and 53 percent believe that college should be free for all. More than half (55 percent) say that illegal immigrants should have the right to become U.S. citizens.

Despite study after study, when it comes to youth involvement in movements ranging from environmental issues to criminal justice and racial equality, to the Republican and Democratic National Committees or even our local schools, solicited input is typically reserved for those 18 years and older.  

Gen Z is a critical part of the echo chamber, yet we do not have solid representation at the table. There is seldom a seat for us. And while we appreciate that adults are fighting for us, we need to be able to fight for ourselves. 

We want to have the opportunity to be an active part of closing the book on injustice, instead of just being relegated to “the face of” status.  

 “When my cousin, Marcus Golden, was killed by St. Paul Police, I remember the feeling I had when I saw my face, covered in tears, on the front page of the local paper,” said Alexandra Doty, age 17, from Woodbury, MN. "They used my face to sell their paper, but not once asked me for my views on what needs to be done so that these unjustifiable killings stop."

How can we speak truth to power, if our innate power isn't recognized – or worse, dismissed? Age shouldn’t be the deciding factor for engaging people in fighting injustice; interest should be. 

As Gen Z looks to assert its power, young millennial student activists like University of Missouri graduate student Jonathan Butler and students at Yale fighting racism, serve as an inspiration and a beacon.  They are showing the younger generation not only the importance of raising one’s voice and taking a stand, but how to do it effectively.

Energizing and mobilizing our youth should society’s collective goal, for when it is, the result is a powerful and transformative movement.

Earlier this month, I attended We Day Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center. More than 18,000 diverse students from across Minnesota came together as part of a global youth movement for social change. We were welcomed into a forum for discussion surrounding issues like bullying, inner-city violence, inequality, illiteracy. 

“Imagine an entire generation of young people taking on the challenges they see and building a better future. They are aware, connected, creative and committed. Engage with them, as they will transform the world at an even greater scale,” said Craig Kielburger, International Activist and co-founder of Free the Children and We Day. 

Here are four lessons from We Day that all organizations and social movements should embrace... so that Gen Z may do more than imagine. 

1. There is power in numbers. We Day Minnesota brought together 18,000 young people from across the state. Together, throughout the year, they volunteered over 700,000 hours of their time and raised over $835,000 in support of local and global organizations. The ripple effect of this extensive pipeline of service can change the world, one community at a time.
2. Educate and involve youth in decisions that affect their lives. Pia Phillips, diagnosed with Hopkin’s Lymphoma at age 14, and Abbie Nelson, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 13, founded PAB’s Packs.  They are backpacks filled with comforting items that are given to youth suffering from chronic illnesses during long hospital stays.  When we allow youth to take action on the issues that personally affect them and that they truly care about, amazingly impactful things happen. 

3.  Be authentic.  We Day Minnesota included Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation; Grammy® Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and producer, Ciara; actor, director, producer and author Henry Winkler; and Free the Children ambassador Spencer West. The star power in the room was mesmerizing, but do you know what was even more impressive?   They all recognized that Gen Z’ers can be powerful change agents.   

4. Actively solicit, listen to, and respect the ideas of young people. Kielburger started Free the Children when he was only 12 years old.  It’s easy to disregard the ideas of the much younger members of society, but as we can see from his story, if we support the dreams and goals of youth we can help them achieve anything.  At first, Kielburger had the support of 12 students in his elementary class, now he empowers millions internationally. 

“It’s important that everybody volunteers and gives back to make Minnesota, and our world, a better place,” says 11-year old Kaleah Phillips-Kelley-Bynum, a 6th grader from John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood, MN, who attended We Day for the first time. “I earned my way to We Day by doing a year of service through student council and volunteering, and I left the event feeling motivated and supported to do more.”

Now, imagine if every social justice movement had 18,000 Kaleah’s around the table. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A “Highway into Poverty, but Barely a Sidewalk Out” for Nearly 47 Million Americans

Walk down the hallway of your school. Statistically, one out of every five students you walk by is living in poverty. And if you think you're exempt from this exercise, think again.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing that in 
2014 there were 46.7 million people in poverty, including 15.5 million children. The report cites many times that the data is not a “significantly significant” change in the number of rates of people in poverty in 2013. Not significantly significant.

Children of color, who will be more than half of children in America in 2020, continue to be face poverty at disproportionate rates: 37 percent of Black children and 32 percent of Hispanic children, compared to 12 percent of White non-Hispanic children.

They are significant.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Tavis Smiley. He is an author, publisher and host of the late-night PBS television talk show, Tavis Smiley, and the public radio program, The Tavis Smiley Show.  But equally as important, through the Tavis Smiley Foundation, a social justice advocate and leading anti-poverty activist who believes that youth voices matter.

"In America these days, there's a highway into poverty, but barely a sidewalk out," says Smiley. 

Indeed, as we toil away at our schoolwork while our parents, teachers and society dangle the American Dream carrot in front of us as incentive, the reality is that for the majority of  those living in poverty, it is difficult to rise up from the bottom rung of the economic ladder. According to The Pew Charitable Trust Economic Mobility Project, 70 percent of those who are born in the bottom fifth never have an opportunity to climb to even the middle of the economic ladder.

"The top 400 wealthiest Americans have wealth equivalent to the bottom 150 million fellow citizens" says Smiley with a heaviness of tone that conveys the reality that for far too many the American Dream is not deferred, but lost. 

When asked why his foundation's initiative is called Ending Poverty Now: America's Silent Spaces, Smiley said that "The suffering of everyday people is being rendered invisible. The worst thing that you can do, when you’re talking about the humanity and dignity of people, is to render their suffering invisible. Poverty exists, in part because we refuse to see it. We need to shine a light on the problem and give voice to those who don't have a voice if we are ever going to take this issue of poverty seriously."

We can remain silent no more, and if America is truly going to end poverty, then three things must happen: 1) we must understand and address how poverty directly affects other things like education and crime; 2) we must stop demonizing and blaming those living in poverty; and 3) youth must raise their voices and take action around inequality.  In other words, we must stop walking by.

Smiley, known for encouraging his guests to “unpack” things to dive deeper into topics, sat down with me for an interview to unpack the issue of poverty while he was in Chicago for an Ending Poverty America’s Silent Spaces event:
UJ: Chicago's Father Michael Phleger recently said in an interview that "... homicides are up, the shootings are up, and while the murder rate is going up, we're getting quieter." It's that silence you talk about. Is it apathy or fear? Has the expectation of violence, poverty and educational disparity become the norm?

TS: Sadly, yes, I think this is becoming the new normal in America. This is sad, because there’s no reason, no excuse, for this kind of endemic poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. Imagine that, we are blessed to live in the richest nation in the history of the world and so for us to be wrestling with this kind of extreme poverty is just absolutely unacceptable. 

The top 400 wealthiest Americans have wealth equivalent to the bottom 150 million fellow citizens. This time of income inequality cannot continue to exist in a country that hails itself as a democracy. That’s not a democracy. It’s an oligarchy, it’s a plutocracy, but it’s not a democracy when you have that kind of inequity in income. It’s an issue of poverty, income equality, and it is an issue of economic immobility. You can’t talk about poverty without talking about economic immobility, because what we really want is to live in a country where we have economic mobility, where you can climb the ladder and achieve that American dream once you pull yourself out of poverty.

For too many folks, it’s that highway in, barely a sidewalk out. When you get it in, you can’t get out of it. And if you do get out of it, you still don’t have the capacity to springboard your way into the upper echelon of society. That’s economic mobility – or economic immobility for most Americans.

UJ: For a city like Chicago, how is poverty exacerbated?

On top of poverty, then you have the crime that has run amuck in Chicago. I live in Los Angeles, but Chicago is my favorite American city and it pains me deeply to know that crime has run amuck in the way that it is. But, it is important to make note of the fact that there is a direct link between poverty and crime. When poverty is up, crime will be up. When poverty is down, crime comes down. The data on this is incontrovertible. There is a direct link between poverty and crime. Part of what Chicago is dealing with is this perennial problem of never dealing with the underclass and rendering black and brown suffering in the city invisible.

One of the reasons we are on this tour is to talk about poverty in all of its iterations and all the tentacles that spring off of poverty. You can’t talk about poverty without the link to crime and you can’t talk about the link to crime without talking about miseducation.

You can't have a city that closes schools in certain communities -- the Mayor [Emanuel] finds money for his pet projects -- for other schools and other sports facilities. They find the money they want to find money for, but they close down schools in certain neighborhoods. Dysfunction exists when politicians and other leaders aren't being held accountable. Part of the dysfunction that exists in Chicago is because the leaders aren’t being held accountable as they should be. The fact that Rahm Emanuel barely won that last mayoral election shows that people are upset. They want a more progressive agenda. And the fact that Barack Obama so wholeheartedly endorsed Rahm Emanuel in a city where black suffering is off the charts is a damning indictment, I think, on the President’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel.

UJ: What can youth, particularly those poised to vote for the first time in the next presidential election, do to help lead the conversation and strengthen momentum for educational equality?

TS: I don’t like to ever tell young people -- or not so young -- exactly what they ought to be doing, but you have to assign yourself to a task. You have to decide that you are going to do something to make your community a better place when you leave it than when you found it. I encourage young people to ask themselves this question: What is it that you see every day, that exists in your world, that you walk past every day every day, have turned a blind eye to, or noticed and troubles you? There has to be something in your circle that is wrong that needs to be righted. There have to be some potholes that you are trying to traverse everyday in your own world.

What are the things that you see that you know are inequities or indifferences that people are ignoring?

I believe that as screwed up as the world is, young people still have a fundamental sense of what is right and what is wrong. If we ever lose the fundamental sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, then God help us all. For all the scapegoating and complaining that we adults do about young people, I still believe that young people like you have a good sense of what’s right and wrong in our society.

Assign yourself the task of taking something on. None of us can do everything, but there’s no excuse for any of us not to do something.

UJ: You've done a lot elevate dialogue about poverty in America. Do you think it's now a sustained national priority? If not, why not and what needs to be done to get policy makers and industry leaders to listen and act?

TS: I don't know how sustained it is but I'm happy that it is becoming more of an issue on the road the White House. Hillary Clinton is talking about it, in part because Bernie Sanders as a nominee was the first to talk about it, so he gets the most credit for talking about poverty and income inequality. I love Hillary, but I said many, many months ago that I wanted somebody to get in the Democratic primary to push her to be more progressive, and Bernie Sanders has done that.

Even Republicans now are talking about income inequality. You can't run for president in this cycle and think you can ignore that issue. Now what the solutions are is another question. What Jeb Bush or Donald Trump has to say about income inequality and poverty is another question.  But everybody recognizes that it is an issue. Everybody knows that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Everybody knows that the divide in this country is growing. Everybody knows that this gap between the have-gots and have-nots cannot continue to widen as it has been.

You’d have to be stuck on stupid to run for president and not realize that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The question is how do we force candidates, as the race gets more intense and we get to those two finalists, how we force this issue on the agenda and make sure that it becomes a top priority in the next presidential administration.

One of the things that I’m trying to do is push for a national debate on the issue of poverty and income inequality. We’ve never had a presidential debate that focuses exclusively poverty and income inequality. Every four years, we have three presidential debates and they cover a wide range of topics, but never in my lifetime has there ever been a presidential debate that focused exclusively on poverty. We’ve had debates about foreign policy exclusively, and debates about other issues exclusively, but never a debate about poverty and income inequality. The Commission on Presidential Debates sanctions these three final debates. They ought to ensure that one of those three debates focuses on this issue.

Can you imagine what happens when the two contenders to be the next president of the United States are forced for 90 minutes to focus and talk exclusively about poverty and income inequality with all the attended media focused on that? I can’t think of a better idea to focus the entire attention of the nation, the entire journalistic arena to at one time with a laser be uniformly addressing this one issue.  I think that would raise the issue much higher on the American agenda and I’m hoping that can happen this time around.

So, readers, what will you assign yourself in the fight against poverty? Each of us has an opportunity to help bring change. Here are two things you can join me in doing right now to help in the fight against poverty in America:

Start the Great Debate
Tweet and share on your social media platforms:

Young people WILL turn out to vote in 2016. 1in 4 US kids are in poverty. Commission on Presidential Debates, we need a #povertydebate2016!
Reach One Teach One!
Tag a friend on and challenge them to look up and share via their social platforms one fact about poverty in America. Include #reachoneteachone so that we can all retweet each other and keep it going.  Here's mine from @UCJadeBlog:

.@JaxandRoosMom did u know nearly 2 in 5 US kids spend at least 1yr in poverty? Your turn: find/share/tag #poverty fact. #reachoneteachone


Friday, September 4, 2015

To My Dearest Little Brother

My dearest little brother, here are a few things that society would like you to remember as your start 6th grade:

Do not use multi syllable words so that you have points taken off your writing assignments or are accused of cheating.
Actually, just use a third grade vocabulary.

Do not put your hands in your pocket while browsing through the store.
Actually, don't browse. Don't go in the store. Your buying power is seldom recognized anyway.

Do not make eye contact with police officers.
Actually, don't avoid eye contact either. Bob and weave. Shuck and jive.

Do not play with your nerf guns outside. Actually, don't play with them at all just in case you mention doing so and society associates that with you having a propensity for violence.

Do not run through the neighborhood to get to your friend's house or in the park. 
Actually, do not run anywhere or at anytime. Just stay in the house. In your place. 

Do not wear that grey and black hoodie that you love so much.
Actually, don't wear any hoodie, but beware those in white hoods. Even -- and especially -- the invisible ones. 

Do not, when approached by police or any authoritative figure, stray from simple yes or no answers, with yes ma'am or yes sir punctuating each response.
Actually, and make sure you don't make any sudden movements. 

Do not give racists a reason to kill you.
Actually, by virtue of your beautiful melanin you already have. It, apparently, is a weapon.

Now, here is what I would like you to remember. To know. Melanin is not a weapon. It is an honor. Your strength and intelligence are gifts. Speaking of gifts, you are one from God and nobody should ever make you feel less than. 

Unfortunately, they will try. 

Stay woke and stay steady in a fight that we are both too young to have to fight. I will raise my voice with and on behalf of you. Together, it is not the "do not's" we will focus on, but the rights we have to "do".

You have the right to "do". Your life matters.