Save the Women’s Leadership Project

WLP scholarship winners

WLP scholarship winners

WLP is in jeopardy of being discontinued at the end of this year due to the expiration of its L.A. County funding and the lack of prioritization of grassroots work with girls of color.

Using a feminist humanist curriculum, WLP trains young women of color high school students to do peer education outreach on violence prevention, reproductive justice, HIV/AIDS education, LGBTQ equality, undocumented youth advocacy and sexual assault awareness. The majority of our students are first generation (first in the family) college students and the WLP college prep curriculum sends girls of color to four year colleges and universities at above average rates. For example, the four-year college going rate at partner school Gardena High School is approximately 20%.  WLP’s four year rate is over 90% and it is the only program for girls of color in the Los Angeles Unified school district that explicitly addresses the relationship between organized religion, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism.

Further, at 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African American youth and adults are 40% of its prison population, with more and more Black girls being pipelined into prisons.

If you care about quality programming around violence prevention, college preparation, feminist-humanist leadership development, undocumented youth advocacy and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students please support the WLP by making a donation today and spreading the word.

WLP in the classroom

WLP in the classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blacks in STEM Seminar

Devin Waller, planetary geologist

Devin Waller, planetary geologist

Brandon Bell, molecular biology

Brandon Bell, molecular biology

Who fits the stereotype of scientific or mathematical genius? Traditionally, racial and gender stereotypes influence who “conforms” to mainstream society’s image of scientific proficiency and intellectualism. Although one of the most well known contemporary scientists in the world is African American physicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the dominant culture still portrays science and math as disciplines that only straight white and Asian males can master.

At 12% of the U.S. population, African Americans are severely under-represented in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The percentage of African-Americans earning STEM degrees has fallen during the last decade.  In 2009, they received just 7 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees, 4 percent of master’s degrees, and 2 percent of PhDs.”  Indeed, “in a typical year, 13 African-Americans and 20 Latinos of either sex receive Ph.D.’s in physics.”  This disparity is informed by the egregiously low number of black students taking college preparation, honors and Advanced Placement classes and tests.  For African American students, the absence of quality college prep instruction at the middle and high school levels is often one of the most significant roadblocks to college access.  For example, at Gardena High School in South Los Angeles African American students are 27% of the population but only 4% are enrolled in AP classes.

In a recent New York Times article entitled “Why are There Still So Few Women in Science?” Author Eileen Pollack reflected on attending a Yale University event where five female physics majors talked about their academic challenges.  She noted that one “young black woman told me she did her undergraduate work at a historically black college, then entered a master’s program designed to help minority students develop the research skills and one-on-one mentoring relationships that would help them make the transition to a Ph.D. program. Her first year at Yale was rough, but her mentors helped her through.”

Finding mentors, navigating the complexities of subject requirements and keeping afloat academically are a natural part of being in college.  But these challenges are often even more daunting for African American students in STEM departments where there are few African American faculty and administrators.  For many black students, the absence of tenured black STEM professors exacerbates the racist and sexist low expectations that they confront in the classroom and on campus.

On Thursday, November 14th at Gardena High, Black Skeptics Los Angeles and the Women’s Leadership Project will sponsor a seminar that examines these issues with a panel of talented young Black STEM professionals from South Los Angeles.  Seminar participants will discuss college preparation, admission, mentoring, retention, confronting discrimination and their path to graduation:

Brandon Bell is a 2007 graduate of King-Drew Medical Magnet (in South L.A.) and a 2011 graduate of Princeton University where he majored in molecular biology. He’s the founder of an activist organization called Wisdom From The Field and has dedicated himself to the empowerment of his community.

Garaudy Etienne graduated from New Jersey’s West Orange High School in 2007. He is currently an aerospace engineer at Northrop Grumman. He received his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 2011.

Dr. Paul Robinson is an associate professor of Geographic Information Systems at Drew University and the Geffen School of Medicine.  He received a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Southern California (2001), a Masters in geography from the University of South Florida (1993) and Bachelors in geography from Virginia Tech (1989).

Devin Waller is Exhibit Project Manager at the California Science Center.  She received her B.S. in astrophysics from UCLA and her M.S. in Geological Sciences from Arizona State University.

Secular Woman of the Year

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I’m honored to be recognized as the Secular Woman of the Year by Secular Woman, a feminist gender justice organization dedicated to “amplifying the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women”. Writer Ian Cromwell was named “Secular Man of the Year”, Soraya Chemaly was named “Secular Activist of the Year” and Stephanie Zvan’s blog Almost Diamonds was recognized as “Blog of the Year”. Renee Perry and Mary Ellen Sikes were also recognized for their advocacy.

Writing about the urgency of male feminist activism on his blog, Ian argues that: “There is an important dual role that male anti-misogynists (a.k.a. feminists) can play in this fight: first, we can exploit the amplification of our voices that our male privilege (however unintentionally-gained it may have been) affords us to put women and their voices front and centre in discussions where they might otherwise be absent, and secondly we can speak to the ways in which patriarchy harms men and boys. We have a part, beyond simply listening and absorbing, to play in the struggle for equality.” 

Secular Woman, which is led by feminist activist Kim Rippere and powered by wonderful members like Monette Richards and Nicole Harris, recently launched a campaign aimed at reducing abortion stigma called Shameless, provides resources for secular women, and supports the work of humanist youth programs like our South L.A.-based Women’s Leadership Project for girls of color.


http://secularwoman.org/sw_awards_2013

 

 

 

 

Disposable Children: Whiteness, Heterosexism & the Murder of Lawrence King

lawrenceking-12

By Sikivu Hutchinson

It isn’t until the end of the new HBO documentary film Valentine Road, the gut-wrenching chronicle of the 2008 classroom murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King, a homeless gay youth of color, that the viewer learns the significance of the film’s name.  Valentine Road is the location of King’s Oxnard, California grave, the final resting place of a caring, intelligent child whose death became a lightning rod for a racist homophobic heterosexist nation ill-equipped to see much less affirm King’s personhood.  Place is a central character in this film, which dubiously frames King and white working class “boy next door” murderer Brandon McInerney as bookends in an American tragedy set in multicultural Oxnard.  The film opens with a collage of the moments leading up to King’s execution in a classroom at E.O. Green Middle School.  We are treated to the sterile interior of the school, the gray tyranny of the computer lab where King was shot at point blank range, the blood-soaked floor that cradled King’s head after the slaying.  Throughout the film King is represented in still photos, in the blurred fleeting footage of a campus security camera, in whimsical stylized animation that attempts to capture King’s transition from Larry to Letisha/Latonya (which friends say was her preferred identity before her death).  The recollections of schoolmates, teachers, social workers and a foster parent touch on her fragility and kind-heartedness, yet in many of these testimonies her emerging identity is reduced to the “ungainly” performance of “cross-dressing”, crudely applied makeup, and awkward high heel boots.  It is clear that King’s “inappropriate” gender expression was construed by the school as an embarrassment, a behavior problem that school administrators sought to contain with vapid compliance memos which downplayed the culture of structural violence against LGBTQ youth.

While King’s narrative plays out in fragments, the narrative of 14 year-old McInerney is vividly nuanced. The product of a violent home, McInerney’s drug-addicted mother and homicidal gun-toting father appear as deeply flawed yet loving.  When he is cross-examined after the murder by a police detective he is treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity.  When his case is taken up by two “juvenile justice” advocate attorneys enraged that he may be tried as an adult, the female half of the duo expresses her devotion and undying love for his so-called beautiful spirit.

In this regard Valentine Road ably, perhaps inadvertently, captures how the criminalization of people of color shapes American presumptions of white innocence.  Despite McInerney’s apparent fondness for Nazi paraphernalia and use of racial slurs to refer to black classmates, prosecutors dropped a hate crime charge against him.  His defense team trotted out the repugnant “gay panic” defense (which was prohibited for use in criminal trials under a 2006 California law named after Gwen Araujo, a transgender teen who was brutally murdered in 2002) egregiously portraying McInerney as a victim of King’s unrelenting sexual harassment. Unable to reach a unanimous verdict, the jury in McInerney’s first trial deadlocked.  Some of the jurors voted for voluntary manslaughter and others for first-degree or second-degree murder.  After the mistrial, the filmmakers shot telling footage of white female jurors expressing sympathy for McInerney over pastries in a spacious suburban kitchen.  In their minds King was clearly the aggressor; the dark sexual predator whose moral deviance sent the troubled young white boy into a (justifiably) murderous tailspin.  Indeed, at least one of the jurors mailed prosecutors Religious Right propaganda excoriating the “abomination” of King’s sexuality and the injustice of “poor Brandon’s” plight. And in a show of motherly solidarity, the white female jurors even display “justice for Brandon” slogans.

In order for white hetero-normativity and heterosexism to flourish, violent masculinity must be fiercely protected by white women.  [Read more…]

BSLA at Models of Pride LGBTQ Youth Conference

 

On Saturday October 19, 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) will conduct a workshop entitled “What About Atheism?” at the 2013 Models of Pride LGBTQ youth conference at the University of Southern California. BSLA members Nicome Taylor, Liz Ross and Chavonne Taylor will discuss radical secular humanism and unpack what it means to be an atheist, agnostic, and freethinker for a predominantly youth of color audience. The dialogue will also focus on social justice issues and perspectives pertaining to marriage equality, homophobia, transphobia and religious bigotry. Using thought provoking and engaging activities to explore common misconceptions and stereotypes about those that identify as secular/atheist/humanist/agnostic, youth participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and share their knowledge and opinions about the LGBTQ community vis-a-vis religion and secularism. It is our hope that attendees depart with more insight on secular perspectives, involvement, community effort and local groups available for those who have questions or doubts about religion. The workshop will begin at 3:15pm-4:30pm in room VKC 160. 

Models of Pride will be celebrating its 21st anniversary for this conference with over 100 different workshops for LGBTQ youth and community allies. For more information on this phenomenal event please visit www.modelsofpride.org.

BSLA Partners With Atheists United on 2014 First in the Family Scholarship

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community

BSLA Scholars, Members & Community

 

Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA), an African American atheist 501c 3 nonprofit organization, has partnered with Atheists United on its 2014 scholarship fund for youth non-believers of color.  This year BSLA awarded five outstanding South Los Angeles students college scholarships.  Jamion Allen, Phillip Aubrey, Hugo Cervantes, Ramiro Salas and Victory Yates from Washington Prep High School, King Drew Medical Magnet and Duke Ellington Continuation School received scholarships of up to $1000 toward their college expenses.

BSLA’s First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative focuses on undocumented, foster care, homeless and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. The organization was created to provide resources for non-believers of color and develop social justice initiatives for South Los Angeles and beyond.

“My immigrant parents’ hard work and devotion tragically still isn’t enough to cover everything a student needs; yet through your beautiful socially conscious scholarship you have relieved thousands of nights of my parents worrying every night if their son has enough for books or has a laptop or enough cash for 3 am coffee.  First in the Family has profoundly impacted my immigrant family as well as my academic and personal self esteem after a dark-bell jar senior year.”  Hugo Cervantes 2013 Scholarship undocumented youth recipient,  University of California, Riverside

 

Hugo Cervantes, BSLA scholar

Hugo Cervantes, BSLA scholar

 

Responding directly to the school-to-prison pipeline crisis in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to specifically address college pipelining for youth of color. If current prison pipelining trends persist the Education Trust estimates that only “one of every 20 African American kindergartners will graduate from a four-year California university” in the next decade.

Atheists United (AU) is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that promotes separation of government and religion. For more information on AU please contact 323-666-4258 or see www.atheistsunited.org.

 

Website: www.blackskepticsla.org