Posts Tagged ‘Mass Incarceration’


United Methodist Women Assembly
Columbus, OH

May 18-20, 2018



Over 5,000 women gathered for the quadrennial United Methodist Women Assembly in Columbus to find strength, courage and communion. The theme, “The Power of Bold” was lifted over 3 days with messages about our call to be bold, to have bold dreams, to recognize the cost of being bold and to finally, commit to bold action. We were motivated to action on behalf of women, children and youth around the world, to create change for justice, to recognize the power of our sisterhood and to be fearless motivators for that change. United Methodist Women are courageously challenging systems around Climate Justice, Income Inequality, Maternal and Child Health and Racial Justice.

Our keynote speakers were extraordinary women with solemn yet encouraging words of wisdom and inspiration. On Friday evening Leymah Gebowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work in ending the Liberian Civil War in 2003, held us captive with the story of her life as a child in a war-torn country, her struggle to find direction as a young woman and her rise to activism. The message I heard from her was that no matter what your beginnings, no matter what your path we all have strength and possibility within us and we can achieve great things together. Ms. Gebowee encouraged us to have bold dreams.

Our gathering on Saturday morning was a highlight for me. While many around the world were glued to their televisions and enamored with the Royal Wedding, I was in the convention auditorium listening to two of my idols, rock stars in my world of advocacy and change. Marian Wright Edelman (founder and President of The Children’s Defense Fund) and Michelle Alexander (Professor and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”) spoke to us about the school to prison pipeline, its devastation in communities of color and the power of commitment, engagement and advocacy. I was star struck and inspired. I was fueled to advocate against the criminalization of persons of color and to particularly interrupt the school to prison pipeline in our country.

We also heard from young rock stars about the power and costs of being bold. The Reverend Hannah Bonner, recognized as one of the “16 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2016,” talked of sacrifice, fear and bold action as she became the catalyst for the “Say Her Name” movement when she stood as a faithful ally for a voiceless victim. For 80 days Rev. Bonner got up from her Houston apartment and drove an hour southwest of Houston to Hempstead, Texas. There she held daily vigils in front of the Waller County jail for Sandra Bland, a twenty-eight-year-old black woman found hanging by a trash bag in a cell July 10, 2015, just three days after being stopped for failing to signal when changing lanes.

Tamika Mallory, one of the 4 co-chairs of the 2017 Women’s March and a nationally recognized activist in the new civil rights movement talked about the intersection of civil rights, social justice and feminism. She told vivid and heartbreaking stories of the costs, both personal and professional, of being bold and gave us old-timers some insight as to how to bring young leaders into the fold of United Methodist Women.

At Assembly I attended two town hall style meetings that enlightened me with several viewpoints on important topics.

Climate Justice Town Hall

Katharine Hayhoe, Professor of Public Administration and Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas. Tech. University, spoke about Christians, Climate and our Culture. Ms. Hayhoe, internationally acclaimed scientist known for bridging the gap between scientists and Christians, tied science to faith with the premise that God’s 2nd greatest gift is our planet and creation care is indicative of a respect for that gift. We are called to care for this amazing planet and we have not only dominion over it, we have a responsibility for vigilant stewardship for the health our planet.

She described how exponential population growth in the 19th and 20th centuries are due to the benefits of the industrial revolution. She implored us to recognize, acknowledge and be grateful for the benefits we have received yet be acutely aware of the costs of these developments (i.e., mountaintop removal, oil spills, poisoned water, air pollution, soil pollution, etc.…).

Ms. Hayhoe explained our current problem of “Global Energy Poverty” where millions of people are without electricity and access to energy sources and how the most vulnerable have done the least to affect the climate. This poverty is predominantly seen in Africa and southeast Asia. First world countries are keeping these areas in poverty and debt by extracting fossil fuels and offering those resources back as energy for sale, maintaining a vicious cycle impoverishment.

Of great value was her discussion of how to challenge climate change deniers. Scientists have been studying natural cycles beyond just earths current temperatures and have resoundingly concluded that we are seeing an exponential rise in global average temperatures. Beyond actual temperature there are approximately 26,500 indicators of a warming planet. They include bloom times, storm intensity, melting glaciers, tree rings, etc.

Scientists today study natural cycles more than human behavior and according to those studies, as temperatures increase, we should get more energy from the sun. But currently the opposite is true, we are actually seeing less solar energy. And according to our natural calendar the next natural cycle should be an ice age, not a warming like the one we are having.

Ms. Hayhoe explained how climate change is a threat multiplier because it exacerbates so many of the risks we have already today, creating climate disasters. Climate Change makes heat waves more frequent & severe, it causes increased precipitation and hotter and dryer conditions.  Climate change makes hurricanes more intense. In fact, the chance of a hurricane such as Harvey (in 2017) was once 1 in 800, now it is 1 in 100.

Ms. Hayhoe concluded by telling us the most important thing we can do is talk about climate change at every opportunity. Here is her list of some of the most powerful actions we can take:

  • Acknowledge climate change as a real problem
    • We must talk about real people, their stories and our missions,
  • Be aware of our own impact
    • Use a carbon calculator
  • Sign up for – a Christian community committed to action on climate change
  • Talk about what churches are doing
  • Talk about what cities are doing – green roofs, solar fields among wildflower farms
  • Talk about what corporations are doing
  • Talk about what the world is doing
  • Work to end energy poverty
    • Install solar in Africa
  • Be hopeful
  • Unite in Resistance, and
  • Stop financing of fossil fuels

Jacqui Patterson, Director of Environmental & Climate Justice Policy at the NAACP discussed the fact that there is a disproportionate response to disaster in communities of color and poor neighborhoods. Destruction and mass displacement does not happen in industrialized, white communities. For example, in New Orleans, the Army Corp of Engineers determines where levees will be placed based in part on where the largest economic impact will be (i.e., nicer neighborhoods get levees.) She advocated that change must be systemic. However, there are things that we can do individually and directed us to the NAACP site that promotes activism and advocacy for change. It can be found here:

Sarah Augustine, Executive Director of Dispute Resolution, Ctr. Of Yakima & Kittitas Counties, WA and Co-Founder of Suriname Indigenous Health Fund talked about the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples.

Her main theme was that the conversation is always about who holds power and where power lies. Indigenous peoples, those at great risk from exploitation by foreign governments, multi-national corporations and colonialized power, are among the first to face the impact of climate change with immediate threats to clean water, food security and massive risk of internal displacement.

We learned about how UMW is responding from Cecelia Williams, the UMW Northeast Jurisdictional Guide for the Be Just. Be Green. Program. The 13 Steps to Sustainability can be found at:

Maternal Mortality Town Hall

Dr. Cynthia Shelhaas, Dir. Of OB GYN, The Ohio State/Wexler Medical Center defined the issues involved with “maternal mortality” in the United States as pregnancy associated mortality whereby a woman dies during a pregnancy or any time during the first year post birth. Associated issues involve “severe maternal morbidity” which are pregnancy related illnesses which render a woman close to death, but actually survive.

In the early 20th century there was a dramatic drop in Maternal Mortality in the US, predominantly due to improvements in medical procedures. However, since 1987 there has been a consistent rise in death rates. There are many causes for the change, including: better record keeping, a change in definition of maternal mortality to include one-year post birth, dramatic rise in obesity rates, a significant rise in cesarean-section surgeries and an increase in older women getting pregnant. In addition, severe maternal morbidity rates have increased 75% in the US of the past decade.

Statistics are startlingly clear: higher educated black women have a higher mortality rate than any other demographic. Stress related cardiomyopathy, artery disease and hypertension are distinct causes.

Dr. Shelhaas went on to discuss “Maternal Mortality Review Committees” which United Methodist Women are advocating are the best tool we have to research and address the rising rates of mortality and morbidity. Used in the early 20th century the number of committees declined as mortality rates were reduced. Now that rates are on a rapidly rising, there are only 35 review boards in the entire 50 states and most of those have been created in the last 35 years. More data means better informed action, learn more about these committees and how you can help at Review to Action at

In 2010, Ohio re-established a maternal mortality review board as mortality rates began creeping up even higher than the national average. The graph below shows initial findings of that review.


Jessica Roach, Founder & CEO Restoring Our own Through Transformation (ROOTT – in Columbus expanded on the rapid rise of mortality and morbidity rates among women of color. Statistically, white women have a mortality rate of 12.7 deaths per 100,000 births, whereas the rate for black women is 43.4 per 100,000 for black women (she pointed out that the same appalling disparity is found in infant mortality rates.

Ms. Roach identified structural and social determinants of health. Structural racism placing an impenetrable barrier to access and adequate care which leads to a web of causation of social determinants in the rates of maternal mortality. She explained that our most important actions are to address the structural determinants in order to eventually get to addressing social determinants and thereby shift the rising tide of mortality and morbidity rates.

Erica Clarke Jones, Celebrate One, Franklin County, discussed advocacy and action. Sadly, Ohio ranks 40th in the nation in infant mortality and most mortality issues happen in redlined neighborhoods.

Ms. Jones implored us to turn our privilege into action through four concrete actions for effectiveness. First, we must be intentional. We can create community partner teams with specific and focused reports and recommendations. We must lead with data. The data exists from review boards and we must use it. Then we can build awareness. If we know our audiences, we can identify media related partners and involve trusted messengers in design. Finally, we must build trust which will allow us to take a coalition approach to guiding and influencing the narrative and actions.

I also attended two in-depth workshops over the weekend:

What do Race & Class Have to Do with Climate Change?

In this workshop, led by Jacqui Patterson (noted above), we explored the proposition that Human and Civil Rights are directly linked to access to the commons (i.e., air, water, land, food, shelter, clothing, energy, education, work, health, safety and culture) and how rampant extraction and exploitation of human and natural resources sacrifices communities and.

We dove into specific impacts on communities of color such as mercury poisoning and dust irritants from coal fired plants, predominantly located in low income, urban neighborhoods. We discussed how sea level rise has disproportionately affected indigenous peoples in Louisiana as tribes are rapidly being displaced. Shifts in agricultural yields are compounding food insecure communities and weather disasters are impacting communities with little ability to evacuate and little right to return or ability to recover.

Ms. Patterson shared the NAACP outline of what is required of us to change the course for climate justice:

  1. Conscientious & educated voting
  2. Reforming utility shut-off policies as if human rights matter –
  3. Shift in power and decision making during disasters
  4. Change racist characterizations in publications, media, and conversation
  5. Urge representatives to remove exemptions for fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  6. Call out climate change deniers
  7. Allow frontline communities to lead the decision making

Ms. Patterson shared a funny video which shows a possible new way to name extreme storms after climate denier politicians. What a perfectly poetic way to call out those fools. Produced by it can be found here:

Ms. Patterson closed with a poem read at the 2014 United National Climate Summit Dear Matefele Peinam by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, which can be found here:

The Doctrine of Discovery, the Acts of Repentance Working Group (ACRWG) & the Four Priority Issues

The other workshop I attended was led by Sarah Augustine (mentioned above). She described the Doctrine of Discovery as a body of law and policy based on Christian doctrine which legalizes and codifies theft of land, labor and resources from indigenous peoples. It originated with the early Christian church and was based on scripture – covenantal people being justified in taking possession of the land as described in Exodus.

There are two foundational premises ascribed to the Doctrine of Discovery. First, the notion of “Empty Land”, i.e., the idea that discovered lands are devoid of human beings if the original peoples, defined as heathens, pagans and infidels, were not ruled by Christian power. And second, the presumption of “Manifest Destiny”: the presumption that a covenantal people are given a divine mandate to pursue the Great Commission.

The Doctrine of Discovery has been used historically to start wars and to colonize and evict indigenous peoples. The Doctrine was established in the United States in 1823 by Justice John Marshall in Johnson v. M’Intosh and has been the basis of land rights in the US since.

The most recent legal sighting of the doctrine was in 2005 in an opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York ( In this opinion, the Supreme Court held that the repurchase of traditional tribal lands did not restore tribal sovereignty to that land.

The Doctrine of Discovery has had a disastrous impact on indigenous peoples, particularly in the four priority areas being addressed by United Methodist Women. Infant mortality rates are lowest among indigenous Americans who have the least access to prenatal care. Reservations are on the worst land in the country and are as far away as possible from urban areas, making good health care inaccessible.

The Indian Relocation Act of 1956 has led to mass incarceration of indigenous Americans. Its purpose was to move people off the reservation into urban areas for the governmental purposes of recapturing land, discouraging tribal enrollment, and to avoid providing mandated services to tribes. As a result, tribal homelessness, substance abuse and dislocation have led to large rates of incarceration.

Economic inequality has had an adverse impact indigenous peoples basic human needs and rights.  Food insecurity is rampant as arable, productive land has been taken from communities. In relocation, tribes have lost rights to farm.

Indigenous people are heavily impacted by erosion in the arctic, desertification in Africa, and deforestation in the Amazon, making them most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

Good policy is possible as written in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ( Adopted by the UN in 2007, there were four votes against its approval: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and The United States). Since then, those four countries have since reversed their position and support the Declaration. I wonder what Justice Ginsberg’s opinion would be today in light of international law.


Led by President Shannon Priddy and Chief Executive Officer Harriet Jane Olson, UMW Assembly was a thought provoking, intellectually stimulating, powerfully creative, transformative event for me. I feel challenged, motivated and committed to turning faith hope and love into action. I feel honored to have attended the event.

N.B. – We were told that a large number of our sisters from around the world were not granted visas to attend Assembly because of our current immigration policies. That was heartbreaking news



2016 begins a new quadrennial for United Methodist Women and with that change come new areas of focus for social action. I had the privilege of attending National Seminar in Chicago this past July and through worship, workshops, site visits and local action about 200 United Methodist Women learned about Mass Incarceration, Income Inequality, Climate Justice and Maternal/Child Health. Now I am fired up, ready to learn, inform and advocate.

Mass Incarceration. According to the Sentencing Project, the United States leads the world in incarcerating its citizens with nearly 2 million people currently in prisons or jails. This reflects a 500% increase in inmates over the past thirty years. Privatization of prisons, a failed war on drugs, blatant inequalities in the criminal justice system and brutal immigration policies have all contributed to this horrific trend.


At National Seminar we heard four perspectives on the issue. Bishop Sally Dyck (Episcopal Area, Northern Illinois Conference, UMC) discussed restorative justice in the context of faith communities. Page May (We Charge Genocide/Village Leadership Academy, Chicago, IL) charged up the conference with discussion about her grassroots organization and their on-the-ground efforts to bring about change and accountability for police brutality. Lissette Carstillo Vizcarra (Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America) informed us of the inhumane effects of our national immigration policies, specifically the incarceration of refugees/immigrants in detention centers. And, Dr. Iva Carruthers, (General Sec’y, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) emphasized that those who are oppressed, criminalized and marginalized among us are worthy of our service, our compassion and our care.

Over the next four years UMW will advocate for a criminal justice system that is accountable to all communities equitably and work to reconcile and restore dignity and hope to those that Dr. Carruthers lifted up.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Dear White America, Tim Wise

Income Inequality. The United States has seen a major shift in the concentration of income and wealth in recent decades, making life harder for the majority of its citizens. While real incomes for the top 1 percent have grown 185 percent over the past 35 years, incomes for the rest of the population have increased an average of only 13 percent. (

In other words: “Between 1979 and 2012, the top 5 percent of American families saw their real incomes increase 74.9 percent, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth saw a decrease in real income of 12.1 percent. This sharply contrasts with the 1947-79 period, when all income groups saw similar income gains, with the lowest income group actually seeing the largest gains.” – See more at:

At National Seminar we were involved in hands-on activities demonstrating the dramatic shift in income inequality over the last 40 years. The numbers are staggering and the effects are not only predictable but also devastating: millions have lost homes, pensions and jobs. In addition people have less economic security due to low wages, student debt, increased food and housing costs and health care expenses.

This next quadrennial we will be facilitating workshops and seminars and advocating for public policy changes.

Maternal & Child Health. “About 289,000 women died in 2013 of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these deaths can be avoided as the necessary medical interventions exist and are well known. The key obstacle is pregnant women’s lack of access to quality care before, during and after childbirth.” 10 Facts on Maternal Health, World Health Organization,

At National Seminar, Dr. Richard David discussed his work at Chicago’s John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital (formerly Cook County Hospital) and his findings about stress as a contributing factor leading to higher incidences of premature birth, health and development issues, as well as maternal and fetal deaths He emphasized the effects of racism and sexism on women as root causes of poor outcomes for mothers and babies. Dr. David then told us that plans were underway to close the pediatric inpatient unit at his hospital that serves a low-income community of color and therefore the most vulnerable of patients. Dr. David intimated that the closing was a direct move to end public healthcare in Chicago. A vote on the closure was scheduled for the following day and immediately a group of United Methodist Women from the Seminar had mobilized. They protested in front of the hospital garnering national news attention and attended the board meeting to make the case for justice over dollars. Their presence was heard and acknowledged yet there is no decision about the closing as of yet.IMG_0141

Climate Justice. The effects of climate change fall disproportionately on poor people around the world making climate justice about human rights and discrimination. Hurricanes, heat waves, tsunamis, flooding, wildfires, disappearing islands and ice caps – the ravages of climate change effect mortality and health. “Climatic conditions affect diseases transmitted through water, and via vectors such as mosquitoes. Climate-sensitive diseases are among the largest global killers. Diarrhea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition alone caused more than 3.3 million deaths globally in 2002, with 29% of these deaths occurring in the Region of Africa.” Climate and health Fact sheet, July 2005, World Health Organization,

The plenary session on Climate Justice at National Seminar had us role-play a scenario involving all the players in an Appalachian Mountaintop Removal setting. We met in town hall style meetings to address all those affected in the area. The community organization model that was used was informative, enlightening and at times frustrating. All interests were considered and a plan of action was made. At the conclusion of the activity we were informed that 1.) The scenario was not fictional and had in fact taken place; and 2.) Both state and federal representatives were on the take from the coal companies. Needless to say, it was a fascinating and frustrating exercise.

  • Recommended Reading:
  • Moral Ground, Ethical Action for a Planet In Peril, Moore & Nelson, Editors
  • Finding Higher Ground, Adaption in the Age of Warming, Amy Seidl

While at National Seminar I also attended a workshop on Anti-Oppression where we discussed many pertinent issues. In addition, I toured Chicago’s Little Village with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. This predominantly Hispanic neighborhood was once in the shadows of one of the filthiest coal burning plants in the country and has organized to build a sustainable community. I also participated in a community action event with the Community Renewal Society where we gained commitments from some Southside Aldermen and Commissioners for their Reclaim Campaign and Chicago Police Accountability Platform.

IMG_0949National Seminar was an amazing, energizing and enlightening experience. I was challenged intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. The experience was sometimes hard, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful and sometimes painful. But I made friends, heard the call and will now begin to answer.

Much of the work we will be doing over the next few years deal specifically with issues of anti-oppression, the celebration of diversity and the inclusion of all God’s people (i.e., the full and equal participation of all.) Too often in our churches we are focused on charity and not justice. Addressing people’s personal problems through charity creates an instant band-aide, eases immediate suffering and certainly makes our giving congregations feel good. On the other hand, as United Methodist Women we are called to work to bring structural changes to our communities, our nation and our world. We are addressing inequities in our society, we are challenged to be activists for justice on behalf of women and children, we are called to educate and advocate for social change.

I encourage you to visit the topical webinars that were required of us before Seminar. They can be found at:

I also ask you follow, like and share our Conference Facebook page: East Ohio Conference UMW – Social Action: And please stay informed by regularly checking the UMW Website at