Social Causes

I like to think that most of us, if given the chance, like to help others whenever we can. Sometimes, that means giving of our time or money directly, but sometimes, we can’t do that. That doesn’t change the fact that there are people who need help. And Walmart is offering a way for all of us to help with our votes, even if we can’t help with money, with their Fight Hunger, Spark Change campaign.

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As unbelievable as this may seem, one in every six Americans struggles with hunger. One in every six. This means that when you look around at the park, or the gas station, or the school bus stop, chances are you are looking at a few people who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from, or who haven’t gotten enough to eat. Here’s a story from one of those families:

Something must be done on a large scale if we are going to help all those who are hungry.

Walmart has committed to donating $3 million to 50 local food banks through this campaign, and they need all of our help to decide which food banks will get a share of that donation. The 50 food banks with the most votes will receive $60,000 to fight hunger. Every day through October 5, you can visit Walmart’s Fight Hunger page and cast your vote for the food banks you’d like to see get the help. You can search by state if you’d like to vote for organizations near you.

That’s literally all it takes to help a food bank near you get an infusion of money that will help feed people in your community. However, you can also click the name of each food bank to find out more about the organization and how you can volunteer or donate directly.

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At the very least though, please lend your vote to help those most in need. No one deserves to be hungry.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and there have been events going on all month long to help promote and normalize breastfeeding. This week — August 25-31 — is Black Breastfeeding Week.

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Sounds innocuous enough, right? A week to encourage black moms to nurse their babies. I even wrote a post for Black Breastfeeding Week when I was pregnant last year and planning to nurse. In fact, though I knew I wanted to try nursing with baby Juliza, this event is what helped cement in my mind that I really needed to breastfeed. That it was important and life-saving and necessary. Reading stories from other black women who felt the same offered a type of solidarity that was genuinely encouraging.

Well, unfortunately, there are a lot of women — specifically white women — who have taken offense to this. Who insist that black breastfeeding week is racist, that it only serves to divide the breastfeeding community and that it’s exclusionary. Who insist that if there were a “white breastfeeding week”, we’d all be up in arms.

Well, here’s the thing. The breastfeeding community is already divided. The numbers tell us that. White women are statistically a lot more likely to breastfeed than black women. They are also more likely to continue extended breastfeeding beyond 6 months or a year. The result? The rates of infant mortality and low birthweight in the African American community are higher.

The point is that it’s super important that we all work to encourage more black moms to nurse — for our health and the health of our babies. This isn’t about excluding anyone. White women who have a problem with this, I’m going to address the rest of this post directly to you:

It’s really sad when breastfeeding advocates can’t see the importance of speaking to women where they are — even if that means targeting their race.

If you feel excluded from this week, imagine how moms of color feel in every other conversation about breastfeeding. Realistically, the face of breastfeeding in this country is white. It always has been. When you walk into a La Leche League group, chances are most, if not all, of the members and the leader are white. The lactation consultant at your hospital or birthing center? Probably white. The posters in the WIC office, magazine ads or commercials about breastfeeding? Probably feature white women.

So if you want to go there, “white” breastfeeding week is every week.

And images like this one, featuring black women feeding our beautiful brown babies the way nature intended, are rarely included in breastfeeding advocacy:

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Yet, you get to assume that when white women are featured and included, that everyone is included and invited to the conversation. That may be true in intent, but it’s rarely true in execution or outcome. And that’s called white privilege.

The whole point of Black Breastfeeding Week is to show black moms that we breastfeed too, and that there is nothing wrong with it. To combat the perception that breastfeeding is just something that white women do. Because unless we actively seek out other black breastfeeding moms, it can certainly look that way. To combat a culture that would tell us to “take that baby off your titty” or question if you’re only breastfeeding because you can’t afford formula. To combat a culture that would call you a sexual deviant for breastfeeding a toddler or tell you you’re going to make your son gay by breastfeeding him. To encourage women who may never have seen anyone in their family or larger community breastfeed, ever.

And yes, breastfeeding moms of all races face some of these issues. But can you imagine if your whole family — whole community — was largely ignorant about the benefits and necessity of breastfeeding? If even your doctor and nurses assumed you didn’t plan to breastfeed and pushed formula on you simply because of your race?

This matters. It matters to see women who look like us proving that breastfeeding is OK. That it’s natural and normal and beautiful and life-saving, no matter what anyone else might say. It matters to have people who understand your experience as a black woman saying these things to you.

Please, spare me the crap about how “talking about race encourages racism,” or how we’re the ones who are “making things about race” because that makes no sense. Race is a factor, whether we talk about it or not. Your whiteness allows you to ignore that fact because it’s not something you have to deal with on a daily basis. Contrary to what you’d like to believe, talking about it attempts to make the issue less taboo so we can actually FACE our racial differences instead of sticking our heads in the sand and pretending they don’t exist.

But Lord, if I had a dollar for every time a white person said “talking about race just breeds racism”, I’d be rich. The only way we’ll get past racism is to talk about it in real, honest terms and actually LISTEN to each other. Negating the experience of a person of color just because you can’t relate is a glaring example of white privilege.

If you take offense to that, I strongly suggest you look inside yourself about why. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about you. Period. If you call yourself a breastfeeding advocate and you can’t be an ally and support black moms in our breastfeeding efforts, however we choose to do so, then just stay out of the conversation, because your bigotry is not welcome.

During the summer, many families will see their grocery bills increase a bit. With kids home all day every day, that means providing meals that they normally would’ve eaten at school. Plus snacks. And BOY, can kids snack!

But while we’re balancing our own food budgets, it’s easy to forget about the kids who face a much bigger problem: Getting meals at all. There are many, many kids who rely upon school breakfast and lunch to get quality meals. So what do they do during the summer?

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According to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center, the number of children participating in the USDA’s Summer Nutrition Programs increased last year, but the need for access while school is out of session remains high. Last year, only one in seven children who needed summer meals actually received them. That means the other six likely suffered without regular meals — much less healthy meals.

That’s a scary situation to face, whether you’re the child who spends his days hungry or the parent struggling to provide. Thankfully, there is help to be found.

The Walmart Foundation has kicked off a summer initiative to help children and their families get nutritious meals and learn healthy eating habits. The program includes $15 million in grants, which will will provide meals and nutrition education to 1.4 million children and families in more than 1,500 communities. The six nonprofits that will receive grant funding are:

These organizations do everything from providing mobile medical programs that offer nutrition education to directly providing healthy meals and snacks to low-income children nationwide.

But even if you’re not struggling to provide meals for your family, there’s still something you can do. As parents, we are our kids’ first role models, and they will often grow up to emulate what they’ve learned at home. This is especially true when it comes to eating habits. If they learn the importance of healthy meals and celebrating them as a family, that’s a lesson they will carry with them throughout their lives.

In this spirit, Walmart has issues a five-week Eat Healthy Together Challenge. The idea is to encourage families to eat healthy meals together at least three times a week. To reward you for doing so, each week, a random participant will win a $25 Walmart gift card. So how can you join in? Simple.

  1. Follow @WalmartHealthy on Twitter
  2. Post photos or updates on Twitter of your family eating healthy meals together, and include these hashtags: #EatHealthyTogether #Contest.
  3. Check out @WalmartHealthy each Monday for the announcement of the winning Challenge

The photo at the top of this post is my contribution. My hubby made a healthy breakfast for the whole family, and it was delicious!

The winner will be chosen from all those who use the hashtag, and the challenge continues through Monday, August 4. Entries need to be received by 10:00 a.m. ET on Mondays to be considered for the contest each week. Be sure to read the contest rules. You can also learn more about meal planning and creating healthy meals as a family at the challenge website.

Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know that my family has had an up-close and personal experience with cancer. What you may not know, because I never shared it here, is that because of my daughter’s diagnosis, she was granted a wish by the Make-a-Wish foundation.

If you’re not familiar with them, Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children who are facing life-threatening medical conditions. Like many 5 year olds, my daughter wanted to go to Disney World, and they made it happen.

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We spent one magical week at the Give Kids the World Village not far from Disney and spent several awesome days at the parks, along with Sea World and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and it was an experience none of us will ever forget. While we were on our trip, there were no thoughts of chemo or needle pokes or spinal taps. Just fun, and a little magic from Mickey Mouse and friends.

But we were not the only family Make-A-Wish helped that year. In fact, the organization grants 10,000 wishes each year that involve travel — and most of those, like ours, happen during the summer when kids are out of school.

So throughout the month of April, in preparation for the busy summer, Make-A-Wish has a big ask. Via their Wishes in Flight® program, folks who fly on Delta, United, or US Airways can easily donate frequent flier miles to help grant wishes in just a few easy steps at wish.org/miles. Donated miles never expire and they will never be used for anything other than wish travel.

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If you’re like me, you probably have airline miles that have been sitting unused for a while. That will probably expire if you don’t pay attention. In fact, some estimates show there are more than 16 trillion (TRILLION?!) frequent flier miles that go unused every year, and that 25 percent of people let their miles expire or use miles for magazine subscriptions or a one-time upgrade just so they can use them at the last minute.

Wouldn’t those miles be better spent helping to grant a wish for a sick child? Doctors say that wish experiences can improve children’s state of mind, make them more willing to comply with treatment requirements, and even improve their physical health. I can vouch for this firsthand. Our week at Disney made my daughter a happier, more relaxed kid, without question. It was amazing for my husband and I as well, because it was our first real family vacation. And my husband, who had never been to Disney, got to be a kid again. Happy parents make for happier kids.

You can donate airline miles to Make-A-Wish throughout the year, but April is a critical time for airline miles because travel arrangements are being made for summer wish travel. To donate miles, visit wish.org/miles.

Note: I have not been asked to write about this or compensated in any way. I just wanted to share because I know what wonderful work Make-A-Wish does, and thought this was the very least I could do.

As you have no doubt seen, I do a lot of work with Walmart around the holidays every year. There are crafts, product reviews and even some shopping for gifts for my own family. But without a doubt, each year, the assignment I look forward to the most is the chance to buy and donate toys for kids in need. The idea of providing a little something special for a child who otherwise might have little or nothing for Christmas truly warms my heart.

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Through the Walmart Moms program, each of us received $100 to shop for toys. Each year, I struggle with whether to buy bigger gifts, or get smaller items to make the money stretch further. We also like to try finding gifts for older kids, because as a general rule, little kids are easier to shop for, and probably account for the bulk of donations. In the end, we tried to accommodate a bit of all these things. We bought:

The Nerf bow has been crazy popular this year, and in fact, my own daughter has it on her wish list. So I thought it would make a great gift.

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Also, when I buy dolls, I try to buy African American ones, because I think little girls of all colors need to see a reflection of their own beauty in their playthings, and in this area, diverse though it may be, black dolls aren’t always easy to come by. I couldn’t resist the round, brown face on this one, and her wild, curly hair reminded me of my daughter :)

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Finally, to boost our donation, we added some toys we’d collected throughout the year, including a Jake & the Neverland Pirates ship, a Minnie Mouse figurine, a ball and paddle, a couple of jump ropes, and a set of small toy cars. That made for an awesome stack of gifts that would hopefully help a ton of kids.

This year, Walmart is really trying to help a lot of kids with a huge giving project: the Fill the Truck campaign.

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In partnership with The Salvation Army, Walmart is working to get gifts to children in need locally. Essentially, stores provide a huge cardboard truck where customers can donate toys, coats, video games and more. The Salvation Army will handle fulfillment of those gifts to local kids. I love this push for giving back, and it is a value we work hard to instill in our kids.

While our store did not have  Fill the Truck box, it did have a Toys for Tots box. However, it was present only for a limited time, and when we went back to the store to deliver our toys, the donation boxes were already gone. We did find another dropoff location, at a retirement community a couple of miles from our home. They had a big tree set up in a great room for donations, and we added ours to the growing pile.

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I imagine that this year, given how rough the economy has been, there may be more children than ever who are receiving help through Toys for Tots, Fill the Truck and programs like them. This is why it always feels amazing to do this, knowing that in a few weeks, these gifts will be making some kids’ Christmases just a little bit brighter.

How do you plan to give back for the holidays? How do you teach your kids the importance of giving back?

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias Social Fabric community. I have been compensated to share my experience with you by Collective Bias and their client, Mastercard.

Cancer is still not one of those things I like to talk about — not even nearly four years after my daughter’s initial diagnosis and more than a year since she has been off treatment and officially cancer free. Truth be told, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to talk about it freely. But every once in a while, I find I’m able to use my voice to help other people — other families — who might be facing the same and not knowing what to do or where to turn. This time, I’m lending my voice to MasterCard and their efforts to help Stand Up to Cancer. As a MasterCard holder, I was really proud to find out that they are donating up to $4 million to the organization, and anything I can do to assist in that effort is the very least I can do.

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You see, my daughter was just four years old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also known as ALL. It happened out of nowhere, and it rocked us to the core. Even the doctors’ assurances that this was the most common form of childhood leukemia, or their reports that the cure rate hovers around 85% didn’t help. Because this was cancer. That dreaded C word that always happens to other people, but never to us or the ones we love.

My husband and I beat ourselves up, wondering what we possibly could have done to cause this. What we could have done to prevent it. Why God was punishing us. Because it couldn’t be happening. Not to us.

But during her treatment, something special happened. I watched my daughter, four brief years old, endure pokes, prods, medications and surgery that would make the average adult moan and complain. I watched her do it with grace and strength that I never would’ve thought she possessed. This little girl — this sick little girl — taught me more about life in the two years after her diagnosis than I could’ve learned in a lifetime.

Case in point? Here we are on the day the doctors surgically removed her port, officially marking the end of treatment:

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Here she is the next day, on the floor, as if nothing had happened, drawing a picture.

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Strong doesn’t begin to describe my baby.

Nearly four years after that potentially devastating diagnosis, she is cancer free, and the average person would never know what she had gone through if we don’t tell them. And thought the memories and emotional scars of fighting cancer may never completely disappear, thankfully, there are no visible physical scars or lasting side effects of her treatment. For this, we are thankful — to God and to her medical team.

She was treated at the #1 hospital for pediatric cancer in Georgia; a place where innovation is rewarded, and treatment is delivered on a child-by-child basis. My daughter also participated in a study throughout her treatment, which hopefully will help other children who are battling ALL in the future.

All of this is why it took exactly 2 seconds for me to fall in love with Stand Up to Cancer, a wonderful organization that was created to push innovative cancer research and get new therapies to patients quickly. They’ve managed to bring together the best researchers and encourage collaboration among the cancer community instead of competition. The ultimate goal? To save lives right now. Today. Not at some distant time in the future.

So how can you help? Well, you can do what my husband and I did. You can go out on a lunch date.

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Or have dinner with friends or grab breakfast at your favorite diner.

We had lunch at one of our favorite restaurants after an early showing of the new Hunger Games movie. Who knew that a big plate of the best chicken fried rice I’ve ever had could help save lives?

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Well, most days, it couldn’t. But today, my delicious lunch — paid for with my MasterCard — helped do just that. When you use your MasterCard card to pay for a meal that costs $10 or more, MasterCard will make a donation, one precious cent at a time, to Stand Up To Cancer. They’ve pledged to donate up to $4,000,000.

Four. Million. Dollars. Think about how many lives that could help save. And all you have to do is use your MasterCard next time you eat out. It’s quite literally that easy to Dig in and Do Good for cancer research. Will you help?

Pssst! And while you’re at it, tell your friends that they can help too!

For days, I have been trying to write this post. I’ve written it in my head at least a dozen times, and still, I’m not really sure I’ll get it “right.” If it’s even possible to get it right. But I feel compelled to write SOMEthing, so write I will.

I am afraid. Not for my own safety, as George Zimmerman would have us believe he was when he shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin. I am afraid for my children, my nephews and nieces, my friends’ children, my husband, all the other black boys and men in my family and all those who go about their daily lives never thinking any day could be their last.

I am afraid because there will be people who will see my stepsons’ gorgeous brown skin and assume they are gang members because of the way they dress, or talk, or walk — or just are. I am afraid that my daughter will make a mistake, like kids sometimes do, and she will receive a punishment way too harsh for the offense, just because he has brown skin. I am afraid because my husband is a strong black man with a disarming personality, but he wasn’t raised to defer to white people or acquiesce to police who are in the wrong just because. Because where we grew up, we didn’t have to. I’m afraid that one day, his strength will get him killed because someone didn’t appreciate it. Because someone feared it.

I am afraid of the opinions of the people on the other side of the fence, who have stripped away Trayvon’s humanity and say he deserved to be shot for daring to defend himself while black. Who are quick to remind us that he was not a “boy”, but a “man” who never should have “attacked” George Zimmerman. Who say that they would have shot Trayvon too, in the same circumstances. Who call him a nigger and a thug and all manner of other things I’m sure they’d hate to have someone call their dead teenage sons. I am afraid of their opinions because while they are vocal about their feelings online, most of them would never say these things in real life, and their hidden biases are much more dangerous to me and mine that those people who are openly bigoted.

I am afraid of the mindset of the jury of women — most of whom were white and presumably some of whom were mothers — who acquitted “George” because Trayvon shouldn’t have fought back. And one of them said publicly that Zimmerman was justified. I am afraid of the reasons they would so readily accept the word of a man who has pending sexual assault charges, called the police to report suspicious black men dozens of times, and consciously ignored a police dispatcher’s explicit instruction not to follow this boy of whom he claims he was so afraid. I am afraid of the reasons they choose to remember Trayvon for smoking weed and getting into petty scuffles — something MANY teens do and document in photos online — rather than the fact the he saved his father by pulling him from a burning kitchen, his love of horseback riding and his ambitions to become an aviation mechanic or pilot. I fear they didn’t even know those last few facts because they didn’t care to learn. Because they saw Trayvon as “other” and weren’t even aware enough to try to overcome that bias.

I am afraid that the Zimmerman verdict will create more people like George Zimmerman who will unapologetically follow and take the lives of black boys and men, because they have now been told that it is OK to do so.

I am afraid of the laws, in Florida and elsewhere, including my home state of Georgia, that give folks free reign to carry a gun and use it as long as they claim they were “afraid.” I am afraid because I know these laws will be overwhelmingly used AGAINST people like me who have black and brown skin, and therefore are inherently seen as threatening. I am afraid because I know this not because of personal rhetoric or made-up boogeymen, but based on historical evidence that the justice system is stacked against us.

I am afraid because people who say they “don’t see race” really believe that to be true, when we all know that race — and our experiences because of it — tend to be the lenses through which we view the world. Or at least color the lenses through which we view it. I wish that people would stop hoping for a “post-racial” society, and instead learn to celebrate differences or at least view them neutrally, rather than pretending they don’t exist at all. Because I am not a woman who happens to be black. I am a black woman, and among other ways I identify, that is an important part of who I am. Telling me you don’t see that isn’t helping. At all.

I am afraid of the deafening silence of my white friends, who see fit to publicly grieve the death of a Glee star, but say nothing about the murder of an unarmed teen. Who stand up vocally for marriage equality or demand women’s reproductive rights and choice, but say nothing about race or racism. I fear they are silent because they feel like they can be. Because this case doesn’t affect them the way it does me and other people of color. I wish they would say something. Anything. Because this case is about ALL of us, and our inherent biases and prejudices.

I am afraid because so often when a black person mentions racism or white privilege, we are told we are being oversensitive or ridiculous, and that we should just “get over the race thing already.” As if these problems don’t really, truly exist. These people act like the Supreme Court didn’t just invalidate what was perhaps the most important provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, forgetting that today, states are still looking to disenfranchise the poor and people of color with voter ID laws and by taking away early voting and redrawing voting district lines. I am afraid because we are past the days of overt bigotry, and it now lives in the hearts and souls of us all, so deep and invasive that most of us either can’t see it, or just flat out refuse to acknowledge it. I am afraid because I know that I am guilty of bias too, but hopeful because I recognize it and I’m working to overcome it. Still though, I am afraid because I know that my biases are a lot less likely to result in someone’s death than the biases of my white peers, because my biases tend to make me cautious rather than make me act invincible.

I am afraid, but that is not all I am. I am also empowered, because for once, it seems, the eyes of the nation are collectively looking in the same direction, whether we are talking about it or not. We are all thinking about Trayvon, even if just in passing. Many of us are outraged, and I’m determined to find ways to turn that outrage into positive change. I’m determined to continue talking about race, because I would be guilty if I remain silent.

So friends. Readers. Can we talk about this? Really talk about it? Can we actually DO something about this, even after the news coverage ceases and the marches end? Because things have got to change. And trust me when I tell you that as helpless as I feel today, I am determined to find a way to act.

In the meantime, read this post for things we can each do, every day, to combat racism, in ourselves and others.

Every once in while, a cause comes along that makes you want to shop, and today, on International Women’s Day, I have a great one. Yesterday, Walmart launched Empowering Women Together, a section that offers goods from small businesses owned by women around the world. In other words, each purchase you make helps a woman somewhere in the world feed herself and her family, which in turn helps to uplift her community and empowers her to do everything of which she is capable.

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These are women who have faced challenges like poverty, lack of education, domestic abuse and physical limitations. These women come from countries like Rwanda, where economic opportunities are scarce, and who would otherwise never be able to reach American shoppers.

I can get behind that 100%.

Of course, it helps that the products are beautiful, and more than worth buying. Here are some of my favorites:

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1. Women’s Tiered Convertible Dress / 2. African Patterned Wristlet / 3. Recycled Rice Bag Quilted iPad Case / 4. Paper Mache 10″ Vase / 5. 18 x 18 Reversible Decorative Pillow / 6. 3-Piece Woven Chevron Bangles Bracelet Set / 7. Fair Trade & Organic Coffee and Chocolate Gift Set / 8. Handpainted Card and Beaded Earring Set (aff)

At the moment, you can purchase more than 200 items from 19 businesses in 9 countries. However, this will eventually be part of a larger project, Store for Good, which will help connect shoppers with products that do good for others, themselves or the environment.

Would you look at me strange if I jump up and say Hallelujah? These are the types of projects I want to see big businesses take on more often. Bringing products like these to consumers who otherwise might never consider buying them is the only way, in my opinion, to demonstrate why these products matter.

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.