It’s Show Time

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is an architectural marvel.  Located in the heart of Kansas City, at 16th and Broadway, it is named for Muriel Kauffman, whose vision made the center possible. Mrs. Kauffman selected architect Moshe Safdie to design the building. A world renown cultural center, it is home to the Kansas City area’s premier performing arts organizations featuring theater, opera, ballet, the symphony and, our personal favorite, the Independence Messiah Choir.

Beautiful in day-light, its elegance is even more fully experienced when the building lights up the sky.

The Power of Nature

I have just completed a major chapter in my life. Working on a campaign is both exhilarating and exhausting, but besides the amazing work experience, I learned a lot about myself through the process. One of my favorite pastimes remains the same… I still love sunsets overlooking the ocean.

Just before the last push of the campaign season, I posted a few photos of my “zen” places. Well, yesterday I went back to one of my favorite spots on the California coast: Bodega Headlands. My visit felt bittersweet. It wasn’t my first visit, and I’m sure won’t be my last, but it had a different feeling about it. Having just finished this incredible experience, my world suddenly feels like it has a huge hole in it. But as much as I am unable to see a clear picture of the immediate future, I felt a wonderful sense of peace. I had warm surroundings, a beautiful view, and of course, my camera in tow.

No matter what I have going on in my life, I will always be humbled by the beauty of nature, and the ocean in particular. It is so powerful, so artistic. Here is what I captured.

And as the sun begins to set…

After it sank below the horizon, the clouds were perfectly aligned to paint the sun’s fiery colors….

Want To Make A Difference? Join A Board

For months our national focus has been on the elections.  Now, whether your candidates won or lost, the elections are over.  The campaign focused on issues important to all of us:  job development, improved education, better and more efficient health care, services to those in need. While we may still be deeply divided politically, these issues unite us as we search for brighter tomorrows.

In the next weeks and months, Congress and the President will conduct serious negotiations on issues such as the budget crisis and the “fiscal cliff”.  Most of us will have no role in those negotiations. But we can all help.

As individual citizens, we can participate in significant ways in improving our corporations, educational system, delivery of health care, and searching for local solutions to national problems. So, do you want to make a difference?  Consider joining a board!

Colleges and universities, charities, corporations, banks, even neighborhood associations are generally governed by boards of directors.  There are a wealth of organizations with a need for educated, committed board leadership.  My personal board involvement has focused on education and the legal/judicial system. Whatever your particular passion: providing food for the poor, adult literacy, you name it, there is an organization just waiting for your help. Are you focused on business, entrepreneurship, job creation?  Join a board.  Is your interest related to health, the needs of the poor or the needs of neighborhoods and communities? Join a board. Businesses, civic and charitable organizations everywhere aalways on the lookout for highly skilled and motivated individuals who will “answer the call” by offering their talents and wisdom for board service.

But board leadership is not just about a willing heart.  It requires wisdom, passion, and an understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of board service. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate on a board to learn about board service: what it entails and what particular challenges confront members of any board. My husband just gave me a great book, Answering the CALL: Understanding the Duties, Risks, and Rewards of Corporate Governance. It is one of many great books that can guide an individual in whether to serve on a board, as well as how to provide meaningful support with minimum risk.  Co-authored by attorneys Lynn Shapiro Snyder and Robert D. Reif, it is a helpful guide to any board member.

Answering the CALL begins Chapter 2 with a basic description of the role of corporate boards: “to promote the best interests of the corporation”, “to provide general direction for the management of the corporation’s business, to be involved in major corporate decisions, and to bear the ultimate responsibility for the company’s business and affairs.”  It distinguishes service on non-profit boards which requires directors “to remain faithful to the charitable mission and purposes of that organization.”

Because the authors are attorneys, it is not surprising that they focus on specific federal statutes that codify the responsibilities of corporate directors/board members: for example, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, an amendment to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.  The authors describe board members’ fiduciary responsibility to follow the law, describes what constitutes due diligence, and explains how to protect corporate funds, avoid improper conflicts of interest, and protect against violations of corporate loyalty.  While these obligations vary based on the nature of the organization, the overriding principles apply generally to both profit and non-profit boards of directors.

The book was published by Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation in 2003 and is now in it’s third edition.  While it is designed in part to encourage and support expanding board diversity, particularly for women, [2] the responsibilities of board service are “equal opportunity”.

But seriously.  If you are willing to commit your time and talents to board service, find an organization that you believe is consistent with your expertise and go to work. Be sure that as you begin your service, and through the years you continue to serve, you take to heart the wisdom set forth in Answering the CALL.  You will be doing your community and all of us a great service.

Get started.  Join a board. There is much to do!

[1]Sarbanes-Oxley was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, as an effort to prevent scandal and restore investor confidence in publicly traded companies.  Amy Borrus, Learning to Love Sarbanes-Oxley, Business Week 126 (November 21, 2005), describes Sarbanes-Oxley as “the equivalent of a root canal”.

[2] Don’t short change the discussion of the benefits of service, particularly for women as well as their analysis of the importance of diversifying boards.

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The opinions in this blog are our own.  They do not represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

I Am Malala: Honoring A Young Girl’s Struggle

On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala Yousafzai [1] as she rode home on a school bus with her friends.  Malala survived.  She was shot in the head.  The bullet lodged in her neck near her spine. Unconscious and near death, with the assistance of the Pakistani military, Pakistani surgeons removed the bullet in Pakistan and, once stabilized, she was flown to England.  She is now recovering in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.  Eventually she hopes to return to Swat to resume her studies.

Malala was born in July 1997.  Named Malala after a poetess and warrior, she was born to lead.  Her Muslim family is from a large Pashtun tribe in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.  As the rest of us bemoaned the treatment of women and girls in Taliban controlled areas of the Muslim world, Malala did something about it. At the tender age of 11, in 2008, with the support of her educator father, she spoke to the press club in Peshawar and asked “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education”.  Her advocacy of her right to an education began and has continued throughout the next 4 years.

When the Taliban threatened and burned schools, Malala continued to attend school.  When the Taliban closed schools, she studied until they reopened. While she initially dreamed of becoming a physician, she changed her ambition to a career in government and politics.

By 2009 she was wrote a blog for the BBC, focused on daily life of a girl living under the Taliban.[2]  She continued to write in her blog even as Taliban and the military fought in the streets.  She continued her work even as her father received death threats.  She agreed to interviews within her own country and with the international press.  When her identity became publicly known, she began appearing publicly on television to advocate for female education. She appeared on a UNICEF supported program as chair of the District Child Assembly Swat in support of children’s rights.

In October 2011, Malala was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.  She received Pakistan’s first  National Youth Peace Prize in December of that year.  She was international recognized for her advocacy for education, by the tender age of 15.

A the time Malala was injured, she was fully aware of the risks she was facing.  She may not have known that the Taliban had voted in the summer of 2012 to have her assassinated, but she had received death threats on her FACEBOOK Page and through notes placed under the door of her home.  She went to school anyway.  She spread her message anyway.  She had to know that these threats were not silly acts of bullying by other children.  These threats were real.  But she continued her campaign in favor of her right, and the right of every girl and woman, to obtain an education.

Malala was not a victim of a random bullet.  She was the target of the attack. The Taliban shooters asked for her by name. Undaunted, she continues her recovering, vowing to return to Swat to be educated. Will she return?  I don’t know.  Will she continued her education?  Without a doubt!

As powerful as her early life has been, her attempted assassination has also furthered her cause of universal education.  President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon have all spoken out against the Taliban’s actions, while acknowledging her courage.  Former First Lady Laura Bush described her as “a modern Anne Frank”. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the new U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education, adopting the slogan, “I am Malala”, has initiated a petition drive to demand that no children be denied an education.

As of today, her attackers have not been caught. More than 50 Pakistani Muslim clerics have denounced the shooting. Pakistan has honored her by renamed schools in her name.  Malala’s face and message have spread through tweets, Facebook posts, t-shirts and posters.   The slogan “I am Malala” rings throughout Pakistan and beyond. Her life continues to be a symbol of hope, commitment and courage.

I am Malala.

[1]  Photograph by  “123 people.co.uk”

[2] For her safety her blog was written using a pseudonym.

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The opinions expressed on our blog do not represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

Vietnam: Honoring Our Veterans

Today is Veteran’s Day.  For most of us it represents a holiday: a day without the responsibilities of work, a day to spend with family or friends.  But it is, really, so much more.  In a time when our nation is at war in Afghanistan, and when our soldiers are being killed in action, or returning home with serious physical and mental injuries, it is important to honor their service.  We must also respect the sacrifices they have made for us and to always, always remember the human cost of our countries decision to go to war.  As a result, Veteran’s Day is, and should remain, a day of reflection, a day of sadness and a day of loss.

 The memories of each war are different.  The few remaining veterans of World War II have a different experience than those of the Gulf War, the Korean War and every other war of our time.  To fully understand Veteran’s Day you must, almost necessarily, have served in the military or been close to someone who has served.

Kansas City’s Vietnam War Memorial, located at 43rd and Baltimore, is dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.  The memorial wall includes the names of 385 Kansas City area servicemen who lost their lives during that war.

This wall is personal to many Kansas City residents.  For me, the name  John Igert says it all.  Johnny was a friend, a classmate and a casualty of the war. He graduated from William Chrisman High School in 1964, and attended Central Missouri State College, in Warrensburg, Mo., before entering the military in 1967.  He died in Gia Dinh, Vietnam, on August 17, 1968, just three months after he should have graduated from college.  He was only 22. He was an easy person to know.  He was fun, he was a good man, though only barely a man when he began his military service–and when he died.

Each of the 385 servicemen whose names are carved in the granite of the monument has a similar story.  Each name represents someone who is remembered by family and friends, who loved him when he was alive, and love him still.  Each name represents a life lost.

Kansas City’s Vietnam War Memorial honors our soldiers who fought, died and missing in action.  The memorial acknowledges that the war deeply divided our country and that in the middle of the dispute were the men and women who fought and died in the war.

The memorial is based on a series of pools and fountains.  The separation of the pools is designed to acknowledge the deep divisions within the country over the war. The fountains represent the healing and cleansing power of water in restoring our national spirit.

The words on the granite summarize a message of hope.  “Only by remembering can we assure it never happens again”.  Wishful thinking?  Repeatedly.  But the message of hope sustains us and causes us to search for better solutions to the challenges of our times.

Valle De Vinales: A Cuban Shangri-La

Shangri-La in Cuba you ask?  Well, why not.  Shangri-La is described by James Hilton, the author of 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, as “a mystical, harmonious valley”.  It is depicted in the movie by the same name as a place in many ways comparable to the Eden of the Bible, a place of permanent happiness in which the fertile soil, the kindness of the people and the beauty of the land, creates an environment of peace and contentment.

The Valley De Vinales seems to be such a place.  Only 51 square miles, it is located in the Pinar del Rio Province of Cuba. The Valley has been recognized as a UNESCO Heritage site since 1999 for its combination of “karst” [1] landscape,  in conjunction with its rich culture of architecture, crafts, music and traditional agricultural methods. [2] The valley’s rich soil and temperate climate make it a breadbasket of Cuba.

Traditional farming, relying heavily on use of oxen, enhances the romantic image of the area.

But tobacco is king in the valley, as a result of the combination of rich soil and temperate climate touted as producing the finest quality of tobacco.  While food crops are traditionally cultivated, tobacco farming combines traditional methods with more modern farming techniques.

After the harvest of the tobacco, the leaves are dried in specially constructed barns before being sent to cigar factories in nearby Vinales. The thatched barns in which the tobacco is dried are both practical and graceful.  The owner of the tobacco plantation we visited could be the model for the Juan Valdez coffee ads.

While in many ways a blessing for Cuba, it was tobacco that expanded slavery in Vinales.  But Vinales was both curse and blessing, for it was the mountains surrounding the valley that became a home for runaway slaves, who were able to live for extended periods of time in the caves that stretch throughout these mountains.  The descendants of those slaves thrive today in this rich multi-ethnic culture.

The beauty of the valley and the mountains that surround it are not to be soon forgotten.  The Vinales National Park located in the valley helps preserve the historical value of the area.  While tourism has expanded throughout the valley, tourist areas fit into and, in some ways enhance, the natural beauty of the valley.

[1]  Karst is a special type of landscape that essentially identifies a “sinkhole” or sunken area of land.  Karst typically is in an area of soluble rock such as limestone.  The low mountains in the valley are quite fragile, as a result of the erosion of the structure of the mountains by rain and weather, leaving the caves that are described above.  It is this same fragility that causes the depression in the land.

[2]  Even the UNESCO description of the basis for declaring the Valle de Vinales evokes the image of shangra-la!

Have You Voted?

Have you voted.  I have!  I feel really good about it.  I smiled at all of the other early voters as though we have a special bond.  We do.  Whether we agree on all of the candidates, we all understand the importance of voting as an essential element in our Constitutional rights and freedoms.  Our respect as voters for our nation and our democracy ties us more closely together than any of our differences.

If you haven’t voted yet, take the time to do so now.  You will feel better for having done so.  Then wear your “I Voted” stickers as a reminder to your family and friends to vote.  And don’t forget, at the end of the day we are all in this together.

Women’s Suffrage And The Importance of Voting

Because we are on the eve of a national election, I think it is important to remind ourselves, as women, of the sacrifices made by earlier women who worked and sacrificed to secure this basic right for women–the right to vote.

My grandmother, Mary Lewis, was an early feminist and suffragist.  My grandfather, Frank Mesle, being a wise man, wooed her by respecting her beliefs and making them his own.  One of his early letters to her in 1910 included the following quote from an unknown source:  “When the husband gets ready to regard his wife as an equal partner…when he will grant her the same privileges he demands for himself; when he is willing to allow his wife to liver her own life in her own way without trying to ‘boss’ her, we shall have more true marriages, happier homes and higher civilizations.”

It was ten years later, when my own mother was one years old, that women gained the right to vote.  I was born a mere 26 years later.  Not a very long period of time in the history of this country.  But worlds apart in our understanding and expectations of women’s role in society.

Until the  mid to late 1900’s, women were, in many significant respects, under the legal control of husbands and fathers from birth to death, without the right to own property, vote or participate meaningfully in business or government.  The obstacles to equality for women are nowhere better illustrated than in the Supreme Court’s 1873 decision in Bradwell v. Illinois. [1]

Born in 1831, Myra  Bradwell’s husband was a successful lawyer, judge and member of the Illinois General Assembly.  Myra was a teacher, respected citizen and active in the community.  She founded a legal newspaper and supported women’s suffrage reforms, in addition to  engaging in a wide variety of other activities of no small import. She undertook legal training with the hope of being admitted to the Bar of Illinois.  Her application for a license to practice law was rejected by the Illinois State Supreme Court because, as a married woman, she could not enter into any legal contracts–a basic requirement of practicing law [2].  Ultimately Bradwell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming a violation of the 14th Amendment.  In writing the decision adopted by the  Supreme Court, in language feminists can quote to this day, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life…[T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the creator.”

Undeterred by the Supreme Court’s ruling, and presumably rejecting the notion that  God believed women should be so limited, feminists continued to press for Constitutional protections, primarily focused on the right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, dedicated their lives to the struggle for women’s rights: woman’s suffrage, the right of women to own property, retain their own earnings, and to have access to academic opportunities.  From as early as the 1850’s, Anthony and Stanton traveled throughout the United States and Europe in support of women’s rights.  On July 4, 1876, in Philadelphia, Anthony presented on behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association the  Declaration of  Rights of Women of the United States [3]. Her lengthy speech, while compelling, [4] is particularly powerful concerning the denial of a woman’s right to vote:  “ Universal manhood suffrage, by establishing an aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel depotism than monarch; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son….”  Stanton died in 1906, 14 years before her vision of universal women’s suffrage became a reality.  In 1979, in honor of her role in the struggle for women’s rights, the U.S. Mint issued a dollar coin with her image.

The final struggles and success of the so-called suffrage movement is well described in the powerful movie, Iron Jawed Angels[5].  This movie focuses on the period immediately leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. It tells the story of the relentlessness of women leaders like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who through the early years of World War I fought tirelessly to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to endorse their right to vote.

As the U.S. was entering World War I, some 35 years after the Bradwell decision, suffragists began to picket of the White House.  Their theme was questioning why we should be fighting a war abroad in defense of Democracy when women at home did not experience Democracy.

Despite romantic descriptions of women’s delicacy and timidity, women engaged in the feminist movement behaved, and were treated, without regard to any such perceptions. Their leaders were fined and then imprisoned for 60 days for “obstructing traffic”. They continued to picket.  Alice was sentenced to 7 months in prison.  She was ultimately placed in a solitary confinement and began a hunger strike. Attempts were made to have Alice declared insane. [6] Ultimately she was  force fed by her jailers, who repeatedly fed her through a tube down her throat.  Denied access to the public, their families and even lawyers, it was the husband of one of the leaders of the movement who ultimately advised the press of the treatment of these women.

Learning of the treatment of the suffragists, on January 9, 1918, President Wilson reversed his opposition to women’s right to vote. He urged  Congress to vote in favor of a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women’s right, stating:  “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

On June 4, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote, by one vote.  On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  The Amendment became law.

The sacrifices of women like Alice Paul were life changing. Without her bull-headed resistance to the status quo, women’s suffrage may well have been delayed for years.  Her sacrifices and the sacrifices of women before her, secured the beginnings of real change for women’s status as full members of society.

It is important that all women honor and acknowledge the sacrifices from the past.  Please vote on November 6, and every election.  Vote for the candidates of your choice, but vote.

[1] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873).

[2] It is not to be ignored that she was denied a license because legislatures controlled by men denied her, and all women, basic rights to own property, enters contracts, keep their own earnings and otherwise control their own destinies.

[3] The original Declaration of the Rights of woman and the Female Citizen was written by Olympe de Gouges a French patriot, in 1791.  It is modeled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted in 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution.

[4]  This speech also includes a quote from Abigail Adams, who said: “We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation”.

[5]  Released in 2004, the movie starred Hillary Swank.

[6]  Historically,  male doctor, refused to find her insane, stating that bravery in women has sometimes been mistaken for insanity.

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The views presented in our blog do not represent the positions of our families, our friends or our employers.

Want To Contribute? Don’t Know How?

Hurricane Sandy left destruction in its path from the Caribbean to Canada.  Hardest hit within the United States are areas along the Coast in New Jersey and New York:  Lower Manhattan, N.Y., Staten Island, N.Y, Atlantic City, N.J. Bay Head, N.J., Jersey Shore, N.J., Hoboken, N.J., the list goes on.

You want to help but you don’t know how.  I was in the same situation.  The easiest solution for me was to enter “Hurricane Sandy, Relief”.  The first charities I found were the American Red Cross, AmeriCares and the Salvation Army.  Finding fewer charities than I expected I next easily determined that organizations such as Save the Children, the Jewish Federations of North America and OxFam (at least in Haiti) have already identified themselves as organizations also committed to providing assistance to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  There are others I have not been able to research.  Many will also be excellent choices, including a number of charities within the states and cities impacted.

The easiest way to contribute is to go to any of the above web sites or find your favorite charity, that has agreed to fund relief to hurricane victims in the U.S. or the Caribbean.  Most of these organizations make it easy to contribute without writing a checking or addressing and stamping an envelope.  Just follow their directions, indicate the amount you wish to contribute and answer the simple questions in the contribution request (including providing your credit card information).  It is easy, it provides charities virtually instant access to your contribution so that storm victims have access to resources they urgently need.

It is easy, fast, effective.  It is life saving!

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The opinions on our blog are not the opinions of our families, friends or employers.

The Calm Before the Storm

My cute Mama once sent me a beautiful little box engraved with the saying, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I certainly don’t feel like I’m about to run into a storm, but with all the craziness leading up to November 6th, I’m going to be prepared for anything.

In order to mentally prepare for the exciting days ahead, I’m turning to my go-to method of “going to my zen place.” Usually this consists of an early morning run and a drive to a beautiful spot, with a big body of water, where I can collect my thoughts. However, today I’m going to have to rely on my camera. Here are a few of my favorite “zen” places.

View of San Francisco Bay from Coit Tower.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marina District in San Francisco.

View of Port Denarau, Fiji.

And last, but certainly not least, the view looking south toward the city from Muir Beach Outlook.

Off to my zen place… have a great weekend everyone!