Welcoming Our Newest Neighbors: Three New Murals at Indian Hill Elementary

Brendan Sullivan, Omaha World-Herald

Brendan Sullivan, Omaha World-Herald

Omaha artist Watie White's latest public project involves creating a series of murals in partnership with Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska. With support of other organizations including the Intercultural Senior Center, Omaha Public Schools, the South Sudan Community Association, and the Anti-Defamation League, he first creates a small-scale carved portrait and then renders those small linocuts into a giant mural installed on a public wall where it will remain for generations. The fourth, fifth, and sixth portraits in this series got installed this week at Indian Hill Elementary in Omaha. Watie enlisted help painting the portraits from people at a nearby senior center, children and teachers from the school, and other community members who were willing to pick up a paintbrush and fill in the outlines transferred onto the outside of the building by Watie. Sort of a huge collaborative paint-by-number project. This week, Watie is putting the finishing touches on the murals himself. 

Each huge portrait is based on Watie's original small-scale carved linocut, which is overlayed with text from an interview with each subject. The themes in the text are inspiring: A child's dreams for her future, a boy's laughter with his brothers, a woman's memories of picking flowers with her sisters. Each immigrant depicted shares a desire to give back to the communities that have welcomed them, and reminds the viewer that we are all active participants in a very diverse culture. By welcoming our newest neighbors, we become greater as a whole, more capable of tackling humanity's challenges, and more compassionate toward all the varied experiences across our fabric. 

Alice and I drove over to the elementary school yesterday where she got the chance to help Watie paint on this mural of Sandra Bleoussi, an 11-year-old from Togo. Alice doesn't just want to be an artist when she grows up--she would correct me that she is an artist already. When I was little, my mom often hooked me up with working artists and art educators in our area, and it did so much to encourage my creativity. I'm so happy that Alice has the same opportunity to engage in person with public art on this scale. Her brushstrokes will be on this mural forever, along with all of the other children from the elementary school who got to take a turn filling it in.

I really admire what Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska is doing as a nonprofit to engage the public in this conversation about immigration using a partnership with a local artist. Instead of just mailing lists or fundraisers, they're really investing in a physical reminder of the immigrant population, providing a platform for their own faces and own words to have a presence in the city for generations to come. 

Comprehensive Sex Education Means Medically-Accurate Information Our Kids Deserve

I received a forwarded email ("do not share, do not post to social media, do not let this get into the wrong hands") last night full of talking points, misinformation, and lies that opponents of comprehensive sex education are using to ignite their base and mobilize protests against sex ed reform in Nebraska, an issue coming up for soon in our state unicameral. One quote reads:

"The proposed comprehensive sex education (CSE) curriculum is NOT pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-virtue or pro-child. On the contrary, CSE is pro-promiscuity, pro-condom, pro-abortion, pro-pornography and pro-LGBT lifestyle. CSE promotes all the negative consequences those attitudes cause.”

When opponents talk about sex education being “pro-pornography,” I think they’re really misplacing the blame for the thriving porn industry. Parents and educational institutions have historically been so afraid of discussing the experience of sex and facts about healthy relationships, and the result, throughout GENERATIONS, is that young people turn to porn (whether it’s your grandpa's Playboy or your son watching Brazzers on his iPod) and think that is the way to have sex. As technology has improved and access has increased, hardcore pornography has become the de facto sex education for an entire generation, distorting the way kids think about sex, consent, and healthy relationships. Opponents of sex education say that it should be up to the parents to teach their children about healthy sexual relationships, but even though parents have always been empowered with the control to lead those conversations, the facts shown through research say that parents just don’t, or they delay the conversation too long, and kids are left to their own devices to learn what they can, most of which is inaccurate. 

This email from opponents of comprehensive sex education say they want “children and youth to be loved and educated as whole persons in body, mind, and spirit, esteemed toward self-control with natural values instruction.” How can we expect people to take responsibility or have self-control if they’re too ashamed to admit that they need help or are struggling with questions about sexuality, puberty, or relationships? What if they can't pray it away? Where do they turn? That's where our public education is failing them because of these broken polices. 

We are human. We are imperfect, and we always have been—this isn’t a generational challenge. It is wrong to hold our children to higher standards than we ourselves can meet. A world where we expect abstinence until marriage, expect marriage until death, expect marital sex without contraception, and expect every pregnancy to be welcomed and wanted is a world that no person can succeed in. We just would not be able to manufacture Prozac fast enough.

We’ve already tried doing it the religious right’s way. Opponents of comprehensive sex education have already seen the consequences and ramifications of a world where kids are raised with abstinence education, with prejudice and bigotry against LGBT individuals, without access to contraceptives, and with expectations of body shame bordering on absurdity. This is the world we live in now, this is the world our parents and grandparents grew up in, and we can do better for our kids.

Comprehensive sex education is not about pornography, it’s not about replacing candy with condoms on the homecoming parade floats, it’s not about promiscuity. Passing this bill for comprehensive sex education will revise standards for sex education to include age-appropriate, medically-accurate education about biology, which is shockingly NOT currently mandated in 31 out of 50 state sex ed curricula. It will train educators to be able to speak about gender identity, consent, and human trafficking. The opposition wants schools to teach values, but only if they’re their values. However, that is not the role of a public school, and we have 50,000 children to keep safe, alive, and thriving. Research shows that medically and scientifically accurate sex education decreases the number of teen pregnancies, decreases the incidence of abortion, reduces incidence of STDs, and delays the average age when students begin engaging in sexual activity. So that’s where I feel like we can drop the mic. 

I’m sitting here in the coffee shop this morning asking myself why I’m even writing this address to opponents of comprehensive sex education. I want to tell myself that comprehensive sex education will pass, of course it will, so why am I wasting my time on these discussions and arguments? Can’t I just stand before the room, point to the arguments made by the opposition, and go “no”? What else is there to say? 

When reasonable people stay silent, when we don’t show up at town hall forums or city council meetings or write letters to the editor or call our representatives or vote or take the initiative and TALK to our kids about these things and BE their primary educators, kids are the ones who lose. I’m confident about sexuality as a parent, I’m comfortable talking to my kid about her body and my body and biology and relationships, I’m not afraid of those conversations. I can only imagine the motivation a parent must feel who is truly AFRAID of these things. And because of that, if you’re like me, you have an obligation and responsibility to match their motivation and join the conversation about how we can educate the next generation, to empower them with knowledge, so our kids won't be left behind making decisions that could impact their entire lives, based on inaccurate information. 

I’m writing this to to call upon the majority of people who are reasonable, who support research- and science-based policies in education, but who lay low while scores of well-funded extremists show up to town halls and forums and roundtables and drown out the logic. 

For those of you in my area locally, PLEASE plan to attend the Comprehensive Sexual Education Community Roundtable discussion on Tuesday October 20th at the TAC building on 32nd and Cuming in Omaha. The meeting starts at 6:30, but I would love to see supporters arrive before 6pm to be included in the discussion. Opponents of comprehensive sex education will be there in droves. They have done a lot of work to organize and ignite their community to come out and tell everyone how dangerous contraceptives are (pro-family), how we need to keep our hands off our no-no parts (pro-virtue), and how a wife’s duty is to provide sex to her husband (pro-marriage). What’s really pro-child is educating them, not scaring them. Come show up on the 20th and stand up for Nebraska’s kids.

Hello Holiday is Three Years Old!

Three years ago today, our baby Hello Holiday was born, and Sarah and I cried all night in our basement office as we popped champagne and packed boxes as a constant stream of orders rolled in on our first day. I want to thank Sarah and our entire team of people who helped get this off the ground three years ago, and those who helped grow it in the years to come.  I thought Sarah said it best: 

We love independent retail. We love that our generation is actively embracing brands that adhere to a strong ethical core, brands they can feel an emotional connection to. There’s an undercurrent of DIY culture in our customers. We grew up idolizing the punk-influenced riot grrls of the 90s, but embraced the symbolic pop-culture message of “girl power” of the 2000s. We are millennials who are serious about our work, who have big aspirations, but who are as passionate about our hobbies, relationships, and intellectual pursuits as our careers. We don’t compartmentalize our lives; We’re always “on.” Most importantly, we see more and more of our friends, online crushes, and customers inspired to create an independent life around their love of design, sharing, selling, and spreading the word. Sometimes to find what you're searching for, you have to build it yourself, and I feel like that’s exactly what we did with our community of designers, makers, customers, staff, and supporters who surround us. I’m so honored by the time and effort spent by everyone on our team to create this dream. I’m floored by the enthusiasm and love of our customers who understand and support what we are doing. 

On Starting, Creativity, and Sustainability

from pioneer nation 2014, which is coming back to portland this week! 

from pioneer nation 2014, which is coming back to portland this week! 

When you are an artist, it is tempting and easy to forget about being a businessperson. Inspiration is easy to come by, I think, if you follow your intuition as an artist and don’t give in to pressure to do work you don’t believe in. But to be successful as an artist or designer you must be a businessperson first, because if you can't sustain your work and support yourself, you just won't be able to keep doing it. Believe you are good enough. Get out and show the world why you matter. Be very, very brave.

Don’t wait for a job or an opportunity, assuming that will be the way you become known or successful or begin to make money. As an artist or creator you just need to start where you are with what you have. It’s easy to make excuses about why we can’t start something now, but you don’t have to have everything perfect to just begin. All you have to do is identify what steps need to be taken to see progress, and dedicate a small amount of time to one of the steps. See the freedom from judgment and failure in the act of just BEGINNING. You can begin over and over again, but if you never do it the first time, your project will never happen. 

No one can take responsibility for your ideas and dreams but you. So just start. 

Comprehensive Sex Education: What's this really about?

When I write letters and pieces about accessible healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and reproductive rights, I find myself making arguments like "It doesn't matter whether one believes abortion should be legal or not. That medically accurate sex education and accessible, affordable reproductive healthcare is a valuable asset in this community is inarguable. Reasonable people can't afford to stay silent when there are so many activists and extremists trying take lifesaving preventative care away from people who rely on it.” And then sometimes I catch myself and want to delete that all. 

Abortion IS legal. It has been legal for 42 years. If you don’t support abortion, there is no need to get one. And yet. 

Let’s talk about Planned Parenthood, which our Republican-led congress voted last week to defund. So many people are poorly educated about the work Planned Parenthood does, which is unfortunate because one reason we need Planned Parenthood is because people are so poorly educated about sex. I advocate nonprofits and healthcare organizations that cooperate with schools, administrators, and other community organizations to combat myths and stigma about sex, health, and pregnancy. These organizations promote healthy lifestyles and personal wellness for both men and women, spreading information and education which has been proven to reduce the rate of abortions. Abortion services are needed, important, and LEGAL. Ironically, for Planned Parenthood opponents, one of the most consistently proven ways to reduce the number of abortions is to support and fund comprehensive sex education, which is largely supported by the advocacy and outreach work of Planned Parenthood.

Yes. It’s annoying that most writing I do in support of accessible reproductive healthcare and education must acknowledge that there is any convincing to be done. The supreme court completed this argument over two years from December 1971-January 1973. Legal abortions are the law of the land, but the reality is that safe abortions are not accessible in most places in the U.S. Women with unintended or severely complicated pregnancies face trips of hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic, sometimes round trips of over a thousand miles. Many of these women must be absent from school or work to attend appointments, cannot find transportation, and make these journeys without the support of a parent, friend, or partner. These roadblocks are sometimes insurmountable, which results in a decision between carrying an unintended pregnancy to term or seeking dangerous options outside the law. All this in a country where abortion is legal. This is the lived reality of too many women. In fact, you probably know one of them or know someone who does. We cannot afford to settle for this low standard of healthcare and civic responsibility when the benefits of sex education have been proven, and the legality of safe abortion is firm. 

Anyway, what I’m really working on is comprehensive sex education in schools. But the focus on Planned Parenthood, and thus abortion services, seems inextricable from the argument about the importance of medically accurate sex education. 

Here are some facts: 

  1. A clear majority of Nebraska voters (66%) support comprehensive sex education. That's to say nothing of greater support in other states and communities.
  2. Comprehensive sex education reduces the incidence of STDs and unintended pregnancies by empowering students with the medically accurate information they need to make healthy decisions.
  3. In many parts of our state, access to reproductive healthcare is limited or nonexistent. Evidence shows the best way to help American teens avoid unplanned pregnancy and STDs is to help them make responsible decisions and stay healthy by giving them comprehensive sex education. 
  4. Many young people who receive comprehensive sex education choose to delay sexual activity or increase their use of contraceptives.
  5. A teen that receives comprehensive sex education is 50% less likely to experience a pregnancy. In contrast, abstinence-only education is not only ineffective, but harmful. 
  6. Abstinence-only programs are ineffective, often inaccurate, and may even cause harm. 80% of federally funded abstinence-only curricula distort information, blur religion and science, treat stereotypes as scientific fact, and contain basic scientific errors.

Most Americans, and most Nebraskans, support comprehensive sex education and realize the importance of accessible reproductive healthcare. But the loudest voices in the national dialogue are well-funded extremists who are attempting to intimidate and terrify American voters with their misleading anti-woman messaging. These baseless attacks are intended to distract from the lifesaving and important work that organizations like Planned Parenthood are doing to decrease STDs, decrease unwanted pregnancies, and reduce myths and misinformation about the biological facts of our own bodies. Don’t our children deserve accurate education and information about their bodies and relationships? I can think of no better gift to give them for their futures. 

Whurl's Pop 'N Shop: Our first venture into the wonderful world of pop-ups

We had such a great time on Saturday at Announcement for our first L.A. Pop-Up Shop hosted by Whurl, an amazing community-driven vintage-hunting app built by our friend Samantha that has totally changed my 70's shift dress game. We finally got to meet our friend Lacey at Big Bud Press, Sara M Lyons, She Loves Dresses, Black Lodge Vintage, World Famous Original, and reconnect with our pal Tuesday Bassen who was kind enough to host Sarah and me in her adorable home.

Los Angeles, I'm in love with you. We went to the beach at night, we marveled at the palm trees, we drank cups of unforgettable coffee, and we bought some amazing pieces from local LA designers at the cutest little boutiques. We met loyal customers who have been shopping with us for years, and saw men and women and all types of people coming together to support the exciting and difficult work that all these designers do to build businesses from the ground up. But most importantly, we connected with some of our fashion, design, and feminism heroes from across the country and made relationships with other entrepreneurial women who inspire me to no end.

We can't wait to come back.

Photos courtesy of Announcement.

Pre-fall is here!

Here are some snaps from the end of our last photoshoot with Amy Lynn Straub, who is relocating today to Chicago to pursue more possibilities as a fashion photographer. We'll still be working with her a few times per month for our product shots and editorial photoshoots, so in my book it's a win-win-win all around. I'm eager to see where Amy's creative inspiration in Chicago leads.

Parental Leave and Kids at Work

Photo by Chris Machian for the Omaha World-Herald

Photo by Chris Machian for the Omaha World-Herald

Today Sarah and I (and some others) were included (along with some cute pictures of our children with us at the store) in a little Omaha World-Herald feature article about taking your kids to work. Please do read the article, and just keep in mind that it’s a feature piece written for a regional audience. 

Alice has been coming to work with me since she was born—it was in her first month that we started moving into CAMP, the coworking space I owned in North Downtown for two years. As she has gotten older, the routine has changed, which I like. Most nights now, I make a sack lunch and put together a project or activity in a tote bag for her to do at the office the next day. Model car kits, cray pas, stationery sets, books on tape, office supplies for her to spend hours organizing at her desk—all examples of things that have made the cut. Sometimes she’s disinterested, sometimes she completes her projects more quickly than I expected, but usually she’s excited and engaged by these surprises. She also likes to do little tasks like washing windows, sweeping, putting inventory away, and picking up trash. If she’s feeling really good, she’ll talk to some customers, but she tends to be shy or wrapped up in her own work. I spend most of the day in my office working on operations and strategy, so I often to leave her on the sales floor with my other employees who accept “playing with Alice” as part of their job descriptions. My business partner Sarah has a young son too, who is at the office a day or two each week. When both kids are there, they like to play together which keeps them occupied. Alice goes to public school now, so the long days of her at work are fewer, though she is still in the office a few hours each day after class. 

All employees at Hello Holiday know that Sarah and I will have our kids at work, so we definitely select candidates who are good with kids and interested in engaging them. None of our employees have kids of their own, but if they did, we’d definitely be open to letting their kids come to work, too, on a schedule that makes sense for the goals of the business, which is what Sarah and I do now. 

My real answer to “how is it you can take your child to work” is “I work for myself.”

In our broken U.S. system that pays lip service to parenting and family values while putting up endless obstacles to contraception, equal pay, medical insurance coverage for mothers, and mandated parental leave, I know my situation is not unique, but it’s certainly not the norm. Not even close.

Eighty-eight percent of American women do not get paid to care for their new infants for for a single day after they give birth.  So as a nation, we cannot talk about family-friendly workplace policies without talking about the fact that women have to weigh significant negative financial and career consequences against the joy of becoming a parent and starting a family. 

I believe that paid parental leave is a worker’s right. Our current culture for women in the workplace has the effect of making parenting a privileged pursuit, taking women out of the workforce (where they are then more likely to remain), and reaffirming the stereotype of public and professional life as the domain of men. 

As a self-employed person and single mother, saving every penny for my business and future security is vital for my sustainability, and not having childcare costs makes it easier. My hope is that someday Alice will be proud of the example I set for her. That I was able to sustain our life while building something that really ignites my passion and interest, and that she was along to watch the whole thing unfold. I also hope she knows how rare it is what I did, and that this is not a likely or even possible scenario for many parents. 

I own a really, really, really small company. Like the smallest. Holding up our family leave policy to those of most workplaces could not be more of an apples-and-oranges comparison. But I do think there is power in visibility and public discussion of public policy, and I hope that the tide of national and civic opinion continues to turn in favor of more family-friendly work policies.