Empower Young Women to Stave Off Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

Empower Young Women to Stave Off Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

As the number of sexual assault cases rises on college campuses, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure young women don’t put themselves in a position to be victimized.

There are public awareness campaigns about the perils of drinking and doing drugs, but sometimes the target audience overlooks the unwanted sex angle. Have you ever talked to a girl headed to college in frank terms about sex, booze and drugs on campus?

I have. With my daughter (a grad student) and two nieces (a sophomore and a senior in college.) My daughter heard my sex talks at an early age as often and detailed as I felt necessary based on her age. For college, she got a separate talk about personal responsibility from her dad and me. I threw in every worse case scenario that she might encounter that could lead to sexual assault.

Before my nieces left home, I wrote them a long letter that covered everything about college life (from birth control to starchy food to roofies) that I learned as a student and from my experience as an advisor to a sorority at the University of Miami.

I explained what often happens when you drink or do drugs and end up alone with a young man. Sex. Plain and simple. I follow up the letter with a phone call to answer questions and elaborate on topics I’ve written about.

As mothers, grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, friends and cousins, we must get the message across to young women that they have the power to stop most sexual assaults by being in control of their behavior. We’ve got to preach this message until we’re out of breath, indoctrinate them and make them recite it like a mantra.

It’s really important these days because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked Obama-era guidelines on how schools should handle sexual assaults. She thought the rules denied proper due process to those accused of sexual misconduct and failed to ensure fairness. DeVos’ decision came after she met with several mothers of male college students who had been punished for sexual assault.

Under the Obama administration, schools were told to apply a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which requires that 50 percent of evidence must point to the crime. Now, schools can opt to use a more rigorous “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which requires a higher burden of proof.

Advocates for rape victims fear that rolling back the Obama-era guidelines will tip the scale in favor of rapists and deter students from reporting sexual assault. We can’t change DeVos’ mind, but we can teach young women how to protect themselves so they won’t become another statistic.

Expose Sexual Predators in the Workplace

Expose Sexual Predators in the Workplace
Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Sexual predators, like disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, aren’t just in Hollywood. They have lived among us for years – in all professions. Problem is, few women have called them out because they fear retaliation, career suicide, isolation or being shamed by co-workers.

My 82-year-old mother was one of the silent victims of sexual harassment.

When Mom was in her early twenties, she worked at a high-end dry cleaners. One day, her supervisor asked her to help him find a customer’s clothes. While she was looking, he walked behind her and rubbed his genitals against her butt. She knew immediately that it wasn’t an accident.

Mom said she was shocked and disgusted but couldn’t say anything because the “big, ugly man” was the owner’s son.

She tried to keep her distance, but he continued asking her to come to the back of the cleaners and help him. When she had no choice, she positioned her petite body so that he couldn’t make contact. Mom eventually found another job to get away from the pervert.

That was my mother’s only option in the 1950s but not in today’s workplace. Women have rights, but sexual harassment often goes unreported and unpunished because women fear losing their job, especially in this post-recession era where good-paying jobs are hard to come by.

In a Washington Post-ABC News poll,* 64 percent of Americans said sexual harassment in the workplace was a serious problem, up from 47 percent in 2011. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said that men usually get away with making unwanted sexual advances toward female co-workers.

Nearly 60 percent of the women who experienced harassment didn’t report the incident to supervisors.

Unbelievable!

We tell our children that no one is supposed to touch their private parts, yet we allow men to take advantage of us. I’ve never seen a job description that lists sexual harassment and sexual assault as requirements.

If more women were in top management positions and owned companies, the corporate culture that has condoned and covered up sexual misconduct would change dramatically. Reporting bad behavior would be encouraged and handled with sensitivity. Until that day comes, we must speak up.

Sexual predators don’t target just one woman; every woman is prey. If you’re a victim, share your story and ask whether others have had a similar experience. Band together, document the behavior and take action.

Present your findings to the company’s human resources department, which should launch an investigation. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Fair Employment Practice agency.

Just like Weinstein and all the other sexual predators who’ve been brought down, so can male co-workers who make your job intolerable with their demeaning behavior.

*The poll of 1,260 adults was conducted Oct, 12-16.

Enough!

Enough!

imagesBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When a woman wants something badly enough, she’ll figure out a way to get it. She’ll plot, negotiate and sacrifice until victory is hers.

Ladies, it’s time we took up the mantle of leadership for tougher gun laws. We can’t sit around and wait for politicians to grow a conscience. Nothing, even the shooting of their colleagues, seems to extricate them from the death-like grip of the National Rifle Association.

Enough!

Gun violence is killing our children, spouses, relatives and friends, and destroying our quality of life. The things that we take for granted – going to a concert, dancing at a nightclub, sending our kids to school and watching a movie – are no longer safe. It’s gotten to the point where some people avoid going to public places that might make them an easy target for a crazy gunman.

How many more innocent lives must be stolen before it’s time to say “Enough?” The violence is escalating to the point where each incident claims title to the “worst mass killing in modern history.”

Enough!

And the politicians – mostly Republicans – who get millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA? All they do is offer condolences and prayers for the victims and their families. Their sympathy is disingenuous and should be dismissed as fake news.

Enough!

Women-led movements have changed the course of history in this country and given a voice to people who’ve been invisible and powerless. Here are a few of the most notable causes spearheaded by women:

  • Suffrage movement, which gave women the right to vote
  • Civil rights movement, sparked by black women who boycotted segregated buses
  • Roe vs. Wade, established a woman’s right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment
  • Gay liberation and LGBTQ movement, which advocated for equal rights and an end to discrimination in housing, jobs, lending practices and other areas.
  • Black Lives Matter, a protest against police brutality in the black community
  • Say Her Name, a campaign that focuses on police brutality against black women

There’s precedent for women to lead the movement that will change our nation’s gun laws.

Rise up!

Make Them Hear You

Make Them Hear You

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

To people fighting injustice and oppression in the United States and around the world, I heard the perfect song to serve as your anthem when I visited Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis.

The song is “Make Them Hear You.” It’s from the Broadway musical “Ragtime,” which tells the story of three groups in this country in the early 20th century – African-Americans, rich white suburbanites and Eastern European immigrants.

During the church service, three young men sang this beautiful song. Worshippers stood, clapped and pumped their fists. The lyrics echo how many Americans feel these days as hard-fought rights are being erased or challenged under the administration of Donald J. Trump.

My favorite version of “Make Them Hear You” is by one of the Three Mo’ Tenors. His performance can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lccC4PE5VZU

After you listen to song, read the lyrics, and get fired up and ready to go.

Make Them Hear You
Go out and tell our story.
Let it echo far and wide.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.
 
How justice was our battle
And how justice was denied.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.
 
And say to those who blame us
For the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles
That are more than black or white…
And I could not put down my sword
When justice was my right.
Make them hear you.
Go out and tell our story
To your daughters and your sons.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.
 
And tell them, in our struggle,
We were not the only ones.
Make them hear you,
Make them hear you.
Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men.
Make them hear you.
When they hear you,
I’ll be near you
Again.
– Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music composed by Stephen Flaherty

That’s What Friends Are For…

That’s What Friends Are For…

images-1By Cheryl Mattox Berry

I feel sorry for people who say they don’t need friends. I can’t imagine my life without them. Friends make life more fun, interesting and bearable.

The importance of friendship was driven home recently with two poignant stories in the media.

In one story, an elderly woman wrote a letter to a neighbor, whose name she didn’t know, asking the younger woman if she would be her friend because everyone she knew had died.

The neighbor, who was married with children, was so moved by the request that she immediately befriended the woman, who is now like a member of the family.

This story broke my heart, and then lifted my spirits. Can you imagine how many lonely seniors are out there?

The second story was about the eight* patients who died at a Hollywood, Fla., nursing home after Hurricane Irma due to a power outage and failure of portable air coolers. Three of the women, ages 78, 48 and 99, had no family and relied on friends to look after them when they became ill.

Without friends, who would have marked their passing with fond memories, tears and a toast?

Researchers have found that having friends improves your physical health, extends your life, keeps your mind sharp, helps you cope with rejection and gets you through the tough times.

My first best friend, Jackie, and I met in Mrs. Cloyd’s fourth grade class. That was more than 50 years ago. Although we live in different cities, we’re in constant contact, and I know what’s going on in her life and vice versa.

A minister, Jackie sends texts each week with beautifully written prayers for me and my family. She has filled the prayer warrior void left by grandmother, who passed away in 1991.

I’m still close to friends from junior high school, high school and college. We might not speak for three or four months but pick up right where left off when we do talk. We have honest discussions about children, parents, men, aging, weight, hair, makeup, etc. No subject is off limits, and we value each other’s opinion.

Although I cherish my time alone to read, write and meditate, I make a point of coming out of my cocoon to connect with friends. They energize me, challenge me and uplift me. They make me a better person.

*A ninth patient died Sept. 19 at a local hospital.

I Am a Hurricane Irma Refugee

I Am a Hurricane Irma Refugee

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

I was one of the lucky ones. I snared a one-way plane ticket out of Hurricane Irma’s path and headed to my mama’s house in Memphis. After 25 years in Miami, I couldn’t live through another hurricane.

Hurricane Andrew was bad enough in 1992. I remember huddling in bed with my 2-year-old daughter. “I’m kerd (scared,) Mommy,” she whispered, clinging to me as the windows next to the bed rattled.

My hyperactive son, 6, slept through the whole thing. Thank goodness.

The potential devastation from Hurricane Irma scared me. We live near the water, and the threat of a storm surge swallowing my townhouse was foremost in my mind. (On Thursday afternoon, an evacuation order was issued for my complex.)

I thought about going to a hotel, where we hunkered down in recent years during a hurricane. They were all booked. I was going to hit the road and drive far away from Miami. Everyone else had the same idea, and roads were clogged. A three-hour trip to Orlando took seven hours.

All Wednesday afternoon, I scoured the internet, looking for a ticket. Five minutes after I booked a flight on SmartFares, I got a call from a number with a California area code. I thought it was a telemarketer and ignored it.

The person kept calling so I finally answered. He informed me that I didn’t have a ticket because the American Airlines plane had been overbooked. However, he had the last seat on a flight that left Thursday afternoon. That was even better. I hate early morning flights.

There was a catch: It cost $150 more.

I hit the ceiling and demanded that he honor the $414 rate I paid for the original ticket. I told him it wasn’t my fault that I was allowed to buy a ticket for a seat that didn’t exist. He caved in and sold me the seat. Yes, I was an angry black woman and worked that stereotype.

The trip was smooth as could be expected these days. No traffic on the road. No long lines at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. There was a 15-minute delay before we took off, but I made my connection in Charlotte and arrived in Memphis on time.

I leave behind my husband, Jim, who will move from the sports anchor desk to cover the hurricane for CBS4. He’ll be stationed at an emergency operations center, which is supposed to be safe. I feel guilty about leaving him behind, but now he doesn’t have to worry about me while he’s working.

Last night, I dreamed that I was buried beneath hurricane debris. I screamed for help. In the distance, I heard someone calling, “Cheryl Annette, Cheryl Annette.” It was my mom in the next bedroom.

I woke up and realized that I was safe in my mama’s house.

Humanity on Display in Texas

Humanity on Display in Texas

downloadBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

A man opens his home to strangers with two young children. Volunteers rescue a family stuck in the attic as floodwaters swirl a few feet below. Good Samaritans pluck drivers from flooded cars. These acts of kindness by ordinary people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey don’t surprise me.

During the 25 years I’ve lived in hurricane-prone Miami, I’ve seen the goodness of strangers when disaster strikes. What astonishes me is how quickly compassion disappears and ugliness re-appears when things go back to normal.

It reminds me of a monologue I said for my sixth grade Christmas program. I told the audience that everyone goes overboard to recognize the less fortunate during the holidays but forget them come Jan. 1, because we become busy with our own lives.

The message: Help people every day of the year.

Mrs. Bernice Harris, my teacher at Walker Avenue Elementary School in Memphis, wrote that speech. I’ve tried to live by her words and pass them on to my children and others my entire life.

The long-lasting destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey will make it difficult for people to forget the victims. It will take months and even years to rebuild homes and buildings, and lives.

Hopefully, Hurricane Harvey will jolt Republicans in Congress into doing their jobs. They must work on behalf of all citizens regardless of their political affiliation, income, religion, gender and sexual orientation. They weren’t elected to kowtow to a wannabe dictator, Donald J. Trump.

Trump, who wants to run this country like one of his cut-throat business, can’t relate to losing the roof over your head, going without power and scrounging for food. He shows no empathy for those outside his wealthy circle of friends and business associates.

And he lies.

For a minute, we’ve put politics aside to render assistance to the people and areas hit by the hurricane. We must remind Washington lawmakers that the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina need to be applied in Texas, and there’s no room for political shenanigans by Trump and his cohorts.

 

Keep Emotions in Check During Troubling Times

Keep Emotions in Check During Troubling Times

By Cheryl Mattox Berry

Still.

That’s what I become when the world turns chaotic and ugly. I withdraw from the voices that spew hate, intolerance and lies. I find solace in music, inspirational books and Bible verses.

I make a point of smiling and being nicer to people. The driver who is honking behind me, I switch lanes so that he can get by. The lady who darted in front of me while I was standing in line, I let her go first without uttering a word. A shopper headed toward me in the grocery store aisle, I back up and let him pass. (He smiled and thanked me.)

In this highly charged political climate, you don’t know what will set off another person. I don’t want it to be one of my sarcastic remarks or stank-eye. People take offense at the smallest things these days.

I also refrain from discussing Donald Trump with people I used to engage in light banter. There’s no point. Voters who supported Trump stand by him no matter what he says or does.

The other things I do are get up from the computer and turn off the TV. Silence is beautiful.

Nuts, berries and twigs

After watching the documentary, “What the Health,” I decided to give meat, poultry and fish a break, and follow a plant-based diet.

My decision wasn’t based solely on the controversial documentary, which was co-directed and narrated by a vegan who misreported statistics and did some sloppy reporting overall. The Netflix film was supposed to examine the link between diet and disease but went overboard on the perils of meat, poultry, fish and dairy products.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with meat all my life. I’ve gone meatless for days at a time. I often eat what my vegetarian friends order at restaurants. Because I like most vegetables, a plant-based diet isn’t a stretch for me.

Although others claim they feel so much better a mere two weeks off meat, I haven’t noticed a difference at almost three weeks. Perhaps it will take me longer to feel any effect. I’ll keep you posted.

Eureka!

I’ve found a pair of no-show footies that don’t slide down to my toes. They’re called Feetures! performance socks, but I wear them with my cute sneakers. They come in an array of fashion colors and different cushion levels, from ultra light to max cushion.

I can’t tell you how many no-show socks I’ve tried that didn’t work and were promptly returned to the store for a refund. Not Feetures!

Cost: $7.97 a pair (Nordstrom Rack) to $15.99 (stores that sell athletic footwear.) Feetures! is family owned and located in North Carolina. Check out the company website to find a store that sells the socks near you.

Give Someone Access to Your Medical Information STAT!

Give Someone Access to Your Medical Information STAT!

unnamedBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

My daughter’s godmother, Rosalind, experienced the most frantic 48 hours of her life when her only living sibling, Dianne, fell ill in another city. She was unable to provide medical information to aid doctors treating Dianne.

At first, doctors thought Dianne, a contract instructor at a professional school, had suffered a stroke when she was found unresponsive at an Oklahoma City hotel on July 31. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on a ventilator. They found Rosalind’s name as an emergency contact among her sister’s belongings.

Doctors needed specific information about Dianne’s heart surgery before they could perform an MRI. However, Rosalind didn’t have all the information, and hospitals that she knew about wouldn’t release Dianne’s medical records because of privacy laws.

Rosalind turned to Facebook, hoping friends and relatives could recall dates and hospitals while she prepared to fly from Houston to Oklahoma City. Several responded with bits and pieces that turned out to be incorrect. Dianne’s former boss heard about her situation, called the number listed in the Facebook post and gave Rosalind the information doctors needed.

By then, 36 hours had passed.

Doctors ruled out an MRI because Dianne had a metal aortic valve. They traced her illness to an infected peritoneal dialysis catheter that had been removed earlier at another hospital. The infection had spread to her brain, causing encephalitis.

“When she was finally removed from the ventilator, she had lost four days of her memory and couldn’t remember her address, phone number, where she had been found or that she had a car,” said Rosalind, who spent two days at the hospital.

Dianne is being treated with strong antibiotics, and her condition has improved. She is working with a physical, occupational and respiratory therapist and might be discharged this week if she can remember her address. Dianne was staying at the hotel temporarily because her apartment was infested with fruit flies.

Having gone through this experience with Rosalind, I urge readers to do the following:

  1. Carry identification and the name of an emergency contact with you at all times, including at the gym and while walking, running and biking.
  2. Give the emergency contact information to your children and keep it in a prominent place in your home.
  3. Choose a medical power of attorney, which authorizes one person to make health care decisions.
  4. Write down your passwords and give them to a family member, trusted friend or store them in a password vault.
  5. Designate a personal representative to access your health information under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA.)
  6. Tell a family member and trusted friend about your medical history and where they can find the records.
  7. Keep your doctors’ names in a place that someone can find easily.
  8. Make sure that your medical records are accurate and up to date.

With so much technology at our fingertips, information can be found with a few clicks if you know where to look, how to get it and have permission to do so. In an emergency, time is of the essence. Be prepared so others can help save your life.

Dating, Marriage, Etc.

Dating, Marriage, Etc.

downloadBy Cheryl Mattox Berry

I’ve overheard and engaged in the most interesting conversations at the gym.

Before my Zumba class started one day, Tony, a Venezuelan in his early 20s, said he liked my hair. We wear a similar curly hairstyle except his is blond.

He asked if he could touch my hair. I let him, and then, I felt his tight coils, which were dry and crunchy from bleaching and hair products. Jokingly, I said, “Now we have to get married since we’ve become so intimate.”

“You want to marry me?” he asked.

“No, I was just joking,” I assured him.

“I thought you knew I wanted to get married so I can stay in the United States. If you know someone who will marry me, let me know.”

At first, I got a good chuckle out of the encounter. Then, it saddened me to know that people are so desperate that they would go to such extremes.

The New Dating Game

A fitness trainer with a young woman trailing behind him walked up to another trainer.

“Aren’t you bisexual?” he asked the man, who was working with a client.

“Yeah,” the man said.

“She’s bisexual, too,” he said, pointing to the woman. “Y’all should get together.”

I laughed and asked, “Is that how introductions are made these days?”

“Oh, yeah. You have to know right away what you’re dealing with,” said the first trainer.

That was dating among the thirty-something crowd.

Dating in Your Fifties

Michelle’s father, age 84, is her example of a true gentleman. He’s courteous, respectful, attentive and treats every female – no matter her age – like a lady.

If a man doesn’t measure up to her dad, forget about it. One man in particular lost his chance when he sent her an email with the following salutation. “SUP.” Translated, it means “What’s up.”

MIchelle didn’t think it was cute or funny, and she deleted the email.

The lesson: Use proper English and not slang when addressing women unless you know that she speaks that way.

Shopping Off the Beaten Path

It’s too hot to wear tight, black capris to ride my bike. When I went shopping for shorts, they all looked like panties. I haven’t worn athletic shorts since I was a serious runner twenty years ago so I didn’t know how hard it was to find shorts that hit me at mid-thigh.

I told my daughter, and she suggested that I buy the cotton shorts she was wearing. They’re sold at H&M and come in all colors up to a size large. A couple of days later, I went to the store and tried on a pair. They’re still a little shorter than I like, but I don’t feel like I’m riding my bike half naked.