Tedx Women – A Call to Action

This post first appeared on Technorati Women 

Shamila Kohestani was trapped in her house for years. She couldn’t read a book or study for fear of angering the Taliban. Jennifer Siebel Newsom was told to take her Stanford MBA off of her resume and lie about her age when she sought jobs in Hollywood. Ivy Navarette was born to cocaine addicted parents in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights, and by the age of 13 she was an addict herself and in a gang.

These women told their incredible stories at the TedxWomen Conference held in both New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 1. I attended the Los Angeles sessions at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills that included a surprise appearance by Barbara Streisand.

>Kohestani and Navarette were part of an impressive session called ReImagine hosted by Journalist Lisa Ling. The session also included the three-first place winners of the Google Science Fair and the Founder and CEO of TeachAIDS. Together they prompted attendees to imagine a life outside normal bounds and customs.

Kohestani was just 9-years old when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan. She couldn’t go to school, read books, or study. “I never thought I would want school over any gifts,” she said. When she discovered soccer she was ridiculed and humiliated over and over again. It just made her stronger. So strong she went on to become the captain of the first Afghanistan women’s national soccer team. Now she’s a college student in New Jersey speaking out for girls around the world. She asked the audience to think about what our freedom means to us and challenged us to go out and help someone attain their freedom.

For Navarette, help came for her in the form of a job and a sense of hope. After years of drug use and abusive relationships she hit rock bottom and ended up in prison. In rehab she met someone who told her about Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries. Boyle has the largest gang intervention program in the country. Today, Navarette has custody of her young son and has been clean for nearly a year. She works at Homegirl Café, where former gang members are trained as chefs, waitstaff, hostesses, and management. Former Homegirl employee Shayne Welcher, also part of the panel, summed it up best when she said “It’s life-changing to know there is a second chance out there.”

The Session ReBirth was about transitions, or rather, third acts. Being a woman of 40, I was really moved by the session moderated by Jane Fonda in New York. Fonda talked about how she dreaded turning 50 and thought she was going to be a crotchedy old lady. Now that she’s well into her third act of life, she’s happier than she’s ever been. “I have such a powerful feeling of well being,” she said. “When you’re inside oldness as opposed looking at it from the outside, fear subsides. You realize you’re still yourself, maybe even more so. Picasso once said ‘It takes a long time to become young.’”

Feeling young and being healthy means taking care of oneself. In the session Relationships hosted by Trevor Neilson of Global Philanthropy Group, Barbara Streisand and Dr. Noel Bairey Mertz talked about how women need to help educate and fight against heart disease, the number one killer of women in America. Heart disease is an epidemic and has long been researched as a man’s disease. But women and men have different symptoms to the disease and different bodies. Gender inequality is a problem in medical research and it matters when researching diseases.

And it’s gender inequality that Newsom has been fighting against. She spoke in the same session about how media is feeding our children images that are “killing our daughters’ ambition and destroying empathy in our sons.” According to Newsom, we need to stand up and demand a media that represents us all. As consumers we need to try to change a culture that says “If you can make a sex tape and get it online you can be a celebrity overnight.”

And that is so true. In a culture like ours I find it’s easy to be flooded with meaningless fluff about how much money Kim Kardashian made from her short lived marriage or the latest Housewives show. But sadly, the truly important things get lost, like hearing about Dr. Piya Sorcaris who changed the face of HIV prevention education around the world.

By the end of the Tedx Women I was overwhelmed by what I had learned and felt. Lisa Ling said something that really hit home. She said that after covering conflicts all over the world including women being raped in the Congo, child soldiers in Afghanistan, and children being trafficked for sex. She asked herself if there was a God how can he allow these horrible things to happen.

Her husband answered her by reading a poem called, “Why,” where a little girl asks God how he can let bad things happen and why doesn’t he do something to stop them.

After a while God said “I certainly did do something about it. I made you. I made all of you. I made all of you who are watching in so many countries around the world.” As Ling told the story to the audience she said, “That’s when I reimagined my purpose.”

I think that many of the women that listened to TedxWomen will too.

Homegirl Cafe

Yesterday, a group of some of my favorite bloggers joined me for lunch at the Homegirl Café.

I was working with Reclaim LA, a group trying to raise awareness, and more importantly, money for Homeboy Industries. They are current or former students of  UCLA Professor Jorja Leap. Last semester, she brought a former gang member into the classroom to talk to students and some were so moved, they had to act.

“As a teacher you can’t hope for more,” she said. “They learn something in the classroom and turn it into meaningful action.”

The class speaker had spent his entire life in prison and when he got out he found a safe place with Homeboy’s gang rehabilitation program and was making an honest living working for the organization. He told the students that he had never been outside of California and it was his dream to go to New York City. The class was so touched by his story that they held a fundraiser and managed to raise $600.

He was thrilled, then devastated when his parole officer said he couldn’t leave the state. Not soon after that he was one of hundreds of people laid off from Homeboy. The class decided to give him the money to live on until he can get back on his feet.

Homeboy is the largest gang intervention agency in Los Angeles and serves 12,000 people a year. It’s very unlikely that the financially strapped city of Los Angeles will be able to pick up the slack if Homeboy is forced to close, Leap said. If it closes the city will be in serious trouble. There are no other programs like Homeboy’s in LA. Professor Leap is writing a book on the gangs of Los Angeles and conducting a 5-year study of Homeboy and its programs.

To do our very small part for Homeboy, friends and I had lunch at Homegirl Cafe. The Boyle Heights business is self-sustaining and run by former gang members. The food is fantastic. We shared roasted corn dish that was excellent and I had cochinita, spicy barbecued pork, and salmon tacos.

If you can’t make it to the café, there will be a Homeboy fundraiser concert this Friday from 9 pm to 2 am at The Alexandria Hotel. It will be hosted by comedian Felipe Esparza and feature Quinto Sol. It’s $10 and 100 percent of proceeds go to Homeboy Industries.

Tweetup at Homegirl Cafe!

If you’re in the mood for fabulous food and interesting conversation then please join me at the Homegirl Café on Monday, July 19. I’m hosting a Tweetup with Reclaim LA to help get more people talking about Homeboy Industries.

Homeboy’s gang intervention and job training programs have helped keep thousands of youths off the streets and out of gangs. It was started in the late 80s by Father Greg Boyle who still runs the organization and wrote about it in his LA Times Bestseller “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” The organization ran into financial trouble after moving into a new facility. That combined with the worst financial crisis since the great depression has resulted in hundreds of layoffs. Many have stayed on as volunteers and some have been hired back thanks to some generous donations. But they are still in need of a great amount of help. Here is the post I wrote for LA Moms blog about it.

Homegirl Café is a part of the new facility, but it is self sustaining and run by former gang members. The food is unbelievable.

I tried out the café on Friday with my friend and public relations superstar Karie Reynolds and we had a very tasty lunch. I had two of the best tacos of my life and I’ve eaten a lot of tacos, let me tell you.

The carnitas were cooked perfectly, tender and full of flavor. They were topped with apple shavings and came on two soft corn tortillas. I liked the carne asada, but I was blown away with the green mole taco. I’ve never had green mole I liked before, but I will definitely be having this taco again on Monday. I washed my tacos down with a Spinach and Mint Limeade. That combination may sound odd, but it was delightful. It tasted like a Mojito except instead of rum it had spinach so I could drive myself home.

I hope to see you on Monday at the Café. Please RSVP here or just show up and say hello. If you don’t know what a Tweetup is, it’s where individuals on Twitter send out messages announcing that they are meeting up at a certain place and time. It’s a way for people who mostly communicate on Twitter or other social networking sites to get together. I totally get it if a Tweetup is not your thing, you can still join us for lunch without logging onto Twitter.

And don’t forget to buy your copy of “Tattoos on the Heart.” All proceeds benefit Homeboy Industries.

I’m going to host a book club on YvonneinLA. Let me know if you bought the book and are planning to write about it. I’ll either publish the post here or link to your blog. I would love to hear what you think of it.