Omaha protest rally 1.29.17 “No Ban; No Wall”

omaha rally #3omaha rally #1

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Moms – and Kids – on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day makes me think of Moms – and of their kids.

An income study conducted by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren and reported interactively in the New York Times this week demonstrates the economic prospects for poor kids growing up in different counties around the country. County by county, a reader can see how various places stack up in terms of opportunity for our most vulnerable citizens.

I’ve been in San Francisco, California, this week; San Francisco is very slightly – 1% – better than the national average. I grew up in Contra Costa County across the Bay. Turns out that Contra Costa County offers the best opportunity in this region – 12% better than the average U.S. county.

Douglas County, Nebraska, Omaha’s county, is in the middle of the pack – slightly less than a percentage point below the mean, which places it better than only about 36% of counties nationwide.

The counties surrounding Omaha fare significantly better: Pottawattamie County across the river in Iowa is 8% above the national average; Sarpy County to the south is 12% above; and Washington County to the north is 16% above.

And within hailing distance are several counties that beat the national mean by 25-30%: Cuming, Boone, Colfax, Saline, Clay.

The study highlights the “why” of the national variation:

“Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households.”

Five factors for strong upward mobility.

The first one: less segregation by income and race.

Also in the New York Times, “How Racism Doomed Baltimore” describes today a

“century-long assault that Baltimore’s blacks have endured at the hands of local, state and federal policy makers, all of whom worked to quarantine black residents in ghettos, making it difficult even for people of means to move into integrated areas that offered better jobs, schools and lives for their children. This happened in cities all over the country, but the segregationist impulse in Maryland generally was particularly virulent…”

Baltimore, according to the Chetty and Hendren study, is 17% below the national county average for a poor child’s economic prospects and “among the worst counties in the U.S.”

Less segregation by income and race could help Baltimore’s children. It could help Omaha’s children. It could help all our children.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Palma Joy Strand

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Veterans in Nebraska

Bryon Line
Former Army officer and civilian intelligence professional with experiences also as a defense sector industry executive and analyst

32 years of military, civilian national security, and defense industry service were very good for me and kept me in daily touch with military issues and concerns. I was generally aware of veterans issues insofar as they affected me or my colleagues , principally educational and retirement issues.

Yet I knew that not all of my fellow veterans enjoyed similar success in the larger society.  I researched the status of veterans in Nebraska. It quickly became clear that there was much to learn and more importantly, much more to do.

I became a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) AmeriCorps member this past summer. VISTA is the original domestic Peace Corps for antipoverty programs. I was embedded by VISTA with the Lutheran Family Services (LFS) At Ease program, specifically designed to help Nebraska veterans and their families. At Ease provides free and expert services in clinical, therapeutic and peer to peer counseling at many locations across the state for hundreds of persons.

The VISTA role has enabled me to work with a large number of Nebraska public and private organizations and persons to improve the position of veterans and their families in the state. These dedicated and helpful organizations and people are dedicated to bettering veterans’ lives here in the state.

From my own personal observations and experience, I can speak to a few characteristics and conditions of the veterans’ environment in Nebraska.

Veterans’ health care is truly outstanding insofar as the Veterans Hospital in Omaha is concerned. It has consistently high service and relatively low wait times according to recent VA-wide studies and auditing, and fares very well in comparison to far too many others around the country. The Omaha hospital complex, however, is old and needs upgrades – likely a totally new hospital complex. The facility has been wait-listed for at least a generation. There may be more useful and achievable alternatives that could decentralize aspects of the hospital’s services into less expensive, more rapidly built and occupied structures. These could be located at various points in the greater Omaha area or distributed more widely around the state. It may/should be possible to co-locate these with important charitable and nonprofit organizational activities and services dedicated to veterans’ health and well-being.

Qualified senior veterans and their family members have a wonderful living option in the four state-run veterans’ homes in Nebraska in Bellevue, Norfolk, Grand Island and Scotts Bluff. These are outstanding facilities – well-run, modern, and well-equipped. The aging of the veteran population in the State means that the potential demographic of eligible senior veterans as possible residents of the homes is increasing. Expansion of the homes may well be necessary, which would require a commitment of both public and private funding and support.

Much is made of the national “average” of 22 veteran suicides each day.  Though I’ve not been able to find statistics specific to Nebraska veterans, veteran suicide is a real phenomenon. A continued strong emphasis on veteran depression (PTSD and related) is needed as well as a dedicated parallel effort to identify, document, and delve empirically into likely causes and best practices for mitigation and suicide prevention. My impression is that much of the cause may derive not from combat exposure but from aging, employment/income or lack of same, quality of life, preexisting mental and emotional conditions and tendencies, or substance abuse. Lack of suitable, purposeful activities giving veterans meaning and connection to their communities can also cause isolation – a definite reality in the vast sprawl of Nebraska.

Finally, efforts to reduce or even eliminate state taxation of veterans’ retirement would mean material and demonstrative improvement in the lives of many. These also include improvements in the Medicare/Medicaid posture in the state, which affects a significant percentage of senior veterans along with the general senior population within the state.

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Medical Education and Diversity

Recently, the medical field has been trying to step outside the physiology of illness in the person, and to look at social contributors to disease. This has entailed modifying curricula in medical schools around the country to include education about socioeconomics, ethics and diversity.

Creighton University School of Medicine has adopted these changes, and through courses like Ethical and Legal Topics in Clinical Medicine and Behavioral Medicine III, the school is aiming to address topics such as systemic poverty and diversity as they relate to healthcare.

In the Behavioral Medicine III course taught in April of the second year, there are classes on how to deal with African-American patients, Latin@ patients, and Gay, Lesbian and Transgender patients. I noticed, however, a lack of discussion on how to deal with the white heterosexual cis-gender patient. I was struck by the “other”-ness of such an approach, which assumes that the latter is the norm or the standard.

I set out to see how this could be amended. My goal, as a start, has been to have a lecture or panel or something about White Privilege.  I first contacted the course director, who told me he would reflect on my concern and also put in me in touch with a professor at the Center for Health Policy and Ethics. I met with that professor and talked to her about White Privilege, cultural competency vs. humility, the state of medical education moving towards addressing diversity issues, and the possibility of including these topics in the Ethics class in the future. She put me in touch with another professor, a physician who also has done extensive research and academic writing on the topic of White Privilege. He provided even more resources on the topic and gave me advice on how to approach the issue with the course director again.

This brought me back to the course director. The course director and I already know each other very well, and he has communicated with me that he would very much like to see this change happen and how important this is. But he also told me that since the course is now finalized it would not be possible to make a change this year. He then recommended speaking to the Director of Medical Education.

The Director was very receptive to what I had to say, and she even mentioned that she thought that there was already a class on this offered during the first two years, or had been in the past, and if not then it should be reintroduced. She said that it wasn’t possible to make a change for this year’s course, but she assured me that this is something that will be further explored. She also said that I can try to schedule something extracurricular, like during a lunch hour. While this may only attract the people who already know about this topic, at least it starts exposure.

I am pursuing this out of my conviction that our medical education about the social settings surrounding the physical body are just as important as the body itself. Ultimately, a holistic approach to each patient that includes knowledge of their physical and social background will lead to better quality care.

Hussein Safa
Creighton Medical School Class of 2017

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Aging and the Story-Demographics Counterpoint

The 2040 Initiative is big on facts and figures: Facts and figures show us the big picture and help us see where and how we fit.

The 2040 Initiative is also big on stories: Stories bring us into each other’s reality and remind us of the infinite texture of human experience.

Facts and figures take us outside ourselves; stories take us into each other.

Two novels I finished recently called me to reflect on the experience – demographics and story - of aging.

Demographics: In the U.S., the Baby Boom generation is the bulge passing through the demographic snake. This year, the oldest Boomers are on the cusp of turning 70. A generation from now in 2040, 80 million Americans will be over 65 years of age, comprising 20% of the entire population as versus 12.9% in 2009.

Story: Elizabeth is Missing by British author Emma Healey introduces us to Maud. Maud is around 80 years old and, we learn quickly, sees the world through an increasingly heavy Alzheimer’s veil. Healey’s poignant account allows us to experience Maud’s world – a world in which the people who surround Maud in the present become fuzzier and fuzzier while the people from her childhood remain vivid and clear.

In the present, we meet Maud’s daughter Helen as well as Helen’s daughter. We experience Maud’s anxiety as she searches for her longtime, yet “disappeared” friend Elizabeth. Interspersed with today are windows to yesterday. Maud takes us to her past, and we revisit her relationship with her older sister Sukey, who also went missing when Maud was a teenager.

Elizabeth is Missing enables us to see Maud’s world through her own eyes. And we experience with her both the in-and-out of her memories and their more gradual ebbing over time.

Demographics: More older Americans will mean more people with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Today about 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s; there may well be more than triple this number by 2050.  Obvious effects of this jump include higher economic costs: Alzheimer’s accounts for about 1/5 of all Medicare costs, and the costs of caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s are orders of magnitude greater than caring for seniors without the disease.  Less obvious implications include a disproportionate burden on women: Women (such as Maud) are more likely to suffer from the disease (1 in 6 women over 65 compared to 1 in 11 men), and women are more likely to be unpaid caregivers (more than 3 in 5 are women).


Story: The Night Guest by Australian writer Fiona McFarlane invites us into Ruth’s world. Ruth is a widow who lives alone outside of Sydney. One grown son lives in New Zealand; the other in Hong Kong. One night Ruth wakes and imagines that she hears a tiger in the next room. A troubled call to her son leads to the arrival of Frida, a kind of home aide who takes charge of Ruth and Ruth’s life.

Again we accompany Ruth into her past, especially her childhood in Fiji with her missionary parents. The emphasis, however, is on Ruth’s present and especially on her increasingly fraught interactions with Frida. As Frida’s influence ascends and Ruth’s strength ebbs, we experience the vulnerability of the isolated.

The Night Guest, like Elizabeth is Missing, shows us Ruth’s world through Ruth’s eyes.

Demographics: More older Americans will mean more older people living alone. Currently, about 28% of (noninstitutionalized) elderly people live alone. Women are again disproportionately affected: 8.4 million older women (such as Ruth) compared to 3.7 million older men live alone.  And over the next 20 years, according one housing study, “the number of people over the age of 75 living alone will nearly double … [and] the majority … will be women.”

Story and Demographics – a 2040 Counterpoint…

Palma Joy Strand

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Davidson on Diversity…and Difference

Dr. Martin Davidson spoke yesterday to a full house at the University at Omaha’s College of Public Affairs and Community Service. Davidson is a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and the author of The End of Diversity As We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed.

The 2040 Initiative and the Creighton School of Law were proud co-sponsors. I attended, along with the 2L and 3L students in State and Local Governments in a Federal System.

An engaging and thought-provoking speaker, Davidson characterizes “diversity” approaches as limited and de-energizing – limited because they focus on just a few categories of people and de-energizing because they view the need to include people from those categories as a problem.

Davidson advocates instead for “leveraging difference”: naming and exploring a broad range of the ways in which people are different and embracing and using those differences as opportunities for innovation, creativity, and change.

Davidson’s specific insights include:
• Organizations can most effectively leverage differences if they name and explore them.
• “Leveraging difference” leaders intentionally engage in relationships with those who are different from them, and do so in a listening and learning mode.
• Difference becomes valuable when it is harnessed to spark progress toward an organization’s goals, in line with the organization’s mission.
• The primary mission of a for-profit organization is to provide goods and services rather than simply to make money for shareholders; an important mission of a public organization is the promotion of social justice rather than simply providing goods and services.

I am looking forward to class discussion next week about the applicability of Davidson’s business-oriented insights to government entities, especially in the local and regional context!

Palma Joy Strand

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“Unpacking Race” World Cafe Dialogue at Creighton

Kudos to a dedicated group of Creighton students who worked with the Werner Institute to organize and carry off Sunday’s “Unpacking Race” World Café dialogue. The 2040 Initiative and the Creighton School of Law were proud to co-sponsor the event.

200 or so students and other members of the university community chose to forgo studying for midterms, enjoying the sunny weather, or just chilling to spend a couple of hours sharing personal experiences and perspectives on race.

We gathered around tables in the Skutt Ballroom and answered questions about race, identity, and equality:
- How important is race in your daily life?
- How is race discussed or avoided in your family?
- What areas at Creighton do you see opportunities to be an ally for racial equality?

These and other questions elicited a wide range of responses, at least from the selection of people who sat at my table. Some responses were confident; others were tentative. Some participants had thought a lot about race and its role in their lives; others came to begin a process. Some folks were practiced and comfortable “talking race;” others were dipping their toes in the water for the first time.

Tanisha Davis-Doss has written: “When you say you do not see color, you are telling me that you do not see me.”

Everyone present on Sunday shared the conviction that seeing – and talking about – race is important to restructuring racial power dynamics. Only with frank and honest, though sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about race can we acknowledge and act on issues such as hiring minority faculty, enrolling minority students, and integrating minority perspectives into the university curriculum.

Palma Joy Strand

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Creighton BLSA Hosts “Table Talk” Conversations About Race

 Last fall’s 2040-Initiative-featured speaker, Jamelle Bouie from Slate, highlighted the importance of having honest conversations about race. Creighton’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA), with a membership that includes both Black and White students, has responded to the events in Ferguson and elsewhere by initiating “Table Talks.” These conversations provide the opportunity for law students to talk to one another about their experiences with and perspectives on race.

On the evening of Wednesday, February 11th, when most students at Creighton School of Law were hunched over a book or typing away on their laptops, a buzz of lively discussion could be heard through the walls of a conference room. The topic was not contracts or property law, but one that the group felt was equally as important to discuss as law students and future lawyers: our experiences with race.

The Black Law Student Association hosted the first installment of “Table Talks.” For this first talk, each member of BLSA invited one person to join in the discussion to achieve an intimate setting to share personal experiences. BLSA encouraged its members to invite other students in the law school with differing views to facilitate a more fruitful discussion.

After grabbing a piece of pizza or a cup of coffee, the students took seats at one of the three discussion tables. Students answered icebreaker questions to build familiarity and trust. The plan was to then start small group discussions, but when a White student stated that she was a bit nervous to talk about race, the BLSA members engaged in a group-wide discussion encouraging the White students to share their experiences without hesitation. This initial conversation put the group at ease, and the bigger group broke up into three smaller groups.

Each small group was given a question to discuss. The topics ranged from “What was your first experience with racism?” to “Should we be colorblind or color-conscious?” After each question had been discussed at a table, the students moved to different tables in order to engage in conversation with other people on different topics. As a facilitator, it was difficult to find a moment to tell groups to switch because the conversation was so lively and engaging at every table! At the end of the event, every student received a sheet with recommendations for reflecting on the topics discussed at Table Talks and engaging with the community in moving forward.

The feedback from the group was all positive and students, both BLSA and non-BLSA members, expressed an eagerness for the next Table Talk. There was undoubtedly a feeling of excitement and camaraderie as the students trickled out of the conference room, still energetic with conversation. The Black Law Student Association is now planning its next Table Talk and hoping that it will be equally as successful!

Feedback from students who attended:
“I truly enjoyed the Table Talk. It was great getting to know you guys on a different level. I loved the fact that people were able to share their stories, share their experiences and even voice their concerns. I hope that everyone felt safe and comfortable tonight! That’s the most important thing! I respect all of you because openly talking about race takes courage and maturity. Can’t wait for the next one!”

“I found the inaugural Table Talk to be a very enlightening experience. It was extremely encouraging to hear stories from our colleagues about how they are seeking to have a better understanding of the many dynamics of race. It was also apparent from last night’s discussion that the next generation of Creighton Lawyers will be purposeful in applying principles of equality and inclusion in their prospective practices. Great stuff!”

Kaela McCabe, JD Class of 2016
Member, BLSA

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Dialogue: “Unpacking Race”

unpacking_race

 

The 2040 Initiative joins the Werner Institute, the School of Law, and other Creighton organizations in sponsoring a campus dialogue about race this Sunday, February 1.

This dialogue was sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, which highlighted the need to confront continuing institutional and structural racism.

The 2040 Initiative welcomes this dialogue as continuing the discussion from our October event “Talking About Race: A Conversation With Jamelle Bouie.”

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