“Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa” Provides Urgent Look At Reproductive Injustice

A couple of months ago, I had the honor of speaking with filmmakers of the short documentary, “Abortion Helpline, This Is Lisa.” Though only 11 minutes, this is one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. For me, hearing the calls firsthand really highlighted the injustice and urgency the Hyde Amendment creates. The film is available to screen for free all over the internet — YouTube, Topic.com, as well as Amazon Prime. Here’s my interview, originally published on Bust.com.


What is the Hyde Amendment and why is it such an obstruction to reproductive justice? 

Hyde impacts nearly 29 million people of reproductive age by preventing government funds from being used to cover abortions. This staggering number includes individuals on Medicaid, in the military, in the Peace Corps, enrolled in Indian Health Services, and in federal prisons, among others. Illinois congressman Henry Hyde passed the amendment in 1976, shortly after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, and very explicitly attached its restrictions to Medicaid because he knew he could no longer make abortion illegal for everyone.

You might think the same people who are anti-abortion support access to contraceptives, but the legislators who endorse Hyde also paradoxically implement restrictions on birth control. For example, many states currently allow some health care providers to refuse to provide services related to contraception, while others explicitly allow pharmacists to refuse to distribute contraceptives.

Every year legislators vote on Hyde, and for 41 years, it has been included in the government budget. According to the Guttmacher Institute, restricting coverage of abortion will force one in four people to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. This traps families in a cycle of poverty, as financial livelihood is dramatically affected by the ability to decide when to have a family. 

The hard truth is that Roe v. Wade does not actually make abortion accessible for everyone — only for those who can afford it. 

All of this is what drove filmmakers Janet GoldwaterBarbara Attie, and her son Mike Attie to explore the Hyde Amendment in their short documentary Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa, which is currently on the shortlist for an Academy Award. While brief, the movie provides an unbelievably powerful look at the harsh reality the Hyde Amendment creates for millions of women across the country. 

What inspired you to create this short film?

Janet Goldwater: Barbara and I have worked together on films for 30 years. We made a few documentaries on reproductive rights years ago, and then focused on other topics. When the 2016 election happened, we felt it was time to circle back to reproductive issues. We felt some immediacy in this kind of advocacy. Barbara is involved with Planned Parenthood and I’m involved with the Abortion helpline. 

Barbara Attie: We listened to the phone calls that happen over the helpline and found them riveting. We realized the impact these calls had firsthand, and how they helped create an understanding of the overlapping challenges of living as a person struggling financially. It was actually Mike’s idea to make this a short film. 

Mike Attie: Though I grew up with an awareness about reproductive rights because of the work my mother did, I had less context because I was not familiar with the Hyde amendment. I thought that the short length would serve well to quickly communicate both how racist and classist Hyde is. You can see the screens, see the miniscule amounts of money that is available [when callers reach out to the hotline for financial assistance.]

How did Donald Trump’s term affect Hyde?

JG: Not a lot of people have the courage to confront the Hyde amendment and we knew it would stay in place with Trump. On top of that, more restrictions were created. 

BA: There were a whole constellation of restrictions passed—many placed on Planned Parenthood, which the Trump administration took funding from. We saw more restrictions to abortion in various states, including the closing of clinics. 

How do you hope things could improve with the new presidency?

JG: With Biden, there is a possibility for change. Support for repealing the Hyde Amendment is a litmus test for politicians. Biden actually recently flipped on Hyde, and no longer supports it. Right now we have a historic moment—there is a piece of legislation called the Each Woman Act that could overrule Hyde, and having democratic control of the Senate is big.

Can you talk a bit more about the Each Woman Act and what difference it might make for women?

BA: For many women, the time it takes to come up with the cash pushes them into a later, more expensive procedure. We know from listening to the calls at the helpline that the choices those women are making can be between food, rent, or paying the clinic. The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act would be huge for the financial and emotional stability of those families. It not only requires coverage of abortion care for federal employees or anyone covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP, but it goes a step further and says that state and local government can’t restrict abortion coverage in private health insurance plans. 

What are the realistic ways you believe unwanted abortions can be prevented?

BA: With greater access to birth control, the number of abortions decreases, yet Republicans have whittled away at contraception access. There are other intersecting parts, for example economic health and job stability. When individuals have these, they have a better chance of being able to plan their families. 

What do you hope people opposed to the right to choose will learn or feel while watching your film?

BA: We know that structural racism, lack of opportunity, expensive child care, wage inequality and any number of social ills can make abortion more necessary, while at the same time making it less accessible. We want our viewers to see firsthand the individuals struggling at this cruel intersection of poverty and control over reproduction. We hope viewers can feel the humanity of the callers, and learn more about their day-to-day struggles. Most are already mothers and are prioritizing taking care of the families they have. 

How can readers support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment?

JG: You can donate to Women’s Medical Fund or National Network of Abortion Funds. National Network of Abortion Funds works with 72 abortion funds all across the country. You can also look online for local funds, and vote for representatives who support the Each Woman Act.

And finally, how does it feel having your film be on the 10-film Oscar Shortlist for Best Documentary Short?

BA: We are super excited to be selected; it brings so much attention to the issue. 20,000 people have streamed the film!

MA: We were actually able to watch the film with a live audience last year, prior to the pandemic. It was amazing to be present while they watched and feel, see, and hear the impact it had on them. 

Food Insecurity During The Global Pandemic

I wrote about food shortages during the pandemic for BUST, and some of the ways we can help:

Both globally and nationally, the worldwide health crisis and resulting economic instability has brought us some of the highest rates of food insecurity we have seen in years. A study conducted by Northwestern University researchers estimated that since the COVID-19 health emergency, food insecurity in the US has doubled overall and tripled among households with children. The research states that low income families have been especially affected, due to a loss of subsidized school lunches paired with a high level of unemployment among US women.

Food insecurity is defined as a lack of reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable and nutritious food. According to Food Rescue US, not only does hunger hinder one’s ability to work and learn, but food insecurity also forces families to make impossible choices between nourishment, safety, and shelter. This results in emotional strain, poor health, and mental turmoil.

By the end of October 2020, there was already a 79% increase in demand on food banks across the New York metropolitan area. According to Jean Shafiroff, a board member for the New York City Mission Society, food banks are struggling to meet this tremendous demand. “Millions have lost their jobs and as a result, the emergency lifelines are under particular stress, providing the food they need,” Shafiroff told BUST. “Many families are relying on food pantries, banks, and kitchens for the first time. I would recommend that people donate financially if they can, step up and volunteer, and spread awareness among themselves and their loved ones of the dire straits that our food pantries face.”

Here are some ways you can combat food insecurity and help hungry families right now:

Vizer – Vizer is a free app that combats hunger in America. Each day you walk 10,000 steps or more, a meal is donated through a partnering food bank on your behalf. You can download it onto your phone through either the Apple App Store or Google Play.

412 Food Rescue  – This app was started in Pittsburgh and is now used by hunger relief and food rescue groups in Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Northern Virginia, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. Volunteer drivers are notified when excess food is available in their area; they then transfer that food to those who can use it.

Food Rescue US – Like 412, Food Rescue US reduces waste by transferring food from grocers and restaurants that would have been thrown away to food-insecure families around America.

Transfernation – Transfernation diverts food from landfills to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other programs in the NYC metropolitan area.

Feeding America – Feeding America is the largest food bank in the United States. You can donate on their site, start a fundraiser, or discover local volunteer opportunities. The site provides a “Find Your Local Food Bank” page that connects you with any nearby food banks in Feeding America’s network — all you have to do is enter your zip code.

Goodr – Goodr is a 24/7 service in Atlanta, GA that picks up surplus food from businesses and transports it to nonprofits.

Action Against Hunger – If you’d like to donate globally, Action Against Hunger supports people in need in 46 countries around the world.

And don’t forget to look through your local newspaper to find nearby food drives for your community. 

It’s Been A Year…

And what a year it’s been. It’s crazy to think that 12 months ago I had the opportunity to spend a week at a Kripalu retreat, surrounded by hundreds of women, practicing yoga, sitting in an auditorium listening to speakers, and eating communal meals. Since March, this has all seemed so foreign. I can’t believe how much I took for granted, and every time I drive past Kripalu to get groceries or go for a hike, I realize how amazing these activities that once seemed so simple really are.

As I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I remembered I never posted the piece that I wrote for Bust on my personal site. Better late than never, so here it is. May we all strive to feel, love, and appreciate our community and our connection to one another, no matter how difficult that feels right now.

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During a moment in history that can feel dark and full of despair, how do we move forward? What can give us hope, enough hope to inspire revolution? This month, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the largest retreat center in the nation, hosted its inaugural Women’s Week. The Revolution Within came from the idea that while equality, peace, and justice require outer work, they also require a commitment to inner work. In true yoga fashion, the week aimed to prove how much can be accomplished through community, connection to others, and connection to oneself.

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Image c/o Zollshan Photography and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

I had the fortunate to attend, take yoga classes, and listen to speakers discuss race, privilege, and growth. Authors, yoga teachers, civil rights activists, artists, and speakers came together to teach, spark discussion, and ultimately bring about collective change. A common theme I witnessed throughout the week was the cyclical nature of feeling compassion for yourself and for others. It was a powerful reminder that the more we accept ourselves, the more we accept those around us. That acceptance affects everything—the way we show up in our own lives, and the way we treat others. It is fundamental to our humanity, and it’s especially important to remember during a time that feels so divisive.

I was able to discuss this more with Kripalu’s CEO of four years, Barbara Vacarr. Here’s what she had to say.

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Barbara Vacarr, CEO of Kripalu. Image c/o Zollshan Photography and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

What inspired you to host a women’s week?

This is an aspiration that’s lived here for a long time. So many people have wanted to do this and were involved in making this happen. We are living at a pivotal moment for women in our country – women’s voices are being heard and this was an opportunity for us to push that paradigm. The goal here was to strengthen women’s voices. In community, that happens. Bringing people into a place of reflection on their own lives, and leading them to observe without judgment… this leads people to accept more parts of themselves, the dark parts that we’re maybe taught to hide. This week was an encouragement to think about the parts of yourself that you don’t find acceptable. There is empowerment in that – it inspires us to reach our full potential.

How does that relate to feminism?

There are so many messages we internalize throughout our lifetimes, often without even realizing or reflecting on them. Patriarchy silences parts of ourselves, and how powerful we can be if we don’t internalize those messages. Finding this kind of strength means speaking when you’re afraid, and finding agency in every environment. There is no revolution externally if there isn’t a revolution internally.

Do you feel like this week accomplished what you set out to do?

I feel very full. I feel like this week has touched a lot of people.

What powerful message do you hope was given life this week?

The question that Valarie Kaur asked was, is this transition the tomb or the womb? This moment in history is testing our ability to breathe and push, the same way we are tested during the transition phase of childbirth. Our abilities to navigate transitions is guided by our hopefulness or hopelessness. This time is so painful, and it feels like tomb, but what if it’s the womb? What if the end of this is the beautiful beginning of something new?

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Speaker Valarie Kaur. Image c/o Zollshan Photography and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

Cover image c/o Zollshan Photography and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

This Food Rescue App Is Combating Climate Change Nationwide

A few weeks ago I had the honor of catching up with Leah Lizarondo, co-founder of an amazing food rescue app I covered a couple years ago. Here’s my interview (originally published on Bust.com):

Just two years ago we spoke with Leah Lizarondo, co-founder of Food Rescue Hero, an app that redirects food that would’ve gone to landfills into the mouths of the hungry. To say it’s been an impressive couple of years for the organization would be an understatement. In 2017, Food Rescue Hero had saved nearly 2 million pounds of food and was operating in just one city—Pittsburgh. Since then, it has more than quadrupled the amount of food it’s rescued and now reduces food insecurity in five additional locations—Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, northern Virginia, and very soon, Los Angeles. Their goal is to hit 100 cities by 2030.

On top of that, last week Lizarondo was not only invited to represent the U.S. and Western Europe during the UN General Assembly, but she also won a $20,000 grant for women entrepreneurs who are advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We were thrilled and honored Lizarondo had a chance to catch up with us while she was in NYC. Here’s what she had to say about her experience attending UN events, her thoughts on climate changes, and her plans for that grant money.

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Leah Lizarondo, photo courtesy of 412 Food Rescue

First of all, huge congratulations on winning the Diane von Furstenberg WE Empower Challenge. What will you do with the $20k grant? How does it feel to receive such an honor, and how does it feel to be part of such important events this week? 

Thank you so much! The $20,000 grant is instrumental as we begin to create a pool of funds to enable smaller organizations in cities around the U.S. to adopt our technology. But beyond the funds, the platform that DVF has provided for women-led social impact organizations multiplies our network, catalyzing connections that help us achieve our goals to end food waste and positively impact hunger and climate change. What she is doing to raise up women is bringing visibility to solutions that will lead the way in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While world leaders arrive at agreements at the UN General Assembly, it is inspiring to be able to attend the events surrounding it because this is where the entrepreneurs and change-makers are talking about their work on the ground. While it is important for our political leaders to adopt policies that advance the SDGs, it is the thought leaders gathered here that are creating the innovations that make it happen.

We last spoke with you two summers ago. What new developments have you and Food Rescue Hero made? What do you hope the future looks like?

When we last spoke, I believe we just hit our 2 million pounds milestone and our technology was only available in Pittsburgh. Since then, we have spun off our technology platform so that we can support organizations in other cities to launch and scale food rescue. Our goal is to launch and scale food rescue in 100 cities by 2030, in support of SDG 2030. We are creating a global movement of food rescue heroes, making it possible for all of us to be part of the solution. Food Rescue Hero embodies tech for good—not only because it is technology developed to solve our biggest challenges, but also because it requires all of us to take part for it to succeed. That is what is revolutionary about it. In fact, it is a revolution.

How optimistic are you about climate change? Do you believe we can still make the changes necessary to protect humanity in the future? 

Last week, I spoke at the first Project Drawdown conference. Drawdown research has shown the path to not only stop climate change but to reverse it. That is a provocative proposition, but their research gives us the map. Reducing food waste is the third most impactful way to reverse climate change, and we are doing our part to make this happen. Today, I was at the TED We the Future event and heard David Wallace Wells speak—he wrote The Uninhabitable Earth. It is a terrifying book. Humans have proven that we have the power to wreak immense havoc in one generation, which is horrifying. But we can think about it another way—we also have the power to change it. I do believe that, truly. At the core of it, that’s what Food Rescue Hero believes in.

What kind of recommendations would you make to readers, in terms of how to take action?

Staying informed is the key. Having the privilege of attending all of these events around the UN General Assembly and Climate Week has educated me tremendously—and I thought I was already aware of it all. It reinforced that there is a big gap in information and education, and in awareness. Food waste is a visceral, real, everyday example and how we do our part is not only in the function of ensuring that good food does not feed landfills but instead goes to feeding people. By taking this action, we are creating a network of heroes and educated, hyperaware citizens who become catalysts for change.

9 Things My Mother Taught Me About Living An Intentional, Sustainable Life

For my mom ❤ Published on The Financial Diet.

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In the spirit of Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking about all the things my mom has taught me over the years. The older I get, the more I understand why she did all the stuff I thought was weird when I was a kid. In other words, like many daughters, I find myself becoming more and more like my mother each year.

And, of course, that’s far from a bad thing. My mom is an amazing, badass woman who snowboards in the winter, surfs in the summer, teaches kids to make gorgeous artwork for a living, and makes her own beautiful watercolors. She’s creative, health conscious, an incredible cook, and an all-around inspiration. Of course, our relationship isn’t perfect, and there are some unconscious lessons I’m still working on unlearning (aren’t we all). But in general, my mom has been a kickass role model who’s kept me down to earth and connected to my values.

So I figured I’d take a little time to recognize what she’s taught me over the years — and what I’ve finally actually learned.

1. Get outside for free self-care and entertainment

Since I was a little kid, anytime I get overwhelmed, anxious, or just downright sad, my mom has suggested I go outside and take a walk. I remember feeling like this was so counterproductive at times — I was trying to learn a scale on my trumpet, how would doing anything besides practicing the instrument possibly help?! But it always did. After moving my body and getting some fresh air, I’d inevitably feel much more capable at whatever task I’d been struggling with. It was like hitting the reset button. This is still one of the most valuable (and free!) coping skills I use for dealing with stress.

I grew up in a rural area, and we didn’t have a ton of money to spend on going out for entertainment. So my mom got creative. We’d go on hikes, catch frogs, ride our bikes, go fishing, climb trees, build forts, draw massive chalk pictures on the driveway, jump in puddles, dig in the mud, garden, sled…you get the idea. What was so cool about this, looking back, is how much it made me love and appreciate nature. Now, I know that there are plenty of ways I can have fun that cost no money at all.

2. Buy used if you can

To this day, going into a thrift store is a great source of comfort for me. We spent so much time shopping at used shops and tag sales when I was a kid that they really feel like home. And honestly, since my dad passed away a few years ago, whenever I’m missing him, walking into a thrift store usually soothes me. But when I was young, I didn’t realize just how amazing it was. Part of me even got nervous that someone at school would see me wearing their donated clothes. Thankfully, I now fully appreciate all the benefits of buying things used. Not only is it way less stressful to shop at a thrift store, because everything’s so much more affordable, but it also helps the environment by preserving the energy and resources that would be used to produce new clothes.

3. Bring snacks and a water bottle when you go out

This is a classic mom trick that I’m finally learning the value of. I remember seeing my mom bring nuts and fruit whenever we left the house and thinking, Why? We can just buy something somewhere. Little did I know, this was a super cost-effective trick I’d later adopt as my own. Having a protein-heavy snack on hand ensures you won’t lose energy when you’re out, or spend unnecessary amounts on overpriced food. And when you carry your personal water bottle, you don’t have to rely on buying disposable plastic ones to stay hydrated, which reduces your carbon footprint.

4. Walk as much as possible

My mom avoids driving short distances. If we’re at a strip mall, and another store is in sight — even at another plaza down a pretty busy street — chances are, she’ll be walking there. Sure, this doesn’t save tons of gas money (though I’m sure it doesn’t hurt in the course of a lifetime), but it is nice for the environment, and for your own health, too.

5. Garden and compost

My mom taught me how to garden when I was a kid. I mostly remember digging in the dirt, but even though the details didn’t stick in my memory, I learned the most important lesson of all: growing your own food isn’t an impossible challenge. I finally had space to start my own garden last year, and I realized firsthand that the process is pretty straightforward. Granted, not everything I planted produced, and my garden definitely didn’t look like something you’d see on social media, but I still grew a zucchini so big it kind of scared me, as well as plenty of green beans and tomatoes.

And any of the food scraps you accrue year round, you can compost for your garden. This prevents landfill waste, and helps your garden thrive!

6. It’s okay to look natural

I love wearing makeup, getting my hair done, and dressing up. It helps me feel confident, and it’s also just fun. However, I appreciate growing up around my mom’s very laid-back beauty routine. When it comes to appearance, my mom mostly values looking fit by staying active, and making sure your clothes fit in a way that is flattering. She always cut my own hair growing up, and she pretty much never wears makeup.

My approach is definitely different — I wear makeup much more often and get my hair done a few times a year. But I’m appreciative for the fact that she taught me I don’t always need to spend a lot of time on my appearance before I go out, or wear makeup to be beautiful. It’s definitely saved me money over the years and also kept my product consumption lower than it otherwise might have been.

7. Cooking from scratch is best

We couldn’t afford to go out to eat much when I was a kid, which meant we ate a lot of home-cooked food. My mom’s meals included a decent amount of meat, but she always made sure we also consumed a lot of veggies. I started cooking with her when I was young, which gave me the confidence to cook my own meals as an adult. I love the creativity of cooking after a long day at my not-so-creative job, and I also love knowing I’m eating something affordable.

8. Reuse containers

Washing out a yogurt container and storing your leftover chili in it for work the next day definitely doesn’t make for a Pinterest-worthy lunch. It’s even sounds kind of gross. But is it really? It’s actually a sustainable habit that may not look pretty, but is completely cost effective and practical.

9. Be resourceful

I love home-improvement shows, and sometimes my mom can be a buzzkill when she sits down with me to watch one. “Why are they ripping out perfectly good cabinets?” she asks. I’m all for making your home your own, and somewhere you love to live, but she has a point. And it’s a point that I often need to remember, in a world where we’re constantly taught to seek improvement with upgrades – whether those are upgrades for our appearances, our wardrobes, or our homes.

In her art room, she uses as many recycled materials as possible. She encourages kids to be resourceful because she believes it’s a fundamental life skill. And as I get older, I realize how right she is, and how lucky I am to have had her as both a mom and a teacher. I’m forever grateful for the ways she’s taught me and her students to the world around us, and ourselves.

This Docuseries About War And Peace Writes Women Into History

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A couple of months ago I had the honor of interviewing the badass directors of Women, War & Peace, an eye-opening PBS docuseries following peacekeeping initiatives by women around the world. Check out what they had to say. (Published on bust.com)

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, peace agreements with women at the negotiating table are 35% more likely to last for at least 15 years. This is what executive producer Gini Reticker tells us, as we discuss part two of the acclaimed documentary series, Women, War & PeaceThe series will return to PBS later this month.

The four featured films, airing on Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26, tell stories of women who’ve risked their lives for peace and altered history in the process. Reticker, who co-executive produces the series with Abigail Disney and Stephen Segaller, emphasizes that these are stories about women and conflict that have never been written into history before.

The female-directed films take place all over the world—from peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, to activism in Gaza and Haiti, and culminating with the fight for justice during Egypt’s Arab Spring.

“If you can’t look at war through a woman’s eyes, you can’t understand some of the most fundamental things about it,” says Abigail Disney. Fortunately, Women, War & Peace II will give us the look we need.

Below, Disney and Reticker answer our questions about the series and give us some inspiring insight.

What is so powerful about these stories? What do you hope these films accomplish?

AD: It is a fundamentally radical thing to tell the story of war from a woman’s eyes. Everything we think we know about conflict, unless we’ve actually fought in one, comes from movies and television and video games. The narrative has always been about the combatants—about men. But the reality is that in a conflict, there are women all over the place—in the crossfire, in towns and villages, on the road trying to find safer places for themselves and their families… If you can’t look at war through a woman’s eyes, you can’t understand some of the most fundamental things about it. I hope that we can shift the assumptions that people make about war. I hope that people will remember all the consequences of going to war. I hope that people will think differently before they cheerlead for an invasion or an aggression.

GR: And I think what’s so powerful about these stories is they are unknown, yet have been happening throughout history. As film subject and former politician from Northern Ireland Bernadette Devlin says in Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs, the film that kicks off the series, it’s not that women have been written out of history, it’s that they’ve never been written in. The films in Women, War & Peace II write women into history.

When Abigail and I first made Pray the Devil Back to Hellwhich was the kickoff film for the initial Women, War & Peace series, I had never really thought much about women and conflict before. I had done a lot of films about women, but women and conflict was a whole new world. Once we began to take Pray out into the world, and I had the opportunity to meet women around the globe, I realized that there were countless other similar stories that were simply unrecorded.

Let’s just say, I got schooled in how utterly critical it is to include women and the different perspectives that we offer if we want to successfully deal with conflict in the world.

At this historical moment, everyone seems to be waking up to the key contributions women make, whether it’s the #MeToo movement, the newly energized women’s movements, or The New York Times finally publishing obituaries on women they had glaringly overlooked in the past. There’s a growing recognition that women have made contributions to the world, and to history. This series is part of that.

How did you select these films?

GR: Over the last couple of years, Abigail and I looked around and saw all these extraordinary women filmmakers who were taking a fresh look at history with an eye on bringing women into focus. Whether it was Julia Bacha doing a story on the phenomenal role Palestinian women played in the first Intifada, or Eimhear O’Neillexploring the significance of the Northern Irish women during the peace negotiations, or Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Geeta Gandbhir exploring the role of a women’s peace keeping unit, we really wanted to include the perspective of these filmmakers. The films, together show a trajectory of what has been happening for the last 30 years, culminating in what has happened with women in the Arab Spring.

AD: We tried to find a range of different places and people, a range of situations, a range of characters.  Partly we wanted to show what a rich variety of stories there are, but also how similar the realities are for women no matter where they are.

Do you think women are particularly skilled as peace-builders?

GR: Here is what we have seen universally to be true: when women come to the table in peace negotiations, in countries around the world, they tend to talk about things like water, schools, roads, jobs, civil rights. Those are the kinds of things that get people into war in the first place. These women are not jockeying for positions of power, instead they are focusing on how to address these issues that most shape people’s daily lives.  So does that make it better to have women as part of the negotiating team? I certainly think so. In fact, the statistics for success of peace negotiations that include women are much better.

AD: I believe that every single woman is not peaceful, just as every single man is not aggressive. But, and this is important, there is a difference at the general level. Is that difference biological? Developmental?  Social? I don’t know and honestly I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. And really, who cares? We have thousands of years of recorded human history that make the case. So whatever it is that draws women into peacebuilding, it is universal.  And it makes sense. Why would you entrust the building of peace to those who specialize in making war?

What makes someone able to risk everything? How can we learn from them?

AD: Leymah Gbowee, who led the Liberian women in Pray the Devil Back to Hell, told me that they could never have done what they did if their backs had not been against the wall. I think almost any women, if their children are threatened, if their capacity to take care of their families is threatened, would be willing to risk it all. And this motivation is very important. What is the ferocious desire to bring peace to protect your families rooted in if not love? How much more different a starting point can that possibly be from the starting point of war?

GR: All of the women profiled in this series are ordinary women who did extraordinary things. I actually think that all of us have that bravery within us. At times I think challenges seem insurmountable. But when I watch these films, and think about these women, I can deal with the problems in my own life and begin to think about addressing the problems in my society.

Do you think we’ll be seeing an increase in female-directed projects? What do you think can be accomplished by encouraging female-led projects in the media, and elsewhere?

GR: Are we at some historical tipping point? Will we see more female directed films and female content? Yes. I think the push for parity across the industry will have an impact in us seeing both more women filmmakers and women’s stories. Part of why I feel so strongly about these films is that it’s difficult to imagine oneself doing things that you have never seen. It is almost as if reality doesn’t exist unless it’s reflected on screen. So we are thrilled to be able to broadcast these stories because we know that women and girls will see themselves in the women we portray and be encouraged to step forward in their own lives.

AD: Women in general, and young women in particular, are no longer content to sit by and be spoken for. And every project that succeeds makes the next ten possible. The genie is out of the bottle, and I don’t think we will ever see her put back in. So yes, we are going to see a lot more leadership from women around the world, of all kinds. And that will shift the paradigms under which we all function.

The show airs on PBS Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26, from 9-11 p.m. (check your local listings).

Images c/o Asad Faruqi, Mahfouz Abu Turk, Mosireen Archive, Derek Speirs


This Anthology By Women Of Color Tells The Stories We’ve Been Missing

I had the honor of reading, reviewing, and interviewing the editor of this wonderful anthology: All The Women In My Family Sing. It’s a moving and fascinating read, and Deborah Santana gave me such a thoughtful and inspiring interview for bust.com. Check it out:

The biggest reason I loved books when I was a kid was because they made me feel less alone. There were pivotal moments of identification with the narrators I was reading about, whether they were facing the same familial struggles or just had the same weird pet peeve as me. I’m white, and there was no shortage of characters who looked like me in the books, movies, and television I grew up with; I had the privilege of feeling seen and heard by my culture.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for so many girls in the US. There is a blatant lack of representation of women of color in the most popularized stories, including those told in school. But the creators of All The Women In My Family Sing hope to change that for future generations. Their anthology provides young women of color with stories they can relate to, encouraging them to rise, aspire, and embrace their heritages.

With the intention of revealing racial inequities in the publishing world, Nothing But Truth LLC’s book was created entirely by women of color—all the way from its contributors to its design and marketing. The result is a beautiful collection of poetry and prose that documents the experiences of nearly seventy women, ages 16 to 77.

The works in All The Women In My Family Sing are all unique, inspiring, and enlightening. Together, they create a collection that can forge connection and bridge differences by giving their readers a glimpse of what it means to be a woman of color in the US.

We spoke with the editor, Deborah Santana, who challenges injustice with kindness, compassion, and her dedication to a variety of projects that empower women.

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Why do you think stories are so important?

Stories provide insights into a person’s walk through life and the triumphs and struggles they experience. So often we are critical of how we handle the unfolding of our relationships, jobs, or choices,  yet when we share our stories, we gain understanding. The readers of our anthology have told us they did not know many of the challenges facing women of color until they read the essays in our anthology. Hundreds of people have expressed gratitude for the writers’ vulnerability and bravery.

How did this book come to be?

Our publishing company, Nothing But the Truth, LLC set an intention to reveal the racial inequities in the publishing world and create a book completely written, designed, edited, and marketed by women of color. My dear friend Chris Bronstein, founder of Nothing But the Truth, asked me to co-publish this title because she is not a woman of color.

We found contributors by posting a call for submissions in various magazines and online sources.  We received 300 submissions which three freelance editors and I read and culled it to 69 for the book.

Do you have a favorite story in the book?

The essays are like children—each one unique and stunning—no one better than another. I remain deeply moved by Tammy Thea’s “Escape From the Cambodian Killing Fields.” She lost both of her parents, two of her children, her sister, niece and nephew, her brother and sister-in-law, and her dog. In total, she lost 37 immediate family members during the Khmer Rouge rule. And she is the sweetest person I have ever met. How can she have so much gratitude to live in America? Because she came from a place much worse. So much of our country’s divisions arise from recounting injustices and oppression—from anger over loss. I listen to every story, remembering Desiderata by Max Ehrmann: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste; Remember what peace there may be in silence; As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons…”

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Deborah Santana

“What Is Said” [a story about violence against black men] was a really powerful story. How do you find hope when things seem bleak?

“What Is Said” represents the history that is not taught in our country, as well as the atrocities done to people of color that are not faced or made amends for, or provided restitution and reparations. In Hope Wabuke’s personal revelation of how violence inflicted on black men affects her baby boy, we feel the depth of loss not available through news accounts.

War, disagreements, greed, separation, are all part of the human condition, but I believe we can aspire to live in peace and oneness with others. I meditate daily to live from a place of love and compassion.  It is a commitment that I must diligently return to over and over again so I am not overcome with despair.

I loved the quote in “What It Takes: A Letter to My Granddaughter” [a letter by Belva Davis, the first African-American woman to become a television reporter on the U.S. West Coast, to her granddaughter]: “The first step to freedom is learning to love yourself.” What are you thoughts on this quote?

This quote comes from the superhero Belva Davis, who endured oppression and segregation from her day of birth. Her contributions to the world of journalism changed the path for people of color. Her quote is a reflection of what she has learned about living and thriving in spite of the conditions around her. She speaks truth to power.

What is the most powerful way that you believe white women can support women of color?

Thank you so much for this question! White women can study history to understand their privilege and how life has been for women and men of color. They can lay down their fragility about issues and be available and open to talk about how racism affects people of color. They can commit to work for equality and change. As Robin DiAngelo described it in her 2011 paper “White Fragility”: “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress.” If white women and men read her essay and stop resisting the truth of slavery, the annihilation of indigenous peoples, the reality of stolen lands and free labor to build America, we can work to repair what is broken.

I know you work on a variety of inspiring projects—documentaries, your nonprofit, this book, motherhood, etc. Do you ever struggle or feel overwhelmed? How do you move forward?

Oh my goodness—yes, I struggle, yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed! I move forward by spending mornings in silent meditation, taking long hikes, being in circle with dear friends, by eating healthfully and trying to have tremendous kindness for myself and others. I celebrate the miracles and openings, like this interview, where the world affirms the work I offer to it.

This Documentary Tells The Fascinating Story Of The World’s First Female Tiger Trainer

Hey there 🙂 I interviewed Leslie Zemeckis, creator of Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, for bust.com.

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In the past several months, we’ve seen the #TimesUp movement challenge a romanticized idea of Hollywood and reveal just how much work the film industry has to do with the way it treats women. But the hope is that the exposure of this raw reality leads to progress. Cinema Libre Studio, based in LA, claims they’ve noticed a “subtle but important shift in the industry,” marked by the release of films about women who shaped history, directed by women. This year, the studio is telling the story of Mabel Stark, a female circus performer who performed stunts no man would at the time, and Lou Andreas-Salmome, the first female psychoanalyst. These women broke ground in their professions and eras, but their stories aren’t well known. The directors of these films are hoping to change that. We spoke with Leslie Zemeckis, creator of the documentary Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer, about what drove her to explore Stark’s history.

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Mabel working with one of her tigers.

You make documentaries about female performers. What inspires you to tell these stories?

I am drawn to women that were hugely famous in their day, but have since been forgotten. Their stories have never been explored, we just know the headlines of their lives. Mabel’s, for example: “World’s First Female Tiger Trainer Mauled.”  We don’t know why she ever walked into the cage for the first time, or how hard was it for a woman—back when women did not even have the vote—to break into a male-dominated arena. I am always seeking the “why” and searching for inspiring voices that women today can look up to. It was so difficult on many levels in the early 1900s for women to succeed at any endeavor, be it burlesque or the circus (both which were a bit frowned upon), or really any other career. I like to look to the past to inspire the future and all that we, as women, can do.

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Mabel Stark, the world’s first female tiger trainer.

What kind of influence do you think telling these stories have on our world?

I think if we show women what other women went through, they will prevail. It wasn’t that long ago that a woman had to marry who she was told, her husband was in charge of her finances and property, and women weren’t allowed to enter certain careers. But Mabel Stark did not let being a female or an older female prevent her from pursuing what she loved. She trained tigers into her 70s!

What happens when more stories about strong women are told?

We become stronger.

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Mabel Stark at the dining table with her tigers.

How Dance Is Helping Girls Launch STEM Careers

It’s been too long since I’ve published anything but finally here is a little something about a few cool things: dancing, coding, and empowering young women! (Written for BUST.)

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When Yamilee Toussaint noticed she was one of only two black girls in her mechanical engineering program at MIT, it became clear to her that young girls of color need more encouragement to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. A few years later, she created STEM From Dance, a nonprofit dance program in NYC designed to expose Black and Latina middle school girls to jobs in the STEM fields.

Since 2011, Toussaint’s program has introduced its participants to coding and technology principles by pairing them with dance. Music and dance play a large role in the culture of the communities Toussaint hopes to engage, and she sees it as a great way to draw girls in. Toussaint credits her academic success at least partially due to her dedication to dance: “Confidence and mindset play such a huge role in what we’re able to achieve. Dance helped me overcome self-doubt, and that translated into other aspects of my life.”

This summer, Toussaint launched an inaugural summer dance camp called Girls Rise Up, taking place in Brooklyn, New York. The program supports and encourages 75 girls as they craft dance routines that integrate software and engineering principles. We talked to Toussaint about how her program is transforming young girls’ mindsets.

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How do STEM From Dance and Girls Rise Up work? What motivated you to launch a camp program this summer?

STEM From Dance’s usual program runs during the school year as an elective during the school day or after-school, and Girls Rise Up is an extension. I was inspired to launch Girls Rise Up because it creates an opportunity for girls we might not reach during the school year. Participants applied to our camp with an interest in dance, STEM, or both. We split the girls up into groups to brainstorm their best ideas for tech projects that will enhance their group dance. Instructors create a tech lesson based on each group’s project, while students construct the project and choreograph their group dance. At the end of the two weeks, the girls perform in a showcase, presenting all of their hard work.

What kinds of changes do you see in the girls as they move through the programs? Do you have a favorite success story?

I see an overall confidence boost in the way that they approach STEM, the way they express themselves, and their ability to collaborate with others in a small group. Students who did not consider it before walk away with a strong desire to go to college, and sometimes even a desire to pursue a STEM career, or at least continue coding in college while majoring in another field.

One of my favorite stories is of a young lady named Yessenia who started our [STEM From Dance] program with a “too cool for school” mindset. At first it was challenging to get her to complete a task without complaining about how bored she was. She just didn’t seem into the program and was unwilling to really try. However, her mindset started to transform after a few weeks. We saw incredible growth both personally and academically. Yessenia returned to our program for three semesters and helped other students in class who struggled with coding. She began to take on roles of leadership and became someone who her peers admired.

Can you explain why confidence is so important? What kinds of doors does confidence open for young women?

Targeting confidence is a major factor of STEM From Dance. When I taught high school math [after college, for Teach for America], I found that one of the biggest challenges I faced was persuading my students to try, given their preconceived notions. It was challenging to teach when they were nervous to try.

When confidence is lacking, students see everyone else as being better for the job without even considering themselves. I knew that whatever we did with STEM programming had to address confidence in some way, especially given the atmosphere our young people are going to be entering should they pursue a career in STEM. They’re going to be in workplaces and college classrooms where they may be one or one of few people of color, and they need an extra amount of confidence to persist in environments like that.

What can readers do to help?

We love hearing from people with whom our work resonates. There are several opportunities to get involved, from sponsoring a program to volunteering with our girls. You can contact us at info@stemfromdance.org.

Watch a past performance below.

images courtesy Damon Plant

Food Rescue: Meet The App That’s Saved 1.5 Million Pounds Of Food To Date

Ever since I started writing for BUST a few years ago, I’ve gotten tons of emails from publicists everyday. It doesn’t matter that I only write for the site occasionally now, the pitches keep pouring in. And honestly, I’m so glad they do. There are roughly a million ridiculous ideas to one great one, but I’m always so excited when I have the time to sift through and find it.

When I read about Leah Lizarondo and her app, I knew I had to write about her. She and her organization–412 Food Rescue–came up with a pretty ingenious way to get food that would be wasted to people who desperately need it. Her app connects establishments with excess food, to nonprofits in need of food, to volunteers willing to transport the food from A to B. It’s currently only active in Pittsburgh, but their hope is to go nationwide (and there are some pretty promising plans in the works to start that expansion this year). I asked Leah some questions about both food waste and food rescue. Here’s what she had to say:

Nearly half of the food in the United States is thrown out, while 1 in 7 Americans go hungry. There’s no doubt this is a tragic paradox that demands transformation. The question is, how do we get food that will be wasted to people who need it? Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue, might tell you the answer is technology — and plenty of volunteers ready to make a difference.

Lizarondo co-founded an app that first connects food retailers with excess food to nonprofits, and then locates a volunteer willing to make the delivery. In just two years, the organization has recovered over 1.5 million pounds of food — equal to 1.3 million meals. 412 Food Rescue currently has a network of over 1,400 volunteers, and that’s only in the city of Pittsburgh. But they aren’t stopping there — this year they want to take the project nationwide (so keep your eyes on your app store.)

There’s nothing we love more than learn from inspiring, badass women, so we did a little Q & A with Lizarondo. Here’s what she had to say about the logistics of food rescue, how food waste affects the environment, and what it takes to keep a nonprofit moving.

Leah Lizarondo

Can you briefly describe how 412 Food Rescue works?

40% of all the food we produce gets wasted. This impacts not only our environment, but also the fact that many Americans are food insecure. Food waste is both a logistics and moral problem.

The difficult thing about food waste is almost half of it happens at the retail level, where each instance of waste is small and unpredictable. So it’s difficult to recover this using traditional trucking logistics. Couple that with the fact that waste management costs are so low (it’s very cheap to dump things in landfills), and the easiest option is to just throw things out.

That’s where 412 Food Rescue comes in. We developed an app that aggregates food retailers who have surplus food, nonprofits that need the food, and most importantly, people who want to do something about hunger and the environment.

412 Food Rescue is like a bat signal for our volunteers – and we call them food rescue heroes. When we have a donation matched to a nonprofit, our heroes get a push notification that there is a rescue available. They click on that notification and see where the rescue is on a map. And then they can volunteer to rescue the food.

The app takes them through all the steps — from getting to the donor and picking up the food, to getting to the nonprofit and dropping off the food. The app even has troubleshooting and social media capabilities — so they can share their rescue with other heroes.

The social growth of our app has made us one of the fastest-growing food recovery organizations in the US, which I think is reflective of the fact that all of us want to act. We just need to be shown how we can do it, and even better, how we can do it in the context of our everyday lives. It’s so easy to do a rescue that we have everyone from students, to stay at home moms, to seniors and even those working 9-5. Each rescue takes 30 minutes to an hour and you can do whatever fits in your schedule.

Why do you think this is such an important project?

Food retailers do not want to waste food. They want to donate food. But it’s not easy. Over 50% of what we rescue is fresh produce, something that’s difficult for those who are food insecure to access. So food needs to be rescued right away andconsumed right away. Trucks are not nimble enough to do this (and are costly!), and you cannot dispatch this food to a warehouse to be sorted and stored, or it will go bad. This food needs to go directly where it can be used.

A distributed food source network requires a distributed food transport network that can transport the food to an organization that can use it that day (soup kitchens, meals on wheels programs) or distribute it that day (pantries, housing projects). That is exactly what we do. We are the air traffic control, and it has worked beautifully. Our food rescue heroes have transported over 1.3 million meals!

Other than volunteering with 412 Food Rescue, what are some suggestions you have for saving food in our day to day lives?

Don’t buy the samples. Make a list and stick to it. Buy fresh veggies that you know you will use and use them first, and augment with frozen veggies so you know they won’t go to waste if you can’t get to them right away. Have one day of the week (maybe the day before your weekly grocery trip) where you just use everything up in the fridge. Also, before you go to a warehouse club, ask yourself if you will really eat that 5 pound bag of whatever it is.

How will food waste impact the environment, especially in the long term?

Food waste represents one fifth of what’s in our landfills and causes up to 16% of the world’s methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. That is astounding when you think about it.

But that’s only how food waste impacts our environment at the end of its life. When you think about the inputs we lose – the resources that we have put into growing and processing the food – you see that we lose 20% of all the freshwater and land. And California, a state in drought, is where most of our produce is grown. We need water in California and yet we are throwing it away.

I always get asked – but your heroes are driving around in cars, releasing CO2. But one of the statistics that I love to share is that the food we saved in 2016 alone is equivalent to about 675,000 miles driven and our volunteers only drove 50,000 miles. Add the fact that we were able to provide food to those who need it, and the exchange is decidedly positive.

Saving food is something that we all need to take part in. Not only to take care of those less fortunate than us but to take care of everyone — including ourselves, and our environment.

Do you see technology making a positive impact on the world as we move into the future?

Technology has to make a positive impact. It’s up to us to make sure of that, right? I’m proud that we’ve created an app powered by everyone’s desire to do good. There are thousands of folks out there watching for that push notification like it is a Pokemon, and jumping on that chance to get a rescue. You really have to see it to believe it.

Altruism is addictive. It gives you a high to know you have done something good. And when you do a rescue, you don’t drop off to a warehouse — you drop off directly to our partners. So it not only takes you to neighborhoods you may not have visited otherwise, it connects you directly to those who need it. It opens your eyes, widens your world, and takes you out of your bubble.

This is one of the best things we hope technology does. And we give you many opportunities to do it every day.

Founding such an amazing program is a dream for many, but you made it a reality. Do you have any advice for readers who might have aspirations of starting a nonprofit?

What was that Hamilton line? Winning is easy, governing is harder? Launching something is easy, actually scaling it is harder. It’s easy to talk about a provocative idea and make a big splash. The challenge is persevering after the initial wave of attention has gone. The work in between is not quite as romantic. Counting every little success and every little step toward your goal keeps you going. They may not all be earthshaking but every little step is just that – it gets you closer.