Tuesday, August 28, 2007

For A Troubled Sister

Daylean steals sharp light.

Quick cerulean ukulele twangs
blue the sultry orange half notes

of this central star’s french horn
announcing sleep

comes. when we chastise
and deny. it laughs. fades.

dies like lungs grabbing the last
breath. sneaks round to the other side of

the world. waits for our hovering lashes
before peeping over again like a piccolo

chirping. The universe says: “let go.
let me. let God/dess

Light! Dayclean.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

View Between The Chain Link Fence: How Can We Be A DiversCity and Exclude?

an open letter to Duane T. Ashley
Director Of City Of Pittsburgh Parks & Recreation

Dear Mr. Ashley,

I shouldn’t even care enough to write this letter. I’m not Muslim. I don’t have any disabilities. I’m not a recent burn victim. I’m not the nursing mother of new-born baby whose breasts are still leaking. And,

thanks to some hard work by people I don’t even know, I can take my African-American self and family to the first pool integrated in the City Of Pittsburgh - the Highland Park Pool. To be honest, most days, I just enjoy the sun, my family, the water. I admit that I’ve never stopped to give thanks or blessings that I can be there legally and comfortably. Until today.

I arrived at the Highland Park Pool. In the dressing room, I discover my husband suit is in the swimming bag, not mine. I looked at my outfit: tight leggings and a lycra blouse which resembles half the suits at the pool. I could easily jump in the water if needed. It is my mistaken belief that this is no big deal. So, I dress my son and out we go.

Fifteen minutes later, I was politely confronted about breaking Rule #2 - all persons in the pool area must be in swim wear. Being honest, I inform them I mistakenly packed my husband’s suit. If I had wanted to be dishonest - I would have slipped off my trousers and sat in my matching black lycra knickers for the rest of the afternoon - minus the sanitary napkin. But, since I was honest, I was told that I’d have to leave.

Just out of curiosity and in a non-confrontational manner, I asked if I had a suit under my clothes, could I keep them on. The answer was no - I must “display” some portion of my suit. Okay, it was easy for me to leave my son with friends; zip home change into the suit and dash back. Which is what I did with a smile on my face.

On my way home, I became a bit agitated. What if I were Muslim and needed to wear a modest bathing suit? What if I had a medical condition and took medicine which prevented me from being able to withstand direct sunlight? What if I was a burn victim and couldn’t display my fore arms or upper thighs? The list kept churning and churning.

Alongside of the scrolling mental list of whom else this policy excludes from using a public facility, my personal observations set in. Why is it that men are allowed in the pool wearing “swim trunks” and t-shirts. Why is it that only women must “display” their pelvic area or breasts? And no matter how long a woman’s “big t-shirt” is, there isn’t enough seating by the kiddie pool not to display some of her vaginal area. Sometimes, it is discomfiting to know exactly how much pubic hair my neighbour has. And why does this policy only apply to patrons? Why aren’t the glorious, ample women of African descent who are staff members obliged to “display” their wares? The rule says, “all.”

I just recently returned to Pittsburgh from living in London, England. I have expressly chosen to make this city my home. It is my firm and unyielding belief that Pittsburgh is the greatest city in which to live on this planet. In London, I made my feminist peace with women and children in burqas. I watched girls splashing and laughing in modest bathing suits side by side with nude British children. I often watched mothers in full burqas drinking tea by the pool side next to mothers of all sizes in bikinis swigging a pint. Neither group ever looked sidelong at the other. I am grateful to have the experience of a truly inclusive and diverse community. On my way back to the pool, I began to understand that Pittsburgh may be diverse - but the pools are not inclusive.

I arrived back at the pool. I enjoyed my son. As we were leaving, I stopped at the front desk to inquire as to whom I might call or write a letter. The woman at the desk wanted to discuss the issue further with me before giving me the information. Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:

ME: What if I were a Muslim and I wanted my children to swim?

CITIPARKS: You’d have to wear all that business like the tights and shirt and then put a regular suit over it.

(SIDE NOTE: Please stop here and bring up a mental image of a woman in a burqa or hijab with a bikini on top. Now, get serious and follow along.)

ME: Define “regular.” Do you mean a bathing suit derivative of a European design?

CITIPARKS: You were raised in this culture, you know what regular means. It means a bathing suit. A one piece or a bikini.

ME: So, if I got a Muslim approved modest bathing suit and wore it, I wouldn’t be allowed to wear it?

CITIPARKS: If you want to go through all of that business you should just go to a private pool.

ME: But, that just makes it an issue of religious intolerance and classism.

CITIPARKS: It’s for your safety. We’ve had gang fights in here because people aren’t wearing bathing suits.

ME: I understand you’ve had to deal with a lot of knuckleheads. Including people with disabilities or a relgious mandate is different.

CITIPARKS: We’ve been all through this and the rule is never changed.

It made me wonder how many Muslim families have just decided that the battle is not worth it? But - the battle is worth it to me. I’m angry. I’m furious that my son is being denied the right to swim at a pool with children of all religions, abilities, races, classes and genders. It made me furious that a mother would be denied the right to properly supervise her child at a pool due to the same reasons above.

None of this affects me personally. So why should I give a single thought to anybody else and their issues? Because having all kinds of people in my community makes my life richer. It makes my life full. I enjoy sharing inclusive, accepting, non-judgemental space with other human beings. ’m not leaving Pittsburgh again. I’ve come too far to turn back now. I believe the beauty of Pittsburgh lies in the fact that we have the power to make it to be whatever we need it to be. I need to raise my son in an inclusive and diverse city.

This weekend I was really looking forward to the “DiversCity Festival.” This City Of Pittsburgh event promised to reinforce my vision of this city as the perfect place to live, raise children and live well. But, now, I wonder, exactly how inclusive will they really be if they can’t even modify a rule about attire at a public pool. But, I will turn out and support the vision - even if it is not truly enacted in all city-wide spaces.

Because it seems that, according to Citiparks, if you want to be modest for health or religious reasons, you have to stand on the other side of the gate looking in.

I’m open to all suggestions about action. But, in the meantime, if you don’t want to leave mothers and others on the wrong side of the chain link fence, please call:

Duane Ashley, CitiParks Director
412 - 255 - 2539

Or email Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:


1. Be polite.
2. State that Citiparks Pool Rule #2 needs to be revised as it discriminates against people due to their religion and/or physical ability.
3. Ask him to clarify to you why the policy requires only the “display” of female erogenous areas.
4. Ask him why Rule #2 only applies to patrons and is not applied equally and unilaterally across the board.
5. Ask him to consider sensitivity training for all staff members regarding intolerance.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Winston Rewrites Rap

It is amazing how people hear what they want to hear.
Winston's taken a fancy to a song by Baby Boy Da Prince.
The lyrics read:

"This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big wheels
I stack my money, lay low, and chill.
Don't need to work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big wheels
I stack my money, lay low, and chill.
Don't need to work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live."

Winston's rewrite is :

"This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big bills
I save my money, lay low, and chill.
I work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big bills
I save my money, lay low, and chill.
I work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live."

I think my four year old has a better message. Perhaps, it's not just because I'm his Mommy. And is this a case of nature or nurture?