Religion

New App For Reporting Racial Profiling at Airports Unveiled

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After the 9/11 attacks, Muslims increasingly became the targets of racial profiling at airports. Sikh Muslims travelers, specifically, have been targeted for their darker skin and turbans. Reports have demonstrated that in many instances, nearly 100 percent of Sikh Muslim travellers are pulled aside for additional screening at airports. In response, the Sikh Coalition has unveiled an app called “FlyRights”, ...

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There Is Racism in Reality TV but not on The Bachelor

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Between the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the recent spate of high-profile hate crimes, there has been plenty to keep those of us who care about civil rights busy in the Obama era. But it's always refreshing when fellow advocates for equality and justice call attention to those major civil rights battles often overlooked by the mainstream media. The kinds of meaningful, substantive battles that can change lives and make the world a better place for future generations. Obviously when most of us think "meaningful," "substantive" and "civil rights," we think The Bachelor. When I first read that a class-action suit had been filed against the masterminds behind the reality TV juggernauts The Bachelor & The Bachelorette for casting discrimination, I assumed I was reading a headline from The Onion. But after realizing that the reports were not in fact a joke (even though I think this lawsuit is) I was speechless. (Those of you who know me personally or have merely been annoyed by me on television know that this is a rare occurrence.) I can think of a laundry list of civil rights battles that still loom large for people of color, even in the age of the first black president. Among them, the issue of racial profiling which has finally been thrust into the national spotlight due to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, employment discrimination so blatant that white men with criminal records still have a leg up over black men without one, and yes, the lack of diversity in quality entertainment, as demonstrated by the recent backlash to the new HBO show, Girls. But part of why I was so shocked by the lawsuit is because if I were to name two places in which my people are unjustly overrepresented, the first would be prisons and the second would be bad reality television. There are certain entities and institutions where no group should aspire to greater representation because doing so does not improve the standing, quality, or equality, of said group, but actually devalues the group as a whole. Reality television is one such vehicle. As I clarified while discussing this subject on MSNBC , I'm not referring to shows like American Idol that actually require a legitimate talent or skill. I'm referring to shows that claim to showcase the lives of "real people" who are "just like the rest of us." Only the real people selected all seem to have severe emotional problems or criminal tendencies, or in the case of many of the cast members of color they select, both. At this point I'm starting to believe that's not an accident. I didn't have to look very far for validation of my theory when the very week The Bachelor critics filed their lawsuit, a cast member of a show called Basketball Wives filed a lawsuit against another cast member, who has since been charged with misdemeanor assault. For those who missed it, the women (and make no mistake, these are full-fledged adults over the age of 30, not kids who don't know any better) got into a verbal altercation that resulted in one hitting another, while another woman removed her shoes and climbed over a table to continue said altercation. Did I already mention the part about these being adults? As embarrassing as this altercation is, or at least should be, for all parties involved, it's not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that it's not the first physical altercation that's happened on the show. But even more embarrassing? The fact that this formula -- angry women of color getting into fistfights, catfights and weave-pulling smackdowns -- seems to have become the go-to reality TV recipe for success, with Basketball Wives joined by shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, Bad Girls Club, and others to perpetuate a stereotype so enduring and pervasive that First Lady Michelle Obama expressed her own fears about it just months ago: the image of the angry black woman. These shows send the same message. No matter how much you dress us up, or how much money we may have, lying underneath it all for every woman of color is a neck rolling, finger pointing, profanity using stereotype ready to solve any dispute with physical violence because that's how we "keep it real." Only that's not how most of us "keep it real." But you wouldn't know that by watching reality TV. In the early days of the genre, even those shows that did not encourage physical violence, per se, seemed to encourage the perception that one of the black cast members would resort to it if they felt the need to (think Omarosa on season one of The Apprentice and Kevin on season one of The Real World ). Now here we are years later and though the diversity of reality TV shows has expanded, the depiction of people of color on them hasn't really. So is the answer a lawsuit to make shows like The Bachelor more inclusive? I would say the answer is a lot simpler than that. Even more embarrassing than the behavior of the women of color on some of these shows is the fact that there are women of color who help keep them on the air. If you are one of these women who watch these shows dismissing them as "harmless," then you can't be outraged the next time some conservative shock jock tries to stereotype Michelle Obama as an angry black woman. You're helping to perpetuate that stereotype. As the saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. After all, when Don Imus called black women "nappy-headed hoes" and Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut," we were outraged. Yet you will hear women -- of all colors -- called much worse than that in ten minutes of a Real Housewives or Basketball Wives reunion show. Where's the outrage then? For the record, I know that these types of shows don't exactly present any group of people at their best. And I don't believe that media should be required to depict any group of people in an exclusively positive light, including black Americans. But black people are approximately 13% of the population and yet if you were to take a look at reality shows, or at least the coverage of them, you would think that we are responsible for the overwhelming majority of threatening behavior in social settings. (Click here to see a list of some of the worst reality tv moments.) While white Americans enjoy multi-faceted representation in mainstream media -- from Meryl Streep's The Iron Lady to Bridesmaids -- to balance out the Jersey Shore s of the world, we are left portraying maids on our best days (the Oscar-winning film The Help ) and real-life women who beat up other women on our worst (such as on most of these reality shows.) Filing a lawsuit against The Bachelor may not be the answer, but voting with your eyeballs in support of programming that does actually "keep it real" when it comes to depicting us, may be. Just as we worked together to send a message to Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh about the perils of demeaning women, why haven't we sent the same message to the people peddling this dehumanizing content? For those who think I'm overreacting, I have a trivia question for you. What has served as the greatest recruitment tool in the history of the Ku Klux Klan? You give up? The answer is a movie, Birth of a Nation. Released in 1915, it was filled with every negative stereotype of black Americans (or white actors in blackface portraying them) imaginable. We were depicted as lazy, over-sexualized and violent. Sound familiar? Its release caused Klan membership to skyrocket nationwide. Now nearly 100 years later, the imagery of us hasn't progressed all that far. But today the culprits responsible for such imagery are not white actors in blackface, but black people willing to take on the role of modern day minstrel for a quick buck and black producers willing to sell out their own people for a check. (I'm looking at you Shaunie O'Neal, producer of Basketball Wives. ) But she's not alone. Like many of the white record executives during the era in which gangsta rap reigned supreme, Andy Cohen, the Bravo svengali behind the Real Housewives franchise, continues to serve as a modern-day D.W. Griffith (the director of Birth of a Nation ), serving up devastating and dehumanizing stereotypes, but all in the name of "entertainment." But it's okay. I'm sure he has a black friend. And perhaps he or she thinks his programs are all just harmless fun. To some people, they probably are. But tell that to the hate groups whose memberships have been increasing in recent years, or to those who have experienced the recent rise in hate crimes firsthand. But Ms. O'Neal and Mr. Cohen are probably too preoccupied to notice or care. After all, they're busy laughing all the way to the bank. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.

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Farrakhan: “Jesus Was a Black Muslim”

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Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan made an appearance Tuesday at Alabama A&M University where he said Jesus was a black Muslim.  “If Elijah was at the door and he was black, you would call 911 and say there’s a n****r at the door, claiming he’s Elijah! Send the police!” exclaimed Farrakhan, then explained that it is “because you are not trained to ...

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The Trayvon Martin and Tulsa Shootings: The Time for Inaction Is Over

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Most young people today have studied the stories of the great civil rights struggle in this country and the heroic acts of many from all walks of life that eventually brought about change in America. While older generations may recall segregation or the disturbing days of water hoses and police dogs, young kids today for the most part haven't experienced open violence at the hands of bigots. Even though racial inequality clearly exists, they have been lucky to grow up in an integrated society that grows increasingly diverse by the day. So when news of the Trayvon Martin shooting first broke, it was no surprise that it sent shockwaves among our youth -- and continues to do so today. To add to the troubling climate, over the weekend, three black adults were shot to death and two were wounded at the hands of white gunmen who have since confessed to the horrific act in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Though not officially ruled racially motivated yet, this latest incident has all the underpinnings of a despicable hate crime. It's no wonder young people have taken to the streets to march, organize and let their voices be heard. We are at a precarious moment. We must stop ourselves from regressing. We cannot allow our future to be hijacked with hate. We need not a moment, but a true movement immediately. When people discuss justice and equality, they often forget that progress didn't simply take place overnight or occur in a vacuum. Countless individuals organized and strategized actual concrete steps on how to bring about change. They saw unfairness, figured out mechanisms to tackle it and organized a massive effort. Today, when we witness these unfortunate reminders of the historical imprint of racism resurfacing, we cannot act as if the issues can simply be swept under a rug. It's time all of us engage in a long-term conversation on the elephant in the room -- race. And as the Trayvon Martin case tragically proves, the topic cannot be discussed without dedicating an equal amount of time towards a serious look at our justice system. In addition to the criminalization and harassment of young men (and women) of color, the system often unfairly favors those not deemed a 'threat'. Case in point: we are still waiting for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the accused shooter in the Trayvon incident. But the difference between mere rhetoric and sustainable results is action. Gravely troubled by these recent events and more, major civil rights leaders, clergy, victims, parents, grandparents and concerned folks from all races, backgrounds and communities are assembling in the nation's capital this week. From Wed., April 11th through Sat. April 14th, National Action Network (NAN) will be conducting its annual convention where we will discuss these issues and more, while we plan and organize a strategy to combat them. In addition to a slew of panel discussions and plenary sessions, we will be holding a 'Measuring the Movement Forum' event at Howard University next Saturday with the first-ever dialogue between the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Amadou Diallo. We will organize ways to energize the country on pressing social issues that really do impact each and every one of us. And we will formulate concrete steps for achieving those goals. There are some in positions of power that would like nothing more than to make us believe that racism, classism and other inequities don't exist. But they do. And the only way to combat them, and stop our nation from reverting back to days when the Trayvon and Tulsa shootings were the norm, is to have an honest dialogue and most importantly, take action. The worst thing we can do is come together and walk away doing nothing. There is far too much at risk. We owe it to the next generation to allow them to live in a better world than we did.

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Should Airlines Charge Parents with Small Children More to Fly?

Flying the friendly skies always feels a bit like playing a game of Russian roulette. There are the real life-and-death worries, like hoping and praying that you and your plane arrive at your destination in one piece. Then there are the worries that only feel like life-and-death, like hoping that you and your plane arrive on time and that your luggage does, too. Then there are the worries that make us contemplate the meaning of life, and whether it's worth living at all. Of course I'm talking about the fear of losing the ultimate game of traveler's roulette: finding yourself seated next to a screaming child during a long flight. For the first time in a relatively well-traveled life, I recently lost this game of roulette, big time. In what I would have considered a hysterical story had it happened to someone else, I lost not just once, but twice, in a single flight. After an apologetic father sat down next to me with his toddler, who was screaming as they boarded the plane and showed no signs of letting up, Dad graciously apologized in advance for the inconvenience that we both were resigned to me experiencing for the next couple of hours. When his son specifically began screaming for his mother, who was seated with other children in another row, Dad decided the best thing for all of us was for the parents to do a kid swap. Mom would take the toddler screaming for her, while Dad would take a slightly older and "more well-behaved little lady" (his words). Only half way through the flight the little lady must have reached her daily quota for being "well-behaved." She decided she wanted Mommy, too, and wasn't taking "no" for an answer. So she did what any diva in the making would do: she stood on her seat and screamed, "I want Mommy!" at the top of her lungs for a few minutes, followed by other indecipherable high-pitched screams for more than 10 minutes. (I gave up counting after 10.) Her screams then woke up another baby, who, you guessed it, began crying, too. Part of me felt bad for the dad. After all, when most of us get a poor job performance review, at least it's not in front of a room full of strangers. But here's a guy whose two kids, in less than two hours, let the entire plane know he was simply not up to the standards of Mom. He essentially got a public dressing down, Simon-Cowell-style, from two people who can barely speak complete sentences. That's got to be tough. Of course, the other part of me (the part that had gotten just four hours of sleep and had planned to catch up on the plane) didn't feel sympathy for anyone except the people unlucky enough to cross paths with me after I got off that plane. I was in a great mood. Let me tell you. Apparently my experience with my tiny, vocal in-flight neighbors is not exactly what you'd call uncommon. Days ago Malaysian Airlines sent around a final warning notice to travel agents informing them that they will soon be launching child-free cabins to accommodate adult travelers tired of trying to drift off to a symphony of childhood cries while flying the friendly skies. According to the new policy, children under the age of 12 will not be permitted in the upstairs economy section of the airline's Airbus A380. While countless business travelers cheered the new policy, when it was first proposed months ago, many insulted and beleaguered parents angrily cried discrimination. (I missed this tidbit of history, but apparently at some point, having the right to foist unruly children upon the public became akin to efforts to garner African Americans the right to vote in terms of major civil rights battles. Who doesn't see the similarities?) One argument made by some parents, which did strike a chord with me, however, is this: What about misbehaving adults? Why single out kids? This is a fair question. After all, while I've lost the traveler's game of roulette once in recent memory when it comes to children, I cannot count the number of times some misbehaving adult has helped disrupt a trip. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four times in the last month when I was comfortably seated in Amtrak's designated "quiet" car, which, as its title suggests, is for passengers who want to ride in a quiet car, and yet every single trip, some moron who can read English perfectly chooses to chat on his or her cell phone -- this despite the fact that the car is plastered with signs reading "Quiet Car: No cellphone use permitted." Mr. or Ms. Chatty then becomes indignant when anyone (I or another brave soul) politely points out that, "as the sign above you says, we're not supposed to use cell phones in this car." The most galling response I have received so far was last week, when a woman looked at the sign, then back at me, and snapped, "I can read!" to which I replied, "Apparently not, since that's your second call." Police actually escorted one woman off a train for refusing to refrain from using her phone in the quiet car. (For the record, I didn't call them!) Yet it's the stories regarding unruly children that generate the most headlines, including a landmark lawsuit that was recently settled when a passenger experienced hearing loss after being seated next to a screaming child for an extended period of time. (Click here to read about that case and other infamous stories of bad behavior in the air.) So are segregated flights, with child-free cabins, the best solution, and potentially the wave of the future for airlines around the world? One flight attendant I spoke to, who identified difficult children on flights as one of her jobs' greatest stressors, seems to think so. (She asked that I not use her name or identify her airline, because she is not authorized to speak to the media.) Calling Malaysian Airlines' plans for kid-free flights "a genius idea," she added, "I cannot think of a better solution than this one." But maybe I can. What if airlines or trains just fined people for unruly behavior? Before you dismiss the idea as crazy, consider this: Is it really any crazier than airlines charging us extra for checked bags when the service we are paying them for in the first place is to transport us and our belongings? The flight attendant I spoke with seemed to think it was actually a doable idea, in part because she confirmed the existence of something I had heard about years ago: airline reports on passengers who use a specific airline more than once. These "reports" are not background checks per se, but if a passenger gets drunk and belligerent on a flight, for instance, this will be noted, so that on their next trip flight attendants will be warned to pay extra special attention as they serve that person. If this is true, then why can't airlines and other industries of travel simply implement a financial penalty system for unruly travelers of all ages? Those who consistently display the most disruptive behavior in the air or on the train could be made to pay up accordingly (or their parents could). The way it could work is thus: As part of the terms and conditions we all agree to when we purchase our tickets, a new condition would be added, one that states that we agree to accept an automatic flat fee charged to our credit card -- let's say $100 to start -- if the flight staff deem us (or our minor children) an intentionally disruptive presence on the trip. (Intentional meaning, it's one thing if a kid gets sick. It's another if they want to play hide and seek on a flight, and Mom and Dad choose to do nothing to stop it.) If a passenger racks up a certain number of penalties, then their future tickets would simply double, and perhaps eventually triple, in price automatically. (My friend Dylan Ratigan compared this to car insurance pricing.) Maybe if they charged such a penalty to the businessman who got so drunk that he defecated on a food service cart in flight ( true story ), or to the parents of children who significantly delay a flight because they refuse to buckle up ( happens more often than you think ), either A) they could stop charging some of us those ridiculous fees for so-called extras that are actually basic service (like checked bags), or B) they would finally deter some people who lack the basic manners to exhibit appropriate behavior in shared public spaces, or who know that their kids lack the ability or maturity to display such behavior but travel with them anyway without thinking twice about the impact their choices have on others. Maybe if we were to hit people where it really hurts, in their pocketbooks, they would think twice, or three times, until finally they got the message that incivility is not a civil right. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.

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The Gift That Trayvon Gave All of Us

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There is no perfect thing to say in the wake of a tragedy, particularly one that involves the loss of a young person. Entire etiquette guides are devoted to telling us what not to say when someone is grieving, with "I know how you feel" being at the top of the list. And yet there is something oddly comforting about such clichés, causing many of us cling to them like a life raft during tragedy. Especially when our own grief, shock and anger has render us incapable of forming the words that those most affected by the loss really need to hear. Besides offering the family of Trayvon Martin my sincerest condolences, and letting them know that like much of America they remain in my prayers, I am going to ignore the etiquette guides for a moment to say something else: Regardless of what happens to the case involving their son, his death was not in vain and will ultimately save countless other lives. Months ago I wrote a piece titled, " Is Racism Worse in the Obama Era?" In it I discussed the psychological impact of subtle racism, a subject covered in the book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? In the piece I also briefly touched upon my own experiences with subtle racism. (As I, and plenty of friends have learned, what walking down the street in a hoodie is to black men, walking into the wrong store with the wrong skin color is to black women.) The reaction to the piece was fascinating, with some weighing in with their own experiences. Others, however, were livid that in the age of a black president "people like me" would still find something to complain about and my complaint is about discrimination that you can't even see or touch, let alone prove. The fundamental question raised by the column was whether or not subtle racism is actually far worse, and more dangerous, for that very reason. As I noted, in my parents' generation (they both grew up in the segregated South) a store simply hung a sign that said "No Coloreds" allowed. Today a store wouldn't dream of doing that and yet most black people I know, and most black celebrities have a story (often more than one) about being blatantly denied service at a store due to race. In the case of Oprah Winfrey on two separate occasions at two different stores the stores in question locked the doors and claimed to be closed when she attempted to enter. In the case of Condoleezza Rice , a sales clerk questioned whether she could actually afford the jewelry she was eyeing. To those who have never endured such experiences, they may sound like minor indignities. But the Trayvon Martin case illustrates how easily subtle racism -- which usually involves racial profiling -- can escalate from indignity to death. One installment of CNN's "Black in America," hosted by Soledad O'Brien, actually noted that many black parents are so conscientious of such profiling that those with teenage boys often provide them with a prepared speech for interacting with police officers to avoid them becoming another Robbie Tolan , the unarmed Houston teen shot by an officer who mistakenly believed Tolan had stolen the car he was driving. (He hadn't.) O'Brien noted that this unofficial profiling speech is so pervasive within the black community it cuts across class lines. From working class black Americans to A-list celebrities, many of them consider the profiling talk just as important, if not more so, than the birds and bees talk. Trayvon Martin is a powerful reminder of why. Only who knew that we would come to a point where the profiling "talk" would have to be revised by parents to not only include police officers, but any man who may see you as a so-called threat because of the color of your skin. (On that note, some critics have blamed Martin's attire for his death. See my reply and others, here and here .) Which brings me back to the legacy of Trayvon Martin. Much like Emmett Till's racially charged murder in 1955 at the age of fourteen forced our country to finally confront the brutality of Jim Crow as more than just a "Southern problem" but a national shame, my hope is that Trayvon's death will spark long overdue outrage and ultimately, a movement against, the subtle racism known as profiling that has risen in Jim Crow's wake. The fact that so many people of diverse political persuasions have condemned his killing gives me hope. I pray that this, and the lives he may ultimately help save, give his family peace. It is cliché to say in times of tragedy, "I know some good will come from this," but in this case I believe it to be true. I have to. We all do. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.

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Growing Up Black in America

Melissa Harris-Perry What does it mean to be a young black male in the United States?

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Arizona Lawmaker Wants Women to Watch an Abortion Before Having One

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Arizona is on a roll. First, state lawmakers offered up a proposal which would’ve limited women’s access to contraception, now one state lawmaker is proposing that women seeking an abortion be forced to watch an abortion being performed prior to getting the procedure. State Rep. Terri Proud sent the following reply to one of her constituents in an email asking ...

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Are Cookies Smarter Than Condoms?

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As we suffer through what has officially been dubbed the most partisan era in the history of American politics (next to the Civil War, perhaps?), it seems there is little left that Americans can agree on. Even contraception, which used to be the fallback issue of consensus among those sick at yelling at each other over abortion, has tied if not surpassed that issue in partisan squabbling. So is there anything left that people of different political stripes can actually find common ground on? Maybe just one: cookies. Republican or Democrat, Independent or Libertarian, anyone of any political persuasion who considers him or herself a cookie aficionado holds a special affection for this time of year. Some may call it the dawn of spring, but those of us with a sweet tooth call it Girl Scout cookie time. Throughout the halls of Congress, you will find Republicans and Democrats alike sneaking a Thin Mint or two, or diving into a box of Samoas (my personal favorites). But what you may not know is just how many of those members of Congress used to sell cookies themselves. When it comes to cultivating female leaders, not a single college, university, sorority, or religious organization can come close to the alumnae of the Girl Scouts. The organization, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, counts 70 percent of female members of Congress , all female astronauts, and every single female Secretary of State to date as former Girl Scouts. In an interview , Congresswoman Donna Edwards said, "Every skill that I use in the United States Congress right now I know that I learned that through my experience in Girl Scouts." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison echoed that sentiment: "The Girl Scouts taught me the importance of honesty, fairness and respect for others. I gained confidence and learned skills I value even today," she said in a statement . When asked if she thinks she would have ever become one of the few women to head a television network had she not spent years as a Girl Scout, BET Chairwoman Debra Lee said simply , "No. Girl Scouts were very important in my life." But bipartisan support hasn't stopped some from trying to politicize the century-old organization that many of us consider as all-American as apple pie, or perhaps cookies. Local elected official Bob Morris recently accused Girl Scouts of being a " radicalized organization" that "sexualizes" girls and functions as a tool of Planned Parenthood. Though he later apologized for some of his rhetoric, if he has strong feelings about ensuring that fewer young girls find themselves in need of the services of organizations like Planned Parenthood at an early age, might I suggest that Rep. Morris buy some Girl Scout cookies? Lots of them. The reason? Because Girl Scouts probably plays an even greater role in teen sex and pregnancy prevention than your run-of-the-mill high school sex ed course. I've long been frustrated with how tone-deaf both sides of the sex-ed debate sound. On one side you have conservatives with their heads in the sand, proclaiming that "abstinence" is an effective educational program for preventing teen pregnancy. ( It's not .) On the other side you have progressives proclaiming that comprehensive sex ed is the most effective method for preventing teen pregnancy. (Well, it's certainly better than abstinence-only , but that's not saying much.) What both sides of the argument rarely acknowledge is that either approach fails on its own, with their effectiveness being determined in large part by the support network young people already have in place. That includes parents, teachers, and peers. According to the findings of multiple studies (which you can view here ), the greatest predictors of which teens will engage in risky sexual behavior remain family life and the peers they associate with. Another predictor? Goals. If a teen has a goal -- to become a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or perhaps a member of Congress -- he or she is statistically more likely to make "safer" choices. In other words, it's not enough to say, "Don't have sex, because you could get pregnant," or, "Use a condom, because it greatly decreases your chances of getting pregnant." The connection has to be made between, "Use a condom because it greatly decreases your chances of getting pregnant, and if you want to go law school, that's a lot harder to do if you have a child before you're ready." While I want to be very clear for the sake of Rep. Morris and his cohorts that this is not the messaging of Girl Scouts, it's worth noting that the mission of the organization is to instill pride, purpose, leadership skills, and goals in girls so that they grow up to become proud, purposeful women -- women more likely to make healthy choices so that they achieve their long-term goals, whether those goals take them to the Halls of Congress or all the way to space, or even just to cyberspace (shout out to my fellow former Brownie troopers!). So if you really care about the health of girls and seeing girls make healthy choices, buy some Girl Scout cookies. You never know. You may just end up purchasing a box from your future member of Congress or your future president. Click here to see a list of famous Girl Scouts, and to see my interviews with members of Congress about how the Girl Scouts shaped their lives and careers. Please feel free to share your own memories of how Girl Scouts shaped your life in the comments section. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this piece originally appeared.

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Trayvon Martin — Victim of Bias & Gun-toting Vigilantism

I wait for an era when young Black men will no longer have to live in fear. Decades after the abolishment of slavery, we were haunted by the reality of being hunted down, beaten and lynched by both everyday citizens and law enforcement. Young boys like Emmett Till were openly and viciously murdered because of the sentiments of bigoted individuals who believed they had the right to carry out their own brand of injustice. Today, Black (and Latino) youth are routinely targeted, profiled and 'mistakenly' shot by those sworn to serve and protect us (i.e. Sean Bell). And now, in what can only be described as the most blatant form of vigilante murder, a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin loses his life at the hands of self-proclaimed 'crime stopper.' But the only crime here is that this killer has ended poor Trayvon's life under the guise of his own preconceptions and has not been charged, nor arrested. We will head to Florida to ensure that all that changes immediately. On Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., National Action Network (NAN) and I will convene an urgent rally at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Sanford, FL. to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. We will be joined by community leaders and concerned citizens from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life that cannot even begin to comprehend this nightmarish situation. A young teenager walking home, armed only with candy and a drink, should never lose his/her life because someone in a gated community feels 'threatened.' George Zimmerman, the accused adult shooter, is roaming the earth freely while Trayvon's mother, father and family members must bury their precious child. It is an atrocious miscarriage of justice, and we demand that authorities in Florida arrest Zimmerman immediately and charge him for the crime of murder. Anyone with sound reasoning cannot disagree. In 2005, the state of Florida enacted one of the toughest 'stand your ground' self-defense laws which allowed civilians to use deadly force against 'intruders' or anyone they believed was a 'threat' to their life. Supported -- and in many ways lobbied -- by the National Rifle Association, these laws don't require a person to retreat from the situation, thereby allowing them to even pursue someone who 'threatens' them. The legislation not only protects individuals from prosecution, but goes so far as barring them from civil suits in many cases as well. As the model for dozens of other states that now carry similar laws, the Florida self-defense rule creates an environment where anyone at any moment can claim they were fearful of someone as a justification for cold-blooded murder. And that's exactly what we see here in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin. In the recently released 911 tapes of that fateful day, Zimmerman was clearly told to stand down by authorities, but he didn't comply. Many eyewitnesses said they heard screams of help, but no one came to Trayvon's assistance in time to save his life. Zimmerman claimed he had spotted a 'suspicious' individual, and as several news outlets have reported, he pursued Trayvon, not the other way around. In a society that still views young men of color as threatening, dangerous and suspicious without cause, these self-defense laws in Florida and elsewhere give free rein for anyone to openly kill those that they may not like or those that make them feel uncomfortable because of their own inherent prejudices. And the race/ethnicity of Zimmerman or any citizen in this type of scenario doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, it is the race of the victim -- Trayvon -- that does matter. It is his race and his demographic that is consistently depicted as the threat, and negatively portrayed in popular culture. A few years ago, a man in Oklahoma City shot and killed a 16-year-old who allegedly tried to rob the drugstore where he worked. This pharmacist attempted to plea self-defense, but because he shot the teenager in the head, chased someone else out and returned to shoot the kid five more times as he lay on the floor, he was sentenced to first-degree murder. Young Trayvon's only crime was buying a pack of skittles and walking through the wrong neighborhood. He had his entire life ahead of him and we demand justice without delay. Zimmerman must be held accountable. Join us in Sanford on Thursday as we call for a repeal to Florida's outrageous self-defense laws. It's about Trayvon's life, not supposed self-defense. I'm still waiting for the day that young Black men (and women) can walk freely in any neighborhood without fearing for their lives.

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