An outpouring over boy’s story
My inbox overflowed this week with responses to last Saturday’s column about the relationship between a boy from Watts and a group of Los Angeles Police Department officers who have embraced his family.
More than 100 readers wrote to praise young Micah Blackwell’s efforts to succeed in school and steer clear of trouble. His mother, Belinda Cannon, has relied on police officers for help raising Micah, 13, and his 5-year-old brother, Joshua, ever since Micah struck up a friendship with LAPD Sgt. Ralph Morales four years ago.
Now “Ms. Belinda,” as the officers call her, is hospitalized at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center with breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones. The prognosis is not good, her doctors say. The boys are being cared for by a Leimert Park couple Cannon met in church six months ago.
The gravity of the situation hasn’t sunk in yet for Micah, said Morales, whose office has been inundated with offers of help.
“I’m amazed. As police officers, we get used to seeing the worst of life,” Morales said. “To see people coming forward like this . . . that’s inspiring to us.”
I am not amazed. As a reporter for almost 30 years, I have witnessed, again and again, the boundless compassion of Times readers, who, this time, offered money, outings, even a home for Micah and his brother if Ms. Belinda -- who adopted them as infants from foster care -- doesn’t make it home.
As a reporter, I recognize that personal tales of struggle and need provide an outlet for readers’ innate generosity. For me, it’s always a little uncomfortable -- this passing-the-hat process that occurs when I share a story of tragedy -- but it’s not my role to tamp down that impulse.
The LAPD’s community relations section is setting up a fund for donations at the Frederick K.C. Price Christian school, which Micah has attended for the last two years thanks to fundraising by officers. Information is available from Kelly Stamps in the school’s finance office, (323) 789-3885, or from LAPD Lt. Fred Booker, whose e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also recognize that our city is full of children in need. And what Micah wants most is something we can’t give. When I asked him last week what he appreciated most about his mother, his answer broke my heart with its simplicity.
“She keeps me safe; she gives me a comfortable place to sleep,” he said. “And she lets me talk as much as I want, about anything.”
I expected readers to react to Micah’s story. But I was caught off guard by the spirited response to another column, two weeks ago, on the evolution of feminism. I figured it was a subject with niche appeal, scrubbed of its social value by loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, who have turned feminists into caricatures.
But readers dived into the messy debate over a movement whose heroes -- depending on who is talking -- range from suffragette leader Susan B. Anthony to Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex in the City.”
The column suggested that young women today are more concerned with social equality than the political and economic issues that catalyzed my generation. We were about collective action -- remember “Sisterhood is Powerful”? They are about individual freedom.
Is that progress or a cop out? Readers saw it both ways.
“I rejoice that these young women feel empowered, but I would like to know if they are using the empowerment they have achieved to make the world safer and fairer,” wondered 77-year-old Elaine Madsen, a West Hollywood filmmaker who just finished a documentary on Depression-era activists. “That is what real feminism is about.”
Jean Bannigan -- another woman from my mother’s generation -- recalled her 1952 job interview with Merrill Lynch, after she had earned an economics degree.
She was told “they didn’t hire women as analysts, but I had a ‘look’ they liked for a receptionist.”
She took a job as a teacher instead, “because it was the only job that paid the same to men and women.” Feminism then, she said, “was about getting an almost-equal chance to make a living.”
The next generation -- women like me -- must have disappointed them a bit, as we exercised our options to pick and chose from among benefits they fought so hard to win.
As a kid, 40-year-old Angel Zobel-Rodriguez was dragged by her activist mother to meetings of the National Organization for Women. As an adult, the San Fernando mother of two passed on a career and works part time from home so she can spend time with her kids.
“I appreciate that women can be anything they want to be, but I am doing what I want to do . . . even though there are definitely times my mom doesn’t understand my choices.”
And Zobel-Rodriguez may not understand the choices her daughter will make, judging from the 20-somethings who e-mailed me.
“If I wear short skirts, am I doing it to catch the attention of men or doing it for the hell of being confident in my 20s? Or some tricky combination of both?” wondered Dominique Fong, a 20-year-old USC junior.
She considers feminism “the power, willingness and ability to create whatever identities I choose for myself. . . . [Yet] if I declare ‘I’m a feminist,’ I know that the image is lumped with ‘man-hating.’ ”
It’s clear that feminism has a perception problem.
Just ask the 56-year-old Riverside County teacher whose female high school and college students “do not identify with feminism in any way.
“They believe that they have achieved equality with males because they dress in extremely revealing clothing at school . . . have sex with multiple partners and freely talk about their experiences in great detail . . . consume huge amounts of alcohol, then talk about how ‘wasted’ they got over the weekend,” she wrote.
“Equality to them simply means ‘acting like a guy.’ ”
Which makes me glad that I’m old enough to know that hangovers, pregnancy scares and peek-a-boo thongs aren’t feminist victories, but girls gone wild . . . and going wrong.