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My Son Ryan

Profile of Jeanne White and her son Ryan. From Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

jeannewhiteIn 1984, one week before Christmas, Jeanne White was told that her son Ryan had contracted AIDS from a blood product he’d used to control his hemophilia. The doctors gave him six months to live. Struggling to make life as normal as possible for her thirteen-year-old son, she attempted to have him return to school as soon as possible.

She did not realize the amount of fear and prejudice that would result when the school heard of his illness and refused to allow his return. After numerous court battles, which brought he and his mother to national and international attention, Ryan was allowed back in school, only to be inundated with hate, ignorance and abuse. As a result of their struggles Ryan was befriended by numerous celebrities such as Elton John, Michael Jackson and Phil Donahue and began to educate children and parents about AIDS by speaking at schools, appearing on numerous talk shows and news programs and having a movie about his life broadcast on national television. On April 11, 1990, five and a half years after his six-month prognosis, Ryan died. His funeral was one of the most publicized services of that decade.

Shortly after Ryan’s death his mother Jeanne, who had always been behind the scenes publicly, was asked by several senators to speak about Ryan to Congress in order to pass national legislation for AIDS education. She reluctantly agreed and was instantly thrown into the media spotlight. The bill, THE RYAN WHITE CARE ACT, was subsequently passed and Jeanne White became one of the most sought after speakers in the country. She founded the Ryan White Foundation and continues advocating for AIDS education and prevention with children, teenagers and their peers.

JEANNE WHITE:

A lot of times it takes a little push. Everybody likes feeling sorry for them selves over the death of a loved one. That’s kind of normal. With me it was Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch who got me going and I fought it every step of the way. Ryan was always the public speaker not me.I was just following Ryan around. Senator Kennedy and Hatch had just named a bill after Ryan called the Ryan White Care Act and they wanted me to come to Washington DC. It was too soon. We had just buried Ryan two days before and they asked me to come anyway. They knew it was going to be hard, but they said, “You know, this is the first chance that we have of getting something done for people with AIDS.” They said, “Ryan’s death is so fresh on everybody’s mind, his illness and funeral was carried by every network for the last week and a half. This is the first chance of someone being in the public eye that takes the focus off the disease and puts it on to the fact that ‘anybody can get it.’”

I said, “Yes”. I said, “No”. I said, “I can’t, I really can’t. Ryan used to do that, not me.” On the second day people from Senator Kennedy’s staff called me again. They said, “Terry’s going to be there.” Terry and others had helped me through a lot of bad times. During all the years that Ryan fought AIDS the more people I knew that died of AIDS. And I had seen so many families just like me. Even though I didn’t want to get involved, so many people helped me that I kind of felt like I owed it to them. Then Senator Hatch called me and said, “You know, we’re not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. I have twenty-three senators lined up for you. All we want you to do is tell what it’s like to watch your son live and die with this disease.”

So I went to Washington and I’m so glad I did. It made me feel good. I didn’t feel I did great, not like I wanted to. I could have done better but I knew I was sincere in what I felt and said. After that, people wouldn’t let me stop.

Phil Donahue, who was a pallbearer at Ryan’s funeral, has become a very good friend of the family. When he was in the hospital visiting Ryan he noticed all the mail and could not believe how much was pouring in. He took a bunch of the letters back to New York with him and called saying, “Do you realize these letters are all from kids?!” I said, “Well yeah, that’s who generally wrote Ryan.” He said, “Jeannie, you’ve got to continue this work. You’ve got to answer this mail.” Phil said, “I’ll hire you an assistant.” There were over sixty thousand letters! Phil kept his word and with the help of Marlo Thomas and the St. Jude volunteers, they were able to find a lady that lived close by.

I was so impressed with Ryan, so proud of him. Sometimes I’d think, “Golly, is he really my son?” To me he was just my little kid, but to the nation, he was this celebrity and hero. I hated to even think that I could follow him, his impact was so great and people listened. When I speak I’m always a nervous wreck, even though I’ve been doing it now for years. I’ve messed up a lot, but I’m me. When I introduce myself I say, “I’m just a mom. I’m a mom just like your mom and because of this misunderstood disease called AIDS, my life changed overnight.” I say a prayer every time I go out. I say, “Lord, please help me to get through this. Help me educate these young people. Help me make a difference in their lives with my story.” Then I say, “Ryan, please be there with me.” Then I have this kind of surge that goes through me and I feel like its Ryan saying, “OK, Mom, I’m with you.”

I think we’ve made a lot of progress. By “we” I mean everybody who has committed so hard to fighting this disease with education and through therapy and drugs and medical treatment. I think we’ve come a long way. The people who have to be commended the most are the people that are not here. Their lives had to be lost for us to get where we are today, to show compassion. Even though I’m tired I’m still doing it because of the Terry Burns, the Mike Callums and the family members that I’ve seen.

One day we were riding in the van and Ryan reached over and grabbed my hand and started swinging it. I looked over and said, “OK, what do you want?” He said, “I don’t want anything.” “Come on Ryan, what do you want?” I continued. He replied, “Can’t a son hold his mother’s hand? ” I said, “Come on, you really don’t want anything?” “Mom, I just want to say thank you for standing by me, for always being there for me.”

I remember that moment when I speak to teenagers. You know, we always think everybody’s going to be here tomorrow, but one day you’re going to wake up and somebody’s not going to be there. I say, “You might think this stupid old lady up here doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I do. The next time you go home from school, even if you think it’s the corniest thing you’ve ever done, write a letter to your parents. If you think you’re real cool and you can’t go up and hug them around their neck and say, ‘Mom. Dad. Thank you. I love you.’ Then write a note and put it on their pillow. Do something so that you’ll never be sorry.”

It would have been easy to be mad all the time at the people who ridiculed us, who discriminated against us, but we had to put our lives in perspective and look at what was really important and what wasn’t. Everybody saw on the news that it was this fight for Ryan to go to school, but the number one priority in our life was keeping him healthy. Second, was keeping my job at General Motors, because we had great insurance and it paid for all his medical bills. And the third part was my daughter Andrea, keeping us together as a family.

At first, it’s like, “Why?” Everybody wants to know why. Why wasn’t he given a miracle? All my life I was taught if you pray hard enough, if you believed hard enough, that you would get a miracle and you could never doubt that or you wouldn’t get one. I never thought Ryan was going to die. I just couldn’t quite understand that. I thought nobody had more people praying over them than Ryan did. I prayed, “Lord, wouldn’t it be nice to show this kid a miracle in front of the whole nation.” Everybody knew he’s lived with AIDS for five and half years. He’d been in and out of hospitals. He’s been blind twice. I mean, this kid had a heck of a life, why couldn’t he be given a miracle? When he died, it was like, “Why? What more could we have done?”

When he died I was really taken aback. I started questioning my faith. I think that’s normal. I mean, I started wondering if there really is a god? How does God let things like this happen? I see people around me all the time asking that question. “Why do young kids have to die?” I mean, anybody really, lots of other good people have died too. So then I started trying to find reasons.

After awhile it started to get clearer. “Look at all the things he’s done in his short life. He’s educated so many people. Wouldn’t we all like to say we had accomplished as much as this kid did in only 18 years?!”

I tell the kids that when I get to heaven I’m going to be angry. I hope the Lord forgives me for being angry, but I’m going to say, “Why did you have to take Ryan?” Then I say, “You know what I think he’s going to say? He’s going to say, ‘You know what, he was only supposed to live three to six months. I gave you five and a half years and you’re still not happy.’” Maybe I got a miracle. We had quite a few Christmases that we never thought we were going to have.

I didn’t want to lose my faith. I was mad at my faith. I was mad at my church. I was mad at my religion. I was mad at God. But I wanted to find a reason. I eventually started seeing things around me like the Ryan White Care Act and Elton John go through rehabilitation and get off of drugs and alcohol and I thought, “My goodness, Ryan touched more lives than I ever knew. Perhaps those people got miracles and they don’t know it.”

Michael (Jackson) was a real good friend of Ryan’s. When Michael called Ryan in the hospital once, Elton said, “With all the money that’s in this room, we can’t bring this boy back to life.” That was a real big realization to Elton . . . that he had all the money in the world, he had everything he could ever buy, but he could not buy his health. That’s why he entered rehab. When Michael called me after Ryan died, just to see how I was doing, I said, “I’m doing OK but what made you and Ryan so close?” When Michael would call, they would have long phone conversations. He said, “You know, most people can’t get over the awe of who I am, so nobody can ever act normal around me. Ryan knew how I wanted to be treated, because that’s how he wanted to be treated. I can’t trust anyone because everybody always wants something from me.” He could tell Ryan anything and Ryan wasn’t going to go blab it or tell it, you know. “I promised Ryan he could be in my next video and now that he’s gone I want to do a video for him.” He made a video called Going Too Soon, which was about Ryan.

It’s hard to talk about death. I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t really think he was going to die. I can remember him saying what he wanted to be buried in. I told him I really didn’t want to talk about it but he went on anyway, “I know you like me in a tux but I don’t want to buried in one.” I said, “OK, Ryan, what do you want?” I mean, it’s like, I’d say anything to get this conversation over with. He says, “I want to be buried in my Guess jeans, my red T&C (Town and Country) shirt, my Air Jordan’s and my Jean jacket.” He pauses, as I’m fading out, then says, “You know how people are when they’re lying in a casket and everybody is watching their eyes to see if their eyes move? I want my sunglasses on and I want to be buried in my boxer shorts.” “Your boxer shorts?” I exclaimed. He’d just switched from wearing briefs to boxer shorts and really liked them. “Why your boxer shorts?” I deadpanned. “You know that hernia I got? I want to make sure I . . .” He had a hernia that they couldn’t operate on because he had no platelets. “I want to make sure I’m comfortable.” And I thought, ‘Well, if you’re dead, I mean . . .’ “OK, just talk,” Ryan said. “You know, as a mom.”

One of the best things after Ryan died was when people talked about him. I think it was also good for me to get involved in something I truly believed in, doing something, instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. That’s the easy way to go . . . feeling sorry for yourself. People didn’t let me, although that’s what I probably would have done if not pushed. But people were always talking about Ryan and people still do and that kind of keeps him alive within me.

More inspiring people at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

I Shouldn’t Speak

W1311EAWMN1“I Shouldn’t Speak”

Being raped, it makes you…a person without rights…every day someone reminds me that I’ve been raped and that I should put myself in a corner, that I shouldn’t speak, I should say nothing.”- Rose, raped at age 15, Haiti

Defend women like Rose.

The first time Rose was raped, her aunt arranged the attack as punishment for an argument. Rose was kidnapped by three men, assaulted, and then abandoned in a remote area. She was 15 years old.

The second time Rose was raped, a thief came into her house and assaulted her while her children were sleeping. She was 20 years old.

We cannot undo Rose’s pain, but Amnesty supporters like you CAN do something to put an end to the violence that robs women and girls like Rose of their rights.

Urge your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA).

IVAWA was just reintroduced in Congress. This bill seeks to end the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, making preventing and ending this human rights abuse a diplomatic and foreign assistance priority for the US government. IVAWA includes:

* Support for organizations working to change the attitude of men and boys about violence against women and girls.

* Specialized training for health care providers to recognize the signs of physical and sexual violence against women and girls
Protections to ensure that girls can go to school safely.

*Focused training for law enforcement and legal personnel to properly respond to incidents of violence.

The rapes to which Rose was subjected prevented her from going to school, which in turn affected her employment opportunities and her ability to live a healthy life – but IVAWA can help women like Rose access critical health care, law enforcement support and legal assistance, and ultimately change the social norms that say violence is acceptable.

Rose’s story bears a horrible truth – that one in three women globally has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. IVAWA has the potential to make the one in three become none in three. But not without your help.

Countries, communities, and families cannot thrive without the contributions and talent of half their populations.

You can take action to end one of the world’s most pervasive human rights abuses today. Tell your Representatives in Congress to support IVAWA.

Let’s get this bill passed.

In solidarity,

Cristina Finch
Managing Director, Women’s Human Rights Program
Amnesty International USA

My Sister Zina

My Sister Zina

One year ago today, my sister Zina was murdered by her abusive estranged husband. The restraining order she had against him should have prevented him from getting a gun, but he was able to buy one online without a background check.

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I’m going back to Washington, DC to share my sister’s story with leaders in Congress.

I’ll tell them that they can close the loopholes in our laws that allow dangerous people, like my sister’s killer, to get guns — and that simple, common-sense solutions would prevent others from experiencing this kind of tragedy.

Together, we can make sure that more women’s stories don’t end the way that Zina’s did. And one of the most important things you can do to make sure that Congress acts is to share the stories of survivors and women like my sister.

Watch this message today, and add your name to the letter to Congress:

http://act.demandaction.org/sign/Zina

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Help me do this for Zina and for all the women whose lives are at risk when dangerous people get their hands on guns.

Thank you for watching,

Elvin Daniel
Campaign to End Gun Violence
Mayors Against Illegal Guns

More Guns, More Murder

Largest Gun Study Ever: More Guns, More Murder
by Zack Beauchamp
From Think Progress/Nation of Change
14 September 2013

The largest study of gun violence in the United States, released Thursday afternoon, confirms a point that should be obvious: widespread American gun ownership is fueling America’s gun violence epidemic.

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The study, by Professor Michael Siegel at Boston University and two coauthors, has been peer-reviewed and is forthcoming in the American Journal of Public Health. Siegel and his colleagues compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981-2010, the longest stretch of time ever studied in this fashion, and set about seeing whether they could find any relationship between changes in gun ownership and murder using guns over time.

Since we know that violent crime rates overall declined during that period of time, the authors used something called “fixed effect regression” to account for any national trend other than changes in gun ownership. They also employed the largest-ever number of statistical controls for other variables in this kind of gun study: “age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, income inequality, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, hate crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted nonfirearm homicide rate, incarceration rate, and suicide rate” were all accounted for.

No good data on national rates of gun ownership exist (partly because of the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress), so the authors used the percentage of suicides that involve a firearm (FS/S) as a proxy. The theory, backed up by a wealth of data, is that the more guns there are any in any one place, the higher the percentage of people who commit suicide with guns as opposed to other mechanisms will be.

With all this preliminary work in hand, the authors ran a series of regressions to see what effect the overall national decline in firearm ownership from 1981 to 2010 had on gun homicides. The result was staggering: “for each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership,” Siegel et al. found, “firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9″ percent. A one standard deviation change in firearm ownership shifted gun murders by a staggering 12.9 percent.

To put this in perspective, take the state of Mississippi. “All other factors being equal,” the authors write, “our model would predict that if the FS/S in Mississippi were 57.7% (the average for all states) instead of 76.8% (the highest of all states), its firearm homicide rate would be 17% lower.” Since 475 people were murdered with a gun in Mississippi in 2010, that drop in gun ownership would translate to 80 lives saved in that year alone.

Read complete article and more at Nation of Change.

No More Names

No More Names

It would be impossible to share all the powerful stories I’ve heard on the road with the No More Names bus tour. I’ve met so many incredible people — gun violence survivors, police officers, faith leaders, elected officials, responsible gun owners — and they all know that sensible changes like background checks will help end gun violence in our country.

That’s why we put together some of the best moments of the tour so far.

Check out this video, then chip in to keep the No More Names bus tour going. And when you donate $15 or more, we’ll send you a limited-edition car magnet to show off your support:

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We can be the ones who change the story on gun violence, Gabriel. You, me, and all the supporters we’ve met across the country can make our voices heard in our communities and in Washington, D.C.

We won’t forget the families we’re fighting for, or the cost of keeping quiet. And very soon, our representatives in Congress will head home for their summer recess — and the No More Names bus will be there to meet them and demand action!

Watch some highlights of the tour so far, then please give $15 or more to keep us going (and get a car magnet to show your support):

https://donate.demandaction.org/donate/No-more-names-magnet

Thanks to everyone for spreading the word, and I hope to see you on the road,

Mike

Mike D’Armi
No More Names Trip Director
Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Most Notorious Prison Camp

Dear friends across the US,

In 24 hours, President Obama could finally move to close Guantanamo — the most notorious prison camp on earth.

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With inmates on a 100-day hunger strike and massive calls for Obama to act, our president has been pushed to respond with a major speech about the prison. If enough of us demand a plan — he could free the prisoners already cleared for release, and appoint a White House official with one mission: close Guantanamo down!

We’re at a tipping point. Sign up to demand Obama close this shameful gulag down, and share the shocking facts below so others join this urgent call:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/obama_shut_down_gitmo_us/?bMPbqab&v=25082

The facts speak for themselves:
Detainees in Guantanamo now: 166
Detainees facing active charges: 6
Detainees cleared for immediate release, but stuck in the camp: 86
Guantanamo inmates on hunger strike: 103
Hunger strikers strapped down and force fed: 30
Prisoners who have died in custody: 9
Children the US has held at Guantanamo: 21
Detainees tried in civilian court: 1
“Unreleasable” detainees who can’t be tried for lack of evidence or torture: 50
Prisoners released by the Bush administration: 500+
Prisoners released by the Obama administration: 72
Current annual cost to US taxpayers: $150 million
Days since Obama first pledged to close Gitmo: 1579
Days since first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo: 11 years, 4 months, 11 days

For years, Obama has blamed the US Congress for the failure to close Guantanamo. But since Congress granted the Defense Department waiver authority that allows prisoners who have been cleared to be transferred out, Obama himself can free these 86 men. And while he will need Congressional cooperation to close the prison completely, if he truly wants to shut it down, he can task someone at the White House right now to show it is a priority and make it happen.

Sign now to demand Obama announce a plan to close Guantanamo, and then let’s up the pressure by flooding the White House with calls in these final hours — it’s time we end this shame!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/obama_shut_down_gitmo_us/?bMPbqab&v=25082

When he first campaigned to become US president, Obama promised to close Guantanamo down. This illegal and repulsive prison has led to far too much suffering and fuelled great divisions and hate in our world. Enough is enough. Let’s get Obama to act and close this painful scar on humanity.

With hope and determination,

Dalia, Joseph, Allison, Bissan, Nick, Alice, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team

A Dangerous Deafness

Gabriel —

This month, a shocking Department of Defense report estimated that 26,000 sexual assaults took place in the military last year. This is disgraceful: one sexual assault is too many.

But still thousands of rapes in the military are never reported, let alone brought to trial. There is a dangerous deafness to sexual assault in the military and many survivors suffer in silence.

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Stand with Victims of Military Sexual Assault: Add your name to join the fight to fix the military’s response to sexual assaults.

Democrats in Congress are taking a stand to better protect our service men and women — but they need our support to ensure that independent prosecutors are deciding whether to prosecute sexual assault cases.

Will you step up and add your name in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act?

http://dccc.org/Stand-With-The-Victims

Thank you for being a part of this.

Kelly

Kelly Ward
DCCC

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