The Winter Coat

It was a bit mild today, compared to yesterday, he mused as he walked briskly down the sidewalk.  He was making his annual visit to the homeless youth shelter.  As he was approaching the nondescript building, he noticed a young woman sitting on the steps.  She wasn’t wearing a coat.  Instinctively, he thought of the coats he was going to donate to the shelter.  There had to be one that would fit her.

He went over to her and she watched him warily.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “I won’t hurt you.  It’s cold and you’re not wearing a coat.  I’m on my way to the shelter to drop off some coats and clothes.  I think I have a coat here which I could give you. ”  He set down the bags and searched through one with the coats.  He spotted the black coat with the hood and took it out.  He handed it to her.  “Try this on,” he suggested.

At first she hesitated and then she took it from him, stood up and put it on.  It fit perfectly.  “Thank you,” she said as she pushed her cold hands deep in the pockets.

He smiled.  “You’re welcome,” he said.  Then, he held out his hand.  “I’m Jake.  What’s your name?”

She took his hand.  It felt small and cold in his.  “Daisy.”

“Daisy, could I take you to the coffee shop down the street for a hot chocolate and sandwiches?”

Again, she hesitated but he sounded so kind and she was very hungry.  She nodded and came down the steps.

“Wait here,” he said.  “I’ll just go and drop off these things and I’ll meet you back here.”  He hurried off and five minutes later he was back.  She was still there.  Relieved, he started down the sidewalk and she fell into step with him.  They didn’t speak.  There was plenty of time for that, he thought to himself.  She looked to be in her mid-twenties.  Homelessness among the youth was nothing new here in the city but it still troubled him whenever he encountered one of them in the street.

The coffee shop was buzzing as usual but they managed to find a table at the back in a corner.  He helped her off with her coat and then removed his.  It was nice and warm inside.  Daisy looked around.  He studied her.  There were so many questions he wanted to ask her but he had to go slow.  “You should try the hot chocolate topped with whipped cream,” he said, breaking the silence.  She looked at him.  What beautiful eyes she had.

“Why are you being so kind to me?” she asked.  “What’s in it for you?”

He wasn’t offended at all by her questions.  “I have no ulterior motive.  I just want to help you.  What I get out of it is knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”

His answer seemed to satisfy her.  Just then the waitress came and took their orders.  As he suggested, she ordered the hot chocolate with whip cream along with a turkey sandwich.  When the hot chocolate came, she took a sip and licked her lips.  She looked over at him, her eyes shining.  He smiled.  “It’s very good, isn’t it?”

She nodded and smiled for the first time.  What a lovely smile she had.  It made his heart skip a beat.  They ate while in the background voices mingled with Christmas music.  “Do you usually donate to homeless shelters?” she asked.

“Yes.  I collect donations from my church at Christmas time and drop them off the week before Christmas Day.”

“What church do you go to?”

He told her.  “We had our Christmas concert last Saturday evening.  Afterwards, we gathered in the hall downstairs and had treats.”

“Sounds nice,” she said, a bit wistful.  “I used to go to church but stopped after I ended up on the streets.”

“Daisy, how did you end up on the streets?” he asked gently.

“I lost my job and couldn’t afford to pay my rent.”

“How long have you been homeless?”

“About three months.”

“What about family?”

“My mother died when I was ten and my father died a couple of years ago.  I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”

“Do you have other relatives you can go to for help?”

“No.”

“What about a homeless shelter?”

She shook her head at once.  “I have heard a lot of terrible things about shelters, that they are dangerous places, full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there are bedbugs and body lice.  I would rather take my chances on the street.  I just have to find a different place each night and be careful.”

“Daisy, you can’t remain on the streets.  It’s cold and it isn’t safe.”

She shrugged.  “It’s all I have.  I have no where else to go.”

He thought about it for a moment and then he heard himself say, “You have another option.”

She stared at him.  “Another option?”

“Yes.  You can stay with me until you find a job and a flat of your own.”

“You want me to stay with you?”

“Yes.  Just until you get back on your feet.  It’s better than sleeping on the streets.”

She mulled it over.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.  You’ll have a room all to yourself.”

She thought about it some more and then she said, “All right.”

“Good.  After we leave here, I have one more stop to make and then we go home.”  He believed that he was doing the right thing but he doubted that Siobahn would agree.  Speaking of Siobahn, she was supposed to be popping by his flat tomorrow evening.  He would definitely have to make new arrangements.

Daisy and he talked about other things.  He learned that she was twenty-four and had graduated from a two-year college with an Associate degree.  She had been working at a computer firm when she got laid off.  Job hunting had been horrendous and unsuccessful.  She soon got behind in her rent and was evicted.  During the time she was homeless, she read the job ads to see what was available.   There were charitable places where she was able to shower and get free toiletries.   “Things could have been worse, but somehow, I managed to survive.”

“I think we can thank God for that,” Jake said as he helped her on with the coat before putting his on.  “He has been watching over you all this time.”  They walked out of the warm place and into the biting cold.  The temperature seemed to have plummeted within a short space of time.  Taking her by the elbow, he hustled her to his car which was parked in the parking lot of the shelter.  He opened the door and she got in.  He slid in behind the wheel and after he started the engine, he turned on the heat.  It felt good to be in the warm car and she settled against the leather seat and gazed out of the window as they left her life on the streets behind.

He turned on the radio so that she could listen to the Christmas carols.  He stopped at the grocery store and came back with two bags which he put in the trunk.  Fifteen minutes later, they were riding up in the lift to his flat.  She took one of the bags from him so that he could unlock the door.  After she stepped inside and he locked the door, the light in the foyer was turned on.  He took the bag from her and set the bags on the ground.  He helped her off with her coat.

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked after removing her boots.  She kept on the socks.

“Let me show you,” he offered.  He led her through the living-room and into the hallway.  He opened the second door on the left and switched on the light.  “Here you go.”

“Thank you.”  She smiled at him shyly before she went inside and closed the door behind her.

While she was in there, he hung up the coats and busied himself with going the electric fireplace going, packing away the groceries and making sure the bedroom was in order.  He was in the living-room when she joined him.  “I’m going to put up the Christmas tree now.  Would you like to help me?”

She smiled, nodding.  He went and got the boxes and he set up the tree.  It was a tall, white Christmas tree.  She stared at it because she had never seen one like it before.  It looked like its branches were covered in snow.  It was beautiful.  She helped him to string the red and silver ornaments on the tree.  Then, he reached up and stuck the star at the time.  Both of them stepped back to admire their handiwork.  “Now, for the lights.”  He switched off the foyer light and the lamp in the living-room and plugged in the tree.  It lit up and so did her face.  “Only the presents are missing,” he said.  “I will take care of that during the week.  Make yourself comfortable while I put on some music.”

She sat down on the sofa and looked around her.  It was a warm and stylishly decorated room, very masculine and very modern.  It needed a female touch.  She could imagine putting a poinsettia on top of the mantle-piece to give that area a little color and a vase of flowers on the center table.  “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked when he sat down beside her.  “It’s so warm and cozy.”

“Thank you.  It’s like a sanctuary for me.”  It felt different and nice having her there.

She seemed relaxed and began to ask him questions about himself.  They talked until it was time to go to bed.  “I put a pajama shirt on the bed for you.”

“Thank you.  I used to have my own clothes when I first went on the streets but they got stolen when I was in the shelter.  All I have are the ones I’m wearing and in my carry on bag.  They don’t smell because I went to a laundromat where homeless people get to wash their clothes for free.”

“I have a washer and dryer here which you are more than welcome to use.”

She got up from the sofa and went into the bedroom and changed into the pajama shirt.  It reached just above her knees.  She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth.  When she went to the living-room to say goodnight to him, she was surprised to see him spreading a blanket on the sofa.  She frowned.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m sleeping on the sofa.”

She shook her head, protesting, “I can’t ask you to sleep on the sofa while I sleep in your room.”

He smiled.  “You didn’t ask and I insist.  You will sleep in there and I will sleep out here.  I hope you have a good night’s sleep.  Goodnight, Daisy.”

“Goodnight, Jake.”  She turned and walked back to the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Alone, he pulled back the blanket and lay down on the sofa.  He wore a tee shirt and a pajama pants.  It felt strange sleeping out here but he didn’t mind at all.  He thought about Daisy and how thankful he was that he was able to help her.  She didn’t have to spend another night on the streets.  She had a roof over her head and a warm bed to sleep in.  Yes, God had been good to her.  He closed his eyes and thanked Him.

The next morning he woke up to the smell of breakfast and he sat up, rubbing his eyes.  He glanced at the clock over the mantle-piece.  It was half-past eight.  His guest was an early riser.  Usually, he would be in bed until ten on a Saturday morning.  He sat up and stretched.  Throwing off the blanket, he got up from the sofa.  As he was folding it up and straightening the cushions, Daisy came into the room.  She had already had a bath and was dressed.  She smiled at him.  “Good morning.  Breakfast is ready.”

“Good morning.  Did you sleep well?”

She nodded.  “I slept like a baby.  How about you?”

“I had a good sleep too.  I’ll go and take my shower now and join you.  Thanks for making breakfast.”

“It was the least I could do considering what you have done for me.”

He took up the blanket and went into the bedroom.  The bed was neatly made and the pajama shirt was folded and lying at the end.  He put the blanket away in the cupboard, got himself underwear and clothes before heading into the bathroom.  After brushing his teeth, he took a quick, hot shower.  She had just finished putting the plates on the table when he went into the dining-room.  Breakfast consisted of broccoli and cheese omelet with tea, orange juice with slices of oranges, strawberries and blueberries.  The omelet smelled and looked delicious.  He couldn’t wait to bite into it but he said a prayer first.

Over breakfast, they discussed what they were going to do during the day and decided that they would go to the shopping mall.  After breakfast, Daisy washed the dishes and then got ready to go on the road.  “Thank you for breakfast,” Jake said to her as they his place.  “I enjoyed it very much.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy you did.  While I’m staying with you, I’d like to cook for you.”

That sounded good to him.  It had been a while since a woman cooked for him.  The last one to do that was his mother when he had come down with the flu a couple of years ago.  It was really nice having breakfast with Daisy this morning.  She seemed to have settled in very nicely.  They spent the morning at the mall and then they went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Afterwards, they drove around the city, stopping to look at the Christmas displays in the store windows before spending a while at the skating rink to watch others skating.  The sun was setting by the time they returned to his place.  They spent the evening watching Christmas movies while eating the delicious stew chicken she made.

The following day he went to church while she remained at the apartment, making lunch and doing the laundry.  It felt good to be useful again.  When Jake got home, lunch was ready and waiting on the table for him.   During the week, while he was at work, she searched the Internet for job openings and sent in her resume which she had updated, using Jake’s address as he had advised her to do.

After applying to tons of jobs, she finally got one response.  She had an interview but didn’t want to say anything to Jake as yet.  After he left for the office on the Wednesday, she got dressed in the suit he bought for her.  She planned on paying him back for it as soon as she could.  It looked rather nice on her.  She pulled her hair back in a bun and wore no make up except lip gloss.  She called for a taxi and left, her heart racing.

The interview went very well and she was hopeful.  A week passed before she got the call informing her that she had gotten the job.  She was so excited that she couldn’t wait to tell Jake.  When she heard the key turn in the lock, she rushed to greet him, her heart racing and her eyes sparkling.  They were going to celebrate tonight with a candlelight dinner.  The door opened and she stopped short when she found herself staring at a tall, slender blonde who looked just as surprised to see her.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  She looked Daisy up and down.  “Who are you?  And what are you doing in Jake’s apartment?”

“I’m Daisy.  And Jake is letting me stay here until I can get back on my feet.  Who are you?”

“I’m Siobahn, his girlfriend.  I see he forgot to mention that to you.  How long have you been staying here?”

“A couple of weeks.  I had no place to go so Jake brought me here.”

Siobahn rolled her eyes.  “I should have known.  Do you think you are the first charity case?  I’ve warned him about taking in strays.  Why don’t you do yourself a favor and find somewhere else to stay?”

Daisy could feel the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes but she willed herself to keep them in check.  “I will pack my things and leave,” she said quietly.  She turned and went into the kitchen first to put the dinner in the oven.  She didn’t want Siobahn to see it.  She doubted that the woman knew her way about a kitchen.  It was hard to believe that Jake could be in a relationship with someone like that.  Then, she went into the bedroom and packed her things in her bag.  She found stationary in the top drawer beside the bed and wrote Jake a note which she hid in his bedroom slippers.

Siobahn was reclining on the sofa when Daisy went back into the living-room.  She got to her feet at once and followed her to the door.  “Don’t even think about coming back here again,” she told her before shutting the door in her face.  Daisy stood there for several minutes, trembling.  The tears came then.  It hurt that she wasn’t going to see Jake.  Siobahn would be waiting for him instead of her.  Turning blindly, she hurried to the elevator.  As the doors closed behind her, she felt as if they were closing a chapter in her life that she never wanted to end.

It was after seven when Jake let himself into the apartment.  He was late because he had made a stop.  He felt in breast pocket of his jacket to make sure it was there.  Tired, he removed his coat and hung it in the closet.  The light was on in the living-room and he could hear the television.  Daisy.  How he looked forward to seeing her every evening after a long and busy day at the office.  Eager to see her, he strode into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Siobahn lying on the sofa.  She sat up when she saw him.  “Hi Jake,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Where’s Daisy?” he asked.  He went into the kitchen, then the bedroom and the other rooms but there wasn’t any sign of Daisy.  He strode back into the living-room.  “Where’s Daisy?” he demanded, his face glowering.

Siobahn got up from the sofa and went over to him.  She tried to put her arms around his neck but he pushed her away.  Her expression changed.  “You mean your little stray?  I sent her packing.  She had no business being here with you.”

His hands tightened into fists as he tried to control his temper.  “I’m going to look for her and when I come back, don’t let me find you still here.”

“But, I’m your girlfriend, you should be concentrating on me instead of that—that vagabond.”

“You and I are through, Siobahn.”  He took her by the arm and escorted her to the front door.

“But—But,” she sputtered, her face red.

At the door, he let her arm go and held out his hand.  “My spare key,” he said.

She pressed it into his palm and was about to say something when he closed the door.

He leaned against the door for several minutes, his mind whirling.  Where could Daisy be?  He hurried over to the closet and grabbed his coat.  In a flash he was out of the apartment and heading down to the garage.  He drove to the place by the shelter where he first saw her but she wasn’t there. He searched all of the areas close by, including the coffee shop but no sign of her.  He spent a long time searching for her until tired and heartbroken, he returned home.

He was hungry but didn’t feel like eating.  He went into the bedroom and undressed.  He sat on the bed and pushed his feet in his bedroom slippers.  He felt something in the left slipper and took his foot out.  He picked it up and saw what looked like a piece of paper shoved in it.  He pulled it out and unfolded it.  It was a note from Daisy.  He read it, his heart thudding.

Dear Jake,

Please don’t worry about me.  I will be all right, thanks to God and thanks to you.  I have the money you have given me and the coat.  I cannot tell you how much the coat means to me.  Whenever I wear it, I think about you and how good and kind you were to me.  I will always cherish it and will never part with it.  I hope that I will see you again–just to thank you in person for opening your home to me–a stranger whom you saw and had compassion for. 

Meeting you reminded me of God’s love for me.  During the three months on the street, He kept me safe and sustained me and just when the money I had ran out, you walked into my life.  I thank God for you and I will always remember the time we have spent together.  It was hard for me to leave but it was something I believed I had to do.  Please take care of yourself.  You are wonderful man with a big and beautiful heart.  I love you.  God bless you.

Daisy

He closed his eyes.  “Oh, Daisy,” he groaned.  How he longed for her to be there with him right at that moment.  The apartment felt so empty without her.  It felt cold and dismal.  He ran trembling fingers through his hair as he tried to imagine how he was get through the next few minutes without her.  He heard the front door close.  His eyes flew open.  His first thought was that it was Siobahn but then he remembered that he had taken the key back from her.  Unless she had made a copy of the spare key…He sprang up from the bed and raced into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Daisy coming toward him.

“I had to come back,” she murmured.  “I went all the way to the subway.  I watched the trains come and go.  I had no idea where I was going and then I decided to come back.  I had to come back and tell you that I got a job.  It’s not the sort of news I wanted write in a note.  I wanted to see your face when I told you.”

He quickly closed the distance between them and she was in his arms.  “Oh, Daisy,” he moaned, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I was out of my mind with worry.”

“Did you see my note?”

“I saw it after I went looking for you.”

“Was Siobhan here when you came?”

“Yes.  She told me what happened before I threw her out.  It’s over between her and me, Daisy.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  She wasn’t right for you.”

“No, but you are, Daisy.  You belong here with me.  I love you.”

She put her arms around his neck.  “I love you too and this is where I want to be.”

“Welcome home, Daisy,”  he murmured before he kissed her.

 

Sources:  Care2; NPR; Our Everyday Life; Los Angeles Times;

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Love in Greece Crisis: Prostitution

It’s the oldest profession in the world.  It existed since biblical times.  What causes a woman to turn to prostitution?

Women become involved in prostitution for a variety of reasons such as homelessness, child sexual abuse, mental ill health, trauma, previous sexual violence, drug and alcohol misuse, money pressures and poverty.

According to an article written in The Telegraph, during the country’s economic crisis, prostitution in Greece has soared by 150% as women who would otherwise have looked for employment elsewhere are now turning to sex work in order to care for themselves and their families.  These women are wives, mothers and young professionals.

In the video clip, married women are turning to prostitution out of desperation.  It’s the only way they could think of to feed their children.  The owner of a legal brothel seen here has had turn away women after learning that they are married as it is illegal for married women to work in brothels or studios.  Eventually they end up on the streets.

But regardless of its intention, the law isn’t stopping married women from working as prostitutes. It’s simply preventing them from operating in regulated environments and forcing them on to the streets, something which is both illegal and dangerous.

The country must stand for some decency for its citizens. The thought of married women turning to sex work to support themselves and their family is not only sickening but horrifyingly sinful.   Not to mention that fact that I read in an article that men are opting not to have protected sex so the risk of these women contracting sexually transmitted diseases and worst–HIV/AIDs increases.  These women are risking their health and lives just to take care of their families.

In my husband’s opinion, “This is awful! Married women should not be sex workers or prostitutes. Things must be pretty bad since their husbands are out of work too and cannot support their families. Their husbands need work! This is terrible.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a wife and/or mother has to turn to selling her body in order to care for her family. These women are moral but due to poverty and hardship brought on by unemployment they resort to selling their bodies NOT because they want what to but are FORCED to do so JUST to earn an income to support their families. Can you imagine your sister or aunt or mother selling herself so that she can earn money to buy a loaf of bread?

What can be done to help these women in these dark times so that they don’t see prostitution as their only way out of poverty and hardship?

 

Sources:  http://www.womenssupportproject.co.uk/content/prostitution/205,172/ ; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30914039; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/11370049/Greek-election-Prostitution-is-the-hidden-cost-of-economic-crisis.html

Service: When Women Come Marching Home

Last month, my husband and I watched this documentary about women veterans who bore the scars of war.  They suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome, sexual assault, rape and homelessness.  CPL (ret.) Sue Downes lost both of her legs and was struggling to get the help she needed to integrate back into life.  She had her legs blown off above the knees and she got no support from the government.  We watch these women as they struggled to regain their lives–normalcy.  There was nothing there for them.  There were no jobs–most of them are incapable of finding jobs.  They had psychological problems.  They were physically disabled.

It was hard to watch these women who served their country–the double amputee went through both Iraq wars–not getting the support in integrating back into civilian life.  One woman who had a psychological problem and it took three months for her to be assigned to an officer who would actually listen to her case.  One woman who was physically injured and didn’t want to be a burden to her husband, was yelled at because she had a service dog in a grocery store.  Sue Downes encountered problems when she went into a fast food place with her service dog.

It was heartbreaking  to see that one of these incredible women still felt like a failure in spite of the fact that she was doing her Masters after completing her Undergraduate Studies.  It was encouraging though, to see two of the women who suffered from psychological problems take charge of their lives by venturing out instead of being isolated in their homes.  One of them who graduated from college.

I watched a documentary on the rape and sexual assault of women in the US military on Independent Lens and the lack of support they receive.  They are treated like they are the criminals and it broke my heart to see one woman’s husband actually break down and cry because his wife was raped by her commanding officer and his friend.  The women who tried to file reports on what happened were made to feel that what happened was their fault.  One was criticized for the way she was dressed.  Another was told that she would ruined the life of the man who raped her–he was married.

Many of these rape victims find themselves forced to choose between speaking up and keeping their careers.  Very few cases that are reported are prosecuted.  Women are left with the shame of what happened to them and not being taken seriously.  Their rights are violated again when they come forward with their stories and they are reprimanded or treated like the enemy.  These women who gave their lives to serve the military have to struggle to rebuild their lives and fight for justice.

I hope that bringing to light this shameful secret of the US military and the stories of these brave women in the Oscar and Emmy nominated documentary, “The Invisible Warwill make a difference.  “We hope the film will affect lasting changes in the way the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault crimes and supports and cares for assault survivors,” said Kirby Dick. To that end, “The Invisible War” is a call for our civilian and military leadership to listen — and to act.

To find out more about the makers of this movie, check out their website at http://servicethefilm.com/filmmakers.php

I hope that those of you who have not watched the movie, will find a way to do so and spread the word.

Source:  http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/the-invisible-war-premieres-on-independent-lens-on-monday-may-13-2013-on-pbs-1789562.htm

Whitney Houston

I was shocked and sad when I heard that Whitney Houston was dead.  She was only 48 years old–just a few years older than me.  As I watched coverage on CNN and saw clips of her video The Greatest Love of All my heartfelt condolences went out to her mother Cissy Houston who was featured in the video.  In the scene where mother and daughter hugged, I thought to myself, little did Cissy know that she would one day be burying her beautiful daughter. 

Whitney was blessed with an amazing voice.  I couldn’t believe that such a powerful came from such a slender person.  She could belt out notes that no one could.  She was in a class all by herself.  The first time I heard her sing was I believe the song she did with Teddy Prendergast entitled “Hold Me” which appeared on his album, Love Language. The single was released in 1984 and gave Houston her first taste of success, becoming a Top 5 R&B hit. It would also appear on her debut album in 1985. 

Whitney was a model.  She appeared in Seventeen and became one of the first women of color to grace the cover of the magazine.  She was also featured in layouts in the pages of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Young Miss, and appeared in a Canada Dry soft drink TV commercial.   Her striking looks and girl-next-door charm made her one of the most sought after teen models of that time.

Whitney was destined to be a great singer.  I read on Wikipedia that she was the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits (“Saving All My Love for You”, “How Will I Know”, “Greatest Love of All”, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional” and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go”). She is the second artist behind Elton John and the only female artist to have two number-one Billboard 200 Album awards (formerly “Top Pop Album”) on the Billboard magazine year-end charts.

Houston’s 1985 debut album Whitney Houston became the best-selling debut album by a female act at the time of its release. The album was named Rolling Stone‘s best album of 1986, and was ranked at number 254 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Her second studio album Whitney (1987) became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Houston’s crossover appeal on the popular music charts as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for “How Will I Know”, influenced several African-American female artists to follow in her footsteps.

She crossed over from singing to acting.  Her first movie was “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner.  She looked stunning in the movie.  She helped to make the movie a blockbuster with the hit theme song, “I Will Always Love You.”  I read that the movie was originally supposed to feature Diana Ross and Steve McQueen but was scrapped because it was too controversial.  Kevin Costner based his portrayal of his character on Steve McQueen and even got the actor’s trademark haircut.  Whitney starred in and contributed to the soundtracs of other notable movies such as  Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996).  The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack became the best-selling gospel album in history.

It was revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that in the mid-1990’s she became a “heavy” user of marijuana and cocaine. By the 2000s she was struggling; her voice grew smaller, scratchier and less secure, and her performances grew erratic.  It seemed as if she had made a comeback.  At the BET Honors Award show in 2010, she was vibrant and she thanked her fans for their prayers and support as she accepted her award.  She acknowledged her mother Cissy who was in tears.  It was a touching moment.  Two years later Whitney died on the night before the Grammys.  Jennifer Hudson paid her a fitting tribute at the show.  Whitney was also celebrated at Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy’s party.

Whitney as a woman of action.  She was a supporter of Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. During her modeling days, the singer refused to work with any agencies who did business with the then-apartheid South Africa.  In 1989, she formed The Whitney Houston Foundation For Children, a non-profit organization that has raised funds for the needs of children around the world. The organization cares for homelessness, children with cancer or AIDS, and other issues of self-empowerment. In 1990, she was the spokesperson for a youth leadership conference hosted in Washington DC. She had a private audience with President George HW Bush in the Oval office to discuss the associated challenges.  Charities Whitney supported are: 

When America was entangled in the Persian Gulf War, Whitney performed “The Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.  Due to overwhelming response to her rendition, it was released as a commercial single and video of her performance, and reached the Top 20 on the US Hot 100, making her the only act to turn the national anthem into a pop hit of that magnitude.  Whitney donated all her share of the proceeds to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund. As a result, the singer was named to the Red Cross Board of Governors.  Her rendition was considered the benchmark for singers and critically acclaimed. Rolling Stone commented that “her singing stirs such strong patriotism. Unforgettable”, and the performance ranked No. 1 on the 25 most memorable music moments in NFL history list.  Following the attacks on 9/11, it was released again by Arista Records, all profits going towards the firefighters and victims of the attacks.

Later in 1991, Whitney put together her Welcome Home Heroes concert with HBO for the soldiers fighting in the Persian Gulf War and their families. The free concert took place at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Virginia in front of 3,500 servicemen and women. HBO descrambled the concert so that it was free for everyone to watch. Houston’s concert gave HBO its highest ratings ever.

She was a woman of many accomplishments.  Three of her singles, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “So Emotional”, and “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” all peaked at number one on the US Hot 100 chart, which gave her a total of seven consecutive number one hits, breaking the record of six previously shared by The Beatles and The Bee Gees.  Houston became the first female artist to generate four number-one singles from one album. Whitney has been certified 9× Platinum in the US for shipments of over 9 million copies, and has sold a total of 20 million copies worldwide.  The success of the tours during 1986–87 and her two studio albums ranked Houston No. 8 for the highest earning entertainers list according to Forbes magazine.  She was the highest earning African-American woman overall and the third highest entertainer after Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy.  With her world tour continuing overseas, Houston was still one of the top 20 highest earning entertainers for 1987–88 according to Forbes magazine.

What a remarkable woman Whitney Houston was.   What a loss of a great icon who captivated many with her beauty and voice.  She will be greatly missed.  Notes to Women salutes her and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney’s only child.  The 18 year old was recently released from the hospital after she was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Sunday morning. According to reports, she was being treated for stress and was taken out of the Beverly Hilton on a stretcher at around 10:30 a.m. “Bobbi was always by [Whitney’s] side in everything she did,” a source told US weekly. 

Bobbi and her mother were extremely close.  Journalist Jawn Murray who interviewed Whitney numerous times over the years, told Fox News:  “They were amazingly close…they had a relationship that really resembled the relationship that Whitney Houston had with her own mother, Cissy Houston,” Murray said. “Whitney loved her daughter. Bobbi Kristina was her only child and her pride and joy. Because of that, she treasured her.”  Apparently she shared some very personal photos of her and her mother on Twitter and tweeted this heartwrenching message to her Twitter followers:  “This would be MYWORLD. I love my mommmmy, more then you’ll ever imagine.”  Our hearts and prayers go out to this young woman who has suffered such a tragic loss.

God gave me a voice to sing with, and when you have that, what other gimmick is there?
 
I finally faced the fact that it isn’t a crime not having friends. Being alone means you have fewer problems.
 
I like being a woman, even in a man’s world. After all, men can’t wear dresses, but we can wear the pants.
 
My mother taught me that when you stand in the truth and someone tells a lie about you, don’t fight it.
 

Homeless Beauty Contestant

On Friday night I read the touching and inspiring story of Miss Colorado USA Blair Griffith.  Blair and her mother were evicted from their home last November, just a month after she received her crown.   This was the latest of the misfortunes the 23 year old has had to deal with. 

In an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira, Blair recalls when her life began to take a downward spiral.   Eight years ago, when Griffith was in eighth grade, her father, who had encouraged the young tomboy to enter the pageant world, took ill. When he died of prostate cancer, “that’s when things really started to take a downward turn,” Griffith told Vieira.

Soon, the stress of being a single mom to two children took its toll on Griffith’s mother, Bonita; she suffered a heart attack that required surgery, and was unable to work. Bonita Griffith lost her insurance when her insurer declared that the heart attack was the result of a pre-existing condition. That meant that she had to pay her medical expenses, including $800 a month for medications, out of her own pocket. 

Blair said that she didn’t know that she and her mother would be evicted until the sheriff showed up at her door.   She watched, stunned as the sheriff’s officers, armed with an eviction notice, tossed all of their worldly possessions into trash bags.   “It was just very hard seeing everything, all of my belongings, my dresses that I wanted to compete in at Miss USA, thrown into a trash bag and nowhere to be found,” (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41778312/ns/today_fahion_and_beauty/).

She and her mother are living with a family friend.  Of her situation, Blair said, “You do sit there and go, ‘Oh gosh, not again.’ But at the same time I think it’s almost like a test .. to see if you can handle it, and what will you make out of your situation.” 

Homeless, Blair now faces the prospect of losing her job at Saks Fifth Avenue when the branch she works at goes out of business next month.  Through it all, she has maintained a somewhat positive or at least philosophical outlook.  She told Denver’s 9 News, “I have no place to complain about anything that’s going on in my life. There’s so many people that are going through the same exact situation. I hope to inspire people” (http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/miss-colorado-trying-times-20110224-122948-067.html). 

Blair is an inspiration to her mother.  “I’m just amazed that whatever we have gone up against, she stands there, she handles it and she moves on.”

And she is an inspiration to others.  She openly speaks about her circumstances at schools and events.   The message here is that no one is immune from homelessness.  Circumstances can change and if it weren’t for the family friend who is providing a roof over their heads, it is possible that Blair and her mother would be living on the streets.  This is the reason why we cannot look at the homeless and make assumptions or look down on them.  I am sure that it never occurred to Blair that she would lose her home.

When I watched the news feature, “No Place to Hang Her Crown” the first thing that struck me about Blair was how she was laughing as she stood in a classroom.  You would never suspect that she was going through a tough time.  And she has a very positive outlook.   She counts herself and her mother as being luckier than many.   “We’re doing good by the grace of great friends who let us come in and stay in their homes,” she said. “We have a place to stay right now. Of course, we’re just trying to work to get our lives back together again to be able to afford our own home.”

Right now Blair is busy preparing for the Miss USA pageant which will be held on June 19 in Las Vegas where she hopes to share her message of hope.

“My message when I get there is just that I want to be an inspiration to everyone and show you that no matter the hardships you’re facing, if you stay focused on your dreams and your goals, you can achieve them.”

What poetic justice it would be if this inspiring and aspiring beauty queen were to win the coveted Miss USA crown.