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Artist Erika Mixon: The Art of Healing

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — By day, Erika Mixon of Fairfield, Ala., trains physicians and sometimes hospital staff on how to use electronic medical record software for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). By night, she is an artist.

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Artist Erika Mixon (Photo by: birminghamtimes.com)

By Ameera Steward

By day, Erika Mixon of Fairfield, Ala., trains physicians and sometimes hospital staff on how to use electronic medical record software for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). By night, she is an artist.

“My day life is drastically different from art,” said Mixon, 37. “I think there are layers to every person: part of me is fascinated and in love with the human body, science, anatomy, medicine—that’s the avenue I took with my education. Art was more just a hobby.”

Mixon has been a functional analyst with UAB Medicine in the Health Systems Information Services (HSIS) department since 2016, but art allows her to breathe.

“I feel like I’m having a therapy session every time I do another piece,” she said. … “It continuously allows me to grow, to challenge myself.”

Her two occupations complement one another in other ways, too. She volunteers with an organization called Art and Medicine, and this week she traveled to Arusha, Tanzania, where she will teach students in an orphanage for which a new clinic has been opened.

By Faith

Art also helped Mixon when her father began dealing with serious health issues in 2013.

“I was traveling for quite some time, then my father got sick and I chose to quit my job,” she said. “I like to plan things out, but at the time I just actually went off of faith.”

Mixon had been traveling across the U.S. and back to Fairfield to take care of her dad, who had coronary artery disease that led to a kidney infection; she was an only child and his primary caretaker. After prayer and a promotion, she left her job.

“Something said, ‘You have to go home,’” she said. “It actually turned out that I only had two or three weeks left with him.”

After her father passed away in 2013, Mixon said she found some paintings she had done when she was younger and felt encouraged.

“When I found them, I was like, ‘Maybe I can do that again. It kind of helped me boost myself,” she said. “It was just real therapeutic. I fell back in love with the brush after 15 years of not painting.”

Click to view slideshow.

Artistic Healing

Mixon said she wasn’t prepared for her father’s death, and she went to therapy after her mother told her, “I don’t know what it’s going to take for you, but you’re not doing good.”

Mixon said, “I didn’t realize how disconnected I was in the process [of caring for my father]. … I was trying to do what I needed to do to get him to his doctor’s appointments. … I don’t think my heart was connected to ‘I think he’s about to go.’ I was going through the motions of just waking up doing what I had to do, but I was totally disconnected from people emotionally.”

Painting enabled Mixon to say, “‘I don’t have to think about why I’m sad today,’” she said. “Eventually, the painting began to speak to me.”

Another painting she found in her mother’s home was the product of a spiritual fast she did in 2009, at which time Mixon saw a vision.

“During a prayer, I felt like God was saying, ‘Paint this vision,’” she said. “I was reluctant because I was like, ‘I don’t even know how to start.’ … I started anyway.”

“Faith, Hope, and Love”

In 2014, the painting from Mixon’s vision was part of a three-piece work she named “Faith, Hope, and Love.” One image was from a self point of view, about going through life. The second piece was a linear view of life, with its ups and downs. The third piece was from a higher perspective. For Mixon, finishing the painting was “God just saying, ‘I’m about to push you back into something you didn’t think you were going to do or need,’” she said.

Mixon has found that art can be healing.

“I didn’t realize until later that the same … painting was healing me,” she said. “Whether it’s singing, whether it’s someone who dances, whether your art is speaking, [I believe] we all have a divine, creative spirit that is necessary for someone else. There’s something we’re supposed to be sharing with other people to [help them] get whatever they need at whatever point they are in their life.”

As for a process, Mixon doesn’t try to develop particular images; they just come to her.

“When I say stuff hits me, [I mean] I’ll grab whatever is close,” she said. “[For instance], I’ll get a napkin and sketch out [an image]. Very plainly, just an outline because I need to do it at that time, so I won’t forget it. I’ll maybe post it on my wall until I ask myself, … ‘How can I flesh that out? How can I make it make sense?’”

Another key component of Mixon’s artistic process is her support system, which includes her mother, her family, and three of her friends: Jasmin Taylor, Josselyn Thompson, and Debra Butler.

“These three ladies have been a solid rock for me,” said Mixon, adding that she and her friends call themselves “The Quad.”

Becoming Present

Around the age of eight or nine, Mixon remembers “doodling [and] drawing.” At the time, she just enjoyed painting: “There was no connection. There was no purpose behind it.”

Mixon graduated from Fairfield High School in 2000 and enrolled in Talladega College. In 2005, she completed her studies at UAB, earning a degree in radiological sciences. She traveled as a catherization technologist until 2011, and she now serves as an implementation specialist and functional analyst.

When it comes to her art, Mixon is now more conscious and intentional.

“At this point my biggest struggle is selling art because I’m not doing it for the money,” she said. “I truly want someone to have a piece because … they’re connected to it for whatever reason. I want [each piece] to be with its rightful owner.”

Her paintings are very personal: “I pray over my pieces,” Mixon said.

“I sing, I speak to them. People might say that’s crazy, [but] people talk to plants. I’m really putting my heart and soul on this canvas. It’s the way I express [myself], talk to other people, connect with people soul to soul.”

After her father’s passing, Mixon has become more connected to her art and, as a result, has developed more ideas and visions.

“Before that, I was the type of person that [thought], ‘I’m here, but I’m probably thinking about [something else].’ [Now] I’ve become more present and more aware of how important that is,” she said, adding that she wasn’t a present type of person because of her lifestyle at the time.

“I was always focused on the task at hand,” she said.

Inspiration

Mixon wants to leave a legacy and have an impact.

“Art gives me that,” she said. “It makes me feel like, ‘I’m going to leave, but I’ll still be here. There’ll be someone else who will be impacted or encouraged in some way, [and it] will spark them to do the same thing.’ The goal is to keep it going. The goal is to think about other people as much as you think about yourself.”

She has many different inspirations.

“I’m still finding my way. … It just depends on what hits me,” she said. “I will say, however, that what you will find cohesive in my work is … black culture. I really believe representation matters, seeing us in a positive way or even reflecting our own issues within our culture. … I usually try to convey some sort of message.

“Art is subjective, [so people will get] whatever, however from it. I can have [an idea of] what I was trying to interpret or convey, but I usually am quiet about that. I just like to hear another person’s perspective because then it opens me up to something I may not even have thought about. I love that part.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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