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Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Freedom or the Responsibility

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*My mother vacationed in Europe last month. A few days after her return from Paris, taxi drivers there staged a protest against the arrival of Uber. Uber is the San Francisco-based company that links people who need transportation with people who want to offer transportation in their private vehicles. Riders request transportation via the Uber smart phone app, and pre-screened drivers are summoned to the location.

Drivers must hold a valid license, have a registered four-door vehicle and pass a background check to be get approved. Even though no money is exchanged between riders and drivers (it’s all done electronically), Uber rates are competitive and its drivers are not held to the same regulations as traditional taxi drivers. Naturally, that has many taxi drivers around the world protesting the company’s expansion to their area.

People are lining up to become Uber drivers because the company allows them the freedom to set their own schedules, choose their own pick-up areas including airports and, in essence, make as much or as little money on a full-time or part-time basis while wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

But some Uber drivers are suing the company, claiming they should be classified as employees instead of independent contractors. Independent contractors don’t qualify for healthcare benefits. Regular employees could. Independent contractors are responsible for their own vehicle expenses. Regular employees could have their expenses covered by the company. Although I don’t have ownership in the company, Uber’s business model works best using independent drivers, because it avoids the risk of a traditional taxi company (which owns the vehicles and hires drivers) while having the reward of paying customers.

Most drivers sign on with Uber because they can’t find full-time jobs or their traditional jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet and the flexibility to work or not work provides the freedom of choice that most jobs don’t offer. Even pizza delivery drivers have to clock-in on a schedule. Now, some drivers want to force Uber to do what it never intended: Offer healthcare benefits and pay vehicle expenses?

American workers are getting more lazy with each passing generation. It’s rare to find people who are willing to start from nothing and build a company into something. And when people see somebody with the initiative to do so, they want to sue their way into ownership of it or cheat owners into giving them a piece of it. Most people don’t want to get up early or stay late or work weekends. They want dress-down Friday everyday of the week, because wearing business attire is asking too much. It’s true what Primerica Insurance founder A.L. Williams said in an old recruiting tape: In business, you’ll beat ninety percent of the competition just be showing up and working hard, because most people don’t have the initiative to get started; If you are an ethical person you’ll beat another five percent of the competition, because most people want to cheat their way to the top. The remaining five percent is your real competition.

Recently I read a column written by a political supporter of Hillary Clinton. The woman wanted to work on Clinton’s presidential campaign. She touted Clinton’s propaganda and said the former FLOTUS is the ideal person to become the first woman POTUS, that is until she learned there would be no pay for whatever campaign position she had applied: Something about how Clinton could not raise the status of women in America if she expects them to work on her campaign without pay. Perish the thought! While I understand her argument to a degree, Clinton or any other politician, shouldn’t be expected to pay every campaign worker for the many hours and labor it takes to support their campaigns. That’s akin to paying for votes, which is illegal the last time I checked.

When I worked on political campaigns I did so because I believed in the candidates’ platform and probability to affect progress. Whether or not I received pay was inconsequential. A few free meals, introductions to community leaders and the possibility of a paid staff position if the candidate is elected are not promised. Had this columnist never heard of unpaid internships or volunteering for experience?

For Uber drivers to want the perks of being an independent contractor and the benefits of being a full-time employee is indicative of a welfare mentality: Someone who wants maximum return for minimum efforts and is willing to work harder for the handouts than for the job itself. These people always will be around. Unfortunately so are the legal loopholes that validate their behavior.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for comments, questions and speaking inquiries.

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Discussing Race with White People

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*I was sitting in a hotel van on the way to the airport when two white people were discussing what had become known in the national news as #Baltimore Burning. The woman said, in essence, looters who steal from and destroy their own neighborhoods were criminals whose behaviors prove police are justified to use deadly force against them. The man co-signed her comments, adding that residents in Baltimore had nothing to be upset about, because they had a black mayor, a black police commissioner and a black president.

I avoid debates about politics, religion and race in mixed company, especially with strangers in passing, because most of the time it can do more harm than good. But these two white people weren’t strangers. They were co-workers; people who I know to be conscientious (for the most part). The guy, who is gay, no doubt has experienced his fair share of discrimination too. So it was even more confusing for me that he – of all people – would be so dismissive of someone else’s feelings of mistreatment. His lack of empathy and the ‘black mayor, black police commissioner and black president’ comment were too much to ignore. 

I told them political gains mean nothing if black men disproportionately die at the hands of law officers who have little to no regard for their lives – even when those men pose no immediate threat. Although I agree the destructive behavior of rioting detracts from the bigger issue, I told them I understand the frustrations that had led to rioting.

For the people in the van and many others, all they know about an issue is what they see on the news. They take everything at face value as it is presented to them in a two-minute video package. They never question the source or the contents. It’s from this frame of reference that most people pass judgement and confirm negative stereotypes. Then they express their opinions in mixed company and expect not to be challenged!

I spent nearly fourteen years living and working in Prince George’s and Baltimore counties in Maryland. So I’m always interested in what goes on in and around my old stomping grounds. The intersection where Freddie Gray was chased and arrested, I used to drive through that neighborhood during my commute to and from work. As much as I can identify with Baltimore residents and people of color around the country who feel their lives are worthless in the eyes of many, I have learned a more productive way for me to express my disapproval. I write columns, I produce documentaries and educate others about ways to make a difference in their own lives.

Still, boycotts, protests and disrupting the normal flow of business and traffic to make those who act as if the perils of the minority are of no consequence to the majority have proven to be effective ways to demand acknowledgment and change.

Unfortunately, the extreme behavior some people use to bring attention to their plight, others see that same behavior as an unnecessary means to an end. They don’t equate white-collar criminals – mostly white people who steal million of dollars with the stroke of an ink pen – with the same disdain as angry looters who break into the neighborhood convenience stores to take all he can carry on the way out. Both committed crimes; one gets away with it because he does it under the guise of a college degree and a corner office. Until I made the comparison for my co-workers they might never have considered it.

When many of my (white) colleagues see me, they don’t make the connection that a black man in danger could be my husband, son, brother or father. Unless we engage each other in the discussion and help them connect the dots most people never will develop the empathy to focus on our similarities instead of our differences.

After that conversation in the van, a few more people including those who listened but didn’t speak up, might not be so quick to call all protestors rioters or equate the election of black political leadership as the end of the fight for justice for all.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: The Culture of Police Brutality

steffanie rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*The culture of reckless behavior within Baltimore’s police department was a debacle waiting for national attention. 

More than 300 lawsuits have been filed against Baltimore police since 2011 claiming brutality and misconduct. The city settled more than 100 of those cases, paying out nearly $6 million. Freddie Gray was just one of more than 100 people fatally injured while in Baltimore police custody in that same four-year span. Forty percent of those who died were unarmed. Seventy percent of those who died were black. These numbers are indicative of a lack of discipline among the rank and file officers, and a lack of leadership by Baltimore’s police commissioner Anthony Batts. There’s no other reason why this behavior would be allowed to continue.

Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, assigned to prosecute cases in Baltimore City, had to know about the problem. Before her election to the top spot just three months ago, Mosby spent at least three years working in the same office training other prosecutors. Charging all six of the officers involved in the illegal arrest, transport and neglect of Freddie Gray before he eventually died from a severed spine was a chess move on her part. It might be the only way to get those involved to reveal the truth about how Gray was injured and who is directly responsible for his death.

I believe Gray’s spinal injury happened before he was put into the police wagon – not after. The rough ride around town on those bumpy city streets exacerbated his broken back. I would know. I’ve never been arrested, but I used to live and work in Baltimore.

Batts already had admitted the Baltimore six should have called for medical assistance before the van showed up, and should have buckled Gray in after he was put in the van. Batts admitted the least of the offenses to take attention away from the bigger issue: The rampant culture of police brutality and what caused Gray’s injury to begin with?

The video of Gray’s arrest shows he was unable to stand up by himself as they placed him in the van. Maybe they put him on the floor, because he couldn’t sit up. Gray’s lack of body control was an(other) indication of paralysis and the need to call EMTs. I’ve had no police or medical training. But I’ve got plenty of common sense.

In a city where 80 percent of the residents are black, it’s to be expected that many of its political leaders and law officers would be black too. But what I didn’t expect is that among the Baltimore six would be black officers who showed little to no regard for the life of another black person, especially one who was of no immediate threat and had asked for medical help at least three times before Gray’s motionless body prompted them to do what they already should have done.

I applaud Mosby’s thorough investigative skills and decisiveness. She did what countless other state’s attorneys should have done when faced with the same evidence of reckless disregard for the people in police custody. When law officers realize they too will be held accountable for their behavior we’ll see a lot less of them hiding behind the blue curtain of silence. If the Baltimore six choose to stand together in their culture of misconduct and neglect, they should take the fall together too.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

steffanie rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Atlanta School Scandal A Black on Black Crime

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

My mother was my first teacher.

Every trip to the grocery store was a math lesson in how to count money. Every conversation was likely to become an exercise in grammar and enunciation. She regularly called my teachers to check on my behavior in class.

One year when I was assigned to a teacher who didn’t meet her standards, my mother had me transferred to another class. She checked my homework everyday, and if I had no homework she created some. If the term “involved single parent” was listed in Webster’s, there would have been a picture of my mother next to it. She had high expectations of me and those responsible for my education. As a child I hated it! As an adult I’m thankful.

So when I heard about the colossal failures of those now convicted Atlanta Public School educators who cared more about the appearance of achievement than the potential damage their actions might create for a generation of children, I can’t decide who’s more at fault: the educators themselves or the parents of the students.

Teachers – at the direction of administrators – conspired to correct wrong answers on standardized tests, because salary bonuses and government funding for schools where connected to test results. This wasn’t a one time lapse of ethics. Investigators said cheating had been going on for years before the scandal was uncovered. Apparently their temporary monetary gain was more important than the long-term disadvantage created by illiteracy that often leads to under-employment, negative stereotypes and missed opportunities. The miseducation of (mostly) black children by black adults adds insult to injury.

Clearly their actions show teachers cared more about the money and staying employed in a defunct system – some say they were threatened with termination if they refused to go along with cheating – than equipping their students with the skills to succeed.

But what excuse did parents give? If Johnny can’t read, write or count money at the grocery store checkout his parents should have realized it and questioned his teachers about his deficiencies. Most parents claim to want more for their children than they have achieved. There’s more to good parenting than just providing food, clothes and shelter.

In this world of instant gratification where people want the rewards of success without doing the work that comes before it, it’s easy to forget life’s greatest achievements start by mastering the fundamentals. Teachers and parents who offer less than the best chance at success for the children in their care probably don’t need to be teachers or parents.

Behind every successful adult is a long line of teachers, coaches and parents who gave their time, talents and resources to insure children in their care received the best they had to offer. On behalf of all of us, you are appreciated.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] to share comments, questions and speaking inquiries.

Steffanie Rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*When I was four years old my pre-school teacher called my mother to a meeting, because I had said a curse word!

Apparently the class was playing a game: Each student was asked to think of a word that begins with the first letter of your first name, spell it aloud then pronounce it. My answer: S-H-I-T, Shit! That’s the trouble with children: They repeat what they hear and see. My mother owned up to her role in that incident. The parents of Levi Pettit should do the same.

Even though Pettit was caught on video leading a bus full of white people in a chant calling black people “niggers” who “can hang from a tree, but will never “ be allowed to pledge his fraternity (, his parents insist he’s not a racist. Newsflash, Brody and Susan Pettit: If those aren’t the words of a racist I don’t know what is.

While apologies are good to hear – Petitt and Parker Rice, the other now expelled University of Oklahoma student who blamed it on alcohol – I’m sick of people apologizing for behavior they lacked the foresight to see should never have taken place to begin with. Still, the more important issue is how do 19-year old boys feels it’s acceptable in any setting to say out loud the things that were said without fear of reprisal. I’ll tell you why: Because they’ve heard it and said it before. Racism is a learned behavior (mom and dad)!

In an era where the tanning of America means more white teens purchase rap music than any other group in their generation, emulate hip hop fashion and culture and where the majority of Americans will be of Hispanic decent by the year 2044, Pettit and Rice’s future bosses are more likely to be brown and black. They should practice acceptance instead of prejudice. And for those who want to blame rap lyrics for their brazen behavior, reciting a rap song is way different than the video we saw. If these boys don’t know that they ain’t ready for college, let alone real life.

I commend University of Oklahoma’s president for his swift action again those students identified as ringleaders on the bus and the closing of their on-campus Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house. Had it not been dealt with, OU could have been charged with violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance. Even if the administration saved itself from a Dept. of Justice lawsuit, OU might have to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the expelled students who say their freedom of speech was violated. Never-mind they already admitted wrong doing and apologized. Apparently it’s a last-ditch effort to save face. Too late.

When issues such as these are ignored boys with bad behavior graduate to become racist police officers who will take the life of a black man without cause or pause then rely on their good ‘ole boys back at the station, who pass racist emails around the office, to protect them. And just in case citizen protests become too much to ignore, there’s always that judge in their back pocket. You know, the one who is found by the U.S. Justice Department to be more concerned with raising the price of court fines and fees to balance the city’s budget than he is with upholding blind justice.

According to the SAE website, alumni notables of the fraternity include Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, NBA coaches, military leaders and politicians in all levels of government. Because of their affiliation, these are the people who Pettit, Rice and those other cheerleaders on the bus plan to seek out for jobs, million dollar government contracts and financial support for their political campaigns not necessarily because they are better suited for the favor but because of the brotherhood or “common goals (wink, wink).”

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the courage it took for the (apparently) white person on the bus who recorded the video and took it to the group of students who posted it on YouTube. Instead of going along with the crowd, that person had the guts to shed light on an obvious wrong. In the words of Tavis Smiley, ‘everybody that is your skin folk is not your kin folk.’ Still, just like the one or two roaches you see when you shine a light in the dark, it’s only a sign of a bigger problem. There’s more where they came from.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for questions, comments and speaking inquiries.

steffanie rivers

The Journal of Steffanie Rivers: Open Letter About the Post Office

Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

I never have openly campaigned for the demise of an organization. But my experience as of late has me hoping the U.S. Postal Service goes the way of the Twinkie.

Even though its viability has been in question for almost a decade, the post office’s strategy of reduced hours, layoffs and price hikes have kept it on life support.

But with more than 240 years in business somebody in charge should have figured out raising the price of stamps every six months won’t create a profitable business. Figuring out how to deliver good customer service – or just deliver my package – might be the key to success. I’m not talking about one package and one bad experience. My complaints are too numerous to recount.

This is not about the long line of customers waiting to ship packages and purchase stamps from that lone postal worker at the only counter that’s open because everybody else is on break at the same time. I learned long ago there’s no such thing as a quick trip to the post office. What I have a problem with are people who waste my time or my money. The people at the post office have managed to do both.

Eversince I had that experience with a stalker 25 years ago I’m particular about who knows where I lay my head at night. Privacy is the primary reason I started renting a post office box. Add to it the fact that, as a flight attendant, I travel frequently. I live in a condo community. And as is the nature of many transient communities new people come and go. Some of them (probably) steal and some of them don’t. Having my packages delivered to my post office box is supposed to be convenient and secure.

So why is it that packages delivered to the post office get lost on the way to my box? The tracking numbers indicate they were shipped and received at the post office, but when I take time out of my busy schedule to retrieve them nobody knows where they are. I have to call the company that shipped it and tell them the unbelievable story of the disappearing package from my p.o. box. No, I’m not trying to get free merchandise. I just want what I already paid for.

So I negotiate another delivery, except this time lets have it shipped to my transient condo community where the package could sit for days at my front door until I’m able to get it. But God forbid there’s snow in Dallas like there was last week. Despite the USPS slogan about delivering in rain, sleet or snow, my mail man doesn’t deliver mail in the snow. Really?! So the priority package for which I paid extra money to have delivered to my door within a certain time sat in package limbo until I called to inquire. And that’s putting it nicely!

That’s when I was told it was too snowy for the mail main to drive two miles up the street to bring my package that I paid to have delivered. Okay. I’ll pick it up. When I got there I was told the mail man had it on the truck to be delivered. I’m paying for a p.o box and for priority delivery to my front door. And I still don’t have my package. Is this a joke? No, this is the post office.

Steffanie is a freelance writer living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. For questions, comments and speaking inquiries email her at [email protected].