Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series

The Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series was founded by the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire, and is a shared event for all those concerned with issues of human rights. The talks are free and open to the public and they are usually followed by a small reception to meet the speaker. This year, all speakers will be connected to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

For information about the Speaker Series, please contact Ricky Bernstein at or 413-229-7993.  For directions to the Daniel please call 413-644-4400.  For directions to Hevreh please call 528-6378.  For directions to Miss Hall's School please call 413-443-6401.


Sunday, October 11, 2015 at 2PM - Whitney Battle-Bapiste - From A Moment to A Movement: A Generational Conversation About Why BlackLivesMatter 
Prof. Battle-Bapiste, is a historical archaeologist at U-Mass, Amherst, who studies race, class and gender in the shaping of cultural landscapes across the African Diaspora. We’re at a moment where the time for talking seems to be over. We’re at a moment when we need to eliminate the status quo. There have been struggles for racial and economic justice for several generations, this has been our history. However, the very concept of Black Lives Matter has been a call for all of us to stand up and take notice of a new, young, and exasperated generation who want to effect change through the language and mechanisms that are familiar to them. We can learn from the past when the past can connect with the specifics of the present and future. This talk is about bridging that gap, and how the realities of our world today shift the conversation around pain and struggle from a moment, to a sustainable movement. At First United Methodist Church, Pittsfield.

Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 2PM - Delores Jones-Brown - The American Cop Out: Policing as the (Re) New(ed) form of Social Inequality
Dr. Jones-Brown is a Prof. in the Dept. of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice at the City University of New York, and founding director of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice. From slave patrols to suppressors of the civil rights movement, American police forces have been used as the mechanism to insure that Blacks and other people of color are prevented from enjoying the "blessings of liberty" guaranteed by the Nation's founders. Today, overt police oppression is hidden behind language about public safety and maintaining order. Funds that should go to education and public welfare are spent on expanding police budgets and the scope of police power. Using police data from New York City as an example, this discussion will demonstrate how public safety discourse has masked the continued social oppression of racial and ethnic political minorities in the United States. At Miss Halls School, Pittsfield.

Sunday, December 13, 2016 at 2PM - James DeWolf Perry - New England’s Public Memory of Slavery and Its Role in the Black Lives Matter Movement
Perry is executive director and co-founder of the Tracing Center, whose mission is to create greater awareness of our nation’s complicity in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. His talk will touch on New England’s role in slavery and our region’s persistent myths about this history, as a lens through which to understand why our racial progress has been so stubbornly slow and why Black Lives Matter is so necessary today. The Center is focused on promoting racial justice, healing, and reconciliation, and inspiring acknowledgement, dialogue, and active response to this history and its many legacies. It was founded in 2009 to build on the work of the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep NorthAt Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire.

Sunday, January 31st at 2PM - Reverend Sheila Sholes-Ross - The Big Talk: Perception - Reality - Consequences.   The difficult and painful talk about race relations we so often avoid.  Let’s have an engaging discussion about the many perceptions white folks have about people of color regarding racism. Including people feeling comfortable enough to say - hey, sometimes I feel that black people are being racist towards me.  I hope this honest conversation will reveal the realities of racism, and the consequences when on-going, transparent discussions are avoided.   Ultimately, the challenging BIG TALK will encourage an atmosphere for healing and promote strategies to prevent future problems relating to race.   And goodness knows, we can all use a bucket-load of healing about now !!!  Sheila Sholes-Ross is the first African-American woman to lead the First Baptist Church of Pittsfield.   A profound & passionate new member of our Berkshire community, on a mission to advocate for all women serving in the ministry, while addressing issues of social justice. At Hevreh of So Berkshire, Gt Barrington, MA.

Sunday, February 21, 2016 at 3PM – Frances Jones-Sneed - A Message for a 21st Century Audience
Dr. Jones-Sneed is a revered Professor of history and Director of Women’s Studies at MA College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. Jones-Sneed has taught and researched local history while co-directing the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail Advisory Council. Dr. Jones-Sneed’s talk will highlight the life of a great American, the Rev. Samuel Harrison, a 19th century African American minister, scholar, abolitionist, and the chaplain of the MA 54th Infantry. One of Harrison's sermons about cooperation between the races in the 19th century, during his time as Pastor of the 2nd Congregational Church in Pittsfield is particularly poignant and relevant. An Appeal of a Colored Man to His Fellow-Citizens of a Fairer Hue in the US, sets out important lessons for consideration in light of recent, national incidents. Rev. Harrison, a champion for the oppressed, gave a clear, moral stance on what should be done for former slaves. His words could easily be applied to the 21st century conversation about the meaning and importance of Black Lives MatterAt Congregational Church, UCC, Stockbridge.

Sunday, March 6, 2016 at 7PM - for International Women’s Day - Kathleen Foster - A screening of the new documentary PROFILED.  The film’s topic could not be more relevant as racial profiling has become the center of explosive controversy in media and society. As Foster, veteran filmmaker and director describes her inspiration for her insightful film -- In June 2012 a police officer killed Shantel Davis, a young African-American woman, through the open window of her car. It happened in Flatbush, Brooklyn in a neighborhood near where I live. Distraught residents described hearing the fatal shots and watching officers drag Davis’ bleeding body onto the street, where they left her to die. As I listened, I remembered similar emotional responses of women whose innocent family members perished in NATO attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where I made my last two films: Afghan Women: A History of Struggle, and 10 Years On:Afghanistan & Pakistan. Flatbush, NY seemed like another war zone and I decided it was time to make a documentary about what was going on here.  At Daniel Arts Center, Simon's Rock at Bard College, Great Barrington, MA.

The talks in the 2014 - 2015 series were:

Monday, September 15, 2014 at 7PM - Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, "The Personal is Planetary".  Professor of Comparative Literature and Media Studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and founding director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, Browdy de Hernandez has published two anthologies of women’s writing of resistance to oppression, including African Women Writing Resistance. She also actively writes a blog, Transition Times. Her current project is a memoir that aligns her personal story with the political and planetary narratives of her generation, highlighting how essential it is, in this time of climate change and environmental degradation, to consider the rights of nature when we think about human rights.  At Unitarian Meeting, Housatonic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 7PM - Charli Carpenter Gender, "Civilian Protection and the Paradox of War Law".  Politicians generally talk about sending soldiers into war to protect civilian populations, but the truth is that armed conflict puts civilians -- men, women and children -- at great risk of harm. UMass, Political Science Prof, Charli Carpenter, will discuss the profoundly, gendered ways we think about and implement the protection of civilians in armed conflict - in terms of who gets protected and from what. How the norms and structure of international law fails to protect civilians today and ways that might be changed. Carpenter has published extensively on gender, children’s rights and humanitarian action and a recipient of numerous awards from the National Science Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. She is the author of several books including Innocent Women and Children.  At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Sunday, January 18, 2015 at 2PM - Alicia Ely Yamin, "Power and Suffering: How applying a human rights framework to health can advance social justice".   A lecturer on global health at the FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, Alicia Yamin, will describe through her personal stories what applying a rights framework to health means, and why we should care. In a world ravaged by social injustice, reflected in health disparities, human rights norms offer a critical framework and the tools to advance social justice. Ms Yamin regularly advises UN agencies on health and development issues, especially for the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health. Her work is frequently cited by national and global entities, such as the World Health Organization and by international courts enforcing health rights. At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 3PMMartha Davis, "Bringing Home Human Rights. Celebrating International Human Rights Day".  Across the country, localities are adopting and implementing human rights norms, often in the face of federal ambivalence. Ms Davis, a Prof at Northeastern University School of Law, co-directs the school's Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, will speak about the challenges and opportunities when local governments in the U.S. and internationally engage with human rights. She is co-author of the forthcoming textbook, Human Rights Advocacy in the US, and co-editor of Bringing Human Rights Home, a critically acclaimed, work chronicling the US human rights movement. At Congregational Church, Stockbridge.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 at 2PM - Pamela Yates, "A screening of the documentary film, DISRUPTION".  For International Women’s Day. A group of Latin American activist economists set out to confront what they call the scandal of inequality on their continent with a model that places poor women at the center of the drive for social change. Guided by the idea that what the poor lack is access to financial services and information, they bring together governments, big banks and women marginalized by poverty in Peru, Columbia and Brazil. Their innovative programs spread financial literacy using digital education tools that reach three million women from across the region. Could this new, unorthodox model offer a DISRUPTION, a new approach for social transformation and the eradication of poverty? Yates is a Guggenheim Fellow, and the Director of the Sundance Award winning films, When the Mountains Tremble and Granito, the Producer of the Emmy Award winning Loss of Innocence, and the Executive Producer of the Academy Award winning Witness to War. At Daniel Arts Center, Simon's Rock.


The talks / film in the 2013 - 2014 Series were:

Wednesday, October 30 at 7PM – Lynn Pasquerella"Revisiting the promise of women's leadership: uncommon women for the common good".  As the president of Mount Holyoke College, Lynne Pasquerella is a philosopher and ethicist whose career has brilliantly combined teaching, scholarship and the need to promote women's leadership as a means of encouraging social justice globally.   At Miss Hall's School.

Thursday, November 14 at 7PM – Michael Klare"The perilous interface: how the world's booming energy consumption threatens its future water supply".  The prospect of future scarcities of vital natural resources, including energy, water, land, food, and critical minerals is a guarantee for social unrest, geopolitical friction, and possibly war, says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, author of Resource Wars, and numerous books about the scarcity of our global natural resources.  At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 7PM – Bill Shein"Reason gone mad".  A longtime writer, political humorist and activist, Bill Shein ran for Congress in 2012 advancing key ideas for change: Ending the power of concentrated wealth to undermine elections and governance; urgent action on climate change; single-payer health care, and global engagement for peace, economic fairness, true democracy, and protecting our natural environment.  At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 7PM – Penny Andrews"Through the lens of conditional interdependence".   Addressing the human rights of women globally, Albany Law School President and Dean, Penny Andrews is the author of From Cape Town to Kabul: Rethinking Strategies for Pursuing Women’s Human Rights.   Dean Andrews, a native of South Africa, advances a new approach to meet the critical challenges of gender inequality and human rights for women in developing democracies throughout the globe.  At The Daniel Arts Center.

Sunday, March 9, 2014, at 2PM – Raquel & Alicia Partnoy & Ruth Sanabria"On the side of justice".  For International Women’s Day, the three artists will show how their turn to creative expression helped them survive and even prosper in the decades since the Argentinian Genocide of the 1970’s, often referred to as the Dirty War.  Their presentation, in poetry, prose, visual art & film is a collaborative testimonial of how their creativity has promoted resilience and resistance, leading to justice. At The Daniel Arts Center.


The talks / film in the 2012 - 2013 Series were:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 7PM  –  Adam Hochschild  –  "To End All Wars". Over four bloody years, the "war to end all wars" claimed the lives of millions of volunteers who perished in clouds of poison gas and streams of machine gun fire.

Noted journalist and historian Adam Hochschild, in his new book To End All Wars, tells the poignant and insightful story of those who felt WWI was a noble and necessary crusade, and those courageous dissenters who believed the war was senseless and unjust  –  the war within the war.

Hochschild, perhaps best known for his award winning book, King Leopold's Ghost, a haunting tale of terror and greed in colonial Congo, has written for the New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic and the NY Times - currently teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California Berkeley.  Presentation at the Daniel Arts Center.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 7PMJohn Bonifaz – "We The People or We The Corporations?  –  A Campaign To Reclaim Democracy".  Constitutional attorney John Bonifaz, Director of Free Speech For People, will discuss the serious and direct threat to American democracy presented by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.   Bonifaz will present a clear case that corporations are not people with constitutional rights.  At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Tuesday, February 26, 2012 at 7PM  –  Tenzin Dolkar  –  "The Current Crisis In Tibet".   Ms Dolkar, currently the USA Director - Students For A Free Tibet, will present a comprehensive overview of the Tibetan people's struggle to restore basic human rights, religious freedom and sovereignty for Tibet, occupied by China since 1959. At Hevreh of So Berkshire.

Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 2PMRob Fruchtman  –  "Sweet Dreams".   Honoring International Women’s Day, a screening of the compelling, new documentary film Sweet Dreams.   Set in post-conflict Rwanda, Sweet Dreams follows the story of Rwandan women empowering themselves, forming a female drumming troupe and an ice cream business – both previously unheard of in Rwanda.  A brilliant story of healing and hope.  Screening at the Daniel Arts Center.


The talks in the 2011 - 2012 Series were:

October 17, Monday, 7pm  –  "The Everyday World of Mexican Migrants and the Immigration Debate"

December 1st, Thursday, 7pm  – "The Israeli – Palestinian Conflict  –  A Holistic Approach to Peace"

February 9th, Thursday, 7pm  –  "Cotton and Race in the Making of America"

March 18th, Sunday, From 2-5pm  –  "Bearing Witness" (Please Note: this is a screening at the Daniels Art Center, at Bard College at Simon’s Rock)


October 17, Monday, 7pm – “The Everyday World of Mexican Migrants and the Immigration Debate"

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In her recent book, The World of Mexican Migrants, Dr. Judy Hellman explores the conditions in Mexico that lead migrants to leave their families and cross the border, the journeys they make to find a better life, and the situation of family members who stay behind, relying on remittances from the north

Drawing on five years of in-depth research, Hellman focuses on the lives and survival strategies of Mexicans in NY and LA, immigrants who work in restaurants, hotels, and landscaping crews.  She will compare the lives of these migrants with the reality of Mexicans, documented and undocumented, who live in rural areas like Berkshire County.

Dr. Hellman, Professor of Social and Political Science at York University in Toronto, will give us a portrait of Mexicans on both sides of the border that is very different from the popular notions that dominate the migration debate in the US.  Talk is at Hevreh of So Berkshire.

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December 1, Thursday, 7pm – “The Israeli – Palestinian Conflict – A Holistic Approach to Peace"

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With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in shambles, both sides are exhausted by the ongoing cycle of violence and retaliation.  A vision for an alternative, non-violent way toward peace and security has yet to present itself.  Years of political struggle and far too many loved ones tragically lost have left Israelis and Palestinians demoralized.  The suffering on all sides dreadful and heart breaking.

Professor Yehezkel Landau argues that it's time to explore other ways of healing this seemingly intractable conflict.  It’s clear by now that military force, from either side, won’t solve this highly charged and terribly complex issue. Is a lasting peace possible?

Committed to pursuing peace through healing and reconciliation for all those affected, Professor Landau currently teaches at the Hartford Seminary and lectures internationally on issues of religion, politics and Middle East peacemaking.  Talk is at Hevreh of So Berkshire.

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February 9, Thursday, 7pm – “Cotton and Race in the Making of America"

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Cotton, for most, brings to mind benign images of sheets and towels, blue jeans and T-shirts.  The health and fashion benefits that cotton produced overshadowed a sinister past we seldom recognize.  From 1800, to the Civil War to Civil Rights, cotton played an enormous role in the destiny of the American experience with vast global markings long before globalization became a contemporary, household word.  Cotton was a powerful engine of American economic growth and wielded the same authority as oil today.

Gene Dattel's fascinating account, Cotton and Race in the Making of America - The Human Costs of Economic Power, presents an insightful and revealing narrative about economics and race in the entire United States - not just the south.  And as cotton shaped the nation’s economic landscape, racial oppression and the human suffering of slavery shaped the face of America.  Slaves cultivated cotton for sixty years, though free blacks were cotton laborers for nearly a century after emancipation.  A people and a crop became inextricably bonded.  Talk is at Hevreh of So Berkshire.

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March 18, Sunday, 2-5pm – “Bearing Witness"  –  A Screening

For International Women’s Day, a screening of the astonishing new documentary film by Pamela Yates, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, focusing on the important role of women in peace and reconciliation movements in Guatemala and other post-conflict societies.

In the early 1980’s for her 1984 documentary film, When the Mountains Tremble, Ms. Yates filmed the only known footage of the Guatemalan Army carrying out mass killings of the indigenous Mayan people.  Twenty-five years later, her footage was used as forensic evidence in an international crimes case against former military dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt.

Social justice activist Rigoberta Menchu, the central figure in Yates’s earlier film, was later awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous struggle against Guatemala’s brutal military regime. Hailed as compelling political thriller, Granito is the winner of numerous human rights awards. “Granito doesn’t simply relate history; it is also part of history.” Stephen Holden, the NY Times. Screening is at the Daniels Art Center.

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The talks in the 2010 – 2011 series were:

October 28, Thursday, 7pm – “Afghanistan – Caught In The Crossfire"
November 22, Monday, 7pm – “Poverty and Global Health”
March 10, Thursday, 7pm –  “The Modern Middle East”
April 4, Monday, 7pm – “The Gender Wealth Gap”

The following are talks from previous seasons (these are links to their e-posters):

March 27, 2010 – “Monique and the Mango Rains"
November 17, 2009 – “A Common Humanity”
October 19, 2009 –  “Closing the Food Gap”

March 21,2009 – “The US Supreme Court – A Lively Primer"
February 10, 2009 – “No One Deserves to be Beaten”
November 25, 2008 – “Hate and Hope in America”
October 22, 2008 –  “Time for a Paradigm Shift in US – Iran Relations”

April 22, 2008 – “The Human Face of Immigration"
March 20, 2008 – “The Right to Vote”

Poster for 2007 – 2008 Series
Poster for 2006 – 2007 Series


October 28, Thursday, 7pm – “Afghanistan – Caught In The Crossfire"

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Please join us for an engaging evening with author and documentary filmmaker, David Edwards, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Williams College, who will provide an overview of the Afghanistan conflict and what lies ahead for its people.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Afghanistan became "ground zero" in America's new War on Terror. Strategically placed between the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, 30 years of savage fighting have left Afghanistan in ruins, its society and economy in shambles.

Can this war-weary, impoverished, tribal nation organize a functioning government free of corruption? Can it achieve peace without repression - or will the country once again slide ever deeper into a devastating and destabilizing civil war.

Soon after President Obama's West Point Afghanistan speech last year, noted journalist Hendrik Hertzberg commented, "there are no good options for the US in Afghanistan." The difficult choices for resolving this brutal conflict are few and deeply complicated - especially for the Afghan people caught in the Crossfire.

Somewhat larger than Texas, Afghanistan is largely an agrarian society, comprised of tribal groups ordered by complex and fluid social relationships developed over centuries. "To abandon this area now," President Obama said, "would significantly hamper our ability to keep pressure on Al Queda and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies."

The precarious stability of Afghanistan's regional neighbors, India, Pakistan and Iran hold delicately in the balance. A potentially voluble and dangerous situation considering the nuclear capability of India and Pakistan, an already troubled situation - and perhaps soon-to-be nuclear-armed Iran.

With the current escalation of US troops being sent to Afghanistan, it's impossible to predict which direction the conflict will take. With human rights abuses from both the government and the Taliban insurgency at perilously high levels already, health, education and discriminatory violence to civilians continues to escalate.

Is the international community willing to commit to a long and costly redevelopment process of nation building, or leave Afghanistan to its own, quite uncertain future?

To be sure – a foreign policy quagmire of immense proportion with no clear exit strategy in place.

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November 22, Monday, 7pm – “Poverty and Global Health”

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Please join us for a compelling presentation on the profound effects of poverty on global health, and the current situation in Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

Combating disease in impoverished settings also means addressing the crushing poverty at the root cause of ill health.

As the Advocacy and Policy Director at Partners in Health (PIH), Donna Barry is the guiding hand for PIH’s efforts related to health, hunger, maternal mortality, TB treatment, and socioeconomic development in Haiti. As an effective advocate for the poor and the marginalized, PIH – described in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains – is an inspirational model for changing the face of global public health.

More about Partners in Health

Beginning in 1987, PIH was formed by Paul Farmer, Jim Kim and Ophelia Dhal, with the generous financial support of Tom White, a successful building contractor who simply wanted to “give back” to others less fortunate than himself. PIH addresses the crushing poverty at the root causes of ill health. It has a mission both medical and moral that's simple, direct and human. It is a compassionate and effective working definition for human rights.

Dramatically low income doesn’t guarantee ill health, but the two act in sync as a potent and reliable recipe for sickness, misery and shorter life expectancy. As Tracy Kidder points out so well, throughout the world an imaginary socioeconomic line divides those who enjoy relative good health and those who don’t.

Many living on the poor-health-side are people of color, and many are women and children. What the poor health group nearly always shares is a profound and chronic poverty that lacks most of what those on the good-health side take so for granted.

Clean water tops the list, but no less important – access to decent food, healthcare, housing, education and jobs. The basic needs for a life on earth for those who routinely live without.

To help relieve the chronic social conditions of deprivation and disease that plague poor communities throughout the world, PIH is an inspirational model for changing the face of global public health.

It is a comprehensive health care and social justice partner that both listens to and advocates for the poor. At best – it is an antidote to hopelessness for some of the world’s most destitute and struggling communities.

In many instances it truly saves lives with modern medical intervention, and in other ways it simply allows for a child to go to school with some food in her belly. When confronted with the magnitude of global need, PIH makes a start and forges ahead with what needs to be done.

As PIH’s Director Ophelia Dhal so poignantly says, "you have to believe that small gestures matter – that they do add up.”

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March 10, Thursday, 7pm –  “The Modern Middle East”

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For years the modern Middle East has been strained to the breaking point with full-blown wars in Iraq and Iran, ongoing crisis and conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, and now the dramatic uprising in Egypt.

A lasting peace in the Middle East is vital for global security and the preservation of human rights.

With Iran’s appetite for nuclear weapons, and those already stockpiled in the US and Israel - is there a clear path for diplomacy and a dignified solution to avoid more aggressive action?

What lies ahead for Iran/Iraq/US/Israeli/Palestinian relations, as core values and lives on all fronts hang precariously in the balance?  Dr. Magnus Bernhardsson, Professor of Middle Eastern History at Williams College, will overview historical trends, present problems, and future challenges.





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April 4, Monday, 7pm – “The Gender Wealth Gap”

As we collectively struggle with the latest economic downturn, the wealth gap for women, especially women of color is widening.   “Not just a gap,” says Meizhu Lui, author of “The Color of Wealth,” “it’s a deepening canyon.”

As defined by Ms. Lui, the wealth gap is simply what you own minus what you owe. Savings, homes, businesses, retirement and investment accounts enable a person to weather economic storms allowing for some measure of economic security.

For many women and for women of color, economic security is non-existent.  Ms. Lui asserts that our nation’s long-term economic future greatly depends on the inclusion of all Americans in opportunities to build wealth.

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