Writings

  • Electronics Fuel Unspeakable Violence

    Our friend Kika is a long-term resident of Panzi Clinic, a remarkable facility in eastern Congo that manages, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to accommodate a small number of women who have survived excruciating acts of gender violence. For the sufferers who have heard of Panzi, post-rape, they will do anything to get there. Kika did. She crawled. It took her one month. more…

  • Internally Displaced Persons Camp Interview, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, eastern DRC

    Internally Displaced Persons Camp Interview, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, eastern DRC

    A typical camp, dried mud, ribbed with ditches, tiny dwellings fashioned from plastic, sticks, fabric, some thatching. The residents are mostly women and children. Everyone is dirty and looks weary.

    I sit in the office and do not hear a word that is said. A small, sweaty child named Durika, who coincidentally is the child of my first home visit, had extended her arms to me, and I immediately scooped her up. She clings. She is limp and frail. I rock her and sing to her. I re position her from how she is draped over my shoulder to a better sleeping posture. I pour water in my hand and wipe her face; she is blazing hot. Sweat still beads on her very black skin. more…

  • Costs of Convenience

    Quite literally dripping with electronics, I walk through Dulles airport to my gate. I am holding my iPad, downloading books from Kindle to have to read while on my journey. So far, I’ve chosen Kentuckian Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; she came to mind, of course, because her spectacular book, Poisonwood Bible, is set in Zaire (now DRC). I’ve been meaning to read this one, and the amazing Blackberry Farm, over in east TN in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, was featuring it in their gift shop. It felt like a good fit, a distracting, companionable counter point to the aim of my trip. I’ve also downloaded something I hadn’t known existed, an Elizabeth Cady Stanton Bible, as well as Dietrich Bohnhoeffer’s Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. I have been studying the 104th. It about says it all, as far as I can tell. I wanted it on my iPad.
    more…

  • In the Creek

    I’ve been in the creek. The searing summer heat we’ve been having seems to have finally broken, but it’s memory from yesterday and the blazing weeks prior propelled me into the cold, fresh water. There was the merest suggestion in the wind as I walked into the woods of something cool, the time of the harvest that lays ahead, but yesterday’s 95+ degrees are hardly a distant memory, and such temperatures may well return. It was my first long walk since the July full moon, which is crazy. It’s unlike me, a) not to walk, and b) not to walk, even at night. But the last walk I took after dark, it was still 85 degrees, and I just sort of gave up. Even for short jaunts to look around, check out the butterflies, watch the turtles in the lake, just too hot. more…

  • Stop mountain top removal coal mining

    We can, and do, have the vision to bring meaningful, generative, diverse industries that sustainably benefit the broader common welfare. The cost of premature mortality related to coal mining in Eastern Kentucky is $3.1 billion to $6.2 billion annually. Kentucky’s annual net loss related to coal mining is more than $100 million. This must stop. more…

  • A Congo Story: From Contamination to Redemption

    Melodie didn’t want to talk much about her ten years trapped in sexual violence. She wanted to talk about her health during those times and her wonderful (by comparison) life now. She enjoys being highly regarded in her neighborhood for her artistry as a hairstylist. She’s even done hair for several village weddings, of which she’s very proud. And what does Melodie do with her earnings? She financially supports her aunt, uncle and their six children, as well as her four surviving siblings. When asked where she’d like to be in five years, she cited financial independence as a key goal. Melodie’s dream is to have her own salon and, yes, a room of her own. more…

  • Can Safe Sex Save the World?

    Hundreds of thousands of women and girls continue to die needless deaths due to complications from pregnancy, childbirth, and unsafe abortion. And, the continual unmet need for family planning—especially among the poorest of women—makes it difficult for women to manage their fertility and take advantage of economic opportunities, which in turn makes it difficult for mothers to feed growing numbers of children and ensure that each child is able to go through school and find gainful employment of their own. more…

  • Mountain Top Coal Removal Mining

    The Appalachian mountains are the oldest mountain range in North America. They are, indeed, so old, geologists poetically, I think, call their age, “Deep Time.” They may well be the oldest mountains in the world. I am here to tell you: mountain top removal coal mining simply would not happen in any other mountains in the US. It is inconceivable the Smokies would be blasted, the Rockies razed, the Sierra Nevadas flattened, bombs the equivalent to Hiroshima being detonated weekly for years anywhere in US except here. The fact the Appalachians are the Appalachians, makes this environmental genocide possible, and permissible. And, by the end of our time together, I hope you will commit your journalistic integrity to helping stop MTR immediately. more…

  • Women Deliver

    Ten years ago the United States joined 188 United Nations Member States in adopting the Millennium Declaration and its eight lofty goals that set a collective vision for the future — one with less poverty, hunger and disease, more opportunities for women, and greater prospects for survival for mothers and infants. more…

  • Commencement Speech, 2009

    I have about 12 minutes to endeavor to say something helpful, memorable, and pithy. I nearly chose not to write a speech; at 12 minutes I’ve barely drawn a breath! My Dad knows me well and suggested I begin my talk by saying, “And in conclusion, I…..”

    Union College’s spiritual director carried a message to me yesterday from some students who, it became clear, were expecting my talk to be one of my typical cri de coeur social justice speeches. They asked that I consider mentioning Darfur. Thank you to those kids for caring about places like Darfur. more…

  • The Day Buttermilk Wouldn’t Run

    Buttermilk, in addition to being a very fine staple in a meal (cow temperature, preferably, with cornbread crumbled in it to accompany a bowl of soup beans), is also the name of my hound. He looks just like it, the most beautiful color of creamy yellow, with soft curls that remind me of the foamy bubbles that collect at the edges of a milk pail. more…

  • Access to Family Planning is a Global Public Emergency

    Victor and Therese, married for 30 years, share a powerful, tender bond. He is thin, wiry and has a bum eye. She is younger than I, which is incredible to consider. Her hair is tinged with orange from malnutrition.   She has enormous cheekbones and sweet, soft eyes, especially when her husband is looking at her, which he does often. They live in a tiny, stifling home in Kinshasa, DRC. There are but 2 pieces of furniture, a collapsed sofa, and a non working refrigerator, which they use as a cupboard. The family’s 2 toothbrushes hang from the ceiling near their only decoration, a plastic pine cone. Their change of clothes neatly hang on wire stretching across the tiny room where they sleep on the floor.  Their 6 children, the great loves of their life apart from one another, get to sleep on  the ragged pieces of dirty foam. The family eats once a day, and sometimes not at all. Their water supply is not safe, so the family often experiences episode of diarrheal disease. You don’t want to hear about the sanitation used by the family and neighborhood. more…

  • We Love Mountains

    Sitting here in my home in Tennessee, I am not far from the mountains as the crow flies, but in many ways, I am a million miles away. In the mountains, we still live with enduring poverty, frustrating lack of opportunity, poor health, education far below national averages crippling addiction, and more. There’s not a doubt that there is a crisis in Eastern Kentucky, but crises are systemic and the system at the root of our 100-year long crisis is the unchecked power of the coal companies. more…

  • YouthAIDS Gala Speeches

    • 2007, “Namaste”: Namaste. If you watch the documentary made during my 3-week stay in india that we are celebrating tonight, you hear me say that word a lot. This touching gesture is the manner of greeting for billions of people on this earth. more…
    • 2008, “The Calamity of Coming Home”: The remarks I provide at our annual Gala are a highlight on my personal calendar. I urgently strive to do right by the people I have met visiting our life saving, grassroots programs in developing countries, both the phenomenal local staff who create and implement ingenious social marketing campaigns that make critical services, products, and behavior change communications smartly accessible, as well as, of course, the profoundly beautiful and vulnerable people these malaria, safe drinking water, reproductive health, child survival, maternal health, HIV/STI prevention, and other efforts empower. more…
  • Diaries from Rwanda

    wowOwow was kind enough to provide links to the extensive diary I kept while traveling in Rwanda, 2008. You may read my diaries here. In 2010, my first book, All That is Bitter and Sweet, will be published, and builds on these and other diaries kept while visiting grassroots programs in 13 countries (thus far!).

  • Women and Leadership

    For me, what has become ringingly clear is that a strong spiritual practice and a faith not easily shaken by fortune or misfortune, or the shortcomings of others and society, is fundamental to empowered, effective leadership. Coupled with that is the firm necessity of a working definition of ambition, which for me is “To be of maximum service to those around me, and to walk humbly under the grace of God.” more…

  • Speech to the United Nations General Assembly

    Your Excellencies and Distinguished Guests,

    Good Morning. You know, I was just thinking: We’ve only seen one another in the movies. You’ve seen me in films, and I’ve only ever seen this room in them!

    I am very delighted and honored to be here. I am feeling a little fear, healthy fear, which my grandmother has taught is my Higher Power’s way of shaking the truth out of me.

    I am Ashley Judd and amongst other things, I am an actor. I have appeared in scores of films and on Broadway. I would understand if you might if might be wondering right now, How dare she imagine she has something to contribute to the urgent, charged debate about the scourge of modern slavery, of human trafficking?”
    Actually, I believe wholeheartedly the real question is, “How dare I not?” more…

  • I Love Mountains

    As you well know, I am very proud to be a Kentuckian. Of all the many things my Creator has seen fit for me to have accomplished, there is one simple fact that brings me the most honor and the greatest sense of self, and that is that I am an Eastern Kentuckian – a proud hillbilly who traces my family back at least 8 generations in our beloved mountains – Martin County, Lawrence County and eventually Boyd County. There is no better home than Kentucky. We have a deeply ingrained, almost mystical, sense of place – a sense of belonging that defines us. And it is our love of our special place, and the catastrophe it faces, that brings us to this place of power, the capital, where are doing what we must: Speaking truth to power. more…

  • At the Root of My Longing, Social Justice, Feminism, and Spirituality

    Good evening. I am so delighted to be here and would like immediately to thank the College of Arts and Sciences for asking me to present this year’s Blazer Lecture. I have enjoyed sharing with my friends and colleagues that this distinction is typically reserved for Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Laureates and scholars with very deep benches (one of very few, I promise, references to basketball I will make tonight). It’s been a fun, if not slightly perverse, way to put an awful lot of pressure on myself. more…

  • UK Basketball Columns

    • I: This might be tricky, writing columns about our team when in fact I might not be able to actually watch the games this weekend, what with my traveling to South Africa to be with Nelson Mandela and all. But, the paper says it will work, so we’ll give it a try. more…
    • II: I didn’t go South Africa.. I’m crushed, felled by the flu, the nasty one that has closed whole counties’ school systems here in Tennessee, with a totally gross sinus infection on top of it to make me even more miserable as I watch the hour go by during which I was to be with my gorgeous hero, President Mandela, having tea in his home, hosting a dinner with him and in general becoming his new best friend and favorite person in the world. To quote Big Daddy from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” CRAP. more…
    • III: This is so exciting, I can’t get over it. And, I don’t want to get over it, because this is as good as it gets. And, it’s good for me! more…
    • IV: Well, I never take anything for granted, but I do prepare well. I brought a real pretty Easter dress to Austin. And tomorrow, I’ll wear it, choosing some nice sounding church (liberal, thank you very much) from the yellow pages because even though Dario and I lived here a short spell whilst shooting “Where the Heart Is,” I only went to church once and can’t recall the name of it. Don’t tell my Ma, okay?” I’d also appreciate it if you didn’t tell my Sister where I really am, because, and this is TERRIBLE, I am missing my niece’s baptism to be here. more…
  • Essay on UK Basketball

    For 6 months beginning last September, I played the role of “Maggie the Cat” at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway, and I was always highly entertained during my curtain calls when I heard shouts from the audience of, ‘Go Big Blue!, Go Cats,’ and the like (they were more frequent than you might think!). I even saw homemade signs, raised by theatre goers who wanted to joyfully express our mutually held passion for college basketball of a certain ilk as well as see Tennessee Williams’ great play. But, while I treasured my opportunity on that stage, interpreting one of the greatest roles of all time, I deeply lamented that it prevented me from attending any and all games played by my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats. That is why in February, when during about my 150th performance I severely injured my left foot, the first thought I had after, “OUCH!’ was, “Lord, I can probably catch the rest of the games.” And indeed, very shortly after I had surgery, I begged my ortho for permission to take a short flight (“But Dr. Ferrell, it’s so close! And I’ll keep it elevated the whole time!) to South Carolina (82-62, UK), where I blissfully watched my Wildcats absolutely dominate the Gamecocks on their Senior Day (sorry fellas, we do that to Florida a lot, too). more…

  • A Speech to the Tennessee Democratic Women

    My mother is an accomplished public speaker, it is how she now earns her living, and I have often heard her talk about how she weaves humor into presentations. She comes out and starts with a joke, then proceeds to make fun of herself and folks in the audience throughout, thereby disarming the crowds’ expectations of some lofty teaching and really getting their attention off her boobs. She has found that’s how she really gets through to people. more…

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