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This Former Stylist Quit Her Job To Follow Her Purpose Of Helping Homeless Women On Their Period

A homeless woman crossing the road—not an uncommon site in the Hollywood area where pitched tents and makeshift pallets of tattered blankets.

BOSS UP

It was just an ordinary February for Chelsea VonChaz when the unexpected happened.

She was navigating through L.A. traffic on her way to drop off some clothes at a showroom—one of the many odd jobs that she had picked up to make ends meet after leaving her seven-year stint as a stylist.


As she pulled up to a red light on the corner of LaBrea and 3rd street, she spotted something simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. A homeless woman crossing the road—not an uncommon site in the Hollywood area where pitched tents and makeshift pallets of tattered blankets and balled up clothing flank the sidewalks. But this woman was a little different than the norm.

Her chocolate complexion showed signs of wear, making it difficult to distinguish her age—not old, but not quite young either. She rocked a buzz cut and random patches of dirt covered her extremely thin frame. And as she stepped into the crosswalk in her ripped, dirty tank top and shorts serving as underwear, Chelsea caught sight of her blood-stained bottoms as the woman shuffled over to the Trader Joe's and proceeded to pull down her bottoms and squat on the side of the building—in plain sight.

“There were cars around me, and I was just tripping out when I saw it like does anybody else see this?" Chelsea says. “I was looking around and it was like the normal thing to just look and keep it pushing and go on with your life. Nobody is freaking out right now, and that just pissed me off. And I'm like okay well I'm apart of the problem too without creating a solution."

It was on that day that Chelsea, who up until that point was struggling with finding her purpose, decided to bring to fruition her idea of #HappyPeriod—a non-profit organization that provides menstrual care items to homeless communities across the country. Within a week Chelsea had reached out to friends and family members for donations to create the first set of period kits to distribute to the homeless community.

But just a few months prior, Chelsea was battling with depression and the frustration of working in an unfulfilling job. She watched as friends and fellow stylists and make up artists excelled in their own careers, but she wasn't reaping the desired rewards of her own labor.

“I just felt like it wasn't my purpose and I didn't want to do it anymore more," says Chelsea. “It wasn't feeding me anything; it was putting me in a deeper hole. It wasn't pushing me forward in my career as far as getting better clients and better gigs or more money, nor was it helping with me spiritually because it was draining. I wasn't really feeling it like a lot of people were feeling it, and then with social media, none of that really helped."

Sinking deeper into depression, the then 26-year-old began trading styling gigs for odd jobs just to pay the bills while she figured out the next steps of her life. During that time she jotted down ideas for #HappyPeriod in her notebooks, but never acted on them until after seeing the woman out side of Trader Joe's. She saw it as just the sign she needed to put action behind her talents instead of being just one of those people to look the other way.

"We're so desensitized to the homeless experience."

“We're so desensitized to the homeless experience to where we can care less as to how we make our judgments, so I felt like I just couldn't be apart of that problem anymore. It's like society just cares to an extent, but if it happens to us, it's a totally different thing. It was literally a slap in the face."

#HappyPeriod volunteer handing a kit to homeless woman.

The first distribution was a success, so much so that it begged the question: What next? Only armed with her background in fashion, Chelsea turned to her mother—who had experience working for a non-profit organization—for help. They came up with the idea of making #HappyPeriod a monthly initiative, seeking donations for money or product from friends, and Chelsea reached out to local women's shelters and homeless shelters for information regarding donations of sanitary items. The response wasn't quite what she expected. At one shelter, an employee informed her that they received more donations for razor blades for men transitioning back into jobs, than they did pads and tampons. When she asked what happened when women arrived to the shelter on their menstrual cycle, the woman gave a nonchalant response that indicated that if the employees had something on them, they would pass it along. But nothing more.

“That was a huge part of my preparation because I made the decision that we're going to do this distribution. I will make the kits," Chelsea says.

Within a couple of months, #HappyPeriod was incorporated, and by September, the organization had expanded into other locations from L.A. to New York. The need to organize meetings and help manage teams across the country required Chelsea to work on her company full-time in October, and she made the decision to sacrifice the savings that she had set aside for a trip to Fiji to ensure that she had enough income to support herself while running her non-profit. She currently takes on random assignments when necessary, not that she's complaining.

“Once December came around I saw this big random success with #HappyPeriod just from me being able to do it full time, so I was like I can't stop now; I just have to keep going. I have to just save and not spend and think of #HappyPeriod as if it's a child—I mean it is my baby. And it's crazy because when you apply it like that you literally just think about that first before you think about yourself."

Chelsea's consistent presence hasn't gone unnoticed amongst the homeless community. “It didn't take no more than two or three months to where I was called the hygiene lady. And then the coolest thing ever was when I realized they were expecting us to come out here once a month."

It's something I too notice when joining Chelsea and her team of volunteers on a Sunday afternoon in April for their monthly distribution in downtown L.A. I don't know what to expect as I drive down Rossmore Avenue past million dollar homes, before crossing Crenshaw and Venice where the grungy neighborhoods stand in juxtaposition to my previous view. I meet with Chelsea at the Fernando Pullum Arts Center, just blocks away from the well-known Leimert Park area, arriving just in time to help Chelsea and a handful of others package together tampons, panty liners and pads into 150 yellow plastic bags before moving over to the next room to help another non-profit catering to the homeless, Hashtag Lunchbag, package their lunches together because they're short on volunteers.

We load up our cars with lunches and period kits and head over to 5th and Crocker street, the coordinates for the famed Skid Row. It's crowded, and before I can even pull the bags out of the back of my car, I'm surrounded by a small group of mostly men reaching their hands out for lunches. I cautiously inform them that I'm carrying the bags for the women, some walk away in disappointment, a few, though, ask if they can take a bag for their wives, girlfriends, or women who don't have the strength to move out of their self-designated areas. “They still love each other, even though they're homeless, there's still love around," Chelsea tells me.

"Even though they're homeless, there's still love around."

We continue unpacking our cars, handing out lunches and yellow bags as fast as if we were giving out winning lottery tickets. Some women rush from dilapidated buildings when word spreads that “the hygiene lady" and her devoted entourage have arrived.

As we walk down the road towards the women's shelter, I see a large line snaking into an open parking lot where another organization is serving lunch. A handful of people, likely from church ministries, are speaking fervently or praying with those waiting in line while a loudspeaker bellows out church music. By the time we reach the women's shelter, most of our bags are gone, but we drop off a box of unpackaged product with the front desk. A woman in a wheelchair rolls up beside me and asks if we also have clothes, I tell her we don't, wishing I had a better excuse before she rolls back into the corner.

Shot of Skid Row

As we near the end of our rounds, some of the same women we've previously handed bags to come up to us. “Bless ya'll, ya'll really heaven sent," they say before walking back to their respective sitting areas.

I ask Chelsea what her thoughts are on purpose now versus when she thought she was operating in her purpose—before she dropped everything and completely reset her life.

“Purpose is just sticking to your soul, your core, what builds you, what burns you, what fuels this whole fire inside."

"Those are the simple things that just make up who you are," she says. “I found happiness within myself instead of just looking for it everywhere else, and then the lady just crossed the street one day. And I followed my instinct. I will be honest, for days I couldn't sleep because I was just thinking about it too hard. I would just wake up and get on the computer and do research, and it was driving me. So I paid attention to that."

Her leap of faith—her vision of spreading #HappyPeriod to homeless populations across the country—has not just changed her life, but the lives of the many women and even transgender persons who are often overlooked and forgotten in a world where many see selfishness instead of selflessness as a form of survival.

It's just the beginning of a discussion to a greater issue, but one that Chelsea is fearlessly tackling—this time with purpose.

Learn more about #HappyPeriod and find out how you can join the movement or volunteer today!

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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