Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Outcry for Change: Human Life is Valuable

For the past couple of days, I have joined a large part of the country in their outcry for justice regarding the most recent death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I also join them in asking for answers when it comes to the passing of John Crawford III of Beavercreek, Ohio, a young man who was shot dead after holding a toy gun in a Wal-Mart; and the passing of Eric Garner of New York City, New York after being confronted by NYPD. All three men lost their lives to Police Officers.

I cannot help but think about Poet Javon Johnson's piece "Cuz He's Black", as I watched the media market these stories as another "fatal incident" during another day on the job for these law enforcers. I could not help but to think about the messages that I hear my male friends telling their sons as to how they can survive in this society; do not appear to be a threat or confrontational. How POC are to ensure that they act a certain way, say things without infliction in their voice, and dress to assimilate just so that someone else does not feel threatened by their confidence and assertiveness; characteristics that are instilled in us as children so that we can combat bullies on the playground. I think about my role, as an educator, who once worked in a predominately black community, found myself talking with my students their first few weeks on campus, "You! You are someone who is destined to be GREAT! Never allow anyone or anything to tell you differently. You are a descendant of Kings and Queens whose spirits have followed you to this day in images of great leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur. Your destiny is defined by your walk. Walk tall. Be strong. Be proud"! These words make me cringe because they have been interpreted as being aggressive by the majority population. Which in turn causes them to appear to be a threat and the majority's response is to remove them from society, for they are not good for the good of the order.

The U.S. is an interesting beast. In 2013 we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. In 2014 we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From the looks of our current state, you would not know this. For many of us, it feels as though we are reliving history. It seems unreal to imagine that 50 years later, we are still rioting, protesting, and demanding answers and equal treatment of marginalized groups, specifically the Black community for this piece. It is painful to think that there are individuals in our society who are smiling at our pain. It is painful to think that the potential of achieving the "American Dream" is so far fetched that many of our youth do not conceptualize the messages that are being told to them. It is even more painful to think that the value of a Black man has not changed since Slavery.

As I sit and write this, I cannot help but to think about what this means for the men and women in blue. I will never go as far to say that all law enforcers are careless and loose cannons, because they are not. And I will not discount some of those who are feeling the same pain for our country and society as these families who mourn the lose of their children. I will even go as far as to say that there are probably some law enforcers who sides with the families of the victims. However, we are a culture of told stories. The stories that are being told to us is that these men lost their lives to police officers who failed to think before they acted. Adrenaline and ego can be a dangerous combination.

As the families of these men fight our justice system to make sense of all of this nonsense, I want to lend my hand in solidarity that this will send a message that things have to change. We can longer devalue our citizens, regardless of their skin color, socio-economic status, gender, sexual identity, religion, and etc. Men and women before us did not march, protest, speak out, or die for us to revert back to the same experiences. We must take a stand and demand that our government, the people we appointed, are held accountable for making things right for the world, not their pockets. It is time to take a stand for the sake of our own lives. This is not the stand that George Zimmerman, Theodore Wafer, Officer Randal Kerrick, or Officer Johannes Mehserle chose. This is a stand that states that "shooting first, asking questions later" does not translate to "serve and protect." This is a stand that sends the message that our youth are valuable and deserve a chance. This is a stand that our struggle is bound to one another.

So I ask you, are you willing to STAND?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Meeting Change: Lessons from a Constant Friend

A few months ago, a good friend of mine wrote and published an article regarding the consistency of change. In this article, they spoke about their professional growth and accomplishments. It was a reflection on how change has played a role in their life and the growth they experienced. That article referenced and reminded me of two things, neo-soul artist India.Arie's song "Growth" and Dr. Spencer Johnsons book Who Moved My Cheese. In both works of art, one is reminded that change is inevitable.

For the past 4 years, I have experienced nothing but change. From losing my mother and paternal grandmother in 2010, ending a 4 year relationship the same year, leaving a place I've called home for 28 years to relocate to not one but two states within a year, and now experiencing some changes in the workplace; I am all too familiar with change. And like some of us, the changes were not always easy to swallow. From questioning whether the decisions were the right decisions, to wondering if I'd find love again, to trying to determine my contribution to the newness, I was experiencing more than change - I was GROWING.

As a child, my family made great efforts to prepare all of us for life. And their efforts worked to the best of its ability but no one could prepare us completely because our futures are not revealed to us until we are positioned to experience it. So my parents, family, and mentors could not prepare me for all that I've gone through but they did prepare me for growth. All of the lessons positioned me to acknowledge opportunities for enrichment and growth.

In this time, I have internalized so much and found it challenging to navigate through the changes. As I have journeyed through this cycle of change, I have learned a few things that I have found useful. Although my lessons could develop into a never ending list, here are just a few that  I have found to be my anchor in the choppy waters. They have served as my road map on finding the "silver lining at the end of the road".

Lesson #1: Change is not always a result of something you have or have not done. Some things we experience to prepare us for the next journey that is ahead of us. Try not to dwell in the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" or accept fault where it isn't necessary. That space can drive you insane, especially for us Introverts who spends a lot of time in our heads.

Lesson #2: Take time to process your feelings around the new experience. Whether it is a positive or negative change, your emotions will determine how open you are to the next wave of changes. Acknowledge what you are feeling and find ways to process it all. Some may find this by writing, talking to someone, or just spending time with your thoughts.

Lesson #3: Growth is healthy for us. As children, we may have received messages telling us how good for us vegetables and milk were and if we ate them we'd grow big and strong. That is similar to how I see change. The experiences I have witnessed these past 4 years have definitely empowered me beyond my own awareness. My resilience has become one of my strongest characteristics.

As I said, these are just some of the lessons I have learned. Since change is constant, I am constantly processing my experiences and feelings around them. I have found myself questioning what my contribution had been to all experiences but one I had to remind myself was lesson #1, not all experiences were a result of something I had or had not done. However, my response to it was on me and one thing for sure, I accept my growth. As I grow older, I remember that change is one thing we have no control of. And I accept all responsibility that comes with it, regardless of its difficulty level. I acknowledge that life will be a constant cycle of growth - CHANGE.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dancing To My Own Drum

Lately I have found myself running across Danielle LaPorte's "Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be" quote. This quote has been the lyrics to my song of freedom. As I sit and reflect on what these words mean to me, I cannot help but think about every moment I've spent in conversations with friends and family, or every message received by media, instructing me on who and what I should be.

A few weeks ago, a representative from Journey, a television show on the Afrotainment Network, reached out to me to discuss the possibility of being featured on their next episode. Of course, as an introvert, I was hesitant to accept the invitation. To speak publicly about my life, my journey, is something I have never done. All I could think about was saying something wrong or not representing myself like I am "suppose" to. Or what would the world think by seeing me open. Raw. Authentic. My story has only been shared in pieces and usually to the students that I work with, and primarily as a form of encouragement. After all the thoughts and the replaying of suggestive dialogues, I accepted their invitation.

After waiting two weeks for the episode to air on their website, the nervousness was back. Here it is, I've exposed myself to the world but was afraid to share it with my close friends, family, and colleagues. Mostly afraid for how they may see me. Open. Raw. Authentic. I had become proud of my ability to hide my emotions; women are already emotional unstable creatures, right? I have become very good at not showing" weakness" and allowing my strength to be my crown. I had become exceptionally good at allowing others to determine the beat of my drum.

Again, after sitting and playing back previous conversations, I went ahead and shared the interview with everyone. It was not long before one of my closest friends, colleagues, mentor, and sorority sister watched and responded to my journey. It was when I heard her words that I realized I had discovered my beat. I had begun dancing to my own drum.

For most of our lives, we live based on who the world wants us to be. As children we are told what to wear, how to wear it, what to say, how to say it, when to say it, how to speak, the messages around our style, and so forth. And for the first time, I could see my drum being created just to fit me.

The person that I am, I always try to speak from my experiences and identity; specifically my salient ones - African American and Female. I am very aware of the messages that are spoken to and by society regarding our actions, thoughts, and portrayals - the world told me who I should be. And for a while I danced to the drums of others. Happiness was not something I knew. I could not keep up with their rhythms, for their beats did not speak to the blueprint of my journey. I could not see past the dissatisfaction that others placed upon me.

But something then changed in my life. Something happened that I was not prepared for but knew that the day would come. My anchors of my life lost their battles with Cancer. In July 2010, eleven days apart, I lost my mother and grandmother. It was a hard transition and it was one that was not anticipated. My mother gave Breast Cancer a run for its money for 10 years. Through all of the treatments and surgeries, she was determined to live her life the way she wanted. On the other hand, my grandmother lived into her sixties before she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She was able to celebrate one more birthday before being called to rest three months later.

Little did I know, they began to march to their own drums. For the past three and a half years, I have found so much encouragement from the words and actions they left with us. My mother was lactose intolerant but she did not allow that to stop her from enjoying a bowl of ice cream. She always encouraged us to do what made us smile, I know she did. My grandmother always wore a smile. Never really knew what gave her this joy but seldom did I see her not smiling and enjoying people. She welcomed everyone with open arms. Showed limitless unconditional love, even to those that society had turned its back on.

When I left Ohio for Louisiana and now in Florida, I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I began to dance to my own drum. I realized the amount of time I spent dancing to drums that were not designed for me. Time spent losing who I was to become for fear of being open. Raw. Authentic. Time spent dancing off beat and unhappy.

But now, I am moving to my own Neo Soul, Jazzed out, Groove. Growing up, I was told that growing locs was a sure way to keep me from obtaining my career goals. Well, now my honey and chocolate brown locs lay upon my shoulders like roots from the most sacred trees. I was told that being Pro-Black would turn people off. Well, my rhetoric has gained me a network that encourages me to fight for all people, especially those who feel silenced. And I was told that I must tread quietly for I do not want to be seen as the "Angry Black Woman". Well, I wear the "ABW" badge proudly. With so much violence, crime, hatred, and systemic injustice in our society, in our world, wouldn't you be upset? And me being African American and female is just a coincidence.

From all the drums that have tried to get me to dance to their beats never appealed to my spirit. My soul could not continue to dance to music that wasn't meant for me. And I am happy. Each day I awake, I "dance like there's nobody watching".

I'm telling the world who I am. Open. Raw. And Authentically.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Extra! Extra! Black America Under Attack... Or Are We Still Arguing Gun Control!?

During a conversation with a colleague today, it was brought to my attention that another attack on Black America had taken place in West Virginia. Over the weekend, new property owner, Garrick Hopkins, 60, was showing his brother, Carl Hopkins, 61, the recently purchased property that he and his wife had acquired. While doing this, their new neighbor, Rodney Bruce Black, 62, shot both of them without warning. Mr. Black informed law officials that he was "under the impression that his family still owned the property and thought they, the Hopkins', were breaking into his property." But you didn't think to at least  warn them that you were armed? Wow! Garrick Hopkins and Carl Hopkins, Barboursville, West Virginia

Earlier last week, it was brought to my attention while watching my daily dose of local news that 32-year old Cladius Smith chased, shot, and killed 21-year old Ricardo Sanes because he thought Sanes was a burglar and when he confronted Sanes and Sanes decided to walk away, Smith grabbed him to pull him back to his apartment to wait until the police arrived. When Sanes fought back, Smith said "his immediate response was to pull the trigger and fire shots." Really? And you didn't think to walk away as well all while getting a good look at the young man to inform law officials? Oh. Ok. Ricardo Sanes, Orlando, Florida

And of course, I can go on with Jonathan Ferrell, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and countless other young Blacks who have been victims of careless individuals who, for whatever reason, feel that taking a life is the way to defend oneself. (see below for stories/updates)

So, let's take a moment to talk about the message this sends to America. Or even greater, the world. As an African American female, I get the impression that to take a life, it is okay as long as you recite "self-defense". The responsibility to call on those who have sworn their lives to serve and protect seems to be optional. Or, has our faith in the justice system and law officials dwindled; which I am sure that some would argue that the system was never indented for People of Color from the beginning. Our media has done a great job sheltering the social issues from us and directing our attention on other things. And do not get me wrong, Immigration reform and LGBT Rights, issues in Egypt and Russia are all important, but how can we focus on other issues when we are telling the world that the lives of young Black Americans has no value in our society.

And I am still in awe by the thought that there is so much fear and hate in our society that individuals are willing to face their fate and live the rest of their lives in a jail cell. Sometimes I wonder if those who have chosen to take these lives believe that they are doing something positive to impact our society. I wonder how many of these tragedies have provided jobs, changed the education system, or has solved the numerous wars overseas.

Why is it that America believes that anyone of color is a harm? Why is this message still delivered today? Especially in what so many want us to believe is a "Post-Racial America". From what I can see, majority of those who have taken the lives of these innocent victims are White, or appear to be White. But no one wants to talk about that. We have focused so much on Richard Sherman's rant or the young football star who chose to share his sexuality with the world, and other irrelevant issues that we fail to address that their is a social issue at hand and it looks like an attack on Black America.

And if you think I am dreaming this up, take a look at previous generations. I am from the Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo era. These victims were not criminals but they were treated as such. And if we dig further back, the Civil Rights Movement is only 50 years old. There are so many from within the Black community who have lost their lives due to fear and hate.

Does it really only take the "assumption" of one to declare someone a criminal or "suspicious". And is it up to us, as individuals, to determine what is suspicious?

And let's talk about Black on Black crime or "Minority on Minority" crime. Not too many people would admit or recognize the systemic divide that has been orchestrated for us, people of color, to fight against one another to sustain this long stemming system oppression that started way before slavery. For the life of me, I cannot wrap my mind around understanding why African Americans or other people of color, decide to take the life of someone they fear, instead of finding other ways to address this fear. We talk about living in a harmonious society with love and solidarity but there are some people who really do not want it or do not care to recognize the destruction that we are creating within our society.

As I wrote this, I recalled back to when I learned about genocide and its place in the U.S. society. I have the same heart wrenching feeling thinking about its place now.

Jonathan Ferrell, Charlotte. North Carolina

Renisha McBride, Detroit, Michigan

Jordan Davis, Jacksonville, Florida