Leisure versus Necessity

I browsed the aisles of Michael’s craft store, with huge signs in the window advertising 70% discounts on many items inside. A sign of business not doing so well during this pandemic I’m sure. I browsed the aisles that used to feel like a candy store, now with a very different feeling. The shelves half empty. Customers awkwardly trying to maneuver around each other. The shiny sparkles didn’t seem to be as shiny today. The Michael’s workers in their red craft vests wore their emotions on their masked faces. They moved slowly, with fatigue & disdain hanging around their shoulders for the entitled white women who use them as target practice to unleash their unrelenting fury. They are not paid enough to be subject to this violence daily. 


At checkout I was taken care of by a young woman who didn’t smile. I didn’t expect her to. I carefully placed my mosaic materials before her to be rung out. She moved to the same rhythm as her coworkers, and I noticed that she had bright green acrylic nails decorating the tips of her fingers. I wondered, did she choose that color to bring her a little joy while she worked? Or to remind her of the reason she needs to keep pushing through, green..? 


Then I went to Jersey Mike’s to grab a sandwich. Another luxury. The Jersey Mike employees were upbeat and welcoming, not missing a beat despite the unusual days of COVID. The man in front of me looked thrown together, and was taking an inordinate amount of time to make a decision, then change it, and repeat. The young man manager picked up on the vibe from this guy and tried to takeover from the friendly young girl who was being extremely patient, and graciously accommodating all of his changes and intentional confusion. When it came time to pay, the man said “oh man I didn’t set up my e-pay on my phone”. The manager graciously said “no problem, we take cash or card too”. The guy then replied “oh man I don’t even have my card, my bad” and then abruptly headed out the door. I felt bad for the staff. They’re simply trying to make the dam sandwiches and get through their shift. They’re there as a LUXURY for all of us. As if we can’t make our own dam sandwiches. They’re working to support themselves and their families, out of necessity. Then you’ve got guys like that that come in. 


But before I judged that guy who couldn’t pay for his sandwich too harshly, he too was perhaps doing what was necessary for himself, and possibly his family. His strategy was to create confusion, frustration, and he attempted to strike up a bit of a rapport with the staff in hope that the combination of all of those things, coupled with holding up the line at the register, might prompt the manager to say just take the sandwich since we already made it to your liking. He was not so lucky. But it made me wonder and worry about his situation. He did not appear to be living on the street at all, but who’s to say what his situation is. 


All of these interactions made me sad. From my perspective I’ve had the privilege of being able to shelter in place in my home, and continue working remotely as I was prior to COVID. I am blessed to have the option of deciding to spend money on take out, feeling like I’m helping to support restaurants and the delivery drivers who bring the food to me, right? And my orders to Amazon, I’m supporting a company who is a major employer, right? Or am I responsible for contributing to forcing mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles out into harm’s way while COVID runs rampant, when they too should be able to be at home with their families in the safety of their homes? 


Are all of the businesses that are open right now truly essential? I’d argue many are not. Do we really need to quench our need to consume during a pandemic? Isn’t there a better way that we could prioritize human beings and caring for each other instead of centering greed? Who gives a shit about the Dow Jones if we’re all dead. 


Another observation today that brought a smile to my face. Have you noticed the way people move these days? Have you observed people in their cars? Have you seen who is jamming in their car with the music up and windows down? And who is white knuckling it and somehow still in a rush to get….who knows where? Have you noticed who is tightly wound and red-faced and blowing a gasket at the most insignificant things? Have you noticed who is cool, calm and collected? Maybe it’s just me, but my observations have been that there is a fluidity, a nonchalant adaptability that is seamless, a calm, and an unspoken necessity to continue on that resides in the blood and lungs of all people of color. Things are hella heavy, shit is real, people are dying, in our communities disproportionately. And yet, you would think all is well in the world when you watch the steady, strong, determined stride of my brother. When we gather for balloon release ceremonies with our hair braided cuz we can’t go out looking crazy, and despite the reason for gathering, we still don smiles being in community together! Where does that strength come from??! It is ancestral. It is deep within our DNA. We will always adapt. We will always creatively innovate and advance. We will never give up. And we will do it with magnificent grace.

What the F*ck Are We Celebrating on Juneteenth?

It is June 14th, 2020. Today is the birthday of the idiot that sits in the White House, and across this country cities are literally and figuratively on fire. 500 cities across the US plus protests all across the world in various countries and cities. Sparked most profoundly by the recent lynching of 47 yr old George Floyd by Minneapolis police, in which a white police officer held his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and murdered him in plain sight, on camera, and in the company of 3 other officers who did nothing to stop it. I have not watched the video, nor do I plan to. From other people’s accounts this grown Black man called out for his deceased mother. That was after several times he called out to the police officer that he could not breathe. He leaves behind 5 children. 

This lynching came in rapid succession after 26 yr old Breonna Taylor, in Louisville, KY was lynched in her bed in the middle of the night when police unlawfully raided her home. The invasion was unlawful because police invade the wrong home in pursuit of their suspect, and at the time of the raid, the suspect was already in custody by police. Now she is no longer here. Those officers have not been charged, and her boyfriend who did have a gun and defended their home with cause, is being charged with attempted murder.  

Right before that, 25 yr old Ahmaud Arbery, was going for his normal jog in suburban area in Georgia, and was literally hunted down by 2 white men, one of whom was a former policeman and his son. They chased Ahmaud and then murdered him in the street. For jogging. 

These stories are disgustingly not obscure, rare events. We have far too many examples. Far far too many. 

Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy who was playing with snowballs and a toy pellet gun in a park in Cleveland, OH and had police called on him by neighbors. Within 12 seconds of arriving on the scene the officers opened fire and murdered this child. When his sister ran to the scene, she was handcuffed and thrown into the back of the police car to watch helplessly the as life left her brother’s young body. The officer Tim Loehmann, had been released from another police dept because he was mentally unfit, but did not disclose this on his application and stole this child’s life. He was fired for withholding that previous information, not for killing a child. The FBI investigation found the shooting to be reasonable.  

Micheal Brown who was 18, in Ferguson, MO was shot 6 times after an altercation with a police officer, who shot him after he had his hands up. His body was left in the street on public display for over 12 hours. A public lynching. No one was punished. 

Sandra Bland, a 28 yr old black woman from Chicago who was stopped by a white police officer in Waller, Texas. He was visibly agitated by her tone in speaking to him in a way that was not submissive and he arrested her. She was found hung in her cell and they declared it a suicide. No one has been punished.  Cell phone footage from the traffic stop that occurred in 2015, was just made available to the family in 2019. This evidence was suppressed for 4 years. 

Laquan McDonald, a 17 year old black child in Chicago, was shot 16 times by Jason VanDyke police officer on camera. Police footage was suppressed for over a year until after Rahm’s election to Mayoral office. Then the case finally took place 4 years later. VanDyke was convicted and is serving 6 years. This is one of the first and very few instances where a police officer was convicted and is serving time. 6 years for 16 shots and a cover up by CPD. The corroborating offers got off scott free. 

Philando Castille, a 32 year old black man, in the car with his girl and his 4 yr old daughter in the back seat. Traffic stop. Philando notified the officer that he is registered a firearm carrier, his girl recorded the incident. The police officer opened fire and murdered Philando in the car, next to his girl and in front of his daughter literally for no reason whatsoever. He did not have his gun, was not reaching for it, was not pointing it at the officer. Officer was acquitted by a jury of all charges.  

Trayvon Martin, 17 yr old child in Sanford, FL was murdered by a neighborhood watch white man George Zimmerman. Because Trayvon had on a black hoodie, and was a young black man, and walking down the street. He was declared a threat by George just by his appearance, and despite George calling 911 and the dispatcher telling him to stand down, he went and attacked Trayvon and shot him to death. He was acquitted and now goes around signing Skittles bags as a trophy to his supporters across the country because Trayvon had just come from the store and had a beverage and a bag of Skittles in his hands. He is also suing Trayvon’s family for $100M. He has also profited by auctioning the gun he used to murder Trayvon. This is the exact same thing that was done during mass lynchings. Souvenirs, body parts were cut off from victims and saved. Pictures taken by the black bodies hanging from trees. Barbeques and food was had, a celebration, around these public lynchings. There are smiling faces in those pictures. 

The names and the stories are far too many. As we think about what seems like long ago when these public mass lynchings would occur, The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 4,084 racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950; that was just 70 years ago. My mother was born in 1950. Those lynch mobs have children we are living among today. These lynchings were done publicly, with intention, to instill terror and trauma in black people. White mobs would go and overrun jailhouses where black men were being held, awaiting due process under the laws of this country, and the police ceded control and allowed the masses to inflict their own hated-filled perceptions of justice on these black bodies. Other black men and women were taken from their homes. Pregnant black mothers, hung from trees, their bellies cut open so their unborn babies spilled onto the earth. And these white men, women and children collected trophies, pieces of black bodies, to remember the power they had to steal black lives with absolutely no punishment, no repercussion, no revenge. 

And we are still here. 

In 5 days, June 19th, also known as Juneteenth marks the actual date when on June 19,1865 (155 years ago) the last state, Texas, declared an end to the enslavement of black people in this country. Separate and apart from the July 4th 1776 “Independence Day” (244 years ago) that is a national holiday in this country celebrating the completion of the Declaration of Independence, which was not written with the human rights of black people, indigenous people, mexican people, or any other non-white people in mind at the time of its creation. (And yet we all celebrate it, don’t we?) Or the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln made in 1863 (157 years ago) which freed enslaved black people only in 13 states. 

So in 5 days, we will call out the celebration of this date when 155 years ago the legal enslavement of black people was supposed to end…. But we fail to call out that enslavement has NEVER ended in this country. Thanks to the brilliance of Ava DuVernay to call this to our consciousness poignantly with her masterful work “13th”, about the 13th Amendment of this country’s current constitution, also passed this same year of Juneteenth, which still states to this day:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

And who is disproportionately locked up as “punishment” for crimes they have been plea-bargained, threatened, coerced and railroaded into? Our black men and women. So 1865; 13th Amendment and Juneteeth happens, and racial enslavement changes its face to institutionalized racial imprisonment. 

Then we have vicious, deeply traumatizing racial terror initiated by white men and women from 1877 thru 1950, with black bodies hanging from trees…our sister Nina Simone wrote about it. 

Racial terror lynchings, as precisely defined by EJI, is “violent and public events designed to terrorize all black people in order to re-establish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights”. 

It’s Sunday…on this past Friday, at a Wendy’s drive thru Rayshard Brooks, a 27 yr old black man was lynched by an Atlanta police officer, shot twice in the back. Rayshard has 3 children; aged 1, 2 and 8, who now no longer have a daddy. 

In California Robert Fuller, a 24 yr old black man, and Malcolm Harsch a 38 yr old black man, both found hung from trees within 50 miles of each other in southern California

Oh, and then there is just the minor detail of the fact that in addition to this being our current context, we are ALSO in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has taken the lives of 117,000 people in the U.S. so far, we are leading the world in COVID deaths…and that number is only going up as states begin reopening…why? Because COVID has magically disappeared?? No. Because green matters more than any color skin. But black and brown people are disproportionately represented in deaths from this virus as well. If you are not paying attention, southern states are already reporting spikes in COVID numbers from their asinine reopenings

So I respectfully ask, WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE CELEBRATING ON JUNETEENTH?

Inconsolable Tears

I am tired of having no comfort I can give
To the tears streaming down my daughter’s face 
While she asks why
He was just running down the street
He was trying to fight them off of him
He didn’t do anything wrong
All he was doing was running
Why didn’t anyone do anything?
He must have been so scared...
….why?

We have family that could be Ahmaud
Ahmaud is our family
We have aunties in Georgia that would fall to their knees
Asking Jesus why him?

It is unbearable to watch the faces 
Of our black and brown boys and girls
The thickness of undue hatred that settles around their shoulders
As they place the pieces of this blood soaked puzzle together to reveal 
That it is merely the melanin in your skin, 
As the sole cause of your untimely death sentence
You are never too young, or too old
You are never harmless or innocent
Never unthreatening enough
Whether reading a book, or playing in a park
Walking home with skittles, or just driving your car
Not with your hands up, or your face pressed against the concrete
Not even in your own home, eating ice cream

My fury burns through my veins
At the complacency and passing sympathy of others
Who will never know what it is to have these conversations looking into the eyes of their babies
Just a shrug and a wave of the hand, that’s just the way it is
“I just live here, I didn’t make it this way” 
And in between those syllables you affirm that you care nothing about black bodies
Someplace within you, you embrace some concept of Darwinism and eugenics
“Well, they must’ve done something wrong...most of them do..”
“They are poor, and dirty, and stupid anyway...so just one less…”
These are words you will never speak
But your silence says it all


Don’t Disturb This Groove

It lies right behind my lips
With each and every decadent kiss
Your hands like warm rays of distant suns across my body
Orchestrating movements like the wind
Subtle, tickling breezes
That pierrot a beautiful dance
Fierce, blinding gusts that overtake me
And force me to submit to their will
Those hands
If I could consume them there’d be nothing left
And that doesn’t begin to describe the perfection of his lips
The soul quaking reverberations when he speaks into my ear
A smile that ignites fireworks inside of me
How did this man manage to evade my barricades? 
With patient persistence he penetrated right thru
No place I’d rather be
Than wrapped in the safety of his embrace 
Intoxicated by his magnificence
Resting in the crook of his neck
Wondering how to speak the words beating in my chest

Victim, Villain & Hero; In Us or Instilled Upon Us?

I’ve been thinking lately about the Drama Triangle; where the roles of victim, villain and hero swap places dynamically within overall victim energy, and how this intersects with sociopolitical context and culture.

To quickly review the roles within the Drama triangle:

The Victim – Feels powerless, life is always happening to them, they are awaiting someone to save them from things/their perceived reality. The truth is, no matter how good their rescuer is and how hard they try, they cannot be saved by any external force. Their salvation is a mindset change.

The Hero- Is the rescuer. They find purpose and validation in saving the poor victims, choosing to focus on them versus examining their own ego-driven motivations, or the source of the void they are attempting to fill. They will often overextend themselves to their own peril, and never be able to produce enough to feel validated.

The Villain – This person places blame, manipulates and controls. This person is motivated by placing blame as a protection from being a victim themselves. Their control seeking helps them avoid feeling like a victim.

These roles are fluid and many of us wear these roles at different times, however all of them exist in a Victim energy context. All of them have a void, they are not operating from a sense of power, self-determination, creativity, love, etc while the hero is often revered as being well-intentioned and altruistic. The Hero-Victim dynamic is especially advertised in romantic relationships through various forms of art expression. Within this triangle, all of them are trying to prove they are in fact the biggest victim.

In the culture of this country, this dynamic plays out in many ways, and profit, advancement and success are attached to these titles as well.

  • “The Victims” are pimped by various “Hero-like” corporate and non-profit entities seeking to “save” these poor souls who cannot save themselves. They need us, the saviors. Inherent in this message is that these victims are not smart enough, not capable and have not taken the proper actions to help themselves, so this is why we Heros have to do this, it is our purpose.
  • “The Villains” write policies, wield political power, and influence systems to keep clearly drawn lines between the haves (Heros) and the have nots (Victims). Oppressing the victim validates their distinction from the victims, because after all if we were all on a level playing field without blame placing and control and suppression, what would the Villains become? Who would they be?

A vicious cycle, going round and round. Each position feeling validated and passionate in their positions truth.

Layer in sociopolitical context, the historical and factual foundation of white supremacist colonization, treachery and oppression in this country to all people of color;

  • Indigenous First Nation people – Slaughtered in mass, violently moved off of their land which we all still occupy today, brutalized and traumatized through American Indian Boarding Schools where children were taken and forcibly “assimilated” to white culture punished if they practiced their religious traditions, given european haircuts, and had their tongues cut out of they refused to speak English. To this day, forced onto designated plots of land, and are systematically being erased as a racial demographic in an attempt to devoid treaty agreements with the government.  
  • African descendants – Targets of 400 years of the worst institution of torture, dehumanization, spirit-breaking, family-decimating, enslavement ever know to human beings in our history. Post-slavery, continue to be violently oppressed through systemic & political means in all aspects of life – education, healthcare, housing, economics, judicial and incarceration systems, food access, etc.
  • Asian Pacific Islander people – History of systematic segregation, Japanese internment camps during WWI, Chinese laborers who are credited with literally moving mountains and losing their lives constructing the Transcontinental railroad  
  • Latino people – Most poignant is the original borders of Mexico which encompassed all of what today is California, through the western region and including Texas, with the same history of murderous theft of land and resources, appropriation of culture and villainization of the people on the receiving end of this savage behavior.

All people of color in this country live in the residue of this culture context. We are and have been victims, without question. But we are in many respects deemed “wrong” to wear that label. Urged by white people to get over the past, embrace the individualistic culture of meritocracy prevalent in this country,  advertising any and everyone can be successful to the level of their effort.  And of course pointing out all evidence of self-deprecating behaviors as a validation of subjugated status. This is just the Villain mindset validating their own behavior with their right hand behaviors and then with their left hand seeking to be the Hero by committing a sliver of their profit margins – made through the process of extraction of the land, labor and souls of oppressed people- to feed their self-righteousness and ease their underlying guilt. Same vicious cycle.

Within this sociopolitical context of white dominant culture, everyone still operates within Victim energy, still trying to prove who is the biggest victim.

When do we rise above victim energy into something more asset based, more powerful? Is there a cultural context related to the Drama triangle? Is it prevalent in other cultures across the world? Is this a human dynamic? Does any human being anywhere operate beyond this triangle?  

Would love your thoughts and reflections. Feel free to comment below.

 

Overdue Homage To Black Queen Mothers

Mothers. Contrary to what patriarchal systems of religion will convey, we are the closest manifestations of God, creating life from triple darkness, growing life inside of us from nothing, the embodiment of unconditional love. Divine creations, God made our backs and hands stronger, our hearts larger, our spirits deeper. No one else could withstand what Black Mothers do.

I  am a 40 year old mother of one, my daughter. When I  imagined being a mother, I  planned to have what I  grew up with; two loving parents, a nice home, family vacations, happy holidays, and a good life for my children. Never did I  ever envision myself as a single parent. My parents raised me better than this, and my child/ren deserved better.

However at 22 I  met and fell hard for a man that I  truly believed was my soul mate. From day one we were inseparable. There wasn’t enough time in the day that we could spend together talking about any and everything under the sun. Countless nights we spent parked in front of my house where we intended to part ways, and we’d instead stay for hours upon hours until the sun began to rise. We discussed our people’s history, spirituality, revolutionary movements, political views, Egypt, traveling the world, the books we’d write, the names of our children, etc. We traveled all over the city for the best vegetarian meals and fruit smoothies at all hours of the day and night, cherishing the extra commute time. And the laughter! This man held such deep intellect and also the silliest most unexpected humor! This was the first time a man I  dated studied me deeply, adored the essence of who I  was, and wanted to see me thrive. I  have always been a great cheerleader for everyone else, but this one stopped me in my tracks when he asked me one day “But what about you? What do you want to achieve?” And then he supported me! He went out of his way to surprise me with a thoughtful gifts for no reason, or picking me up when he said he couldn’t. Within weeks of us first dating we went to meet his father together who he had not seen since he was a small child. We were certain, we were going to be together forever.

Until things unraveled. I  found out, not from him, that he and his ex were expecting a child. This is the part where I  should have run. He had already created a child at 16 years old in Ohio.  It was only after I hounded him to do whatever it takes to be in his son’s life that he reestablished contact and began to support. Now this. Another child. By a woman you had a separate twisted history with. But we had already decided…your next child would be ours..? I  should have run, should have shut down any emotion and just ran. But that divine heart..that unconditional love…

So we persisted. Creating a life together, but haunted by his tormented past on a daily basis. Immature, unprepared, we both were. Wrought with guilt perhaps at his past crimes while faced with losing real love… he was ill equip. Then we manifested what we had dreamed about, a child of our own. But he said the time was not right. Then again. Still he said, not now. Until God decided, Ma’at was coming.

As my belly grew, it became apparent to me that the dream I  envisioned for us and our family was not going to be. Battle scars became deep puncture wounds, until the bleeding became constant. I  could not fathom how love could turn into this; sharp tongues that met their target where only we knew each other’s most vulnerable places. I became the rage filled, Angela Basset woman- unrecognizable to myself. Hurt upon hurt, while inside me I  was growing life.

I  did not know anything about how to be a mother, but like generations of women before me, I  learned. Having my daughter was like my own re-birth. Only mothers know this feeling. Everything before, was washed away into faded gray concrete memories. I  no longer know that girl, I  no longer thought the same, felt the same, behaved the same. I  was now a woman. And there came with this new title a whole new set and depth of emotions. There was a quote by Elizabeth Stone I  found shortly after my daughter was born that resonated with me which said “Making the decision to have a child-it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

What a mother learns extremely quickly is that she no longer has a say in anything, and all of her actions are devoted to the care and well-being of her “heart”, her child. There are no breaks, no timeouts, no days off. This job requires 24 hour duty regardless of whether you are exhausted from your day at work and the craziness of the world, regardless of how much sleep you have had, regardless of what your bank account says. You are it. Your body is not yours, you eat and drink to produce nourishment for your child. What you do moment to moment is not what you prefer, but what your child needs in that moment. Maintaining our beauty and fashion standards move way down the list to the simple victory of managing to get an outfit on and get everything together to get out the door. Humility is our first garment.

Care and nurturing inevitably bring with them the cousins of worry and stress. We are the first providers, the first teachers, the ones rocking our babies to sleep each night and embracing them tightly each morning. Caring for just ourselves is now secondary to this small miracle before us, our heart, that we now need to clothe, bathe, feed, keep healthy, keep safe, raise to be good human beings in the world! Raise a human being?? When we ourselves are still figuring it out!? But yes, this is our charge as mothers.

Despite the fact that we did not become mothers through divine conception, 75% of black children are born into homes where mothers are the sole providers. We also know that 60% of single parent households live in poverty. The natural question then is where are the fathers?

Now, I  refuse to add to the chorus of voices that seek to tear down Black men. Period. I will not do it. (Evidence again of that unconditional love innate to Black women) What I  do want to talk about is Black men honoring Black women.

I   overstand, in fact, WE overstand that there are deep wounds and familial, historical and political burdens weighing on your back Black man. We recognize that weight. It is familiar to us. We even overstand that you may not be ready to heal from, rise above, fight off all of these ills, but we still love you. We have already accepted less than we know you are inside, you cannot or will not see it yet, but it’s OK, we still love you. We already know how to put ourselves aside, to care for the needs of the ones we love first. We’ve watched our mothers do this, our aunties, our grandmothers. We know sacrifice, it is the air we breathe. We make choices to do this, for a greater love.

What we cannot understand, is the dressed up insecurity (ego) and audacious arrogance you don when you come to demand and expect that we self sacrifice and never realize a fraction of the autonomy you experience  each day where you are your only consideration. It is despicable that you can navigate your day without the wrenching in your heart about the well-being of your child, your flesh, and whether they will be safe, fed, happy, etc – simply because you have the peace of mind in knowing “she’s got it covered”. You go days, weeks, months, YEARS without showing any care or concern at all. How do you do this? No seriously – HOW DO YOU DO THAT? I  cannot fathom any waking moment of life disconnected in any way from my child. And the excuse of “well that’s because you’re a mother, you birthed the child, there’s a unique bond” yes obviously. That bond is just as strong between a child and their father. Their bond is spiritual. It takes a constant, daily choice to deny it.

Disregard is only the tip of the sword though. Added insult to injury is the denial, dismissal, denigration, disgust, disrespect shown towards mothers who have literally given all of themselves to raising the child you created together. To diminish her sacrifices..when you were never there for the fevers, the tears, the applause, the firsts, the disappointments, the quiet moments of joy. You were not there, she was. To diminish the effort, commitment, dedication, & emotional toll that it takes to not ‘just’ raise a human – as if that were not enough- but to navigate this white supremacist world as a Black woman, or as any woman of color, in the United States of America where oppression lives in our workplaces, in our homes, in our healthcare, in our schools, in our grocery stores, in our police stations, etc where we find no rest because we have no protection, where our bodies harbor all of the pain, stress, trauma and hurt of our lifetimes and our great-grandmothers before us, where we strive every day to shield our babies from this toxic culture and instill self pride, love, confidence, agency, and fairness into the minds and hearts of our babies- but you stand before us and dismiss this? We don’t present ourselves as free from flaws and fault and damage. We are both flawed and imperfect human beings. What we do deserve, as a bare minimum, that carries with it more weight than any dollar can hold, any time can measure, any words can articulate- is respect and honor for us as Mothers.

Even if we are “bad” mothers, according to you. Even if we are not on time. Even when our fuse is short and we raise our voices. Recall your rough edges as well, and consider the context. Consider the job we have taken on and are executing each day, despite your choices to be men or not, we are still Mothers everyday. That, deserves honor.

This is my plea to you, my brothers, to the fathers who are not under the same roof as their children, do better. Even to those who are doing all the right things, do more. But especially for those who make the daily choice to perpetuate cycles of emotional trauma, disconnected families, children who wear questions on their hearts of why you don’t love them back as ferociously as they love you, we need you to do better. Heal your own mother wounds. Do your own work to be better, we cannot do this for you, as much as we try.

Let us reflect on the words of a wise young man who spoke wisdom for our generation in hopes we can make these words irrelevant for the next:

You know it makes me unhappy (What’s that)
When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy
And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but keep your head up

– 2Pac, Keep Your Head Up

To The Other Woman

Dear Other Woman,

I am writing to you in hopes to dispel some misconceptions that may live in your mind, that are comforting your conscience when it tries to remind you of what you need to see. I know you have likely experienced a parade of bad interactions and relationships with men. Men who have lied, cheated, maybe even been abusive, and all you did was want to be loved. They hurt you, and so you’ve resolved that having half a man is sufficient now because you’d rather be with a man who wants you so much, that he’s willing to step out on his woman or wife just to be with you. The passion, the intimacy, it’s invigorating! And there’s something about the secrecy that elevates the fire even more.

I’m here to remind you of what you don’t recognize, what you try hard to convince yourself is not true. He may hold you in his arms and tell you how his woman is crazy, or just doesn’t pay attention to him, or give him what you give him. He may even tell you he loves you.

What he doesn’t tell you is that his woman/wife has a smile that breaks down walls inside of him. That woman has sister friends that she gets together with and they lift each other up through hard times, and they laugh together over wine. That woman has birthdays each year, celebrates holidays, has family. That woman has lived years of life and has been shaped by those years. That woman has all of the self doubts and has to beat back imposter syndrome, just like you. She wins in life, and she loses some too. And at some point, this same man who paints a gray picture of this woman, loved her deeply. He loved the way she laughs, he wanted to study her and her interests. He planned life with her, they shared time and moments together. He lays his head next to hers each night, not yours. And regardless of the “but they don’t” or “but he doesn’ts” that may come to mind, whatever is between the two of you, is not deep or powerful enough to cause him to leave her.

So what do you really have? And what are you really doing? Do you want to create the pain that you have felt for another woman? A woman who cries, laughs, and bleeds just like you? Do you not think yourself worthy of having a full man? Someone who believes you alone are enough for him?

Put yourself in the shoes of that woman. The one he demonizes in order to help justify in your mind what you already know is wrong. Imagine yourself in relationship or in a marriage, and think about a woman who knows about you but chooses to engage with the man you love. What would you think of this woman?

Ultimately, yes, the problem lies between this man and his woman. And they will sink or swim based on their ability to navigate the turbulence of their relationship. However, their fate should play out without interference, without an escape hatch. You, are an escape hatch. A temporary escape from facing the challenges at home. You are engaging with a weak man, who runs from challenges instead of facing them. Don’t be his escape hatch. Be a lady. And show the respect you’d want another woman to show you if the tables were turned.

Sincerely,

A Lady

When Will We Stop Vilifying the Children & Families We Say We Aim To Lift Up?

Social Emotional Learning; a field that I am new to and gaining knowledge, wisdom and appreciation for. The concept is one that I profoundly believe in. When thinking about education today (teachers interacting with children), and understanding that something is fundamentally broken which is resulting in our country woefully under-performing in contrast to other countries in the world; social emotional learning (SEL) points to the heart of the issue. The issue is fundamentally dysfunctional relationships manifesting themselves in the classroom.

We have leaders in the field like The Aspen Institute who are committed to unearthing the core factors contributing to this country’s broken educational system, and they have taken the stance that “Learning is social and emotional”. Vanguard thinkers and leaders like Zaretta Hammond with her “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain” framework for teachers speaks to the fact that learning does not happen without established trusting relationships.  Can it be that “simple”? We have politicians pointing to unions as the blockade to progress in education, and school districts fighting for sufficient funding but often making poor choices in investments to benefit all children, and then philanthropists peering in from the outside with the best intentions seeking improvement, hoping to find silver bullets to “cure” systemic issues. But the answer really is that simple; ALL of our teachers and educational administrators simply need to believe that ALL children have genius within them, and it is their role to encourage, nurture, and support each child in discovering that genius to share with the world.

Think for a moment about an example of a “great” teacher you may have had or know of. Now think of an example of an “exceptional” school you attended or visited.  The common thread in each of those scenarios will be consistent with the truth of the bolded statement above. Those superhero Teachers and Principals that we highlight in videos like purple unicorns – they display these values. They actually love children, not just the children that look like them. Not just the children that come from “good” 2 parent homes. Not just the children who do not live in poverty-stricken communities. Not just the children who do not have physical, emotional or mental health needs. Not just the children who perform well on standardized tests to make them look good. But they love and believe in ALL children.

So what prevents this simple truth from being the rule and not the exception? Well, on a micro level, we have to examine what factors contaminate any human to human relationship. We are products of our upbringing, the examples of relationships and behaviors we have seen, and the values that our cumulative culture produces. Said simply, bias and ego are often the leading unnamed and highly taboo culprits destroying our classrooms today. Bias is a very touchy subject, one that people immediately recoil from! Talking about personal beliefs and owning the stories that define who we are?! OH MY! No way! That might cause us to have to examine ourselves, we might then have to reflect and -God-forbid- actually practice “self-awareness” that we are now shoving down our children’s throats in the name of SEL!! But if we step back to look at things on a macro level, those individualistic mindsets are the remnants of strategic choices made by the writers of the founding principles of this country. They merely continue to be bolstered and renewed in different ways. This country was not founded to uplift all of humanity. In fact even to this day, not all humans are considered human beings, worthy of civil or human rights. So our educational system is merely a product of the source of our country’s diseased consciousness.

What concerns me the most, as we all seek to exist in this toxic environment is the fact that unfortunately even our best “inventions” and intentions towards a cure are often still perverted. SEL for example. As I explained, is a field I am learning and growing in but deeply believe in conceptually. The application of this “concept” of social emotional health and or learning has been almost entirely child-focused. There are countless programs that seek to teach/build/coach, etc SEL skills in children. Teachers- who are already stretched thin- are mostly engaged to the point of learning what structure/framework they need to learn and then enforce onto the children, not with the goal of doing any of the reflection work themselves let alone build it into their practice to live and model it.

Let’s take a step back for a second and just examine teaching children how to be ‘self-aware’ (i.e. recognize) their emotions. Is this really the job of the child?? Or better stated, where should the bulk of this identification really lie in a relationship between a developing child and an adult? We want our babies to be able to raise their hands and robotically announce to us “Teacher, I am feeling really upset and hurt right now because Sharon looked at me and shook her head. This reminded me of the disapproval I feel from my parent at home, and it is bringing on some underlying psychological trauma for me. So I am going to throw this chair as a result.” Sound about right?

Of course we want to develop the language and awareness of our children that allows them to accurately articulate what they feel and what they need in all circumstances. They will need these skills when they are adults in all areas of their lives where relationship and communication is required. (i.e. everywhere that human interaction exists) However, there are some flaws with this line of thinking as a solution for our broken educational system:

  1. The system is asking Teachers, who happen to be taller children (emotionally), who have never been taught about social emotional health and well being, to teach it to children.
  2. The premise of this approach assumes that problems with children learning in the classroom are a result of problems with the child, and so they need to be “fixed” by learning some skills. (This is called a bias) They are developing children!! Perhaps instead of trying to make them operate as mini-adults, we should instead elevate our expectations and qualifications for the adults in these classrooms to approach teaching with a whole child, developmentally-appropriate approach.
  3. There is also an extension of the premise of #2 that pushes blame onto families. As we talk about measuring/teaching/building skills in children, this presumes they are lacking them (deficit approach- this too is a bias). Which also means that those “no-good” parents didn’t teach them these skills. Enter the “savior” Teacher and school administration who feel utterly burdened with the weight of having to raise the children of these “ignorant, no-good” parents. (Guess what this is? Also a bias!)

Has the perversion of this approach begun to become clear?

What is wrong with the educational system in America is NOT the children, and it is NOT the families!! Or the communities where the children live!

Isn’t it time that we start taking a serious look at the cause of the ailment instead of prescribing medications for the symptoms? Our problems are much deeper than teacher pay, or charter versus neighborhood schools, or magnet and IB schools versus STEM schools! Our problem is in what we refuse to name!! It is the silent killer that lies lurking in every educational forum, every symposium with all of the field’s best and brightest who present their purple unicorns and silver bullet ideas on how to cure the failures of the system. Our problem is systemic, and it is about the refusal to address this country’s collective consciousness of racial bias. Until this is at the beginning and end of any and every conversation we are having around education, or any problem in our society- we are really doing nothing more than pouring sprinkles on a pile of excrement.

Poverty Is Not A Cause, It Is An Effect

Poverty and the people living in this state are often discussed with precarious, cloaked language. The human beings living in poverty are faces in the shadows, mysterious… and slightly scary as a result. They are unclean and therefore those living a paycheck away from joining them cling desperately to the social constructs that place a barrier between “us” and “them”. They are “lazy”. They are “scheming”…because we are so smart to see that the man begging for spare change is wearing a brand new pair of shoes. Little do we know, they were gifted to him from a kind-hearted stranger, conscious of the bitter cold that lies ahead. “But that man is there every day, on-time, begging, like it’s a job”…well in absence of the ability to get one and with shelters at capacity, technically what other choice does he have? The alternative being to just curl up in his shadowy corner, out of sight, and die. And there are those that would find this an appropriate end.

What is often unspoken when we talk about poverty is the WHY. Yes, hard times are assumed, which landed individuals in this state of despair. But what has caused generations of families to come into this world with less than an 8% chance of ever climbing their way out? In this “land of opportunity”, where immigrants come and open up businesses and thrive. Why is it that the faces of poverty in this country are more times than not black and brown?

Across a variety of contexts and conversations, “poverty” serves as a code word for black and brown faces.  In medical and health spaces, “poverty” is a cause for “higher risk” everything. In housing spaces, “poverty” is at fault for declining property values; with dilapidated housing seen as not appalling but appropriate for “those people”. “Poverty” is always reported as the cause for “high crime”, “high violence”, “high incarceration rates”. Unemployment rates (without mention of the number of available jobs of course) are always highest in these “poverty” areas. On paper, these trends repeated over and over without any context would easily lead one to believe that “those” people are just “bad”. With all of those negative associations, any logical person would quickly resolve they want nothing to do with any of those outcomes for fear of some of them rubbing off and attaching onto them.

Context is so critical.

Often times, in our rush to resolution and judgement, we forgo the critical first step of gaining understanding through context. This country, as described from the  traditional “exploitative and colonizing” perspective began over 500 years ago. Throughout the span of this “New World’s” establishment there has been a vehement thirst for dehumanizing black and brown people. First by spilling the blood of millions of First Nations people who were already here, and then immediately after by the import of millions of African people who were then subject to 400 years of the most brutal institution of dehumanization known in the history of mankind, which continues on to this very day.

Descendants of both free and enslaved Africans have survived the depths of pain and trauma that is almost utterly inconceivable, the unthinkable. Yet, I have seen throughout my lifespan, people bristle at the mention of this factual history! Both black and white people who wish to “move on”,  point at a few sample indications of “westernized success” with black faces and call it progress and urge the dismissal of discussing slavery and its impacts. But what happens in these swift attempts to deny looking into the mirror of history in this country is to dismiss the tragic realities, struggles, losses, deaths, and traumas of our ancestors who made it possible for us to stand here today.

Poverty did not just “happen”.

Consider a baby, born of it’s mother and snatched away to be raised in the most brutal circumstances, beaten, raped, psychologically abused, denied the basic needs that any human being would require to develop into a healthy adult. This baby has been beaten into submission throughout its life and knows nothing else except what its brutalizer has taught them.  Then at about age 16, this child is released from their brualizer and sent into the streets. Thrust into “the real world” where jobs hire based upon the competitiveness of your sharpened resume, your slick, non-threatening and highly westernized appearance, and how well you speak proper Old English. Housing is provided to those who have jobs with an income. Credit is afforded to those who have the preceding two. Oh and by the way, society hates this “baby”.

Exacerbate this baby’s reality with the fact that government is not too happy about the brutalizer having to release their baby, so they create another institution within which they can continue brutalizing legally- the prison industrial complex. Multi-national, billion dollar businesses invest in these complexes and profit, babies are snatched up left and right to fill these prisons and keep the brutalization of yester years going strong (separation of families, emasculating men, intentional spread of disease among targeted prison populations, etc). Same tactics with a new face. Oh but they didn’t stop there, these evolved brutalizers wanted to spice things up even more and create educational systems that continued the brutalization that was done in private to a broader, more formalized scale through public education. Additionally, crack was genetically created in labs to attack these “babies” and be the most addictive based upon their genetic makeup. It’s added benefit was also intended to destroy families,  boost incarceration rates, etc. Other industries caught on and created other “creative strategies” to target babies and make their lives as miserable or unlivable as possible. Some of those strategies included experimental medical testing without consent, redlining and charging exorbitantly inflated mortgage rates to increase the earning/wealth gap dramatically, regulation for welfare recipients that enforced fatherless households and further dismantling of familial structures, genetically modified, heavy salt and sugar filled, processed foods concentrated in targeted communities, etc etc etc the list of atrocities goes on and on….

When we consider this story objectively, as happening to an innocent “baby”, perhaps these atrocities become much more apparent and your responses much more visceral. But I would challenge you to ask yourself why your response is different when this story is told about a black or brown person/family? What messaging have you bought into? What beliefs have you been taught that have been accepted without question? And how do these beliefs play out in the decisions you are making each and every day?

Poverty is not causal to the atrocities that are widely considered the ugly underbelly of this “great” nation, it is an effect of calculated actions taken by generations of white men and women who seek to destroy black and brown people.

Question everything. Examine thoroughly everything. Seek Context and Understanding. And then live by those idealistic principles you have been taught..to “love your neighbor” and “treat others as you want to be treated”. Stop living as a passive observer in this world and start using your agency to create the world as it ought to be.

Peace.

A New Journey; Homage to Jill Scott

‘When I wake up
Everything I went thru will be beautiful’…
But until then it seems this nightmare stretches on
Each day of beauty that greets me
Somehow doesn’t feel real
How is it that when I wake up from a dream it feels like I’m leaving reality
Where is my gravity
I hear today that 1 negative blow
Is 16 times more powerful than a positive stroke
Meditating on what the effects of 5 years of negative strokes must be…?
What kind of heart must I have?
What kind of spirit?
Maybe I’m the David Goggins of heart toughness
And still I’m expectant of an extraordinary love
Getting more grounded in reality
And leaving romanticism to the movie screen
Examining pieces of me
Shutting the external world down
Because right now
There’s a little girl inside
Crying her eyes out
Needing a hug
Needing the warmth and sweetness of my love
The kind of love that makes you feel secure
Safe
Loved
Surrounded
Strong
Dam the practicalities
She’s in a fight for her life
There’s a fork in the road up ahead
She can decide to turn off her humanity and live a life where she won’t ever expose herself to the possibility of hurt
Or
She can push thru this
And come out stronger
Wiser, faster
As she’ll know her pitfalls, her missteps
Better than anyone else
She will face her greatest fear head on
Turning inward to face herself
Face her loneliness
Face her ugliness and insecurity
Will she beat it down
Love it away?
Or just sit in it?
I do not know
Because I’ve always had a convenient distraction
Preventing me from needing to face that uncomfortable place
Yet and still
Somehow that demon showed her face
Kicking and screaming for recognition
Feeling the ground shake beneath my feet
Frantic always
Waiting for this to be the look, the act, the sign
That he discovered who I am
And would walk away
Always feeling devalued
Always placing trust in someone else to tell me who I am
Instead of knowing it for myself
Always waiting for the other shoe to drop
Even with God
I’ve done so much wrong
How could She possibly still love me?
Look out for me?
And if I have doubts about my Creator’s ability to accept me
How could I possibly expect a divine love here on earth
In the flesh
Where the women outnumber the men
And I attract the very men that don’t appreciate this heart of a woman
Equal parts of vinegar and spice
I couldn’t attract a “good man”
Because I myself wasn’t right
To get right
Is the journey I’m seeking to take
But this path feels unreal
Like I’m walking a dream
I feel like crying with every step
Just want to be silent
I hold my breath
Waiting for pain to return
But I’m increasing the pace of my steps
Don’t want to feel it
But it’s familiar
So it pulls at my depths
Don’t let this smile fool you
This woman is fighting for her life
The little girl inside is screaming for safety in the familiar
But the lady in me
Just knows she no longer wants to live here
Not sure what’s next
Can’t hardly see my foot to take my next steps
But I just know I’m moving forward
And not going back