Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Life IS Great...If You See it That Way

I consider myself a pretty optimistic person. Or at least I try to make a conscious effort to be. I credit that to being born into a family who, despite hardships or setbacks, always managed to "flip the coin" and find the "good" in something. Perhaps their credit is owed to our resilience as a people period and the countless generations before them who depended on this level of optimism for sheer survival alone. So, imagine my surprise with myself when I met a pure and simple moment with extreme pessimism, which made me question exactly where I was in my own life.

Recently, I acquired a new co-worker with whom I will be closely working. As she prepared to get up to speed in her duties, she stopped by to ask me a few questions. I greeted her and asked her how she was doing and without hesitation she replied, "Life is great and getting better every day." And I just stared. Stared almost as if she were speaking a foreign language. After I realized my reaction, I smiled, offered a simple, "That's great to hear" and moved on with our discussion.

However, long after she left, I was still replaying her reply in my head. Life is great and getting better everyday? What exactly does she mean? I was dumbfounded by the mere power of such a statement--and skeptic of it. So much so, I began to relay the story to friends and, sadly, they were even more dumbfounded and offering what I realize in hindsight was tons of pessimistic theories. "Hmm, you sure she wasn't being sarcastic?" one person asked. "Sounds like a set up. No one's that cheery. Watch your back," offered another. "Girl bye" another simply replied, which in summary meant my co-worker's reply was absolute crap and not to be believed.

As the days went on, more cheeriness was exhibited from my new co-worker in the form of a bright smile; a heartfelt (multiple) apology for a misstep. I was even treated to a "Quote of the Day" as a co-signature on their outgoing e-mail, which helped me more settle on the simple fact that this person is invested in the positive. Point blank. Period. The only person who needed to be scrutinized in this matter was ME. Yes, life can be difficult. Setbacks will come. Hurt will arise. Hearts will be broken. The world seems more out of control than ever and with the "live big" concept constantly being shoved down our throats in every way possible from music to social media, it can easily cloud how we actually see our lives.

But as I arose from my bed at the start of the next week, enjoyed the warmth of my home--with more than enough room for me--drove my reliable car to my 16-year-place of employment, filled by belly with a hearty breakfast and lunch, took time throughout the day to e-mail, text, and speak on the phone with loved ones, purchase some items I had wanted (note: not really needed), and made plans for the weekend, I realized I not only shouldn't have been shocked by my co-worker's reply but should have been the one delivering it when I was asked how I was doing. I--as many of us are--am clearly blessed way beyond the "I'm good" phrase I toss out often without thinking. I WAS great. And despite the ups and downs of life; the sick days that creep upon us; not always getting our wants (often ignoring the fact we really have all we need), life is great. And every day we are allowed to rise and be able to say so, MAKES it so, which trumps anything we could ever possibly gripe about.

Indeed, we're human and so the gripes will tumble out of our mouths every now and again. But my encounter with my co-worker has reminded me that I have a lot more to be ecstatic about instead. So, the next time I'm asked how I'm doing, I will consider using her reply and, in doing so, remind myself of the truth of it: Life is great and getting better every day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Flip Side of Heroism

Amid the recent unrest and uprising in Baltimore City over the unexplained death of yet another young black man--25-year-old Freddie Gray--at the hands of the police, there was another situation brewing that, too, cast a young black man center stage. Along with images of burning buildings, protesters, military forces, and heavy law enforcement, every major news outlet from ABC to CNN was also running--on loop--the image of Toya Graham, a single Baltimore mother of six, who took to the streets to literally snatch her son from out of the chaos. Her act of pushing, hitting, and cursing him into submission quickly gained her the title of "Hero Mom of the Year" and the world was watching and celebrating her.

Ms. Graham's fears and frustrations were valid. It's a scary time. And an even scarier time for young black men. As she explained in countless interviews, it was that very fear that caused her to "lose it." As the youngest of six children myself, I can't say I haven't been on the receiving end of some tough discipline whether it was out of fear for my safety or simply because I had temporarily lost my own mind in how I responded to my parents. However, for days after the video of Ms. Graham surfaced, there was a gnawing in my gut that would not let me applaud her act of "heroism." I turned it over in my mind; tossed it about in my heart; and though I thought I had reached a satisfying conclusion for my unrest--fear of this moment thrusting yet another stereotype upon black mothers; fear that her actions would be used to justify the police brutality running rampant in our communities; disappointment that Ms. Graham's concern for her child was being seen as "something unique" in the black community--it wasn't until a dear friend shared an article addressing an interview Ms. Graham and her son did with Anderson Cooper in which the young man's discomfort during it was explored--that it hit me. My fear--though not the same kind Ms. Graham felt--was for her son as well. A fear that his being thrust into the spotlight would ultimately do more damage than what she was initially fearing. Because for there to be a hero, there has to also be a villain. And this young man is no villain.

In one interview, the young man--who had never been in any legal trouble--stated he was simply frustrated with the matters at hand and, arguably, much like Ms. Graham stated about herself, possibly "lost it" too. And that was simply it. Her doing what she did should have been it as well. But the subsequent interviews she accepted--most likely blinded by an intoxicating 15-minutes of fame--threatened to strip this young man of his self esteem with every camera shot. Up until that point, we had know idea who he was. Not even with footage of the incident on repeat, did we ever see his face. He was simply another teen--among hundreds that day--dressed in black and face partially obscured by a hoodie he was wearing. Yet, she introduced us to her son on national platforms without once considering the effect it could possible have on him once they returned to their neighborhood and the cameras stopped rolling. Not once did she stop to consider that in a neighborhood plagued with poverty, crime, and a lack of strong black male role models, whether her son would now be lured into the very traps she feared, in his attempt to exude or--perhaps at his young age--find his manhood (that could now be propped up as a target for the jeers, taunts, and dissection of his peers around him) by any means necessary.

The fact is we've all acted without thinking and, if we were lucky, we had good parents that cared enough about us to "get us in line." Behavior can always be corrected and this young man just had a moment. But a broken spirit and a tarnished reputation are often a tad bit harder to rebuild, and Ms. Graham, unfortunately, sacrificed both. Yes, she admitted to her initial moment of unclarity, but how she chose to capitalize on that moment was nothing to celebrate. Perhaps just knowing she possibly did the right thing for her son and then following those actions with a "no comment" would have been more heroic. But as is often said, when you know better, you do better. Here's to hoping.

In the meantime, while the city continues to sort itself out and we await justice (yet again), let's continue to pray for the safety and protection of all of our young black men, and not just their bodies but their spirits as well, as a blow to either is a hurt that reverberates throughout all of our communities.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Conquering That Pesky "YSK Syndrome"

I'm not exactly sure when I contracted YSK syndrome. Chances are, if you're reading this, you have it too. Limited research points to it possibly being a disorder I inherited from my mom, who inherited from her mom, who inherited it from her mom (you see where this is going). It seems to be primarily a woman's disease, and I discovered the older I became, the more of my relationships and friendships it threatened to affect. However, now that I'm more aware of its damages, I can say I'm getting better at recognizing its symptoms and hopefully heading towards a permanent cure, which means, there's hope for you too! So, let's explore YSK, also known as..."You Should Know" syndrome!

That's right. The ugly "You Should Know" monster that keeps us silent toward getting our needs met while being secretly frustrated at the person who we've entrusted to figure out what said needs are through mental telepathy. Yes, it may sound silly, but it is unfortunately how many of us are navigating our relationships OR using as a measuring tool to end them. Whether it's a "You should know what I like..." "You should know what I want..." "You should know that I don't..." or "You should know that I won't...", there will never be any clearer communication than just saying whatever it is that needs to be said following that opening statement.

Now, as a woman, I understand how difficult (and unromantic) this can be to accept in relationships at times, as I do believe God gave women a few extra "already know it" neurons in order to navigate motherhood. Remember how your mother knew what you were doing in the next room without even getting off of the couch? And when you were caught red-handed, the first words she uttered to you were "You should know better!" Well, over time most of us did come to know but we, unfortunately, expected everyone else to know too. However, that only happens in a perfect world...and really great science fiction movies starring Keanu Reeves. Never is this theory more flawed than in our personal relationships where we're now merging our "life lessons" with someone else's yet hoping for a flawless, pre-conceived outcome.

It's also pretty safe to assume romance movies have done many of us in as well, where the friend happens to send flowers at just the right time or the guy proposes at just the right moment or someone says "I love you" seconds before a shooting star passes by. And so we hold on to these images and apply them to our own situations, forgetting the fact that a team of writers and producers were responsible for those moments we're measuring our own relationships against.

The truth is, in our quest to truly be known and understood, we have to open our mouths and share who we are: our likes and dislikes; our hopes and our dreams; our wants and our needs. Relying on others to simply observe and figure out what those are over time might work, but it will never be as effective as simply speaking our truth, even if that truth has to be spoken more than once for another to fully understand it. But that's simply called communication, and it's a necessary foundation for building any strong relationship of any kind. So, whatever it is you're hoping for, waiting for, or wishing for, begin by opening your heart and then your mouth and sharing it. It's the only way we'll ever truly get what we need and want, and takes someone having to guess about what that is out of the equation. But you should know that, right? ;-)

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Hidden Message in Your Vision Board

It's no surprise that the start of a new year brings a host of new beginnings, commitments, and resolutions. A chance to hit the "start" or "re-start" button on a dream. An opportunity to leave behind the negative and extend oneself toward the positive. Be it taking out a gym membership or applying for a loan to start a business, that first step usually begins with a vision in one's mind. However, to better "see" the road map from vision to attainment, many have begun gathering glue guns and girlfriends (and wine), and creating the now ever-so-popular "vision board."

Being a fan of anything that promotes self-awareness, growth, and positive energy, I am no stranger to vision boards or their usefulness in charting one's course toward success. However, recently reading an Essence article on how to create a more effective one, reminded me of two things: 1) that I hadn't created one in a while, and 2) that the vision board actually brings about another opportunity for assessment that many are not even aware of. I discovered the latter when I recalled that my last vision board was...stuffed behind my bed. In the words of Kevin Hart, let me explain.

Years ago, I was in a relationship that was not serving either of us well (if both parties are honest), but hindsight revealed we were probably more committed to the commitment than we were committed to our own true happiness. I won't even go into detail about how difficult and dangerous that can be. However, in hoping to make a little more sense of my life at that time (read: avoiding the troubled relationship elephant in the room), I set out on creating a vision board. Cue the magazines, scissors, markers, glue, glitter, and all that fun stuff that makes the board "come alive." As a then newbie, I now realize some goals simply weren't streamlined well enough and others not even goals but instead those things that just sound good to say (like, win the lottery? Umm. Yeah.). But I digress.

After completing my masterpiece, I hung it proudly on my bedroom wall so that I could see it and draw the vision into my consciousness on a daily basis. However, whenever my significant other came over, I'd take the board down and hide it behind my bed. Now, I justified this behavior by telling myself a vision should be private and that no one needs to know your dreams. However, after I finally had the fortitude to end the relationship, I realized some time later that my actions were truly because the person was not really a part of any of my visions, and because I didn't want them to try and "compromise" any of my visions by seeing them. And THAT was a major wake up call.

Yes, visions are personal but they certainly do not need to be "secrets" hidden from anyone you're sharing your life with, be it friends, family, or a partner. In other words, if there is any anxiety about sharing your vision with anyone in your life for fear of judgment, criticism, coveting, etc., your first order of business in organizing your life is to ask yourself why you've kept such people IN your life. Our relationships regardless of what kind should be built on love, trust, understanding, and, support! When you begin to hide any parts of yourself in an effort to keep any of those relationships "harmonious": red flag! There is no growth without freedom, and there is no freedom in hiding. Many of our visions are ushered into fruition by the loving support (and, dare I say, connections) of others. Those that truly belong in--and are there to enhance and advance--your life will not only embrace your visions but can help you reach them as well.

If in planning your vision board party or going at one alone, you find yourself seriously vetting who you invite or share them with, there is no time like the beginning of a new year to do inventory on who you call your "circle"--or even your partner. Before any vision can be birthed, a solid foundation must be in place, and loving, supportive people should always be a part of that foundation--and your life.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Selma: A Journey Through Our Present

"At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man's unending search for freedom...."

When President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered these words to Congress in 1965 in a speech to generate support for the Voting Rights Act, ignited by the Dr. King-led march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, one couldn't imagine that those same words could be used to explain the genius that is "Selma": a cinematic powerhouse that takes an in-depth look at one moment in history that is perfectly aligned with the current state of race relations in our present day America. 

Led by a stellar cast of Black Hollywood notables from David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Carmen Ejogo as a quiet-strengthened Coretta, with Oprah Winfrey, Common, Wendell Pierce, Lorraine Toussaint, and newcomer Stephan James, who masterfully portrays a young John Lewis, as supporting cast, director Ana DuVernay mastered what should have been the impossible: allowing the spirit of Selma to play the leading role, even at times, overshadowing the essence of Oyelowo. Oyelowo, however, superbly plays the then 36-year old Dr. King, humanizing the civil rights leader in a way that has not always been present in biopics, where jokes and laughter flow as freely from his soul as his mature-beyond-his-years spirit towards advancing his people. Yet, Oeylowo plays the character with just enough subtlety to let the story itself be greater than the man whose name is without question synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement.

However, it can be argued that despite its outstanding directing, acting, and storytelling, the strength of "Selma"--and proposed box office success--might not have had the same impact if not for the current unrest playing out on our soil once again today. When the citizens of Selma march to the local courthouse and fall to their knees, we "see" the citizens of Ferguson march to Clayton; when Oyelowo delivers the speech over the body of a murdered young black man; we "hear" the words that were delivered over the body of Mike Brown; when the lights are deliberately shut off by city officials before protesters are beaten without witness and when tear gas is fired upon them as they attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge on what is now known as "Bloody Sunday," we remember what we all watched play out on our own television sets night after night as protesters stood in harm’s way in their pursuit for justice."

Even when unrest between the SNCC and the SCLC threatens to derail Dr. King's mission, we're reminded of our own quiet debates during the building of the #BlackLivesMatter movement when we questioned the approach of our more fiery, young leaders versus the more planned approaches of those who came before us. And when we discover the uniquely clever way Dr. King uses the media to advance his mission, we're reminded that when journalism is used responsibly, it can be a great conduit to ignite and transform the world.

All of these powerful and painful reminders are masterfully woven throughout "Selma," which reminds us that our yesterday is today; and today our tomorrow to create. It is a cinematic masterpiece that is both harrowing and heartbreaking. Harrowing as it reminds us that we can--and have--overcome;  heartbreaking as it beckons us to remember just how far we still have to go. "Selma" at this time and at this appointed place is calling us all to do what has been done before while trusting that we can--and must--do it again. That is, remember that though there may be leaders, a movement requires the people for there to be progress.

As we near the commemoration of Dr. King's birth, let us be reignited by his words that "Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." We are those individuals that can ignite change and "Selma" is calling us to answer that charge.