Proud Pauper

My Papa.
My Papa.

I had the honor of being a guest blogger on the http://www.collectedyoungminds.org website.  This post was very difficult to write. I hope it speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

https://www.collectedyoungminds.org/single-post/2015/03/20/CONTRIBUTION-Proud-Pauper

 

Turn Down After five

The title of this blog post might suggest that I am going to share what life is like after thirty years old and how it feels like I am “turning down” a lot more than I am “turning up.”  While there may be lots of truth to that statement, I do not intend to expound on that in this post.  This blog post IS about the behavior of people after a certain age; and that age is five.  Yep, five years old.

In my life, I’ve had the pleasure to spend a lot of time around young kids and I’ve learned that they have a unique gift of transparency, which inevitably allows them to always be “turned up.”  They turn up the truth, they turn up the laughter, and they turn up the ability to live life!  Let me quickly qualify the term “turned up.” I am in no way speaking of the need to ingest a lot of alcohol or drugs in order to become a more authentic person in speech.  As adults, we know that both drugs and alcohol not only inebriate you, but they also make you honest.  When I think of kids being turned up, I am struck by the reality that they don’t need a thing to be authentic.  They just are.

My niece and I. Of course, I am wearing another pair of “stylishly chic” pants.

Some of the brutally honest and terribly funny things kids have said to me over the years have caused me to literally, laugh out loud.  Take for instance, the time I wore a pair of pants that I would qualify as “stylishly chic,” and I was told by a kid that I looked like I was wearing pajama bottoms!  Pajamas, really?  Kids don’t know style!  Do they?  I still enjoy wearing those pants and asking kids what they think of them.

With more than 10 nieces and nephews ranging from the age of 2 – 10, I have been gifted with the ongoing perspective of kids even outside of my role in youth development.   Keep in mind that my perspective is pure conjecture. However, it seems to me that something happens to little [human] beings after the age of five and they learn that it is important to assuage people and make sure their responses garner a positive response.  They do away with pajama pant statements.  After five years old, kids seem to begin caring about what others think.  This steady loss of transparency has a way of slowly altering our actions as adults.  It helps us to live with facades and forces us to “turn down” our authenticity.  This may be the first time you ever hear me exhort anyone to “turn up,” but please dear ones, TURN UP YOUR AUTHENTICITY after FIVE.  If anything, as adults, we have a deeper need for family and friends to be real with us.

This is purely anecdotal, but here are a few lessons we can learn from the little ones on how to stay turned up:

  • Be truthful.  As adults this gift sometimes fades for fear of offense.  People still yearn for truth and we can speak it in love.  Let love lead the conversations.
  • Be yourself. Kids wear batman costumes to the grocery store because they are superheroes.  As adults, we have a ton to offer one another by being ourselves (even if we have superhero tendencies).  Don’t give the world a watered down version of yourself.  Kids certainly don’t.
  • Be present.  Kids don’t worry about the future.  They trust that everything will be okay.  They don’t waste energy worrying.  We can learn from them.
  • Be authentic. Kids don’t pretend to like people; so don’t you do that.  Genuinely learn about others and develop a friendship from that place.  We are more alike than we are different.

As a high school student, my Spanish teacher shared an old proverb that has remained with me over the years.  The proverb says, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”  May you and your friends be known as those who never “turned down” their authenticity.  Love others well and live authentically. Let people see you.  You are worth seeing.

So you must stop telling lies. “You must always speak the truth to each other,”because we all belong to each other in the same body. Ephesians 4:25 (ERV)

Embracing the Selma Movement in a Socially Unconscious Society

Made by HistoryWe have come to the end of Black History Month, however, I have one more topic to discuss…

There are few movies that leave an indelible mark on my mind and heart upon exiting the theater, however “Selma” and “12 Years a Slave” did just that.  The mark they left have driven me to consider whether or not the consciousness that we aim to achieve through social media is actually leaving us in a greater state of unconsciousness and self absorption.

I draw such conclusion as I recount Martin Luther King Jr.’s moving speech and audacious challenge to those marching with him in Selma, AL to have a willingness to die for equal rights.  Martin stated, “Deep down in our non-violent creed is the conviction that there are some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they’re worth dying for.  And if a man happens to be 36-years-old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the door of his life- some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right.   …A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right.  A man dies when he refuses to stand up for injustice.  A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”

I juxtapose Martin Luther King’s position with a recent account of a peer who decided to attend a forum to mobilize the justice movement in our city as a response to the Ferguson, MO situation.  As the forum started and the facilitator asked attendees how they should mobilize in our city, an individual stated, “I don’t know what we will do, but I know that I am not laying in the streets…”  You may recall that there were some individuals who laid in the streets as a form of non-violent protest to the loss of Michael Brown’s life and the larger systemic issue of police profiling of African American men.  I assure you that this person did not refuse to lay in the street because it was cold in Cincinnati at the time, but the statement spoke to the culture of our society which has a deep disdain for inconvenience.

Let me tell you what’s convenient for us…Facebook and Twitter posts.  It is quite convenient to post still images of us at a single point in time doing something noble or honorable (as we see it) and sharing that image with the world to garner “likes.”  It seems to me that the only thing Facebook and Twitter are making us conscious of is how “great we think we are.”  These mediums are making us unconscious to the reality that anything worth living for is also worth dying for.  They are making us unconscious to what is happening in our nation as it relates to the bankruptcy of our educational system.  They are lulling us to sleep and singing a deceptively sweet lullaby that tells us that the world needs to know what we are eating, where we are vacationing, and what we are wearing (especially if we’ve personally deemed it “swagged out” or “on fleek”).

If social media existed during Solomon Northrup or Martin Luther King, Jr’s. day, I imagine it would be used as a platform for justice not a pedestal for pride-fullness.  To be clear, I am not against Facebook or social media; in fact, I use them all the time.  But, as I watched these movies, I was convicted because I realized that I too was drifting into the abyss of apathy and not using my voice (whether through social media or vocally) to advocate and communicate the causes that God has placed in my heart.  I was becoming socially unconscious.  You, know, just conscious enough to know what’s happening, but NOT conscious enough to DO anything about it.  Not conscious enough to risk anything, but just conscious enough to post everything.

I understand that the way in which we become socially conscious will be uniquely different for all of us.  Solomon Northrup stated while he was still a slave, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”  Even on the journey to freedom he intentionally set his heart upon the end goal as he exclaimed, “I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!”  I believe we have much to learn from these two ordinary men and others who resisted the dangers of apathy and willingly sacrificed their lives for freedom, both literally and figuratively.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was on to something when he stated that we are not makers of history, but rather made by history.  When the next generation looks back and sees how we have historically used social media, may it garner a desire in them to let their voices be heard and not just their faces seen.  For it is in what we make of social media today that will shape tomorrow.

This is post is not a call for you to quite your job and march in the streets. This post is a call for you to position your heart to sacrifice your life, career, or comfort for the cause(s) that keep you consciously awake at night.  Significant change is often produced via the path of least resistance.  Selma cost many within our nation something.  There is an individual cost to living socially conscious when it takes place apart from social media.  

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  Ephesians 5:14 (ESV)

Diabolical Opposition – Colorblindness and Colorism

dennisWe live in a society that superficially superimposes colorblindness over colorism.  I’m sure you’ve heard it, “We should all be colorblind…and so on and so forth…” The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.  You see, kids aren’t born colorblind (in the literal sense) and neither are we, but somewhere our image of color has become perverted.  In fact, we as adults provide tremendous context for a child’s ideals of who they are, whether or not they see themselves as beautiful, and how they view others who are not like them (in color or in class).  Children only have the historical context of color provided by adults.  So why do some children prefer to “wash away their color” if they had the choice?  Why are some children ashamed simply because they are a darker shade of their peers within their ethnicity?  How did we arrive here?  Are we comfortable with this destination? I AM NOT and I will tell you why.  Colorblindness and colorism have both marred us as a society.  One of these perspectives appears harmless and the other clearly catastrophic.  Long term, they both prove deadly to one’s identity.

Color blindness, innocently enough suggests that skin color is not seen as a differential characteristic of one’s ethnicity. Color blindness, by definition, is not a form of blindness at all, nearly a deficiency in the way one sees color.  While those who are genetically colorblind have no choice in the matter, society purports color blindness as the goal, when it is an outright choice not to recognize one of the many external facets of our beauty.  I can see evidence of God’s love for color in creation from the beautiful shores of Capetown, South Africa to the smallest pores on the skin of the human being.  If we were all the same color, I believe our world would be bland and not nearly as beautiful.

If we shift to the other end of the extreme, we run headlong into the concept of colorism.

col·or·ism  [ˈkələrˌizəm]
noun
  1. prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
    “colorism within the black community has been a serious emotional and psychological battle”

How am I to feel when I enter the store and see skin lightening cream with my name on it and a much lighter image of an skin lighteningAfrican American woman advertising her skin color as the color to aspire to?  Colorism affects so many young women and men around the world, that I could not “not talk about it.”  When most think of racism, it is primarily between two distinct ethnic groups, however, colorism has caused additional division among people within their own ethnicity.  Today, many praise and extol the beauty of Yale graduate and Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o, but Lupita herself did not initially find beauty in her own skin because of its darkness.  And even when others began to describe her as beautiful in recent years she admittedly was perplexed and desired to reject this view because of the seduction of inadequacy.  You can read her entire speech at the following link http://www.salon.com/2014/02/28/read_lupita_nyongos_amazing_speech_about_blackness_and_beauty/.   To paint a fuller picture of colorism’s deep impact, I would like to use a few clips from a compelling documentary which is now on Netflix, called “Dark Girls.”  Below, I have included the trailer from this documentary which gives a snap shot of some of the challenges and impact to young men and women who are darker.  You can also take a look at the history of colorism and an everyday example of how this plays out.

Does opposition always have to be diabolical?  It seems that there has been such a negative connotation of opposition, which has in essence produced a myopic view of the need for opposition.  As an engineer, I learned that resistance, or put another way, opposition, was necessary and in fact useful in certain situations.  I think we can all appreciate the healthy resistance of electrical current flowing through the appliances in our home.  Too much resistance and it doesn’t work properly, too little resistance and we have a fire on our hands.  However, just the right amount of resistance and it operates exactly as intended.

The imperfect perspective of humanity means that there will be natural resistance in our relationships with others.  Healthy and honest dialogue allows us to work through our opposing views.  Don’t resist resistance; welcome it. In honor of of Black History Month and the history of humanity, let us do away with colorblindness and colorism as both ask individuals to devalue themselves in some fashion.  This devaluation happens by ignoring the uniqueness and beauty of various people groups (colorblindness) or by espousing the idea that one gradation of an ethnicity is better than another (colorism).   I want to live a life in opposition of these positions and celebrate the creativity, beauty, and intentionality that God demonstrated when He made us different.  As John Cheng states, “We should strive to be color “full” rather than colorblind.”

We are all beautiful.  Lupita has learned as we all will, that we can either lead voluntarily or involuntarily.  She now uses her position to help others see their own beauty as she writes to a viewer who decided not to lighten her skin after seeing her success, “I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey,” Nyong’o said, in closing. “That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.”   Help someone to see their own beauty today.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…Genesis 1:31 (KJV)

The Blessings and Burdens of being Black

burdenA burden by definition is a load that is especially heavy for one to carry. A blessing, on the contrary, is a beneficial thing for which one is grateful.  Is it feasible for someone to be grateful for a load that is especially heavy for them to carry?  I submit to you that it depends on the load.  There is not a day that I rise that I am not grateful that God made me a Black woman.  This is true.  I am honored and proud to be Black.  But there is another truth; and it is that I’ve had some negative experiences as a direct result of being Black.

Today I would like for readers to reflect upon a burden that is carried and rarely spoken of.  It is the burden of being Black.  In the same vein, I ask readers to identify blessings of being Black.  I have asked friends and family (across gender, socioeconomic, and demographic strata) to provide their perspective and highlight what they see as some of the blessings and burdens of being Black.  Their responses are honest and thought provoking.  I implore you to take a gander.

Some of the BLESSINGS of being Black:

  1. I love the fellowship of sistaness and the support and love from Black brothas.  I love how we celebrate and lament our lives together.
  2. Though I have been fed lies as a Black man, the validity of my worth as a human isn’t hinged on another group of people feeling less than.
  3. It is a blessing that many Blacks have developed a sympathy for the un-white/ non-western world.
  4. As a Black woman, I feel powerful.  Knowing that some people’s perception of me incite feelings of intimidation, gives me a slight advantage and presumed confidence.
  5. Blacks have a culture that encompasses a lot of good, including THE ABILITY TO DANCE!
  6. We are blessed to possess DNA that enabled us to survive the treacherous roar of the Middle Passage. Blacks all over the world were stripped from their homeland only to be beaten and starved in every corner of the earth. Somehow we now outnumber the Europeans who trafficked us. Our greatest blessing is biologically proven strength.
  7. I don’t know what the blessing is of being Black, said a 5 year old girl.
  8. Black women are stigmatized as strong and overbearing. I find this a blessing because in leadership roles, especially at work, when decisions have to be made as a lead administrator, people are not surprised by my “strong personality” and tend to follow more willingly. It’s sort of a catch 22 because in my world where I work with older white men, women in general are not expected to be very vocal or to have strong opinions. As a black woman, I unfortunately get a “pass.” They may even talk about me and stereotype me, but they do what I ask them to do. This stigmatization/stereotype makes me less likely to be incorrectly handled or taken advantage of in a work environment.
  9. It is a blessing to be a part of a strong heritage.  When I look at what we have overcome as a people, and even in my own family, I am reminded of the strength that my ancestors have walked in before me.  I remind my children of their heritage to realize that no matter what they face, they come from a lineage of over-comers.
  10. The African Diaspora is beautiful. The harmony of colors found in a people group. The collective community. The pride of surviving hate crimes against our skin with love. We are a grateful people who have learned that weapons drawn against you can be a witness of grace for future generations.

Some of the BURDENS of being Black

  1. I don’t view being Black as a blessing or a burden. I view other people’s reaction to the fact that I’m black as the burden.
  2. As a Black male, it is a burden to fight for the freedom of an independent existence without the burden of stereotypes, generalizations, and unfair expectations.
  3. It is a burden to get others who’ve succumbed to the oppression of Blacks, to see the light.
  4. As an American descendant of the African diaspora, I am confronted with the barrier of conformity on a regular basis. Most blacks will experience an inability to conform to their Eurocentric environments without losing a portion of who God created them to be. The workplace provides an excellent example, as natural hair can present a problem in many corporate environments. Unfortunately, the barrier of conformity extends far beyond the workplace.
  5. The profiling of Black people sometimes turns out to be true. Our communities need more role models because we often fall into the stereo types that are placed on us.
  6. It burdens me that Blacks are presumed guilty and incompetent until proven otherwise.
  7. As a young Black teenage male, I am burdened when I see  that other students (of other races, white particularly) are allowed to be outspoken on any topic and not be called out by the teacher. On the other hand, when I am outspoken on the exact same thing, I’m told to quiet down or not share my views.
  8. Blacks have to work twice as hard as our white counterparts, only to get half as far as they have. This speaks, I feel, to the work place. Biases, perceptions, experiences, and the media paint a picture of African Americans that we have to overcome to gain respect in the marketplace (sometimes not given the benefit of the doubt).
  9. I am burdened that I have to prove over and over that being Black doesn’t make me who others think I am.  I’m just as good as anybody. The color of my skin does not define who I am.
  10. I hate having to prove that my Black experience is valid…over and over and over again.  It’s so hard – and sometimes I have to do it with other Black people too.  I also grieve at the colorism – why in the heck would I ever be more beautiful than my sistas that are darker than me?
  11. It burdens me that we are still fighting for something which every human is entitle to, and that is equality.
  12. I am burdened by the media’s repeated negative portrayal of the Black community because some folks then take these misconceptions/inaccurate portrayals (along with other preconceived notions and judgments) to dictate how they treat the Black diaspora.
  13. As a Black man in America, I am constantly put under the radar whenever I step outside of the box. I am still not welcomed with open arms until proving that I am not what others fear.
  14. I struggle not necessarily as a black woman, but as a black woman with natural hair. There is something about natural, kinky textured hair that is less acceptable in corporate America. Most of my counterparts have hair that is bone straight or the black women have perms/straightened hair. When I meet new people or have to be the face of the department at an event, I always pull my hair back. I never wear It out for the fear that I will be taken less seriously or perceived as less professional than my counter parts. I have to work twice as hard to make sure that people not only see beyond my skin color, but beyond my hair as well.
  15. Blacks are captured and live on captured land.  The fertility of our land has been removed from our hands and so our opportunity for wealth. Our minds have been captured by concepts of superiority, favoritism and division based on race. Our hearts have been removed from our communities and have assimilated into an individualistic paradigm leaving us disengaged and vulnerable.
As in the lyrics of the song, “Glory” by John Legend, is there a possibility for the “…Sins that go against our skin to become blessings?” Can our burdens be turned into blessings? I believe that some of them have. This blog has been written in honor of Black History Month, to provide a sneak peek into some of the present day predilections of various generations of Black people.  However, blessings and burdens are not exclusive to one ethnicity.  I hope this post will help us all acknowledge that each ethnic group possesses blessings and burdens of being born into that particular group.  As I spoke with many who provided input for this blog, they mentioned the natural tendency to focus on the burdens and the difficulty of identifying blessings.  There is no doubt that these burdens are heavy, but if we all lift together, it will be lighter.  I have found my burdens much easier to bear when others simply recognize that what I am “carrying” is too heavy and they come along side me to help me lift.  They lift even if my burden was not their burden initially.    For me, many of my friends and family have helped me lift my confidence, my courage, and my pride in the beauty of this hue I’ve been given.    Whose burden can you help lift today?  #itdoesntmatterifyouareblackorwhite  #helpliftsomeonesburden
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

Honorable Mention

honorable mention

: an award or special praise given to someone who has done something extremely well but who has not won any of the official prizes

While there are many things on my heart to discuss, I wanted to begin my first official blog post by bestowing honorable mention upon a man whose consistent love, sacrifice, and encouragement, redirected the trajectory of my life.  I want to bestow honor because our society lacks an award for men and women who selflessly give of themselves on a daily basis to present youth in our under resourced communities with hope.  Mentors.  It is prevalent for social media feeds to be filled with stories of men and women who demean our young people and remind them of the barriers in their way to success.  I am deeply grateful that my life’s story reads the direct opposite of most from my neck of the woods.  Chip changed me.

Chip, as he was affectionately called, was my mentor as a young person (5th grade and beyond) growing up in a high poverty and crime neighborhood.  He loved God, but I didn’t know that immediately.  He loved people, but I didn’t know that immediately. Chip loved solving problems and thinking deeply and I would eventually love the same things.  The only thing I knew about Chip was that he worked at the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) Center in our neighborhood and I assumed he was just like most workers there, only there for a job.  I was so very wrong.  Chip loved Jesus and because of his love for Christ, he extended himself in ways that I’m sure were uncomfortable and inconvenient at times.  The idea that anyone would sacrifice anything to be a blessing to me and my family was foreign.

As we fast forward more than 20 years later, Chip, although you are no longer living here on the earth, your legacy lives within me daily.  My story is your story and it’s forever intertwined for God’s glory.  I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior at an early age because of the practical, consistent, imperfect example I saw in you as a young Christian.  I became the first in my family to attend college because you told me college was really possible and encouraged me to be excellent in school.  I became an electrical engineer because you allowed me to tinker with computers you were assembling.  I will never forget the curiosity that was unlocked the moment you allowed me to learn with the very real possibility that I might fail.  I was so afraid to fail, but you lovingly challenged me to think through possible solutions.

Precious as a 1 yr old.
Precious, age 1, wearing a shirt that reads, “Life is Good.”

You were at the memorial service of my natural father who died due to his battle with drugs and alcohol addiction at the tender age of 34.  I never heard you speak ill of my father.  As a 16 year old I did not know the gaping hole that would be left due to the lack of my father’s presence.  But God knew and he gave me you.  And you gave me your family (your mom and dad) who welcomed me in as an extended member.  I weep as I write this because I wish you could see me now.  I wish you could see me share my story weekly with other believers who have decided to mentor at-risk youth in Cincinnati.  Almost every day I am granted the opportunity to honor YOU and share with others how your love and that of your family changed my life.

The world can not honor what it does not value.  And unfortunately our value system is whack.  But may you know that I honor you and every mentor that has decided to live for something greater than themselves.  I am proud to be a part of your legacy.  I hope I’ve made you proud.  Thank you for loving this broken little girl who always had aspirations of being number one, but didn’t always believe that life could be any different. Today life is different and it is good.

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold. – Proverbs 22:1 (NASB)

The Start

perspective-1

I have decided to blog because writing is near and dear to my heart.  I have decided to blog because I want my voice to be heard beyond the musings of personal journal writings.  I have decided to blog because I am a natural writer.  I have decided to blog because I have something to say.

This blog is simple in its purpose. It serves as an opportunity for me to share my views on the happenings in our world, nation, economy, and neighborhoods.  The very essence of the word predilection implies that we all have some perspective with which we see the world and that perspective is marred, myopic, and often misunderstood. Through this blog I hope to bring some of the things that I have experienced, pondered, and dreamed of to “virtual” paper.  My hope is that as I write down what is on my heart that the collective perspective of many others will help paint a broader picture of this world we live in.  Predilection has to do with perspective.  I hope to hear yours.  Please journey with me as I write down my predilections.

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