Lessons Learned from Las Vegas

When mass tragedy strikes, like in Las Vegas, those of us that remain are often left asking questions. We ask of ourselves and others, “how something like this can happen?” Living the human experience necessitates that we analyze, theorize and attempt to understand even the most horrific things.  Here also, we want to learn. But, all too often our inquiries go unanswered. Mostly because we do not experience the world from the same viewpoint as someone that would seek to cause harm to themselves or others.  

With a Complete Stranger

I had a conversation yesterday about the Las Vegas shooting. It started out very similar to conversations I've had before, post-Charlottesville, the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting, and other terror incidents that occurred in Europe this year. This time I had a more purposeful approach to our conversation. I reminded the individual that this is an opportunity for each of us to awaken to the collective goal, which is to raise our consciousness. One person in a few brief moments has indelibly left an imprint on many minds. If that can occur out of the worst intention, undoubtedly we can positively impact each other. We can set out to influence those in our lives, whether intimately connected to them or those on the periphery. You and I have an opportunity to bring forward love, peace, joy, compassion, and hope. And we can. It merely requires the willingness to be a vessel. To compound the Las Vegas tragedy would be to fall back asleep (i.e., to remain the same) until another spike event occurs, challenging us to approach life differently. At that moment, this stranger/new friend got the message! And frankly, so did I!

As for Me

I am cultivating a new framework from which to operate, driven by the desire to manifest a world that is better than what I see today. Questions I am challenging myself to answer are, what can I do to leave a positive impression on those in my sphere of influence? What can I do to stay present in this human experience as opposed to getting caught up in the mundane aspects of life or the ego? Here is where I choose to place my energy and action. 

What About You?

Your perception creates your reality. Living out of the belief that the world is going to hell in a handbasket ensures that your experience will match the belief system you have created. You will be hard-pressed to see the beauty that is still present in this world. There is good occurring on a daily basis, and the fact is that you have an open invitation to co-create this reality. I hope that we learn to take this tragedy and use it as a springboard, catapulting ourselves into better relationships and authentic living. No act of terrorism, foreign or domestic, can take that from us.
 

The NFL, Colin Kaepernick and the Rise of Social Activist Athletes

The story of Colin Kaepernick's position on police brutality in America and his choice to take a knee while the national anthem played during the 2016 NFL season has been covered by the media, argued about by the talking heads and discussed by citizens far and wide. Many people that support Colin Kaepernick, myself included (#imwithkap), have opted not to view or attend NFL games. Imagine my surprise when Donald Trump decided to weigh in on the issue, not of police accountability to all citizens of this country, but that individuals who protest, might I add peacefully, should be fired.  

There is little doubt that the conversation will continue with these latest comments out of the White House discussed from every angle. But I hope that we, collectively, talk about the woeful record of police shootings and lack of convictions, the need for better applicant screening, officer training, implementation of a national registry of police shootings and those involved, as well as community engagement. Things we could have been discussing all along, instead of the appropriateness of the stage and if it was/is acceptable to protest by taking a knee. Everything but accountability. Some NFL players are proposing the league take a more active role in the issues affecting the community of color. These social activist athletes understand the makeup of the league, which is approximately 70% black and are looking to leverage that position to bring greater awareness to social issues in partnership with the league. 

Now, not everyone is ready for substantive conversations about the issues brought out in this post, and that's okay. There is still something that you can do if you're struggling in this area. Use this as an opportunity to reimagine a nation in which all people who live in it are free to share their opinion, to express themselves and exercise their right to peaceful protest. Doing so does not negate you or your perspective. This internal work allows you to get comfortable with the changes that are happening around you. As for the White House, let's all hope for a more reasoned and measured approach to issues, both at home and abroad. We need that style of leadership now more than ever.

Girls Trip - Movie Review

I'll skip the premise of the movie, except to say “the girls” once inseparable have drifted apart and they get back together for a trip to New Orleans. It's been out for a couple of weeks now, so I will assume you know the rest of the setup. Girls Trip was not on my radar, in terms of watching the movie or writing a review, but someone wanted to know my take on the film. 

Black Talent

I was pleased to see Kenya Barris’ name in the credits as a co-creator of the story and screenplay. Kenya is the creator and (along with Anthony Anderson) the executive producer of the ABC comedy Black-ish, which is hella funny, interweaving historical facts and addresses topics relevant to Blacks today. To have a talent such as Kenya involved with a movie project is an excellent thing.

All that know me or have read my blog know that I am unapologetically pro-black intellect, images, creativity, and stories, so this review of Girls Trip is more about my observations of black women and relationships than a critique on the pace, plot, and acting.

The four main characters are people we all know

The homely friend whose life revolves around her kids. Her approach to life as an adult is a total transformation of personality and a closing off of self. The struggling friend who is faking success and living a life she cannot afford. There’s the successful career woman, who has lost her self-respect, spellbound by a philandering husband. And finally the wild/crazy/loud one. The "realist" friend in the bunch. The interplay of these four ladies was quite good and to some degree true to life. 

The relationships we as women have with each other goes deep, it's nuanced and multifaceted. There are times (to keep the peace) we hold our tongues, others when we are the mouthpiece for each other. We are often cheerleaders, truthbearers, and wingmen; not because we always want to be, but because that’s what our friends need. In this regard, I believe the movie accurately captured the girlfriend dynamic.

On par with Bridesmaids and The Hangover

There were some outrageous scenes in this film too. These scenes shock and embarrass you while also making you laugh. I hate seeing us employ lowbrow humor just to get a laugh, but I understand in the context of this movie how it fits into the story – the debauchery of Bourbon Street, alcohol and drugs, and the rediscovery of sexuality. More than anything the story was held together by the desire to continue these personal relationships in spite of the different personalities. There is a celebration of friendship, and finding the strength to live intentionally and truthfully.

Overall

I enjoyed the movie and the transformation of the individual characters and their relationships with one another. The clearing of the air which occurs toward the end of the film is what finally allows them to move forward personally and as a support system for each other. Do not expect any Oscar nominations nor are we advancing any agenda. It's not that kind of movie, but it is worth seeing. Just know some scenes will make you shake your head, if not cover your eyes. 

 

The Path is Diverging: It's Time to Choose Your Direction

You've probably felt for some time now that you want to make changes. It's not just you. There is a universal call that has gone out, and a lot of people have been (internally) debating about what they need to be doing at this time in their lives. If that describes your situation, be encouraged because decision time has finally come! The path you have been traveling splits just ahead of you, and it's time to decide if you will head in a new direction.

Know that both directions have something for you so you cannot make a "wrong" choice as long as you are not holding yourself back due to fear, disbelief or a victim mentality. A divergent path signifies opportunity. A chance for you to do things differently. The choice may be to change your mindset, old habits, or be willing to uproot from a physical location, whether that be a job or home. Relationships can start, stop, or evolve too. It's really up to you. The point to understand is that your heart has been trying to capture your attention. Listen to your heart's desires and then pursue them. The vision you have for your life, your passions, and the things that excite you are just ahead.

It is my hope that you will pursue the road that you have been dreaming about and have secretly yearned to materialize for such a long time. Remember that if you go for it that you are supported every step of the way (See my post Spiritual Food). Also, the creative thoughts you have are an indication of your soul's purpose. The fact that you see big things playing out in your mind's eye is another clue to the fact that your internal compass is set toward that goal. Answer the call from deep within your heart. You will not regret it! 

Education - Human Exhibits in the Zoo

Having the opportunity to see exotic creatures in their "natural" habitat is both alluring and frightening. A barrier separating you from wild animals - lions, tigers, and bears- helps to lessen the fear, if not completely removing it. I wonder if the same feelings of mystery, excitement, and trepidation were the driving force for people who visited human exhibits throughout the United States and Europe. The practice of displaying people for entertainment and profit was rather commonplace in the late 19th century through the 20th century. Human exhibits were featured as recently as 2007 in Australia; albeit the participants were volunteers who were able to return to their homes at the end of each day. A far cry from the internment and overall plight of indigenous and "primitive" people that was prevalent in centuries past.

I bring this to your attention not because I foresee a resurgence in human zoos, but because I believe a significant number of people of color have not heard these stories. Historical lessons like these are important, yet they remain unknown to the vast majority of individuals. Our naivete to our history can be attributed, in part, to Eurocentric content taught in our school systems. The curriculum, for example, in a social studies class is not geared toward blacks in America or other non-European groups, nor does it allow for an in-depth exploration of the culture, people or circumstances surrounding the recorded events. The context of these events is vital; without it, we have an incomplete picture. One that is skewed to the perspective of the conqueror, and virtually ignores the conquered.

However, this is not a critique of the educational system nor am I expecting a significant shift in programming toward a more inclusive, expansive, and accurate account of past events. Ultimately, the larger responsibility to understand one's history resides with the individual. 

When I first considered writing a blog, I asked myself what my goals were for each posting. Amongst other things, I knew that I wanted to share stories that would help us to learn about our past. Researching the acts perpetrated against people of color is often a mystifying and painful experience. However, my desire to bring forward information that will help us to grow far outweighs the hurts that often come up when investigating these stories. Today's post (as with so many others) is a heartbreaking, but necessary one.

Carl Hagenbeck was a German merchant of wild animals and humans who supplied many European zoos, as well as P. T. Barnum. He was a pioneer in displaying humans next to animals in human zoos. Source: Wikipedia

Carl Hagenbeck was a German merchant of wild animals and humans who supplied many European zoos, as well as P. T. Barnum. He was a pioneer in displaying humans next to animals in human zoos. Source: Wikipedia

Articles of Curiosity

Over four centuries from the first voyages of discovery, European societies developed an appetite for exhibiting exotic human "specimens."  At the height of its popularity, there were human zoos, also called ethnological expositions, in New York, Chicago, Paris, London, Milan, Barcelona, Warsaw, and Germany. Hundreds of thousands of people visited human zoos created as part of the great international trade fairs.

What started as a wide-eyed curiosity on the part of observers turned into ghoulish pseudo-science in the mid-1800s, as researchers sought out physical evidence for their theory of races. Some people, like Congolese pygmy Ota Benga, were displayed holding animals; suggesting that primitive people were the missing link between the evolved man and animals. Ota was housed and displayed along with other native indigenous specimens of the world, including the Apache prisoner of war Geronimo. These displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or with other Europeans who practiced a lifestyle deemed more primitive. 

Sarah Baartman, arguably seen as the epitome of colonial exploitation and racism, was brought to Europe seemingly on false pretenses by a British doctor. Stage-named the "Hottentot Venus," she was paraded around London and Paris, with crowds invited to look at her large buttocks and other features that astonished the onlookers. Sarah died on 29 December 1815.  However, even in death, her exhibition continued. Her brain, skeleton and sexual organs remained on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains weren't repatriated and buried until 2002.

Modern Day

Understand that iconic names like Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus have roots in the exploitation of Blacks. One of P.T. Barnum's most famous hoaxes was early in his career. He bought a blind and paralyzed slave for $1,000 who he claimed was 160 years old, and the nurse of George Washington. This lie helped Barnum make a weekly profit of nearly $1,000. Upon the death of Joice Heth in 1836, Barnum sold tickets to the public to view her autopsy. As with Sarah Baartman, Joice Heth was taken advantage of in life and death.

The last human exhibit was presented, less than 60 years ago, in Belgium. The ideas of a racial hierarchy and primitive culture are not relics of the past. They are present today. So what can we learn from the stories of Ota Benga, Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman, Joice Heth, and countless others that were displayed in these exhibits? If nothing else, it should help us to understand the road that we as a people have had to travel to gain a modicum of respect in this world. I believe we are duty bound to know our history, both in American and before our arrival at Jamestown (the Caribbean, Dutch Guiana, and Brazil). It is important that we have the highest respect for ourselves and our community. Human zoos were used as a means to advance the narrative that we are less than others, to be looked at not as humans but as savages, merely present for the entertainment of patrons.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana

I leave you with this thought...I had the opportunity to attend a Cirque du Soleil show last weekend. The production, costumes, acrobatics, and music were phenomenal. All the characters drew me into the story of the insect themed world of Ovo. Throughout the evening and for the next few days, I kept reflecting on one character, in particular, the lady bug. She was a rather rotund woman. While all the other characters performed some physical activity whether acrobatic or comedic, the role of the Lady Bug was to be sassy and sexy, unpredictable and loud, with a tough exterior. And, the woman who played this character was excellent. But I was left with an uneasy feeling. She was the only black person in the cast and her role was based on many of the stereotypes of black women that we see in television and movies today. It seems, even in the insect world, we have a type; one that is used to entertain patrons at a show.  

 

This is Jeopardy (kind of): We already know the answers. It’s the questions that we’re struggling to get right.

First, let me say, I haven’t been indulging in alcohol or drugs nor have I lost my marbles - yet. However, when I say we already know the answers, it's true, we do. They present themselves in the form of our desires, dreams, visions, and hopes. The challenge we face is that we don’t know how to make them manifest, so we expend an enormous amount of energy focusing on the wrong stuff. It is my belief that we approach informational blockages in a way that conflicts with the principles that govern our lives. We have to upgrade our understanding and in some cases, relearn the foundational principles of life. In doing so, we gain a greater insight into ourselves and where to place our efforts/energy.

Are you asking the right questions?

If you're not sure how to respond to that, it's okay. The fact that you are here, right now, reading this post is the starting point to understand the importance of the story you've created for your life (i.e., the framework). To get the maximum benefit from this information, we have to lay a proper foundation. And there are two key points to grab ahold of; the first, life is meant to work to your advantage; secondly, you have a tremendous amount of influence over the direction. We are going to focus on these two concepts and the correlation they have to your framework and the expression of your story; meaning how you have wired and conditioned yourself to think and what to expect.

It’s time to take stock of your life. Examine what is or is not currently working for you. Get reacquainted with your desires, and ask yourself if you're achieving what you set out to do. Is the desire still present? Has it changed or diminished? If yes, see if you can pinpoint the root cause. This work will make it easier for you to recognize if you’re on-track, off-course or need to rethink your vision. Remember, even slight deviations from your truest path, over time, will become significant so asking the right questions is one of the tools, like an antenna, which will help you pick up the subtle signals and fine-tune your focus. Clarity of thought, purpose, and vision is crucial - directing our energy and efforts where they will be most effective.

Some questions increase your understanding, others do the opposite, clouding your vision. That tells us that the way in which we construct our questions is important. So, while it is essential to seek out information to advance in the direction of our dreams, without applying this understanding, the result is often confusion. A lot of people arrive at this point and simply give up, frustrated by their lack of progress. I wrote a post titled A New Way of Being in which I shared the concept of irrelevant questions. I would encourage you to go back and read that, in the context of the examples I provided, then come back here to continue reading this post. Okay, so you read the post. What are the next steps? That’s a great question!

#1 It is essential for our growth to understand that we are secure

Security is a concept I am trying to teach my dog right now. Yes, my dog. Murphy is the most adorable Boxer, about three years old. We rescued him several months ago, and I love him to bits, but he has one problem. A big one. He has a security issue that comes out when he is around other people (mostly males) and dogs. In the process of trying to train Murphy, we have learned a lot about his insecurities, needs, and desires. He, in turn, has figured out that he has a good thing going with us. However, he wants to protect his good thing and so tries to keep anyone and anything he believes to be a threat away from my husband, and I. Murphy sees himself as the one that must protect us. We are attempting to teach him that is, in fact, not the case. I’m hopeful that we can help him to enjoy our pack. Right now, he is stressed out whenever we go for walks or rides. He’s always on alert and ready to fight off danger. He reminds me of people that feel they must be on top of everything, in control at all times. They’re usually stressed out by even the little things! And a job is not done right unless they’ve done it or inspected it to ensure everything is okay. I was one of those people. In the case of Murphy, the poor guy is exhausted from constantly having to be on-guard. It’s not good for him, and worst of all the things he is worried about (some of them) aren’t real and the others aren’t his concern. My husband and I are his security and nothing will infringe upon the good thing that he’s got going on in our pack.

Since Murph doesn’t know how to read, I can’t direct him to Psalm 23; one of the most well-known passages of scripture in the Bible. People gravitate to it, particularly in times of difficulty. However, the principles of the 23rd Psalm are meant to be applied at all times. If you take the time to meditate on the message, it's clear that the promises cover all aspects of life, and the privileges span the entirety of our days. When we have that knowledge, and operate from that place of security, there are certain areas in our lives of which we no longer feel compelled to control or inquire. Yours is not to ask, how are things going to happen? That’s not your concern. You are secure and supported in this life. What that means for you and me is that we can expect the details to work themselves out. When we stop asking security (fear) based questions, it is a signal that you and I are accepting of the help that is readily available to us.

For some folks, those that are used to being in control, this is a difficult concept. If that describes you in some way, take the time to explore the thoughts and the feelings that accompany the reasons you believe you have to manage every detail of your experience. It’s best to address it now. If not, you can expect it to resurface at some point in the future. What I can offer in the way of assistance is for you to think about the areas in life that we all take for granted. A fundamental example is breathing. It is essential for life, yet we don’t think about it or try to make it happen. It spontaneously occurs, and we accept that fact without playing a role in the process. An example outside of yourself would be the sun. It rises and sets daily. None of us can live without it, yet we barely even think about it (unless you're stuck inside, at work). The sun does its job, and we are the benefactors. We trust that these things will happen - we breathe, and the sun rises and sets. Try to approach the concept of security from that frame of mind. Life really is meant to work to your advantage so let go of the parts that have already been worked out for you. The energy that you will free up when you release these “concerns” will allow you more clearly to see your path and enjoy your life.

#2 Your inquiries, just like your thoughts, have a creative ability; they attract or repel

Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion.
— Steve Jobs

When you have done a personal inventory and the internal work presented in the first concept, then you are ready to direct your full attention toward your desires. Notice I wrote full-attention. At this point, you're ready to ask key questions to gain the knowledge you need to progress in your life. Again, this is internal work. You already have a connection to the answers. Sometimes you haphazardly stumble upon them, unknowingly asking the right questions. Another way you receive information is intuitively. These are the times when it just comes to you by way of a feeling or simply knowing something; instead of doubting it you act on it. You are meant to operate with that level of clarity all the time. So, from today forward, we’re going to be intentional about what we ask and what we do. Remember, you have a tremendous amount of influence over the direction of your life.

But, why?

The question of why is tricky. It's not that you should never ask this type of question, the key is to know how to use it. You must examine the motives and the feelings associated with the inquiry because these questions are often framed within the victim-mentality construct. Why is this happening to me? Why do I attract…? I don't deserve…why is she/he doing this to me? Why is something working for this person or that person, but not for me? You get the idea. So, what’s the story you’ve been creating for yourself? Take the time to sit quietly for a few minutes, ask and wait.

If you find a victim story is present, then it’s time to start telling yourself some new things. And, every time that victim narrative pops into your mind replace it with the opposite. For example, you might have said to yourself, “I always have the worst luck.” Victim alert! It’s time to drown out that noise with positive self-talk and encouragement. You might say, “I’ve often told myself that I have the worst luck, but that’s not true. I’ve had some really positive things happen in my life (remind yourself of a few). From today on I expect great things to take place in my life.” As you become more aware of your thoughts, begin to replace the ones that are harmful with positive ones. Believe and speak good things over yourself. Gaining control of your mind is key to moving forward in this life.

What does my vision feel like? Recognize your feelings as an indicator of what you want to produce in your life. Writing my blog creates a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I enjoy sharing my life, as well as content that I hope will help other people. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about, researching or writing my blog. Review your day, what you’re putting your time into and how it makes you feel. If you find the day produces very little satisfaction and that is a running theme in certain areas, then it’s time to pivot. You may need to make some adjustments in your mental approach or the environment itself. Also, know that your vision does not have to be highly detailed. You may envision yourself as an entrepreneur, but not have any other details at this time. That’s okay. Allow yourself to get comfortable with the idea of being self-employed or a mega-mogul as a starting point and build off of that. Keep visioning, feeling and creating a picture in your mind. You will find that your inner-world and outer world will start to converge as you change your focus.

What do I need to release to manifest my vision? Ask and wait. Often to get to the next level means shedding the things that no longer are necessary. Here too, we have some exploratory work to do to try and figure out what we have become attached to and learn to release it. This does not always mean material possessions. It can be mindsets, illusions of how things should be, and cares about what other people think.

Final Thoughts

In the title of this post, I referenced the game show Jeopardy. The show features a quiz competition in which contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers, and must phrase their responses in the form of questions. Like the television show, you and I already have the answers. It’s really never about the answers. We’re seeking the manifestation of our desires and, through the process of seeking, fine-tuning the approach we take and being present while walking our path. The ultimate prize is that we transform -fully connect to our authentic self- and so too does our external world. Start here and, you will begin to recognize your voice, learn to trust yourself, and formulate new questions. Lean into the things that are meant to manifest in your life.

Social Influencers - You're A Force to Be Reckoned With! 

You've heard it before, that old saying, "the good die young." It's true not only of cultural icons like Malcolm X, Prince, and Tupac but everyday citizens like Darren SealsEdward Crawford and Reverend Carlton Lee, all well-known activists in Ferguson, MO. Let us not forget Philando Castile (age 32), positively impacting his family and forging relationships in the community. The good who die young is not a minor concern to me, a topic briefly considered before moving on to weightier matters. It hits too close to my heart for that, having lost two of my light-bearers at an early age.

The common thread I find with all of these folks is the messages they embraced in life, and for some, the shocking truths conveyed in their deaths. In some way, they all shook us out of our dream state, awakening us to the importance of knowledge, community, love, and respect for self and others - regardless of differences. In a brief amount of time, these beautiful souls and social influencers shared some very powerful messages.

lion-wild-africa-african.jpg

In the public eye

Those in the public eye whether politicians, social activists or entertainers often have the potential to do the greatest good in terms of reaching the largest audience. People are eager to hear what they have to say. However, there are few in these positions, especially entertainers and sports figures, that are willing to consistently use their platform to speak out against the ills of our society. Many have concerns about public opinion, the backlash from those that disagree with their views (if expressed), sponsors dropping them, and being labeled in the media.

Two remarkable examples of this treatment are Muhammad Ali in 1967 and Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Both men addressed human rights and the horrors of police brutality. In the case of Ali, he spoke out against it in the context of the Vietnam War and his refusal to participate. If you are unfamiliar with Ali’s story, I encourage you to watch his interviews on YouTube, read up on his struggles after speaking about the war, his religious beliefs and the treatment of black folks in America. The irony in the Muhammad Ali story is that he died (in old age, but sadly without his distinctive voice) a beloved figure who later in life others heralded for his courage to speak out, in spite of the personal cost. And, the cost was immense.

His story was electrifying and inspired untold numbers of black Americans and others. The New York Times columnist William Rhoden wrote, "Ali's actions changed my standard of what constituted an athlete's greatness. Possessing a killer jump shot or the ability to stop on a dime was no longer enough. What were you doing for the liberation of your people? What were you doing to help your country live up to the covenant of its founding principles?"

Fast-forward several decades. In some ways, Colin Kaepernick's story reminds me of Ali’s vilification and subsequent loss of financial opportunities. Kaepernick is in his prime and talented enough to make the roster of any NFL team. Yet no offers. In exercising his right to kneel as a means of speaking out against the injustices that continue to occur in this country, Kaepernick is taking a career/financial hit. It seems like we’ve been down this road before. However, this time around we can do it differently. Let's learn from the mistakes of the past, instead of repeating them because the problems we face as a nation aren't going to go away. They're cyclical. What we don't fix now will come back around again. Let us recognize people with different opinions (I might add colors, belief systems, genders, and orientations) can respectfully disagree, and still co-exist. In the case of Kaepernick, there’s no need to burn jerseys or threaten him or those that share his views with harm.

By the way family, some of the ways we can support Colin Kaepernick would be to log a complaint with your favorite NFL team as well as the league office. Also, refrain from watching the games, purchasing merchandise or tickets as these are revenue streams for the league. Kaepernick continues to speak out on the issues facing our community. And, it has cost him immensely. Can't we make some sacrifices too?

It's time to be the influencers

The days of one person or a small group representing the community are over. The best analogy that comes to my mind is about gardening. If you introduce only one or two plants of a species in the environment, and they begin to spread out too far, it's easy to cut it back or dig it out and dispose of it. That's very hard to do -darn near impossible- when many of these plants have been placed throughout the garden. They propagate quickly, network below ground, and visibly change the landscape over time. In other words, they establish themselves. No longer can they be easily uprooted. We have to come to the place where each of us must get in the dirt, start planting in our part of the garden and diligently tend to the environment.

You and I have a responsibility to act upon what we’ve learned from all the souls that have come before us. Learn all that we can about our history, the issues that are relevant to our world today, change how we engage the system, and begin to carry the messages forward to others. Discover or rediscover Marcus Garvey, MLK, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing and many others. The messages are in the music as well. Reacquaint yourself with old school hip-hop. Nuggets of wisdom can be found all over the Internet; listen to the music and watch the interviews to understand some of the foundational work that has been laid down on our behalf. The entire body of work from these folks is important; so invest in their books too. However, as a starting point watch the interviews and lectures (for free) that were conducted shortly before many of these icons passed away. It gives an idea of what they were focusing on and deemed to be significant at the time. There is plenty of wisdom and practical action you can take away from their teachings to enrich yourself and our community, so no excuses family, let's get busy doing our part.

 

Spiritual Food - A New Way of Being

Up to this point, I have focused the majority of my posts on social issues, current events, and entrepreneurship. However, with this post, we are making an 180-degree turn toward metaphysical and spiritual matters. For the people that know me best, this is no surprise as they are keenly aware that I am ever searching for answers. I read the Bible and other ancient texts, study early civilizations, religions, and watch theoretical videos/documentaries. Meditation and yoga are also employed. All in the effort to understand the essence of human beings. 

In my view, we are spiritual beings having a human experience, but we have forgotten that fact. We more easily identify with the human experience, and for that reason, we are disconnected from our spiritual selves and creative capabilities. Doing life, I mean the routine of it, has the potential to lull us to sleep - get up, go to work, feed, acquire stuff and repeat. Every so often deeper, more meaningful desires bubble up, but we don't know how to uncover the answers. Our old patterns kick back in, and so we go back to sleep. Day after day, year after year doing the same things until we experience another call from our authentic selves to wake up, investigate what we need to focus our energy on and then do it. If we don't respond to the call, it's back to sleepwalking once again. So for the sake of balance, here is where I say that there is nothing inherently wrong with stuff or enjoying what this life has to offer. However, doing so is not your only reason for being here. You and I have a mission. A purpose that we are to fulfill and it has nothing at all to do with creature comforts. 

A New Reality

The particular focus of your life is yours to figure out, but what I can say is that you are meant to be the superhero in the story. Your life is governed more by your inner feelings and thoughts than external influences. Those of us that understand that truth will begin to operate differently, to cultivate a new reality, and thus change our external environment. I'd like to give you some personal examples. 

Example #1: When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a tiny studio apartment in Miami Beach. One of our neighbors kept crazy hours - I think he was a bartender - and almost every night, starting around 2 am, he would come home and play the same song over and over again. I assume it was his way of unwinding. However, it had the opposite effect on me (a lite sleeper), a person that needs total silence. Can you imagine Welcome to the Hotel California playing on a loop, every night? It was torture. 

Being young and newly married, we had zero savings. We lived off of love and canned goods from the church :). I got the idea in my mind that we were going to move. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I knew it was going to happen. And, my husband would get annoyed with me whenever I talked about it. He would ask me for details and point out the facts, like our lack of funds. It didn't matter. I knew we were moving.  How it was to happen was irrelevant. It was one of my first experiences with my potential to create a better reality. In truth, we all have the ability to change the narrative of our stories. The origin point for changing your world starts with what you believe in your heart, see with your mind's eye and speak with your mouth. And yes, we did move. A job opportunity literally came to our front door through a series of circumstances I could not have orchestrated if I tried.  

Example #2: My husband and I were contemplating a move to Minnesota to be closer to his family. By this time we had been married for a few years and had saved a little bit of money. Not a lot, but some. We visited Minnesota, and during our stay, my husband was guaranteed a job and the opportunity to purchase a house presented itself. All the signs were pointing toward this new adventure. We liked the city, the people, even the weather. Being able to purchase our own home wasn't on our radar, but when the possibility presented itself, it felt right. When we got back from our trip, I reviewed our finances. Frankly, there weren't a lot of places in our spending that we could make cuts to save enough money for a down payment. In spite of the concrete evidence telling me it wasn't possible to save up enough money in the timeframe we targeted for a move, I knew it would happen. How it was to happen was irrelevant. The best way I can describe what happened with our finances was that the money just kept multiplying. We moved to a new city and bought our first home.

I also wanted to have a job before we got there. My better half and I were discussing my desire when the idea to pitch to my boss opening a home-based office came up. I created a proposal, showing how it would be done and the potential within the Minnesota market. At the time all of this was happening I was studying the Bible, in particular, the book of Nehemiah which was all about Nehemiah making an unusual request to the king. Just as Nehemiah's request was granted, I took that as a confirmation that my request would also be awarded. I began to see it, meditate on it and speak about it as if it had already occurred. And it did.  

What do these examples have to do with spirituality? Everything

Today, we are talking about tapping into higher levels of thinking and being, knowing that there is nothing (and no one) preventing you from achieving what is meant to be accomplished in your life. That is a spiritual principle. When tapped into the right avenues for you, things fall into place. Another principle. It isn't a matter of you manipulating anything, wrestling with the outcome you desire or needlessly worrying about stuff. Get in "The Flow." Think of it as your vehicle; all gassed up, with pre-programmed coordinates to your destination. Your job (and mine) is simply to attune yourself to that fact, knowing you will be transported where you're meant to go.  It's straightforward and yet complicated at the same time because our nature is to be in control. To do something. We haven't built up our spiritual muscles enough to trust and understand that we are supported at every step along this journey. It's time to pivot.

Final Thoughts

There are many other examples that I can provide. I bet, if you were to think about it, you could probably identify some too. Times when you were in the flow. That does not mean that unexpected or painful things won't occur. They will, and there's a lesson that comes from those experiences, but that's a post for another day. At this moment the point that I want to get across is for us to realize is that this life is supposed to be easier than we are allowing it to be. It's time to free yourself from should's, how's, why's, and the false idea that you need to make things happen. Accept the assistance that presents itself in your life. Resist less and begin to say yes more. 

On my journey, it's important to travel light. I am not meant to get attached to any one place as we tend to uproot often. I don't understand why that is, and frankly, I've stopped asking. Why is another one of those irrelevant questions. The important thing is for me to be flexible. Hindsight is a great spiritual teacher! It shows me that I have always been cared for in every environment. When I come into a new place, it is to assist others in becoming their highest and best self. Also, to personify love, honesty, encouragement, and kindness. In turn, those folks are meant to treat others as they are learning to be treated by me. I grow from these exchanges, engaging with different types of people, and sometimes more challenging circumstances. It provides me the opportunity to lean further into my spiritual walk, to seek answers on how I can connect with others lovingly and authentically. 

What's your unique assignment? That's a great question to ask. Rest assured, those that ask receive, seekers find the answers, and for those that knock on the door of spiritual knowledge, it will open. Just know that when you do this, your life will change. 

 

 

The Story of O.J.: What's All the Fuse About?

Welcome Back Mr. Carter

Once again, Jay-Z and his marketing machine have managed to inject their presence into the mainstream consciousness. Although he's never very far from the spotlight, it's been four years since his last album. And, from day one people have been talking about it. The critically acclaimed 4:44 album. Is it simply good fortune and talent that lands Jay-Z back on top of the charts or with this album is Mr. Carter attuned to the evolution occurring within the black community? Delivering an on-point message some celebrate and others find disturbing.

For many people of color, the topics of conversation within our community are indeed changing. No longer are we discussing job opportunities and government assistance, but rather how to unite and take care of ourselves - build wealth, educate our young, police our communities and caring for our elders. Issues a more mature Jay-Z, directly and indirectly, addresses on this album. In particular, there's lots of chatter about the lyrics and video for The Story of O.J.  I must admit this one had me confused for a minute, and I went back and forth about the pros and cons of the video and its message. There are so many contradictions found here that I had to work through my feelings, beliefs, and personal vision for the future of our community.

What the heck are you talking about?

You're probably thinking, "it's just a video!" Well, at face value, I agree, it is just a video. However, the symbolism and imagery, historical as well as modern-day context, and the lyrics come together to form a compelling story. Without that understanding, we will miss out on the significance of this tale and what is being conveyed. Now, I'm not here to critique the album or Jay-Z. I decided to write about this because we have an opportunity to learn something from the artist about how he sees the world and our place in it. You may view the video and see something entirely different than I do, and if so please comment below. I'd like to know your take on it. 

For me, the lyrics and visuals presented in The Story of O.J. have the potential for a positive influence and a negative one. The repeated chorus, still n*ggas, albeit catchy is fraught with messaging issues. In my opinion, it perpetuates the victim status of blacks in this country. Yes, there are many things wrong with the society we live in, and certainly institutional injustice and racism are prevalent; however, we cannot subscribe to the victim mentality. It's low-level thinking of which neither you or I can afford to agree. So be aware of the messages that came along with the rhythm and catchy hook. N*ggas or n*ggers are both the same. I shared my views on the N-word in a separate post, so there's no need to rehash it here.

On a positive note

Jay-Z raps about building wealth and utilizing our resources wisely, the alarming number of black men dying in the streets, and the drugs that have overrun our community. I don't know the average age of a Jay-Z listener, or if the intended audience is in the very neighborhoods we desperately want to reach, but if they are, perhaps listeners will be more inclined to give heed to these messages; given that Jay-Z also came up in similar conditions. I sure hope so, because we are struggling to keep our youth from violence and incarceration. And, right about now we need all voices and hands on deck - not to preach or judge- but to gain access to the ear of our at-risk youth.

I may not agree with everything Jay-Z says or the images used, but that doesn't matter. What is important is the unconscionable number of people that are dying in our neighborhoods every year, and the ravishes of drugs and incarceration on families. These issues must be our focus, all of us. So it's a good thing to see a mainstream hip-hop star returning to the roots of rap music by addressing the social problems that were present back in the day and have become cancerous in some areas now.

Your Perception as Reality

It feels as if I am seeing and hearing the same messages over and over. When that happens, I have to tune-in and sort out what is entering my consciousness. Of late, the divisiveness of thought, opinions, and beliefs seems to be dominating the world. Everyone has a position on everything, and they want to share it; more often than not, negatively. Jay-Z drops his new album 4:44 and people are at odds about the value of the messages for the black community in The Story of O.J., and the Anti-defamation League takes issue with how Jewish people are portrayed in the same song. Politics, religion, social issues or something as innocuous as a contestant on a singing competition. It doesn't matter who or what the topic is, you will find staunch supporters and fierce opposition to them. And once the disagreements start the devolution into name calling, profanity and threats quickly emerge. Just read the comments section on a YouTube video or Twitter timeline. It's sad.

I know I've written about this before - why it's important to speak to people with opposing views. However, today I want to tackle the topic from a different perspective, of right or wrong, because for me this is at the crux of most issues. The idea that one is correct. I wonder is there really such a thing as right or wrong in most of the positions we struggle with as human beings? I'm not talking about violence or things on par with that. Reasonable people agree there are lines we should not cross. I'm talking about our perception, what we hold onto and fiercely defend as right. And, often attempt to sway others to see the issues as we do.

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A Contrary Point of View

My husband believes it's encoded in my DNA to play devil's advocate. If he says black; I say white. It's true that I tend to take the opposing viewpoint, but it's not to be contrary. Much more than that, it has to do with wanting to understand different perspectives. You've heard the saying, one person's terrorist is another's freedom-fighter or walk a mile in my moccasins, yes? In essence, what you and I are being asked to do is recognize that there are perspectives other than our own that warrant consideration. 

Take a moment to reflect on this quote (sorry, the source is unknown to me), "nearly everything you consider true is contextual, experiential, and based on the imperfect perception of incomplete information." You can swap out the word true for right (if that helps) and you begin to understand the subjective nature of thoughts and opinions. The truth, as we see it, is formed with self at the center of it all, not our next door neighbor or far-flung global citizens. To see another person's point of view and be comfortable with it sharing the same space as your own position(s) is a highly intelligent and an emotionally evolved response. It indicates that you recognize that you are not the center of the universe, but merely a part of it, just like everybody else.

Go Out on a Limb

Social scientists have confirmed my thoughts on group dynamics and being in agreement with others, which is that when an opinion is popular, it may be because individuals do not want to stand out from the crowd for fear of being wrong or alone. You've heard the expression it's lonely at the top. Well, it can be just as lonely when you have an opposing view to the majority of people. Mind you; some benefits come from being in a group. Like-minded folks aren't typically going to judge you. Groups can also provide you with a sense of community and strength as well as a cloak of invisibility. However, I would be remiss if I did not share some of the advantages of being a black sheep too. Namely, the desire to live and express your authentic self regardless of who's with you. Being an independent thinker is an asset. In today's world that isn't celebrated as much as it should be. We've been taught to conform or at least appear to do so for the sake of political correctness and harmony. Whether operating within a group or independently, in both cases, we should all be respectful of each other, what people value and believe. 

The truth, as I see it ;), is that we need more people that are willing to voice their opinions; regardless of minority or majority status. Varied perspectives force you and me to consider that there's more to a story than what fits within our accepted categories and comfort zone. So go out on a limb, even if no one else is out there with you. I promise it will be an exhilarating experience when you start to express your unique perspective, not to judge or sway another. And certainly not as a means of elevating yourself above anyone else. The reason that this is so important is that you have a position, a perspective, and a voice that is wholly your own and it is meant to be expressed. And, it's needed within your sphere of influence. 

 

A Nation at the Crossroads

I remember the night my husband and I jokingly imagined who would make up Donald Trump's cabinet if he were to be elected. It was a spirited debate on the pros and cons of a Kardashian in the Administration as well as placing Bill O'Reilly and Maury Povich in advisory roles. But then it actually happened, Trump was elected into office. 

I thought the divisiveness that showed itself during the campaign would be set aside, in favor of unity and the common good of all citizen of the United States. Sadly, that has not happened. People seem to talk about each other. And quite viciously too. Team Trump, Conservatives, Republicans, The Right versus Team Hillary (or Bernie), Liberals, Democrats, The Left. How do you move past the name calling and muckraking to substantive conversations that allow for all perspectives? I'm genuinely asking. 

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Candidate vs. President Trump

My approach has been to talk to folks, not at them. I remember the first Trump supporter that was willing to share with me his views on why he thought Trump was the right person to lead the nation. In that particular conversation, the focus was on the changes to tax laws. In conversations with others, the reasons were varied. In general, affluent folks talked about taxes. Less affluent individuals talked about jobs. Everyone thought Trump's business acumen would be of great benefit to the country. Having those discussions was eye-opening. 

I've circled back to some of the same individuals to ask their opinion on the job President Trump has done thus far. Some are happy and still firmly behind him. Others have changed their views. Again, I am glad to have these conversations. The contentious fighting on Capitol Hill, the coverage of every word and deed of Trump in the media, and with the heinous acts of violence and hate speech occurring around the country it seems unlikely that anyone would be willing to discuss politics. Moving us back in time to the days when most American's abided by the unspoken rule, we don't talk about politics (religion or money) as a way of politely dodging the issues in the hopes of keeping the peace. After all, level-headed individuals want to throttle each other in heated exchanges when talking politics. Many a family meal has been ruined, and relationships severed because it's such a contentious topic.

We cannot afford to close ourselves off 

Only listening or reading the opinions we agree with on television and in print is risky. Realize that television personalities and news reports can be slanted toward a particular view. You and I need to do our diligence and seek out as many sources as possible to obtain a complete picture of what is happening in our world. It's time to exercise critical thinking skills as we never have before, to wade through the sensationalism and bias. Allow yourself to question everything and thoroughly examine the answers you find, especially if they differ from your position. If you staunchly hold to a particular opinion ask yourself to see someone else's point of view. Be open.

Work on changing your mindset

A willingness to learn from and engage with others is key to our growth and a first step toward gaining greater insight. It can be difficult to accept other people's opinions, especially about sensitive subjects you have strong feelings about. However, everyone has to deal with people they disagree with at times. If you're comfortable with yourself, you'll be less sensitive when other people disagree with you. If you run into conflicts, approach them in a calm fashion. We have to learn that it's okay to disagree without taking offense. Know that tensions can rise, but we have the ability to control our emotions, even when dealing with sensitive and deeply personal topics. And, if you struggle with this approach it's okay. Maybe you need to avoid certain conversations, while you continue to work on yourself until you are ready to engage with others differently. 

I'm encouraged about the direction we are headed, and it has nothing to do with a sitting president or which party controls the executive branches. My hope resides in people. There are good people on both sides of the issues that are willing to talk. Folks that understand a nation divided cannot stand. For those that are waiting for the tone to be set by political leaders or the media, I suspect you will be disappointed. As with most anything in life, change starts from within, and then you connect with others that have the same desire to work together for the good of all people. 

What can we do? Start by turning off the television, get out of the house and away from your circle of friends. Reach out to someone who looks different, has different views and start a conversation. Share your thoughts on how we can improve our current condition and listen to others. Let's connect!

 

Identity Crisis (Still) within the Black Community

Yesterday, I had the privilege to participate in a 2-hour town hall discussion, the focus of which was on ways to improve the condition of people of color in the United States.  It was refreshing to hear the perspective of individuals that I have never met and would likely never engage, except for the common interest in the future direction of the black community. I use the word community, however, after a lengthy (approximately 1-hour) discussion about this very word concerning black folks I realized we continue to struggle with some fundamental identity issues.

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Who are We?

The question of who we are is not about labeling ourselves, reinventing ourselves or guiding others so that we are addressed in a politically correct manner. The heart of the issue has everything to do with unity. What exactly is it that binds us together? Is it color and if so are we Black or People of Color? Perhaps a shared experience - slavery, loss of culture and homeland - is the most dominate rallying point. When we speak of the Black Community or the Black Population does that conjure up a particular image, and do you see yourself in it? Undoubtedly, the answer will vary depending on who you ask which is part of the challenge. We are a diverse group, and there isn't one category that neatly captures us all and defines who we are. So how do we unify when we have such different perspectives and backgrounds?

Unity is Built Over Time

I think most folks would agree that as a people group, at least in the United States, we are a work in progress. A people in the process of reprogramming ourselves. The reason we spend so much time discussing fundamental issues is that, early on, control mechanisms were put in place as a means to divide and conquer us, both physically and mentally. We weren't thought of as human beings, so stripping away our language, culture, and unique identifiers like hair styles were of little consequence to our oppressors. And separating families was a common occurrence. Unity would have been great for us as a people, but bad for slave traders and plantation owners. Even after the horrors of slavery ended, we had to contend with institutional supremacy (and still do). Yes, over the years, there have been calls for unity, but they've gone largely unanswered. The focus has been more so on survival or personal achievement; not realizing that personal and community advancement should be tied together.  

Given the history of our people in the Caribbean and the United States, you can understand why we are just now beginning to get how important unity is for our future. The trauma of slavery and institutional racism have never been dealt with in the U.S., and definitely not in a structured way within the black community. Many of us refuse to think about, read about or reflect on slavery in a meaningful way; even though it impacts us, even today. Dr. Joy DeGruy addresses the wounds of the past that have yet to heal and how we can move forward in her book Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. Furthermore, there is a distrust of each other in the community of color. Again, much of this originates from slavery. When something, whether it be knowledge or an opportunity, comes from someone within the community many of us are leery of it. But the same information will more readily be accepted by an authority figure, usually from outside of the community.  Therefore, we have challenges seeing the value of who we are and what we can share with each other for the benefit of all. The current climate in the U.S. is a wake-up call, and folks are beginning to wonder what can be done to change their condition. Now more than ever, I believe the message of unity has become more appealing.

Heroes and Sheroes

Brothers and sisters are leading the way in the efforts to effect economic change within our community. These early adopters break up the hard ground and do the heavy lifting that is required to clear a path and pave the way for others. Pioneers are not in it for glory or recognition. They have a passion for changing the world, and it drives them to invest Herculean effort on behalf of people they do not know but genuinely love. They also realize this work is equivalent to a long-distance run that will take time and endurance. Folks like Dr. Boyce Watkin, Dr. Claude Anderson, and Brother Lou are sharing financial knowledge that we as a community need to pay close attention to and implement.

I hope you can see yourself in this work - as a pioneer. If you and I are honest about the current condition of our people, we must admit that relying on government programs or waiting on other folks to solve our problems is a waste of time. So is waiting for one charismatic man or woman to emerge and lead us. Today, right now, you and I (along with countless others just like us) have the ability to effect change. We can use our talents, brains, time, and money wisely. I encourage you to research the links I have provided and begin to engage in the work that will build up our community. Together, let's do the work that needs to be done, instead of debating about what we should call ourselves and why.

A Cautionary Tale: ABC's Bachelor in Paradise Scandal

I've never seen the Bachelor in Paradise show, but I know the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise (of which BIP is a spin-off) is a significant part of the ABC brand. When the news of the scandal first broke, it looked as if the allegations of possible misconduct leveled at DeMario Jackson would derail the show's schedule; after production was shut down while an investigation was performed. The result of an internal probe yielded no evidence of any impropriety by Jackson toward his fellow contestant Corinne Olympios. However, Olympios' lawyer, Marty Singer, said that they're conducting their own separate investigation into the incident.

My first reaction to this story was one of disbelief. Not so much that a complaint was filed, but that it was made by one of the show's producers, who was uncomfortable with the interaction between Jackson and Olympios. Also, at the naivety DeMario Jackson, despite his comments quoted here, "It's crazy because when you're a man -- mostly African American man -- no matter where you're at, you always look for things that can help you out," Jackson said. "And at that moment, I made sure the cameras followed us. It just seemed too perfect in a sense for me, and at the point, that's when my spidey senses got up."  Yet Jackson still dove head first into a precarious situation. And, that choice has caused him nothing but trouble ever since. Remember, both he and Olympios have retained legal counsel, and her side continues to investigate the incident, so the possibility of legal action, whether criminal or civil is still hanging out there.

What would cause his "spidey sense" to kick in?

Could it be he is a black man, and Olympios, a white woman? Maybe it was the amount of alcohol consumed or the advances of Olympios. It might have been the combination of all these things. Regardless of the particular trigger, Jackson reviewed the scenario in his mind and knew the situation could be problematic for him, so much so that he made sure cameras and producers were around and that they could corroborate the facts of the encounter should an issue arise. Ironically, it wasn't Olympios, but a producer who filed the initial complaint.

Let this be a Lesson...

for other young men and women that could easily find themselves in a similar situation, only without the benefit of camera's rolling or others present to confirm their story. First, let me say alcohol and hook-ups usually don't mix. Quite often, someone regrets their words or actions (or both) in the harsh light of the morning. Just ask DeMario Jackson or any other guy that has been accused of misconduct if they would have done things differently. So guys, realize the abundance of caution that you must -not should, but must- exercise in situations that can easily escalate to an allegation of misconduct and make the best choice possible. Remove yourself from the situation. Ladies, the same advice applies. 

Entrepreneurs - Think About Community Investment

The megaphone is set to high and many people, myself included, have been speaking out about ownership, an important key to the success of black folks. Equally relevant is the need for black businesses in the very neighborhoods we are desperately trying to escape. Take a walk or drive through some of the most economically depressed areas and you will inevitably see a significant number of people of color. And, although the neighborhood may be impoverished that does not necessarily mean there aren't viable businesses that are making money. You still find rental properties, gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, beauty suppliers and others servicing that community. However, it is a rarity for those business owners to live in that neighborhood or look like the clientele they serve. These businesses are usually family run. Therefore job opportunities are limited, if present at all, and the profits generated will be spent elsewhere. Having an understanding of this matters because the dollars that we spend in these establishments do not circulate within our communities. We need to be more intentional as consumers, in regards to where we spend our money.

Why is Community so Important?

I have written once or twice about the TV show The Jeffersons. What I loved about the show was the fact that a black family - even with all the outrageous antics - was depicted as stable, loving and prosperous. However, it did little to reinforce the importance of community. The rise of the Jeffersons to "a deluxe apartment" was told in snippets over the years. From sharecropper (George's father) in Alabama to a derelict section of Harlem and then a middle-class neighborhood. It was from there that The Jeffersons moved to the east side of Manhatten. The greater their success, the further away The Jeffersons were from people of color. Success or "making it" was synonymous with getting out.  

Today, if we were to survey folks living in some impoverished areas, I believe a large number of individuals would express the desire to get away from the neighborhood, at least in its current condition as the embodiment of struggling, crime, and lack of opportunity. But, new challenges can arise when we move away from our communities. We lose the connection to those that understand us best. The importance of our shared history, empathy for those still struggling and personal relationships are also often lost when we move away. There is another factor at work, the re-identification of self to more closely aligned to the new environment and people. In other words, we can lose touch, not just with others, but also ourselves. However, this does not have to be an either-or proposition. You can be successful and still make a positive impact in your community.

Inspiration

The story of Ermias Asghedom, a.k.a. Nipsey Hussle is unique among most young men regarding his commitment to his neighborhood, and it is refreshing to see. Ermias is a rapper, record label owner, and the community business owner of The Marathon Clothing, whose flagship store is located in Crenshaw, California. Looking at Ermias today, by all accounts he is successful. He proudly recalls the days spent in his community and a time when black business owners were present in the area. Ermias, along with his brother (and business partner) are doing more than reminiscing about the past; they are invested in their community and increasing the profile of black ownership in Crenshaw. Looking for more inspirational stories check out the blog for BlackBusiness.org 

You Can Make a Difference

Okay, family, you may not be ready to open your business just yet, but certainly, you and I can support local black-owned businesses as well as those on the internet. Check out Support Black Owned (SBO) a self-described, free Black and African American owned business directory and blog filled with thousands of Black, Moorish, and African American owned businesses, and members spread all over the world. Sites like BlackBusiness and SBO are sharing our stories and highlighting businesses so that we can engage with each other. And, I believe the message of connection is catching on, but until it takes root in our collective consciousness and our communities establish significantly more black businesses, I will continue to speak on it.

Entrepreneurs - You're Ready to Start Your Business

Does that statement bring up fears or do you respond, hell yes, I'm ready! If it resonates with you, then get to work because you are qualified to operate on the next level. The fact that you are comfortable with the idea of entrepreneurship and can see yourself as the man or woman driving the action forward is excellent. When you are mentally prepared, there is also an expectation that great things will happen, and new ideas/concepts/opportunities are forming all the time. You're attracting what you want.

For those that responded with trepidation

You're wondering what's going on and how to overcome your fears. First, it's important to recognize where you are. You still have some mental preparation to do. This is a period of crisis, meaning you are required to pivot (i.e., change) your thought processes. Read the linked article on how rich people think differently. At this point, you will either defer (if not give up on) your dreams or double down in pursuit of them. If you want to proceed, the way forward is to build confidence in yourself and nurture your vision. Now is the time to examine what may be holding you back and why. Ask yourself the tough questions. Sit with that fear and let it speak to you. Visualize the outcomes that you want and remind yourself that success is available to everyone, including you. Know it and stop throwing up roadblocks. There are enough challenges "out there" without you getting in your own way. Once you've conquered your thought life, you too will respond with an emphatic yes, I'm ready! 

10,000 hours

It's been said that it takes 10,000 hours of doing a thing before you master it. Turns out that's a bit of an exaggeration, although the concept of diligent practice is necessary. It's just not the most important factor for success. The key to the success of any endeavor is you. You are the X-factor, the special sauce, the mojo that makes it work. Of course, you must put in the time and build your structure, but it is equally important to believe in yourself. That's when the magic begins to happen. Remind yourself to keep going. Fear will present itself many times, but you can conquer it so don't stop. Seriously, never quit. Return to this post after a few months to comment on your progress. I would love to read your success story. 

 

 

All Eyez on Me - Tupac Shakur Biopic

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Before diving into this post, I must confess that I prefer silence, literally absolute quiet, to playing music. I have three albums in my house (although we do not own a record player). They were gifted to my husband by his mother. Educational records that she used to teach him the alphabet, numbers and foundational principles of respect for self and others. They have tremendous sentimental value. We have a box with some DVDs and CDs in the garage. The last stop of every household item before we drop them off at the GoodWill store. I do own an iPod, it was a gift from my husband for a birthday (or anniversary), but I couldn't tell you where it is. Maybe in the car. The point is I'm out of the loop when it comes to the latest and greatest coming out of the music world. Regardless of the genre, music usually enters my consciousness through one of two ways; either my sister informs me, or the song is such a sensation it's being played everywhere all the time. The story is pretty much the same when it comes to movie news. Although I am keenly aware of Marvel's Black Panther movie that's due for release February 2018. Very excited to see this one, but I digress! Back to All Eyez on Me.

Now you would think I have little interest in watching a movie about Tupac Shakur, but you'd be wrong. It's true, I only know the title of one Tupac song, "Keep Your Head Up" so, to call me a fan would be a stretch. However, I've come to appreciate Tupac posthumously through interviews I've seen on YouTube. He was quite outspoken about:

  • unity in the black community
  • self-love
  • leadership
  • economic empowerment
  • elitism and greed
  • religion and a host of others things 

Tupac was a knowledgeable brother that had a firm handle on many of the issues plaguing our communities. He was not a perfect man, but he did accurately pinpointed the causes of many societal ills. It is because of his take on the issues that I am now interested in his music. I don't think I was ready to hear him early on in my life journey. To be perfectly honest, if someone or something did not present itself in what I considered an acceptable package, I would discard it. I probably rejected a lot of things based on appearance and language in my early journey. That's my loss. As I've grown older, I realize wisdom and knowledge come to you in many different forms and often in ways you never imagined. It's up to the individual to assess why they would discount the value of the messenger or the message. I'm just glad that I have the opportunity to discover Tupac's music. That is the beauty of recordings, the artist's message is forever captured.

All Eyez on Me has already exceeded the studio's projections for its opening weekend. Fingers crossed that the momentum continues. I know I will plunk down my money to see it because I view this as my opportunity to support a film made by and about black people. I'm not expecting it to be flawless so there is no need for me to read reviews or criticisms of the movie. This is simply one way we can lift one another up in the community of color. Let's support the talented brothers and sisters in the film industry, those behind the scenes and in front of the camera, while they perfect their craft. In my mind, the larger vision is for ownership of studios and cultivating distribution channels. So develop your knowledge of the business, hone your skills as producers, directors, cinematographers, etc. When the time comes, you will have the opportunity to present a far wider variety of our stories flawlessly. And, I will support you then as I do now.

Bill Cosby: A Mistrial and Further Litigation Ahead

It's been a busy time in the criminal justice system this month with several high profile cases wrapping up, including Bill Cosby's mistrial. This court case is intriguing, not just because of Mr. Cosby's fame and the indelible mark he left on television with shows like Fat Albert, The Cosby Show and A Different World. The interesting thing is that the jury was unable to come to a consensus on guilt or innocence, and as a result, Mr. Cosby is free to go. For now. The prosecution has already stated their intention is to retry the case which will likely return to the headlines within a few months. We will relive the stories of sexual misconduct, drug use, and philandering. In the meantime, the defense and prosecution will do everything that they can to strengthen their positions for round two. But, should the case be retried?

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Public opinion on this case is split. Some are appalled that a 79-year-old man is being tried at all. Others argue for legal action but question this particular case, one that was deemed too weak to proceed with criminal prosecution when it was first reviewed in 2004-05. Other women have come forward with claims of sexual misconduct. However, the statute of limitation has run out on most, if not all of them. Time is such a crucial element, and yet most victims never report this type of crime. A phenomenon that happens not only in the United States. In 2015, the Global News reported national results on the issue of sexual assault and criminal proceedings in Canada. A meager twenty-three percent of sexual assault charges in 2011-12 adult criminal court resulted in a guilty verdict. However many never make it that far. Women reported being victims of 472,000 sexual assaults in 2009, according to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey; men, 204,000. Yet police-reported crime statistics for that year show barely 21,000 incidents of sexual assault and 7,951 persons charged. So I wonder how victims of rape and sexual assault view the outcome of the Cosby trial. Does it reinforce the message that it is better to suffer in silence or have we encouraged others to come forward? 

Final Thoughts

The Cosby trial is far from the typical sexual assault case. Questions of victim credibility based on possible fame and financial gain and the accused abuse of power have taken center stage in the conversation. What I think this case does is bring to light how different sexual assault is viewed by gender (Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump come to mind) and how the element of time can alter the perception of a person or incident. At the very least this case should open up a dialogue about sexual misconduct around dinner tables and in classrooms. Also, a re-examination of the current statute of limitations to which many states adhere.

I'm not sure what, if anything, will be different when the facts of the case are laid out a second time so that a jury will be able to agree on a verdict. Guilty or not. I imagine each side would much prefer to declare a decisive win as opposed to another draw. 

 

 

Not Guilty Verdict in the Shooting Death of Philando Castile

First, I offer condolences to the Castile family. Although I have never personally experienced a loss such as theirs, I imagine a trial and the subsequent not guilty verdict is, in some respects, just as painful as the shooting itself. In regards to police shootings, what can I say that hasn't already been said before? So many times. Too many. This verdict like all the others is disheartening and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths. But on some level, at least for me, the outcome of (almost) every criminal proceeding like this one is expected. The results usually fall into 1 of 2 categories, cases that do not meet the threshold for prosecution (bill ignoramus) or a not guilty verdict. 

The Genesis

For me, it all began with the Rodney King incident. It was the first time I can recall seeing video of a police arrest. The story ran on a loop and with every airing came the images of King beaten to within an inch of his life. It was brutal. In 1992, if you were to ask anyone I knew if they thought anything other than a guilty verdict would be rendered, the answer would have been no. I'm certain of it. The evidence was there, captured on camera. Yet the jurors who heard nearly three months of testimony in the Rodney King case say the infamous videotape provided only a partial picture of what happened on March 3, 1991. And that comment, only a partial picture of what happened, has been repeated in nearly every police-involved shooting since. I've come to expect it, when high-ranking officials hold press conferences, often alongside community leaders calling for calm in the midst of another tragedy. Followed close behind is the character assassination of the victim and the testimony of officers that were in fear for their lives. The combination usually adds up to reasonable doubt. 

25 Years Later

I can close my eyes and see the King beating. Images like that stay with you as do the messages about black Americans. It is part of the reason I don't watch much television and rarely look at newscasts. I prefer to read the news, to think critically about what is being presented and research topics for myself. Besides, today's images are far worse. Videophones capture every deadly encounter with amazing clarity as do body cameras/audio and dashcams; although body and dash cams can be (and have been) turned off or obstructed on some occasions - another issue that needs to be addressed. It's clear that the answer does not reside in the advanced capabilities of audio/visual equipment. It doesn't guarantee accountability or appropriate conduct. So where do we go from here? Some say segregation, others call for the investment of human capital within our communities and externally in police departments and the criminal justice system. Still, others call for more drastic measures to change the narrative. 

I've shared with family and friends my belief that the violence against people of color is apart of the fabric of this country and that these heinous acts will continue. They've never stopped. The difference is now we have the video. No justice, but we definitely have the video.

Rest in peace, Philando Castile.

 

The N-Word

Even though I understand why it still seems strange to me that the majority of people use the phrase "the N-word." It reminds me of when I was a young girl, maybe 10 or 11 years old, and I wanted to say damn, but my parents did not allow my sister and me to use (what they considered) curse words. And, damn was off-limits, just like having cookies before mealtime. One day, I was walking up the hill outside of our house, trying to catch up to my sister who was quite a bit ahead of me.  I kept calling her name out but to no avail. She couldn't hear me. In my frustration, I yelled out damn it. At that moment I felt grown up and free to say whatever I wanted. No restrictions imposed from above (i.e., parents).

Unbeknownst to me, my father was watching from the living room window, and he heard what I said. What I heard was a window opening and then my father asking in a calm and measured way, "what did you just say?". A chill ran up my spine as I stuttered and floundered, blurting out that I said darn it. Darn was as close as you could get to cursing in my house, and even that was iffy. I'd like to think my dad was amused by our exchange, but I don't know for sure. I scurried up the hill as fast as I could to avoid further questions and a possible grounding.

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The wrong choice of words carries with it consequences

Fortunately for me, I escaped a punishment that day. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about myself and the person I wanted to be. The person I was expected to be regardless of if someone is listening or not, watching or not. Doing so means not having to cover anything up, to apologize later or potentially lose the things I treasure. Great lesson to learn at that age. I think the same temptation/lesson holds true for some people today. The N-word is heard in music and movies and maybe spoken by some more melanated folks. I understand that desire to speak what, in essence, is forbidden. It's the same reason I wanted to say damn. And, the reason I wanted cookies before dinner. I wasn't allowed to have them. Of course in my formative years, I had no understanding of the ramifications of filling up on empty calories as opposed to having a nutritious meal. And on occasion, I would secretly grab a cookie even though I knew I wasn't supposed to. How much restraint is one expected to have at that age? After all, I was only 10 or 11-years old. The same, however, cannot be said of an adult. Adults are expected to have learned these life lessons and know how to select words with greater care. To have thought about the ramifications of their choices. So when people like Phil Stair use the word to describe residents in Flint Michigan, blaming them for the water crisis or former Florida State Senator Frank Artiles, who called his colleagues the N-word, it speaks on a deeper level to their character and beliefs about others. And given the positions held by both, the consequences for their poor choice of words was correct. But what about Bill Maher? A public figure with far-reaching influence and access to avenues most of us will never have. I rather see Bill Maher as a cautionary tale of a well-intentioned individual that lost his way. Temporary insanity, if you will.  His poor choice of words is an opportunity to educate him and others. To utilize his platform as a teachable moment for the masses.

It's only a word, right?

Well, that depends on who you ask. The ability to paint pictures, incite others to action, convey messages, conjure vision, create moments of introspection, and to promote love or hate - words have that power. The N-word is akin to an incendiary device, and it carries a targeted message. The fact that we as a society do not directly speak the word is a testament to its heft. I would love to say it's only a word, but that's simply not true. The first time I heard it, and it was directed at me, yeah it hurt. Probably the second time too. But after that, nope. I'm in the business of living my life, no matter what friend or foe has to say about it or me. So words will not stop me in my tracks or reduce me to tears. They don't have that type of power. But I am not only referring to me in my current state because it took time for my thinking to evolve, for me to understand more about the world and the hang-ups that other people have about color. Countless others have been harmed, both directly and indirectly by the N-word. The physical, emotional and psychological damage inflicted over generations. Some people are still in process to figuring out what I have, others ingest the poison and it never leaves their system. They are the walking wounded. And then there are those that were not allowed to walk away or close an ear to the words hurled at them in their last moments of life. They can never recover.

Now there are advocates for redefining the N-word. There is also precedent for such a thing to happen. Words can and have changed over time, so it's not an impossibility for this to occur. But for right now, n**gas or n***ger are one in the same to me. To a lot of people. Probably to Frank Artiles (now) and have always been for the colleagues he insulted by calling them n**gas. Only time will tell what becomes of the N-word. I'll likely be long gone before this one is laid to rest or transforms into something else. However, I am hopeful that if/when the N-word comes to mean something else that the historical context does not also go by the wayside. In my opinion that would be a far greater tragedy.

Evergreen State College - Racial Tension and Threats of Violence

Of late, my news feed is full of political intrigue - hackers, leakers, Russian influence and questions about (who knew and did what in) the current White House Administration. If only I knew how to reset my RSS feed criteria, I could block more of these stories! It's a wonder anything else manages to get through. Thankfully this one did.

The story of Evergreen State College is one that I am just learning about and will continue to follow with much interest. If you are unfamiliar with this one, let me bring you up to speed. Racial tensions have been bubbling up on the campus for some time, culminating in student protests for the past few days. In response to the tension, school officials suggested that white people consider avoiding campus on a particular day set aside for discussions about race. One of the professors objected to this course of action via private email communication. His position on the issue was made public, and subsequently, students called him racist and angrily demanded that he be fired. The demonstrations continued. After an anonymous threat of violence, the school was closed for a day.

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As a person of color, I am saddened to hear yet another story of racial conflict, questionable community engagement and policing practices. All of which are valid complaints that are being highlighted by the demonstrators. And, I understand the wellspring of anger many people are dealing with in our communities. However, we have to stop calling for the dismissal of others that do not share our options. If we want to have an honest dialogue about race in this country, then it is imperative that we move beyond emotional responses to the positions and people whose views are counter to ours. Frankly, this is what we all - regardless of color - need to do. Right now it seems that a lot of people in this country are digging in their collective heels, shouting about their position and unwilling to consider that the world is much more nuanced than a "you're with me or against me" mentality allows. I personally do not want to live in a world with people that only think the way I do. I want to hear from people whose opinions are different from my own on mundane as well as controversial issues. If nothing else, doing so will allow me to broaden my understanding of the many viewpoints that are out there. And, if there is any one place that I would expect that diversity of thought to be present and encouraged, it is on a college campus.

Often, the comments we make as people of color is that white people (not all but some) just don't get it. They don't see or can't relate to what is happening within our communities. And, there's a genuine frustration that comes from it. But keep the lines of communication open in an effort to bridge the gap between yourself and others because we're all going to continue to occupy this space - together. The issues being raised by these young demonstrators are worth discussing and definitely need fixing so let's not get distracted by side notes (i.e., firing this one or that one) that take away from the strength of the message. Differences in opinion will occur. Expect it. Remember Colin Kaepernick, former 49ers quarterback, who decided to kneel instead of stand for the national anthem? The attention given to Kaepernick's action became the focal point for media, celebrities, and everyday citizens. The message of why he was doing what he was doing was reduced to a side note. Stay on message. Don't be deterred by differences in opinion.