My First March: Better Now than…

How would you end the title to this entry? Would you insert ‘never’? How about ‘later’? What are your thoughts on ‘yesterday’? I tossed those and other words around my mind, pushing myself to really reflect on what I was going to do this morning, and what I ended-up doing by this evening on Saturday, January 21st. I decided to join my fiance and many more people to march in the Women’s March in Boston. This was my first march.

I have been to two New England Patriots Superbowl parades, one Red Sox World Series parade, one Bruins Stanley Cup parade, one NCAA Hockey Championship parade for BU (in my Senior Year and there was cake), three Saint Patrick’s Day parades, and a few New Years First Night Parades in Boston.

I have not marched for “Black Lives Matter”, “Occupy Boston”, “Boston Pride”, “Peace Walk(s)”,  or any other march/protest that I do believe in. This was my first.

I don’t want to excuse my lack of physical activism by the fact that I am a teacher and poet. While those outlets are helpful and powerful in their own right. I haven’t put my feet where my facebook post is.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been impartial or silent in my beliefs or views. I just think I’ve made decisions to act in ways that are safe and not vulnerable. While I want today’s Women’s Marches (globally) to be safe, peaceful, and encouraging, I placed myself in a more vulnerable position then watching it on TV or via live-stream.

As I was getting dress I started to think, my first march was as an ally. I started to wonder how all those White people felt whose first march was along MLK Jr.? What of those White people who rallied with Abolitionist, not because it was the ‘hipster’ thing to do in their time, but because they believed in it? Any movement looking for success, needs allies for encouragement, support, resources, and to build a coalition that provides a stronger front.

I marched, not just to support equality and the rights of women, but to also help physically build that coalition. To meet any stares at my ‘pussyhat’ with smiles and confidence that progress can be made.

I also marched because…

 

 

No movement in this Nation, this Country, this idea has been successful solely due to Presidents; it was the boots on the ground, the door-to-door, the media shareout and blasts, and the marches, sit-ins and rallies that garnered the spirits of THE people.

I witnessed the raw power, diversity, and conviction of the American people who want progress, tolerance, and Civil Rights upheld for everyone today.

One sign I read stated: “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil – Adrienne M. Brown”.

Reread that quote again.

 

I marched and will continue to march and build coalition thru my actions because of that sign.

Besides, Mother Nature has always had a way of humbling humanity and revealing truths (Climate Change). And if birds are marching:

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WE ALL MUST MARCH!

 

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Dreams from my Mother: One Year Later

Next week will mark one year since I’ve lost my mother. My mother is not dead, but it is the type of lose that accompanies an individual who suffers from dementia. My background as an educator pushes me to look at my mother’s dementia (specifically Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome) from a strengths-based position; as a set of circumstances that causes her to interact and learn differently from others. But even with that, it is not easy. As I reflect on the last year of my life, I’ve learned so much about my strengths, limitations, goals, and needs. I write this blog entry without fear and from an open heart. I share with you the three most important lessons I have learned over the last year, and three personal goals I have for the next year.

 

The Three Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned

(1) I AM STRONG

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I must take a special strong type of someone to be a loving boyfriend, loving son, loving brother, loving parent, loving teacher, loving friend, loving colleague, and a loving learner while facing uncharted territory that no average 28-year-old would even be prepared for. Being a parent is a tough and evolving responsibility, especially when you match that with being the care-taker of one of your parents. On the night of my 10-year highschool reunion, a good friend of mine said, “Not to get all religious and stuff, but bro, the lord only gives you what you can handle.” That sentiment was later echoed by one of my mentor’s when she told me, “If you were given it, then you must have been able to take it.” So when I look back at my successes: planned my 10-year highschool reunion, restarted and relaunched the Alumni Association for that highschool, earned my teaching SEI Retell Endorsement for Massachusetts, co-coached my job’s Slam Poetry team to a State Championship, supported my girlfriend and sister with love, encouragement, tears, laughs, hugs, and so much more, I realize how strong I am. I did not learn of nor gained my strength by-myself; it took love, support, and listening ears to get me there. I don’t intend to stroke my ego with what I have stated, rather I am trying to connect to the second most important lesson I have learned. I need to love myself.

(2) I NEED TO LOVE MYSELF

I have beaten myself up a lot over the last year. When my mother first got sick I jumped right-into ‘logistical-management-mode’. I spent so much time balancing obligations and time-sensitive tasks that I forgot to equally, if not more, balance socio-emotional obligations. It wasn’t until the beginning of summer that I started to authentically reflect on my lack of socio-emotional supports for my sister, my mother, my girlfriend, my father, and most importantly myself. Whenever you board a plane and you’re about to take-off, the flight attendant instructs you that in the case of an emergency, that you place the air mask on yourself before helping others. In my case, I placed the air mask on only cover my nose and that did not allow me to take the deep-breaths needed to relax. I reached my emotional breaking-point on a few occasions and I still have the scars from beating myself up afterwards. It is only now that I am using those same hands to apply ointment to those scars. By loving myself, I can forgive myself, and by forgiving myself, I can help myself. Now my air mask covers my full face. I’ve been breathing deeply the last couple of weeks.

(3) MY TRUE FAMILY IS WHAT I MAKE IT TO BE

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My family has always been small: my mother, my sister, my father, and a cat. Due to the age difference between my sister and myself, I haven’t had the chance to develop a strong brother-to-sister relationship. My sister was born when I started highschool, my sister was entering kindergarten when I started undergrad at Boston University, and by the time my sister was entering 7th grade I began my master’s program at Harvard Graduate School of Education. There was no middle (buffer) child, and my family (both mother and father’s side) did not get involved (unless they wanted something). As for my sister’s father (we have different fathers because my parents divorced when I was 7) and his family, they also did not get involved. So how was I suppose to feel when my sister’s father didn’t ‘step-up’ when my mother was hospitalized? How was I suppose to feel when my grandmother (my lone-living grandparent) decides to visit for nearly two months and refuses to see my sister, myself, and her own daughter during the Christmas and New Years? How was I suppose to feel when no family member reached-out to invite my sister and I over for Thanksgiving? If my family was already small, it became that much smaller when my mother was removed.

I came across this quote, “Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family,” and only now can I grasp the weight of what it means. For a few years I reflected on the natural process of becoming an adult and beginning to know and understand family members as ‘people’ and not titles. I’ve only began to understand and truly appreciate the man my father is through our discussions man-to-man. Discussions that are not limited by topic or content. Discussions that have helped my father and I build a bond deeper than father and son, a bond of friendship. Friendship is the bond that I have come to value to the most in my life. My girlfriend and I have a relationship built from friendship. When you call someone your friend, you do so by choosing that relationship, by trusting that relationship, and by maintaining that relationship. That effort, trust, and hopeful reciprocity, is not always present in a blood-family. This same phenomenon is experienced when an individual breaks away from their family’s ‘history.’ Think of ‘first-generationers’: those who first break the poverty cycle in their family, those first to marry outside their race, those first to marry someone of the same sex, those who first enter college, those who first move away from their home state, and those who first break-away from the ‘family-business’. It is possible to grow-away from your family, and to maintain the relationship, one must find value in it. Just like some friendships I have had, their are no relatives that I do not find value in maintaining a relationship with. That previous statement not only weights on me, but it places me in a vulnerable position.

This lesson has given me the insight to value and put the effort forward to maintain and develop friendships that I can then call a ‘family-relation.’ A few years ago a close friend of mine from B.U. and I got into an argument. We both allowed it to escalate and let our ego’s get the best of us. We would go beyond just losing a friendship, but we would lost a brotherhood; a brotherhood that is ever more important given the current situation in America when it comes to Black Lives. We have since started repairing our friendship and are on mends. I did not ever think it would be possible for us to reconcile our differences. It has been such a relief and fruitful for both of us to have each other in our lives. When I think about the future for my girlfriend and myself, I look forward to making my small family a bit larger.

My Three Personal Goals for the Next (school) Year

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Although I only shared three lessons in this blog-entry, I have learned many lessons this last year. It is through my collective lessons that I present these three personal goals I have for the next school year. These goals are not only attainable, but they are also fulfilling and scratch an inch I’ve had for some time.

(1) BE A MENTOR

I’ve wanted to be a mentor for quite some time. It goes back to my time working a Year Up when I was tasked with matching my students with mentors. Ever since I left Year Up I wanted to become a mentor for a Year Up student, but my schedule and profession made that a difficult venture. I have two mentors and call both of them my friend. I appreciate them for their guidance, support, love, listening-ear, and friendship.

One professional goal of mine is to support, mentor, and nurture new teachers. I have a more years of teaching and experience to go before I feel like I can do that adequately. However, I have enough experience to mentor a highschooler. This brings me to how I will become a mentor. I’m working with the John D. O’Bryant Boston Technical Alumni Association to establish a mentoring program that will connect alumni with current highschoolers. Through this effort, I will soon have my mentee.

(2) WRITE MORE POETRY

Poetry is life! I found my most effective and honest mode of expression when I became a spoken-word artist. Since my time at B.U., I have self-published two chapbooks, performed for many many crowds and venues, and attended many spoken-word and slam poetry events. I’ve been planning on releasing a third chapbook for the last four years and have not delivered. I have written some poems, now I haven’t exactly completed each one, but I do have material to work with. I’ve read and edited more poems for my friends and students over the last two and a half years than writing my own poems. While that is not entirely a bad thing, I want to deliver on my goal of producing my third chapbook. More importantly, I want to continue to express myself in the most powerful way I know, poetically. These blogs have been my replacement from writing poems, but my artistic edge is not expressed in these blogs.

Expect your copy to be available by Christmas, on a sliding monetary scale of $0 to $5.

(3) BE ACTIVE ABOUT WHO AND WHAT I LOVE

My third goal loops back into the first two [did you just see what I did]. Over this last year I put forth the effort to reconnect with a friend and I got myself a bike. I’ve come to the realization that my actions must reflect what I need, want, and/or love to do. It’s not about making decision solely based on being right, wrong, or wronged, it’s about being genuine to my heart and what I need, want, and/or love to do.

What entices me the most about this goal is how adaptable it is. I enjoy playing tennis, so I will try to play more. I enjoy bike riding, so I will ride my new bike longer and further than ever before. I love to travel with people I love, so I will plan to do so. One short coming of this goal is the lack of accountability. Perhaps this is where you come in. YEAH, YOU THE READER! You can hold me accountable by commenting on this entry, asking me if I have achieved my goals.

As I enter the next year of my life, I hope that my next entries are more of the ‘poetic’ nature. I don’t see a way to wrap a bow on this blog entry. The truth is, I don’t want to. What I am going through is a process; of understanding, of healing, of progression. My mother’s dream for me was to be healthy and happy with what I do in life. It is hard to accept that my mother will not be the same, but I try to remind myself of the mom I had. The friendship I’ve built and continue to build with my dad will not happen to the safe effect with my mom. However, her dreams for myself and my sister will carry on.

So, until my next entry and/or adventure with you…

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The Three States of a Personal Matter

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It’s been over 9 months since my mother suffered from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome… since I began the legal task of becoming her Guardian, since I began the legal task of becoming my sister’s Guardian, since splitting my time between two apartments, since embarking on another challenge that my Love and I must face.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, reflection, and writing about what has been on my mind over the last 9 months. Reading books like “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron, have helped me reflect and brought me to realize that this process has been like giving birth, but I don’t know what coming to a full-term means in my context. Perhaps this post is my baby?! In my previous post about my mother I shared my “My Five Stages of a New Single Guardianshiphood”, and this post is an extension of that. This post is my three states of a personal matter.

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SOLID

In order to build a house you need a proper foundation, a solid foundation. So if I plan to build a new house for my life, I would need to accept the solid aspects of my life. Real aspects such as my mother not being able to retain new memories and my sister living under my roof for at least 3 more years. My relationship with my Love has faced many challenges: long-distance via graduate school, long-distance via Vietnam, and now short-distance due to time and living arrangements. While I can’t clarify the short-term, I can clarify the long-term of one day making a family with my Love. This has to be the most solid ground I accept because it keeps me grounded. Not to say that is more important than any other solids in my life, but it is the most cherished.

I love my little sister, but 14 years of an age difference and living together a total of 5 years (2 of which she can recall) has its impact. My relationship with my sister has been one of growth. We have been able to get to know each other over the last 9 months more than the last 9 years. The most solid ground I accept about my sister is that we will have a push and pull relationship as I get to know her, not just as her brother, but also as her Guardian.

Other solids that I must accept in my life have been what has demanded my time:

-Taking an Sheltered English Immersion course for 12 weeks, for 3 hours per session, with 6 strategy implementation assignments, 2 professional network meetings and reflections, weekly Blackboard postings, a major Capstone lesson plan, and a written reflections

AND

-Teaching an MCAS Math Course with Upward Bound once a week for seven weeks

AND

-Teaching “full-time” at my job while wearing the many hats that come along with teaching at a high-caliber charter high school.

AND

-Planning my high school 10 year reunion and helping to mange the Alumni Association

AND

-Spending quality group, solo, and partner time with friends, family, and friends.

GAS

In order for a balloon to stay afloat, the gas must fill the entire volume of the balloon. So, if I planned to stay afloat I would need to stretch; pushing my boundaries to stay afloat. I’m not just trying to be metaphorical, I’m trying to be scientific! Just look at the ‘Ideal Gas Law’:

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The amount of pressure and growth I can take equals the amount of events in my life and my temperament (temperature) during those challenges. If there is one thing that is constant about all of our lives, it that change is inevitable. Perhaps my connection to the ‘Ideal Gas Law’ is a bit of a stretch (see what I did there),  but what I’m getting at it that I have been feeling a lot of pressure the last 9 months: pressure to support my sister and her transition to high school, pressure to support my sister academically, pressure to make sure my sister is healthy emotionally and physically (like getting her new insurance for a dentist visit, physical, and new eye glasses post an eye exam), pressure to ask for help, pressure to not need help, and pressure to just graze my ‘bursting’ point, because ‘bursting’ is not helpful for my Love, sister, family, friends nor my students. I am not trying to disregard the pressures my sister, Love, my mother, or my father feels, because I know each of them have their own and feel some of the same pressures I do.

The amount of pressure I feel increase my volume and reflects my room to grow. I grow equally by the number of events that require me to do so and as long as I maintain a temperament that augments those events. If I make decisions while I’m mad, I tend to be erratic in my behaviors. If I make decisions when I’m calm, I tend to be more comforting in my behavior. To achieve this calmness so I can take the pressure and grow from it, I must “Be Like Water.” -Bruce Lee

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LIQUID

In order to reap a good harvest, the water must flow. This has been the most natural state for me. As I entered the unfamiliar territory of insurance applications, medical papers, court papers and dates, social security, long-term care plans, and Guardianshiphood, I had to constantly go with the flow. As I entered brokering responsibility with my sister’s father, understanding the lack of support from my mother’s side of the family, I had to candidly go with the flow. As I worked tirelessly, meet all my deadlines, maintain a high degree of functionality for my job and non-profit work, I had to consistently go with the flow.

Being in a liquid state means I must be able to adjust to any restrictions. I must shift between solid, liquid and gas. I also must strive to be all three states at once. I must strive to reach my own ‘Avatar State.’

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AVATAR STATE OF MIND

In the animated series Avatar, the ‘Avatar State,’ is “a defense mechanism, designed to empower you with the skills and knowledge of all past Avatars.” (Avatar Roku) For me, being in ‘Avatar State’ is being my most compassionate, calm, and courageous self. It is critically thinking about the solid states of my life, responding well to the gas states in my life, and being flexible in a constant liquid state. When I really think about it, are we are all in a constant liquid state. Given the fact that our bodies are more than 60% water means we are all capable of achieving ‘Avatar State.’

I guess in order to do so, we must be tested in ways that stretch our perceptions of our strengths and limitations.

Sojourner Proof: My Lent Tradition

For the past three years I have used the season of Lent (fyi: I grew-up Catholic and Baptist, and live spiritually today) as a catalyst to reduce or cut a food(s) out of my diet. Three years ago it was cereal and milk (still going strong). Two years ago it was fast food and fried foods (well, road trips and traveling has acted as ‘personal excuses’ to cheat, as well as being broke). Last year it was ALL NON-GIORDANO MADE PIZZA (which, has been easy to keep to, I mean… IT’S GIORDANOS!… aside from Digiorno during Superbowls and March Madness). This year… it will be… limited sugar and processed foods.

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Looks Damn Good Right?! Growing up, this would be my breakfast… the breakfast of champions! SAUSAGES… EGGS… YUM! However, it recently dawned on me, as I would make this most mornings (2 brown eggs + 4 “Brown ‘n Serve” sausages), that I had no fruits, vegetables or grains with this meal. I felt so guilty about going against my trusted food pyramid. Where was my balance? Was OJ counted as fruit? Is 99 cent bleached-wheat toast counted as whole-grain? Wait… eggs are vegetables, right? 

As I reflect on this, I think about the real question: What is proper food balance?

FUN FACT: Vegetarians and Vegans have a significantly lower chance of facing negative health issues, such as colon-cancer, prostate cancer, high-cholesterol, heart-attacks, and diabetes.

FUN FACT: All the minerals, vitamins, proteins, “carbs”, and flavors (for taste) your body needs can be found in vegetables, spices, fruits, and grains.

I only share these facts because I have been wondering to myself, why is it so hard to stick to a diet? I think the biggest driver for the decisions I make today was my childhood.

My mother is from the South. Her cooking (all health arguments aside) is based from Georgia. Soul and home cooked meals are becoming a lost art in todays kitchens. Dinner always had to be balanced: one meat, one veggie, one starch and one dairy product or grain. In fact, when I told her I was cooking something she would interrogate me, asking about my plate “balance”. My childhood was also saturate in images from marketing, as well as fat. Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats, McDonald’s, Cheetos, Doritos, and quarter juices could never do me wrong! Esp. when I was able to have Lunchables; much like there old slogan, my parents controlled the rest of the day, but lunch time was mine! I customize my cold-cuts on crackers! I made those disgusting cold pizzas! It was so empowering!

This is what makes my current diet decisions SO EMPOWERING! I am responsible for my diet and will eat what I want. However, what I want and like has long-term consequences. My love borne from artificial flavors created a road-block, which I am still breaking-down, to having fresh food.

Of course, this was too sophisticated to comprehend when I was younger. The more I learn and think about my food consumption (compounded with health statistics for black-men, no matter socio-economic status), the more I contemplate on what is more important and what are the true sacrifices to live a long healthy life.

I will sojourn in these thoughts for the next month… and I welcome you to join 🙂