What the Holy Hell?!

When should you “know better”? How old is too old to lose innocence? I’ve been thinking about these things and the coercion that I feel was involved with the young men who were involved with Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Mostly because I know that those four young men are not the only ones harmed in this manner on a daily basis.

The summer after my freshman year in college my mother thought it would a great idea for me to volunteer at our church, helping out in the office. Since she’d already said I would, what choice did I have? I’d pledged my sorority during the spring of that year and the Sr. Pastor was a member of our brother fraternity. He was delighted with my neophyte self! We also had two junior pastors who were pledging grad chapter of his fraternity. Rev. Sr. took great delight in having my “little brothers” greet me and do little tasks. One of them took his pledging quite seriously; let’s call him Rev. Jr. – the youth minister. He was handsome and not too much older than me, funny and liked to flirt (in a church appropriate way of course). I didn’t take it too seriously but I was flattered and assumed his attention meant he was …interested in me. As a person.

We were in an office on the 2nd floor of the church that had a long countertop with selves above it. He asked me to sit on the countertop and talk to him. So we talked about school, being in the sorority, dating. I was sitting on the counter and he stood up, right in front of me, leaning on my knees. So I sat up straighter. In the movies, this is where the guy kisses the girl. But he didn’t kiss me. He moved my knees apart and grabbed my hips, pulling me forward.

 “What if your boyfriend did this? How would you react?”

I couldn’t move because there were cabinets behind me so I was stuck between him and wooden doors. I didn’t know how to answer his question or where to put my hands. I guess he read the confusion on my face, because he laughed as he let go and took a step back.

“I’m just looking out for you, little Big Sister… letting you know what men think about when they see you. You better get back down to the office.”

And so I was dismissed. And utterly confused. After that he took every opportunity to touch me when he saw me. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t alone with him upstairs anymore but he managed a hug or a squeeze quite frequently. I‘d had one boyfriend in high school, was a nerd to my heart (with great clothes, shoutout to my shopaholic mom) so my experience with dating and men was quite limited. I read a lot into the attention that was paid to me so when he said he wanted to take me to lunch for my birthday of course I accepted.

There was a Red Lobster near the church so we decided to go there. He wanted to stop by his apartment first, to get something. I didn’t want to be trapped there (ha!) so I followed in my car. We got there, he ran in then came right back out.

“Can you come in for a  second? It’s gonna take a minute to do what I need to do but we’ll still have time for lunch”

So I followed him in. He asked me to have a seat, went down the hall and was back a few minutes later. With champagne glasses in one hand and a bottle of something. Did I mention that this was my 18th birthday?

“Surprise! I thought we’d start celebrating here, and then get something to eat later”

“Oh, well…” and I didn’t know what to say. So I reached for the glass that was being offered and got pulled into a hug.

“Happy birthday to you…happy birthday to you…Happy birthday Dear Andrea…Happy birthday to you”, as sung in my ear.

“Let me pour you some bubbly”

I guess I looked at my watch one time too many, or sat too stiffly on the couch. At some point it became apparent that I wasn’t going to lunch and he wasn’t getting what he’d anticipated either. I declined the second glass and made a hasty exit. Now my mind was occupied with going back to work (at the church!) with alcohol on my breath and whether I would still smell like it by the time I saw my mom.

So nothing terrible happened, thankfully. Just some confusion, a little anger, mixed with the hopes of an 18 year old girl thinking she’d being pursued by a handsome older man. I never told anyone about it, went back to work that day, then school later that month. I skipped church for a few years (maybe a decade, don’t judge). But imagine that my relationship had become physical. Imagine that I’d known Rev. Jr. for more than a few months, shared intimate talks of hopes and dreams, fears and wishes. Imagine that he told me how special and chosen I was, showed his concern and support by listening and buying gifts…how devastating would it have been to learn that I was disposable?

This is what I thought of when I saw the young man talking about taking showers for hours, never being able to forget the scent of Long’s cologne. How alone and confused and heartbroken he must have been. Just as I’m confident that others knew of Long’s activities, I’m sure Rev. Jr. showed his “special interest” to other girls. What do you do as a teenager or young adult, charged with making your own decisions, being mature…when those you respect and admire give you terrible choices?

I owe my Twitter BFF @aaw1976 another round of drinks for her editing help 🙂

Compassionate Children

Today I was fortunate to attend a talk by his Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

In a giant stadium of thousands, his entrance evoked a cessation of all sound, as we stood to greet him. I was shocked to tears by the immediate silence. A profound peace fell across the space as we watched him walk toward the stage, and turn, hands together at heart center as he bowed in acknowledgement. Way up in the nose bleed we couldn’t hear him, but my sis and I returned the greeting of Namaste…the God in me honors the God in you…

In that moment whatever sorrow, malcontent, and even flippant, casual dialogue evaporated. In that moment I felt stillness, peace, and as odd as it must sound, I felt the love he had for each and everyone of us in that room. A moment of transfiguration…of being seen as more than just flesh and bones.

A glorious moment actually. And again the tears came. They were my exhale. My sigh of relief. My acceptance of the love. In that moment, I wanted to be nice, to sing, to hug, and hold, and comfort perfect strangers.  My soul awash in the KNOWING that we are all ONE. Connected beings interdependent and independent.   I felt invincible, indefatigable, and dare I say BEAUTIFUL!

I couldn’t help but wonder how I greet my son each morning. I couldn’t help but wonder how I greet children I pass on the street- especially those engaging in “inappropriate” behavior…  I shuddered knowing that on a “good” day, I’m radiant and light and loving. On those days, where my heart is burdened, when my mind is cluttered with the stresses and strains of living – my words can be toxic- imbued with anger, frustration, and judgement…

We aspire to raise compassionate Children, even at our most despicable parent moments… I have no doubt. Yet I’m more and more convinced that we must CONSTANTLY and CONSISTENTLY model loving kindness, being free from judgement, speaking in non-violent, kind ways, and being gentle. Our children are watching us. They learn from the example we set- the way we treat them, others, and even ourselves…

Whatever our spiritual, religious, political, or metaphysical proclivity…. I can almost guarantee that there are fundamental tenents that include something about kindness, love, mercy, justice, and patience…

Imagine if we were able to inspire in our children what our venerated leaders, teachers, and guides inspire in us….

Just a thought.

 

 

The F Word

I like to think of fall as a season for renewal and this year I am focused on making it fabulous.

The word I’m referring to is FIRST. That’s the position I’m putting myself in and I encourage you to do the same. CocoaMamas readers are some of the more self-actualized folks I know. I’m proud of the way we share, inspire and support each other. As a CocoaMama, it is easy to find something to do. Between work, school, being a wife/partner, daughter, sister, boss, employee, and 100 other things there is always opportunity for engagement. I’ve decided that I need to do more for me.

 The change of seasons is inspiring to me this year. The transformation of the leaves is beautiful and the chill in the air means a change in fashion too. I like to think of fall as a season for renewal and this year I am focused on making it fabulous. Since I skipped the summer shape up I’ve decided to get fit for fall. I don’t make time to go to the gym but I am able to squeeze in some plies when I go to the bathroom. Since I’m drinking more water, I make frequent trips. TMI? Perhaps. I’m learning (finally!) that little things add up to big improvements over time.

I’m also taking a closer look at my diet, working hard to eat less processed food and be mindful that 40 may be the new 20…but physically it’s still 40, and things have changed. That one little hair that popped up on my chin in my 30s? Now it is GRAY and has company! Glowing skin? No problem – as long as I follow the multi-product system my drier 42 year old skin requires. I had a blood pressure scare last month and I want to do my part to make sure there are no repeats. I make sure that my kids drink organic milk and always have fruit available, but I eat on the run, drink sodas and don’t sleep enough. I’m sure that the stress of knowing what to do and not doing it doesn’t help my blood pressure. As I’ve gotten older I also feel a certain anxiety about what I haven’t done, often failing to acknowledge my accomplishments. This of course produces more stress, which leads to ice cream and potato chips, high blood pressure and sleeplessness. Enough of that! I have a plan…

My Focused on First plan includes:

  • Going to the doctor (internal medicine and GYN) and dentist
  • Buying fabulous glasses, giving my eyes a rest from contacts
  • Listening to live music
  • Saving money, getting fiscally fit
  • Updating my fall wardrobe so I can look as fabulous as I feel
  • Sleeping more

What does your me first plan look like?

First focused links:

Woman First – great song by Kindred the Family Soul

Need beauty info? Check out AfroBella

DASH diet ebook

DASH diet overview

*I have to give a shout out to one of  my Twitter BFFs, the lovely & talented @aaw1976 for her feedback and encouragement (turn off the TV!).

Black to School

A new year has began. I look around me in my Civil Procedure class, and of the 60 or so students, I am one of four black people. Not a bad number, you might think. But I know better. Just because they are black, doesn’t mean we’re fighting the same battle. I’m just sayin.’ I don’t know them, so I assume I’m fighting alone until experience tells me otherwise.

The class begins with a discussion of Walker v. City of Birmingham, decided by the Supreme Court in 1967. Already my stomach is sinking. Anything about Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960s is not really something I want to talk about on the first day. Not when I’m surrounded by fresh-out-of-undergrad-white-folks-who-have-never-paid-a-bill-and-really-believe-they-are-here-based-on-their-own-“merit”. Shit.

But in it we go. Short law lesson: The case is about Walker et al, with the et. al. including MLK Jr. and Ralph Abernathy, appealing a decision by a lower Alabama court. The city had an ordinance on the books that gave it broad discretion in who to issue a permit to. Bull Connor refused them a permit to march twice during the Easter weekend in 1963. They started small protests anyway, so the city got a judge to issue an injunction – an order that said they were not allowed to march or protest in any way. Now the ordinance was pretty unconstitutional, and the injunction just mimicked what the ordinance said. But the ordinance is a statute, and the injunction is an order of the court.

The men marched anyway. Bull Connor and his police arrested them and jailed them, of course. Then the city filed a motion for contempt of court, because the men violated the injunction. And that’s the issue that went to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court upheld the contempt order. You cannot violate an injunction, no matter how unconstitutional it is, out of respect for the “rule of law.” You must challenge the injunction, in front of the court who ordered it, before you violate it.

Fine. I love legal analysis. Of course, there are reasons to agree with the court’s ruling, and reasons to disagree. There were dissenting opinions.

What gave me pause in this class was that after we’d discussed the case, the professor decides that we all need to understand the “context” of the case. Generally, I’m all for that. I’m a sociologist; I believe context is paramount all the time. But when you are the 1/4 black contingent, and suddenly huge powerpoint photos of black people, black children being hosed, attacked by dogs, beaten with billy clubs, and inhumanely jailed, you wonder if “context” is really the right word.

The next slide put up is Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in that Birmingham jail, writing his Birmingham letter, and the professor asks the class, what would you have done in this man’s situation, and then adds on quickly, well, of course this is a trick question because these images being projected into living rooms across America is what led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And everyone laughs.

But to me, what made it a trick question was the fact that these people would have never been in MLK’s position, never in his position to put black children on the street because all the black adults were in jail, never in MLK’s position to break the law in homage to justice over order, never in MLK’s position to stare down water hoses and dogs because their skin color would never have been black. It is not a hypothetical they have to truly contend with.

But for me, and the millions of students that go into classrooms this year, the hypothetical feels real. A girlfriend of mine told me a story of her six-year-old who was taught about segregation and MLK in his first grade classroom. This mother is very light-skinned, and her child brown-skinned. After the lesson at school, the child came home and told his mother that if things ever “went back,” he’d have to leave her. He might also have to “fight, like MLK did.” Why? Because the teacher didn’t take any account of the fact that in teaching this “lesson,” the only black child in the classroom might take it literally, and not place it in its historical context.

In other lessons, this teacher, attempting to be “historically correct, not politically correct” had black children act out being slaves on a field trip to a plantation while white children looked on. This teacher bound the hands of two black girls in a lesson about slavery order to make it more lively. Another teacher had black children create fugitive slave posters of themselves.*

While black parents have fought hard to have “our” stories told in schools, something has gone horribly wrong in implementation. Has your child been the recipient of this psychological attack disguised as a history lesson? What is the alternative for teaching all children about the sordid legacy of oppression in this country without making the historically oppressed relive their oppression?

Just-Us

Something about Sunday nights…I keep hearing the Karen Carpenter and her “rainy days…always get me dowwwwn.”

This has been a week, and as ever, Sunday nights I become more reflective, introspective, and yes, melancholic. I initially planned a Part 2 of my earlier blog, but the word: JUSTICE got in the way…

Oscar Grant and the Mehserle verdict have dominated my thoughts and conversations these past couple of days. So many conflicting stories from the community. So many perspectives, questions, and motivations.  The ubiquitous cries of “JUSTICE” sounding like an akoben, yet I wonder…as I often do, what do we tell our children.

“I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…”

What do we teach them?

Maybe something like this:

“hey baby, we need to have a talk. It’s time I let you know that by and large, you’re going to find yourself in the company of humans. VERY VERY strange beings they are.  Most of them probably mean well. They really do. So you’ll hear  them talk about freedom, justice, and equality for all. BUT, be cautioned, they don’t REALLY mean for ALL, they mean for some. What do I mean? Oh, let mama explain.   There are those who talk about ending racism and oppression, you remember we talked about that? Ok, good. Well, people will say that they want all people of different “colors” to be treated fair and equal. They stand up and fight for the rights of people who are victims of racism. Yes, yes, baby, that IS the right thing to do. Equality is VERY important. The tricky thing about equality and justice though, is that it has to be for EVERYBODY or it’s NOT really equality and justice.  That means that even people who AREN’T Black and Brown have to be treated fairly too.  It also means that boys and girls have to be treated equally as well.  Do you think one person’s life is more important than another? Me neither!

Right, right, yes, that’s part of why people are protesting on tv…yes, they’re angry about the verdict in the Mehserle trial.  People are sick and tired of the police brutality in Black communities… what’s that you say? Did people protest in the streets after Aiyanna Jones was murdered in her sleep in Detroit? I don’t know baby, I haven’t heard of anything happening.  What, what’s that you say? How come people don’t protest the police harrassing people everyday on the block? Hmm…I’m not sure love.  Yeah, mommy doesn’t know how come there were only a few people at the meeting to recruit Big Brothers and Big Sisters for  boys and girls… That’s a good question. Why aren’t some of those people on tv and the radio who are angry about the verdict angry about all the Black and Brown boys who go to jail  everyday? Or the fact that so many kids can’t read? I’m not sure…”

Justice or Just-Us?  In my convoluted mind, justice for SOME isn’t justice. It’s HARD for me to take someone who still subscribes to patriarchial notions and hierarchies SERIOUSLY when they talk about racial equality. It’s IMPOSSIBLE for me to have a serious conversation with someone about “saving and protecting our children” when they have a cache of  musical artists who’s theme is “sex, drugs, and alcohol” …

“…teach them WELL and let them lead the way…”

I HAVE to ask:  WHAT and HOW are we teaching our children?

An Ode to Entitlement

Last Monday was “Bat Day” at my daughter’s school. She had been talking about seeing these bats for days so after school I was expecting her to bound over like she usually does, talking one hundred miles a minutes about bats. What I got instead was a subdued child, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Not the bottom lip!” I thought. My girl has been chewing on her bottom lip since she was about six months old. She does it when her lips are dry—and when she’s upset about something.

“What’s up?” I asked.

She shook her head without saying a word. But something was clearly off. She was moody and petulant in the car, picking silly fights with her little brother and behaving unreasonably. It got so bad I had to pull over.

“What is going on with you?” I demanded again.

This time she burst into tears. The story came out in heartbreaking sobs. Two kindergarten classes had consolidated to look at the bats together. Mina’s little friend had gotten up to hang her jacket. Mina got up to do the same. The teacher from the other kindergarten class had yelled at Mina: “Sit down! You don’t get to get up!” Mina had sat back down, scared.

“Well was she far away so she had to yell for you to hear?” I inquired.

“She was right in front of my face, mama.”

“Were you doing something that you were not supposed to be doing?”

“No, I was hot and I wanted to hang up my jacket.”

“I’m sorry you had your feelings hurt, sweetie.”

“I felt scared mommy. When she yelled at me, I got scared!”

I gave a her a hug and a kiss and that was the end of it for me.

Before you judge, let me explain myself here: I come from a LOUD family. If you are a Star Trek fan and have ever seen an episode involving Klingons talking, then you’ve pretty much seen a casual conversation between my family members. We all sound mad all the time—even when we’re not. That’s just us.

And let me give you a little more context: I remember getting slapped by a school administrator in maybe second or third grade. Not a little tap. A hard slap that left a mark on my face for a good couple of hours. I think my crime was giving a hug of support to a first grader who had gotten in trouble somehow. He looked so little and scared. I felt bad. My sympathy earned me one heck of a slap.

So with all this in mind, you will perhaps understand that the idea of a teacher yelling at my five year old didn’t exactly faze me. I thought the insult would pass. My daughter thought otherwise. She brought it up the next day. And the day after that.

On the third day, she said: “Mommy I want to explain something to you. I don’t think you understand that my teacher had told us that we don’t ever need to ask permission to get up to hang our jackets. That we can do it anytime we choose without asking.”

“Was your teacher there when you were yelled at?”

“Yes, she was sitting right there.”

“Did she say anything?”

“No.”

This was clearly going to be a problem and I was out of my depth. I brought it up to a few of my mommy friends.

One said: “This is a public school. If you go around looking for issues, you’re going to find them.”

Another said: “If this had happened to one of my daughters, I would not have been able to get them to go to school for a week or two.”

I got to thinking about how hard my husband and I work to draw my daughter out of her shell. She’s bright, she’s thoughtful and she’s sometimes shy. And so we encourage her to look doctors, store owners and other adults in the eye, to ask questions, to order her own meals, to pay sometimes (with our money, of course!)

My husband, who is Latino and who works in education reform, never stops talking about how the underlying sense of entitlement that white children feel about some of the most mundane things in life helps propel them in very significant ways later in life. That white kids are often encouraged to question and demand, while Hispanic and African American kids are taught the opposite.

My take-away from my husband’s quite frequent rants is that I need to raise some entitled children if I want them to succeed. No problem! I grew up in Iran. America’s baggage about color wasn’t handed to me until a little later in life. I’m loud and I’m proud, and can act entitled with the best of them!

But wasn’t I sending my child the exact opposite message here? You were yelled at unfairly. Hug, kiss and now drop it!

What about raising children who feel entitled to respect and fair treatment? Children who deserve not to feel scared because of a teacher yelling at them? Listen, I do yell at my kids (and quite often), and I can see circumstances where it would be more than warranted to yell like a banshee. But I also like to think I’m fair and appropriate—at least most of the time.

So I sat down with my daughter and I told her I could see that she was very upset. What did she think we could do to correct this situation? She wanted to write a letter to the principal. “Fine,” I said, “you dictate and I’ll write.” She expressed herself quite eloquently while I typed. She signed her name with great pride, and after we dropped off her letter on Monday, she finally seemed satisfied and resolved.

Today’s Thursday and we haven’t had a call from school yet to discuss the matter. That annoys me but I’m giving it a few more days and then going in like the crazy Klingon I was raised to be.

Here’s to raising some entitled brown and black kids. Are you in?