A glimpse of midlife and setting fire to my life…musings at 42

Even a dedicated racial justice professional needs a break from a steady diet of racial injustice. My recent birthday has provided me with the opportunity to step back and reflect on my life. This post is a result of some of my reflections, so if you prefer the race talks, you may want to skip this post. Sadly, the world remains a cruel and unjust place so almost certainly, I will have something to weigh in on soon.

When you run off at 18 and get married, have your first kid at 19 and are on the road to divorce court before you can legally even buy a cold brew, it’s easy to slip down a rabbit hole where you feel you are always playing catch up in life. It becomes far too easy to lose contact with one’s inner guide and instead plug into the world’s vision of who you should be. Sure, you occasionally visit your real self but for the most part your real self becomes a visitor who drops in for special occasions. Even for those who don’t start the adulthood journey with appendages known as kids and spouses, getting to one’s real self can be difficult. In part, we spend 18 years being fed someone else’s view of the world and those views shape us no matter how much we fight against it and then we spend the next 18 years uncovering what’s real for us.

The only thing is that, for most of us, the first decade or so of our adult lives are spent fitting into society’s pre-designed boxes (college, careers, love, family) so even if we are actively rebelling against what we learned in the first 18 years of life, we are often still part of the system we are struggling with. We literally at times have two halves of our lives but the second half of life doesn’t reveal itself until we have a few decades on this dusty rock. In my case, the late 30s signaled an internal shift but one that didn’t ramp up until the past year, when it started to become clear that change was underfoot.

I have openly joked about the physical shifts…those damn hot flashes are no joke and let’s not even talk about that nasty Flo broad and her changes. If I ever meet Aunt Flo face to face, why I’m gonna….

No, the soul searching, the painful picking up and putting down of what works and what doesn’t work. That’s what I’m talking about right now. Digging around in my psychic closet and exploring myself in my 40s now; asking the questions that in my 20s and even my 30s I could not find the courage to even utter except in the occasional moment of clarity. But that clarity would disappear as suddenly as it appeared. The moments of wondering “Is this it?” Ours is a culture where to admit these moments is looked at as a problem to be solved, but not all “problems” require a medical professional, treatment plan or a drug. Sometimes our problems just require the moment that pushes us to our edge and when we gather the bones, heed the whispering of those who have journeyed before us and run to embrace that all knowing wild being who is healthy, free and unencumbered, we find peace.

Yet the quest to the true self that often starts at midlife is not without risk; in fact, the risks are proportional to the potential of joy and peace that is possible. The larger the piece of the joy, the greater potential that you may just end up blowing up your life, just setting it on fire and saying “Fuck it all!” In many ways, it is fitting that I recently celebrated my 42nd birthday by gathering the materials to make the biggest blaze to blow up all that held me back. I am a creature of habit. I am often methodical and rarely do I make decisions without calculating the odds of success in any venture that I undertake. However, my gift to myself in this new year of life is to truly live joyously and take risks. It’s too soon to say and the odds for failure are high but my joy at the moment cannot be contained. I am not afraid to fail anymore and that alone is a gift; I look forward to the other gifts that this journey will unwrap as I go further along.

So welcome to 42, where the woo got stronger and I remembered to laugh again.

Racialized healthcare or adventures in the emergency room

This month marks 7 years for this little space and its been an evolving process for me both as a writer and as a person. As a result over the years, particularly in recent years I have intentionally become a bit less personal in what I share here. Yet the nature of this type of writing is personal and people often come back because of the feeling of personal connection. Which is why despite my intentionally sharing less of myself, I suspect that more long time readers especially  those who follow me in social media spaces have been astute in noticing that I have grappled with personal issues. The past year has been a year of physical challenges for me, a year where to be honest I have seen far too many damn healthcare providers in a search for answers. A year where I have seen the inside of the ER a few too many times but thankfully I am on the road to answers and feeling quite optimistic that the worst of it may be behind me barring a biopsy and some other treatments.

Pain and discomfort have become regulars in my life, throw in a predisposition towards anxiety and you have the makings for a stew of of physical hell. I have been fortunate that my daily yoga and meditation practice keep me from allowing the discomfort to feel like a nonstop threat to my very being. Yet there are days when the discomfort becomes too much; throw in regular garden-variety anxiety with a dash of perimenopausal heart palpitations and discomfort and it’s the death spiral of Oh, no

Which is why when in the middle of a conference call several days ago in my office—when I felt a thump in my neck, excruciating pain in my upper body and the world started spinning the same time that I felt my body temperature rise—I realized that when one is 105 miles away from home, the ER might sometimes be the best place to go to make sure that all was well.

However. not living in Boston and not having my road dawg—better known as my husband—with me, I got off the conference call as fast as I could and asked the program assistant at my office to help me get to the nearest ER. Little did I know that I was about to embark upon an adventure from hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy at one of America’s top-rated medical centers.

My office is located in downtown Boston, right in the Beacon Hill area, and the hospital closest to my office is Tufts Medical Center. Which, while it may be one of the best in the country is…well… lacking greatly in people skills. I have seen friendlier medical personnel at the old Cook County Hospital in Chicago, which is saying a lot since County specialized in trauma and the indigent.

From the moment my assistant and I stepped into the Tufts ER, I started to wonder if  I had made a terrible mistake. When one walks into an emergency room waiting space and is greeted by a woman in a wheelchair puking into her hospital-provided barf bag and wailing loudly that she needs help, you start to wonder.

My initial contact with the check-in staff was interesting as I explained my plight. Look, I understand, it gets busy, you are overwhelmed but a minimum wait of two hours?  Ok, it is what it is. Nevermind that the check-in guy seemed surprised that I had health insurance but after waiting patiently for two hours to be seen and listening to puking lady barf every 7 minutes (I counted) it became clear that most of us in the ER had one similarity: non-white skin…and that all the staff that I encountered had something in common as well: white skin. Most  of what my program assistant and I witnessed during my two-hour wait was downright chilling especially as we witnessed a white social worker speak in a chilling and condescending manner to a young Black man who was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis. If I hadn’t been in grave discomfort and pain, I would have walked out the door.

The real fun though began when I was finally called and settled into a space—to call it a room would be a bit too much. Nurse number 1…”you look real nice”…um, what the hell does that have to do with why I am here? Enter the PA, a bored, disaffected looking white woman who treated me as if I were a junky looking for a fix. Gulp.

Nope, the real fun began when nurse number two came to give me an EKG, since I had complained of upper-body pain. Never mind that if I had been having a cardiac event that having me sit for two plus hours was probably a bad idea. No, helpful man nurse number two was there to assist and that is when the weirdness became so clear that even Stevie Wonder could have seen it.

So the nurse wheels in the EKG machine and offers to help me take off my boots since I was sitting up as laying down was uncomfortable. Great, thanks dude…Upon helping me take off my boot, he holds up my boots and comments on the brand and states that these are expensive boots, then proceeds to ask my opinion of them.  A bit strange but whatever. However, as he was placing the tape on me and hooking me up to the EKG machine, in a strange attempt at bonding, he leans over me while my body is exposed and proceeds to tell me that I smell good and ask me what am I wearing.

I can’t speak for anyone else but when a man who I don’t know has access to my body when it is most vulnerable, I really am not interested in conversations about my scent of choice or where I shop. As an online nurse friend mentioned, nurses can sometimes be quirky. I get it. Yet when you work at one of America’s top hospitals, I expect a certain level of professionalism. The only person I had contact with wasn’t creepy or completely disaffected was the actual physician, who came in with the “oh” face but softened considerably when I mentioned that I lived in Maine and we started bantering about Maine.

In the end, I was released and while I was “fine” the fact is that racial health disparities are no joke. By and large Black people do not receive the same level of treatment or quality of care when they encounter healthcare providers—the data from many studies supports and acknowledges this. My early academic background is in racial health disparities but it is also personal to me as my beloved mother might have had a chance at life had her doctor actually listened to her. Instead she met an early death.

Living in Maine, I have encountered my share of clueless providers who aren’t knowledgeable about non-white bodies, but rarely have I encountered the lazy disregard for Black bodies that I both witnessed and experienced at Tufts Medical Center. It did not escape my notice that had I been a white woman with the same presentation and symptoms that I would almost certainly would have been treated with a modicum of respect. Though, as a local white pal shared with me, he had his own adventure at Tufts Medical Center ER that left him shook as a reasonably upstanding white man. In any event, implicit bias training and compassion need to be a part of the staff training at Tufts. The vast bulk of people who go to the emergency room don’t want to be there. We would rather be well. We certainly don’t want to leave feeling worse in a whole new way.

Authenticity in a Facebook kind of world…some days aren’t our best

Back in 1997-98, I decided to go back to school and in one of my first classes we were informed that we would need access to the internet as part of the class. I had only the vaguest notion of the internet at that time. In my mind it was a mysterious thing, a thing that my ex-husband would stay up all night dabbling with, a thing that made strange noises and had codes that were undecipherable to my non-tech mind. Needless to say, the idea that my grade hinged on getting access to this strange thing…place, was a bit unnerving. However I bought my first desktop computer, signed up for AOL and the rest is as they say is history.

In my early days online, social media as a concept was not part of the larger culture. Early on, I had tapped into a community of Black women who like me were interested in wearing our hair in its natural state. The early conversations were about hair but over time, conversations grew and broadened, and a real community formed. Back then to casually mention that you spent time online “talking” to people who you didn’t always know in the “real” world was to subject oneself to raised eyebrows in some circles. I rarely shared my online happenings with offline friends, though over time many of the women who I had met online became actual friends. In the winter of 2003 as my mother’s life was winding down, unbeknownst to any of us at that time, I ended up documenting my mother’s last months with my online friends in a way that I rarely did with my so called “real” friends. As the first in my peer group to lose a parent in my early 30’s, people rarely knew how to relate to me but the format of the old discussion boards allowed me to grieve in a way where being vulnerable was okay. Six months after my mother’s death, I found myself pregnant at the same time that several of my online friends were pregnant. We all gave birth within an 8 week period to what we now call the 2005 babies. It was a strange time, to receive so much love and support from people some whom I had never laid eyes on but things change.

To live is to accept that change is inevitable; online chats with people we may not “know” is no longer viewed as strange. Millionaires have been created based off of people connecting with people who they may or may not know face-to-face. Gone are the days of exchanging numbers with people we hardly know in hopes of getting to know them better. Instead we look each other up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Ello and whatever forms of social media are out there. We “like” each other, we “follow” each other but more and more I find myself wondering do we know each other?

In a world where busy is boss, it’s increasingly harder to actually spend time with people that doesn’t involve a complicated dance of schedules. Despite the fact that the majority of us are walking around with mobile devices in our bags and pockets, we dare not call each other up because as we all know, phone calls are annoying. Instead we commit to texting because we can control how and when we connect with others. Send me a text today, I will text you back at a time that works for me. For most of us, our lives are filtered through the lens of social media where we play the roles that Mark Zuckerberg has created for us and we show our best selves. After all, it’s tacky to put our private business out for all to see, or at least that’s the line we tell ourselves.

The problem is that sometimes no one knows who we really are. I found myself confronting this issue recently when I admitted honestly to a friend that my marriage is still floundering and she questioned me on the photos that I show online, the casual upbeat banter that people see between my husband and I online…was it all a lie? No, it’s not a lie but…

I paused and thought about my other married pals, almost all my pals who have been married as long as the man and I are in that same strange place of what happens when you have been with the same person for almost 20 years. A place where the flame still burns but it sputters and comes close to dying out, a place where the dreams and hopes of years earlier have given away to the realities of midlife and living. It’s not a hopeless place but it is a place that is rarely depicted anywhere in popular culture. It most certainly isn’t depicted in social media, where couples show off their tasteful homes, fun getaways and adorable kids.

Lately I have found myself thinking a lot about the ways in which authenticity and honesty in digital spaces can be tricky. What we share and say online no longer exists in a void; jobs have been lost, relationships destroyed. This past year, I have personally felt a lot more vulnerable knowing that my employees, board members and donors occasionally browse in this space. As the boundaries break down in our society and we connect both online and offline and our ways of connecting shift the pressure to always be on and presenting our best self grows. The problem though is that people are complex and in having our best self, we also have a less than best self yet is there support for those less than best moments? In a culture where we are being branded and commodified to show our best selves, the truth is that too many of us have little in the way of authentic support and as I have personally learned, it’s not healthy. I can’t speak for anyone else but I need people to do more than like my happy moments and send emoticons. I need hugs, I need words, I need a smile, sometimes I need support. So in 2015, I am striving to be more authentic in every moment of my life even if it looks and feels a little messy and uncomfortable.

From BGIM to you…Wishing you a warm holiday season!

‘Tis the season of joy for many as the winter holidays go into full swing. I can’t say that I find this to be a particularly joyous time of year. My relationship to this season has always either been rather torrid (in the not-fun way) or tepid and that was before the illness that would eventually take my mother’s life decided to resurface on Christmas Day 2003.  Over the years, I have struggled to make peace with the season and jump in wholeheartedly; in other words…fake it until you make it. However, with my youngest child’s discovery that there is no magical white man wiggling his ass down our chimney and leaving gifts, I have been freed to take this time of year as it comes with no pretense and expectations.

Ours will be a somber holiday as my eldest child is unable to join us this year. Yet another reminder of the nature of change: kids growing into adults who have their own lives and plans, and sometimes those plans don’t line up with parent’s plans. We have been blessed to spend a good deal of time with my son this year before his move to LA, so while he is missed this holiday season, he is with us in spirit.

As unholiday-like as this season is for me this year, I have much to express gratitude for this year. A year of change which brought its share of ups and downs. A year that brought a career shift and new challenges including a 210-mile round-trip commute across two states. A year where I saw a marked increase in readers of this space, readers whose kind words (sometimes unkind words too!) and generous support has buoyed my spirits and made me realize that perhaps there is a need for a space like this.  So, I thank you! Thank you for being a part of my journey. As this year draws to a close and we draw near to our loved ones (or not so loved ones), I wish you and yours a warm and peaceful holiday season! That whatever your faith tradition, you can find a moment of clarity and peace in a world that grows increasingly unsettled.

 

When strength turns deadly…why the strong Black woman must die

This post is for my beautiful sistas of the African diaspora, and for the littlest sista who at 9 is already becoming far more skilled in wearing her mask than a little girl should be. But, like her mother, she already knows the spoken and unspoken rules required for us to take up space in these brown bodies.

I woke up to the news of the passing of Titi Branch; Titi was the co-founder of Miss Jessie’s Natural Hair Line. To be a Black woman in America with natural-textured hair is to have almost certainly at some point come across Miss Jessie’s products. Titi was still a young woman, just a few years older than myself, but what struck most people upon hearing this sad news was the news that Titi’s death may have been a suicide.

Whenever someone dies too young, it is always seen as tragedy, when someone dies by their own hand, we often don’t know how to process it. I think in the Black community where the cultural norm is to pray away the bad, we rarely acknowledge the unspoken depression and angst that lives in the closets of many strong Black women. With so much attention on the plight of Black Americans and the biased criminal justice system, too often the focus is on Black men and boys when the truth is Black women and girls are in a state of crisis too.

We know that Black women go missing and rarely do the stories of missing Black women and girls ever even make the evening news. We know that Black women are killed and assaulted by law enforcement. But rarely do we talk openly about the Black women who struggle under the weight of being asked to be strong. I am talking about the Black women who from the outside look together—the women who “beat the odds” and have all the markers of success by the standard of this society. Women who often feel too guilty to even talk about the deep pain of being asked to be everything to everyone while still living in this deeply racist and sexist culture that puts Black women on a third-rate stand at best. Women who can’t tell their relatives how that “good” corporate job feels more and more like a noose around the neck when those same relatives are still struggling to keep their lights on.  Women who often endure the subtle racism and microaggressions that eat away at your spirit piece by piece and thrown you in a downward spiral of malaise and depression.

The strength of the Black woman is a popular trope that rarely allows a Black woman to be honest with many people—or even herself—if she ever feels anything but strong. I know this struggle all too well myself—times when I have tried to reach out for help only to feel worse. When people expect you to be strong, the very act of revealing your vulnerability and humanity  feels like you are letting others down and creates a hamster wheel that is damn near impossible to get off of.

Yet it seems some of us are choosing to get off of the hamster wheel of being a strong Black woman by choosing to take our own lives. Black suicide has been researched by folks like Alvin Poussaint, whose book Lay My Burden Down discusses the mental health crisis in the African-American community. It’s a good read and it gives us real insight and ideas to curb this crisis, but how do we take it from the head to the heart? How do we do more than pay lip service to the idea of supporting one another? Even in Maine, our numbers are small, yet often the Black women here (I am guilty of this myself) are too busy to make time to just be with one another. If we can’t even take the time to create meaningful connections among ourselves, how can we have a support system when we are in crisis?

As Black women at times it feels we battle the world, each other and ourselves—and it’s killing us. Whether we consciously take our own lives or we go the unconscious route of shortening our lives which often is the result of not physically taking care of ourselves, something must give. I am tired of burying our men and sons but I am also tired of seeing too many of my sistas leaving the world far too early. Just as we are fighting now to make it known that Black lives matter we must create space for ourselves for our own Black lives—spaces and places that honor our humanity and support us in not just our high and strong points but at the low points when we need someone to know we are hurting enough that they come in to help hold us up, give us comfort and lend a caring and attentive ear.

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Fighting the fight for racial justice in Maine…I salute these brave young people

I never imagined when I moved to Maine in 2002 that talking about race, racism and race relations would be something that I would do with regularity. In many ways, coming from Chicago, I had spent years in my own silo, one that was rich with diversity and where my presence was not alarming, different or “othered.” Choosing to talk openly about race in a state where non-white people make up less than 10 percent of the population is a risky proposition. It makes you a very unpopular person who is alarming, different and often perceived as a troublemaker…and it most certainly doesn’t make you many friends. Needless to say, my social calendar stays pretty empty. I have few regrets, despite the occasional moments of sadness when I see the impact upon my family and the utter isolation in which we live, but occasionally something happens that reminds me that there is value in raising our voices for the collective good.

In recent years and months, I have seen more of my fellow Mainers speaking out about racial injustice. Too many times, there is an assumption that because the number of non-whites in this state are so few that racial bias has no place in our lives. The reality is that racial bias in Maine is real and it takes many forms. My friend, blues man Samuel James has been raising his own voice as a Black man raised in Maine to talk about the racism he has faced and continues to face. As more of us raise our voices, it gives us the strength to stand tall even when we face opposition.

However, it is the actions of a group of high school students in Lewiston, Maine, who have me convinced that change is coming…even in a state like Maine. With demonstrations taking place across the nation, few would expect them in a state like Maine but demonstrate we did. Last weekend, we had two demonstrations, one at which I had the honor of speaking at and meeting some of the courageous young people of all races who are working for racial justice across this state. Which is why, when a few days later when one of them reached out to me about a situation at Lewiston High, I was alarmed.

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Several students put up a poster in the high school to raise awareness about the racial injustices that disproportionately affect Black people using the slogan that has emerged in this struggle based off the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The students were told that using “Black Lives Matter” is divisive and ordered them to take the poster down. Of course, the complaints are that all lives should matter and when we only focus on the plight of Black Americans, we are creating racial divisions. In theory, all lives should matter but in reality all lives don’t matter equally. Much like George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, some of us are perceived to have more value than others. In a year that has seen record numbers of Black lives shot down before their prime, Black women sexually assaulted by law enforcement and Black children marked for failure before they can even spell their own names, calling the slogan Black Lives Matter divisive ignores the reality that Black lives seem to have little value in our current day. Many white Americans have already divided Black people out to label them as troublemakers or criminals because of the color of their skin alone, divided them out as being less deserving of rights and safety when police are involved, and dividing them out by trying to silence them when they even try to discuss race. Black people and their non-Black allies want discussion to bring people together for once across racial lines.

How talking about an issue can be divisive is beyond me. To acknowledge and discuss inequity does not create inequity any more than discussing cancer leads to the creation of more cancer. Such thinking is faulty at best and downright insensitive and insulting, and it often reveals the racial bias held by the person who dares to utter such things.

In the day of the viral story, the plight of the students in Lewiston was picked up and went national; not long after, the school reversed its decision and are now allowing the students to put the poster back up. The community is planning a forum on the matter sometime in January. Based off comments in the local paper, I imagine it will be a lively forum since many feel this sort of “thing” has no place in our public schools. Yet I can’t think of a better place for such action.

These brave young students are our future, they are connecting across racial lines and having the types of discussions among themselves that many of us who are much older won’t even dare to have with our family, friends or even ourselves. Social change is often guided by the young; as I went to two marches in five days and realized that my marching and chanting days are almost behind me, if for no other reason than how tiring they are physically. I am heartened to know that even in a state like Maine, there are young people daring to break out of the silo that society has created for them and work across racial lines to speak truth even in the face of pressure to be quiet. I salute these young people and I pledge to assist in any way that this old-head can.

America unmasked…a nation of hate and pain

 

In the spring of 1991, I was a girl who fell in love with a boy and being two headstrong and impulsive types we pledged our undying love to one another and ran off and got married. A few months later, we discovered we were expecting a child and by the winter of 1992, our beautiful son was born. Yet, it was too late for us. We learned early on that love wasn’t enough because as a mixed-race, young couple, the world was not a kind place for us. Thirteen months after our son’s birth, our marriage was over. Shattered under the weight of adult realities and the inability to acknowledge or talk about race and the impact it had on our lives. My ex-husband would spend the next two decades avoiding all talk of race, instead choosing to see the “human family,” until it reached a breaking point in recent years as my son’s identity as a Black man emerged and he was faced with the possibility of losing his son. In a stunning reversal of more than four decades of long ingrained “truths,” I have seen my ex-husband speak up as a white man in ways that I never thought possible when it comes to race.

I share this personal story as I sit saddened under the weight of what our inability to talk race as a nation is costing us. Today’s New York Times has a piece that speaks to the very real divide in this country when it comes to race. We are in a state of emergency and many of us don’t even know it. A civil war is brewing and we are almost at the point of no return as a nation.

Too many Black people suffer under the weight of a system that marked us before we were even aware of our own essence as people. Too many whites believe the past is the past and that we should just move on. As a general rule, we don’t make a point of pressing crime victims to just move on and forget the trauma they have endured, and we certainly don’t ask them to endure more abuses by the criminal while we refuse to apprehend that criminal (well, I guess we often do in domestic violence still, but other than that…). Yet when it comes to the Black American community, too many whites engage in intellectually dishonest rhetoric on race because the truth is too painful to face. But as anyone who has lived long enough knows, facing our past often allows us the freedom to eventually move forward.

Here in America, we are literally stuck in a loop unable to move forward racially; as I have spoken about many times in recent months, it was 46 years ago this year that American witnessed the race riots of 1967 in Detroit, which later led to the formation of the Kerner Commission. The Commission was tasked with figuring out what to do with those pesky Black folks. The Commission’s findings in 1968 determined that the problem was white people and detailed all the reasons why. We failed to heed the recommendations that came out of those findings and here we are…at a racial crossroads.

We have reached the place where families are fracturing over recent events such as Ferguson and the Eric Garner case, longtime friendships are ending and spaces such as Facebook are revealing our true shadow selves. It ain’t pretty. I pride myself on being someone who keeps drama down in my online life and I actually took the rare step of unfriending a white sister in Christ because her comments were borderline abusive.

On the one hand, it’s easy to blame the troll culture that is so pervasive online but in many ways I think that our online selves are a lot closer to who we really are. It’s harder to show our true selves face-to-face when accountability can be demanded or a punch in the face is always a possibility. American culture and especially white American culture has always trafficked in politeness, which by extension has meant avoiding discussion of the potentially problematic things like religion, sex, politics and race. However, in a racially changing world, we can no longer avoid that which is unpleasant or uncomfortable, not when lives are on the line, not in a world where children with toy guns on the playground are shot dead by the people who are charged with serving and protecting. To stay silent on race is to be complicit in the systematic destruction of a people who bear the scars left over from centuries of abuse and oppression. No white person alive owned slaves but many are still alive who benefited from the system’s preference for whiteness. To openly acknowledge that truth is not to indict whiteness but to indict the system that created this divide that we all currently live in…the truth has a way of setting us free but if we run from it, freedom will never be ours.


Standing on the brink of destruction, all I know is that we must be brave. We must not back down and if in the fight to right the wrongs of history and not bestow upon our children and grandchildren this tortured legacy that will not fade away, if we lose loved ones along the way, perhaps it is a small price to pay to right the wrongs of history. Pandora’s box has been opened and it cannot be closed, our ugliness is on display and the pain is heavy but it doesn’t have to remain this way if we find the strength to deal with that which we have long ignored.

Reflections on a march

Another week, another dead Black man and another white police officer who won’t face legal consequences for the taking of that life. Enough is enough…that was but one of the cries this week that led to nationwide demonstrations. In recent months as the racial tensions have grown in this country, I have watched from afar, commenting and empathizing but from the safety of my home (or office or train). At times feeling helpless and thinking that I must do more; it is not enough to write in this space or even to be the Executive Director of an anti-racism organization. True change often requires action and sometimes making ourselves raggedy, vulnerable and uncomfortable. It requires a willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone and go from the theoretical to the practical.

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Little did I know that this week would present me with the very opportunity to do just that. I found myself Wednesday evening making the decision to cancel a planned Thursday night discussion at Community Change and instead asking people to take to the streets to stand in solidarity with those protesting in response to the Staten Island’s grand jury decision to not indict the police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner. In asking people to take to the streets, I knew  that I too needed to take to the streets. Let me just say the last time I was part of mass protest was back before I had kids and considering that my eldest is now a grown man…well, it’s been a while.

However, I put on my walking shoes and was ready to go as I led a group from my office to the larger gathering at the Boston Commons. I was not prepared for the sheer volume of people: young, old, Black, brown, White and every shade in between. Standing and later walking in solidarity. The beautiful young Black and brown faces clumsy at times in execution but strong and on point in theme and resolve: We are tired, we will shut this shit down!

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It was amazing to bear witness on a night that grew colder with each passing hour yet there was no surrender; not even at 10 p.m. when a portion of the group that I was involved with walked towards the cops with hands raised, chanting, nor when a group of protesters swarmed a police vehicle. Any fears that I started the evening with dissipated as the night wore on; instead there was strength in the collective group. A diverse, multiracial group that according to some reports was the largest mass protest held in Boston in at least a decade.

There were moments of discomfort (walking up towards I93 was definitely unnerving as I thought, “Are we really about to shut down a highway?”), and there were a few less-than-friendly faces we encountered (man on the Commons who yelled “Losers!” to me and a few of the people from my group) but overall there was support. Black and brown men in traffic who honked their horns in support. A middle-aged white man who got out of his car and stood with his hands up in support, a touching gesture even if I do question the wisdom of white people putting their hands up.

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I left the evening thinking that we are bearing witness to a shifting consciousness, the rising of a generation saying that business as usual is no longer okay. That we as a society cannot continue to accept injustice that regularly assaults a portion of our population. The road to systemic change will be rocky at times and it will be hard, but we must be the change that we wish to see in this world.

The toll of Black death…the aftermath

“I’m crying a lot and trying my best to feel safe, make my friends and family feel safe. I hope you tell the people of color in your life that you love them before they are murdered by police.”- My 22 year old son’s Facebook response to the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown

For several days now I have sat down and waited for the words to come but the truth is that the only thing that comes is rage and sorrow. Sorrow at the pain that Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, must be feeling. The collective rage of all Black parents and the sorrow at yet another dream deferred. A few days after the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Michael Brown, I attended a local vigil in Portland, Maine, and was struck by the collective pain in all the brown-skinned faces. A tired, bone-weary pain as I saw a young Black woman break down in tears.  The tears and sorrow on the face of the local NAACP chapter president as we embraced as Black women and mothers knowing that while we were mourning the loss of Michael Brown and the callous disregard for his life we were also mourning the hope that so many of us have had that one day we might be beyond race.

Ferguson has shattered us, and while we are a resilient people, we are also a people in pain. Yet it was in talking to my own beloved son that the pain became personal because unlike when he was a small child, he knows now that my words and promises are no longer guaranteed. I cannot keep him safe in a world that sees a 6’4 Black man as suspicious just for being tall and brown-skinned. He is a former philosophy major who is now an up and comer in the music business, garnering national attention and making his way in the world. A rising star, yet every time he is pulled over (which as of this writing was less than a week ago, and he’s been pulled over just for being Black so many times before that), he knows at that moment he could lose his life.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are the children and the grandchildren of Jim Crow-era parents and were raised on hope that things had changed, that racism was a thing of a past, that we could go further, do more and live at peace with all. Yet that isn’t true, not when 12-year-old Black boys playing with toy guns on playgrounds are shot dead by police officers without a moment’s hesitation because a bystander can’t tell the difference between a child at play and a threat and the police somehow see a man instead of a boy.

I look into the face of my 9-year-old daughter and with each passing day realize that like my father before me, it is time…I must shatter her illusions and talk openly about race and how her skin coloring makes her suspect and how she must learn to navigate this dual existence. To raise Black children is to take a piece of their being and essence and crush it in the hopes that the ugly truths being imparted will keep them alive until adulthood and even with this crushing of the soul, there are no guarantees that they won’t end up taken too soon.

These are interesting times as I navigate racial justice work in my professional life yet feel the weight of racial oppression in my personal life. Wondering if the work that I do in my day life will manifest and create lasting justice for all…only time will tell. But I do know that for all the discussions and media buzz in the aftermath of another Black death, there is a yet another weight tied around the collective souls of Black people as we struggle to stand tall in the midst of pain and continue the fight as our elders and ancestors did.

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To my white brothers and sisters in Christ…where are you? Let’s talk racial justice!

I rarely talk about my faith in this space, but this is one of those times…Longtime readers of my work may recall that I am the daughter of a now retired pastor. After a very long, dark night of the soul following my mother’s death, I almost entered seminary but instead took a detour to head up a faith-based agency. The calling to seminary is still very much there, and I fully admit that I am negotiating the calling versus my free, will but that’s a tale for another time.


Across the nation this morning, millions went to worship their God and to presumably hold sacred space with fellow believers, while waiting for the man or woman in the pulpit to give them good news in a world that seems increasingly short of anything good. Today, I was among the people sitting in one of those church pews, feeling a deep need to fill up my sagging spiritual reserves.Yet I was reminded once again of why the church hour for those who attend remains almost as segregated as ever.

I sat and listened to the music, the sermon that touched upon the growing class inequity in this season of gratitude and the reminder for congregants to go further and then the the time for prayers and prayer offerings…the most amazing prayers of concern, pleas for support and gratitude. But as I heard the prayer requests being offered up, I noticed the prayers that were never uttered. It was a weekend in which a 12-year-old Black child Cleveland, Ohio, with a toy gun was shot and killed in a playground by the police after a call from a bystander who apparently mistook the child for a threat. And that terrible news came on the heels of yet another unarmed Black man who was killed by police, this time in a stairwell by a New York City police officer. And both of these pieces of news at a time when we’re still wrestling with the killing of unarmed Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri…at a time, in fact, when the grand jury verdict we’re expecting soon on that shooting could racially destroy this country no matter which way it goes.

There were no prayers related to any of those issues, whether individually or as a collective whole.

The absence of prayers for justice with regards to race in this country is a glaring omission, given how prominently they are playing out in the national consciousness. The type of omission that serves as a reminder of just how vastly different life is for whites and non-whites in this country.

As the daughter of a now-retired minister and pastor with Black Baptist roots, I know the Black church well. It is the balm for my soul despite its blemishes—which are many, I admit, but at least the Black church does not require me to check my very being at the door for participation. (In other words, while the Black church certainly has its baggage, it is a place where I am allowed to be Black without fear of repercussions.) However, in a state like Maine, my worship options are limited much like almost everything else for non-white people around here.

Sitting in the pew and noticing the glaring prayer omissions, I found myself wondering about how in far too many white, Christian churches, the only time differences of race and ethnicity come up are when discussing the latest mission trip. The mission trips that almost always involve going far away and helping economically disadvantaged people of color in faraway and exotic locales.

Make no mistake, there are some white churches that are on the front lines of racial justice but they are too far between and few. Too many white churches and particularly white churches in predominantly white spaces aren’t talking about racial justice. They aren’t engaged in the racial happenings, instead choosing to trust that the love of Christ is all we need. I love Jesus, but my love for Jesus isn’t going to stop white supremacy from harming me and my family.

For far too many “Christians,” going to church is simply an item on the to-do list; a lightweight country club where we gather with people like us, all the while ignoring the blueprint for activism and justice that was left for us in the Bible. At a time when church membership as whole is declining and many churches are fighting to stay, the church’s inability as a whole to be a part of social change is disheartening. In writing this I know the potential to offend my many local clergy pals is great, yet if you are in the pulpit and you haven’t talked about race often this year in light of what’s been happening, why not? Churches have the potential to be change agents but too often, they are stuck in places of comfort. Comfort, however, does not create change or help to create a just world. If we are the body of Christ on Earth, then why are we not helping all who are in need? How can we talk about economic inequality yet ignore racial inequality?