Archive for the ‘ Random babble ’ Category

A yogi and the train or moving meditations

Its been almost two months now since I have started my now not so new position in Boston, a position that involves traveling 200 miles round trip via Amtrak and the Boston subway. One of the questions that I am constantly asked is “how is the commute?”; and surprisingly I must say that the commute is not bad at all. Generally when I give that answer people give me the raised eyebrow, after all traveling 200 miles a day for a job is not the norm in this part of the country. (My ole man hails from California where long distance commutes are not abnormal and even in my native Chicago a long commute is not unheard of)

However there aren’t a plethora of anti-racism organizations in the country much less in the state of Maine. The opportunity to lead such an organization was a once in a lifetime chance and I am not one to let a pesky detail like living two states away from the actual job get in my way.

Seriously though, after almost two months of riding the rails, I am struck by how absolutely calming the train can be. As an active, practicing yogi, my biggest challenge has been making time for the mat with this new schedule. To be honest, I am spending a lot less time on the mat doing what most people consider to be yoga but asana or poses are just one limb on the tree of yoga. Instead my practice has become more focused on pranayama or breath control. It turns out that focusing on my breath for long periods of time can produce the same calming effect in the body that an hour and a half long class can.  The breath can move energy just as effectively as poses can though my spine does miss the mat. It can also quiet the mind and in my case keep the anxiety gremlins at bay.

In a culture that thrives on constant movement and control, choosing to take the train goes against the grain since the perception is that I am giving up control by not being in my own vehicle. Yet the idea of control is an illusion since really our sense of control is mostly in our own heads. As I was reminded one evening when the train was delayed and in that second found myself raging over the train’s audacity to be off schedule when I wanted very much to be on schedule.  A fellow commuter reminded that had I been in a car at that moment, I would most likely be sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and not moving. Fair enough. At least I was able to walk around, stretch my legs and just be present.

Instead as the weeks have gone by and the nonstop barrage of winter storms have happened, I find myself looking forward to my train time. After all, how many of us as partners and parents are able to carve out four hours a day to ourselves, several days a week? Admittedly the train is not a day spa but it is a place to snooze, day dream, meditate, work and even play online. It seems now that I have specific time carved out for the empty moments which I previously used to steal and feel guilty about, I find that I am far more present and aware with the people who matter most to me.  It turns out that a yogi doesn’t always need a mat but the wise sage Patanjali did say that “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.”

PS: Many have asked me if we are leaving Maine, while we had hoped to move sooner rather than later, that is not in the cards at this time. Unless someone has a sweet affordable pad in Boston, otherwise we will be Mainers for a while longer with a goal of being gone before the girl child starts middle school. After a decade plus in Maine, Boston has provided us with serious sticker shock.

The high price of truth or assimilation gone wrong

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.”- Sojourner Truth

 

In the fall of 2007, I was at a professional crossroads after a year of teaching and realizing that I had neither the patience nor temperament to teach. I had a relatively brand new master’s degree and six figures worth of student loan debt so not working was not an option. However I really had no idea what to do, go back to the non-profit sector, consider the corporate sector or follow my dream of earning my keep by writing. I already had a few years of writing experience under my belt, having started my own column, Diverse City in the Portland Phoenix back in 2003 where every four weeks I tackled issues of diversity. In the end, I couldn’t make a decision, so I worked with a life coach and came up with a plan to satisfy my creative desires as well as my practical desires. In many ways the work that I did with my former life coach is what led to the creation of this space. Studs Terkel was my childhood idol growing up in Chicago, a storyteller extraordinaire, in many ways while I have called myself a writer, I see myself more as a storyteller. This space has allowed me to share my stories, bring awareness to others stories and create a community.

In the early days from 2008 until the fall of 2012, I was fairly anonymous with this blog. Most people in my community knew me for my social service related and nonprofit consulting work though a few who connected the dots realized that I wrote for local publications. Thankfully as a writer, rarely do people see your face and while my professional name is not common, I was able to mostly fly under the radar with my online work.

However my appearance on the Melissa Harris-Perry show in fall 2012 brought me a great deal of attention. That appearance increased my local profile and suddenly after years of blogging in relative obscurity, everyone from the local baker to fellow church members started reading my blog, friending me on Facebook and basically wanting to “know” me. Initially it seemed fine but after a series of unfortunate events it has become clear to me and my family that this space has become more than we ever bargained for.

Occupying space in the whitest state in America is a tedious dance. Local people emphatically tell me all the time that race does not matter, yet I believe firmly in the old adage that actions speak louder than words. In the past several months as I have used my social media platform to amplify the work that I do, it is clear that being the Black woman who refuses to not talk about race comes at a cost. When so-called friends started dropping out of our lives like flies hit with a stream of Raid, I didn’t think much of it. Losing one or two people here or there didn’t seem like much but as we see people we have held space with and broken bread with rebuff our efforts to get together or our child snubbed, shit gets real…really real.

Online harassment via trolls and threats is something many are aware of but what many don’t realize is that for some of us, especially women of color, we pay an extra tax for daring to speak our truth. So much so that writers and other activists, all people of color, who have inspired my own growth and journey have admitted they gave up blogging/online work because the offline price was too much. Living in a predominantly white space, I am aware that in choosing to speak my truth, I risk being ostracized but my family? My kid? They did not sign up for this life. In many ways, it would be easy for me to just shut this space down. In fact until I talked to my 22 year old son this afternoon, I was ready to call it a wrap. Yet as a son of Maine who has endured being called a nigger, having soda cans thrown at him, and even being harassed by cops for daring to get a sandwich, he asked me not to back down. How can I lead an organization dedicated to racial equality yet let the bigots win in my own personal life?

It breaks my heart this year to see my daughter retreating into her own head because it feels safer; knowing that I cannot explain why we no longer see old friends without explaining the ugliness of bigotry.  Knowing that she does not understand why we stay to ourselves now. Because I only have so much strength and the false and fake smiles are too much for me to bear most days now. Knowing that those bigots will tell me that I am jumping to conclusions and try to erase me and my reality and pain with simple platitudes that aren’t fooling anyone yet allows them to continue to avoid the heavy work of dismantling their own racist beliefs that stink like bowels after collard greens yet covered up with dollar store air freshener.

In the end, I believe that as Sojourner Truth once said “Truth is powerful and it prevails.”

http://sojournertruthmemorial.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/STmemorial.jpg

In the meantime, if my words are too much and we have a personal relationship, I am reminded that all things come to an end. Peace.

 

 

BGIM muses on love, loving and partnerships

A day for love and romance or a day to hide under the comforters with a Whitman sampler and a gallon of ice cream…welcome to Valentine’s Day.  The jackpot day for florists, chocolate makers and a host of businesses that thrive on the business of love. Make no mistake, love is a business, even during the economic downturn, wedding planners and others involved in the industrial love complex still did rather well.

In our culture we are socialized to pair up, our crowning achievement is hitching our wagon to someone else’s wagon. It starts early and builds and by the time we hit our 30’s or so, society has socialized us to believe something is wrong with us if we are not paired up like the creatures boarding Noah’s Ark.

Yet in a society that places such an emphasis on coupledom, we rarely ever talk about what happily ever after looks like as the years pass by. This past fall, the Man Unit and I celebrated 16 years of marriage, having been together as a couple 18 years. But what few knew until recently is that our marriage for several years has fluctuated between critical but stable condition and critical condition. A lack of love has never been our issue but it turns out that living happily ever after and growing old together requires a lot more than love. It requires realistic expectations about what loving and living together really looks like and understanding that while pop culture and singers like Beyoncé love to sell us on the idea of a “Drunk in Love” style of love which is hot, sweaty and passionate, most of us live lives of love that don’t involve all night love making and waking up on the kitchen floor.

In my own journey of marital woes, I have discovered that for far too many of us the lens of what love “should” be is limited to ideas heavily influenced by the lives of others. (Note: Never compare your own partnership to that of another; it’s a great recipe to feel like shit) When that love falls short of what it seems love is, we often move on. I suspect this is why the divorce rate in the US is as high as it is with many divorces happening before couples hit the 10 year mark. 

Last weekend’s NY Times Magazine ran an article “ Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” and it ended with this quote “It’s a tall order for one person to be your partner in Management Inc., your best friend and passionate lover. There’s a certain part of you that with this partner will not be fulfilled. You deal with that loss. It’s a paradox to be lived with, not solved.” In many ways this quote gets to the heart of all that I believe makes modern day love so damn hard to navigate and in many ways sets us up for failure.  We want to lean in to love and partnership and we want it all. Yet very few of us have it all and the refusal to accept that keeps us on the hamster wheel of love and desire.  Hence why as soon as we break up, we start thinking about eventually having a new partner.

I do know a few people who claim to still have that perfect for them love which includes the daily sex, passion and drunk in love vibe. I don’t doubt it either but for many of us the passion years give way to the simmer years of life. The simmer years are deceptive because they feel wrong; they are the years where life happens, where kids are raised, parents grow old and die, our own health scares start happening and shit…life happens. It is also the time in life when modern expectations say that our partners are supposed to be our sun, moon, stars and universe and when these human partners fall short…well, hell breaks loose. Never mind that while we are in the midst of living, loving and simmering life that we ourselves are evolving as individuals. Few of us stay the same, I met the Man Unit when I was 22 and he was 27 and in our case, we are not those people anymore. We don’t even look like those people anymore!

Love is not a one size fits all thing; it is multi-layered and filled with depth. The most basic and necessary of all love is to love and celebrate our individual selves and know that from a healthy sense of personal love, all other love grows and forms in healthy soil. Love is fluid; it too evolves and shifts and sometimes ends in one form but continues on in another form.  

So on this day of love whether you have a sweet honey or not, remember that you are your first lover and partner.

 

When holidays hurt and changing up the tempo

It’s Thanksgiving Eve and unlike years past, there are no frenetic kitchen happenings at my house. Instead, I went out this morning and picked up a cinnamon-walnut coffee cake and pumpkin pie at the local bakery and called around looking for any restaurant that will be open on Thanksgiving Day. After a few tense moments, I was able to secure a reservation at the same place where we had Easter Dinner this year. That is the totality of my Thanksgiving preparations and I am quite fine with it.

My relationship with holidays has always been complicated, looking back on my childhood; I remember my mother and grandmother running ragged to create the perfect meal. By the time the food was ready to eat, we shoveled it in like inmates in the state penitentiary mess hall because we were half delirious from waiting all day to eat. Often my mother would be so tired after cooking a feast fit for royalty that she would grab a saucer of food, gobble it down and go to bed early.

Up until the time we moved to Maine, we celebrated the holidays with my parents unless I was scheduled to work (homeless shelters don’t close for the holiday). The upside being that as an adult, I knew the drill and prepared myself for the inevitable 8pm serving time so at least I was no longer half-starved by the time the food was served.  Yet despite my own adjustments, the family never made adjustments and most of the time, my mom was snoozing long before we left to go home.

Moving to Maine forced me to rethink my own relationship to the holidays, as it often was not feasible to fly back to either Chicago or Arizona where our families are located. So I became my mother, where the night before any major holiday, I could be found in the kitchen working fast and furiously. The morning of the holiday spent tethered to the kitchen and long story short, by the time we sat down to dinner, I frankly would have been just as happy to eat a bowl of cold cereal and call it a day. My irritation with cooking often spilled over to the other folks in the house and by the end of the meal, the bad vibes in the air were as equally as responsible for the indigestion as the food consumption.

My mother’s struggle with cancer took a nasty detour during the 2003 holiday season; in fact it was on Christmas Day that we learned her cancer had spread to her brain. It was the same day; I was hard at work trying to make good holiday memories with my then 12 year old son. That day ended with none of us finishing our meals as I had to make emergency preparations to head home to Chicago to help my Dad make hard decisions. My mother passed away not long after that and my father declared, he had had 33 years of good holidays and was done with them all. He has kept that promise every year since my mother’s passing. Last I heard, tomorrow he will grab a meal at Boston Market and watch TV.

Having kids, I have struggled with the holidays but several years ago my eldest told me he would rather we ate whatever and had a great holiday rather than the perfect meal steeped in emotional baggage. Kids are smart; I have mostly listened to him on this front. I am glad that I listened to him because at 21, this is a milestone year for him and for me (and his Dad). My son is celebrating Thanksgiving with his girlfriend’s family and then having friends over to his place. As a child of divorce, he has spent the past 19 holiday seasons having his time divided between his father and I and he is ready to live his life. Divorce aside, it comes to all kids, they grow up and want to live their own lives and create their own traditions. As a mother, my tears have been non-stop today but I also know that it took me years to assert my own will as far as where I wanted to spend my holidays and I am glad my son didn’t have to turn 30 before realizing he has a say.

With the holidays down to just me, the man and the girl child, even a scaled down traditional meal simply makes no sense. After many family discussions, we agreed to go out to Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. In casually mentioning it, I have been met with a level of dismay that frankly has shocked me. But in a world where traditional family and traditional ways are going the way of the rotary phone, I am not sure why a small family choosing to opt out of the holiday hubbub is shocking in 2013.

The holidays are beautiful for many but they are also painful for many, it is an idea that we pay lip service to but struggle with when faced with an actual person who chooses to abstain for personal reasons. In reflecting on the theme of thanksgiving, I am reminded that I have kept a gratitude journal for the past two years. I journal daily. It is my daily reminder of what surrounds me and unlike Thanksgiving Day, it doesn’t hurt as much as the 3rd helping of candied yams. There are many ways of expressing gratitude and giving thanks and all are valid. Holidays can be as individual as the individuals who celebrate then. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate nor is celebrating a holiday created on myth and misery even obligatory.  So take a deep breath, step back and if you are in the US, may this last Thursday of November be whatever you need or want it to be for you and yours.

Despite spending the last 11 years in Maine, I am still very much a big city girl. While I have come to appreciate the simple joys of living in a rural state and the exquisite beauty of nature, at the end of the day, my heart and soul lies in the big city. It doesn’t even have to be my beloved and currently challenged Chicago; just give me a city. The sights, the sounds, the energy and even the often putrid smells that make up the rich tapestry of life in the big city are the fuel my soul craves to stay healthy.

Upon being offered my new position at CCI, my mind was spinning with hope and possibility as I started to ponder what our lives would look like in a city. The girl child was born in Maine and is very much a Mainer, she is a child of the woods and the sea; city living will be an adjustment for her. Yet for the man unit and me, we are more than ready to get back to city living after accepting that for us Maine is a place where we can take a break but it will never be our home.

However after starting our research on neighborhoods and schools, we have both come to the unpleasant realization, that city living and raising a family are almost damn near impossible to do in 2013. I was born and raised in Chicago, a child of the 70s and 80s; my parents never had two nickel’s to rub together yet managed to raise two kids in the nation’s 3rd largest city without living in a hellhole. But it seems that way of life is gone like the wind.

Let me just say, I am not sure anymore how anyone manages to raise a family living in any large city especially in NYC, Boston or San Francisco which have the pleasure of being the three priciest cities in the United States. Rental prices in these 3 cities are beyond stunning and home ownership? What bank or armored car will I need to knock off to achieve that??

A few nights ago, an old friend was lamenting how expensive Chicago had become and how once the babies started to arrive, she was forced to make the hard decision to live in a suburb of Chicago rather than in the city proper. Chicago public schools as a whole are marginal and getting your child into one of the city’s better schools requires a lot of a luck and prayer. While Boston schools aren’t as bad as Chicago schools, the application process from what I have learned sounds eerily similar to the process we went through years ago when the now grown kid applied to college. Even the old fallback of just moving to a good neighborhood from what I have gleaned is no guarantee that your kid will get into a good school.

At first, I thought maybe this was just my bad luck until I read a few pieces about more and more families opting out of city living because increasingly city living is no longer compatible with raising kids. The prices alone of housing is bad enough but add in the stress of public schools or the cost of private schools and not even a decent family income will save you.

Cities are amazing, they offer a great deal but increasingly cities seem to be off-limits for average families, instead we must live in suburbs and far flung locations which is great if you are up for it but if not, what do you do?

So despite wanting to say goodbye to Maine sooner rather than later, it seems it will be a while before that actually happens. In the meantime, here is hoping I can find a cozy crash pad for a few days a week and that I learn to sleep on the two hour train ride to work.

 

 

Why are you always talking about race?” This question was recently posed to me and while I was able to deflect and lighten the mood, the truth is the question annoyed me. We so desperately want to be a post-racial nation when all the evidence suggests that we are nowhere near being post-racial. It will take more than a few well positioned people of color in positions of power to correct hundreds of years of oppression and its lingering effects.

As I prepare to move into my new position at Community Change Inc.; I am reading a series of essays written by CCI’s founder Horace Seldon. I came across the following essay a few days ago and in many ways it answers the question of “why I am always talking about race”. This piece was written 39 years ago and yet it is still quite relevant and shows just how far we have (not) come when it comes to race in the US.

Pluralism and Racism- November 1974

A genuine concern for a culturally pluralistic society is emerging. Numerous commentators on social trends have written asserting that white ethnic groups will increasingly claim and affirm their heritage. School systems are beginning to adopt Evaluation Guidelines for Multiracial, Multicultural Education, and teachers are developing supplementary units stressing an appreciation of diversity. The “melting pot” theory is dead. We at Community Change applaud that death and are eager to move into a multiracial, multicultural world whenever it is an alternative to racism.

The melting pot theory held that America was a place where people become alike, homogenized into one conforming mass. The standards for that homogeneity were white middle class, mostly Anglo-Saxon values. When those values were acted out, the “melting pot” eliminated differences in dress, behavior, language and traditions. The result was a homogeneity which defined societal acceptability in white terms. The melting pot became racist because people who are white just cannot “melt” into “whiteness.”

At Community Change we believe that all white ethnic groups have benefited from and contributed to the perpetuation of racism. Any failure by white ethnics to deal with their involvement in racism is an obstruction to the goal of cultural pluralism. It is not a question of whether or white ethnics as individuals or groups “like” Black people, or Chicago or Native American people…instead it is a question of the ways in which white ethnics have institutionalized racism, i.e., in trade unions, or in urban school systems such as Boston, where resistance to desegregation is embedded in a white ethnic controlled School Committee.

At Community Change we want to move into cultural pluralism as rapidly as possible. Our anxiety is that the movement into cultural pluralism might become a substitute for dealing with racism. For instance it would become possible in a school to initiate cultural exchange programs without changing tracking and testing systems that often place racist limitations upon Black students. A business might implement an equal opportunity employment policy intended to recruit a multicultural group of employees, but never change policies which deny access of non-white persons to decision-making positions of power. High school students might be encouraged to celebrate a Mexican festival, while the school continues to deny a bilingual program for its Spanish speaking students. Or it might become fashionable to study Native American customs as if they represented a “dead” culture, and bypass responsibility for a modern-day Wounded Knee.

All of these might be done in the name of cultural pluralism, but all fail to deal with racism.

At Community Change we are committed to working “through” racism towards cultural pluralism. That means working to eliminate racist policies, practices, and values as a means of preparing for cultural pluralism. Our focus is on the elimination of racism.-Horace Seldon

These words were written 39 years ago, and while a few of the references may be dated, as a whole it describes where we now stand in 2013. We celebrate diversity, we exalt a select few people of color but we never did the heavy lifting and talking and as a result, not much has really changed. That is why I always talk about race. 

There is a great clip floating around the internet by Ash Beckham who recently spoke about her experience of being asked by a four year old if she were a boy and the universal experience of coming out of a closet. In our culture the term “coming out of the closet” is often used to refer to one’s sexuality but as Ash said in her talk, the truth is we all have closets. While the piece is hands down, a feel good piece, I found myself thinking about the fact that for all the feel good moments and platitudes around how we ought to come out of our individual closets, society really is not terribly supportive when we make that attempt to come out of our closets.

For the person coming out of their closet, whatever their closet is, there is generally a point in their life when living in the closet starts to become too much. The price to maintain our personal closet exacts a high toll on our psyche. Just like when a physical closet starts to overflow and we can no longer force the door of the closet to stay closed; that is what happens when we are dealing with a situational closet.

Over the course of the past several years, I have used this space to talk about some of my own personal closets, and while many have been supportive there has also been a fair amount of backlash. In many ways using online space to work on my closets has been far more supportive than working on them with my offline connections. I was reminded of this last night when I found myself on the phone with a family member and not in a mood to put on my mask or step back in my closet and spoke my truth and was met with a less than satisfactory response. I ended the phone call reminded that breaking down the closet door is not always safe. Hence why some of us never come out of our closet, it simply isn’t always safe to exit the closet.

As more activist women of color use online spaces as a way to break down the doors of our socially prescribed closets, the push back has reached a fevered pitch for many. Not a day goes by now where I don’t hear from at least one of my peers that it no longer feels safe to speak out and to speak our truth. For some of us coming out of our closet becomes a matter of harm reduction and thus we aren’t allowed to truly break free of the closet. It’s like that shoestring you want to throw away that is tangled up with another item in the closet but you can’t find the end of it, so you can’t fully clean out the closet without literally going through extraordinaire measures to fully empty it out and you just don’t have the energy to do so.

If all a closet is is a hard conversation, why do so many of us struggle to have those conversations? Why are we so quick to try to stuff others back in their closets when they are attempting to live authentically and break out of the closet? Why are only some of us allowed to freely exist out of the closet and live fully and completely?

It isn’t enough to pay lip service to hard conversations, we need to actually be able to do the heavy lifting and engage in those conversations. The harder the conversation, the more uncomfortable it makes us feel, the greater the likelihood we need to assist in tearing the door off that closet.

 

Sixteen years ago, I jumped into the non-profit sector with the type of wide eye idealism and hope that often brings people to the sector. A chance to make a difference in the world in a meaningful way. Whether it’s working with an advocacy group, a shelter or a soup kitchen, the common thread that brings people into the non-profit world is the belief that we can be the change that we seek in the world. Yet that desire to make a difference means that often the very people who are on the frontlines of greater societal change are often being set up for emotional and even financial abuse by the very agencies that they dedicate themselves to with full body, mind and spirit.

In many pockets of the non-profit sector, the workforce is not very diverse even if the population being served is diverse and this is not a fluke. In many ways it is a structural design flaw of the sector. Very few people can afford to dedicate their lives to making a difference in the world while earning a pittance and often saddled with astronomical student loan debt because certain segments of the non-profit world require graduate degrees, most commonly the Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree.

As I get ready to make the move from working at a direct service agency to an agency whose mission is not direct service oriented, I find myself reflecting on the past sixteen years of my professional life and frankly it saddens me.

Over the years, I have worked at many amazing agencies with amazing missions. In the vast majority of agencies though in the midst of all that is awesome, what is often not awesome is how little disregard there is for the men and women who are actually doing the work and making a difference and carrying out the mission of these agencies.

Early on in my career, I saw the flaws (People who work with the homeless, should not have to “borrow” shelter food to eat until payday) and I asked myself how could I change things? The result was choosing a graduate program where I could learn organizational management and apply it to my work in the non-profit sector. In the years since graduating though, too many times I have found myself beating my head against the wall and frankly feeling full of despair.

When you are a frontline worker at a non-profit, you often assume the leadership is inept, after all why is the non-profit sector one of the few sectors where people as a whole are asked to make do often with outdated and even secondhand equipment? Where everyone accepts that they will work far more hours than they will ever be compensated for and even benefits are taken away if the demands of the agency mean that you can’t take your vacation time and you won’t ever receive compensation for that missed time.

For years I coasted along thinking that this was just normal but frankly there is nothing normal about mistreating people in the name of creating change in the world. The nonprofit world suffers from structural deficiencies ranging from funders whose expectations around funding place a premium on creating yet ignore the need of sustainability and the very tools that change makers need to create change like functioning computers. There is also the fact that the very people who sit on the boards that are the legal and fiduciary overseers of agencies are often though not always disconnected from the on the ground work that their agencies do.

In our culture there is a popular idea that if you are not happy with your work, that you should just get another job. Never minding the mechanics of making that happen, what would happen to our society if the people who want to make a difference decided to leave the sector en masse? Very much like the plight of service workers who are often maligned, if these people ceased to be, it would create huge gaps in our society.  

In the end, the non-profit sector’s nasty habit of eating its own for the betterment of mission means that we all lose out when highly qualified and skilled people take their marbles and decide to go play in another sector. In the meantime, I am holding out hope that I can continue to make a difference in the world and as an administrator, I strive to balance mission with the needs of the people who journey with me to create change.

This post was inspired by a few hardworking souls who have hit the wall and shared their struggles with me.

 

A mask dropping night…a recap

Last night I had the honor of holding space with a group of people and having the type of mask dropping conversation that happens all too infrequently for many of us. It is hard enough to talk about the implications of race and class in the United States with people who we know and love much less with a group of people who we have never met before. Yet a group of readers came out last night to a blue collar, working class city in Maine to do just that. They ranged in age from 16-70 and believe it or not I was not the only person of color in the room.

What was shared last night brought me to tears and I am still processing many of the words that were shared. We weren’t going to change the world in a two hour session, nor was I interested in leading a kumbaya love fest where we ended the night with a rousing rendition of We are the World.

In reflecting on the words that I heard last night, I am stuck on how often it is that the very masks that we wear in public and even in private often get in the way of our ability to truly see one another.  Black, white, gay, straight, Jewish, working class, wealthy and so on. These labels say so much, yet they say nothing. Too many times these descriptors are simply labels to better sort which silo we will eventually land in.

Many have have asked if I would be providing a recap of the event and I guess that you can say that this is it. When people take a chance and lower their own masks in a shared space, to paraphrase the old Vegas slogan what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Thank you for sharing yourselves with me and giving me a chance to come out of my own thought silo. It is rarely discussed publicly but even people of color have our own biases and silos, so thank you.

Looking ahead, I am not sure if time will allow in the coming months to repeat this experience since as I get ready to prepare to head to my new agency at the beginning of the year, my dance card will be quite full. Also because I am a glutton for punishment and a recovering type A, I am trying to complete my yoga teacher training before I start in January. Speaking of the new job, I can officially name the agency; Community Change Inc. (CCI) will be my new professional home. After a decade of writing and talking race, I am excited to land at an agency with a rich history in the field of anti-racism work. Make no mistake, I will be rolling up my sleeves and working hard but after years in professional limbo wondering if it was even possible to bring my skills and interests together under one professional roof, it is exciting to chart a new course.

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I am more angst filled about this than my eight year old, third grader. This year the girl will enter a larger school that is a combination of kids from all over our town; including kids who have had zero exposure to people of difference. I hadn’t really thought about what this might mean until a friend of mine, a man of color recounted to me some months ago, how his biracial daughter was taunted and teased at this school, her crime? Not being white. Bathroom visits became sheer hell because she would be chided and things were said, words that can lay the foundation to a lifetime of pain and confusion over that which we cannot change. Our skin tone.

A few nights ago, we attended the Open House at the school, the Spousal Unit and I put on our best clothing to impress because for us as a mixed race couple appearances do matter. I have had to drill this into the Man Unit. We never have the luxury despite our credentials of just being casual even on a warm night in an un-air conditioned school. I thought of that as I saw a professional colleague whose child will be in my daughter’s class and how my colleague and her partner were dressed in comfortable and casual clothing. In my role as observer as I waited patiently to introduce myself to the teacher, I watched how my white colleague was having what appeared to be a true connection to the teacher and starting the school year off on the right foot with the new teacher. By the time, the Man Unit and I introduced ourselves the teacher was pleasant enough with a halfhearted smile but in that millisecond her eyes gave her away. She made the decision that many make, at first glance we are just a mixed race couple and no one she need make extra efforts with. We make choices every day in our professional lives, I know that I do, we lavish extra time and attention based off who we deem to be worthy. A fellow teacher, even in the school district next door receives more attention than the lowly nigger and her nigger loving husband.

My daughter is excited about school but scared, she is scared of being bullied and I am too. I am scared that a thoughtless group of little girls will make her hate who she is and that she will see the richness of her two cultures as a shameful burden.  Already I see signs that living in this state is starting to shape her identity in ways that are concerning. Friends of color who have left this state have been telling me to be prepared to either battle for my daughter’s soul or start making plans to get out of this state. I am doing both, I will battle until which time I can leave.

In Maine third grade is when the standardized testing starts and while I have my concerns about the pressures of testing, Common Core and wondering why today’s schools seem eerily like mini correctional facilities.  I worry more about that which cannot be quantified, scored and easily explained or solved. Days like this are hard on me; I don’t want the pity or sorrow of others. I want change; I want a world where I don’t have to carry so many damn worries. I want to know why laws have changed but hearts have not?

Note: If you are planning on attending a Night with BGIM, discussions on race, class and life, tickets are selling fast, I am halfway to being sold out, so if it were me, I would get a ticket now.