Voting and Generations

“Who’d you vote for, Mama?”
“Dukakis,” Mama replied with big eyes and a wide smile. She almost sang the name.

I was young girl during the 1988 Presidential Election. Much of Dukakis’ loss was blamed on the independent candidate, Ross Perot. It didn’t matter. Within two years, the winner, George H.W. Bush had sent thousands of U.S. troops to war in Kuwait, including my best friend’s brother. Not long after, the country fell into a deep recession. It was the first election where the ramifications of voting, or not voting, began to sink into my young mind.

Today, I see voting as much more than a right. It is a responsibility. It is a responsibility some deem as the highest of citizenship, while others disregard it altogether. In a country that is supposed to be run by the people, voting should be a priority for every eligible citizen. Its importance should be taught in school curriculums nationwide. Its value should be emphasized every year as teenagers approach eligibility. Its privilege should be celebrated as a rite of passage with the same fanfare as getting a driver’s license. Educating a generation to become responsible drivers should not be more important than educating them to become responsible citizens.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick;
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12 NIV

As a South Carolina native, I have watched the Senate race closely. I’ve thought about my family and spoken with friends who still reside in Charleston county. Some are excited about the possibility of change. Others are skeptical. Black residents, of my mother’s generation, have seen their hope deferred for so long that some are doubtful change will come. They fought for rights that are continuously challenged. They have seen the dignity and humanity of their children and grandchildren be denied in the same manner they saw 50 years ago. It is no wonder they are doubtful. My prayer is they still have enough hope to take them to the polls.

I am hopeful that my vote encourages my mother’s generation. I hope they see the activism of today as a step towards completing the job they started yesterday. It is also my hope that today’s generation does not forget or devalue the foundation laid by those who came before us. It is our job to build upon that foundation. We are able to build with new tools provided with technology. But the most powerful tools we have, remains the same. Our voice and our vote.

When Your Hometown Becomes a Headline

“Auntie. Did you see what happened in Charleston?”

It was June 17, 2015. My nephew rarely texted me about news. When I received this text about our hometown, I knew something big must have happened. As I turned on the television, I prepared myself for a hurricane warning or maybe an unexpected earthquake. I sank to my sofa, in horror, as I read the bottom of the screen. A lone, white gunman had murdered 9 people at Emanuel AME Church. He sat through Bible Study with them, shook their hands, listened to the closing prayer and then sprayed the room with bullets. Pictures of the slain came across the screen with their names:

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Cynthia Graham Hurd
Susie J. Jackson
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. DePayne Vontrease Middleton
Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney
Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders
Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr.
Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson

Familiar names. Faces I recognized.

My hometown had, once again, become a headline. It had only been two months since Walter Scott had been gunned down by a police officer in a North Charleston field, not far from the house where I grew up. Now, racism and domestic terrorism had hit Mother Emanuel. National news networks descended on my city. It felt strange to hear the Gullah rhythm of the city’s natives; my family, my friends, speaking to journalists. I watched the news with a defense radar. I did not want the Black residents of Charleston to be misrepresented by outsiders seeking click bait. I also did not want Charleston to become another Ferguson. And it didn’t.

A few days after we lost the Emanuel Nine, my hometown became a beacon of light. Thousands packed the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River. Hands of all races joined in unity against racism and hate. There were no riots. There was no looting. There was…peace. But there is more to be done.

It has been five years. As an election draws near, racism still permeates this country. In previous posts, I have challenged readers to do something. I submit another opportunity to rise to this challenge. A memorial will be built on the site of Emanuel AME Church to honor the nine lives lost with a huge mission.

…teaching new attitudes and behaviors to reverse racism.

-EmanuelNine.org

You can help accomplish this mission. Please consider giving to the 17 on the 17th Initiative. By donating $17 on the 17th (the date of the Mother Emanuel massacre,) you become a part of the solution. It is a small contribution to building the memorial for the Emanuel Nine and their legacy. My hometown proved that love can triumph over hate, but it takes all of us. For more information, go to www.emanuelnine.org.

March in Protest, March In Prayer

I was not surprised by the results of the grand jury in Breonna Taylor’s case. I have become quite numb to the events exhibiting the systemic racism in this country’s criminal justice system. This scared me. I do not want my numbness to become apathy. I had to do something.

A few hours after the news broke about Breonna Taylor’s case (yes, I said her name again) I decided to write a letter to local clergy in the predominately white city I live in. My goal was to bring a few clergy together, around city hall, to pray for peace and justice for all citizens, specifically my Black brothers and sisters. On Saturday, September 26, a national prayer march was planned at the nation’s capital and many others were planning marches around their own state capital and city hall buildings. I had recently participated in a march for justice only a few months earlier. I figured if I could march in protest, I could march in prayer.

I sent the letter to several predominately white churches, including one I have volunteered with over the years. I received only one response but I was encouraged. Though this pastor could not attend, he wanted to plan a meeting after Saturday. I went to my city hall early. 30 minutes after the scheduled time, only 3 people joined me. They were my neighbors who I had mentioned the event to in passing. We marched around the civic center and prayed for government, the end of police brutality and unity of our city’s citizens. It was a beautiful morning.

As the days have passed, I have begun to identify with Breonna Taylor in more ways besides our skin color. It has become clear how easily she could have been me. I thought about my brother’s past drug offenses. I remembered times when he hid cocaine in our home without my mother’s knowledge. Did our house ever come up as a possible place to raid? Had God protected me and my mother from the same fate? Why were we so lucky?

I have also thought about the white woman in Minnesota, killed by a Black police officer. That police officer was charged and convicted of manslaughter. I am forced to ask the difference between this woman and Breonna Taylor. I am forced to ask, “Does my life, as a Black woman…does it matter?”

I think my numbness is an attempt to protect me from the reality of the answer. But, I will not allow it to turn into apathy. I made the time to make a statement in prayer. We all can do something. Pray, protest, vote. Step out of your comfort zone and have the uncomfortable conversation; with your family, with your friends, with yourself. Just do something.

Love Who You Are

I came across an old letter to me, from the Spirit of God that lives in me. May his words bless you.

Dear…
I wish I could share with you all the beauty of this world, all of the melodic symphonies of this life. Because that is what life is. It is truly a symphony. It is a purposeful arrangement of notes that may seem insignificant; flat nots and sharp notes that may be hard on your ear. Beautiful melodies, lovingly sewn together, with a constant rhythm that is the soul of your life.

The love by which these notes are sewn is a love that exists in you. You were born with it. It is one of the things at your core, that make you beautiful. You may hear words to the contrary, but they are not a part of your life symphony. You may see sights to the contrary, but they are not a part of your masterpiece.

You ARE beautiful. You are beautiful because you were created beautifully. You were created with the gift of feeling in you palms and in your fingertips. You were created with the gift of touch in your hands. Use them only on who you wish. Remember it is a gift to be shared. It is a gift that when you share it, it will lovingly be given back to you, sometimes in ways you may not recognize. But it will fill you. It will always warm you from the inside. Don’t be afraid of that warmth you feel. It is overwhelming to your body which can be scary but that is because the warmth of that gift is for a part of you that is deeper. It comes from something deeper. It is an oasis where the purest part of your soul longs to dwell.

It is your choice to accept this and all gifts. And you have many. They are another part of you that makes you beautiful. You are talented. You are soulful. You are a unique and amazing work of God’s hands. And, nothing or no one can take that away from you. No person, no experience, no victory, no defeat, NOTHING. Your gifts, your beauty, your talent, your soul, your heart, you love…They are all yours to keep and to share at your will.

I love you so much. I have enjoyed watching you grow and blossom. I have cried when I saw elements attempt to stifle or crush your bloom. But I have shined brightly every time you allowed yourself to reign because it gives me permission to sit on the throne with you. So you are never alone.

Keep blooming.

Real Relationship Goals

I am still fascinated by a young woman I saw while riding the bus last year. She did not notice me sneaking peaks at her. She was on the bus when I boarded. The bus was not too full this afternoon. She sat in one of the front, aisle facing seats. I sat diagonal from her with a clear view. I always notice other Black females in any setting. It lets me know I’m not alone. I noticed her right away.

Her skin was brown coffee like mine. Her hair was thick and blown out from its probable coily texture. She was definitely younger than me. She was reading something intently. Ever so often, she would close her eyes and silently mouth something. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes and returned to what she was reading. At first, I though she was Muslim until I saw and sensed something beautifully familiar. She closed her eyes and smiled as she lifted her hands. She mouthed something still inaudible. But I recognized it. This girl was in very deep and personal worship.

I was in awe. The way she dismissed the looks of others was bold and admirable. I wanted to defend her when I saw two young people sitting across from her. They looked at her with annoyed eyes. I glared at them with disgust but quickly realized this young lady did not need my help. She was focused on what she was doing. She was focused on her King.

The bus stopped at a transfer point where she got off. I watched her until she walked out of sight. I could not get her off my mind for the rest of the evening. Today, she still crosses my mind. She was not putting on a show or forcing anything on anyone. Her actions were genuine. Her love was sincere. I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to know what she had been through to enable her to be so carefree with her worship. Maybe, she had been through nothing at all. Maybe she just knew the one with whom she was so deeply in love.

This is #relationshipgoals!

Losing a House to Taxes

This is an example of why I do my podcast. Sharing the truth about our pain is difficult but cathartic and can lead to healing.

I lost my mother’s house last year.
Yes, along with my car, I lost my mother’s house. I became one of those people who couldn’t pay the taxes on a family home and lost it. I was devastated. I was angry. I had come close to losing it in the past but after a lot of prayer and a personal bank loan, I was able to save it. This time, I was out of options. I truly believed God would do something and he didn’t. I had to tell my stepfather (who I love and who had his leg amputated only two years ago) that he would have to move soon.

I tried to hold out hope. Even after the deadline had passed, I thought maybe God would get me the money so my stepfather could stay in the house. Instead, God said it was more important for me to stay focused. The house was never actually mine in the legal sense. It wasn’t even my stepfather’s. It had not felt like home for me in 25 years since losing my Mama. I was desprately trying to hold on to something out of obligation created by others. So, I let it go. I cried, but I let it go. I just hoped that God would not put me in the position again with the other house I was paying taxes on.

Well, he did.

Today, I called to check on the redemption value to pay for another house where someone is renting from my family for basically pennies. I have been saving for months to try to pay it off. My heart sank as the lady told me an amount more than double what I saved. Once again, I’m trying to figure out how this will be paid or if it will be paid. I’m still struggling to pay my rent. The worst part is knowing I am doing the best I can and being obedient to the crazy crap, God has told me to do and not do. But I keep ending up in the same mess. What the freak am I doing wrong??!!!

I AM TIRED, GOD!!!

A few hours before writing this, I did an episode, for my podcast, about staying in rhythm with God. Well, this song is old. I am tired of trying not to be scared. I’m tired of hoping that I heard God right. I’m tired of wondering if he’ll come through this time. I’m tired of working on vision while everything else is crashing around me. I’m over it. I’m losing everything and looking like a fool.

But, I Still Have Hope

For the last year I have been speaking Romans 15:13 almost every day. It has been a constant prayer.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:13 KJV

I almost wish I had not been praying this prayer over myself. The conflicting feelings of peace and frustration are extremely difficult during moments like these. I want to be scared but I keep hearing it’s going to be ok. I want to be angry but God’s love keeps whispering in my ear. I trust Him but I hate when my trust in him negatively affects the lives of others.

Then, I am reminded that God has a plan for everyone’s life. If the issues from my obedience are a part of a plan for someone else, who am I to tell God how to do his job? The effects still hurt. I still have nightmares about losing my mother’s house. I wake up in tears and horror. I don’t want to go through this anymore.

I’m trying to continue to trust. I’m trying to continue to believe. Right now, less than four hours after the call from the beginning of this post, I just want to wallow. Then I feel bad for wallowing. I feel like I’m losing some battle over my day and productivity.

The cycle seems endless.
But, God, PLEASE end this!

Combat Stress: The “Beat”down

My pastor, Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, often quotes a line he heard from one of his mentors.

Your life should revolve around the rhythm of your relationship with God.

I identified with the statement on a few levels from the moment I heard it. I believe music is sown into the foundation of the Earth. Birds, whales and crickets sing to communicate. Ocean waves move with the flow of the wind. Listen closely to the beat of your footsteps, of your heart. If something disrupts the melody, the flow or the beat, then the song becomes noise, causing your head to ache or your skin to crawl.

I have found a rhythm in my life. It is a rhythm that works for me. Sometimes it’s hard to stay on beat. I find myself going a little too fast or a little too slow. In those times, I must stop and listen. Listen for the beat. Listen for the rhythm. Then, I am able to join in with the conductor.

I recently did a YouVersion Bible devotional on how to deal with stress called Finding Your New Rhythm. As soon as I read the title, I knew I had to put it on my to do list. For 5 days, I read scriptures and listened to soothing music behind a soft voice giving gentle reminders to my spirit.

The first day, I was reminded of God’s love and to rest in that love. The next day, I saw a little girl. The little girl God longs for me to be. The one who moves, as the devotion said, “unhesitatingly, knowing where she was going but never knowing the way.” God loves that little girl and would never let anything happen to her.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you…
-Jeremiah 29:11

I was reminded, midway through the devotion, that God sings over me. Sometimes, he just wants a few moments so I can hear his song. The fourth day reminded me to keep my heart filled with Him. I thought about my heart beat and how it should be synchronous with my Father’s. I can tell when my rhythm is off. My response to circumstances is what let’s me know I have missed a beat. I have allowed something into my heart, that has thrown off my rhythm. I have to get it back. Once I get it back, the final day of the devotion reminded me to trust the rhythm. Trust His pace.

Stress comes in many forms but conquering it, always begins in the mind. The five days spent on the Combat Stress devotion, provides a beautiful mental strategy for a common fight. The devotion is by loopforwomen.com and is available on the Bible app by YouVersion.

Share The Dream

Dear Wonderful God,
…It’s hard to have a dream and to feel like there’s no one I can talk to about it. But I know that others won’t understand…” October 22, 2002

This past Sunday, a friend and fellow aspiring actress came over to work on a project. As usual, we ended up talking for hours about everything except the project. A major topic of conversation was our desire to be great. We spoke candidly about our career goals and aspirations. Today, I realized that was the first time in my life where I was able to share how big my dreams really are. I was able to do this because I was speaking with someone who shared the grand nature of my own dreams, yet saw it as possible. Her exact words were, “And why not?”

“…With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 KJV

I see my friend’s question as a great interpretation of this verse.
Jesus responded to reality, with truth.

Dreams are often stunted by doubt and comparison. These two enemies tend to cause people to keep their dreams under lock and key. This can prove to be wise when surrounded by others who don’t dream as big. Unfortunately, it can lead to loneliness; which is what was beginning to happen to me. Then, I met my friend.

As we spoke, at times, it felt like I was listening to myself. She spoke of her dreams with such conviction. They were big. They seemed impossible. But she was fully convinced of their possibility. Like me, she did not simply believe her dreams would come true. She knew it. Her bold confidence empowered and uplifted me.

Today, we’re still chasing our dreams together. Our friendship is based on our chase. My hope is our continued friendship to grow with our success.
May you find someone safe with whom to share your dream.

3 Things My Stepfather Taught Me About Men

I was never close with my biological father. He and my mother divorced by the time I was 6 years old. A year later, a new man was in the picture. I was not happy about this and I made it pretty clear to Mama and her “new friend.” He received a lot of cold shoulder and 7-year-old side eye. Over time though, Mama’s new friend became my friend; one of my best friends actually. He eventually won me over with his authenticity and sensitivity which was something I did not see much in my family. He listened to my problems intently and answered all my questions honestly.

My mother never married Willie but he became the father in my life. I have fond memories of walks in the neighborhood and summer days at work with him. The conversations we had during those times helped create a bond between us that was stronger than genetics. It is that bond that I celebrate every Father’s Day.

My heart aches that I cannot be with my step-Father this Father’s Day, particularly during this health crisis. Since I cannot be there, it forces me to seek other ways to celebrate him. I will call him, of course. I will also call my biological father. Though that relationship is minimal, I can honor my step-Father by showing the grace he showed to others with the respect and kindness of a phone call. I will also reflect on the lessons my step-Father taught me.

I learned a lot on our walks and during our conversations. He taught me about working hard and staying true to myself. He was the lone voice that told me I could be whatever I wanted to be; not what others were telling me I should be. He also taught me about men. We had discussions about boys when I was a teenager and the kind of man he wanted me to have. However, I learned the most about men by the life experiences he shared and watching his relationship with my mother.

So, on this Father’s Day, I will celebrate my wonderful step-Daddy by sharing three great lessons I learned from his life that allow me to understand men a bit better and helps me to see them through the Christ’s blood stained lens of God.

1. Men Love Hard

I was always fascinated by my stepfather’s heart. It boggled my mind how he had any heart left after giving so much of it away. His arm bore a piece of his heart in a tattoo with the initials of his first love. There were pieces of his heart in graves. Then there was the piece my Mother had. Not much could compare to what he endured with my mother. Their relationship was very tumultuous.. Both contributed to their problems but he took the grunt of things. Somehow, he kept coming back. He was there for rough times. If he was away, phone calls were guaranteed.Whatever she needed, regardless of the state of their relationship, he did his best to meet it. And when we lost my mother, he was lost. I know that men’s heart can be broken because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen what happens to them when someone cracks their soul. I saw it when she was alive and after she died. I’ve looked in the face of a heart being mended. That vision has taught me that, just like women, the hearts of men should be handled with care.

2. Men Battle Depression

My stepfather was an alcoholic. There were years when he would recover and then something would happen. I remember seeing him when he would take his first sip. Even when he was sober, I could tell he was battling to keep his desire to live. There were times when he walked around with this overwhelming cloud of utter despair. His sisters would talk to him. Friends would reach out. I begged him to just pick himself up. As I got older, I realized that he needed more than a pick me up. He was in a hole of which he had to be dug out. Alcohol was never the problem. It was a symptom of the depression he was living in. Today, my step-Father still battles…but he is battling. He’s still fighting. His fight has taught me that men experience deep sadness and darkness. Sometimes they need help to see the sun.

3. Men Take Pride in Providing…the good ones do

I loved when I could go to work with my step-Father. He worked hard and he liked his work. The slight smile on his face when he received his pay was sweet. That same smile would come across his face when he took me to the Waffle House or gave money to my mother to pay a bill. It was a very slight upturn at the corner of his mouth but his eyes were always shining at those moments. My step-Father enjoyed seeing me happy. Providing was a means by which he showed his deep love. People say a lot of things they don’t mean. My stepfather taught me that men don’t put their money where their mouth is. They put their money where their heart is. 

Happy Father’s Day!

The Line Between a Black and White Student

One of my favorite scenes from the show, Scandal, is when the audience first learns who Olivia’s father is. He scolds her for her behavior that has gotten her into a scandal of her own. Then he reminds her of one of the lessons he drilled into her as a child. “How many times have I told you…you have to be what?” After her father yells for her to answer, Olivia finally responds. “Twice as good”

Most young, Black, children have heard their parents say this line. “You have to be twice as good, to get half of what they have.” I heard it from my mother and grandfather. I never doubted the validity of the statement, but the reality of its truth is only now resonating.

As someone who works with children, I see the full spectrum of academic achievement. Lately, while working with clients with less than perfect grades or difficulties focusing, I realized that their plight is very different from my cousin who shared the same issues. It is important to note, at the time of this writing, none of my clients are of color. I look at what I saw growing up with other kids and see the challenges that lie ahead for Black children with average grades.

This month many children return to school and to different expectations.

However, while working with clients with the same grades, I see the advantages they have. They will not have to face the added responsibility of breaking a stereotype. They will not have to worry about getting past an interviewer’s preconceived notions about their race. They will not have to think about how ethnic their name sounds or reads on an application. If my client and my cousin seek the same opening, with the same average grades, chances are my client gets in, while my cousin slips through the cracks.

Click here for a great video explaining how this works.

Success does not come easy for most people, no matter the race. The unfortunate reality is that the playing field is not level. It starts from day one, on the field of education. On this playing field, average is not the best for anyone and it is the absolute worst for Black children. I get it now. To level the playing field as a Black student, we must be excellent in all that we do. While excellence can be a goal for other races, it must be a standard for Black people. It is our excellence that will break stereotypes, get us past preconceived notions and make people see beyond our name.

I absolutely encourage pursuing excellence. It just ticks me off that it takes excellence for a black person to get what the average white person has.