A Teacher’s Opinion on Devos and School Choice

By: Lashaunda Marie20170313_1834311

I am a high school science teacher. I have four years of experience in urban schools that receive Title 1 funds. This means that these schools receive funding to help close the achievement gap that is often found in schools with a majority of low-income/ disadvantaged students. I have two years of experience in a charter school in Columbus, Ohio, and I have two years of experience in the state’s largest district, Columbus City Schools.

* *  *

The failure of public education is toted about freely as if it is a matter which applies uniformly to all public school systems in the country. In reality it is a multi-faceted issue that is affecting schools in different ways for different reasons. Unfortunately, our nation seems to believe that we need to apply a uniform solution to an issue that is extraordinarily complex. I am speaking primarily of the concept of school choice, an idea which is promoted by our current Secretary of Education Betsy Devos.

Devos would like to incorporate the public school system. She wants schools to operate in a fashion similar to that of the private business sector. The goal of a business is to be more successful than other similar businesses. The successfulness of a business is measured in the amount of money that is made by that business. Furthermore, a business relies on competition to help them meet that end goal. The more competitive advantages the business has, the more money they will make. So, a business will hire the best employees, utilize the best tools, and reply upon the most skilled accountants to help them reach their final goal of making the most money. In the business world, this method works, as Devos’ family is fully aware.

In the world of public education, success is measured in the number of students who pass a lengthy series of standardized tests. Devos believes that competition is the key to success. Therefore, her goal is to create a culture in the public school system in which schools compete to produce students who are the most prepared to perform well on assessment tests. She argues that we should create schools that compete for the best teachers and the best students. She wants to give parents the choice of the quality of education their children receive. Over all, she wants to promote a culture of schools that consistently produce successful test takers. In writing, the concept sounds great. If the students become very good at taking standardized tests, then it follows that students are more likely to graduate on time and get into and complete college or become skilled at a trade.

What Devos fails to take into account is “buy-in” from the students. This buy-in to education in general is markedly different in the lower socioeconomic sectors than it is for the higher sectors. The root of this divergence is in the relative stability of the home lives of students in the middle/upper socioeconomic sector compared to those in the low socioeconomic sector.

Our students in low-income/ disadvantaged districts have little incentive to ‘buy in’ to their own education. Educational expectations are not reinforced at home because parents are either working incessantly in order to make ends meet or are involved in detrimental activities such as drug and alcohol use. There is very little stability for many of the students in the low socioeconomic sector, and this instability translates into poor academic performance.

Think about it, a young lady goes home, and there is no food in the house because the girl’s single mother had to choose between buying food or paying for electricity to heat the home in the winter. Alternatively, a young man is the eldest of four children. His father is out of the picture, and while his mother is strung out on heroin, it is the boy’s responsibility to care for and feed his younger siblings. How could anyone expect this young lady or this young man to come to school and focus on anything relevant to education. We all know that education would be their mechanism of escape from this poverty, but how can either of them even consider this option, when they lack anything resembling stability and comfort. These are only a couple of examples of the multitude of complex and complicated scenarios that our youth in low-income urban settings are facing today.

The situation is different for most students in suburban and more affluent public school districts. Due to the relative stability in their home life, the students themselves ‘buy-in’ to their own education because they have the luxury of forethought. They are able to relate their current actions and efforts to their success in the future. I admit that Devos’ plan could be successful in this particular sector of public education. At least, her solution is practical for this demographic, even if it does produce a generation of robots who are really good at passing tests.

School choice is not a practical solution for students in low-income urban school districts. Many students in these school districts live in and around poverty. Their home lives are far from stable, and the students exist in a culture that focuses on the present. These students are often stuck in that endless cycle that is poverty because they have to make life-sustaining decisions everyday. Students end up getting jobs to help out, or they might turn to drugs as a form of income or mental escape. Their lives are so unstable that they do not have the luxury of considering what the future may hold for them. They’re too busy trying to figure how to survive today.

Of course these schools are failing. The students do not have the luxury of caring about what happens in school or how to pass some standardized test. Nothing in these student’s lives is stable.  Yet, Devos’s ‘solution’ is to create more schools, more choice, more pressure for these students. This is why her appointment scares me so much. She seems to be completely oblivious to real issues that are facing our low-income/ disadvantaged youth. If she has her way, our students are guaranteed to fail because resources will be pulled from them and redirected to areas in our society in which people are overwhelmed with advantages.

The appropriate solution is to diversify our solutions. We have a buzzword in education called “differentiated instruction”. In short, the concept recognizes that all students have different backgrounds and different styles of learning. It suggests that in order to meet the needs of our students, we must vary our methods of instruction. I would like to believe that Devos is aware of this term, and this is why she wants to provide school choice for parents. The reality is that while choices provides an opportunity for growth in some students (i.e. those who already have a great foundation and stability), any intervention specialist would tell you that too many choices can have a detrimental affect on some students, for they become overwhelmed. Devos needs to differentiate her methods of preventing the failure of the school system. Sure, go ahead and allocate funds for school choice in districts that already demonstrate that students are stable and have a solid foundation.

But, in schools where students do not have this foundation, let’s create it for them. If the home life of these students is so unstable, then at least let schools be consistent. Provide the schools in disadvantaged areas with the resources to provide stability for the students. For example, Columbus City Schools has allocated funds to provide free breakfast and lunches to all of their students so that access to food will not be a barrier to education. In addition to a reliable source of food, schools must have the resources to help students process the dire nature of the reality to which they are exposed everyday. This could be in the form of a team of counselors, therapists, and life coaches who will consistently be present and with whom students can develop meaningful, reliable and safe relationships. Furthermore, many students who cause disruptions in schools have the most tragic home lives. These students subconsciously crave structure and routine. Unlike conditions as home, for these students structure and routine are consistent and reliable.

Instead of funding a plethora of school choices in this particular sector, as Devos wants, let’s provide our students a reason to buy-in to their own education.  In order to establish this buy-in these schools need the funds to reorganize their infrastructure. Students have to be able to recognize school as a place that is stable, consistently safe, and conducive to learning,  where their confidence and critical thinking can be nurtured. Parental involvement will always be an issue in this demographic until we can get enough students to use education as a method of escape.

A radical suggestion I have is to create a boarding school option for students. For example, instead of opening new schools in these areas, provide students with room and board on the condition that they uphold academic standards and utilize resources such as counseling and/or life skills training. This stability for the students will directly translate to an increase in academic performance. I cannot conclude this essay without speaking to the quality of educators in our school systems. I know from experience that it takes a special kind of person with the patience to help these students. Unfortunately, I am aware of teachers who are teaching because they want a paycheck. They do not believe these students are worth the effort and lack the patience to help guide them. Alternatively, I am aware of teachers who coddle these students out of sympathy and refuse to hold students accountable for their actions “because the child has a rough home life”. In both cases, the teachers are preventing the students from becoming self-sufficient and productive members of society. In that, I would have to agree with Devos, teachers do need to be held accountable, in part, for the success of their students. I do not believe that teacher success can be measured by the success of their students on standardized assessment tests. Rather, teachers must be able to produce students who are self-sufficient, critical thinkers, and productive members of society, not just good test takers.  The measurement of teacher success in this case would be based on the post secondary accomplishments of each student.

To Those of Us Left Behind

Grief. It comes in waves. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave and unexpected. It knocks you down and drowns you in its sorrow and you find yourself struggling to break the surface. Other times it’s a rising tide. You see it coming and the numbness slowly creeps into your bones. Either way, grief is inevitable when you’ve lost a loved one. It becomes less frequent as time moves on, but it isn’t any less potent.

Those of us who survive it. Who somehow remain afloat in our grief. Come to understand that it never fully fades. Rather it transforms. It becomes the driving force behind our feelings, actions, and decisions. Because, you see, we carry the loss within us. And whether we know it or not it profoundly changes us.

It has been one year and twenty-one days since I lost my dear friend. An individual who never judged me or my decisions, but loved me simply because I was me. And I know that sounds cliché, but it is a genuine truth. He never tried to change who I was. He accepted my flaws and oftentimes pushed me to be better. He was my counselor in times when I could not find my own way. He was my confidant in times when the truth I needed to tell was too hard to say out loud. He was my shoulder to cry on at times when I felt like life had turned on me. He changed my outlook on the world in small incremental ways and for that I will be forever thankful. He was everything, until he wasn’t.

I now find myself fighting to hold on to the other relationships in my life. Clinging to any time that I am given with my loved ones because I have felt loss. Not the type you see coming. Not the type that is expected. But a loss that blind sides you and steals the breath from your being. A loss that you were never prepared for and yet because of it you find yourself having to rebuild the part of you that is now empty. It forces you to cherish every moment you have on this earth and every moment you had previously forsaken with those around you. Because our time is limited. I would like to believe that I will die old and grey, but the truth is no one knows when their time is. It’s not a decision we make. It’s one made for us. And so I make time. I move my schedule around constantly to give myself time with those I love. Because if at the end I can look back on my life and reminisce on all the memories of the times I spent with my loved ones. I’ll know I lived a good life.

Because life is not about the money you make, the material assets you gain, or even the dreams you achieve. It’s the moments that you allow others to live life with you. The seconds, hours, days, and weeks that you allow people to love you and you give your love in return. Life is the experiences and lessons you learn from individuals who cross your path. It is fundamentally about living in the moment with those around you. You don’t get time back once it has passed. You can’t physically relive memories. And you can’t bring loved ones back once they’re lost.

I miss him every day. There hasn’t been a day in this past year that I have not thought of him, his family, and his friends. But I live, in each solitary moment, because that is what he would expect of me. And to not do so would be to dishonor his memory. I understand my grief will never fully go away, but as I transform so does it. And each new day it pushes me to be a better version of myself then I was before.

So to those of us who have been left behind I say to you this. Stop to take time to reach out to those people in your life that you neglect. Make a phone call. Set up a lunch date. Stop by their homes. But stop to take time. You can’t predict if that time will still be there tomorrow. And I promise you this. You will regret those moments when you chose to push the time you have with them to the side for other endeavors that will never be half as fulfilling as being there with them. What makes us human are those moments when we love others more then ourselves. When the wellbeing of a loved one is top priority over any success or accomplishments you could ever have. And what makes us real is embracing those moments of loss. Taking in the pain and grief and reinventing it. Transforming the loss, into living.

 

In loving memory of Joseph Amadeo Razo

20170223_105206

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Won’t “Get Over It”

Osnos-TheGatheringStormofProtestAgainstTrump-1200.jpgPhotograph by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty

In the wake of the election I have found myself like millions of other Americans disheartened at the idea of the new President-Elect. I wish I could say that this was a surprise. I wish I could say I am baffled by the results. But in all actuality I am not. Like many other Americans in this country I am now struggling to determine how I would like to move forward because whether or not I like the results he will become the next President of the United States. He will be tasked with running our country. He will have to unify (if he chooses) a very divided country. And I know I will have to decide my next steps as well. So I took a week of reflection and introspection. I took a week to gather my emotions and get my head straight. I took a week to pray. And these are the conclusions I’ve come to.

In my discussions with Trump supporters I found most often than not they were supporting him because “he says exactly what he’s thinking”. Which on some occasions can be a good quality, but if you have been following his campaign and the rhetoric that he has been spewing and you have some semblance of human decency you realize that answer is terrifying. Because in taking a closer look you come to realize that these individuals also agreed with WHAT he was saying. That at some point in their lives they have thought the words he so carelessly flung around. They just weren’t bold enough to say them. Donald Trump’s campaign was built on fear and divisiveness. Make no mistake, fear is an extremely powerful tool. A tool his campaign utilized and aimed at members of the white community that in some ways felt emasculated by women and challenged by minorities. A tool he aimed at members of the white community that have felt marginalized and ignored for decades and who are quickly realizing that they no longer represent the majority. He played to their fear of change. A change that didn’t look like them, but like the “other”. And it is what he has been saying during his campaign that has given me pause about his ability to run our nation. Because don’t get me wrong I have reviewed his policies. I took the time out to research what his key points were during his campaign and I can’t say I disagree with all of his points. He had some good ideas, BUT, and this is a big but, I can’t overlook his behavior or other policies. Better yet I REFUSE to overlook them. Sometimes it’s not just about policies that could essentially better YOUR life or your community. Sometimes you have to take a stand for the betterment of those around you.

We teach our children every day how to behave, what not to say, and how to treat others. We tell them character is vitally important to be the best version of themselves that they can be. That they should treat others how they would want to be treated. We tell them actions have consequences. But those messages were lost this election. We allowed a man to not only help spread homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, racism, and sexism. We patted him on the back for it. We essentially spread the message to our children that any of those issues with his character could be overlooked as long as he serves “my” best interest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because in no way are you looking out for the betterment of all if you were able to overlook him calling the act of sexual assault on live national television “locker room” talk. As if any type of talk about pushing yourself on a woman without her consent is OK. That mindset, is what led to Brock Turner raping an unconscious woman and blaming it on alcohol consumption. That mindset, is what leads to women like me being on constant alert when we’re out in public because men like him are justified in how and when they decide to physically assault us. Because other men overlook, ignore, or validate his words. That mindset, is what forces me to exclaim LOUDLY that I am a PERSON. I am not an OBJECT for a man to do with as he pleases. And that mindset is also what leads men to believe that they have any SAY in what I do with my OWN body. It’s the same mindset that has led to Donald Trump campaigning on the idea that he would overturn Roe v. Wade. You can say I’m not fighting for the right to choose what I do with my own body. That I am actually fighting simply for the right to an abortion, however, it’s still MY RIGHT. It’s not your decision. It’s a decision between myself, my doctor, and the man I might happen to be with. Sadly, however, I’m not surprised. Men have been teaching women for decades through their actions and words that we have no rights. Every time we are touched without our consent, told to remain quiet, laws are passed, programs are de-funded that decide our futures for us we are being stripped of our rights. The right to say NO don’t touch me. NO that is not your decision to make. NO this is my life, not yours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You weren’t looking out for the betterment of all if you were able to overlook him claiming that illegal immigrants coming from Mexico were “rapists” who were bringing drugs and crime. That to best handle this illegal immigration “issue” we should build a way, which is essentially another way to divide. Because if you truly understood why individuals illegally immigrated here, you would see that a good percentage that are immigrating here are refugees fleeing countries like Honduras. Where gang members trafficking drugs utilize the houses of the immigrants to hide their drugs. Where these same members sexually harass the young women of these immigrant families. Where even if the man of the house is bold enough to face these gang leaders and try to fight them off they are told “you have 24 hours to leave or we’ll kill you”. Or Mexico where a family can be kidnapped by the cartel and held for ransom. If you don’t believe me, watch the documentary series America Divided, episode 6, where they discuss illegal immigration and you hear these stories. And if you still remain in disbelief I can tell you first hand as someone who has traveled to Mexico it’s very unnerving to be told “to not go anywhere alone” because there’s a chance you could get kidnapped. These people aren’t coming to America to ruin our economy. They are coming to America to better their families lives because their own country has failed them. These aren’t rapists and criminals. They are you and I. Human beings who just want to be safe and live fulfilling lives.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You weren’t looking out for the betterment of all if you were able to overlook him  supporting the First Amendment Defense Act which allows anti-LGBTQ discrimination, promising to appoint judges that could dismantle the rights given to the LGBTQ community, and appointing a VP who openly supports the idea of conversion therapy. As if who you love is worth being condemned for. As if who you love in any way affects anyone else’s life. As if who you love should mean that you don’t deserve to be a citizen and have all the rights that come with that citizenship. I have a lesbian cousin who I dearly love and I can’t stop thinking that her rights might be taken from her. That there will come a day that she wants to marry her girlfriend and she can’t. That she will remember the few years in time that she could have. And I can’t help but worry that it won’t stop there. That they’ll find a way to tell her that she is not fit for adoption because of the person she loves. I fear that day because I don’t want anyone to tell my beautiful, vibrant, outspoken cousin that she is less than. Because let’s be very clear that’s what the message is.

Screenshot_20161110-111652_1_1.jpg

You weren’t looking out for the betterment of all if you were able to overlook the fact the he has stated that “no he would not rule out a database on all Muslims, but for now he wants a database for refugees”. That he clearly hasn’t given a hard NO to a database for Muslims is in itself alarming. The idea of registering Muslims is outrageous. It’s inhumane. These people aren’t dogs that we put on a chip to keep track of (and mind you, when we do that it’s usually out of love because when dogs get lost we want them returned). These are human beings. I know Trump and Clinton in kind ran a platform on the fear of ISIS.  But I don’t fear ISIS. And according to a FBI study done between the years 1980 and 2006 ninety-four percent of terrorist attacks that had occurred in America were done by Non-Muslim terrorists. And data compiled by Mother Jones magazine which looked at mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982 found that sixty-four percent of the shootings were done by white men. So who should we really be fearing? Because for me it wouldn’t be the native Muslims. The statistics just aren’t there. But after this election there are Muslims who have decided that being Muslim is too risky in America. Some who have decided that wearing their Hijab is not worth the discrimination they will face or the target they feel it would put on their back. People who have never wavered from their faith, but find it’s the only option. I watched as a close friend of mine broke down in tears on election night for fear of what will happen to herself, but more importantly her family. Who seriously contemplated the state of her future and if America was the country in which she wanted to live. Someone who I know by her strength and who I watched lose some of the fight in her. This isn’t imaginary to her. It’s her life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We tell our children that their words can have power and this year during this election that was proven true. Not only by the many bigoted and racists individuals that came out to vote for Trump, but by the many young children who are afraid for their future because of this man’s rhetoric. Teachers around the country are having to try to explain to their students what this means for them. They are having to re-validate to children of color, LGBTQ, and Muslim children that they matter and are important in this country.  His words brought out the under belly of hate that our country was built on. It brought out individuals who now believe they have every right to verbally and physically assault people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women because Trump is now president and to them he represents their views. Trump may not physically be carrying out these acts of violence that are happening around the country, but he certainly contributed to it. And his silence has affirmed them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To those of you who say I didn’t vote for him because of those policies or how he spoke, I voted for him because I have my own family to worry about and certain policies he spoke of fit better with my values and what I wanted to see for the future of my life and my family. My answer to you is this. You may not have voted for his homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, and sexist viewpoints and in some instances policies, but none of those reasons stopped you either. And to me that is so much worse. Enough has to be enough at some point. Our best interests have to stop being more important than the interest of humanity as a whole. As a country we have to remember how much power words have always had. It’s not enough to say “well that’s not why I voted for him.” Because in this day and age of social media people are quicker to jump on the bandwagon of a really well placed meme or video then they are to actually research the truth behind it. And to those individuals who have supported his campaign because they see a man who supports white supremacy, his message was heard loud and clear in each divisive and illogical statement he made. My cousins life is on the line, my friend’s life is on the line, my life is on the line, and other individuals lives are on the line and you chose “your” best interest over us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So don’t tell me I need to “get over it”. Don’t tell me we need to unify and come together when I have watched him for over a year divide and conquer. Don’t tell me that I am not allowed to grieve. As if there is some off switch to the pain and sorrow I feel at watching a future barrel towards me that I never chose. This isn’t about my candidate not winning. I wasn’t happy with either choice. This is about a MAN who spent his entire campaign marginalizing the already marginalized. Who made it cool to say “grab her by the pussy”. Who told his supporters in a speech in Sioux Center, Iowa “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn’t lose voters”. Who told his supporters at a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina “by the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people–maybe there is, I don’t know”. This is about someone who never thought about the repercussion of his words and the resounding effect it would have in our country. Who never thought about the impressionable children who would be hearing his words and mimicking them.

You may be able to look the other way at the outbreak of hate crimes that have occurred around the nation after his election, but I can’t. You need to understand that his campaign opened the flood gates for hatred in our country to be openly acceptable. His presidency has made individuals feel it is now their right to project their hatred on those who can’t fight for themselves. It has validated feelings some people have had for decades and you think those gates are just going to close because he made one plea for people to “stop it”. A plea that he only made after he was informed that hate crimes were being acted out in his name. As if he didn’t actually know it was happening. Because if he has time to be conscious of the goings on, on SNL and at the Hamilton show, then you better believe he knows what’s going on around the country. Seriously, this man was endorsed by the KKK and even if he denounced their endorsement it doesn’t matter. The endorsement lit a beacon for white supremacy. And it was validated by those that voted for him even if they didn’t hold similar beliefs. This isn’t just going to go away. His presidency may be a scary proposition in and of itself, but what I fear more are the many individuals who now feel empowered to say and do as they please because of his election.

So PLEASE stop telling me I need to wait and see what he’s going to do. I don’t have that luxury. You may be able to wait, but I can’t. And if the people he has started to surround himself with are any indication of the direction in which we are heading. I pray for us all.

I will be spending the next four years voicing my concerns. I will not become complacent and fall back into the status quo. I will be vigilant and mindful of what is occurring around me. More than ever I will fight for others just as much as I fight for myself. This is no longer a battle for the betterment of my life, but for the lives of those that are dearest to me. The future that I once held dear is being threatened and I will not go quietly. Don’t ask me to and don’t expect me to. My conscious won’t allow it. And if you love me you wouldn’t want me to.

screenshot_20161112-144336_1

Kaepernick: #ISitWithHim

Screenshot_20160831-174532_1

For days I have been quietly (and not so quietly) watching as millions of Americans have weighed in with their thoughts on Colin Kaepernick’s actions in regards to sitting during the National Anthem. An action that he took in protest of the treatment of African-Americans in America. The National Anthem is a symbol. To understand why I have pointed that out specifically you need to know the definition of “symbol.” It is “an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality.”  For some Americans the National Anthem is the representation of our brave men and women who serve in our military. For others it represents a country that claims to be for justice, equality, and freedom of speech, but on a lot of occasions is not.

Here’s what it symbolizes to me.

Even before I weighed in with my opinion in regards to his actions I did my research. I like to have all my facts straight before I offer my thoughts simply because there is always two sides to every story. There is also always an untold story that no one has ever heard. I like to know those stories. I, like many Americans did not know the true history behind the National Anthem. I wasn’t aware that Francis Scott Key, a known slave-owner and anti-abolitionist, was the writer of the National Anthem. I was not aware that there were four verses to the National Anthem and that the third verse explicitly references slavery,

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

and celebrates the killing of African-Americans. Now I have never been a fan of the National Anthem even before I learned of this third verse. You see, I believe in context. I know the National Anthem was written at a time where our country was not the land of the “free”, not for all. I know it was written during the time of slavery and when African-Americans were seen as property. That’s enough for me. Enough for me to not feel pride in the National Anthem. It is not a symbol for me of freedom and bravery. It is a constant reminder that those who were believed to be “free” were not individuals who look like me. I don’t believe you can rewrite historical context. You can’t make Francis Scott Key NOT a slave-owner, you can’t OMIT an entire verse or verses as if that erases the mindset in which this was written, and you can’t IGNORE that “free” was not meant for African-Americans. This was written from a viewpoint of oppression. It’s that simple. And to continue to try to force people to honor a symbol that represents oppression is, in my opinion, morally questionable.

For the most part many Americans have evolved. We have come a long way from the years of slavery and segregation. And yet we still have much more to do. But if we are as evolved as we like to believe then why have our national symbols not evolved with us. Why do we fervently hold on to symbols of oppression? It has been two hundred and two years since the National Anthem was written. It no longer fits the narrative of the America that many people believe in. If you stand for the National Anthem because you honor those who have fought and died for us then you are standing for an ideal and not a symbol. Because if you are standing for what the National Anthem in history truly represented than you are standing with oppression. It was not written in the context and at a time when all men were “free”. So why can we not change the symbol?

I respect, appreciate, and am grateful to the men and women of this country who have sacrificed for my rights. I support our troops every chance I am able to, but that does not mean I can’t condone the injustices that are happening in our country. They are fighting for my right to stand up or sit down and say “America we need to do better.” If we begin to silence each other because we don’t agree with one another’s perspective than we are no better than the countries and leaders that our troops are fighting against. America is made up of varying viewpoints, cultures, traditions, and people. Those differences are what makes America great. But what truly makes us free is that we are able to express ourselves through our freedom of speech in a way that we see fit. Does that mean that there won’t be any consequences. No. Kaepernick is very aware of the consequences, but it is still his right.

Colin Kaepernick, in my opinion, was not disrespectful. He did not walk out. He did not turn his back. He simply sat down. Which he had been doing consequently for the pre-season games as well. This was not a new stance. This was not the first time. It was simply the first time that the media cared. And if we are going to speak on him then we need to be truly honest with ourselves as a nation. He is not the only person to do this during the National Anthem. I have been to many sporting events. I have seen numerous people remain seated, or talking on their phone, or just plain goofing off when the National Anthem is playing. If Americans are going to crucify him for his actions then there is probably someone you know that you should throw into the same boat. But maybe just maybe it’s not about what he did, but about why he did it?

Because somewhere in this whole ordeal the narrative changed. It became more about the symbol instead of the message. People became more outraged about his actions than they are about the injustices he is speaking to. The defense of an object became more important than the lives of individuals. Once again America proved how divided it truly is by what it chose to hear and see. Some saw a man disrespecting our troops. Others saw a man using his rights as an American, rights that troops fight for every day, to bring awareness to problems within our country that not only affect other Americans, but some members of our troops who come home. Let me make this clear for you. Colin Kaepernick was speaking to the latter. He is fighting for our humanity as a country in the only way he believes he can. Sometimes moments of great change only come about when an individual makes a statement that is outside the box. That is questionable. That is uncomfortable. Rosa Parks simply sat down on a bus, but that triggered a nation of African-Americans to decide that they should be able to sit down. That they had that right to. And what you are seeing now, generations later, are individuals who are simply asking America to do better. To BE better. To live up to it’s creed. And shouldn’t we all want that?

So to those who have said that “this is bigger than him” in reference to the disrespect they feel he showed to our troops, you are absolutely right, it is bigger than him. This is bigger than our troops. It’s a human and moral issue that anyone with any ounce of humanity and empathy should see, understand, and feel. An injustice to one is an injustice to all. You see, it may be bigger than him, but he has chosen to make it start with him.

To Gaige: My Fun loving, Fast Talking, Brilliant Nephew

 

When you were little you were a force to be reckoned with. I never had to worry that you wouldn’t find your voice because you were born with a very healthy set of lungs. In the beginning when I would babysit you and you screamed at night, because I couldn’t call the sound you made crying, I would sit you in your car seat on my Dad’s office chair and spin you in circles. Something about the motion calmed you.

When you would sleep, you would lie perfectly still, with your little hands in fists, and most of the time you slept on my chest right over my heart. You didn’t want to lay any place else and If I tried to move you, you would wake up, and the screaming would begin. I like to think you were comforted by the sound of my beating heart. I want you to know those quiet moments were some of the best in my life. Because somehow I knew, that you knew, that you were safe with me.

As the months went by and your personality developed so did your smile. I savored every moment that you directed that smile at me. Your entire face would transform and your eyes would sparkle. Your smile was and is a simple reflection of the love you have for those in your life and to this day at the age of eight that is still one of my favorite things about you.

When you got old enough to understand words and put them together there was no stopping what you would say and when. I even remember a day when your Dad and I had taken you to the mall. We went into a shoe store and as your Dad was waiting in line to buy his shoes you picked that moment to scream out “Stranger Danger!” Something we had been teaching you in the event that you were ever taken. You thought you were so cute with that one. But you know something? You remind me of myself a little bit with how quickly you pour words out of your mouth. It’s as if you can’t get what you’re thinking out quick enough. I have those moments too.

There are thousands of memories I could retell and millions of moments in your life that I’ll never forget, but what I cherish more than anything (now that your old enough to have meaningful conversations) is how you seem comfortable talking with me. You never shy away from answering questions I have for you or telling me what others might have said to you. You know in some silent telepathic way that I will always have your back. And I will always be honest with you.

That’s why I can honestly say that you have been one of the biggest highlights of my life. You brought a deeper love to my life that I didn’t think would be possible. When you hurt. I hurt. When you’re sad. I’m sad. When you’re excited I find myself getting excited right along with you. Your laugh is contagious, your spirit is remarkable, but your love is spectacular. A love that you give out so freely and effortlessly. You remind me of the good in the world. You remind me that innocence is something to protect and embrace. That adults could use more of it.

My vow to you is this:

  • I will do my best to be at any school activities or athletics that you choose to involve yourself in as long as you want me there.
  • I will help you with your homework if you choose to ask me to, but be patient with me as I may be a little rusty.
  • When you do decide to date I will give the girls/women you bring around the benefit of the doubt and will not be judgmental. However, I cannot promise I will not interrogate them.
  • I will stand by and support any and all decisions that you make in your life even if we do not agree on them.
  • I will do my best to give you advice when you ask for it and sometimes when you don’t.
  • If you need my help talking with your parents about subjects that you are uncomfortable with I promise to sit right by your side.
  • When you start to drive, if you need an instructor because your parents might be driving you a bit crazy (don’t worry we all go through it), I’m your gal.
  • I will celebrate every accomplishment with you and I will help you navigate every failure.
  • I will be at every birthday party, graduation, wedding, and when the times come the birth of your child.
  • I will lend my ear when you just want to vent, my shoulder when you need to cry, and my strength when you feel as if your world is crumbling.
  • My home is your home. It will be your safe harbor where you can weather your storms.
  • I promise to protect you. To cherish you. And to love you as long as I am alive.

And when the day comes that I am no longer physically a part of your world, know that even if you cannot see me, I am walking step by step beside you.

Love Always,

Auntie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask and You Shall Receive

uh173-a7d3f42b-b1b1-4ff7-9f13-0a4cea662442-v2.jpg

I spent the past week taking some time for myself. Living life and embracing the joys of what life can bring. It, however, didn’t stop me from having conversations with individuals about the state of our country and the black community in particular. I spoke to people from many different backgrounds and many different races. They posed a lot of interesting questions. I realize that I am only one person and my viewpoint is only one of many, but I openly answered whatever questions they had from my standpoint. I didn’t shy away from the conversation just because we didn’t agree. I didn’t get defensive. I spoke respectfully and honestly. And I realized that is all you can do. You may not change everyone’s mind that you come in contact with, but you can enlighten them. You can give them something to think about. You can change how they see your community. Sometimes it’s not about proving yourself right. Sometimes it’s only about opening up the line of communication so that they feel comfortable enough to walk through the door. And maybe just maybe learn something.

These are just excerpts of questions from longer conversations.

July 18th 2016 – July 24th 2016

You say. “I’m so tired of hearing about white privilege. I’m tired of hearing about racism. I’m tired of hearing about police brutality towards blacks. I’m tired of hearing about #black lives matter!”

My response. “You’re tired? You’re tired of hearing about these things? What particularly makes you exhausted? You hear, but you don’t listen. If you did, you wouldn’t be tired because you have nothing to be tired about. All you do is hear it. I LIVE it.”


You say. “I know what’s happening is wrong. I know there are changes that are needed. I just don’t know where to start.”

My response. “You just did. By listening. By communicating. By believing in those who are telling you how they are being treated. By acknowledging that there IS a problem. The first step is moving out of denial.”


You say. “It’s not my fault that I’m white and that I have this privilege.”

My response. “But it is your fault when you don’t acknowledge it. It is your fault when you try to sweep it under the rug. It is your fault when you stand by and do nothing.”


You say. “But what right do I have to say anything. I’m white. I don’t know the struggle.”

My response. “You have every right. If you believe in humanity. If you know the difference between right and wrong. You have the right. It may be my black communities struggle, but you have the right to help in our struggle. We may hold the torch and lead the way, but we don’t want to do it alone. We shouldn’t have to do it alone. And what is more important than you having the right, you have the privilege. A privilege that if wielded for the right reasons can help turn the tide. Division has never solved anything. It’s only made it worse.”


You say. “I’m only one person. What can I do about Racism?”

My response. “Tons. For instance, when I say it exists, don’t argue and tell me it doesn’t. Don’t belittle my experiences. One’s, by the way, that you’ve never had. Don’t tell me it’s all in my head. Don’t tell me not every white person is racist (I know this). Don’t ignore a system that was built on the oppression of my ancestors. LISTEN. Not everything I say needs a response from you.”


You say. “Sometimes I feel extremely uncomfortable talking about the subject of race and police brutality. I don’t know if I’m not asking the right questions or if I’m asking them wrong, but some individuals I ask seem to always become defensive. Which makes me nervous to ask any further questions. I know I don’t fully understand the struggle, but I’d like to.”

My response. “Keep trying. There are those who will be defensive, but there are those who will also be willing to dialogue about the issues. It takes an open mind on both sides and you won’t always have that, but don’t give up. It’s not an easy topic. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes it’s filled with tension. If the person you’re speaking to isn’t open enough to discuss it with you than find someone else. But know that sometimes a response isn’t necessarily defensive. Sometimes it’s filled with simple passion for a better life for their black family. But always be respectful in the conversation. That goes for both sides. ”


You say. “All Lives Matter.”

My response. “No they don’t. Not in the way you want to believe. In a perfect world, yes all lives would matter. But this isn’t a perfect world. YOUR life matters MORE than MINE.


You say. “Can you explain to me what #blacklivesmatter is?”

My response. “I can do you one better. Go to www.blacklivesmatter.com. They’ll do a better job of explaining it than I could ever do. It’s not just a hashtag. It’s a movement and to understand it you have to do the research. You have to look into what the movement stands for. I’m not trying to deflect your question I just want you to have the correct information. I don’t want to mislead you.”


You say. “Police brutality happens in every race. If people wouldn’t resist than the police wouldn’t have to use deadly force.”

My response. “Police use deadly force against blacks at a rate 2.5 times that of our white counterparts. Resistance isn’t the problem. It’s the view that black people are somehow less human than whites. It’s the assumption that every black person is a criminal. It’s the fact that when we are KILLED the story that is told after is not of our accomplishments, but of our criminal records. As if that justifies our deaths.”


You say. “Some people believe #blacklivesmatter is a divisive group? That it’s causing the separation. Do you think that’s what’s happening?”

My response. “It’s not divisive. It’s bringing to the forefront an issue that has been affecting black lives for years. Police brutality is not a new event. It has always been there. The cameras are what is new. You are now seeing what we in the black community have always seen. Black lives matter has never been a statement meant to make others believe that black lives are the only lives that matter. It’s a statement to make you aware that black lives should matter too. It’s only divisive to those who see it as saying “more.” The movement has NEVER said “more.”


You say. “What about black on black crime? Don’t you care what your own people are doing to each other?”

My response. “What about white on white crime? People kill individuals within the community they live in. It’s fact. White crime just isn’t sensationalized within the media like black crime. Once again that’s the privilege of being white. The issues can be handled within the white community in private while ours are plastered on headlines across the nation. We don’t have that privilege.”


You say. “I teach a class made up of mainly black children. When they ask questions about what is happening around the country I’m not sure how to answer. I know my perspective, but it comes from privilege. To me it doesn’t seem as bad as people make it out to be. But I think that’s my privilege blinding me and I don’t know how to get around that. They deserve to know the reality of their world, but how do I explain it to them if I don’t’ live it?

My response. “For the most part their parents have probably had many conversations with them on what’s going on in the country. What you’re getting asked about is the residual information that is being thrown at them through social media while they are at school or the conversations they are having amongst each other. Sometimes the best thing you can do is sit back and listen. Ask them what they’re parents have told them. Get an idea for the different viewpoints in their families and ask them how they feel and what they think? You don’t always have to have the answer. Let them puzzle it out and process it on their own. Make their own conclusions. Most often than not they just want to be heard. And then maybey you might start to understand. You may not live it, but you can always learn from other people’s experiences.”


You say. “You should focus more on raising better behaved children. Then maybe these altercations wouldn’t occur.”

My response. “All we do is teach our children to be respectful, polite, and follow instructions from authority. We KNOW the consequences if they don’t. Being compliant doesn’t save our children. Being educated doesn’t save our children. Being respectful doesn’t save our children. Having good manners doesn’t save our children. That’s been proven many times over. I’ve personally seen it. Why is it seen as an act of resistance when we ask a simple question of our police officers that is well within our rights? When do our rights as citizen’s matter? Let me ask you something. Since when did victim blaming become the new trend?”


You say. “I don’t want to be seen as the enemy. But I feel like sometimes I am before I’m ever given a chance. How do I stop that?”

My response. “You’re just getting a glimpse of how the media portrays the black community. It doesn’t feel good does it? To be demonized before you are ever truly known. With the tensions arising it’s more and more becoming an Us vs. Them mentality which we cannot afford. All I can tell you is to just be yourself. Be kind and compassionate. Be honest and loyal. Be HUMAN. Know that some individuals will always see you as the enemy and some individuals will truly see you. Just don’t give up. One person’s actions do not reflect the views of a whole group of people. Remember that.”


You say. “Not all police officers are bad!”

My response. “Yes I am well aware of that. But when those police officers who are doing their jobs correctly don’t condemn those who aren’t this is the outcome. Mistrust for all police officers. I mean it’s the same with how society views Black America. One Black Americans poor decisions or actions is a representation of us all right?”


You say. “How do you do it? How do you live like this? My husband and I adopted a child seven years ago. A little black boy. We are scared for him every second of every day of his life. How do you still continue to have hope?”

My response. “Because I believe in humanity. I believe in the good. I have faith. You can’t let the fear consume you. If you do they’ve won. The people who will tell your boy that he is nothing. The people who will make him feel less. The people who will hate him because of his skin. They win when we remain silent. They win when we lose compassion. They win when we hate. So I choose to hope. I choose to believe in the good in people. I choose to value those around me who are fighting with me. Living while black is hard. I won’t lie to you about that. It won’t be easy for him and on some days he won’t feel like it’s worth it. But do me a favor. Remind him of this. Tell him that a person’s character and strength does not come from what is easy in life. It comes from what is hard. From what pushes you to the brink and forces you to make a choice. And it’s in that moment of decision, the moment you choose to either go low or rise high, that you’ll find out what you’re truly made of. Tell him his character is not defined by the actions of others, but of his actions alone. Then tell him to choose wisely, and then as his parents, when he makes his choice you support him at all costs.”


You say. “Why do you have to make everything about race?”

My response. “Because America does. Any standardized test that you’re given as a child asks you to “check a RACE box”. College applications ask you to “check a RACE box.” When you are filling out applications for a job you are asked to “check a RACE box”. Race is the foundation of our country. It’s what we were built on. You think I started this? You think I perpetuate this? Think again.”


You say. “Aren’t you exhausted? Doesn’t it wear you out to be angry all the time?”

My response. “I’ve never been angry. I’m deeply hurt. I’m deeply disappointed. I’m deeply devastated, but never angry. You see, when I scream #blacklivesmatter, when I scream “stop killing us”, when I scream “hands up don’t shoot” it never comes from an angry place. It comes from a place where my morals won’t ALLOW me to believe that the killing of an unarmed individual in any situation is justified. Whether that individual is black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc. It comes from a place where I recognize and acknowledge that the lives of all matter, but at this moment in our history the lives of my people don’t. It comes from a place where the LOVE I have for my people is so strong that I cannot stay silent. I cannot stand by. I JUST CAN’T.”


You say. “Well aren’t you biracial? Or do you just not acknowledge your white community?”

My response. “I am biracial. I acknowledge my white community on most occasions. I can’t ignore it because my mother is white. My mother is an amazing human being. I am also aware of the privileges that can come with being biracial. That’s why I speak out against injustices. I have a very mixed group of acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. I can open dialogue between those of any color easily. That comes with part of my privilege. But you see, I also understand that my black community is suffering from an oppression that my white community has long since tried to deny. Being biracial doesn’t stop me from knowing right from wrong. It doesn’t stop me from wanting a better future for those in my black community. Because believe it or not I can scream from the top of my lungs that I’m biracial, but some in society have shown me on many occasions how they believe otherwise. I’m seen as black because when I get pulled over the box that is always marked is black.”


You say. “We have a black president. Racism can’t really exist.”

My response. “That was our mistake. That was our downfall. Having a black president didn’t erase racism. It didn’t dull it. It was only a step forward. But you see, people like you, will from now on excuse or be blind to racism because out of forty-four presidents we had one black president. That must mean were past it…”


You say. “I want to be a part of the solution. I don’t want to be a part of the problem any longer. Can you help me find a way?”

My response. “Absolutely.”

 

 

My Mind, My Heart, My Pain

FB_IMG_1470838867732_1.jpg

It was a day like any other day. A normal Wednesday. I woke up at the sound of my alarm, fixed my avocado, tomato, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich, and got ready for work. I hummed along to Frankie Beverly as I walked my dog around our apartment complex. I left for work, arrived on time, and started my work day. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Until there was.

As I scrolled through Facebook while on break as I do on most days, I came across a video. A video that had tears streaming down my face before the gunshots even rang out. Alton Sterling was being forcibly tackled to the ground and restrained. My heart broke in that moment for a man I didn’t even know. A man I would never get the chance to meet. But a man nonetheless. Someone who deserved to be treated with more dignity than they were allowing. I saw my brother, cousin, nephew, friend, and father in this man. I saw myself. I saw the years of mistreatment that black people have endured. I saw a slave and his master. Not because he was black and they were white, but because our bodies have never truly been our own. They were stripped of their humanity a long time ago. We are no more than a new form of slave. We don’t wear visible chains any longer. Just invisible ones. Chains in the form of stereotypes. Stereotypes that make it easier for people to justify the death of our black bodies. Even if there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Because a black man would never be forcibly tackled and restrained if he hadn’t done something first right? I was immediately angry and devastated at the same time. And so the tears flowed. Tears I couldn’t stop. And then came the gun shots. Not one, because one shot isn’t enough to subdue the black man, multiple shots are needed right? Pump as many bullets as you can into his black skin. Stop him at all costs. Never mind that he was on his back and restrained. Never mind that he had nowhere to go being wedged between a car and two men. Never mind the gun was removed from his pocket after he was shot. So the tears continued to flow as the screaming started. Not just the shouts and cries from the witnesses in the video, but the screaming in my head. The voice that constantly reminds me “Don’t get too comfortable! Be aware, be alert!” And so I cried, in my cubicle, at work, for the life of a man who I would never know.

I watched as social media blew up with exclamations of outrage, fear, pain, sorrow, and despair. I watched as those I loved tried to come to grips with what they had seen and what it meant for our community. I watched as black mothers moved from being afraid for their sons safety to being outright petrified. I watched as one such mother expressed the pain her fifteen year old son had to endure when he learned of his father’s death through a video. And I watched that same fifteen year old boy break down on national television for the loss of his father. My heart shattered. Every bit of faith I had, shattered along with it. It was just too much.

Fast forward to the next morning. I woke up trying to put the fragmented pieces of my faith back together. My heart was a goner, but I NEEDED to restore my faith. I prayed for the life of Alton and the lives of his family. I prayed for my family. I prayed for a sign that humanity would overcome. And then I prayed for myself. I asked GOD to help me to continue to walk in my faith. I asked God to shine his light on me in my darkest moments. I asked God to help me remain a faithful believer in hope and justice. And then I cried. I cried a lifetimes worth.

I thought that I would get to take a breath. That I could process my feelings and the events of the day before. But I was so horribly wrong. Less than twenty-four hours after the death of Alton Sterling I watched horrified as Philando Castile struggled to breath. I watched his incredibly composed fiancée live stream the last moments she would ever have with him. And then I heard their child’s voice say “It’s OK, Mommy. It’s OK, I’m right here with you.” My heart imploded. For the man who lay dying, for the woman who couldn’t come to his aid for fear of what would happen to her or her daughter, for the little girl too young to have seen what she saw and be as strong as she is. And then the anger and frustration slowly crept in. I had no more tears to shed. I was tired of crying. I was furious. When would enough be enough. When would people start to realize that the violation of the rights of black lives would eventually bleed into the rights of all citizens. When would people stop trying to justify the action of police officers who CLEARLY shouldn’t be justified. When would people show COMPASSION. Why is the death of an unarmed individual seen as acceptable?

That Thursday was one of the longest of my life. I watched social media explode yet again, but less from pain and sorrow and more from fury. The hate that we have tried for so long as a people to suppress from our hearts was starting to infiltrate. It was starting to take hold. Statements were being made that would make us the people we had fought so hard against. And then Thursday ended with the deaths of five police officers in Dallas at the hands of one man who decided his solution was the right solution. Who never represented a people or a movement. Who had his own demons. So I prayed. I prayed for divine intervention. WE could not end up being judge, jury, and executioner. As a people that is never who we have been. We are love, compassion, faith, strength, honor, dignity, and we believe in equality for all. We believe in humanity. I prayed for the lives of all individuals involved in the shootings in Dallas. And as I prayed I watched Facebook mourn as well. I watched as MY people mourned the loss of those police officers. I watched as MY people who fought for justice for our community also fought for justice for the lives of those slain officers. I watched as MY people remembered what we truly stand for. And the outpouring of love, compassion, and prayers from MY community to those who were injured and killed in Dallas reminded me that hate had not won.

It’s been a week since those events. A week of prayer. A week of discussion with family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. A week where the smoke has cleared, the rage has died down, but the cause has not been forgotten. We still have work to do. But my focus now is on me. I have to take care of myself. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop fighting injustice. That doesn’t mean I’m going to remain quiet. That doesn’t mean I will forget. It simply means my mental health is IMPORTANT. I cannot keep going at this rate. WE cannot keep going at this rate. It is taking its toll on all of us. At some point self-care has to be a priority. We cannot make wise decisions for the future of our community, of our country if we are worn down, if we are not emotionally stable and mentally sound. Check in on your loved ones. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how they are processing everything. Be the sound board they so desperately need. And then take time for yourself. Disconnect from social media if need be, play Pokémon Go, read a book, spend time with your family. Acknowledge that your mind needs a break. As much as you want to fight the good fight. You cannot do it all the time and still come out unscathed. Whole. If you don’t take care of your mental health parts of your humanity is lost. Do something other than replaying over and over again the violence that is being shoved in your face. Because ultimately you become desensitized to the issue. And the issue is that UNARMED American (black specifically) citizens are being shot by police officers in cases where there is no bodily threat to the police officer. But you won’t see that if all you see daily is death. You WILL start to justify actions that should be unjustifiable. So take the time for yourself. Give your mind a break. Heal.

 

 

 

 

When You UNDERSTAND #Blacklivesmatter Is When #Allives WILL Matter

Black-Lives-Matter-quotes.png

I’m trying my best to remain in my faith. To believe in a future where my black brothers and sisters will be equals to every other race. Where society will see them as humans. Where they will be treated with respect, dignity, and considered citizens of the United States and not criminals.

I’m trying my best to believe in humanity. To believe the good in the world will outweigh the evil. That people will open their eyes to the injustices that are happening around them. That they will stand with those who are marginalized, discriminated against, and profiled.

I’M TRYING.

But my patience is being TRIED.

My compassion is being tested.

My peace has been shattered.

Every time a new video emerges of a black man or woman being manhandled, shot, choked, and killed by a member of a police department that was sworn to protect and serve. I am outraged. Not just because of the way we are treated as sub humans. But because of the way those with privilege see the handling of our bodies, when treated as rag dolls, as being the culmination of our own actions and “resistance.” That the blame lies with us and not those who we are supposed to place our faith in.

Stop telling us if we hadn’t resisted things could have turned out differently. Any normal humans flight or fight instincts will kick-start when bodily harm is being done. You don’t just sit there and let a person kick you repeatedly in the ribs while lying on the ground. Your natural instinct is to either move to avoid the blows or curl up to protect the area that is being attacked. You don’t just let someone pick you up off of the ground and body slam you to the pavement without some form of flailing of your arms and legs. You don’t lay motionless as you are being tasered. Your body shakes, thrashes, and convulses. When you are being tackled by a grown man you don’t just let him drive you into the ground with the full weight and momentum of his body. You tense, and twist to place yourself in a better position to take the impact. This IS NOT resistance. This is our natural survival instincts as humans.

I FEAR for the black males in my family. A fear that those with privilege will never understand. A fear that is so all consuming that as I look towards my future and my wants. I realize I would avoid having a son at all costs. Not because I don’t want one, but because I don’t want to have to explain to my son what profiling is. I don’t want to have to explain to my son that he will be seen as a criminal first and a human second. That fear of his skin will make others act irrationally. I don’t want to have to explain to my son that the school to prison pipeline could be his future. I don’t want to have to explain to my son even if he has the best education, career, etc he will still be labeled only by his skin. I don’t want to have to stand on the sidelines and watch my son navigate a world that was built to oppress him. I don’t want to live with the knowledge that I can’t protect him. I don’t want to have his life prematurely ended because of the stereotypes and views the world has on the black male. That pain would be too much to bear.

So I pray. I pray every day that each morning when I wake up there won’t be a new video of a senseless killing of one of my black brothers and sisters. I pray that I don’t see a press conference where a mother mourns her son in the public eye because that’s the only way to seek justice. To put your pain in front of millions. To force our police departments to acknowledge that a “human” was killed not just a “black boy.” I pray for my brother, my nephew, my cousins, my uncles, and my father. I pray for the day that I won’t have to tell them to “be careful” every time I leave them. I pray for the day when I don’t have to ask them to let me know when they get home. I pray for the day I can finally breath because I’m always holding my breath. Always worried. Always scared.

I WANT to have faith in our police officers. I want to believe they are here to protect and serve. I know fundamentally not all of them are bad. But when you as a police officer can watch a video of one of your own outright MURDER a black man and NOT say something. I have no faith in you. When you can watch a man be pinned to the ground with nowhere to go, no way to move, be unarmed and STILL be shot and you STILL say nothing. I have no faith in you. When you get asked by a radio DJ “This looks bad right” and you CAN’T even agree that the video you’ve seen ‘LOOKS BAD.’ I have no faith in you. When you let your fear control your actions and reactions towards people of color. I have no faith in you.The actions of a few reflect on the many because the many NEVER say anything. You swore to protect and serve the citizens of your state, of the country. Part of protecting is speaking out when an injustice has occurred. You want my faith in you. You need to earn it.

I am tired. So very tired. Of having to make the same statements over and over again. I’m tired of having to explain to other people, mainly white, what it means to be black. I’m tired of having to PROVE that we are treated differently. As if my experience, my cousins experiences, my black male friends experiences, are all made up. I don’t speak out on #blacklivesmatter because I’m telling you that your life doesn’t matter and mine matters more. I speak out for you to understand my life, my brothers, my nephew’s, my uncles, and my father’s life should matter the same as yours. I speak out because we have been silent for too long. I speak out because I pray for the day when #alllivesmatter. But that day is not today. What I speak of is not a direct attack on you as a person. It is an attack on a system that for hundreds of years has oppressed my people. If you take it as a personal attack, that says more about you than it does me. You see, I get it makes you uncomfortable. But I’ve been uncomfortable my whole life. You can deal. I’ve had to.

I won’t apologize for my anger or my frustration. I won’t apologize for my outrage. The system is broken and it’s killing those of color. Not just at the hands of white cops. But at the hands of school administrators who use their “discretion” to suspend a 12 year old black boy from school for “staring” at a white girl, while said white girl the day before had poured milk all over another student, but had received no punishment. An occurrence that black children are all too familiar with and in some cases lead to the school to prison pipeline. A system that is killing those of color at the hands of court systems that have been locking up black men for decades for the distribution of marijuana that has now “miraculously” become legal for medicinal use in 25 states and yet these men still remain behind bars. A system that is killing those of color by gentrifying black neighborhoods and pushing those black residents and black owned businesses to the poorer areas within cities. A system that is killing those of color by allowing those of privilege to bury their heads in the sand and believe that racism doesn’t exist.

I know the backlash I could get from this blog post. I know the arguments that can arise from it. To be perfectly honest. I don’t care. If you are not for a solution than you are a part of the problem and your opinion means nothing. I mean you’ve been telling us for years pretty much the same thing. To stay quiet. To not make waves. Don’t rock the boat. As Jesse Williams so eloquently put in his acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards “If you have no interest, if you have no interest, in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”

Stay at Home Dad, Yes Please!

By: Scott Pepin FB_IMG_1467392018605

I want to preference this article by saying I find myself applying gender roles when it comes to my son. These roles have been engrained in me by my parents, grandparents as well as their past generations. I am working on trying to change that mindset in myself for my son and future generations.

A little background on me, I grew up with basically a single mom for most of my life. She filled the role of mom and dad as well as the only source of income for our family, often working two jobs, and never really having a day off. So when it came to it she filled all roles regardless of her gender. I think this has played a significant part in me being willing to change my attitude towards typical gender roles as I have started my own family.

I am a chef by trade but now I am a stay at home dad with a son almost 21 months old. My wife works in the corporate world in a job that can be pretty demanding and also stressful. I am fortunate to have a wife that can support me being at home as well as us financially. She is a strong independent woman and a great mom. So when it comes to typical gender roles the book has been pretty much flipped in my house.

I have noticed especially with men in my generation that it has become more common to see this example of breaking  thetypical gender roles in this way, which is awesome. Just about every SAHD I know seems to not mind staying home and taking care of things. This is definitely a good sign for future generations of men and women pertaining to gender roles.

Now on the flip side there are a lot of men and women who still do not get or understand this, which is unfortunate. A lot of them make assumptions about me when they find out I am a SAHD. Oh he can’t get a job or he is lazy that’s why he stays home. They don’t express this verbally but I can see it in their eyes when they look at me judgingly. The sad part is they have no idea I am fully capable and love being a SAHD. I would never give it up for anything. Don’t get me wrong there are tough days. Also I miss being in a restaurant kitchen because I love being a chef but being with my son during the early years is truly priceless.

I get questions from other dads that work, about how I do it? Why do I do it? Do I feel like less of a man? Does my wife wear the pants in the family? All these questions are asked because of typical gender roles. It’s like they think it’s a bad thing to be home to take care of the kids and the house and like it’s the woman’s job to do that.  I feel sorry for them because they do not get to know their kids like I get to know my son.

In the end for a lot of people typical gender roles still apply. I think it’s important to teach our children to not rely on typical gender roles and to be themselves no matter what society dictates. We would all be better off being ourselves instead of worrying about gender roles.

Housewife I Am Not, Career Woman I Am

GENDER-ROLES-4.png

In the 1950’s women were told that their place was in the home. Be homemakers they told us. Cook the meals, clean the house, take care of the children, and fulfill the needs of your husband. Men were the breadwinners. Get a job or career they were told. Bring in the money, be the head of the household, and be the voice for the family. Society had for lack of a better word “boxed” up women and men into what it deemed the roles of each gender. Never mind that the term “gender roles” was created by a man. A man named John Money who during his research into intersexual individuals was hoping to find a way to help those who had no biological assignment, figure out a way to define themselves as either a man or a woman. A term that he so casually defined for what he saw within his own household and those of his peers. Does that mean that they were ever correct? I don’t believe so. There weren’t many other choices at the time. Yes women could work. Most of the women who worked, however, were young and single, divorced, widows, or poor married women. Even then most of the job functions they were given were catered towards what fit their “gender role”. Examples of jobs available to women were caretakers, cooks, nannies, maids, midwives, clothes ironers, tailors, etc. It wasn’t until World War II when women had to join the workforce while their husbands went off to war that the roles started to change and develop. Women got a glimpse into what the future could hold. Jobs that they could work that had nothing to do with their gender role. Does that mean that before World War II they never thought of having careers outside of what fit their role? I don’t think so.

History shows that the marginalized are always silenced to be kept in control. While women were making progress in society in the fight for equality, at home their voices were still silent. They had an opinion, but the final say was not there’s. Just because they chose to conform into the gender role that they were placed in does not mean that they didn’t want something better for themselves. That was proven by the women’s liberation movement. It also doesn’t mean that men didn’t want something better for their wives or even themselves. Societal pressures can be damaging.

Fast forward to today. The Women’s Bureau has projected that women in the workforce will account for fifty-one percent of the total labor force growth between the years of 2008 and 2018. There are over 123 million women ages sixteen and over in the US. Seventy-two million (58.6 percent) are labor force participants. We’ve come along way in the fight for equal rights and yet we have a way to go. The “traditional” gender roles don’t necessarily exist any longer. But is that a bad thing?

I don’t believe in gender roles. Specifically the traditional ones. That was a different era, a different time. There were fewer choices for men and women. The ideals were different. Society has changed. It’s evolved. It’s working towards seeing everyone as human beings instead of women, men, black, white, straight, gay, etc. People are fighting to be seen and treated as equals. Being able to see another individual as a human first is essential. None of us think, speak, or behave the same. Our wants and needs aren’t the same. So why try to slap a role onto an individual that doesn’t fit them as a person?

Speaking for myself. I love to work. I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom. Not because I don’t believe I wouldn’t succeed in it. But because once my children were old enough to be in school I’d get bored. Taking care of a home, for me, isn’t challenging enough. Scratch that, it would be challenging enough, it just wouldn’t be mentally stimulating enough. Does that mean I want to be the sole breadwinner of the household. No. If my husband wanted that title he could have it. But I don’t feel right as an individual when I can’t contribute in some way, financially. If that meant taking care of the kids financially, paying part of the utilities, or paying for vacations than I’m good with any of those options. I would want my husband to understand he has an equal partner. That the sole responsibility of finances for the household may rely on him because that’s the agreement we would have come to as a couple, however,  if there ever came a time when I needed to step in and help than I would be more than capable. We do a disservice as men and women when we believe a woman shouldn’t be self-sufficient. She should be able to survive without a man because you can’t foresee what will happen tomorrow. What happens when you suddenly lose your husband and the sole source of income? It’s something that has to be thought about. Prepared for.

As for men. I commend those who have chosen to be stay-at-home dads. To know that what brings you the most happiness and joy in life is taking care of your children is wonderful. Taking on a role that for so many decades has only been seen as a woman’s “job” takes strength. It’s not any less masculine to be a caregiver than it is to be a provider. In my opinion it makes you more masculine. Because you recognize that there is more to being a man than being the gender stereotype. We need to change the conversation when it comes to the masculinity of a man. Showing emotions, being compassionate, being caring, being nurturing as a man are all beautiful attributes. Much needed attributes. Those attributes are what help bridge the gap between men and women. You have a choice. You can either conform to society’s view of masculinity or you can write your own definition.

We live in an age where there are so many opportunities for people of both genders. Where the normal gender stereotypes are slowly being broken down. It’s a beautiful thing as it allows for the changing of roles. We focus too much on the “gender role” that we didn’t even define for ourselves. We let one man make a decision on what he believed the roles should be and as a society we agreed to it. Then later as society evolved and marginalized groups started obtaining equal rights we got confused and uncertain as to how relationships should work if the roles weren’t in the right place. But the focus is wrong. It’s not about what role you play in the relationship. It’s about the AGREEMENT on the roles you CHOOSE to play in the relationship. That does not mean that as the relationship evolves the agreement can’t be altered or changed. It’s the exact opposite. Relationships are built on communication and compromise. As the relationship evolves so will the agreement. Because what you may have initially thought to be a role you could fulfill, may not be and vice versa. It isn’t a set in stone agreement. It morphs and adapts to what works best for both individuals. You see you are not dealing with a slave. You are not dealing with a servant. You are dealing with a human being. And as such our mindsets change. It’s inevitable that growth happens. A role I agreed to in the now may not work later.

I see gender roles as another form of a box to place individuals in. Another way to categorize humans that were never meant to be categorized. But that’s just me. Some individuals like the idea of gender roles and others do not. I don’t judge. What I will say is this. The only people who know what roles are best in their relationship are the people in it. As long as they have agreed to what will produce the best outcome for their future together that’s all that matters. Us outsiders, should mind our own business.