Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Bag Tax – Skinning the Cat

Why do I have to pay for bags when I shop in the city? On February 1, 2017, the city of Chicago imposed a bag tax. Consumers purchasing products within the city limits are asked to bring our own reusable bags or pay. The bags are 7 cents a piece of which the city will get 5 cents and the retailers will get the remaining 2. According to a Chicago Tribune article, the city stands to make 12.9 million dollars.

We pay for air. We pay for water to drink and then we pay tax on that. Soon we’re going to pay a tax on sweetened beverages. We pay to have our garbage picked up, and beginning July 1, we’ll pay a water and sewerage tax. At some point, as consumers and residents we have to stand up. We cannot keep normalizing this foolishness. This bag tax is another way for the city to piss on us and tell us it’s rain. I know what the stench of disregard for residents smells like, and this bag tax is it. Does the mayor pay the bag tax?

The bag tax is supposed to encourage people to recycle. And I definitely believe in recycling, but why be punitive? Why not give us 7 cents for bringing our own bags?  Retailers have that option.  Pete’s Produce pays 5 cents to customers for bringing bags. That’s a better idea to me. We pass too many costs on to the consumer in a city that pretends to be broke but is always being beautified in areas that attract tourists. The city had money to pay for the Cubs win and we always seem to have enough money for the die the lake green every year for St. Patrick's Day.

I’m sick of feels being imposed on, and I don’t see where it benefits me. Downtown Chicago is beautiful. The north side is lovely. The south where I live is full abandoned properties. The streets are in need of repair and we are under siege from the violence in our own neighborhoods. At What point do we individually and collectively say, “That’s enough?” Well, I'm saying that's enough.

I refuse to pay for bags. I don’t care if they are only 7 cents. That money adds up. I can easily solve my problem because I don’t have to shop in the city. I can take my hard earned dollars to the nearby suburbs, and I will when I want to do major shopping. But what about the people who don’t have the means to shop anywhere else but in the city? They will be hardest hit by this bag tax, so they’ll have to bring their own bags or ante up that cash for bags. This is my Resistance! I will not pay for bags.

Incident #1 I forgot about the bag tax when I went into Walgreens to purchase a few things. The cashier asked if I needed a bag, I said no and proceeded to put my stuff into my pockets and my purse.

Incident #2 I went to Family Dollar to get some dog food. This time I was ready. I placed my bag on the counter, but because I didn’t hand my bag to the cashier, she assumed I was bagging my own stuff. She explained that if customers give her the bags, she will gladly bag their stuff. I wasn’t exactly clear on who does the bagging when I bring my own bags, so I let it go because I needed clarity.

Incident #3 I went to pick up a prescription for my mother from Walgreens and decided to pick some items to do laundry. The cashier asked if I wanted to purchase a bag. I said no and placed my bag on the counter. She gave me my change and moved on to the next customer. So, I asked if I had to bag my own stuff. She said yes. I walked out of the store thinking about this and decide against it. I walked back into the store and ask for a refund. She was irritated and so was I, but I was not blaming her. I explained that I know that she has to do her job, but I’m not bringing my own bag and bagging my stuff.  I went home and wrote a complaint to Walgreens. Though they acknowledged the complaint, I did not receive a call back as requested.

Incident #4 I went to Target and bought a few items. I realized when I got to cashier that I had left my bag in the car. I had more stuff than would fit in my pockets and purse. So, I asked her to hold my stuff until I went to my car and came back. She did. I ended up bagging my own stuff because the cashier was kind enough to keep an eye on it until I came back.

To combat this bag tax, I realize that I have to have a strategy. I went to Mariano’s which is outside of the city limits, so the bags are free. I purchased a couple of reusable bags to keep in my car. When I go to Target in the suburbs, I’m going to reuse those bags as well. My mother has always told me that there is more than one way to skin a cat. This cat will need nine lives before I pay a bag tax. 

What are your thoughts on the bag tax? Do you think it encourages recycling? Leave a comment in the comment section.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Teacher’s Worst Nightmare

It’s been a long and challenging week. I have not been able to erase the memory of a former student from my mind. I keep seeing his round brooding face as he sat in my class. And now he’s dead. He was one of three young men found shot to death in a car. One of the other young men is also a former student. Though I did not teach him, I did have both of his younger brothers. My former student also has a younger brother who is a student in our school now.

My student’s death is troubling because he predicted it. Like too many young Black males he thought death at an early age was inevitable. So, he didn’t think about his future; He didn’t plan for one. When he was in 7th grade, I asked the students to write an essay where they saw themselves in 10 years

“You’ll be in your early 20s. Will you still be in school? Will you have a job? Will you be married? What will you be doing?” I like to ask students to begin thinking about their future. And I tell them it’s ok if they aren’t sure or don’t know. I also explain that as time goes on they may change their minds.

My student raised his hand. I acknowledged him.

“I don’t want to do this assignment,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“No disrespect, but I don’t think I’ll live that long.” There was no bitterness or anger in his voice. It was just matter of fact.

His words stilled me. I didn’t push him to complete the assignment. Instead I talked to him about why he didn’t think he’d live that long. I learned that tragedy had been visited upon his family. He had an older brother to die tragically and another in jail for murder. These two brothers would show up in his writing, and I encouraged him to write about it. To get it out. He seemed open to the idea, but he never wrote in any depth. 

At the time, I was teaching writing twice a week to students in grades 5th through 8th.  I had multiple classes at each grade level totaling nine classes. So, I had close to 300 hundred students.  Though we talked a few times, the student and I did not form a close bond. As is typical of teenagers, we actually locked horns on occasion, but nothing major. Adolescents challenging adults is par for the course.
He graduated and went on to the neighborhood high school, and I would see him standing around with a group of guys from time to time. I’d blow and they’d wave and I kept going. Unlike other students who graduated, he never came back to visit. 

This week, I was looking for a letter of recommendation for a student that I had written when I ran across an essay my deceased student had written in 8th grade. I was trying to get students to enter a contest in which they wrote about barriers they faced in their lives. I opened up his essay and read it. It was about missing his brothers and not being able to trust anyone. I had made comments on it for his revision, but he never did the second draft nor did we talk about it. It was spring and the only thing on the minds of the 8th graders was graduation.

What I wrestle with his how do you give hope to the hopeless? I wonder did I do enough? What else could I have done when this type of thinking is so common among young Black men? If they don’t think they’re going to die, then they think they’ll end up in jail. So they live a life of urgency—of right now.

There are people whose lives are tragically cut short taking their dreams with them. But what do you say to a person who doesn’t dream? I don’t know. I have experienced the death of a student, and it never gets easier. Looking down into a casket of a young person gone before they’ve lived is one of a teacher’s worst nightmares.

He predicted he wouldn’t see his 20s.  And now he’s dead at 18.  He thought Death would come knocking? Was it a premonition or a self-full-filling prophecy? Did he ignore the knocking or throw the door open in defiance? Questions that have no answers. Questions that no longer matter for him.  Until we find some answers, others will follow.

My student did not find peace in life; I can only pray that he finds peace on the other side.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dancing Kizomba in the Age of Trump

Kizomba is this incredibly sexy dance out of Angola that I've fallen in love with since I began taking classes with Black Diamond a little over a year ago. It's a couple's dance that's all about connection. When the chemistry is right between lead and follow, partners flow into each other like water running in a stream. It's so sensuous; so fluid. 

In Kizomba, connection is extremely important. It's not about complex combinations or fancy foot patterns. It's about occupying the same space at the same time and moving in sync. A dance with just the basics can be wonderfully danced if the partners are connected. The basic steps are relatively easily, but because they can be done in any variety of ways, combinations are endless. Kizomba is easy to learn, but hard to master. It is a dance where the follow (usually a woman) must submit to the lead (usually a man). 

As a single and independent woman, I'll admit that submission can be challenging for me sometimes. I'm accustomed to doing what I want when I want. That only works in free style dancing.  Having belly danced in a troupe for years, I understand the importance of connection.  Truth be told, I'm not really opposed to submitting. I just don't want to just follow any ol' body. I need to know if the person is capable of leading me--even on the dance floor. 

My Kizomba was getting better. I was learning to be patient with the bad leads--the self-proclaimed Kizomba expert after 3 classes, the lead foot, rhythm less lead whose dance feels like a waltz with Frankenstein, and the no confidence lead who likes to walk their partners into the wilderness of dance. I was learning not to back lead just because I knew the combinations and to trust my lead--and myself.

I had settled into dancing Kizomba--closing my eyes and relaxing into my partner. And then the election happened. And I found out that some of regular Kizomba leads actually voted for the current president occupying the White House. My Kizomba took a hit! And I'm still wounded from the injury. I was shocked because I didn't take them to be Trumplethinskin supporters. 

I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter. There was no place for politics on the dance floor. I kept telling myself that we can leave our differences aside and just enjoy the dance. Music and dance are unifiers; they don't discriminate. But I must confess it's been hard. As 45 and his minions go to work undoing the progress that has been made, and making the world a scarier place, I don't know how to dance with leads whose ideology so violently clashes with mine. 

What had been a clear channel of connectedness is now clouded. All I hear is static in the background when we dance. These are the trumpeters that I do know. What about the ones that I don't know? I could be having a great dance with a lead who wears a Make America Great cap on the weekends. I could be dancing with someone who supports legislation that harms my existence as a woman of color, so now I find myself side eyeing leads wondering if I'm dancing with the enemy. 

So I go to class and keep my mouth closed. I don’t want to know who else is rolling with The Donald. In this case, ignorance is bliss. As for the Trump leads, I do know, I don't engage in conversation with Them; I can't. I have tried to understand Their way of thinking. I have listened and read numerous articles, but why women and people of color voted for this administration will remain one of life's greatest mysteries. 

And I know someone reading this is thinking that I'm being irrational, petty or whatever, but my feelings are my feelings. I just need time to work through them as we often do when we think we’ve been betrayed. I'm not irrational--strong willed maybe. I was talking to a fellow Kizomba dancer and friend, Santana and she tried to reason with me. 

"Stephanie they,  have a right to vote for whoever they want."

"I know that," I retorted.  "And I have a right to be mad about it."

 Did she forget that I have to dance with these people? I have to trust them? How can I close my eyes and surrender when I need one eye open?

What I know is this too shall pass and maybe,  just maybe I'll get back to dancing the dance I want to dance. At least, that's what I hope will happen. If not, I'm going to have to start vetting potential leads before I settle into a potential dance partnership with them. My love of Kizomba depends on it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We the People

Photo courtesy of ABC
We the people-- black, brown, white. Women, men, and children. Old and young--gathered together in Chicago, across the country and around the world last weekend in order to from a more perfect union which is truly representative of what America is in all of its diversity. We the people, hundreds of thousands of us stood in solidarity around the world.  We came to establish justice for marginalized people struggling to be recognized as human beings. We came to challenge a “Just Us” system of mass incarceration that targets Black and brown and poor. We came to insure domestic tranquility at home and abroad. We came as citizens, immigrants, and refugees. We came as keepers of the promise. We came so that our voices are heard loud and clear. Make no mistake! We came to provide for the common defense of all the people—not some of people. We came to make America live up to its potential for greatness for we know that we as a nation, are only as strong as our weakest link. We came to hold up and lift up the weakest among us. So, we came to secure the blessings of liberty for those seeking to be free—free from police brutality, free from racial caste systems, free from poverty, free from religious persecution. We came to be able to love who love. We came to be who we are and not what others want us to be. We came to secure make good on the promise of emancipation to ourselves and our posterity—our children, and grandchildren and the children not yet born who deserve a better America than we have. We were women demanding to be recognized as first class citizens. We were men supporting our mothers, wives, and daughters. We were people of color not wanting to be treated like “other” than human beings deserving of respect. We the people do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America –all of America, not the divided states of America. We came to stake our claim of that which belongs to us We the people; we are America. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A TTs’ Tribute to her Nieces and Nephews

As I stood in the shower with the warm water running off my body, thoughts of my great nephew Elijah who was born on January 11, 2017 came to me. He is the last of my six greats born in the last two years. Elijah is the son of my youngest niece Jasmine. I was in the delivery room with my sister Debra during Jasmine’s birth. Recovering from surgery at the time, I didn’t have anything else to do so I went to the hospital. 

Witnessing her birth is one of my most treasured memories because it is the closet I will ever come to childbirth. You see, I am a childless aunt. I never planned on not having children; it just happened that way. With no children of my own, I poured into my six nieces and three nephews—Rhonda, Sabrina, Steven, Khalilah, LaNita, Racquel, Brandon, Marcus and Jasmine. And I will pour into this new brood, but in a different way. 

In this role since I was two years, it is a title I have worn all of my life. I can’t remember not being a TT, and I have taken my auntie duties seriously trying to be the aunt I think they need me to be. Fiercely protective, I want nothing but the best that life has to offer them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re good, I’m good. 

I have tried to be a good aunt. My siblings read to me, and so I read to my nieces and nephews (most of them anyway). They were my constant companions because we are closer in age than I am to my siblings. Before I could drive, I was dragging them around on the bus going to the movies and the museums. We played laser tag and Whirly Ball and went bouncing on trampolines well into my adult years. I am allowed to attend their cousins’ only outings because I am an Honorary Cuzo.

Wanting them to see the best of themselves, I bought books with characters who looked like them. I bought cards and dolls with brown faces. I combed and braided hair. I wanted them to have cultural experiences, so I arranged trips to see Muntu Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and plays. Cultural and ethnic representation was essential.

I gave them advice—even when they didn’t ask for it. Sometimes I pushed; other times I pulled back. I tried to remind them of who they were and was expected of them as a member of our family. Sometimes I judged when I shouldn’t have. I just wanted them to better than me. No matter what, I have tried to be a presence in their lives that they could always count on. I wanted them to know that I was always there if they needed me. 

They are grown, married, and moved away. They have families of their own now. Among them there are six children: Jahari, 20, is Steve’s son. Bryce is Sabrina’s son and he’s 11. Solomon and Luke are Racquel’s twins and they are a year-old. They share a birthday with their cousin Layla. She is Khalilah’s daughter and she’s four weeks old. Bringing up the rear is Elijah who is 4 days old. Rhonda and Brandon live out of town, and Marcus recently moved out on his own. I have enjoyed being who they needed me to be: Steph, TTSteph Nanie, and TiTi/Mama. This TT’s work is done.

Being a great aunt is not the same as being an aunt. There is more space in between. It’s not like being a grandparent because it doesn’t carry the same weight in the world. My nieces and nephews are now the aunts and uncles to their niece and nephews, and they will love fiercely, too. We are a close knit family.

They are all doing well, and I am awed by not only their professional accomplishments but their growth as human beings as well. They are smart, funny, compassionate and just all-around good people. My role in their lives is changing—as it should. I have given them all I have to give. And while I mourn the loss of my evolving role, I rejoice in watching them be parents and aunts and uncles to the next generation.

 I hope that I have left them with something that they will pass on. And so, yes I will step back into the shadow and watch them mold the next generation of greatness. I look forward to a whole new set of experiences with the greats as the legacy continues.
A multitude of emotions swirled inside as I stood in the shower thinking back over the years, weeks and days leading up to Elijah’s entrance into the world. Nostalgia at all of our shared experiences, pride in who we are, humility in where we’ve come from, gratitude for the many blessings, and sadness at what is no more. But more than anything I felt the love that still carries us through. And so today I salute my nieces and nephews for doing what it is that they do—making the world a better place.