Sunday, March 25, 2012

Race in America Part 1 - Trayvon Martin

“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking at an Operation Push meeting in the 90s.

Following the Trayvon Martin story, I don’t know how I feel. My emotions are all over the place: I’m angry, I’m frustrated, and I am saddened by the travesty. Trayvon Martin should be alive. From all accounts, George Zimmerman’s zealous actions snuffed out the life of an innocent young man.

Like others, I am disturbed by the implications of this story. I fear for the Trayvon Martins in my life who are victimized for no other reason than Breathing While Black (BWB). Racism is real. Racial profiling is real. I know because I have experienced it. Everybody's incensed and outraged but who among us has not pointed a metaphorical finger at a Trayvon figure? Who hasn't come in contact with a Black male figure and felt our hearts quicken only to exhale sighs of relief when they pass us by just as Jesse Jackson said in the previous statement? Many of us, if not most of us, suffer from Scary Black Male Syndrome, a malady that is fed to us daily without question until tragedy strikes.

Like it or not, in a society that has cultivated the image of the Scary Black Male, hoodies and other styles of dress feed the myth. In my work, I know that my students are just wearing what’s trending, but a hooded figure is a more menacing one and its presence on boys of color in our society just stokes the stereotypical flame burning within too many of us. While I understand gravity of the situation before us, what I don’t understand is why the premature violent death of any child or young person is not a cause for us to be alarmed? What measures are taking to prevent tragedy rather than react in the aftermath?

In urban cities every day, our children’s blood spills into the streets. A couple of weekends ago in Chicago there were 58 shootings, 10 of them fatal. Among them was Aliyah Shell, a six-year old girl whose body was riddled with bullets in what appears to be a gang-related retaliation at someone in her family. She was six; she wasn’t gangbanging! On March 3, Bo Morrison, a 20 year-old African-American male was also killed in Slinger, Wisconsin. He, too was unharmed, but was shot to death because a man felt threatened. Bo had been at a party and was drinking, and the police were called because of the loud, rowdy behavior of the party participants and Bo tried to run and hide to avoid getting a citation. He hid on the man’s back porch, and when the man saw Bo, he shot him. According to the news accounts, Bo seemed to be a decent person who made a stupid mistake that cost him his life.

Trayvon Martin’s story is everywhere as it should be. But where are the online petitions, the marches and the vigils for the Aliyahs and Bos. Who do we take to the streets for, change our profile pictures and our status to reflect a sense of solidarity? How does the tragic death of one who will never have another birthday or see a graduation supersede that of another? I’m just asking.

Another thing that bothers me about this case, is focus on how to come out of a racist encounter alive. I have read the online letters to unborn sons, advice to black boys about how to avoid being the next Trayvon Martin, but nothing I’ve read gives them advice on how to stay alive in a situation with a trigger man who looks just like him, and is filled with so much self-hatred-- a bi-product of racism that killed Trayvon and allows his killer to be free--that the shooter devalues anyone who looks like him? We’re teaching them how to navigate through the racial jungle, but what about the intra-racial jungle awaiting them?

When George Zimmerman is charged, and the symbolic hoodies come off, then what? Will we go back to life before Trayvon just like we did with Troy Davis? We were outraged when Darion Albert, the Fenger High School student was beaten to death, but how much has changed? Is there a safer passage going to and from schools today? Do we know? Do we care? Darion’s death was thrust into the spotlight when the video of his beating went viral. But he would have been another casualty of urban violence had not the world been watching Chicago in its Olympic bid.

Is this a galvanizing movement for much needed social change in this country or is this just another trending topic for the day? Where do we go from here?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

5 “Must-reads” That Should be in Every Woman’s Personal Library

Happy Women's History Month! There are still a few more days to recognize the awesomeness of women, and I'd like to introduce you to a mentor-woman friend of mine who is here to share wisdom on being the best woman that you can be. Enjoy!

As we celebrate National Women’s History Month, I am reminded of all the sisterly support and growth I have experienced over the years, from the wisdom of women.

Sometimes this edification and guidance comes by way of sage advice from girlfriends in my “Fave five” group; other times it shows up through empowering reads offered up by my favorite female authors.

Either way, it’s a God-send.
Words are powerful. They enable us to share “ah-ha” moments, provide healing, offer hope, transcend, and feel connected through universal experiences.
Even the “Good book” extols its virtues.

With this in mind, here are five bodacious books that will inspire and enrich you in your journey to wholeness.

Helen Reddy said it best in a popular mantra from many years ago, “I am woman hear me roar!”
Here’s to our collective awesomeness!

Note: These titles are either authored by females or written for the female audience. Many of these books are available online or at your local book store.

1. Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs---Edited by Vicki Ward
This diverse, dynamic collection of stories from women across the world is the perfect “blend” of true stories on love, loss, renewal, survival and friendship. What I also enjoy about this title, is that the stories are short, but substantive. Readers can sample one story at a time, or go from cover to cover, with a minimal investment of time. Something today’s busy readers can appreciate. I give it five stars!

2. The Little Book of Inner Space---By Stafford Whiteaker
Consisting of approx 150 pages, and compact enough to fit in your pocket jeans, this little dynamo packs a mean punch! You’ll find an array of meditations, affirmations, and quotes for the mind, body and spirit. Prepare to lose your excess baggage and be enlightened!

3. He‘s Just Not That Into You---By Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
This popular relationship guide serves as a reality check for many women. It decodes the double talk of “Mars” inhabitants and helps women see their actions with greater clarity. More than likely, you’ll find a few of the characters you’ve dated amidst the many scenarios!
4. Simple Abundance---By Sara Ban Breathnach
Oh my God! I love this book! I received it many moons ago from my friend Carol, and it still feeds my soul and spirit, with grace, faith, and inspiration for today's woman. Name a topic and you’ll likely find it housed within these pages. It addresses every issue under the sun for women of all ages and backgrounds--from self- love, to spirituality, to creating a home that's a haven, to balance.
Consider it “required reading” for a better understanding of the complexities of life and a better quality of life.

5. Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff (for women)---By Kristine Carlson
Ladies, listen up. If you can only afford one book from this list, purchase this.
It’s the one book that has been one of my best investments over the years, (and I literally have more than 100 books in my home library). For me, this page-turner has so much sagacity and soulfulness, that my one regret is that I did not find in my former years. It’s written by the wife of Richard Carlson, (of whom I have been a fan for ions). I actually have so many pages “dog-eared” that it’s almost looking like an art project! Here you’ll get tips on busting your blues, making peace with the mundane, anger, boundaries, healthy self-esteem, and other relevant topics.

As you seek to become a better you in 2012, consider that you don’t have to go it alone. There are many valuable resources and self-help products at your disposal to create the life you desire and deserve.

But, most importantly, remember to love and accept the “you” you are today!

Visit Jennifer @

Monday, March 12, 2012

Praying for Pariahs

It seems like one of the "Jesus" people has done it again. Perusing the internet recently, I ran across an article about a Christian principal of a public high who school who resigned after making controversial comments during a school assembly. She is said to have remarked that gay students were going to hell and pregnant teens lives were over.

The principal reminds me of the mother in the film, Pariah. Audrey, a devout Christian, and devoted but strict parent is so consumed with her daughter’s budding sexuality that she is blind to her own disintegrating marriage. Pariah, a multi-faceted coming-of-age story will probably turn many potential viewers away because of its subject matter, but the story is so much bigger than Alike, the central character’s sexual preference. Alike must come to terms with all aspects of her burgeoning self while trying to please her parents, please her friends and everyone else. Isn’t that what we all struggle with as we grow into our own?

There’s a pivotal scene in the movie when Audrey learns that Alike is a lesbian and Audrey loses her self-imposed rigid control. Later when Alike attempts to reconcile and says to her mother, “I love you,” Audrey responds, “I’ll pray for you”and walks out of her daughter’s life.

Alike is a brilliant student, an excellent writer and a seemingly good daughter—her “problem”: she likes girls. Watching the scene I don’t know who I felt worst for—daughter or her mother. And even though Pariah is movie, there are so many pariahs in real life.

Once during a book club gathering, we got into this heated debate about homosexuality. So, I said to one of my friends who has children, what if one of your children were gay. And you would have thought I was in the room with Linda Blair in The Exorcist as fast as her head whipped around to tell me, “Don’t that on my children!” I quickly retreaded and used my nieces and nephews as an example instead because I don't have children. I love all of my nieces and nephews to life. I told her if one of them happened to be gay I couldn't see myself loving them any less.

Another time I was talking to a woman who was upset because her son had been looking at male-on-male pornography. During the course of the conversation I asked what if that was his preference, and she said, “I don’t believe in that.” I didn’t offer a rebuttal; I just listened. And I don’t know what ultimately happened with her son. But I wonder what will happen if is in fact gay.

“I don’t believe in that,” was the same thing my Christian co-worker and friend said when we had a situation involving two girls from our classroom. It wasn’t so up-close-and-personal, plus it was creating havoc at work, so I said to her that it wasn’t about her morals or values. We had a problem that was getting of hand and we needed to address it. We had to have a conversation with our students about respect and how to treat people period. A male student confided in me that he had been sexually propositioned by another male student,so I shared my concern with a male colleague who refused to address the issue because he said homosexuality doesn't exist in Africa.

This gay-bashing by religious zealots baffles because I have yet to figure out how homosexuality became the sin of all sins. Some many people sin on Saturday and show up to church on Sunday, but we’re not as quick to send them to hell in gasoline drawers. It’s gay people's sexuality that bothers us and I don’t understand why because heterosexuals engage in the same activities with or without spouses or sometimes with someone else's spouses. Are they going to hell as well?

Gay people didn’t fall out of the sky. They belong to us—they’re our family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. How does the the right to judge super cede the right to love? So while we’re praying for the pariahs in our midst, we need to pray that God blesses the rest of us with some compassion. Lord knows we need it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Phenomenal Woman By Maya Angelou

Today is International Women's Day, so in honor of all the phenomenal women I am blessed to have in my life, this classic poem celebrating the wonders of womanhood is for you!

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
I say,
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.