Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maya & Oprah, Carmen & Me

I was on my way to work listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show when I heard them announce that Maya Angelou had passed away. When I got to work I immediately logged onto my computer to confirm that one of our icons had indeed fallen.
Though I knew that she was 86 and had truly lived an exceptional life, it just didn’t feel like she should be gone. I found myself in a place that I thought I had left—a surreal existence of trying to deal with something that I didn’t want to be real. I looked up at my bulletin board in the hall entitled Phenomenal Woman and I was reminded of the work my students had done creating poems on great women in history, and the fact that we’d used Dr. Angelou’s poem to kick off our lesson.

Born in to poverty and segregation, Maya Angelou born Marguerite Johnson, epitomized the American dream. She faced many struggles in her life, but she never let anything stop her. She was the true definition of a Renaissance Woman. She acted. She directed. She sang. She danced. And she wrote. Not only was she an artist, she was also an activist. Maya Angelou was an African-American woman in a country that did not treat those who of her race or gender well. And even though she spoke out against injustices, she was not bitter. She looked for the lesson in every experience.

Maya Angelou was many things to many people, and as I read the various reflections on the life she led, the words of Oprah Winfrey resonated with me the most. Not only did her words eloquently capture the essence of their relationship, it flooded me with memories of my friend who recently passed away. Like Maya, Carmen faced many struggles that she didn’t let stop her. When life handed her lemons, she didn’t complain. She made lemonade. Ten years my senior, our friendship spanned more than two decades.  Just like Maya was to Oprah, Carmen “was there for me always guiding me through some of the most important years of my life.” 

Carmen was not a celebrity in the sense of the word as we know it, but she was well known in the circles that she traveled in and she affected everyone around her. Oprah said what stood out to her the most was not what Maya Angelou had done or written or spoken, but how she lived her life. How she lived her life. Those words jumped out at me because like Maya Angelou, Carmen lived life on her own terms. She never compromised who she was, and she was one of the most selfless people I’d ever met. It was one of many things that I admired about her.

I never had the opportunity to meet Maya Angelou in person, but I read her work; I watched her in interviews and I learned from her as she was an exceptional teacher. Carmen and I were colleagues, friends, and confidantes to each other. I learned from her as well even when I was a reluctant student. She died in March and I miss her every day. She may not have had the far reaching influence of a Maya Angelou, but she touched a lot of lives. Today the world is a darker place because their lights no longer shine. Like Maya is to Oprah, Carmen will always be to me—“the rainbow in my clouds.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Under the Bus—Black Women and Girls in America

As Black women and girls, it seems like we can’t heal fast enough before we find ourselves under the wheels of the bus of a society seemingly determined to crush our collective spirit. And what’s especially hurtful is when the driver of the bus is someone who should be pulling us out of harm’s way instead of trying to run us over!

The thing about media and Black folk is that we are not held to the same standard as other folk. There is microscopic scrutiny of our action. BeyoncĂ© singing sexy music to her husband is responsible for an increase in teen pregnancy among African-American girls who look at her as a role model according to Bill O’Riley. Donald Sterling, on the other hand is looked upon as an anomaly of sorts. Black people are always being judged and held accountable collectively rather we like it or not.

Black men share Black women’s struggle for justice and fair representation; Black men know our story, so the last place we want to see them is behind the wheel of a bus barreling toward us. The tire tracks on our backs were still fresh from the Mimi Faust fall-out, when I saw this bus coming at us full speed just as we were about to step off the curb at we-can-move-past-this latest-episode Avenue.

The driver, Columbus Short, from the highly popular ABC drama Scandal  was fired from the series when he was caught in his own real life scandal of domestic violence. There had been a number of altercations between the two dating back to February according to reports, but after an incident on April 7, Tanee McCall, Short’s wife filed a restraining order against her husband.

So, what does Short do? He shows up at the house he shared with his wife accompanied by another woman to help him collect his belongings. McCall is said to have attacked the woman after McCall asked the woman to leave and she refused. Short released a video of McCall attacking the other woman. Why didn’t Short try to stop the fight or call the police? Because he was too busy trying to run his wife down.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Comedian DL Hughley jumped on the bus with Short and took it for a spin. When news of the alleged abuse charges broke, Hughley went on a wild rant on his radio show about it.  He called McCall-Short a “thirsty bitch” and went on to say, “I think that broad shouldn’t be telling all his business if she gone take him to court.” Hughley pumped his breaks, promptly removed the audio and issued an apology when the public responded negatively to his comments. 
But this wasn't the first time Hughley has been behind the wheel. When Don Imus comments  "nappy-headed hoes" comments caused a ruckus,” Hughley co-signed on that foolishness remarking that Imus hadn’t lied because they were “nappy-headed hoes.” Hughley apologized for his dismissal of the abuse allegations, but he doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with continuously calling us out of our name. Too bad we can’t revoke his license.

Before long, I could hear the rumbling of another bus coming. This time it was Floyd Mayweather behind the wheel driving full speed ahead. After pictures of his ex, Shantel Jackson and Rapper Nelly all cuddled up surfaced, a revenge seeking Mayweather posted a sonogram picture on his Instagram account of the twins that Jackson allegedly aborted. The backlash was furious and swift, and Mayweather removed the picture, but it was too late. Jackson’s body had already been tossed into oncoming traffic.

While these are individual stories, they do help drive public opinion and push the rest of us off the curb. Once something personal becomes public, and the public feeds off pre-conceived notions of a marginalized group, the personal becomes political for us all. Beep, beep! Get out of the way!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Monday, May 5, 2014

When a Friend Dies

A stranger stabs you in the front; a friend stabs you in the back; a boyfriend stabs you in the heart, but best friends only poke each other with straws.

In July of last year, my friend Carmen and I were scheduled to take a trip to Canada. It was a literary retreat where we would have an opportunity to meet other nerdy women who loved to read, meet the authors and do some sight-seeing. Carmen was always on the move. So, when she told me two days before that she was going to cancel, I knew that something was wrong. She had been sick on and off and had been to the Emergency Room a few times, but the doctors told her she had fibroids and needed to see a physician about surgery.

So, I went to Canada alone. But I was worried. Carmen had an exceptionally high tolerance for pain so the fact that she was complaining made me think something serious was going on. I kept calling her from Canada and she told me to stop calling her. I told her she couldn’t tell me what to do. She told me she was having surgery on Monday. I was due back on Monday. She was in the hospital and my sister had taken my mother to the ER twice in the few days that I was gone. I felt helpless, but there was nothing I could do.
When I got home Monday, I received a text from Carmen’s sister. Carmen had an advanced stage cancer even though she had, had a biopsy in late May or early June and tested negative. How could this happen? The next day I went to the hospital, and I was there when the ventilator was removed, but I was gone by the time the doctors gave her, diagnosis. She teased me that she was surprised that I had held it in because I was such a girl—her time for anyone that cried.

I was scared for my friend, but I thought if there is anyone that can bounce back from this it was Carmen. In the 20 plus years we had been friends I’d watch her bounce back from two hip replacements and then start competing in short distance triathlons. She had to have the same knee replaced twice!-and she completed a 5K. When the first knee replacement went bad, she was upset. She got the news the same day I sliced my hand open on the first day of a new job trying to open some mustard. When I sent her picture of my hand with stitches in it, she said that made her day. That’s the way we were with each other—always laughing and joking, but always, always in each others corner.

When she was going through chemo she said she didn’t want to talk to people when she was feeling bad, and so I respected that and checked in with her sister and stepdaughters. When she was up for it, we would laugh and tease each other like always. Money exchanged hands a lot between us and we never knew who owed who. When she was sick, she told me she owed me money, but because she was sick, she didn’t have to pay me back. 

Our lives were indelibly intertwined. We were colleagues, triathlon training buddies, traveling companions and confidantes to each other.  In the middle of March, I found out that the chemo wasn’t working and the hospice team was going to be called in. I remember getting my faced made up for the belly dance show and talking to her sister about a farewell party.  It was Saturday, and I had just seen her the day before in the hospital. When I walked in the room, she looked up and said, “Hey Ninja Turtle Head,” a nickname that she gave me because she said I have a small head. We talked before she drifted off to sleep. She was discharged on Saturday and dead on Tuesday. When I got the call, I didn’t know what to do. I thought it was some cruel joke. She had been through so much, and I just knew she’d make it through, but she didn’t. 

I am still trying to process her death. I know that the ache of her absence will lessen over time, but for now there is huge void in my life. What sustains me is the legacy she left behind. In her short time on this earth, I can honestly say that Carmen was a humanitarian in the truest sense of the word. She was compassionate, caring and selfless person. She was the epitome of unconditional love. In my reflections and remembering, here are some lessons I gleaned from her life. Remembering the person that she was and following in her footsteps allows her spirit to live on. This is what learned:

1. Give back--find something that you believe in and donate your time money or both. Find someone in need and off him or her helping hand.
2. Be adventurous--do what you've never done; do something you've always wanted to do but have been afraid. Now's the time.
3. Be silly-- laugh at yourself. Laugh at life. Have fun!
4. Stand on what you believe in and don't compromise the morals and values that guide you.
5. And when life hands you lemons, make lemonade!
I greatly miss my friend, but I have a friendship of 20 plus years to sustain me. And those memories-- there are many-- will get me through the bad days.