Category Archives: Uncategorized


An open-letter to my friends and family, about men and emotions.

When was the last time you asked a man in your life – any man that you know well – how he feels? Not what he thinks. Not what he should or should not do. Not even what he expects what will happen, next. But, how he feels.

To hear some people tell it, men lack emotion. And, in some cases, this is absolutely true! In studying perpetrators of violence, I am reminded of this constantly. In other cases, I see that men’s emotions have not been nurtured, going all the way back to boyhood, and therein lies the prevailing issue.

Not in the same way that women’s emotions were nurtured during their adolescent years. Even now, as a parent, I hear parents telling their sons to shake it off. AKA: Don’t allow yourself to feel (insert an emotion here); instead, son, act like it never happened. Or maybe the phrase, act like a man resonates more. Maybe even toughen up. No matter the phrase, though, the end result is typically the same – do not show emotion.

Unless it’s happiness, then, yeah, men can experience those good feelings. Anger, yes. Frustration’s okay.

Anything else is met with shake it off.

So we end up actually having three prevailing issues. First, men are taught to turn off emotions, save for just a few. Men can experience the joy and jubilation of winning a game, match, or landing an internship. Similarly, when men are frustrated by that same game, match, or internship (for any reasons), that’s also okay. Anything else in between is not. It’s not nurtured and not discussed.

Which brings me to the second issue: Because we teach men to not express emotion, we rob men of the language to communicate their emotional states. Language is important. It’s one thing to not feel loneliness, for instance. It’s another thing to feel lonely, and not know how to label it.

Sadly, for many men, given those two dynamics, emotional expressions other than happiness and frustration often expresses as frustration and anger (point #3). If I’m happy, it express as happy. If I am lonely, not only do I not know the language to convey how I feel, that feeling expresses as frustration and anger. So unless I’m happy, I’m angry…even when I’m not.

For many of us, this is not new. So let’s fast forward into adulthood and how this manifests itself. Imagine a husband has a significant other who is unable to conceive. Are we asking how he feels? How he’s coping with things? How he is taking care of himself? Sure, we’ll almost demand that he take care of his significant other – and for good reason! But what about his emotional welfare? When does/should/is that allowed to come into play for him?

When the couple has the baby, we laugh as the man jokes about buying a shotgun, now that he has a daughter. But what are the emotions behind that façade? Are we asking him to identify them? The joy and happiness. The insecurities. The guilt or shame. The overwhelming feeling of parenthood.

Let’s say that men loses his job — in addition to asking how many applications he’s completed on any particular day, are we asking how he’s feeling? Like a failure, unable to do the one thing he’s been working towards for years? Perhaps relieved that he can spend time finding his passion?

When a different joyous moment occurs – a promotion, coming out, buying a car for the first time – are we, as friends and family members, helping him to nurture the myriad of emotions? As confusing as they may be. Untangle the web. Help him to make sense out of it all.

Now, certainly I don’t expect other people to take responsibility for men or men’s actions. When a man expresses anger by throwing a video game controller, that is his issue to sort through. Not yours or the video game’s.

And yet, the phrase Yes, And comes to mind.

Yes, I’m not asking my family and friends to do the work for men. And at the same time, I am asking my family and friends to show the same amount of interest in the emotional welfare of the men in your lives as you show for the women.

Two things – seemingly opposite – can both be true, and both have their places in the world. Just as we nurture girl’s emotions – enabling them to grow and become emotionally intelligent and emotionally available beings, so too can we nurture boys’.

We want men to show compassion and empathy and warmth, now, as their adult selves. So the next time you’re speaking with a man in your life, ask how they feel. And don’t stop when they answer what they think. Certainly this isn’t to suggest that we do more for men, or do this for men. Instead, just as we ask women how they feel, so too can we ask men how they feel.

This is an open-letter to my friends and family, about men and emotions. Maybe yours are different. I hope that is the case. I want the lineage of displaced anger to end with me; and not get passed onto my sons.

“It Got More Complicated than Than” – Sneak Peek!

The music reverberated through her entire body, beating as her heart beat, moving as her arms moved, and singing as her voice sang. The singer shouted through the small speakers on the computer, an enraged voice filled the room like she was giving a one-person concert. Ashleigh sat on her bed – in one hand, she held the teddy bear she had gotten from her mother some years ago, when she was twelve and gotten her tonsils removed. The bear was still in good condition –all of its limbs were intact, and it had even survived a trip through the washer; from the one time Ashleigh’s mom decided the bear’s fur was matted from drool that it needed a deep cleansing.

Ashleigh was angry with her mother for nearly a month afterwards. That was the last time, and the only time, the bear had been cleaned. Now, the bear’s face was stained with tiny drops of blood. The drops were noticeable, but rather indescribable. Who would think drops of blood would ever find their way on a teddy bear? Maybe paint or even spaghetti sauce, but not blood. It seemed too dirty, too guilty. Still, the blood stood out on the bear like freckles on a person with fair-skin. They simply became part of the bear’s appearance, of what made him who he was.

In Ashleigh’s other hand, she held a razorblade. She toyed with the razor, the way she twirled pens with her fingers while teachers reviewed handout of upcoming tests.

The music had become angry. The boom, boom, boom of the drums and loud rips of the guitar spoke to the girl, telling it to let it all out. The part of her that felt like yelling and screaming Fuck you. The part of her that felt like scratching, clawing, and hitting something. The part of her that felt like releasing the misery had been keeping bottled up. She told herself she’d never do it again. But, as she sat on her bed – tears running down her face, while beaming that beautiful smile she was known for – she let the music fill that part of her that was void of feeling.

The singer belted out a high-pitched note, a voice bouncing off the walls of Ashleigh’s bedroom. Ashleigh screamed too – a rather chilling shriek – as tiny drops of blood flung onto the teddy bear’s face.

What I Learned About Men by Attending a Conference on Sexual Violence

I sat in a hotel conference room listening to a speaker present on the importance of prevention. Not intervention, mind you, but prevention. The act of preventing a problem before it has even happened. The chairs, with their metal legs and upholstered backing, were stiff. The temperature had a slight chill. The atmosphere felt very familiar, like I had seen it all before. I tried my best to remain engaged in, single, word that was being spoken, and as the facilitator recalled the “River Story”, which I’d heard numerous times, I couldn’t hold on any longer and my mind went adrift.

Do men care about this work, really, I thought. I looked around the room and the scarcity of men felt as tangible as it was telling.

In the time that I have done this work, I have found that, usually, men will not dare say – publicly, at least – that sexual violence is unimportant. (which includes domestic, dating, and stalking violence) I saw this, firsthand, when facilitating workshops on consent, bystander intervention, and healthy relationships in high schools. After an engaging, and often humorous, exercise on consent, I would pose three key questions to the students: First – By a show of hands, who thinks, feels, or agrees that rape is wrong. Everyone’s hand would shoot in the air. There was only one instance where someone did not raise their hand. Even after his classmates challenged him – I remember hearing scuttles of, dude, seriously, raise your hand ­– this particular guy, in his Army fatigue jacket, did not budge. I made a joke about it, and moved on. (I subscribed to the notion that, professionally, laughter keeps (me) from crying.)

But, by and large, typically, men will agree that sexual, dating, domestic, and stalking violence are all wrong, hurtful, harmful, or at the very least, not good. (I’ll save those other key questions for another time.)

So as I sat through the prevention session at this conference, I could not help but ponder: Do men really, truly care about sexual violence? And if we do, at what levels do we care? Thoughts raced through my mind like cars zipping around a racetrack.

Is it important enough to challenge the ways in which we (as men) teach our sons about sports and sports-person-ship?

Is it important enough that we will donate to local sexual and/or domestic violence agencies? Will we give of our time and run in 5Ks for those same agencies?

Is it important enough that we will elect officials who will see to it that sexual and domestic violence agencies receive state and federal dollars? (Which helps with sustainability and growth.)

Although no person is free from fault, are we willing to draw the line, and not vote for the politician who engages or perpetuates sexual or domestic violent behavior?

Similarly, while acknowledging that no artist is perfect, are we willing to take stands and not support the art of entertainers or the athletic accomplishments of sports figures who engage in sexual or domestic violent behavior?

Will we attend events on victimization?

Do we, as men, care enough to, say, call out another man for their sexist behavior?

Or care to the point that we’ll look at perpetrators and pick apart, and find fault with, every one of their actions. (Instead of doing this to survivors.)

The weight of those questions hung over me like a rain cloud.

Back at that conference I found myself at another equally-ambiguous impasse: If men cared, they’d be at the (figurative) table, right? Right?

Well perhaps if the table was an inviting one.

And by inviting one, I mean: Are we – the people who are the work of discussing, addressing, and leading prevention and education efforts of sexual violence – providing space for men to be at the table. Not in the same room. Not at the kiddie table, next to the adult table. Not even at the table, with mouths covered, so as to be rendered voiceless. But, at, the, table.

Now I get it, this is the space women have occupied for countless years. So one question we must come to terms with is – Is there room at the table for those of all gender identities?

We say, and talk up, this idea of engaging men – but, even as I sat at that training, one of the speakers made a stereotypical comment about men, that was intended for humor’s sake. I let it roll off – time and place, right? But I included the comment in my evaluation of the conference.

The audience gave a collective laugh, but my response was more, are you (bleeping) kidding me?! Talk about incongruity – we cannot sincerely speak of engaging men, and then, without even blinking, simultaneously create spaces where men are not welcomed. And when men are welcomed, they must be comfortable with and able to sustain (what feels like) attacks and put-downs. It’s one thing to speak of men’s violence against women (and indeed, most of this work is preventing men’s violence against and other men); it’s another to suggest you hate men.

As I think deeper on this idea of welcoming men at the table — more than simply asking men to recognize their male privilege, those of us in this work have landed at a place where we wish men would join the table, but only so that we can ridicule. I can almost hear my friends: Let me get this right – you want me to come to one of these events just so I can endure man-bashing?

While we, as men, have a heavy gauntlet laid before us, in how we will rise to the challenge of preventing sexual, dating, domestic, and stalking violence, this one – on creating comfortable space at the table – lies at the footsteps of us doing the work. As preventionists, social workers, care takers, clinicians, and advocates, we can do better.

But back to men…A month or so removed from that conference, I saw a glimmer of hope. Just as I saw the many decisions men have to make in order to show that we, collectively, care about preventing sexual violence, I also see a multitude of avenues for contribution, intervention, and prevention whether talking to your son or nephew about what it means to be a man; calling out your buddy; donating; running 5Ks; thinking twice about buying concert tickets to that artist, and then removing them him from your playlist altogether.

It’s also okay to be a work in progress. A mentor recently shared with me that her training is a work in progress, and I was almost floored! With gobs of experience in this field, I just assumed everything she touched would turn to gold. That there was no part of the work in which was hadn’t already received a gold star, and was working towards platinum. But as I put my own judgments and expectations, I find the line, work in progress, does not undermine or take away from the successes and accomplishments she’d had. That we’re all allowed to be a work in progress in some area or another.

So men, be committed to being that work in progress as long as you stay the course, to borrow another phrase. Remain committed to unlearning all of those stereotypical masculine ways in which we were all raised and acquire new behaviors. Push your gym buddy to get in that extra rep, but without the tint of homophobia. Poke fun of your friends, but without sexist language that disparages girls in the process. Lean away from that urge to rage when setbacks arise, and instead, lean into your poetry or favorite movie or Woosah. And when you falter, own in, apologize (mean it!), and get back on course. Through it all, commit to being a better man and stay the course.

Like you, I am a work in progress. And that progress is not something that will manifest into a finished product overnight (or even, ever). I have learned to accept this. I want so desperately to be that finished product now, but alas, I cannot. Sexual violence is not static and in order to truly care about this issue, neither can we afford to be.

I Cry each Time I Sit here and Scribble Another Couple of Lines

I wrote this poem some years ago, while contemplating what is success. It still feels relevant.

I Cry each Time I Sit here and Scribble Another Couple of Lines

 

The stale air feels heavy inside my mouth,

And I feel a sudden sadness permeating from the pores of my skin.

A dreariness rather, that has no name,

But a name I know all too well.

And well,

Life may as well have me already defeated –

For, I feel a downpour of rain each time a friend asks about my 401K plan,

As I shudder to think saving for retirement has become life’s next feat;

Could we all be already dead?

Steadily stashing money away for the rainy days of tomorrow,

Yet, forgetting to soak up the sun that’s still shining today.

 

I think I can hear the four horsemen trotting nearer;

Or is that my fear of failing becoming clearer?

No,

I must be equating the two again,

The way I often confuse receiving a rejection letter with receiving the kiss of death,

On those dark, damp, desolate days,

When the greyest clouds fill the skies,

And trees bow in exhaustion,

And the sun concedes defeat,

And dreariness thunders, and rattles the earth.

 

I wipe away a single tear just before it rolls down my face.

Could that droplet have held the cure for cancer

And healed the tumor that has grown upon my soul?

Thoughts abound as I ache for nourishment;

My throat is closing up,

And that stale air is now sitting at the back of my windpipe, stirring.

My heart can barely pump

And I wonder will this day be my last,

Like yesterday,

When it was my poor mother’s,

When the wickedness of cancer stole her;

So I lie in bed, wondering,

Sobbing,

Steadily wiping away tears.

 

But, death doesn’t frighten me,

Words terrify my soul (the way the bogey-man once did) –

Those rhythmical, descriptive, addictive words that simply roll off your tongue,

That gives life to your emotions,

And helps you feel those feelings that you have never felt before.

 

So I wonder if I will ever be able to capture these feelings exactly how they appear in my imagination where

The strong, vibrant sun,

And cool, gentle breeze rescues me from another day in a melancholic world;

The bright blue sky becomes my canvass, and…

Damnit!

A buzz of my cell phone signals another stream of consciousness interrupted

As I leap to see who’s sent a text message,

And I mash the buttons for a quick reply,

Or so I tell myself,

Before playing text-tag until my inspiration wanes.

 

No wonder writing hates me now –

I’ve neglected her over the years,

And now,

I’m but a fool,

Too late to realize that writing is now pushing back;

Much like those days when I stuffed my craft into the dark, damp, desolate corners of my spiritual closet,

Though hoping it would somehow blossom like the flowers sitting outside my doorstep.

And with another passing thought, I shed another tear,

And yet another tear that could have held the cure for my cancerous adverse for writing.

 

My taste buds salivate from the garlicy aroma brewing on the stove,

What has come of success?

Late days, followed by late dinners, and no time for writing?

Yet, steady shoving money into a 401K plan!

Could success even be real?

It feels like the wind that briskly blows by, but stands still when I turn to stare him in the eye.

Success must be real, alright!

Because failure has a kick like Jack Daniels,

And cuts like the sharp, thin edges of freshly cut paper.

Does success hate me so?

And keeps me crying for my mother’s touch…just once more;

Alas,

I shed a another tear each time I sit here and scribble another couple of lines;

For, success seems to know everyone,

But success doesn’t know me.

Get a Side Hustle!

This was someone whose footsteps I always wanted to follow. We were RAs together and after graduating, she went into higher education. A year later, after graduating, I found myself going into higher education. She ventured into student leadership and development, and I went into student leadership and development. She made the jump into the corporate world, and I wanted to make that same move. All though her journey, I had no idea that her some of jobs were just as UNFILFILLING as my own. Upon interviewing her for the webinar I facilitated last week on the elusive dream job, I uncovered this nugget of wisdom from my friend, Jen, which is just as fitting for recent college graduates as it is for seasoned professionals:

“Get a side hustle! If your job isn’t filling you up, then find something that will – something you can do alongside what’s (currently) paying the bills. It could be working on a book you always wanted to write, or volunteering at an organization. For me, it was DJing. I totally stumbled into it. I basically taught myself. And in the beginning, I would work all week at my full-time job and be miserable and mentally exhausted by Friday. But then I would hit the boards at a club on a Friday night and the dance floor would be PACKED and people we having a great time and I was like “I did that!” And it just lit me up. And I was instantly hooked. I would only make a couple hundred dollars per gig, but it was not about the money – it was about doing something that felt like I was applying my talents to bring joy to people. And now, here I am, five years later, turning down gigs because I’m too busy!”

 

Who the Hell is Harvey Weinstein?

It took some time. I didn’t want to offer a knee-jerk reaction. Plus, I’m entrenched in the movement on such a daily basis that sexual violence incidents that involve celebrities appear as all the other items on my To Do List. Sharing my thoughts here is no more pressing than preparing for the workshop I facilitated yesterday. Or working on our Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming for next year. In some ways, I refuse to give this case more attention than I give the incidents at my institution. Still, given the attention the Harvey Weinstein episode has garnered, I recognize how it is impacting us all. Even those, like me, who barely paid attention.

Yes, I have barely paid attention to the Harvey Weinstein episode. I know the basics, enough to hold a conversation. But I am not immersed in the daily updates of it all. I don’t know the exact number of victims. I don’t even think I know who HAVEY WEINSTEIN is. I only know that women were affected. Because I don’t know the intricacies, I guess that makes me a bad feminist. A baseless prevention educator. Or an insincere advocate.

Funny. There was a quote I used to have in my office. I don’t remember the author, or where I first heard the saying. But the message stayed with me years later: If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

It was my senior year of college, and Nelly was dominating the hip hop charts. Dudes from the block, swearing they had family in St. Louis, were spitting over thurrr, instead of over there. All of the college parties were playing “Hot in Herre”. Nelly was the man.

Fast forward several years later. Nelly had a single, “Tip Drill”, where, for the music video, he took a credit card and slid is down a woman’s butt. Mimicking the action that he was paying for her, or her ass, or her ass shakes. Whatever he intentions, I didn’t take it well. I threw away my Country Grammar CD. It was one thing to spit racy, sexually-charged lyrics. Ludacris talking about hoes in different area codes was one thing for me. “Tip Drill” was something else altogether. Not that I agreed with Luda’s lyrical content. Rather, having a critical conversation about the lyrics in Luda’s “Area Codes” (and similar songs) was a debate I was (and am!) willing to have. For me, though, there was no debating Nelly’s “Tip Drill”. It’s one thing to boast that you can get the best looking women or that you can have sex with the best looking women. It’s another thing altogether to literally, physically objectify women. For me, there was no debating “Tip Drill”. So I moved on.

So for me, this Harvey Weinstein episode is not just about the man at the epicenter of it all. It’s also about Nelly, and Chris Brown, and Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby, and countless other entertainers, athletes, and political figures who commit, or endorse, sexual violence.

My beef is this: We (I use that term in the collective sense) stand against sexual violence when it feels convenient. By that I mean, when the victims feel worthy – the child abused by a parent. Or the single mother, working two jobs trying to make ends meet, who is harassed by her boss. But, WHEN the victim is less sympathetic in our eyes, we stand against sexual assault much LESS. Hell, we practically stand for it. Like the woman who wears a tank top and skirt to work – business casual, and professionally acceptable – and is sexually harassed by her boss. She barely gets our outrage (notice how this example has one qualifier different than the previous and feels like a different case, altogether). Or, the college student, who knowingly went to that party, and knowingly had several drinks, only to find herself blacked out – damn, if I have not heard too many of us utter, Why did she put herself in that situation.

So when the perpetrator fits the persona of being a monster — maybe he is Black and victim is White, for instance — we stand firm against sexual assault.

But, when the perpetrator feels more like someone with whom we can identity or the survivor does not feel like a sympathetic figure, our stance shifts. There seem to be check boxes of who gets our collective support and when we will collectively stand against sexual violence.

All this to say, I am outraged by Harvey Weinstein. Not because I know the intricacies of this episode — see above, I admit that I do not! But because men who abuse women (and other men) infuriate me. What I am asking is this: let’s not stop at Harvey Weinstein. Let’s divest from Chris Brown concerts, because, after all, his abuse towards Rhianna still feels fresh for so many of us; better yet, for so many survivors. Let’s stop voting for politicians like Donald Trump because he promises to fix out country. Let’s stop giving abusers a pass because they have some other talent or ability.

We got it twisted. We should be able to have it all: We should be able to find a singer who dances well, puts out dope music AND does not commit sexual violence. Is it too much to ask that we support the politician who can move our country forward AND has not admitted sexual violence. We should not accept sexual violence, simply because the perpetrator moves us in some other way.

I won’t lie — I probably will not read the entirety of the Harvey Weinstein episode. From what I have read, his actions were deplorable and his victims are plentiful, and in some ways, that’s about all I need to know. Being an advocate doesn’t mean playing investigator and finding out what happened, and when, and where. Instead – and this is the part that shapes my work — it is about believing and supporting survivors. Knowing that you will not know the entirety of their pain, and believing them anyhow. And that is good enough for me.

I’m pissed at the Harvey Weinstein case. But we can’t have selective outrage. That is, upset and willing to stand against sexual violence when the survivors fit a certain aesthetic. But, unwilling to stand against sexual violence when the person who committed the harm is our favorite TV dad or when he promises to make America great again. The phrase – you can’t have your cake and eat it to – doesn’t apply here. We should be vying to have it all! Entertained by actors and singers and inspired by politicians and athletes who DO NOT COMMIT SEXUAL VIOLENCE. We don’t have to choose one (entertainer, politician) or the other (sexual violence). But, in order to end sexual violence, we do have to choose to actively stand against sexual violence more consistently, and not just when survivors, and even the perpetrators, fit a certain aesthetic.

Singed,

Outraged and Paying Attention

Letter to My White Friends – Part II

I posted Part I of this letter in July of 2016, following the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Now that the city of St. Anthony has reached a settlement with the Castile family, yet the officer who murdered Philando was acquitted, I’ve felt compelled to withdraw from it all. I want nothing to do with current events, news stories, social media, you name it, I want out…all the while knowing that I will never be truly able to retreat from the real issue – racism. See, I could not (and still cannot) imagine living in a country where a person who looks like me, can be murdered, simply because they look like me, and no one is held responsible…but here is nearly three million dollars to avoid “a federal civil rights lawsuit” as one article suggests.

So here is Part II of this letter, now that I’ve had a chance to reel in my thoughts from running on hyper drive.

Dear (if you’re my friend, and you’re White, insert your name here),

Because the answer to dismantling the racial tension we’re experiencing as a country is not to retreat to our individual racial and ethnic sides of the fence, and point fingers at the Others – on the opposite side of the fence, as if to say, you’re what’s wrong with this country – I am writing to continue the conversation.

Has it gotten any realer?

By that I mean the racial tension in this country that feels as thick and overbearing as the humidity on a scorching summer’s day. By that I mean the discomfort one ought feel at seeing a person get shot, the final moments of their life caught on a cell phone video. By that I mean hearing people proclaim, “go back to your country”.

See, social justice warriors would avow that during times like these, we shouldn’t worry ourselves with the feelings of the majority, but instead, with the rights of the minority. And while I believe in this idea on many levels, on one particular level – from my experience in helping bring under-represented groups to the figurative table (as a member of the dominant group you aren’t particularly under-represented, but just go with it) – these are the times when we should be engaging in dialogue with the dominant group. So again I ask, has it gotten any realer?

I’m hoping it has. If you’re my friend, that is, it probably has. It has to be tough knowing you are part of the larger group that has historically inflicted harm and marginalized other groups. And even though you do not participate in those inflictions, you still benefit from them, and the subsequent marginalizations. It’s similar to the bouts I face with my own privilege as a male. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot undo all of the atrocities committed by the group of which you’re a part. So, if you are my friend, you undoubtedly have inner conflict over the racial tension sweeping across our nation with flu-like quickness. I’m sure you’ve been scapegoated, and stared at, and had insulting remarks yelled in your direction because of the actions of some of the people who are in the dominant group to which you belong. So I’m writing because I’m wondering if it has gotten any releaser. See, those scapegoats, stars, and insulting remarks are what many of us face daily. But I realize they may be new for you, and unbeknownst to you, you’ve worked so hard at becoming, and remaining, an ally to people of color (as we’ll see below), that I’d hate for you to retreat because of the inner conflict you’re experiencing. I’m also writing because although I can’t tell you with any certainly that the inner conflict will subside, I can offer this: I’m glad you’re my friend.

In looking back on our friendship, I’m glad you laughed with me (and not at me) when I told stories of growing up Black, and poor, and fatherless. I stole a line from the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” when I used to say, “I’m just a poor Black man trying to make it at Quinnipiac”. And even though you may not have fully understood what I meant, I appreciate that you were willing to try. Like listening listening to Tupac on full blast with me (remember those days?!) or engaging me in dialogue when I told you the reason I couldn’t swim – we don’t got pools in the hood. I’m glad we had those conversations and shared that laughter. Most times, the laughter was really was a cover for the pain. On the flip side, thanks for introducing me to Alanis Morrisette, drinking games (flip cup, anyone!), and how to take pictures without giving the finger.

It’s no surprise I still remember those deep talks we had – how your father left your mother for another woman, how there was only one Black kid in your high school graduating class, and how he got picked on to no end, how you always wanted to date another girl but couldn’t find the courage. How you had cancer in high school and how your brother was an unsupportive schmuck. Those talks helped me see the world through your eyes, and how you culture works. Those talks helped me connect with you in ways that could never be duplicated in a classroom or some diversity training. More than anything, those talks helped me see you as my friend first, and your racial and ethnic group second.

For me, those talks helped things get real – my connection to you, my connection to your world, my connection to everything I was not.

By having those talks, I now see that we were able to correctly conclude that there’d been historical and institutional injustices committed against damn near every racial and ethnic groups. So when I spoke of injustices members of my family had faced, I could see in your eyes that you felt I wasn’t making it up. That validation has been important to our friendship. To be my friend, I’ve needed to know that you get it, that being Black brings about a certain level of burden. But it wasn’t just Black and White – yesterday it was the Irish, before them, Native Americans and African slaves. Now, it’s African Americans, the entire LGBT community, and our Latin brothers and sisters. Injustices have also afflicted Asians and Italians, Jews and Muslims. As Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote, “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.” I think it’s safe to say they came for me, just as they came for you. And we’ve remained friends because we spoke up for each other.

I’m asking you now to speak up because it’s real.

I’m asking this of you because there is a certain level of emotional and psychological safety I feel in your midst. You have, and continue to allow me space to share my organic thoughts when it comes to issues of race. Like the soliloquy I crafted about whether I am truly an American, after the officer who killed Michael Brown was not indicted. Or like all of those times I quoted jokes from Chappelle Show. They weren’t White jokes any more than they were Black jokes. Instead, they were humorous analyses of our cultural differences, because sometimes using humor helps lessen the pain.

See, sometimes you just need a vent session, like when women get together for a Ladies Night. Nothing against men, sometimes women need a forum to share their thoughts and experiences with other women, without judgment, and without fear of offending anyone. Similarly, sometimes I wanted to admit that I didn’t understand how some White people could do (fill in the blank – whether it was kill a lion for sport or not season their vegetables), knowing that I love you and White people, too. I appreciate that you joined me in that space. Never one did I hear I was mentally weak or that my response is just a part of my narrative or rhetoric. Your response to my response told me that I was free to have my perspective in your midst, and that I could be my authentic self.

Along those same lines, I’m better off that you challenged me when I needed it. Whether it was calling me out for being am ableist, exhibiting male privilege, or reminding me that not all White people do (fill in the blank). Even though those were tough conversations, we were able to have them – and I was willing to listen – because you are my friend. We had those conversations because we got real with each other. Through I may have given you the finger a couple of times during those talks, I can honestly say I’m a better person because you’ve challenged me.

Thank you, as well, for celebrating my culture, focusing more on our similarities than our differences, and for not trying to define my Blackness for me (as you’ve seen, you can be Black and listen to Alanis Morrisette!). Most of all, thank you for learning with me. Calling me you brother from another mother was funny. But referring to me as your nigger wasn’t cool. I know I called you that word several times, and I referred to our mutual friend who’s also Black, as my nigga. And sure, we listened and dances to music, where the lyrics seemed to be nigga this and nigga that. Through all of that, I love that you understood my boundaries and respected them.

Within our friendship, we have been able to expose each other to new ideas, and push each other to extend our comfort zones. As I sit here empathizing with you during these times where racial injustices seem like they’re at an all-time high, I have to imagine you feel as if you’re part of the problem, simply because you’re White. While I can never give you a She’s Down card for other Black folks to see, I can let you know that you are an ally and that I value your friendship. When shit goes down, I know I can count on to help stand against the injustice, and for that, I’m proud that you’re my friend. For those, and countless other reason, thanks for being someone I can count on.

So this is your ally card. And with it, I am entrusting you to bear it responsibly. I’m also asking of you to speak up because it’s real. It’s real that a family member (though marriage) commented that if I don’t like the country and he and his brothers fight for, that I should leave. It’s real that I have to teach my children to embrace their dark skin because everything on TV tells them light (that is, White) skin is the best skin (try having that conversation with a five-year-old!). It’s real that Black and Brown people are being murdered by the same groups that’s supposed to protect and serve.

In order for your ally card to remain valid, I’m asking you to take another step — let it get real. And when it gets tough, and need someone to help you process the inner conflict, you know where to find me.

Stay Black!

Abdul

Writing Deep

Effective writing means going deep.

Effective writing means going deep.

I attended an informal writing workshop, and found this nugget of wisdom. Imagine you’re on a beach (or some other land mass) and two people are looking for treasure. One person is looking using a metal detector, maneuvering it back and forth, covering great distances. That person is most likely to stumble across small nuggets of treasures (such as coins), only. Another person, takes an archeological approach, and digs deep. Instead of covering a wide surface, this person expends their energy digging further down into the land. This person is more likely to come across large, impactful treasures (such as fossils).

The one treasure hunter, using the metal detector, would use moments or stories to tell a tale. The other, using the archeological approach, would use ideas, concepts, or issues to tale their tale.

I’m not sure who authored this metaphor but it spoke to me! As a writer, the idea is to go deep — explore an idea, concept, or issue further than you ever have. Give it the full complement of your time, attention, and energies. That is what makes for impactful writing. Write like an archeologist. Write deep.

Letter to Adults

Every day, I hear of adults failing the young people and teenagers in their lives. This is my letter to those adults:

Dear parents who told their daughter that she simply could not go away to college:

At this impressionable age, your daughter is bubbling over with ideas and ambitions, hope and dreams. One dream that she had was to go away to college. To be on her own, for the first time, and prove to herself, that she can make it. On her own. She wanted to go away to college, not as some sort of slight against you. But to better herself. Your decision to rid her of that college dream did more than just temporarily remove her desire to go to college. It also told her that she should not even dare to dream. She did not tell you, but you left her a broken mess. She no longer believes that she has the ability to pursue something greater than herself. You shattered that vision by insinuating it was okay to have low expectations and reach for mediocrity. Unbeknownst to you, you instilled in your daughter all sorts of self-doubt. You may as well have told her that she could not accomplish her goals, or that she did not have the capability to achieve all those aspirations she had been dreaming of since she was a little girl, or that she should not even dare to dream. Your message of mediocrity will not only affect your academic aspirations, it will also affect the relationships she makes, the people she choose to date, the career that she pursues. It will impact her life in all of these ways, and so much more. Please consider a change of heart. More than, please consider letting your little girl dream again.

Signed,

The counselor who had to pick up the pieces.

If that girl were to write a letter to her parents, this is how I imagine it would read:

Dear mom and dad:

Growing up, your parental voices were seldom nurturing, and were more time authoritative screams – leaving your ears deaf to my cries. Your verbal scorchings have scarred my soul, and left me devoid of spirit, hope, or ambition. You turned your back and blockaded my every attempt at capturing your attention, when I only wanted your approval. My hopes began whole and were crushed into cubes, and then used to cool your ever distracting glass of lemonade. You became my adversarial force, incessantly ordering me to and fro, stop and go. And by ignoring me, you became parentally ignorant.

I grew lonely, and then became fed up with feeling all alone.

Your ignorance again reared its ugly head when you ignored me, taking little interest in my days at school, the teachers who belittled me in front of my classmates, and the sugary candy that made my teeth rot and my tummy ache. You sat me in front of the TV, VCR, video games, and other new technological advances, and wondered why I fell sullen and melancholic. And when I didn’t respond, I was assaulted with further tongue lashings and then, the back of your hand or your thick leather strap.

I used to fight with my brothers and sisters: the mythical standards you’ve set for us had caused me to grow ashamed, and in the process of masking my imperfections, I had in turn shamed others; both your biases and prejudices singed my soul, and left me afraid to love. But, I no longer feel alone. In my peers I now confide – though we are both as green as budding stems. I would have rather learn from their experiences than sip from your tainted glass. My soul was on the verge of dying, just as yours has already. Yet the passion and zeal of my youth just will not let me go gentle into that good night. That’s from a poem I read in English class. You know, the class I told you I loved so much and wanted to study in college. Only to hear you laugh in my face at how I would never become a writer or be able to support myself by majoring in English. Thanks for the encouragement.

This latest fiasco dealt me a major blow. By telling me that I could not go to college, you may as well have told me that I shouldn’t even dare to dream.

Sincerely,

Your daughter who’s gone to pieces

An exercise on writing

Dug into my writing jar this morning, and found the word Expansion. Here’s a brief interpretation of Expansion, and what it could mean to one person.

Expansion, as in expanding one’s mind, one’s perspective, or one’s value system.

Theresa took stock of her current state. She could feel her hands and fingers intact. She could breathe – at least she felt as though she were breathing. She could open her eyes, and when she did, he was no longer there.

There in her apartment, in Hoboken, New Jersey. A floor above the guy she saw everyday on her morning run. An apartment shared with her college roommate, her best friend in the entire world. There in her apartment, she hoped she was alone; it was the first time she remembered ever feeling this way – wanting to be alone. Before he came along, she had always associated wanting to be alone with, well, loners – kids at her school she and her friends joked were socially awkward, or weirdos, what the hell is his problem.

It was a tough way for Theresa to learn about expansion. But now, underneath the covers in her bed, all alone in her apartment, wishing to God he had left, she had become one of those kids. Someone she knew someone else would say what the hell is her problem when she was in their midst.

After what he did to her, Theresa felt herself expand.

Next page →
%d bloggers like this: