Monthly Archives: January 2014


One of the Others – Pt. II

I tried to resist writing about diversity today – January 20, 2014 – the day we celebrate the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought it would be too much of a cliché to write about my thoughts and feelings or what I’ve experienced, regarding all things diversity. I hate being clichéd and predictable. So I made a conscious effort not to write about this topic. Until it dawned on me – Isn’t this precisely the day that I should be taking to paper to address these topics? If not now, then when would it be appropriate to write about what diversity means to be? So here I am, wanting to be here, but only kind of, and in a moment of complete vulnerability. I’ve proven to myself that diversity isn’t necessarily comfortable. So here goes nothing:

“You’re going to mess around and bring home one of these White girls,” I could still hear my uncle joking as we sat in his car, driving from line to line, on my college’s move-in day.

Where the hell did that came from, I thought to myself. But, as I looked out of the window, I knew exactly why he’d made that comment.

“No I’m not,” I finally said. “I’m not attracted to White girls.”

How could I be, I began asking myself. Coffee-colored complexions, full lips, and curvaceous figures were what I found attractive. But when I thought of White girls, all I envisioned was Kelly Bundy from “Married with Children” or Monica from “Friends”, neither of which I found attractive. Everything I had known told me those concepts – attractiveness and White girls – told me they were mutually exclusive. I knew all about stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals perpetuated by the media, but I swore those images were rooted in reality. Plus, when I thought of White women, I envisioned an ultra-wholesome, pure, and non-threatening sect of society. I didn’t see them as being anything like me. I saw them as being different, in every way possible. I saw them as one of the Others.

But, the cutie in the snug jeans looked nothing like the bland, stick-thin White girls I had been used to seeing on TV or in the picture frames at Macy’s. She was attractive, but even more than that, she was sexy. Just as sexy as the girls back home. So the comment I’d made to my uncle – I’m not attracted to White girls – began replaying in my mind like the chorus of a bad song that gets stuck in your head.

 

From the first time I heard her, the sound of Alanis Morissette’s voice touched me in a way no one ever had, and I began rocking out like I did when I listened to Jay Z or Tupac – bopping my head to the beats, pointing at the screen as I killed the bad guys, giving Bowser the finger. She was angry at everything, angry at everyone, and angry for the fuck of it. It was just how I felt. For the first time, I was able to put into words how I felt growing up with a mother who never said I love you, or hugged me, or told me everything would be all right when I felt like crap.

You seem very well, things look peaceful. I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know.

The more Alanis sang, the more cathartic her words became, and I only wish I could have been screaming at my father – who had left me and my sister, who had never sent a birthday card, who was dead to me – as Alanis raged on.

Hello Mr. Man. You didn’t think I’d come back. You didn’t think I’d show up with my army and this ammunition on my back. Now that I’m Miss Thing. Now that I’m a zillionaire. You scan the credits for your name. And wonder why it’s not there.

That year, every time I heard Alanis belt out, You live! You learn!, everything felt all right.

 

I always knew I was different. But, there was something different about feeling different at college. I didn’t come across any confederate flags, or nooses, or symbols that made me feel unwelcomed. I just didn’t feel completely at home. It was like I was there, but I wasn’t. Like I was just another minority merely existing in the shadows of the White majority. That is, until I met my best friend.

I’ll never forget the conversation Nicole and I had about being down with the brown. The phrase was the missing piece to the puzzle I had been trying to solve. I went on to tell Nicole of how I would smile at women of all races just to see if my smile would be returned, and if it was, I would try deciphering the story that was in their eyes. In the eyes of those who smiled back, I saw an inviting look that made their eyes sparkle, a look that said I’d definitely date you, as if they were thinking, You’re my equal.

In the eyes of the females who hadn’t returned my smile, the message I received was Eek! I may as well have been one of those purple monsters from Chuck E. Cheese’s – with horns rising from its heads and fangs hanging from its mouth – the way some women wouldn’t dare look in my direction. From them, I had received a look that said you’re one of them! – what you’d imagine the Others looked like on the TV show “Lost”. These women didn’t have to say anything when I smiled their way; the looks in their eyes had already told me how open their souls were to befriending me.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Nicole said, the compassion in her eyes was unmistakable.

Over the course of my junior year, my friendship with Nicole blossomed. I showed Nicole how to be spontaneous and de-stress when she had a huge exam, and she showed me the true meaning of a stiff drink; I drove her home when she found out her oldest sister went into labor and she invited me to her house for Thanksgiving when she learned my mother had moved North Carolina; I shared with her stories from my childhood of growing up without a father, and she shared with me how she found solace growing up with three step-sisters. We may have had nothing in common physically, but we had everything in common in almost every other way. Most importantly, when I was around her, I no longer felt like a shadow.

I couldn’t help but think how attraction began taking on a new meaning during my college years – There was the physical attraction (like the crush I’d had on Jessica, the cutie in the snug jeans), which enabled me have a spiritual awakening (Alanis was the minister I visited when I needed to confess my sins, except she did the professing, and I did the listening), which enabled me to connect socially and emotionally with Nicole (who’d become more than a friend, she was like my sister) which enabled me to fall in love (uniting physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally, and psychologically) with Jessica, some years later.

At eighteen, I swore I wasn’t attracted to White girls. Years later, however, I was married to a White woman. Isn’t it ironic? I realized I had unlearned my prejudice past when I no longer saw the world in terms of Others, and all it took was four years, three women, a couple of heart-to-hearts, and a jagged little pill.

Pappa Don’t Preach

The calendar may read almost-February, but it still feels like New Year’s to me. We still see vivid, inspiring pictures of the possibilities that lie ahead, and not those dark, uninspiring portraits of opportunities lost.

So in honor of the year still feeling new, I wanted to share a short clip of something I find inspirational – the work that I do with high school and college students. I can already see some people cringing at how they would rather work with any population than a bunch of kids who think they have the world figured out, yet can’t get out of their own way. I’ve heard it before. I’ve seen the eye rolls when I tell people that I love working with high school and college students. During those conversations, I bring up one of my co-workers…

She wears so much makeup that she kind of resembles the Joker from The Dark Knight. Lipstick running up to her cheeks, eye shadow extending to her ears. She rarely has anything pleasant to say. When I offer “good morning”, she responds with, “yeah, what’s so good about it.” And, when I say, “at least it’s Friday”, she looks at my blankly and says, “I have so much to do this weekend, I don’t even know if I’ll have time to breathe”. She is the complete antithesis of what high school and college students are about – She sees a world that has already passed her by. Students see a world where possibilities are endless. She emits negative energy just riding the elevator with her. Students exude positive energy, even when they’re having a silly conversation about their favorite concerts. She goes through life as if she’d rather be alone. Students want to experience life with everyone around them.

Maybe you know my ornery, jaded co-worker. Or maybe you have one of your own. It might even be a friend or family member, who sucks the life right out of you, whenever you cross paths.

So, yes, I’d rather work with high school and college students, and even though it’s a different kind of a challenge than working with adult populations, here is how I approach the work I do with this fun-loving bunch! This is what has worked for me. Feel free to adapt it, and see if it can work for you! Just remember, don’t preach.

Happy New Year!

When 2013 began, I made a pretty bold statement. I predicted 2013 would be a good year. I may have even said it would be a damn good year. As I look back on 2013, in preparation for 2014, I’d like to think there was some truth to my prediction.

February – The entire month was a celebration because it’s my birthday month! Yes, I celebrate my birthday for an entire month! I’m not vain, I just like my birthday…and I think everyone should celebrate birthdays in as great of a way as they can.

April 9th – I signed the publishing contract for A Matter of Semantics. It was the first publishing contract I’ve signed…and hopefully the first of many more to come! Finally, someone observed how my writing is worthy of publication. After years and years of writing, it felt amazing to finally see my book in print!

Summer – Was named Secretary for the Board of Trustees, for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Pretty sweet that my peers think that much of me!

June 22nd – First I attended the Alumni Reunion of my alma mater, Quinnipiac University. Then, my wife surprised me by inviting my friends out to my favorite bar/wing spot to unveil A Matter of Semantics. Good wings, lots of laughs, and a few beers may have been consumed! I have to admit, though, it still felt kind of weird (pompous, even!) to sign my name for my friends. New rule — If I become famous, my friends can’t ask for my autograph!

At some point in July – Went to the Yankees’/Oriole’s game at Yankee Stadium – tailgating and afterwards, a dance fest with some of my best friends. Can’t wait for 2014!

August 11th – Release party for A Matter of Semantics, for my friends and family members. I sat behind a table and signed books for 3 hours. Personal messages and notes to the people who have supported me the most. Thanks again, everyone!

August something-or-nother. I don’t remember the exact date, but I received my first royalty check from the publisher. It wasn’t much. BUT, it was worthy of celebration for no other reason than to validate that all the work I’ve put into A Matter of Semantics paid off. Literally.

September 25th – Birth of my daughter. I’m predicting she will be a strong woman, from a line of strong women. Feminism continues.

October 9th – Celebrated my 4th wedding anniversary! Years later, anytime I heard “Always and Forever” and “Umbrella”, I get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

December 16th – Updated my website. Check it out!

There were other highlights here and there, but those are the ones that stuck out the most! This year, I’m making an even bolder prediction – 2013 was good, but 2014 will be even better! I can’t say exactly what just yet. But, stick around…there’s tons of cool stuff on the horizon! I don’t make resolutions (not really my style), but as we start the new year, my motto will be – if you’re going to do it, do it right!

Doing a lot of things this year…and doing a lot of things right!

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