Thursday, July 31, 2008

People who Can - Do. (Thomas Cannon)

I work with non-profit groups to build their capacity, raise resources, increase the effectiveness of their governance - and to do so through small incremental steps. I was struck by a story I recently read about Thomas Cannon, a retired postal worker who has given in excess of $150,000 to worthy people and causes, while never earning more than $30,000 a year. This speaks to the reality of what people can do when they make the decision to actually "do something." I share with non-profit board members the importance of a legacy, but the Cannon family's investments in lives speak volumes.

When asked about his ability to give so generously, Mr. Cannon clarifies that his money comes from the same places where the public gets money for their fashion, vehicles, and material possessions. His frank and honest assessment struck a cord with me. We need people who are willing and able to make a difference by what they say and do. Encourage someone to invest in what they believe in with simple steps that speak volumes about the inner character of a person.

I was tired, frankly, of hearing about Barack. McCain. Omarosa. Being Black in America. Race. Racism. Racial Comments. Coded Words. To humor myself, I thought I would do a little research about simple people who live extraordinary lives, and happen to be Black. After this week of media and canned stories, I needed something more. He would qualify for a "Cool Black Man" cover in my book. When people with so little do so much - it makes me wonder about the rest of us. What is our problem?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ludacris - Foe not Friend of Obama

He's all dressed up but looks are deceptive. In his song "Politics. Obama is Here." Ludacris proves that we need not worry about what other people think of us - we clearly demonstrate we don't care for ourselves. There has been a clear pattern of character revelation by evaluating associations in this primary election - Hillary and Ferraro. Obama and Wright. And now this.

His lyrics are unacceptable - written with no political agenda, intelligence, insight, or innovation. He is predictable and a detriment. With his support, Obama doesn't need any enemies on the right. In a fragile election, with many people undecided, decisions will be made by association. People will look at Ludacris' fascination with Obama's possible success and distance themselves, not from Ludacris, rap and what he represents - but from Obama. I am releasing a collective sigh for ignorance. The polls will surely reflect this latest gaff.

Although I try not to find myself responsible for the behavior of all Black people. I am an individual but my spirit is grieved. embarrassed. pissed. I think he was selfish and stupid - and I thought he was brighter. more artistic. worthy of an occasional listen, sway or groove. I have absolutely no respect for someone who is so clearly talented and chooses to operate in 110% stupidity. I am not a supporter of Hillary, McCain, or Jesse Jackson - but I still understand fully the outrage about this foolishness.

While we can not and should not judge a person by someone who writes a song in their support - in this case we're talking about another man, another Black man, another fear factor that will undoubtedly send a new spiral into a tightening race. In a politically charged climate with people having no true understanding of other cultures and things that are different from themselves - I saw this election as a dialog starter. I don't have any sincere interest or regard for rap - I can take it or leave it in most instances, and the industry has long sucked the joy out of the original intent and originality. Today's rap fails to be more than a money machine of weak lyrics and less than talented stand ins for the original genre.

With all of this, we should check Ludacris' - a self proclaimed rapper extraordinaire- supposed politics - if he has any at all. Seems like McCain actually does have something to be thankful for in the Black community. Our own inability to be politically savvy enough to use our skills, talent and voice for something worth while. The leverage from this will be ridiculous - McCain will use more coded racist images and attacks to play into the fears of those who don't know any better.

Change the Question - Why isn't McCain Winning at all?

Stop and think about the political banter of today- "Why isn't Obama winning this by more?" I've seen a variety of articles and posts, mainly bored journalists writing about why in this current state of affairs, Obama is not winning by more. I've seen the latest pulse on the American people, and the numbers theoretically indicate that he has yet to reach more than 50% of the American people - not enough people are really invested in what he has to offer yet. Couple that with random coverage of Hillary supporters who won't support him and threaten to vote for McCain, the 1,234th review of his trip abroad, random Michelle bashing and then a few email posts with the same false stereotypes we had 12 months ago. What do you get? A slow news day.

I have a different question at hand, Why isn't McCain winning at all? I mean, the cards have long been stacked in his favor. He's the American dream as we know it, wealth marries even wealthier, defines oneself as unique, makes money the old fashioned way (oil ties, political interests, inheritance, 2nd marriage bonanza), gets adoring media attention for years, wraps up the primaries handily and has several months as a lead before the Democrats relent for a presumptive nominee. Shouldn't McCain really have it all wrapped up at this point?

I mean, we live in America. We split right down the racial divide in believing whether or not our country has a race issue. Race has been used to distance people who should be politically and socioeconomically aligned - but we fight. We fight long and hard - in part, because we see race differently. We say, "Barack is a new leader, he's articulate, capable, inspiring, a credit to what our country can be." They say, "He's arrogant, untested, mistaken about hope in a time when we need experience, Black." With a daily need to defend one's patriotism, family background, educational achievements, poised ability to float within the Ivy League sect, recreational drug dabble, religion, minister, faith, bowling ability - "Why isn't McCain winning at all?"

I mean really, how can Barack have a 5% lead when he's so - new, unknown, scary, Brown. Shouldn't the American Dream absent any hint of Affirmative Action sail right into the hearts of the American people and have a slam dunk. I mean he's got the wealthy, the right, the hard working whites - correct? Why isn't he winning?
We haven't declared a blog war on his ice cold heiress of a wife, she's gotten a free pass with her charitable work in Africa and non-released tax returns. Why isn't McCain winning?

If we stop and think about the role of the media in this election, we should all spend a lot more time stopping and thinking - than reading what they write. Daily, the mass media paints a picture that they want us to sip slowly, like its right, righteous or true. (Did you have your dose of kool-aid - or CNN, FOX News, etc., today?) Often the media, our treasured elite, are publishing just a really really well paid, often read, blog of sorts. They spout about what matters to them (like me), how they see it (like me), add in a few polls and numbers (like me)- and walla - paint a problem for those who stop at the headline. Today... Barack should be winning by more - since he's not, he's in trouble. News at 11......

Well, I have no idea how my neighbors will vote. Yet, when I look at the economy (as measured by my savings and checking account), when I look at the credit crisis (defined by my late fees and 1-800 calls), as I examine the state of education (while I wrestle between sending the kids to public school for the first time, paying some unGodly amount in tuition I can't afford, or being able to afford a non-diverse environment which was toxic to my bright, beautiful daughter), as I ponder health care (and the $100 co-pay for orthodontic work, coupled with enough allergy, exczema and asthma medicine to fill nurses offices for each child) - I scientifically suggest - there's a big decision to be made by each of us. McCain who can't win at all or Obama who isn't winning by enough. You decide.

As for me, this time I'll be voting with my pocketh. Thou shalt not elect a similar successor (McCain the patriotic - with no lease on normal lifeth) to the first Affirmative Action president (Bush the warrior, underachiever with pedigree and oil pumping out of his boots). And with all that his experience has to offer I still ask, "Why isn't McCain - author of false ads, bully of foreign travel, whiner of lost media coverage, proven leave them while they are down member of the second marriage club- Winning? (and he's white...) Let's tell that story!

Personal disclaimer - could care less than a darn that McCain is white. Although somewhere around 70% of people polled out of the voting booth admit that race troubled them as they cast their vote. If a Black man or woman, represented the same things as he does - I wouldn't vote for them either.

Shhh! (Abstinence Is Not Sexy)

Across the nation, in 4th grade classrooms this year, they will have the "talk" with young girls about their development, their body and their cycle. This is known as the magical year. (Who knows how that got decided when girls are developing at warp speed.) In Christian education, this is largely a health conversation about what to expect when the time comes for "Aunt Flo" to visit. The comparable boys conversation amounts to a discussion about deodorant, bathing and the joy of toothpaste. Meanwhile, the girls are treated to conversations about hormones and emotion, being prepared for all circumstances, pads vs. tampax. Why then, can't we figure out a way to talk about abstinence? I don't mean abstinence as a choice - I mean abstinence as THE CHOICE. This is one way we can help young girls, Black girls, females in general - understand their value.

In America, half of all AIDS/HIV cases belong to someone Black, although we are only 8% of the population. In Washington, 80% of the HIV population is a Black population. (Can I say celibacy is the only option here folks.) I really can't even imagine the need to explain how very scary that statistic is - and I can manipulate numbers with the best of them. We need to be teaching the reality of sexual activity, and the necessity for abstinence. This is now a life and death matter. Call me naive, conservative, a Jesus freak, or simply call me right. Less sex = less risk of HIV/AIDs.

Earlier in my career I worked in the field of Hemophilia - a blood disorder that impacts a growing segment of our population. As a result of my work I had the opportunity to learn more about HIV and AIDS during the early days of the disease, at a time where you were labeled either homosexual or other. We, as a society, acted as if there were good and bad ways to catch this deadly disease. A decade and a half later - the largest population is now African or African-American. I watched a cousin die from the disease when no one would say what we all knew for the most part - he had died from advanced complications from AIDS. From a research, medical intervention, and attention standpoint - nobody cares about this as a leading cause of death for young African-American women under 34, or the second leading cause for African-American men under 44. If we, as African-Americans don't merit media coverage, recognition, respect or equal billing in this society (Katrina anyone? the Primary season anyone?) for everyday reasons - we surely can't wait for the greater majority to consider this a top priority. We are losing lives - and the numbers are scary. Time to actually stop talking about it and do something.

I have a friend who works in education at a swanky foundation, where she funds programs geared at increasing educational opportunities for children. With a very high teen pregnancy rate in her area, she relayed the discussion at a meeting about Safe Sex needs of the high school and investment in early childhood education and prenatal programs. People - can someone tell me why abstinence is the step child in this discussion? Don't tell me everyone is already doing it - uh, they are not. I know from personal experience that not everyone tastes the forbidden fruit before they have put on their cap and gown or wedding gown. And for those who have, they'll often share if they knew then....what they know now. No need to move full speed ahead - sex can and should wait.

My mother didn't handle the topic with a focus on our Christian beliefs - although we had them. She focused on a much more pointed issue in her mind (my selfish character and personality flaws)- "Girlfriend, you are selfish. Once you give that away, you can't get it back." The crude conversation still lingers in my mind, but, it worked for the most part. I had no interest in having a shared sexual history with the entire college campus, or some moron of non-importance. It isn't to imply that I walked on water - but I see very little focus on abstinence as the most viable choice for survival nowadays. For the sake of our current and future generations we have a lot of educating to do.

As a culture we have to get beyond our own frailties and insecurities to deal with the impact of AIDS/HIV in our community. We need to rally behind those who need us most - largely to wake up, and be accepting. We need to be openly talking about the latest numbers and statistics and see what we are doing (in our church, social groups, sororities/fraternities, peer cliques, etc.) to ensure that people get and understand the reality of this disease. I believe we have to be more dedicated to the provision of medical support, counseling and public awareness - and measure our impact for effectiveness. But most of all, as the mother of three children, I believe we have to teach abstinence. Pure and simple in my book - it is the best option to curve the numbers that astound us today.

And for all those who would tell me the value of safe sex, I agree. I just believe our children ought to understand the safest sex, and nowadays - that's frankly, none at all. While we explore how we can help, support, educate and inform - can we figure out how to fund, mandate and encourage abstinence as THE most viable option moving forward. Decreasing the rate of HIV/AIDS we can all agree with. My solution may not be sexy, but hey, we're dealing with epidemic numbers and a silence that can be deadly. Unprotected sex one time, that's all it takes. And my cliff notes for the 4th grade speech - they just doubled in size. Makes you wonder - how can we spend countless hours majoring in pop culture madness and lose sight of what is right in front of us? An issue of epidemic proportions - where are all of us going to make a difference for the sake of a generation - and those generations to come?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Being Female, Black and Valued

I heard an interview with Carolyn Mosely Braun recently where she talked about leaving politics behind, and returning to her first love - agriculture. As I listened intently to the story, the issue of politics was of course brought up again and again. I was surprised to hear Carolyn indicate that she felt gender had been a bigger barrier than race in her own political career - as I had all but drowned out the rants of the Hillary Clinton supporters that I had heard sling mud on Barack for the entire Primary race. Yet, the more I discuss the issues with my counterparts and my peers, the greater concern I have that I have simply lost my ability to see what life should be like - vs. exactly what it is like.

As a community organizer early in my career, I learned about the power of people. That simple lesson has guided the work that I do in organizational and resource development, and has been as important as my formal education and advanced degree. So, I was struck again about the plight of being Black and Female and Valued when I learned about the case of LaVena Johnson. She was a 19 year old private in the Army, serving in Iraq, when she was raped, murdered, and her body was burned--by someone from her own military base. As my own children grow older I see how precious each day is, and I realize just how young 19 is. Although she made the commitment to serve her country and to wear the Army uniform for the United States of America- her life was certainly not valued.

Despite overwhelming physical evidence in the LaVena Johnson case, the Army called her death a suicide and has closed the case. It is becoming less and less hard for me to believe how little we value life in our country the older that I get. When I look at my 8 year old daughter and the battles that we've encountered ensuring that she realizes her value, her worth, her God given beauty and intelligence - we know that Indiana and the lack of diverse educational options are only part of what we battle. We battle the stereotypes, poor home training, intentional blinders and a society that plays favorites. While we have the opportunity to continually groom our daughter for when she leaves home, we know that she can settle in to unconditional love at the end of each day while she is with us. For the Johnson family, they sent their child to serve her country, and her country has failed her miserably.

Color of Change has done a good job using technology to mobilize people. I have been heartened that almost every time I'm contacted by the group they strike a cord in the level of grassroots action that could be taken to make a difference. There most recent request is simple:

Will you join Mr. and Mrs. Johnson in calling on Congressman Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, to mount a real investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's cover-up2? Will you ask your friends and family to do the same? If so, take action today.

What would being female, Black and valued look like in our society?

1. Young women would see images of themselves reflected throughout our society, in vehicles other than men magazine covers, videos and neglected posters about how long they have been missing.

2. Media coverage on the nightly news and primetime news shows would be representative of the demographics of our society, or better yet representative of the issue or topic being covered.

3. Those that say they represent our community would actual do so - covering topics, issues, people and action steps that matter - without regard to their personal image, fame or wealth.

4. There would be a focused effort to mentor, motivate, groom, direct and advance the life choices for young women - and it would start by reaching beyond those who are related to us by blood.

5. The countless stories that are told about our community would speak to everyday people and everyday issues - depriving pop stars who are turning 50 or cat fights between the least of us from any news attention.

And for me, every child within our nation would be introduced to the only correct image of their value and their life, through Christ. As much as I believe in collective action and the power of people, I know that God has already clarified our individual worth. So as I go about typing about what I would like to see, I have to go back to what I truly know. We have to take on a dual responsibility - educating, informing and changing our society is second, to raising our daughters to understand their value before they encounter what this world has to offer. LaVena Johnson deserved/deserves better.

What can we do? Maybe a society that values black females would look like each and every one of us spending a fraction of the time devoted to nonsense, to helping each other reach their fullest potential. The Johnson family won't have that opportunity - but what would you want to happen if it was you? your child? your daughter? We should have the right to live, and die, in dignity. Take action today.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Moving beyond "the Box" - A fight with conforming

Heaven Sent - Keyshia Cole

So I have fallen in love with this Keyshia Cole song and video, and I just need to admit it. I believe in honesty and transparency and from time to time I can be a little snobby about my taste in stuff. I don't want what everybody has, and I truly don't want to respond to the society hand fed meal of what you should have, buy and like...I fight it all of the time.

I had this experience with perfume lately too. I saw a fragrance by P. Diddy (Unforgivable Woman) and I rolled my eyes. Then, I smelled the perfume and was mad about it - I thought it was just beautiful. Largely because I have 3 children and I think our media obsessed society (with a jones for fame and creating entertainment icons) is bad for the soul. I try to teach the kids to have their own style and taste and to ignore what the media says you have to have. I am recovering from a mutual love of all things formulaic - but lately my guard is down.

A few weeks ago I listened to this song and decided I was having a Mary J moment. I didn't start truly listening to MJB until I was good and grown and now, I'm a big unapologetic fan. Same for Keyshia, who shares a name with my sister, and I can't help thinking about her every time I hear her music or songs. When I first started hearing about her - I shook my head and thought about all of the women in RB/Hip Hop with forgettable careers. I have been saddened, both by their music, image and plastic surgery.

I tell myself I really don't care for the Pop Princess antics of our society, which tell us the type of music and people we should like. But, I'd be lying if I didn't check out the blonde hair on Keyshia and I just started experimenting with highlights. (I'm dang near 40.) I fight against too much megahit enthusiasm from Disney, High School Musical and Camp Rock to ensure that my daughter has some images before her that are reasonable. As Christians, we find some songs we like and try to ensure our children are surrounded by life affirming lyrics. But... I've also had to introduce KeKe Palmer, The Cheetah Girls and Raven to ensure that Miley doesn't take over the thought processes of an otherwise wonderful little lady. Here's where it gets a bit tricky though...I'm liking a few of the things that are mainstream and the lyrics to Heaven are just one example.

That being said, I hope Keyshia Cole has more songs that grown adult women can sway to without being boxed into a hiphop era which is uninspiring at best. I have always been a little slow and methodical about my music taste - but I admit this one threw me for a loop. All the radio favorites I can skip, I think Keyshia was singing out of the box with this choice. I purchased this single and a few others from Itunes, and I'm just living with that decision as I realize "they" the mediagods, got me. As for Unforgivable Woman, I'm still spraying my testers...but I just might have to move beyond my box, and buy a bit of that too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Let Disney Be Disney

I've shared my thoughts (thanks to News and Notes on NPR) about Disney's Black "Princess to be" quite a few times, but I'm starting to understand that my friends and family think I should be more vocal. I don't want to see Madame Tiana fall in love with a prince that doesn't share her heritage...but, um,'s Disney. I expect Disney to act like Disney.

The folks who kill off mommies in 82.87% of their stories (Belle, Jasmine, Nemo, Cinderella to name a few) aren't the people I'm relying on to get "it" right. The princess experience is one that we will forever be shaping as mothers and as families, and that job in a culture that is assaulted by the media daily is a very intense one.

In fact, I want Disney to get it right for their audience - the millions of little girls across the nation who aspire to be a princess - all of them. Regardless of color, culture, shade, religion, creed. I'm fine with Disney getting more rich and wealthy from this experience. Why? Then they'll make more movies and play with this topic over and over, and just of the Black princesses will steal my heart.

There is a part of me that wants to stand on my soapbox and talk about the need for us to produce our own stories, write about princesses, create the images we want for our daughters to see. Yet, when Matel released a beautiful Barbie in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, we quickly started debates of color and complexion - not of affirmation and beauty. I think its the same with telling our stories, we should, some of us do, but many, many of us simply wag our fingers at every creative idea that comes to light. Is a Black princess overdue from Disney? Yes. Will there be errors in the story that challenge our since of culture? Yes. I would dare say that anyone who has seen a Disney film has realized that Disney fails, often - in a magnificent way. I loved Lilo and Stitch and remember all the scuttlebutt about the depection of the main characters - which my daughter and I just loved. Historically, physically, anatomically correct? Probably not. But, they make entertaining stories.

The name of the character has changed. The prince - changed. The fairy GodMother - changed. The images of the character - changed. Let's not think we can rewrite the Disney approach and guarantee that everyone is happy. They are using real pen/ink drawings, a true return to the graphic beginnings of the Disney Empire - and I can't wait to see them. There are many things worth exploring with Disney's attempt to diversify their line of beauties, and Anika Noni Rose promises to bring depth and voice to a young woman long overdue. As for me and mine - we'll enjoy whatever we can from this adventure. In the meantime, we'll be trying our hand at writing a few princess stories of our own too.

I introduce to of the beautiful and darling - Princess Lydia. I've got a lot to work with for stories, and maybe a few about the handsome Black prince too. (smile)

Obama is NOT the Messiah...but

I had the chance to read an article at the TimesOnline, He ventured forth to bring light to the world. A satirical piece by Gerard Baker, it made me think about the opposition and how they really think of those who support Obama. While getting away for a few days I couldn't help but get wind of the prayer that Obama placed at the wall - which was of course removed and published in print moments after he left. And what strikes me continuously, is that he is so very human, but Good at what he does. (and the media is bored with reporting real life....)

I'm pretty conservative by nature, although I wouldn't go as far as to say I'm Republican by any means (I have a wayward spouse to carry that torch). I have been irritated and inspired by Obama quite a bit since this race began. Baker paints him as a messiah, which really only makes me think more about what did people think about JFKennedy or MLKing? More of the same. Here come these attractive, non-traditional, heroes of sorts...attracting attention about stuff we don't want to talk about as a society. They all struck a cord with the American people - and not just one segment of the people.

It bares mentioning that Gerard had plenty of Biblical accuracy in his satire, which means that in our society the Republicans believe what is written (but don't act on it) and Democrats say they can change the world (and become lost in their own hype). I do pray Barack is different. On track record alone, Bush (who garnered my vote once) should clearly demonstrate that entitlement, trackrecord and the Religious Right is crazy. They would say in McCain that they are voting for the less of two evils, or one mildly funny comment in the blogosphere, that Barack is the biggest example of Affirmative Action gone wrong. Well - if by Affirmative Action we understood their comments to mean people who are undeserving, getting privilege and opportunity above more qualified candidates...George W. Bush is surely the only recent history example of that. Dear Al Gore of Oscar knows it all too well. Yet, he simply reinvented his life, and stopped living in the past.

My Bible tells me there is only one Messiah, and Barack ain't it. But, he's beautiful to watch in action and he's managed to make more of us pay attention to politics than anything in my lifetime. And a child shall lead them.... so even when he makes rookie mistakes or makes me shake my head with great concern, I consider the other option. I could once again be contrary and vote for someone like McCain - thinking when elected, he'll do the right thing. Tried that once, nope. As far as I can see the man isn't really interested in diversifying his support anyway - although he believes he can peel off some of the brown vote. I think to myself what will happen with education, health care, gas prices, and the election of judges under his reign...and its scary enough to confirm my support of Barack once again!

I find it irritating to be placed in groups. I can't stand the thought that all Black people are voting for Barack because he's Black - because it always makes me wonder the contrary. Does that mean that his White supporters are supporting him because he's White in their eyes? (Ior their color - too?) I know the answer to that. Or...when someone assumes that because I support the man that no critical dialog can happen - give me a break. Taxes are scary when I think of Barack, because his middle class lines are a little too blurry for me. He's liable to raise taxes just as we get over the hump - and I believe we're more accurately considered the elite poor. We have just enough to guarantee we can't be considered poor - but not enough days w/out stresss to be considered heavily middle class. We're more middle of the road, multiple degree, average. It ain't all bad - but it surely is not clouding our support for Barack. He's a man. A delightfully attractive, articulate, married man - with children. For any woman, we know the inherent limits of that. The real Bible gives us lots of food for thought on placing your faith in God and not in man.

In some circles they talk about Tavis Smiley learning a bit about criticizing Barack, but I think people understand the issue wrong. Tavis, as he does quite often, has the ability to criticize anyone he chooses. But when that scrutiny doesn't line up w/the reality that most people see - there is a backlash. The Republicans are simply getting beat at their own game nowadays - and its a bad game - but Barack is playing it. The idea that the media itself has lost all focus and is now blindly following "a new Political messiah" - that doesn't wash either. If there was something worth saying about McCain, he'd be saying it himself. He has openly said that he has had a great relationship with the media in the last 10 years - the Maverick just has garnered some competition. From the Right's version of the messiah the Maverick has some competition - but they haven't been doing to well in interpreting any messiah lately - so this (and the satire that reveals the false heart perceptions of many Americans) is all to be expected.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Out of this World

The Chicago Tribune recently published an article about undercover comments and subtle racial slurs in the workplace. While the article was interesting, the comments from the readers were more so. I was just a bit surprised to read the number of comments that confirm what I have long known in my heart - people are not operating on the same planet that I am. It is one thing to talk about Free Speech, but purely another to fail to understand why the workplace should be free from slurs, intimidation, hostile work environments, and other acknowledged aliens.

I work hard to teach my children that not everyone will like them, and the sooner they learn that lesson the better off they will be. I have dealt with early lessons of, "you don't fit in, you aren't as pretty as us, you aren't neat and polite like us" and random other comments that are taught to the littlest of alien children who have no home training in appropriate etiquette. Yet, the more I read the more I'm certain that they (my children) will inherit a work world where - like always - they'll have to out perform, out work, out credential, out talk, out articulate, out write, out shine....the entire workforce, in order to be treated with any dignity and respect. And even then, I pray their self-esteem and dignity will not rely on acceptance from people who don't get what civil and respectable treatment is - regardless of the freedom of speech. My husband and I will teach them to use every weapon they have, and when all is said and done - we'll handle the topic by talking about the aliens. Those folks in our society that are foreign to good and common sense. I believe that the point of the article was to bring attention to the subtle nature of coded prejudice, but there isn't anything subtle about the world going to full steam ahead to an environment when people who voice an opinion about wrong are whiners, and when reverse discrimination is more politically correct than demanding from people the dignity and respect earned by the vast majority of hardworking citizens.

It's easier to wrap an entire culture in a stereotyped bow, than to give every person the respect of judging them by the content of their character. Problem is...very few people have character any more, removing the ability to judge it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

In Living Color - the Alpha Kappa Alpha Barbie

I am a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. I grew up looking to the examples of tremendous women who made a wonderful impact on their community, their church and their family. Of the many, many role models that I had - my Aunt Katherine may have been by far one of the clearest reasons why I understood that the women of AKA were indeed the best of the best. I am heartened that my daughter has had the privilege of growing up with "Great Aunt Katherine" - another generation that gets to admire her tremendous influence.

So, the woman who introduced my daughter to American Girls and the story of Addy, will also squeal (skee-wee, actually) to know that we are waiting anxiously for our very own AKA Barbie. Revealed at our 100th anniversary celebration at the Boule in Washington, D.C. I was just a bit surprised at the hoopla over AKA Barbie's complexion. I'm not sure why I should be surprised, but I was.

When I read blog posts and other feedback about the hue of this beautiful black woman's skin, I shook my head for the umpteenth time. Why do we feel that in order to be African American, we must somehow hit a certain hue on the color spectrum? I read a comment by a self-identified member of Delta Sigma Theta on the NPR Tell Me More site, which indicated that she looked forward to a more brown Barbie when they reach their centennial. Dear God, are we talking about adult women debating in 2008 (especially when it has nothing at all to do with them) the color of a doll designed to honor women who have dedicated 100 years to serving their community. My friends, my sorors, my sista's in general come in every shade and the debate about complexion is non-sense. This is not School Daze and Spike Lee isn't writing a narrative about undergraduate life. Don't like it, don't buy it. Can't see this as a beautiful Black doll, then it isn't for you. No discussion merited in my book, unless you are not happy with your own skin color.

I'm not blindly drinking kool-aid, there are things that I do not like about the image or stereotype of Greek letter organizations, and a myriad of actions and activities I wish were not part of our history. The whole brown bag mess has been laughable for decades in my household, where my mother - a Soror and cocoa brown woman - raised me with the values, expectations and guidance to become who I am today. When I heard my dear sorors chanting about being conceited during a taping of a NPR segment, I was saddened for my entire sisterhood. Beyond stepping and childhood chants when I was still an undergrad - my dear Sorority means so much more. Not only does it mean more to me, it means more to the millions of people who have been served by each of our members so faithfully.

I have read comments that question Christian character, leadership, dignity and blackness...all associated with coverage of 100 years of service. To then read random craziness about the color of Barbie's skin...let all of the caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, cream, and every other assortment of skin color collectively say - "Get a Life." I regret some people have been limited by the first 8 colors in their crayon box, that they have failed to embrace a life much bigger and more meaningful, then wasting time talking about is she "Black Enough." My daughter, with the smooth chocolate tones of her dad, has said only one word, "Beautiful."

Further, I'm so glad that I had the chance to be guided by an Aunt who taught Sunday School every Sunday, brought snacks for the students she tutored after she had taught all day at a different school, took care of hundreds of children each year - even though she never gave birth to one of her own, participated in every reading/mentor/make a kid better program held in our community, guided me through standardized testing when it was not a part of what everyone understood as critical to higher education, encouraged and mentored regarding every fashion woe growing up, recruited men from the far corners of the world to teach her students about health/fitness/finance and education, and all of this to say....Barbie did just fine creating a likeness for her legacy. I guess, we'll be raising daughters for the next 100 years to understand - let no one group, no one word, no one experience, no one affiliation, define you.

And yes, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. has done just fine in our 100 years of service - we're more than a collection of monotone or monochrome women. I just pray that one day we'll get past the trading of stereotypes and insults, and have a bit of gratitude for those who regardless of their affiliation serve their neighborhoods, community, country, churches, shelters, libraries, schools, young women, etc. no matter what their tone.

Frankly, I'm glad I'm woman enough to recognize excellence wherever I see it. On most days...I wish their were more actions worthy of being noted as excellent, no matter who was responsible or credited for it. Congratulations, Aunt Katherine, AKA, and Mattel/Barbie...for a job well done. God help us all.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Comfort Zone

So this weekend we traded in our tranquility for a Backyard barbecue of sorts. I had decided I would just invite some folks over which is contrary to our traditional nature. (We're not people people - friendly enough - not very social though.) We decided we wouldn't keep waiting for things to be the "ideal" time, set-up, or whatever...we would just invite friends for food and fellowship. Well my once serene backyard doesn't look like that right now. It is filled with backyard toys, the community approved slide set, a cooler and remnants of lawn chairs and grill tools. I'm learning that truly there is a season for everything.

When we first moved we were just as happy to have time out on the patio for nothing but serenity. With the idea of a backyard barbecue came the preparation, multi-tasking, an array of guests, and things that inevitably fall short of you aspirations. More importantly however, we managed to get together with friends and people we care about. I guess, all things considered, it's a nice change of pace. We're pressing out of our comfort zone - and picture perfect, we're growing beyond that ideal for something right sized just for us.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

600 Closing and counting...

I have an addiction - Grande Skinny Hazelnut Latte - with 2 Splenda. In this economy, decreasing or eliminating this habit requires no explanation. People get it. Even my friends who don't support the coffee industry in this way have been asking me over the last week, "Did you hear how many stores are closing?" Well, this weekend I was prompted to reconsider my coffee addiction again - customer service has gone to an all time low.

During recent weeks there have been promotions to get more people into Starbucks, and to encourage the use and registration of the cards which symbolize our habit. I have been curious about the lack of consistency between stores for quite some time, and I now know that there are only some places worthy of spending $4 for refreshment. The problem is, I now often have a total around $14 when my children and my husband get into the picture. So, rewards associated with a registered card...I'm all over it. Until Saturday.

I went to my neighborhood Starbucks - also know as my preferred location. I asked simply, "what is your free drink policy with registered cards" - recognizing that different locations handle the benefit differently. Some provide a free beverage of your choice when you reload, some provide a free cup of coffee, and still others are only prompted when you load a new card. I'm not a collector of plastic, so I typically reload the 2 cards that I own and leave it at that. My interest in finding out the local policy was based on my 5 family members shouting out their preferences - a free drink would have been welcomed.

I encountered, however, the Barista from...well, the one who didn't graduate from service school at the Starbucks Academy. 24 hours later, and I'm still irritated with the experience- irritated enough to simply skip my habit today. Her quips about my inquiry seemed laced with the idea that I was annoying her, that she somehow had to answer this question seemed painful. I shared about the lack of consistency I had experienced - and she (without anyone in line) boiled down the issue to one of, "Well what do you want?" Well, I wanted answers, a good coffee drink and some pleasant exchange that made me feel better about my 3rd stop of the weekend. What I got was a reality check - some people work at Starbuck who have failed to note recent closings, increased competition, stock prices in fluctuation.....

The experience was made worse when I couldn't find my card, and she had already provided my drink (one of three) for free. When it was all said an done, I found the card - reloaded it for a minimal amount - and decided that I had somehow lost my way. With all the product placement, a history of memories and a love of coffee....I expected my Starbucks relationship would be permanent. Yet, as I pursue an ongoing reflection on why I make the choices I make each week - I have declared Starbucks free zone a time to really contrast my early days with the experience and my experience now. Maybe its the relocation from Michigan or $4/gallon gas - whatever the catalyst - I don't think I'm feeling it anymore. Or maybe I've stopped drinking the coffee long enough to exhale and recognize....

1. Panera has Hazelnut
2. Paradise has great WiFi
3. McDonald's has more than transfats
4. Home Brewed ain't half bad

... I was saddened upon first learning that Starbucks was having a shift in their momentum. Now I'm believing if they aren't careful...this will be the start of many more to come.

Patriotism Interrupted

Eugene Robinson is a columnist at the Washington Post, and I stumbled upon a tremendous article in the July 4th Indianapolis Star that summed up my week. In his article, The Color of Patriotism, he spoke eloquently about the fact that patriotism is never simple as an African-American - but it does indeed exist.

When I think about the numerous veterans in our family, I'm humbled by their courageous service. Many have shared their personal experiences from the Army to the Navy - all contrasting their dedication and their opportunities, with the ongoing racism they countered before, after and during their years of service. Each has said in one way or another, they would live no where but the United States of America. They served a country with pride and commitment, but never fully escaped the challenges created with a country that rarely acknowledges the full extent of the beliefs held by its majority culture. My grandfather and my great uncles did not live long enough to see the first African-American with a realistic chance of becoming president accept the nomination of a major party. Yet, I can't pick up the paper without seeing countless articles that Barack Obama should have further defined, expressed and explained his patriotism. McCain's is just assumed.

My daughter, in camp this week, learned the hard way that patriotism is fraught with mixed emotions. She's been talking about celebrating the 4th of July, since some time in June. Yet, while at camp this week - a Christian Suburban Camp - she was told by her peers that she shouldn't be part of their club, "Because she's Black." I picked her up that day with explanations of reconciliation and efforts to explain the situation by the camp staff. I could barely hear their words as I searched the campers to see her face, to see if she was okay. And like generations of young African-American children before her, she had spent the majority of the day masking her emotions and making everyone feel better about what had happened to her. She was excluded, and made to feel less welcome - because of her skin color. Taunts about attractiveness and not fitting in followed.

It was her first, but I'm certain it won't be her last encounter of these experiences. I thought about my young cousin who had a similar experience at about sixth grade - I honestly wondered what my cousin might have done to provoke the attack. I owe her an apology. I now realize all she did was enter a world unkind and non-accepting of difference. Her experience in the suburbs of Toledo, ours just a few hours away. Our relocation to Indiana has had its share of these experiences (from school, to the parking lot, to neighborhood oddities unlike the experience of anyone else), but none quite as clear and overt as this one. With all of her frailty, we still love being Americans.

Our reality, however, is much different than that of our peers. Just like my uncles, and my grandfather before me, my children have had to learn at a very young age that being proud to be American means to accept the many imperfections of the country we live in. I don't believe you should have to define the oxymoron of the land of freedom and liberty at age 8 - but we are in the business of teaching it everyday. Sometimes it feels as if the color of patriotism should be green - green with envy for those who can simply celebrate without thinking about the daily experiences which reveal America's struggle to live up to its designed potential.