Monday, July 19, 2010

Violence not associated with Indiana Black Expo prompts parental concern

Parents of tweens are often faced with requests to attend the concerts, workshops and events that have built the reputation of the summer ritual known as Indiana Black Expo.  It remains an integral part of the Summer Experience in the greater Indianapolis Community, although news of downtown shots awakens parental concerns.  One might think that this is an issue for Black Expo, Downtown Indianapolis or someone else.  Safety is a universal concern for all parents. 
Annually in July  a series of workshops, entertainment, health fairs and programs bring greater awareness about African-American culture.    Statistics surrounding the graduation rate, economic stability and healthy life choices garner the attention of community activists, religious leaders and neighborhood elders.  Tweens simply want to have fun.  In it's 40th year of operations a celebration of success has been marred by negative press during the culminating weekend of activities.  Reports of injured young people have taken precedent over articles about increased efforts to educate, train, uplift and engage a critical teen audience. 
Renee Thomas, director of the Purdue Black Cultural Center, was one visible addition to the festivities. Prepared to increase the awareness about Purdue University, promoting the programs and services of the Black Cultural Center and offering teen specific program, "Follow Your North Star" for the teen youth summit, Thomas has spoken openly about the chance to recruit staff, faculty and students. Articles about Purdue's increased presence have been outpaced by reports of 10 shot in Indianapolis.  Although the late Saturday incident has been tied to Black Expo, the three shootings near Circle City Mall were not connected to the event.  The Indianapolis Star indicated that visitors were shocked and disrupted, including those participating in the event. 
Safety matters to parents as we seek to guide and protect our children.  Indiana Youth Institute data from 2006 indicates that Marion County teen deaths by accident, homicide and suicide outpace every other county in Indiana.  These statistics should matter to us all.  Heightened attention should be expected when information about local shootings is tied to the largest cultural event in the Indianapolis community.  Additional investigation shows that the unfortunate incidents were not tied to the event.  Black Expo organizers, community members and parents alike must continue to seek the information that will govern our decisions and directives to youth.  
Our charge is safety, accuracy and guidance.  This weekend featured much more than the random acts of cowardice.  We owe it to ourselves to learn more as Black Expo brings to a close four decades of philanthropic initiatives, support for education, constructive youth activities and numerous opportunities for tweens to set their dreams into reality with access to countless resources. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mixed Messages

How many times have you gotten mixed signals or thought to yourself, "Did I read the signs completely wrong?"  Well, recently on a business trip, I started realizing just how many mixed messages we send in the course of a typical day.

I didn't have any real thoughts about St. Louis when I knew I'd be traveling there, I figured it would be a typical trip.  I arrived at the hotel in search of gushing hospitality and a seemingly clear vibe of St. Louis sites, culture and more.  Um, not so much.  A waiter at Mango almost single-handedly made me believe all things are possible.  His desire to make a customer happy, or to get a good tip, led to mixed vegetables at well after 11:00 at night, and gave me joy.  Wow - someone who acted like they cared about customer service.  High end food affectionately described as a hot pocket, and some new Peruvian expressions to match it, and the mixed messages post was born.  Mixed Message number one - "you are the exception and not the rule..."

For starters, the waiter shared that he had recently been asked for nachos as a guest complained that "all Mexican restaurants should have them." In not so gentle fashion he distinguished Peruvian and Mexican - but I'm convinced that it was as much a tutorial as an expose on his earlier guests.  He jokingly highlighted that women who shared characteristics to my table mate and I had really challenged his patience earlier.  Light hearted banter or a heartfelt warning?

In a few short days I've started to re-think the many messages we send on a regular basis.  This upbeat restaurant staff member shared the limits of expectations regarding those that live in and travel to St. Louis, it was a bit shocking if I'm honest.  He freely indicated that there isn't much expected from communities of color - a disturbing start to our restaurant relationship.  I had barely had the menu for a few minutes before he explained the cool reception that had become the norm during our experience.  After a conversation, he was essentially very insightful about the socio-economic dynamics of "the Lou."  When little is expected, there is little opportunity for excellence to emerge.  He said pretty bluntly working class people don't expect much from people of color here, "stereotypes are what we've gotten accustomed to."  It was pretty late to get up in arms about his opinion.  An opinion, however, explains a lot.  I kept wondering how do you take a waiter that says locally we don't think much of your kind, but I like you gals a lot.  Mixed vegetables and mixed vibes collide.

Mixed Message Clothing - Business attire and business casual have become so intertwined I find it impossible to separate the two.  I have seen a myriad of colleagues wear something between date night and board room all to the same activity or event, each time questioning where I fit within the mix.  I believe we've become a society where the gray area is much more comfortable than either the Black or White of life.  With few exceptions, it appears more comfortable for others to settle for a hybrid of everything than a stance on anything.  Are three inch heels really okay for a business meeting?  I suppose it depends on the business of the day.  I am certain, however, that a skirt that disappears when you sit down and a top that is positioned as a sling shot for launching buttons can both appear on what not to wear business edition.  Speaking first hand, wearing Fit Flops is incredibly fun - but more fit I am not.

Mixed Message Parking - Valet parking is in the same garage as the guest parking, with a $13 upcharge - plain irritating in my book.  I'd like there to be the illusion that the gentlemen are working for the $27/night charge to park my car which will sit for 5 straight days.  I just assumed that a host hotel would have parking "options", but the option is clear - walk your behind and park your car yourself, or pay for the privilege of watching the valet do the same.

Mixed Message Food - A light menu at Starbucks is really just a decision to fall off the wagon.  How light to we believe the carb assortment to be when we combine it with coffee drink number 3 of the day? You have to know, I'm a bit of coffee junkie - but I don't in the least bit believe I've done something amazing by making a light selection.  If you buy a lower sugar drink, hold the whip or skim the milk - please know that it still has more calories than if you opted for water.  Speaking of options - the light menu at most fast food restaurants should be forbidden too.  I know that the fruit is the better option as a side in the meal deal, but the fried meat on a bun could kill me without the extra help.   To then ask if you want Medium, Large or Extra Large for your light menu option - that is pure foulness.

Mixed Message Tipping - If I give you what you tell me is the mandatory tip, don't be surprised if you don't get an additional thin dime.  We have yet to corner the market on suggested dining behaviors in our culture, but the requirements go both ways.  While I understand the rationale for the mandated 18%, I believe that judging the group before they have placed their order results in many normally gracious tippers holding their purses tightly.

I have seen the hospitality industry at its best and its worst during this recent trip.  This I believe - a host hotel should have to earn that title; with verification that restaurants are fully staffed and a general belief that guests should be treated as "guests".  I assume you usually get what you give in hotel contract negotiations, but a cheaper deal isn't necessarily a better deal.  I would love to see the conference language that accounts for performance when a group of over 5,000 can't guarantee a full place for every guest.

Mixed Messages Mentoring - As a young woman I remember how irritated I was at the "Do as I say not as I do" model for operation of life.  Maybe the biggest disconnect during my travel was a contrast of past memories and current realities.  When you look up to a group of people and realize they are more like the Wizard of Oz than the people you esteemed so highly, what a disappointment.  For years I have given credit to folks for shaping that must have gotten overrated due to youth.  I now wonder if they were shaping me or shaping a legacy for themselves?

As a young woman I had idealistic thoughts about connecting to others throughout my life journey, and building these life-long relationships.  Even as a young professional I saw the mixed message about achievement, interdependence and independence.  In the past few days I've been reminded that the images that shape us as young women shift, develop and sometimes change as the years advance.  I'd rather impact a few people for a lifetime, than ultimately not live up to the example I set for the masses.  I would like to intentionally manage my personal messages to avoid a lifetime of mixed messages.  I have been reminded that in the course of a day we learn as much about what NOT to do and say - as we learn about what TO DO.    

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunshine Award ... Made MY Day....

Sifting Through the Noise sent me a sunshine award!  It is so nice when someone reads your post and thinks that it matters in cyberspace.  So I'm following the trend and I'm going to post a few links of my own that capture interesting writing, topics, etc.  Thank you for thinking of me ! 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

The Benefit of the Doubt and other growing pains...       
Benefit of the doubtto decide you will believe someone or something

With age I'm less inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt.  I'm not sure when it happened, but it has indeed happened.  I used to believe that Barack would be a 2 term president, that Colin Powell would receive the respect that was fully due him, that investing in private education would create benefits that public education could not deliver, that the covenant of marriage would rise in popularity as we saw the impact of raising children in single parent homes.  As I've gotten older I don't have the same energy to compensate when the benefit of the doubt goes wrong.  I'm learning that I tend to simply not give it as much and with what I believe is good reason.

During some seasons I have given myself the benefit of the doubt  - in the belief that I could lose weight while committing to healthier life choices, get my PhD before I had gray hair and land the perfect hybrid between consulting and teaching college courses while my children were still relatively young.  I have always aimed really high and cleaned up for the messes created along the way, even in the belief that I could close the financial gap between my decision to be a non-profit consultant and my natural gifts in math & science that didn't translate into becoming an Engineer.  I tend to ask for forgiveness more than permission, and with wisdom has come a tendency to doubt, not to give the benefit of the doubt.  

Owning your limitations happens at various life stages I assume, but I had brought into the Superwoman model.  Such is life I thought.  Yet, the issue of doubt continues to resurface because doubt can lead to a generally disagreeable disposition I've learned.  Seeing that glass as half empty makes you more often than not a pessimist.  I never wanted to be a pessimistic mommy.  I wanted to teach my children to see the glass as half full.  I still want to.

The holidays always offer a twisted challenge in my world, a choice of living in the past or creating a vision for the future.  Stay with me, it does relate.  On the heels of a ministry peer telling me that I didn't return her text messages, I offered a confused look and a strong stance that I do at least try to respond to all messages received.  I felt a bit unnerved at the meeting as I thought of ways to prove that I really had been attentive to recent communication, only later to find out there is some issue between our two cellular phone companies.  I wondered aloud in that moment, why had I not earned the benefit of the doubt?  Clearly she assumed I had not responded, without considering that I had not received the messages.  

I also thought about a request that I made to a friend to pick up and deposit a check into my account from an out-of-state client.  She ultimately opted not to complete the favor because of concerns that it was somehow inappropriate.  A different friend within the same state completed the task in about 1 hour and indicated that she was happy to help.  I'm not sure how much impact we have on other adults and their "benefit threshold", but as a parent, I think our impact is primary and paramount.  I feel obligated to teach my children that they can extend the benefit of the doubt, because their life is and has been, different than the circumstances that shaped me. 

What leads us to assume the worst instead of assuming the best? How do we get past the lingering impact of disappointments and what do we do to balance the benefit of the doubt with intuition and good sense?  I have come to understand the "Benefit" of the doubt is as much about your threshold for pain as it is about the choice to believe freely.  I still come up on the losing side of the debate when I suggest that Chris Brown deserved more benefit of the doubt than he received, and that he too was a child when his actions led him down a difficult path of public scrutiny and becoming a domestic violence poster child.  By virtue of gender and leaked photographs we gave his girlfriend at the time much more benefit, put her on a few more magazines, wrote a few more stories about her and said as loud as our voices would carry that Chris' behavior was unacceptable.  True.  Not the entire story though in my opinion - I am a mother of both a daughter and sons, and I think there are lessons to be learned on both sides of that situation.  

My children are incredibly loyal to their father and discerning for their ages.  Whenever I suggest that they play favorites (I get picked for book reports and homework assignments, rarely for fun and games) they share a nervous laugh and ask, "When is Daddy coming home?" They ask about his whereabouts like the FBI and they tend to measure their future happiness based on what they believe is his present state of play - they expect that dad is equal to fun.  For our children past experiences guarantee benefit of the doubt, and as their mother I get taught the most basic lessons of unyielding trust by watching them.  My husband says, they are growing up differently than we grew up.  I believe they are living in a whole new world. 

The benefit of the doubt I've learned doesn't last forever, and after a lifetime of disappointments even an adult can cry uncle.  Benefit is really the equivalent of making a choice, a decision to believe when all factors point in a different direction.  For decades, I gave my father the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't capable of understanding the impact of his absence in the lives of his children.  We're cordial at this point, and as a grandfather he can be thoughtful and attentive.  What he cannot be, however, is the father that I aspired to as a child.  My children and I have been blessed with male role models, mentors and friends that are tremendous.  I should be more appreciative of that.  40 years later I still see the generational legacy of my father's choices as a lingering failure that I cannot fix.  In myself, in my mother, in my siblings and in my decision to intentionally parent differently, I carry that difficult legacy.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt has often meant disappointment that cuts to the bone and resurfaces at the most inconvenient of times.  Like holidays.  Even a choice to act and behave in a different manner doesn't erase the impact of the memories that linger.  I can hear Dr. Laura saying get over it, you cannot make people what you want them to be.  In most instances I would even agree with her.  Yet, I think its natural to give family members the benefit of the doubt, even when that ship has sailed, and time for something different has come and gone and come again, one too many times.  

Somehow as 40 approaches with little discretion I have resolved that it is difficult to teach what you do not know.  Difficult but possible.  My ability to teach the benefit of the doubt is a true work in progress, requiring a value system orientation that is not my own.  We are not just raising Jesus children out of habit or obligation, but out of a clear understanding of where our values come from.  Fellowship with the Father promises to be the only anchor when issues with my father persist.  My children have the benefit of an engaged and committed father, even though he too did not learn at the heels of a phenomenal father son relationship.  He has simply made a choice to life in a way that guarantees that his children extend the benefit of the doubt, because in most every situation, the ability to rely on his availability, attention and affection are guaranteed.  That alone is worthy of being a covenant keeper in my book.

I'm not sure what happens in the world of adult to make it so much harder to believe and trust in what people say or demonstrate as their intentions.  I do know, however, that children who are raised intentionally should learn as much about hope, faith and belief in the greater good of people as they learn about the barriers that we create for safety, protection and sanity.  They come here naturally reliant and trusting and willing to extend courtesies that as an adult have to be earned, demonstrated or even merited.  I look to them as teachers not just students, and I celebrate the use of instinct to make choices based on what they experience.  I remain thankful that for those closest to me, their grace has extended me the benefit of the doubt.  Wisdom has taught that not everyone can benefit from it.