Tuesday, March 26, 2013

ASHANTl, Never Should Have and other guilty pleasures...

Don't judge me.  I have complex musical tastes and I despise being put into a box.  I try hard not to be  predictable or cliche, and there are certain secular recording artists that cause me to have a love hate relationship with music overall.  I avoided the Beyonce/Bow Down debate like the plague, I just didn't want to have the same conversation everyone was having in the world of musical analysis.   I tend to root for the underdog, the artist that I don't quite understand why she isn't on center stage, the one who sings the B side of the album (yep, that's my reference) cut that I love, although it was never designed to be the hit single.  Today, for some odd reason, I'm just feeling team Ashanti

I have been freed temporarily from my fear of stereotypes by remembering a friends facebook post about her love of gossip magazines when she travels.  I smiled at the remark, this independent, fierce professional had openly acknowledged the past time that made her travels manageable.  That simple post reminded me of why we should own what we like and what we enjoy.  Too many times I have opted for the research report, periodical or non-fiction selection on the plane, thinking in the back of my mind, this fits who I am and who I aspire to be.  Well truth be told, the woman I aspire to be wants to like what she likes, and frankly not care what any person thinks about those choices.

I can be judgemental about everything from reality television to parenting, but age has brought wisdom.  I don't share everything that comes to mind and I've become much more tolerant of choices that differ from my own.  My blog is a platform for reflection, and often times there is a voice that I haven't heard anywhere else.  I like being different.  Different doesn't always pay, however.  I think Ashanti is one of the artist that has had a bit of schizophrenia about brand and persona - from princess to vixen all in the same season.  For some reason, I just like Ashanti.  I think there's more than meets the eye and her newest "Never Should Have" has a married mother of 3 ready to download.  It is not where I am now, but I so understand where those lyrics come from.  And likely because of media, technology and way to much wondering about whether Nelly was ever "the one" - I'm cheering that she'll have a new season of more success than her heart can possibly hold.

The cover of her single can easily be a reminder of why I have a love hate relationship with the music industry.  Does she have to have a bra on the cover for someone to purchase it - no.  Does she look stunning, reflective, worth more than the reviews of her career, blessed with good genes and then some - I would say, yes.  I think she has always gotten the raw end of the deal from music sales, to attention - but I have fiercely disagreed with the marketing of this beauty as the princess of a thug label.  Her images have often been on my list of things I'm NOT downloading for my daughter when the images show anything but a woman in charge of her own destiny.  I want an artist to grow.  With that being said, I've played the latest song a few times and I think that pop, R & B, and music in general - should have space for reinvention.  I'd like to hear what this Brave Heart has in store.

When I think of Nicole Richie, I now think mom, jewelry designer, style of her own, a class act.  A few years ago I was fast forwarding past commercials of her tv show, ranting about tv being a waste of time focused on wasted talent.  I hope that Ashanti has the same experience.  I hope her association with Nelly, her previous label and her mis-steps in her career are replaced with her Army Wives casting, her new music and new single, and her timeless beauty.  I tend to think there's more there.  While she may be singing NEVER SHOULD HAVE, I am believing that it is likely good that she did.  She may be better, stronger and more resilient because of it - and maybe, just maybe, she'll be singing into the destiny that I believe is out there for her.

Michelle Williams, Elle Varner, Ashanti, Heather Headley, Goapele, India Arie, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Amerie, Amel Larrieux.... my underrated ladies that make my day - a reminder that being different is not only okay, it has a beautiful sisterhood.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three Ohio Victims - the Steubenville Lesson

There are three victims in the Steubenville rape case, not just 1.  We examine the lives of misguided youth through a lens that says the boys in this case were wrong.  The victim has been a topic on blogs, twitter and social media - but a quick scan of articles referenced the inappropriate efforts of attorneys to reference her drinking, her choices, her feedback that she did not remember how she ended up in the situation that led to national attention.  I am a mother of three children.  I have a daughter and two sons.  There are three victims in the Steubenville rape case, not just 1.

I am a Buckeye by birth and by heart.  I understand the culture in Northwest Ohio, and I pay attention when Toledo jokes, Defiance voter scandals and Holy Toledo references make mainstream media.  I have long since stopped defending all of the things I love about Ohio - UT College of Business and Innovation, the Toledo Museum of Art, the zoo - as if there is only 1 zoo in the world, Denison, SUA - to name a few.  I explain Tony Packo's, MASH, Jamie Farr, MudHens and a host of other Ohio cultural phenomenons with ease.  I wasn't such a football fan growing up, but I was a Friday Night Lights addict and I have come to cherish sports in unhealthy ways.  In this case, I think Ohio and the "football culture in Steubenville" are far from the issues at hand.

In an earlier post, I shared my feelings about promise unfulfilled and my angst about the verdict in the Kwame Kilpatrick case.  I thought about the decades before his rise to notariety, the infamous details of his life and failures placed on a national stage.  We read about prison terms, the label of being a juvenille sex offender, and the loss of promise and potential with a casual ease that is as disturbing as the crimes that were committed.  I do indeed believe crimes were in abundance for the Steubenville case - committed both by the teens and the adults surrounding them. 

My coverage of the case would have read something like this: 
1. Minors with access to drugs and alcohol make really stupid choices. 
2. Unsupervised teens without a moral compass or value base, or good judgement, make poor choices. 
3. Amidst a bad situation, technology used as a tool to create further harm for Ohio teen. 
4. Violation of basic decency leads to life lessons for youth and parents. 

Instead, I have read that the 16 and 17 year old boys are men who knew better.  The female has been identified as a victim, a girl, youth and young lady - with careful attention to scold the awful ways that she was described by her peers and upset parents. 

No, sport hero, athlete or young man should be exempt from the consequences of their actions based on their potential.  Nor should a 16 or 17 year old young man, teenager, youth - lose the potential of their future, their promise or their contribution to society - based on decisions made at this age.  I am grieved by the situation on so many levels.  I am grieved because of our societal reaction and the outrage of the community, where it has been convenient to take sides but unpopular to recount all of the facts that exist in the case.  I wasn't there.  As much as I love Ohio, I think this situation is one that is played out in beloved communities everywhere.  I think we are quick to judge and quick to place labels, but slow to offer solutions for the culture that we have created.  There are three victims in this case I believe.  Two boys who have been forever changed by their bad choices, and 1 young girl who will live with the impact of her choices for a lifetime. 

As a mother of boys and a girl, I grieve the entire situation.  They collectively deserve a better foundation and a stronger start to life.  Add the quick nature of technology, social media and 24 hour news coverage - and you have an even bigger problem.  I'm ready for the discussions that recognize we need a solution to the violence perpetrated against children and teens, and the thoughtful exchange about the challenge of raising moral youth in an immoral society.  The buck stops here, but I pray to God I never have to read about the failures of my children in blog columns that pick sides without at least an attempt, to propose true solutions.  

What do you think? 

To Whom Much is Given....Kwame Kilpatrick and Promise Unfulfilled

Promise, Potential and Problems 

But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. - Luke 12:48

I lived in and around the metro-Detroit community for nearly 10 years.  I can't think of our lives or our children without thinking about the time we spent making the drive up and down I-75.  As a Buckeye by nature, Michigan was an escape, an exploration ground, a place for growing.

I took the verdict in the Kwame Kilpatrick case more personally than many people I know.  I think I took it harder than I anticipated.  I would enter a conversation about the sad state of affairs that currently exists, and some would respond with a wide  brush of  "what he deserved", "the death of Detroit" and other general replies that just didn't capture what I was feeling.  I consider the verdict more than an overdue punishment, I think of  it as a tremendous loss.

I can't say I ever admired Kwame, but I did believe that he had potential.  The longer I lived in Detroit, the more I learned about the challenges of getting things done, the less I understood about his purpose, plan or potential.  It made me sad at the time, but eventually we left.  We are not native Detroiters, we moved first out of the city, then out of the state.  We cared deeply and gave back in more ways that I can count, but it wasn't home and it wasn't moving in the direction where we could raise our family and thrive.  We felt that we had to make a different choice.

I think about the choices that Kwame made and I have worked to learn more about him since we left.  Even before learning about his academic and sports achievements and the promise he held in the eyes of those around him, I thought of him as a future leader of my generation.  I thought that our kids are of similar ages, and I thought about the fact that he is someone's child.  I decided to write, not about his choices or the sad spiral of a legacy that now exists - but about the loss of potential.  How is it possible that someone with raw talent, ability and acumen can fall so far?

I believe in a God of grace and a God of second chances, and a God of consequences.  I thank God for his grace, and the third, fourth and fifth chances I get everyday.  I also know how painful the consequences can be, and how learning lessons over and over again may not resonate until you have grown to understand why you keep repeating a set of behaviors.  I have had public success and public failure - but never on the scale of Kwame Kilpatrick.  I remember a cabinet appointment he once made, and I thought that I would have fulfilled the role well - but I wasn't "in" the crowd, or connected in that way.  I now thank God for that too.  Understanding the tremendous price the City of Detroit and the many dedicated people who love the city have paid, I wonder now about the people that surrounded him, his family, his colleagues, his cabinet and his life.  What is the obligation to speak up, speak out and speak loudly, when you see someone running away from their purpose? What do we do in our everyday lives to redirect and reclaim the potential around us?

As a mother of boys, my heart goes out - not to Kwame - but to the countless families who have their personal failures experienced in a public forum.  To whom much is given, much is required.  I delight in the potential of my boys, ages 9 and 10, and I wonder about their future.  Today my 9 year old asked me where he should go to college - our ride to school was filled with conversations about what he aspires to do, and what we can do to support his aspirations.  Mothers across the country have this conversation every day.  They squeal with delight at a perfect presentation score, mourn a lack of productivity lost to play station or a tablet, invest in athletic programs, raise up a child "in the way that he should go" and pray for safety, health and wisdom.  Under that abundance of passion and promise - there must be a purpose, a plan and a set of values that guide both the "how" and the "what" we do.

The lessons from this tale of morality run deep - for parents and children alike.  What do we do when we see promise and potential in abundance - what lessons do we teach and what systems to be build - so that his story is not the story that gets told over and over again.  There are so many young men who have the potential to impact, likely change, the world.  The true teaching, training and impact starts with building their character and their core.  I was reminded as I read countless articles about the verdict, that the responsibility starts at home.  If you learn to value the prize at the end of the journey, before you understand the importance of the journey, we lose much more than one person.  We have the potential to lose whole generations.  I have been reflective for the past few weeks about what I need to teach, what I need to do, how often I should pray....so that the next cautionary tale doesn't hit closer to home.  We can do better if we learn something from this.  I believe we must.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Friendship Reflections - Part II

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent.  
Caring for myself is an act of survival.  
- Audre Lorde 

Adult friendship is a part of my survival.  I thank God for the women who love me fully, and know me fully, too.  I don't always make the mark - I often fall short of who I aspire to be in this regard.  Today, however, I'm reminded about the blessings of true friendship.  Those people who help you remember who you are... 

I had an experience early in my relocation that led me to write Friendship Reflections  that knocked my foundation, and my understanding about adult friendships, a bit. I asked a friend to do me a favor that I assumed was no big deal.  I was living in Indiana, my life was still oriented in Michigan - and I was in store for a major life lesson. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.  It's a Maya Angelou quote I've shared often, but I can't say I've gotten that much better at heading the warning that is inherent. 

When you are in need of a friend, life situations are a Big Deal.  All of those years ago, my foundation was turned on its ear because my vision of friendship has been clear since I declared Alisha my Wonder Woman Sister at age 5.  As an adult woman I cherish those relationships and cherish the life lessons too.  To everything there is a season, and when the warning signs are all around, we have to learn to listen. I often talk to my teenage daughter about friendship.  She read a recent exchange that I had with someone, then offered, "Wow mom, she's not that nice to you." She didn't know the whole story, but she was smart enough to examine the situation.  We can learn a lot from the young women we are raising.

My original post lamented, the only person to examine in a friendship looks back at you every morning. I'd like to see that inscribed on a necklace somewhere or made into a Pandora charm. I was speaking wisdom and I didn't even realize the extent.  When this past week had me reflecting on my countless blessings, and the sadness of disappointment in people, I was reminded of the original post.  One reason to blog is because it helps you keep a running perspective of your own life.  Maybe you are able to help someone else along the way.

Everyone should have a friend that makes them want to be better.  Everyone should have a friend that inspires them to be more thoughtful, more proactive, more creative, more innovative, more patient.... MORE.  Proverbs 27:17 says, "
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."  I am in the process of being sharpened.  Every person should have a friend that not only makes them want to be more, but someone who makes them stop long enough to recognize, they are ENOUGH, too.  Jesus told Mary's haters, "She did what she could."  I'm learning to be okay with my legacy during various seasons being that "I did what I could."

As an adult woman, I have had people share with me, "We're going to be friends." I laughed.  I thought it odd someone could make that announcement without my consent.  I have now learned, listen more - talk less.  I have had the blessing of persistent inquiry create relationships that I could not live without - a caution that I should be more patient in realizing that I do not understand every aspect of my journey.  Sometimes God sends you what you never knew you needed, but you always wanted. 

What if adult women...

1. Cheered for Each Other.

2. Judged less, but HELPED more. 

3. Said Thank YOU. 

4. Said I'm Sorry, and meant it. 

5. Forgave.

6. Worked to be the FRIEND that they find that they need.  

I imagine you have some Friendship Reflections of your own.  Today I celebrate these reflections - big and small.  I also pray for my circle of friends - those who I talk to every day, and those who have helped me grow along the way.  I'm better for the experiences that I've had.  I'm learning, just live long enough - life is a work in progress.  What have you learned about friendship along the way?