My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which she shares her reflections on her life. It is with her permission that I have created this blog post. Her writing is powerful. Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness. And, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.
Welcome to MELLISSA’S THANKS:
Day 1: Thanks for the Breath of Life
Happy First Day of Thanks!
Today we give honor, tribute, and Thanks for the Breath of Life and the Air that we breathe.
Have you ever really thought about breathing or the air that we breathe and how important it is to us? Have you thought about what all has to happen for our lungs to undergo the processes of inspiration and expiration? (It’s okay if I am the only weird one by professional design.) Because breathing is such an involuntary act or process, meaning that we don’t have to tell or remind ourselves to do it, you and I have probably had more moments in our lives where we have undervalued just how amazingly precious this gift is.
But, for those of us who have or are dealing with respiratory ailments, who care for sick loved ones, or have dealt with death, we have had chance encounters with the air that we breathe and the process of breathing that humbles us greatly. My daughter has had catamenial seizures (hormone/menstrual-induced seizures) since she hit puberty at 7 ½ years old. The area of her brain specifically affected in her seizure state is called the temporoparietal operculum. This region of the brain is responsible for parts and functions of the body that include the larynx, vocal cords, facial muscles, salivation, and some of the muscles crucial for the respiration process. The seizures in this region usually also occur in one’s sleep. Many times when Lilah has a seizure, with each menstrual cycle, no matter the duration, part of her air supply is cut off. Over the past eight years, I’ve seen Lilah have close encounters with death because there was no possibility of her getting air into her lungs during a seizure.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how devastating those experiences were; they left me shook up for weeks at a time. However, each time Delilah reached the post-ictal stage of her seizure and I knew she was going to be okay; I thanked God for letting her breathe another moment in time. But, I also thought of the other children who didn’t make it through their seizure and prayed for their grieving families. (There were two children in Lilah’s school who died last year due to seizures in their sleep.) Often, I think of and pray for the children and adults who have chronic asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis and heart disease which keep them consistently in and out of the hospital and begging for a chance to breathe their next breaths. Expanding my thought process and concern on a more global scale, I even think and pray for of all of the urban communities, like mine, who suffer through the worst air pollution and air quality that make it even more difficult for us to breathe and enjoy a healthy quality of life.
Every day, before I start my day, my regimen consist of taking five (5) real deep breaths, holding it in for a few seconds, and then letting the air out of my lungs slowly. You should try it, if you have never done so. It’s refreshing, revitalizing and healing. Afterwards, I thank God for another opportunity to breathe another breath and surrender myself to God’s plan for my day.
Sometimes, the environments and world in which we live can be such a tough place. The good thing is that we can all care a little more about the suffering of other people and do our part to make our environments better. So today, as we give thanks for breathing and the air that we breathe. Take time to do a simple act of give back. If you are a smoker, think of cutting down or quitting to not affect someone (ie. your children, family members, neighbors) who is passively breathing in the pollution. In my community of the South Bronx, there is a community green space, Maria Sola, on 134th Street & Lincoln Avenue Bronx NY 1044, that always needs volunteers to plant trees and daffodils, build ponds, and keep the grounds tidy. Come out and help! If you can’t help in our green space, find your local community garden and invest your time and donate there. If you are one of those put your money where your mouth is kind of people, like I am, you may go a little further and donate to a great organization like American Forests, at Home – American Forests who do amazing work to restore forests. No amount of money is too small. Their 2018 goal was to plant three million trees. Now that is what I call great a vision to provide folk with a great opportunity to breathe some clean, quality air.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 2: Thanks for Shelter
Happy Second Day of Thanks
A few years ago, I was living during one of the best and worst of times in my life. My daughter and I became homeless and had to live within the NYC shelter system. (Although I did not know or understand the purpose of why I had to be there at the time, in retrospect, it was absolutely necessary for my character, vocational development, and God’s purpose to be fulfilled.) It was the first time that I had seen poverty rear its ugly head and understood why and how cycles of poverty were perpetuated within generations of a family. Our shelter in Harlem had some of the most deplorable conditions of black mold, asbestos, lead-based paint and hazardous materials, which directly affected the health and well being of the clients and their children, especially the asthmatics. My first room there was mice infested because there were so many uncovered holes in the walls and floors. We barely got sleep the first week, because “Jimmy and his cousins” decided that they would use our SRO (single room occupancy) as a playroom when the lights went out. A significant portion of the room’s ceiling had fallen and was never replaced. They covered it with a false ceiling that would fall when there was flooding from the room above. In the summers, there was an overwhelmingly, exhausting heat because the old building had no air conditioners. In the winter, when the boiler broke, we had no water and some rooms, were extremely frozen because there were no working electrical radiators to provide heat.
One of the young girls living in the shelter kept getting bit by the cockroaches that infested her room, which was converted from a hallway closet and had no bathroom in it. Because she was allergic, her body had whelps all over it. When her dad, an undocumented immigrant, begged for a change of rooms, he was threatened with deportation from his case worker. The manager of our hotel was a working “junkie” and gang leader who was also the drug dealer and supplier for our shelter’s residents. There were a few drug raids, one which occurred during our second week in the shelter, which involved all but two apartments on the second floor section of the shelter where Lilah and I lived. I remember asking God to always keep Delilah from seeing and experiencing anything negative while we lived in that place. Thank God those prayers were answered! She missed every drug raid, every falling ceiling, every room reconstruction, and the clearing of our room from the mold. (My friend has a jar that she puts money in for her son’s future therapy. I’m sure that I’m going to need a trust fund for the experiences Lilah did have in that place!!! LOL!)
With these existing horrible conditions, can anyone explain how the Department of Homeless services allowed this shelter to pass inspection each time? How was it possible that this shelter, like many others pimping off someone’s poverty, made $2133 per month for each room to house a family in those conditions? Market rate value for many two and three bedroom apartments in the city didn’t even cost that kind of money during the time. So, why couldn’t families in shelters have access to real apartments and affordable housing if the city was willing to pay a slumlord for them to live in a dump? (Shaking My Head!!!!!)
Living in a shelter was where I learned, for the first time, that all the statistics about starving and impoverished children were actually true. And I was enraged!!!!! (I fight to the death for a child!) It was where my roots as a social activist/organizer came to a full circle and I became more involved with and deeply entrenched in the issues that affected the families living in that shelter. I would teach the families how to advocate for better living conditions in their spaces and write letters for the families whose head of households were illiterate. I’d cook and make sure there was food and formula for some of the mothers by connecting them with a pantry who could supplement food when their food stamps ran out. Many of the families, with neonates, would get turned off of welfare and have no formula for their children. I arranged a Thanksgiving dinner for the families in the shelter. I’d always bring back several copies of housing applications and resources for the families and the case workers to give to their clients. I connected with a local church to supply toys for all the children in the shelter during several Christmases, even after we moved out. I arranged a hair and make-up day for the mothers within the shelter during Mother’s Day weekend, which increased the morale of all the woman who participated, incredibly. The caseworkers (except one) and staff loved me because I was basically an addition to their team.
I learned that so many myths about people who lived in shelters were untrue. You are required to have a job while living in a shelter–no one free loads! The city/state forces you to get on welfare to live in the shelter system. Although I did not want to be on welfare, I had to get on welfare to live there. Can you believe that I received $15 per month of food stamps for my daughter and I to eat? If I didn’t have a job, could I have ever survived on that? Most people who know my daughter, knows she can eat that for snack!
As terrible as it was to live in that shelter and experience the horrific day to day of poverty, I had a clear understanding that my situation was different than most of the families there because that place was just a pit stop for me. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like for the shelter system to be a forever station for me. But, unfortunately, it is just that for many of the families who are there. The bright light of hope in my eyes still managed to have a flicker and stay lit, while it had completely left many of the eyes I encountered in that shelter daily. Let’s just say that the manager, the caseworker who hated me, and the assistant commissioner of the department of homeless services were tired of me and wanted me out of the shelter much sooner than later, when I got done wreaking havoc. I reported the shelter to HPD so many times; each time the agents came to inspect the apartments, they fined the landlord over $10,000 per room for the atrocities they found in each room and gave him a strict deadline of when all the repairs had to be complete. Of course, I taught all the residents how to do the same reporting. I was told by staff that the manager had a meeting with them and told them to find every possible way to get me an infraction and kicked out. But, when God has you covered, “No weapon formed against you will ever prosper!”
Delilah and I finally got our own place to live (our current domain) as an early Christmas present in December of that year (by accident). My caseworker got an anonymous call from an assistant administrator who worked at DHS one day, saying that she couldn’t reveal who she was but God had told her to call my caseworker to inform me that I had an interview the next day for my current apartment. She said that there was a plot by her boss to “punish me” for all I had done in the shelter that I was in. Although I got interviews for several apartments earlier (and woul have been accepted), they purposely didn’t call me to let me know. Thus, I couldn’t move out of the shelter and stayed much longer than I had to. This lady said she was told to warn us so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to live in my new apartment in a new building in a great location, which would be perfect for my family. The rest is history (almost!)
The lessons I have learned from the shelter were invaluable. Not only did I know that everyone, no matter who they are, should have access to a decent place to call home; I learned that with some real political will they could have access to a decent place to call home. If I didn’t learn anything else, I learned that I am a survivor who keeps my joy in all circumstances!!! (I survived my own hell on earth experience!) What killed and destroyed others, emotionally and mentally, gave me the strength and determination to keep pressing towards the mark. I also learned that no one can or should be defined by his or her situation. (People will try to keep you in your past if you let them!)
I love, appreciate, and treasure my apartment. Although it doesn’t always look like it and could definitely use some cleaning and much more organization (don’t even think about judging me!)– I am always looking for volunteers to do this work—It’s ours and a really decent place to call home. Delilah and I have peace of mind. After seven years, we have never had to share it with vermin and “jimmy and his cousin” have never laid foot in it. (Thank God for angels that secure the place!)
During my time in the shelter, I was working with a group called “The Poverty Initiative,” at Union Theological Seminary (Kairos Center) which works on global projects to eradicate poverty in the world. I became published with one of my poems being selected in a book created by the Poverty Initiative called “Out of the Depths: Poetry of Poverty, Courage and Resilience.” I sold a few copies of the book to donate the proceeds back to the Poverty Initiative. I still have a few copies if anyone wants to buy them. All proceeds will go to the Poverty Initiative which is housed by Kairos the Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice (https://kairoscenter.org/poverty-initiative/). I also worked with and became acquainted with a great organization called Picture the Homeless (http://picturethehomeless.org/) and began to advocate more for the homeless and children because I realized how they were truly the voiceless in our society.
Today as I give thanks for shelter, I ask that you remember that there are millions of people who you pass on the streets, in the trains and in subways who don’t have it and are longing for a hot meal, clean clothes, a nice bath, a bed to lay their heads and a hope for a better tomorrow. Help in the small ways you can! A smile, an encouraging word, and some change go a long way, but advocating to change policy with elected officials to clean up the shelter system and provide affordable housing for families that need it is the lasting change that we need to see.
Have a great day of Thanks!
Day 3: Divine Provision
Happy Third Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today I’m so grateful to God for Divine Provision
Have you ever had a moment where you remember where you were a few years ago and (for my church folk) you wonder how you got over? And you know that it is only by the grace of God that you made it. Whew! I’ve been there more than enough times to count.
While I was in medical school for six years, a relative ran my credit card up to more than $50,000 without me knowing it. A week before my graduation, I got a call from a debt collector, who was given my international phone number by the person who ran up the debt, telling me that I owed them over fifty-thousand dollars and they wanted their money. My initial reaction was total shock. Then rage began to set in because I was beyond pissed. I told the bill collector that I had no idea what he was talking about, how that tab was created and who incurred the debt because I had been living out of the country for several years. He began to explain to me that unless I was ready to bring up criminal charges on the person, I was going to be responsible for the debt. I was just finishing school and about to graduate in a week; I had no job or money to pay a cent of the debt so I kindly explained to the gentleman that I would handle the matter when I got home, and pay the company when I got a job.
Since I decided not to press criminal charges, I was responsible for paying that debt. If you have ever been in debt, you know about the endless, harassing calls debt collectors make to your home, your job, and your cell phone. Each time, I would tell them, I don’t have a job yet but when I get one you will be the first to know and you will start to receive your money. I finally got a job and, after extracting the money for my tithes and offering, rent, and food, the credit card company would get lump sums of money to tackle that $50,000 debt. I didn’t do any extra activities that required me to spend money; I made my lunch at home and maintained a strict budget to pay as much of the debt back on a monthly basis.
After several months of paying that large sum of money, I had a nice long conversation with God during my prayer time and mentioned all my grievances. I couldn’t get a place to live because my credit was shot. I spent so much money trying to pay back the debt that my daughter and I could not enjoy any leisurely time together. I let him know how unjust I thought it was that I was paying back someone else’s debt. I also gave him back God’s word. Every sentence I used started like this: “You said in your word…” and after I began to belt out every promise that gave me access to justice and divine intervention as God’s child, to have my name and the debt cleared.
A few days after my grievance prayer, I was in church and the pastor was asking for a special offering for the new building the church was about to build. As I was sitting there, the Holy Spirit (for those of you who are not believers and are interested to know more about the Holy Spirit, we can talk offline later) told me to give $500 for the offering. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I pouted to myself, “Lord, why would you be telling me to give that much in this offering, when you know I need that money to pay these debt collectors so they can stop harassing me!” because I sure didn’t have the courage to ask or say it out loud. I am a firm believer that “obedience is better than sacrifice” and that when God tells me to do something, no matter how outrageous it seems, I better do it. So, I chalked up the money for the offering. Little did I know that God was making a miracle with my faith to trust Him at what the Word of God says.
Two days later, in my Morning Prayer and Bible reading time, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me and lead me to the passage of scripture in Exodus 14:13. When I read the words, they leaped off the page and connected with the core of my soul. I just knew that there was a release with that scripture passage. I got ready and walked the twenty five minutes to my job. Ten minutes after I opened my office door, I got a call from the debt collecting agency. He said, “Good morning Ms. Barber, I am calling to see if you want to cancel your debt with us today.” I got so excited because that was the release that I felt in my spirit that same morning. I told the debt collector, “Yes, sir! God told me this morning that I wouldn’t see this Egyptian after today. I want to settle this debt today for $5000.” Of course, he thought I was insane and said that my settlement price was way too low. I told him to go talk to his boss, representing me as a Child of God, and tell him that my daddy said that I wasn’t going to see this debt after today. He put me on hold for 30 min and I begin to pray(those move mountains faith prayers). When he came back, he told me that his boss said he would settle for ten thousand plus dollars. I told him that he didn’t hear me well and to go back to his boss and tell him that my father, God in Heaven, told me that the debt was getting settled today and that we had to settle for $5000. When he went back this time for another 20 minutes, I was praying those bulls-eye, fire prayers. The debt collector came back and said, “I’m sorry ma’am but my boss said that he is willing to settle for $7,550 and no less because you are asking him to settle for less than 1% of your debt, which is unheard of. I have been working for this Jewish man for 26 years and he has never done that before.” I told the representative once more, “Go back to your Jewish boss and tell him that my father in heaven said that we must settle this matter today because according to Exodus 14:13, I wasn’t going to see this debt/problem/Egyptian after today.” The representative got very scared and asked me to please not send him back to his boss because he was sure that this last bother would also get him fired. I told him, “listen to me. You will not get fired. Do you know who my father, God, is? You are representing me, his daughter, and since he already told me in his word that we were settling this debt today, don’t worry! God will have you covered. Now go back to your boss and tell him that we are going to settle for $5000 today so that I will not have to see this Egyptian anymore.” He went back to his boss and I prayed. He came back 5 minutes later and said, “I have no idea what you did but this is unheard of! My boss said, “who is this lady? Give her what she wants already! I can’t take it. My chest is about to explode and I can’t take it anymore!” And we settled the debt for $5000 that very day. And I never had to deal with that debt collector ever again after that day. (Never mess with a praying woman!!!!!)
I thanked the gentleman profusely for being patient with me and told him that if he was ever in NY that I would take him to lunch or dinner. Since he was still completely bewildered and awe struck by all that just happened and my faith and trust in God, I told him that if he didn’t know Jesus the Christ, he should get to know Him. I told him about Jesus and salvation and said that he had just witnessed and experienced a perfect example of how my God defended his children. (I look back at that moment now and know that Mr. Gregory must have thought I was insane and had lots of nerve almost putting his job in jeopardy.) God heard my prayer and answered it.
So do you trust God at His words? How much do you trust him? Are you in need of a miracle? Are you willing to step out on faith to receive it? Has God told you to give something of yourself that seems incredibly outrageous to your normal mind? Then give it and watch God bless you in return. Obedience is always better than sacrifice.
That experience happened years ago and it made me a firmer believer in what God does for his children. Some disagree on paying tithes and giving an offering to the church, and it is your right to believe what you want. But, I do it, standing on the promises of Malachi 3:10 and have seen God tremendously bless me and my family with his divine provision, through people, over and over again when everything should show lack.
I have been visiting a church that I have seen do the work of Jesus Christ (feed the hungry, help the poor and widows, heal the sick and set the captives free) and where I believe is great ground to sow money into since they are doing the work of Jesus. I am highlighting the ministry of Pastor Ed Citronelli of World Healing International Church in Yonkers, NY. (http://whichurchny.com/)However, if you know of a church/mosque/synogogue that is doing the work of Jesus, I encourage you to sow into that ministry as well. If you are in need of a miracle, deliverance and you have tried everything else and it has failed. Try Jesus! Jesus works and is always the best remedy.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 4: Thanks for Unconditional Love
Happy Fourth Day of Thanks!
I can remember from the time I was about nine years old my aunt Phyllis, in her NYC drawl, saying to me “Melissa, never marry or settle for a man who doesn’t treat you like your uncle Freddie treats me!” I would always observe her and my uncle’s relationship and marriage so that I knew to what I was supposed to be comparing mine. And if I’m being totally honest, what she said and what I saw stuck to me and is so ingrained in my mind and heart that it’s as if she branded those words on my brain. I’m probably still single and afraid (more like terrified!) of commitment because of her words and the demonstration of their marriage. Once you know something you can’t un-know it. And I’m not (nor will I ever be) willing to settle for less than what I know is possible.
My uncle Freddie worshipped the ground my aunt walked on. He worked hard and brought his entire check home; he cooked, cleaned, and washed laundry. My aunt never had to lift a finger. As I was growing up, I would hear his words to her: “all you have to do is sit there and be your pretty self for me!” He took her on vacations. They talked and laughed together; made decisions together and functioned as one. They were the kind of couple you made fun of because they would even wear matching outfits from time to time. They were such an impenetrable unit and their love was so strong. My uncle loved her dirty draws (as we say). For more than thirty years, I thought my aunt had a fairytale husband and a fairytale marriage and to a certain extent she did. What I didn’t know, and found out from my uncle after her death, is that to have that kind of unconditional love, it cost her so much. But, she was willing to sacrifice everything for it.
My aunt was raised a devout Catholic and firmly believed in the no sex before marriage rule. (I’m so glad she did because, ultimately, her belief saved her life.) She worked in a hospital at the time and one of the elderly patients who loved my aunt and thought she was so cute told her since he couldn’t date her, he wanted to introduce her to his grandson, my uncle Freddie. She met my uncle about 10 years after her first husband died and they hit it off really well. They traditionally courted for several years until he finally popped the question and asked her to marry him.
After getting the necessary blood work done in preparation for the marriage licenses and the wedding ceremony, they discovered that my uncle had HIV. He told my aunt that they couldn’t go through with the marriage because he couldn’t live with the idea of her getting sick or infected because of him. With tears in his eyes, my uncle said to me, “Melissa, she loved me so much. You know what she said to me? ‘I don’t care what that test says. You are my husband; I love you and we’ll get through this together.’ She never left me. She never cheated on me. She really, really loved me.” And never telling a soul about my Uncle Freddie’s condition, she married him and for the next thirty five years of their lives, loved, honored, protected, nurtured and cherished him.
She never thought that her ability to care for him would be cut short but, my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She prayed and willed herself better to love and take care of her husband; she survived a 28 hour Whipple surgery and lived through 8 years in remission after her first diagnosis. When her cancer came back the second time around, it came back with a vengeance. After a year and one half of treatment, the doctors said nothing could be done and sent her home to die. I put together a team of naturalist and we came up with a plan to keep the cancer at bay for as long as we could and we did for about 5 more months. My aunt, on her hospice bed at home, would ask for Freddie so that she could hold his hand in the stillness and warmth of the makeshift room environment and fall to sleep in his arms. They would talk, laugh and make promises to each other even then.
As she got closer to her death and the sequelas of the multiple strokes set in, I started to notice that things were not right with my uncle Freddie. I had spent so much time focusing on my aunt’s care that, although I noticed he didn’t look well, I chalked it up to the stress level of knowing that the love of his life was leaving him. When I started noticing other signs and symptoms, I asked both of them what was going on with him. He barked at me and told me to mind my “damn business.” She stayed quiet but I reminded her that I was a well trained physician who would wait for her to tell me the truth, even though I already knew what the deal was.
A week later as she was in the hospice bed at the hospital, she confessed to me “he has the cancer” and begged me to promise that I would care for my uncle Freddie for her when she was gone. I couldn’t say no to her. She was one of my best friends and took care of me as if I were her own daughter since I was a small child. She was also the matriarch of our family.
After arranging all the details of my aunts funeral and her estate, and the day after burying her, my focus had to completely shift to caring for my uncle Freddie. My uncle had wasted away to almost nothing and could barely sit through the repass of my aunt’s funeral because he was so weak. The day after her funeral, he finally confessed to me that he had AIDS and asked me to promise that I wouldn’t tell the rest of our family. He was still struggling deeply with the shame, stigma, and embarrassment of his condition. I encouraged him to tell his biological children and eventually he did. [He begged his daughter to keep it a secret but she didn’t and it caused havoc in my family for several weeks. My entire family wanted to know if he infected my aunt with the HIV virus and if that was the real reason she died. To some I even had to show her health records to prove that she was never infected.] My uncle said that his condition got as bad as it did because he couldn’t afford the medications any more. Although there were free programs for him to receive the medication, because he struggled with the stigma of HIV and didn’t want anyone to know his status, he never applied for the programs and set out to pay for the medicines himself.
Within the next 8 months, I became his only caregiver, his health and financial proxy, his round the clock nurse, social worker, pastor, and his confidant. It was the most chaotic time in my life because I had to balance every minute of time to make everything fit. I had my full time job, parenthood (Lilah is another full time job), caring for Uncle Freddie (another full time job) and was trying to grieve the loss of my aunt.
Uncle Freddie became really difficult to deal with and didn’t want anyone else to care for him but me, which was almost impossible. Most people would get distant because his wound smelled like rotting, putrid flesh and he would curse everyone out. I was the only one who had the patience to tolerate him, did the wound care effectively and made a promise to stay. All his tantrums and meanness was because he was so ashamed of the depth and smell of the wounds the Karposi sarcoma left on his entire legs and groin area.
When he could no longer stay home and I had to put him in the nursing home, I would dedicate my entire Saturdays to him and some weekdays that didn’t interfere with Lilah’s schedule, making sure he had everything he needed. On the Saturdays that I couldn’t come he wouldn’t eat and be so depressed, just to get me there. It was on our Saturday encounters that we prayed, read scripture, talked about his transition and my aunt. He would tell me stories of their entire love affair from beginning to end. By the time he was finished, we’d both be covered in tears.
My mind was blown by how much they loved each other and how much my aunt sacrificed to love him and stay with him. She was so courageous and defined for me a new level of unconditional love. I always wonder if I would or could have done what she did. She was willing to uphold the covenant of marriage and the vows that she made before she even spoke them, because they were already sealed in her heart. And even on her deathbed, like Jesus, she was leaving the person she loved into the hands of someone she knew would completely care for him the exact way she would if she were still alive. She embodied I Corinnthians 13:4-8: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends.
That is love! And she loved him.
I always think about how her gift of love came in such an unconventional package. If she had discarded the gift because of the packaging, she would have never experienced thirty five years of the best, awe striking, unconditional love that God had for her. Do you or have you or will you and I throw away a valuable gift that encloses love in it because the packaging is not what we expect it to be? I know so many people who do.
Today as we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of unconditional love, if you are married, celebrate your love for your spouse. Perhaps, you want to experience “A Love Affair: the Ultimate Date Night Experience” when my team and I have our next event. If you are not married, celebrate the unconditional love you have for your friends, relatives and children. For me, I have loved and am very grateful to have loved. But, my earthly unconditional love thus far has only been for my baby girl, Delilah Christina Barber. In the attachment of today’s email, I have enclosed the poem, Black Love Unconditional, which I wrote for my aunt and uncle, and read with Freddie’s permission at his funeral. In his death, he wanted everyone to know that he finally got over his fears of people knowing his status, just how much my aunt loved him and how grateful he was for all her love. Enjoy it and help me continue the celebration of their love.
Today, I am also highlighting these great organizations The Alliance for Positive Change (http://alliance.nyc/) and ACRIA(www.acria.org )that care for and provide education to patients with HIV and AIDS. Acria is one of the leading organizations, internationally, that has brought the first-ever activist, community-based approach to the study of new treatments for HIV. Please find it in your heart to volunteer your services to these NYC based organization and give financial donation to them. ACRIA also has a shop of artwork that is sold to raise money for the educational programs and research that they do.
Have a great day of thanks!
Day 5: Positive Identity
Happy Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!
Aside note: Over the course of the next 25 days, you will see me share stories about my wonderful daughter, Delilah Christina. Not only am i a very proud parent and single mom, but it is through her and my experiences with her that I have been molded into a better person in so many way. She has taught me to gauge my parenting skills, how to listen and communicate more effectively, how to boldly advocate for the oppressed, how to have incredible resilience and strength, as well as how to love unconditionally. Today, she turns 16 years old! (Make sure that you all send her a birthday shout out in every language you know, to fulfill our annual tradition of receiving the happy birthday song in every language possible on her day. Birthdays are our absolute favorite time!!!!!
In my reflection today, I give thanks for Identity, particularly a strong, positive, affirming identity.
When I was in med school, I lived with some beautiful dark-skinned Nigerian women. During a group conversation, one of the young ladies, mentioned that she didn’t think she was beautiful because, unlike her mother and sisters, she wasn’t endowed with light-skinned features to pass for white or long straight hair. Hearing her and so many woman with her similar features down-grade their beauty based on the darker hue of their skin concerned me, because I was raising a beautiful dark-skinned child whose sense of self I didn’t want to be warped in that way. From that moment, I knew that I would be working overtime as a parent to make sure that my daughter, Delilah Christina, saw beauty in all that she was created to be. The take away mantra/life lesson for Delilah is: “You need to know and define for yourself who you are and whose you are so that no one (not even me!) will dare to do it for you.” Coupled with that ideology, I’ve always taught her that neither the labels of “Autism” or “Epilepsy” will create barriers to limit her from conquering the world or any other thing she sets out to do. (I’m sure it must sometimes “suck” to have a mom like me because there are never any excuses tolerated or acceptable!)
I’ve watched the evolution of my child, who is now 16 today. (OMG! I still can’t believe I have a sixteen year old). And in spite of this world and its non equal opportunity for women, Blacks, and the disabled, I am really amazed and awestruck at how intelligent, beautiful, independent, fierce, expressive and unique she is. She knows it too, but not in a vain or conceited way. So today, I thought I’d highlight being thankful for strong, positive identity, giving a shout out to Girl power, and take you through the evolution of Lilah’s expression of identity so that you can see just what I mean for yourself.
While Delilah was in sixth grade, I re-wrote her Black History Month curriculum, providing all of the literature for her teacher and the six girls in her class, with the intention of exploring themes to:
- reinforce and affirm, positive racial identity, “blackness” and beauty
- highlight black women (inventors, activist, scientist, healers) who have made significant contributions to American History
- feature the role children and young adults had in the Civil Rights movements
- Convey Resistance and Social Activism as part of African American History
One of the books her class was to read that addressed Racial Identity & the diversity of African American colors and hair textures was “The Color of Us.” It was an awesome book that the 6 girls in the class absolutely loved. One of the activities was to reread the book and draw a portrait of themselves. That night I asked Lilah to draw a portrait of herself. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am a doctor, a social scientist, and black conscious, because I tend to scrutinize children a little more than the average folk. Although it was a fun exercise for her, I was evaluating mentally how she identifies herself in the context of what she really looks like and if she was aware of her surroundings and capturing everything in her environment when she drew the portrait. I was jumping for joy (and screaming in my head “That’s my baby!”) when I saw that she drew herself as a beautiful, big-lipped, big-nosed, hipped, dred-locked, happy, BLACK child who rocked her activist t-shirt (ENOUGH!) to stop the blockade against CUBA (see attachments). I told you all that my baby is fierce! In that moment, I knew that I could go ahead and pat myself on the back. She knew exactly who she was and showed up in that portrait as her authentic self. (Go ‘head, Lilah!) Don’t you wish all our young girls could be and feel like that all the time?
Let’s fast forward to thirteen years old when she came home and told me that she wanted her hair cut. I was devastated that my baby didn’t want the dredlocks that had been growing on her head for seven years anymore. She kept secretly cutting pieces of her dredlocks because she was too scared to tell me that she didn’t want them anymore. When she realized that I would wait a day or two to fix the bald spot she created (Yes, I’m that mom who makes you live with the consequences and wear your decision, no matter how crazy it looks!), she mustered the courage to say, “Mommy, cut hair!” I responded, “Finally! You don’t have to sneak to do anything! You can always tell me what’s on your mind and what you want!” I told her that we’d start small with a cute afro since we didn’t know what kind of head shape was lurking under all that hair. (I was way more vain about it than she was.)
We did two weeks of the afro, when she decided to tell me, “Mommy, cut more!” She wanted a clean-shaven head. In my mind, I thought she had lost her. But, she was determined to get the look she wanted, especially for her graduation coming a few days later. Lilah and I trusted one of our best friends, who is really family, to give her the cut. I never saw a bigger smile on her face as the day she got that first hair cut. It was a major moment of her expressing her creative idea of what beauty for her would look like. [This was before the blockbuster Black Panther movie too.] And she looked absolutely stunning! I’m not saying that because I’m biased and her mom. See for yourself! The cut suited her perfectly. She rocks her clean shave and usually doesn’t let me go passed an inch of growth.
At fifteen, Ms. Diva (another name for Delilah now) comes home and says, “mommy, want hair.” My response was “okay. We’ll grow it out.” It grew to an inch and she started flipping out in her teenage way saying, “Mommy, cut!” I respond, “Didn’t you just say that you wanted hair? Make up your mind!” She comes home two days later and says, “Mommy, want wig!” I said, “Oh! That’s what you meant!” Although that was a very “interesting” request, I was so proud of her because she had gone through all the trouble to notice and find out what a wig was and then learn the word to come home and ask me for one. Since I don’t have the first clue about wigs, I asked my cousin where to go and how I should shop for one. We went to a store and they wouldn’t let us try on more than two wigs, which would not work for Lilah’s curiosity. I ended up purchasing some cheap wigs online for her to explore. (Comical adventure! See pics) Some looked like a hot mess! There was one that she decided to work with and make it look like she wanted. This child used my most expensive shampoos, products and grease to turn this wig into her own master piece. I even had to get mannequins for the wig to sit on! I was floored when she was done; that wig’s ‘do was cute but in my head I was thinking, did you really have to use my good stuff?
Most of you who know Delilah know that she is also diva-licious with fashion too. Clothes and accessories have always been her thing. (I think she inherited that from my aunt Phyllis.) My auntie always told her to look cute, rocking some earrings, and nice clothes. And ninety percent of the time she does just that! If you only knew of some of the battles in the morning to get dressed because she didn’t want to wear something I had chosen or the countless times I had to run back to my apartment, as we were rushing to her school bus, just to get the pair of earrings she left in the house. (SMH!) I also think she got the clean shave from my aunt too, whose final hairstyle was exactly the same during her fight with pancreatic cancer.
These years of creative expression have been an adventure, but I am definitely a PROUD MOMMY!!!!!! From the moment I welcomed her into the world at 4:16 pm on November 17, 2002 and committed to cherish, love, and protect her, I’ve been trying my best to be the best mom she could ever possibly have. And today, I say that I am beyond grateful for my daughter (she is so lovable and amazing!) showing me how important it is to have her own voice and a strong, positive, affirming identity.
Today as we give thanks, take some time to reflect on who you are and evaluate if you are showing up in every situation as your authentic self. Additionally, make sure that you are doing everything you can to empower and mentor young girls. Affirm their intelligence and beauty every chance you get because this world is very cruel to them. On a larger scale, please consider giving financial support to one or all of these organizations: The Uniquely-Abled Girl Scout Troop, started by Ms. Irene Watson, empowers young girls with who are differently-abled to learn leadership, character development, and social skills through the Girl Scouts model. You can send a check or money order to Irene Watson with UMG1151 noted in the memo field and send it to 825 Gerard Avenue, Apartment 6C, Bronx, NY 10451. Irene has done wonders for Delilah’s and these young girl’s confidence and self esteem; Delilah will leave me for her Ms. ReRe in a hot second. Please do not forget this amazing woman and all the work she does for young girls with disabilities. (She is currently in the process of setting up a paypal for the troop so if this old fashion payment system deters you from giving, talk to me and I can arrange another payment system to get Ms. Watson your donation.) She will give you a tax deductible receipt. Gyrl Wonder (About), started by Tola Lawal, engages girls through their four pillars of Self Care, Self Image, Empowerment and Development. BLACK GIRLS ROCK! (Donate) started by Beverly Bond, is dedicated to enlightening girls through leadership (BLACKGIRLS LEAD Conference), education (SATURDAY ENRICHMENT Institute and GIRLS ROCK TECH) and positive identity development. (See: https://www.gyrlwonder.org/ and https://blackgirlsrock.com/)
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Next installment, days 6 – 10.