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.
Day 21: Community
Happy Twenty First Day of Thanks Everyone!
Today, I give thanks for the greatest community on this planet, the “Boogie Down” Bronx! (Don’t Hate!)
I was born and raised in the South Bronx, and am a diehard fan of my ‘hood. (Don’t you dare think about talking bad about it in front of me, especially if you are not from here!) Most of you only know us as the borough with the poorest health, environmental and educational indicators in the United States. Or, if you have been around since the seventies, you remember it as the borough that burned as landlords, hiring felons to commit arson, tried to collect insurance on their abandoned properties. However, that’s doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of us.
Here is a little history for those of you who don’t know our origins. The Bronx was settled by six Dutch families, who were all pastors, (one of the families was the Broncks family) coming to the new world looking for religious freedom and financial opportunity. When the Broncks family settled here there was no slaughtering or annihilation of the already established Native Americans who were present, but there was a coexistence of the two groups, where the Broncks family eventually made legal agreements with the natives to buy the land that they would possess. Our motto is “No cede malis” which translates to “Do no harm” or “Yield not to evil,” which is emblazoned on the Bronx flag and is part of the Broncks’ family arms. The Bronx flag has three stripes (orange, white and blue), a laurel wreath (denoting honor and fame), a shield that shows the face of the sun with rays rising from the sea (signifying peace, liberty, and commerce), a crest that has an eagle on a hemisphere facing eastward (representing the hope of the New World without forgetting the Old World), and our motto.
I give you that history so that you know our foundations and know why we as a people (the Bronx Community) manage to soar (eagle), persevere (the sun with the rays of light rising from the waters), defend ourselves (shield), stay famous for our creativity (laurel), and fight to the death for justice (“Ne cede Malis”). We can’t help it; it’s in our DNA.
In addition to being the only borough on the mainland of New York state, we have the largest green space in the state. We have two of the largest national parks (Pelham Bay Pak and Van Courtland Park); we have a world renown zoo (The Bronx Zoo) and botanical garden (Bronx Botanical garden); we have some of the oldest preserved nature trails; we also have more colleges and universities than any other borough in NYC. On 169th street behind Southern Boulevard, was the home of some of the first jazz sounds and clubs in NYC. And let us not forget that we are the originators of Hip Hop! (Untouchable!) To not hurt someone’s feelings I’ll stay silent about having the better Little Italy and black-white cookies (smile!)
With that little taste of history, I can talk to you about our present day South Bronx community and specifically the unifying work of our coalition and our community land trust. We are a heavy immigrant community that has endured much to rebuild after the ashes. But, we have managed to fight to sustain ourselves, our traditions, and our values. Several years ago, our South Bronx community began a coalition (South Bronx Unite) of community members and business owners with the initial goal of protesting the relocation of the online grocer Fresh Direct to the South Bronx. The relocation was a backroom deal made between the then Mayor Bloomberg, borough president Ruban Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo without any of our community’s involvement or support. They gave this unethical, immoral company (had lawsuit from employees for owing over 24 million dollars in pay; called immigration on their workers who were trying to unionize) millions of tax payer dollars to further pollute our Bronx community and take our last parcel of public land space which our community had already designated and planned as a future waterfront. These three crooks, additionally, decided to rush the deal to avoid Fresh Direct abiding by the living wage deal for which so many of us New Yorkers fought hard. (SMH at the level of corruption!)
The three elected officials announced the company’s relocation as a “done deal.” However, our community had something else to say about it. We, the underdogs, fought them for six long years in court. Although our community didn’t have the final victory of that battle, because Mayor DiBlasio sold us out, we are winning the war. We showed every elected official how we could and would go toe to toe with the giants and give them a good whipping, Bronx style, if they dared to mess with our ‘hood. (Try us!)
We established a precedence that we, as a community, weren’t backing down when it came to fighting for what was right, as it pertained to us. Our coalition organically evolved, taking on the many issues that plagued our community from environmental injustice and health disparities to anti-gentrification and real estate hyperspeculation and no new jails in the Bronx campaigns. Each of our skilled and professional community members take on one or more of the issues according to their expertise. It’s pretty amazing what we have been able to accomplish as a unified, volunteer, community-based coalition! We do environmental justice tours of our community. We helped develop the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan, and have annual waterfront festivals. We have connected with many of the local colleges and universities to engage in social justice activism. We connected with Columbia University to do current environmental (air quality, noise, and black carbon) pollution studies; we decided to make our own Environmental Impact statement since a judge decided that an outdated 22 year old environmental impact statement (after all the rezoning in our once industrial community area and new regulations of air quality standards) was still good enough for Fresh Direct to use to enter our over saturated with pollution community and further pollute it. We have had several community festivals, rallies and protest. See pics. (We definitely emulate the scripture that God commands a blessing in unity!)
In 2015, several of the members of our coalition incorporated a community land trust, The Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards Inc., with the goal of acquiring land in perpetuity within our community and transforming that land space to meet the needs of our community. Our biggest effort has been to acquire the old Lincoln Recovery Center on 141st Street between Willis and Alexander Avenues and transform it into the H.E.Arts Center (see pic attached) for our community. Our hope is to make the center an all inclusive one-stop wellness center that will focus on the pillars of health, education, and the arts for our community. Having several community envisioning sessions, inviting residents, business owners and non profits working in the community, we discovered the desires and needs of our community and hope to meet them. The last three years have been a wonder to see the fruition of the vision and hard work manifested by our CLT and community residents. We still have much more work to do to acquire the land for the H.E.Arts Center and to raise the millions that it will take to renovate it. (The city agency who once owned it, left it abandoned with windows open, letting pipes bust and some mold set in and doesn’t plan to pay for the damages.) But we are staying focused and pressing towards the mark. I told you that my community is the bomb! And it is such an honor and privilege to serve it, in this great endeavor.
Today, as we give thanks for community, particularly my community of “the Boogie Down,” I ask that you check out the amazing work that we have done and are doing at our South Bronx Unite website, http://southbronxunite.org/, and to subscribe to our community land trusts newsletter at http://sbxclt.org/. And don’t forget to donate! We need your money for the millions that we are trying to raise to get our H.E.Arts center up and running for our community. (And although you may not be from our hood, we will not turn you away from the wonderful services rendered when we are established.) Also, as you honor and pay tribute to my ‘hood remember to listen to some old school hip-hop today, cause we are where it all got started.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 22: Unconventional Choices
Happy Twenty Second Day of Thanks Everyone!
Have you ever been on a path in your life that was clearly accidental? It was not your choice to be in that career or predicament but you ended up there and it turned out to be the “perfect fit.” And although it is your perfect fit, because your mind is so focused and has tunnel vision for your first choice, you miss that the “accident” was God’s way of plummeting you into His perfect will and your exact destiny (because otherwise you’d go in circles for the rest of your life trying to find or get to your destiny.)
I was in a little of a dilemma trying to figure out what story I would share for this particular reflection. There are two different people and two different stories that came to mind when I thought of the topic of blessings in Unconventional Choices. Since I could not decide which one was better to write, I’m going to share both.
A few years ago, I met a gentleman who was recently divorced at a celebration. Throughout the night, on several occasions, I walked in on a similar conversation that he was having with different people. Each time he mentioned repeatedly throughout the night of the celebration that he wanted to be in love and experience the butterflies in his stomach that came with falling in love. I thought it was really interesting that I kept walking in on the same conversation he was having with different people throughout the night at the same exact time he was saying and conveying the same exact message. I literally had to ask God “is there a reason why I keep hearing this conversation?” (Why did I ask that question?) For the next four nights, I was awakened in the middle of the night and it was placed in my spirit to tell this gentleman something. I didn’t want to do it because I had no idea who he was and whether he would receive what I had to say. But, when I got awakened for the fifth night, I decided that he would hear all that I was told to tell him (sleep is a wonderful thing!).
The morning I met this gentleman, he had come to the event with a woman, who everyone thought was his wife. The connection between them was very strong and seemed like that of a husband and wife. It turned out that the woman was not only his best friend but his body guard also. What I was told to tell him had to do with her. The paraphrased version of what I emailed was that he kept saying that he wanted to be in love but the reason he hadn’t found the butterflies in his stomach love that he wanted was because he had written off the person who could give that to him. That person was his best friend.
The gentleman and I have become really great friends over the years and I know well his interactions with his best friend (who I call his wife. I don’t care what he says). She knows him like the back of her hand and is so mindful of him. She would pick him up gifts that she knew were his favorites while she was shopping. I’ve noticed how he has a complete retirement plan in place that involves her moving (without her knowledge) to the west coast with him. (How do you plan someone else’s retirement to be with you for the rest of your life? You need to get with the program and admit that there is some love thing going on there.) She has been with him through every up and down in his life from his divorce to his mother’s death. (And his mom loved her!) His ex-wife would have to call her to get him to do things. (Even his ex-wife realized who this woman was in his life! SMH!) Talk about (most) men always being clueless!
When I asked him why he had not considered a relationship with this woman, his typical “man” answer was I’m not “attracted” to her, which I thought was very interesting because she was a beautiful dark-skinned sister who was well kept. (She is flier than I am on any given day!) When he showed me the type of woman that he was “attracted” to, it was the typical petite, light-skinned woman with a figure eight, hour glassed body shape and long straight hair. The problem with his “type” is that he had his fair share of that type of woman and she dragged him through disaster all the way to divorce.
Throughout my life, I have seen this scenario play out so many times with the many males that I know. He, like most men, was/is having an emotional affair with his best friend, making her his back bone and support, taking advantage of not making a relationship commitment and assuming that she will be there for and with him forever. All the while, he was/is having the physical affair with his girlfriend or another woman. And in the present situation, he has no butterflies in the stomach love.
[Side note: To all of you, women and men, who do this, hear me as if I am yelling into a bullhorn screaming from a mountaintop. Don’t do this!!!! That’s a very bad mistake to make! You are going to eventually LOSE the game and that person. And it is going to hurt you worst than you think, and sometimes it will be a hurt or lost with damage that is irreversible. I say this from experience. So, if you have learned to trust my honesty over the time of our journey together, trust this advice too.]
All I can say is that he, like, you, have been warned. Stop rejecting the unconventional “choice” that God is presenting to you. God’s will is always good, acceptable and perfect for you. God is so in love with you and ultimately wants to give you the desires of your heart. Just because the package is different and it wasn’t your first choice does not mean that it lacks your ultimate, unconditional, butterflies in your stomach, love. (Remember Auntie Phyllis and Uncle Freddie? Go back to day 4.) If your desires are butterflies in your stomach love, you have to trust God’s choice because it will be just that.
So the next story is about another friend that I have. I love all things him and he is one of the only white men that I know with some serious SWAG. He is the most amazing special needs teacher on this planet! He has taught more children with special needs to read than I can count. With his back problems, he would be on the floor doing OT (occupational therapy) and PT (physical therapy) to make sure that they would get their daily dose of services that the Board of ED was skipping out on. He would spend his own money for countless supplies for his students. He was a no nonsense but fun-loving teacher who had the students on a regimen. He was that father figure to Delilah who got her through the changes of her menses at eight and nine years old, even though he was completely freaked out about it. (LOL!) With every seizure, he was checking on her in the evening to see if she was okay. He is beyond amazing!
Now if you know me and how much of a thinker I am, you know that I always challenge those in my sphere of influence to critically think as well. You also know that it is not uncommon to get a random email/text at whatever time of day asking a question that makes you use every one of those brain cells that you have in that head of yours. One day I sent out a question that said something like, “what would you do if you were not limited by fear?” He replied with this elaborate response that he would start a charter school for autistic children that had all of the bells and whistles in it to guarantee the student’s complete success. (This was years before an autistic charter school even existed!) I thought that this was such an amazing idea; I told him that I was going to be a complete pest (which I totally still am) about him writing the proposal to actually make the school happen. He would be the perfect person to do it! (He said that I would have to be on his board when he got the school up and running because I wasn’t getting away with not having skin in the game!)
I sent out that question years ago and until this day, several times a year I bug him about why I still lack a proposal in my hand/email for the school that he is going to build for us. (Notice how it became a school that he is building for me too?) Just last week, after being the usual pest about the proposal, he said to me, in his frustration with teaching, that he doesn’t want to do the school because he’d have to go back to get certifications and licensing. He fell into being a teacher by “accident” but the career doesn’t have the same respect that it once had. He said that he has all the money his daughter needs for college and now he wants to pursue his life-long dream of being an auto mechanic and will start taking classes to do that this month in the evening.
Can you believe that he became a teacher by “accident?” Didn’t I tell you at the beginning of the story that he was beyond amazing? There goes God again, plummeting someone into destiny without them even knowing it. After all of these years of the amazing work he has done to produce successful special needs pupils like Delilah, he thinks it is not a special calling from God but an “accident.” (SMH!)
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for pursuing life-long dreams and I think he should definitely pursue being an auto mechanic. (After all, that will provide the money for him to do the foundational work for our school.) But, how do you convey to someone that the pursuit of that first choice is not going to give him the butterflies in one’s stomach fulfillment that he thinks because it is not his destiny like being with children is. From my vantage point, it is almost like you seeing your friend walking into danger and you are trying to caution him. But, you almost have to let him travel down that path, which will eventually lead him in circles, just so that he can discover for himself that the first choice is not the “right” choice for destiny. I can let him go down that path of pursuit also trusting and knowing that God will ultimately bring him in a circle (40 years in the wilderness for a few days journey!) to get him right back to the place that he should be. And I will, lovingly, encourage him while he is on that pursuit; still pestering him about his original destiny and purpose (the special needs school). Because that is what real friends do when they love you! They support you in every endeavor but remind you to pursue destiny.
Today, as we are thankful for and celebrate the “unconventional choices” that are God’s packaged blessings of our destiny, I would like for you to think about all (or some—I wouldn’t want you to get overwhelmed) of the “unconventional choice(s)” in your life, whether in the form of a partner, career or idea, that you have rejected or are rejecting because it doesn’t meet your (or a societal) “standard” of beauty or success. Take that unconventional choice and pray or meditate about it. Sit with it and ask God about its purpose and value for you and incline your ears to see and be in tune with what God says (not what you say!). Then write and let me know what you have discovered.
Today I want to highlight an amazing organization in Brooklyn, H.O.L.L.A (How Our Lives Link Altogether) https://holla-inc.com/ that is doing a wonderful job helping young at risk youth of color find and connect to their destinies and their power through love, healing, community organizing and relationships built on trust. The founders thought of this organization while they were in prison and built the ideas and principles of the organization based on their life experiences. The wardens thought it was crazy to let them pursue the idea, but it was so great and would have such lasting impact on youth in communities of color that the founders decided to pursue it and establish the organization. Talk about unconventional paths and choices! Please check them out, donate to their cause, volunteer if you can and send youth that you know to them to participate in their activities.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 23: Great Teachers
Happy Twenty Third Day of Thanks Everyone!
I am so very grateful to the wonderful, gifted, overworked and underpaid teachers in institutional setting that take the time to ignite a fierce fondness for learning, for academic excellence and for a particular subject matter. Most of them have also taught us to develop a standard of presentation, character, and professionalism, which endured much longer than their physical presences in our lives. Lilah and I still stay in contact with all her amazing teachers (We will forever be grateful to Ms. Stevens who taught my baby how to say her name (without music). We will forever love all things Mr. Joe! And to Ms. Gabby and Ms. Allison who taught her to also love all things girlie about herself!) May they always be revered and celebrated for how great they are!
Mr. Alvin Shields was not a traditional teacher in any sense of the word. He was a tall, black man who wrote theater scripts, wore a pony tail, biker clothes, a leather jacket and rode a motorcycle to our Catholic school in the South Bronx. He rattled us on our first day of class as he threatened to start a new academic grading system, failing all of us if we didn’t get 100% on our class work, quizzes and test. We thought he was absolutely insane, not realizing that there was a method to his madness. He taught English and had us reading and dissecting the classics as well as many modern literary works. He taught our young minds to critically think and analyze text and real world scenerios. We had to read the newspaper every day and choose a story on which to report. We had surprise grammar quizzes (who gives surprise grammar quizzes?) every week. There was never a dull moment in one of his classes.
If I am being honest, I was a terror and always gave him a run for his money. But, it was only because I admired his stubbornness, consistency to his crazy methods, and unwillingness to give up on me. (As much as I argued him down daily about my interpretations and analysis of a text, he thought I was definitely in line to be a lawyer.) Mr. Shields spoke into my life in the way that most great teachers do. He said that he would never accept anything less than excellence from me because he knew that I was destined for greatness. I have no idea what “greatness” he saw then, but he was maturing, developing, and fine-tuning my character and potential. In spite of my strong will, he taught me to write clear, concise sentences to express my thoughts on all my “masterpieces” and would punish me by minusing points if I forgot to speak with proper English. (I’m almost certain he’d be so proud that these reflections are a product of all his efforts!)
The English grammar and writing skills he taught me in junior high school have stayed with me my entire life and have proved effective for college and medical school applications, my academic coursework, recommendation letters that I have written for my students and colleagues, as well as the letters I have written to advocate for myself and others. I’m so grateful for all of the academic and nonacademic lessons that he taught me in those years.
After reading an article in the Indypendent about me and my medical service after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he contacted the journalist, told her that he was my former English teacher, and asked if she could pass on his contact information. When I contacted him and told him who I was, his first comment was “I told you that you were destined for greatness.” (I had to smile.) It turns out that he and my other junior high school peers had developed a Facebook page several years earlier and were wondering the outcome of the “overachieving” (chuckle!) class valedictorian.
I’m happy that Mr. Shields and I stayed in regular contact from that time. It made a big difference to me that before he transitioned from this life a little over a year later, I was able to thank him for teaching and believing in me and convey just how much he had influenced and impacted my life. (I also promised him that he’d be in the acknowledgement section of one of my future books. Make sure that you all remind me to do so, if/when it ever happens.)
To all of you great teachers (you know who you are!) in my and Delilah’s life, who have inspired our love for learning, today, we celebrate you. Although teaching is not a profession that is revered as it once was, we still thank and are grateful to you for your service. We salute you for the countless hours of effort that you give to your students, the constant repetition of corrective behaviors, and the personal money you’ve spent to meet needs. Thank you for being amazing!
Many of you know that our public schools severely lack the funding necessary to get many of the supplies needed for a classroom. Luckily, there are several organizations that allow folks to sponsor or adopt a class. Today, we highlight Mrs. Olan who is an amazing high school special needs teacher and her class at PS 176X at Truman High School (donorschoose.org/mrs.olan) and ask that you give generously so that her students can benefit greatly from your donations. Mr. Joe Olivet (who we love) is an amazing, retired Airman and teacher of a special needs class at PS 352X @ PS 424 on Hunts Points. He mentioned that his school is in serious need of new computers and printers to make their (teachers and administration) lives so much easier in providing lessons for the students . Since I believe in asking when there is a need (“ask and ye shall receive”), especially for children’s sake, if any of you out there have the resources to sponsor a computer or computers, a printer or printers for this school, please buy and donate those materials to them so that the children and teachers benefit. When you do buy the materials, let me know so that I can put you in contact with Mr. Joe.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 24: Freedom
Happy Twenty Fourth Day of Thanks Everyone!
I give thanks for freedom today—freedom from physical, mental, and spiritually shackles that are sometimes self-implemented but, often are those imposed by society and abusers.
I have an amazing twelve year old goddaughter, Kamora Lee, who Delilah and I met several years ago as she was admitted into a pediatric psychiatric ward. (For those of you who don’t know the beautiful story of how we met, I can send it to you later.) Somehow, when I met my precious baby girl, Kamora Lee, I inherited her whole loveable, yet dysfunctional immediate and extended family. (SMH!) The first time Lilah and I went to visit Kamora’s family in Brooklyn, we had an adventure of a day. It ended with Kamora’s mom passing me the phone to talk to her uncle, Raymond, who I didn’t know but was asking to speak to me. (Who asks to speak to people on the phone that they don’t know? I should have known he was in jail.)
I don’t know who Raymond thought I was but I had to shut him down real quick when his conversation, quite asinine, was way too immature for my brain activity. I asked him, “what kind of foolish little girls do you know and talk to that tolerate your kind of conversation? You shouldn’t ask to speak to people until you get your mind right and learn how to talk.” Kamora’s mom quickly grabbed the phone, before I really hurt her uncle’s feelings further, and told him “no, she is not one of my street friends.” He asked her to pass me the phone again so that he could apologize. I accepted the apology and gave her back the phone.
About twenty minutes later, Raymond told Janet to ask me if he could write to me. With my eyebrow raised, I asked, “he wants me to be his pen pal?” Janet started laughing because she thought I was making fun of him but I wasn’t. “Why?” I told her to tell Raymond that he didn’t want me to be his pen pal because it would require him to put in a great deal of work that he wasn’t used to doing to be a better person and a better man. Our conversations would be God and Bible centered, very thought-provoking, require him to critically think and analyze things and completely focused around his transformation. And since he already demonstrated that his conversation left so much to be desired, I didn’t think he wanted or could handle it. He told Janet that he was willing to do it. I brushed him off.
A few days later, I got a call from Kamora’s mother asking me if her uncle could call me on the phone. I said, “why in the world does your uncle need to talk to me? Girl, I don’t have time to be paying for collect calls from a jail cell!” She taught me that my traditional view of calls from inmates was outdated; they had their own pre-paid calling cards which they used to call friends and family from jail. She said that he wanted to call to get my address so that he could start writing his first missive. (What in the hell did I get myself into?) I laid out the guidelines and he was ready to accept them and do the work. I couldn’t back down now.
He called and got my address and we began our pen pal journey. I told him about my standards and expectations of authenticity and honesty when I welcome people into my life. I laid out the guidelines once again and let him know that if he didn’t and could not adhere to them our journey would be completely over in quicker time than a heartbeat. He confirmed that he was clear about my standards and expectations and said he would start writing when he got off the phone.
In our letters, we introduced ourselves, talked about our upbringing, and our journey to our present lives. Then I started to give him questions, activities, and scripture that would start the fundamental process of transformation (or at least get him thinking about it.) I couldn’t tell him all of the details about how I met Kamora Lee because her mom didn’t want Raymond to worry about her, since he took to being a father figure for her. Raymond had a wife, who he married while in jail, and a step-daughter. The majority of the men and woman in his family were also in jail or had frequent visits there. He told me that he knew and believed in God; (he was raised Catholic). I told him that I’d believe he knew God when he was on the outside of a jail cell, with all the liberties and freedoms, and still choosing to know and serve him. (I wasn’t convinced since most people I knew who served time in jail found God or Allah there and when they got out of jail didn’t remember their God anymore.)
He had been in jail since he was nineteen years old and on the twenty seventh year of his bid. (Yikes!) He explained that he was a major drug dealer, who met with the heads of cartels, and at the time he was caught, he was accused of also murdering someone. He said that, although he didn’t commit the murder, in his line of work you didn’t snitch on who did, so he took the fall. (Twenty seven years of losing his life for someone else! SMH!) He explained how he realized that his time in jail was God saving his life. He knew that as crazy as he was in his earlier years and with the depth to which he was in the drug dealing game, he would have already been dead. He also said that, although he had not committed the crime he was charged for, he was really paying for the crimes that he did that he didn’t get caught for. He sat through several parole boards in which he was denied his freedom because he would sit through them denying that he committed the crime for which he was charged and never taking the onus of responsibility for why he was in jail in the first place. He said that along the journey of his bid, he found a mentor who took to him and helped him to realize the accountability that he was avoiding; he needed to see the damage that he had inflicted upon other people, whole communities, and his family by selling those drugs.
For almost two years, we wrote each other. Within our final year of pen paling, Raymond was given a chance to go before the parole board again. I tried to prepare him as best I could for his parole hearing with questions that I would ask if I were a person on his board. I asked him questions about what his future goals and plans were for living on the outside and how he planned to implement them. I asked him what type of skills sets did he have or was he acquiring to get a “real” job when he came home. I explained to him the advancement of technology and how much the world depended on it and a computer to run. Was he prepared with basic computer skills? How would he answer questions about his character? Was he the same person? Had he changed and how could he prove it? I drilled him with every possible question I could think of. I even helped him with his parole packet.
One month before his parole hearing, he asked if I could write a letter on his behalf to the parole board. I told him that I would. I prayed over all the copies of that letter so many times before I mailed it. I asked God for his supernatural help, sending angels to minister to Raymond during the hearing and to grant him freedom. I sent the letters through confirmation receipt so that I would know that it reached each recipient. Two weeks later Raymond called me excited. He said the warden had read my letter and told him that my letter would get him parole. (I said, “from his mouth to God’s ears! Amen.”)
He sat for his parole hearing and did well. I was very proud of him. (I always wonder if Raymond knew, on our first encounter, that I could be trusted to help him to get through and overcome the parole process.) They released him a month and one half later in June 2017. He had served 28 and one half years of jail time for his crime.
Raymond has been out of jail for a little over a year. He started out very strong, interviewing for and receiving a good job. However, I heard that recently he was having some trouble with his wife that almost landed him back where he started. Every few months, I send him a text message just letting him know that I am praying for his success and well being. I don’t hover much because I know that since his mind is only nineteen years old, it will take some time for him to mature and adjust to having to catch up for the twenty-eight years that were lost. Kamora’s mom is angry at him that he has not done more to reach out to me now that he is on the outside. I had to let her know that she shouldn’t be angry (especially since I wasn’t) because some relationships are only for a season. If my knowing Raymond was only to prepare him for the next phase of his journey than that was all I was supposed to do and I fulfilled that purpose. I gently reminded her that Raymond, after two years of knowing me, was very clear about what my standards and expectations are; he knows not to violate them. I also told her that I trust God to lead Him and guide Him the rest of the way onto real freedom.
Just because someone gets out of the prison that they are/were in, it doesn’t always mean that they are free. Freedom is a process that requires them to not only shed the physical situation but the mindset that went with it. I truly hope that Raymond finds freedom.
Today I highlight one of my favorite non-profit organizations, A21 (Abolish Slavery in the 21st century). Working with governments and volunteers all over the world, they do amazing work to rescue victims who are/were human trafficked, restore them to freedom, through love and extensive counseling (aftercare) at one of their many rescue centers and equip and empower each survivor for a completely new life. Please donate (https://www.a21.org) all that you can to make sure that we are saving one life from the grips of the abuse of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!
Day 25: Healthy Births, Healthy Babies, SisterFriends & Safe Birth Kits
Happy Twenty Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!
I give thanks for healthy births and heamlthy babies and the tools and people who support their becoming.
I’m sure everyone who is reading this has felt the joy of welcoming your, a friend’s or a relative’s new, healthy baby into this world. They are so soft and cute. They have the tiniest hands and feet, which still manage to have the strongest grip around your finger. Once they are all cleaned up, they smell like the creamy Johnsons & Johnson’s baby lotion. And let’s not forget the cheeks of all chubby or chunky babies…They are to die for! (Ahhhh! Pure bliss!)
But, all too often, here in the good ole’ United States of America and around the world, Black and Brown women (families) don’t get to share in that same bliss. Our babies die! They die at a rate nearly 2.5 times higher than that of white babies before their first birthday. (Yes. You read that correctly!) Black and Brown babies die at a rate nearly 2.5 times higher than that of white babies before their first birthday! According to the CDC, in 2016 the infant mortality rate in the US was 5.87 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and ranged from 3.47 in Vermont to 9.03 in Alabama. The higher rates of infant mortality were seen in southern states with two states, in addition to Alabama, having outrageously high rates–Arkansas (8.02) and Mississippi (8.67). (SMH!) We live in one of the richest countries in the world and for some reason it is okay for a significant portion of our babies (especially those that are non-white) to die at alarming rates, before they even have a chance at life. Talk about one knowing the health status and political will of his/her nation by how well the nation takes care of its women and children! (That is a damn shame!)
For about sixteen years, I have been part of a sisterhood (and brotherhood) of fabulous women who are on a mission to save our Black and Brown (and all other) babies and bring the joy of welcoming them into the world back to our families again. Our sisterhood is the Underground Railroad for New Life and we stretch from Mississippi to Malawi, with over one hundred stops on our railroad, saving one new mother and baby at a time. Our gifts to mothers (and babies) are SisterFriends, amazing and loving women who will mentor, coach, support, and encourage them throughout their entire pregnancy and up to one year after the birth of their babies. For thirty years, our little engine that could organization, The Birthing Project USA: the Underground Railroad for Life, has been saving thousands of babies with our method not only here in the US but around the world.
My mama and mentor, Ms. Kathryn Hall-Trujillo (also known as Mama Katt), after working for the Department of Health in California and seeing the cost of how much it was to care for sick and dying babies, had the initial goal and mindset to find a way to save the state some money. (Money, unfortunately, is always the bottom line! So, we have to talk their language to do what we need to do.) Along the way, she saw how the state of California was going to cut the care for one of her little Black baby boys who was fighting for his life. The same day the state was planning to terminate his care, the little warrior (soldier) gave up his fight, rested his soul, and went to be with the Lord. And she, angry and heart-broken by his lost, “accidently” (You remember what I said about accidents? Go back to Day 22.) started the Birthing Project with ten other like-minded folk.
In our birthing project models, we have programming that addresses the family. With “the Barber Shop” model, we teach our young men, through different fatherhood initiatives, how to be men who are supportive to their partners while she is pregnant and present for their babies. With “the Beauty Shop” model we teach teenage girls empowerment through education, entrepreneurial skills, and personal development. Our birthing project even has baby showers for mothers, babies, and families through the Angels for Babies project.
Our prize gems are our SafeBirth Kits, which was developed by Zubaida Bai. The SafeBirth Kit is a small pouch (cute accessory! See pic of model holding the pink SafeBirth Kit) that contains all the essential medical supplies (a plastic mat, gloves, soap, razor, and clamp), which allow women, in the most rural places of the world where there may be no doctors or hospitals, to have a clean, safe, childbirth. Through collaboration with Ms. Bai’s company, AYZH, we are able to sponsor a mother in the world getting one of these SafeBirth Kits for $5. “Why is this a gem”, you ask? Because every 2 minutes, 60 woman die in childbirth due to unsanitary conditions and infections. (Yes. In the time it is taking you to read this reflection, over 60 women in the world have already lost their lives.) And I have experienced in the hospital setting and in extreme natural disaster situations, the lost of babies and mothers. It’s absolutely devastating and rips into your soul. Do you see why the work of my sisterhood is so important and why we dare, every day, to save mothers and babies from that fate? (Now you know why I will drop everything to be by the side of a mother in distress. It saves her and that baby!)
I am excited! In the future, I will be creating another stop on our wonderful railroad in the South Bronx, the best community on this planet, for our HEArts Center, (See Day 21 of our Thirty Days of Thanks). It’s going to be amazing! (Wait and see!) We will be loving on a whole bunch of Black and Brown mommas and getting to kiss the cheeks of a whole bunch of beautiful, healthy Black and Brown (and all other) babies. (Yaay!)
Today, I am more than excited to give thanks for healthy births, healthy babies, SisterFriends and SafeBirth Kits. And I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that today I’m highlighting the organization, The Birthing Project USA: The Underground Railroad for Life (https://www.birthingprojectusa.org/intro.html). Give every penny that you can possibly pour out of your pockets today to save our mommies and babies around the world. Today, instead of that cup of midday coffee that you buy from Starbucks or in the street, save a baby’s life with that $5 by sponsoring a SafeBirth Kit. Your heart will love you. (Just think of all the cute, chunky babies that you get to save.)
Please share today’s reflection of thanks with everyone that you know. My hope is to get at least 100 people to sponsor at least one SafeBirth Kit today.
Have a Great Day of Thanks!