MT days 26 – 30

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 26: Kind, Thoughtful, Inspirational Words

Happy Twenty Sixth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I don’t know what it is but, I have always had this special kind of mojo which attracts senior citizens to me. I’ve come to conclude that there may be a long list of things responsible for this attraction which range from my big, bright smile (which you already know radiates light) to the kind check-in on how they are or their need for some medical advice. Whatever it is, the attraction is always strong. (Now if I can just get that mojo to attract me to my amazing, intelligent, God-fearing, loving, worship-the-ground-I-walk-on chocolate prince, I’d be set! I’m just saying!)

I’ve known an elderly gentleman who works at a senior citizens center close to my job for about four years now. We met, initially, on our daily commute to work on what you know I call the God forsaken bus, the Bx19.  After seeing each other for a while and coming to the conclusion that we were basically going to the same place (our work is literally right next door to each other), we struck up whole conversations about our lives and how we were, our relaxing weekends, books that I was currently reading, and our families, without even knowing each other’s name. 

It was probably two months or more after our initial meeting that I realized, I had no idea what his real name was. (I felt horrible!) Can you imagine! I was having in depth conversations with this person everyday for months and we didn’t know each other’s name. His morning greeting was, “Hi beautiful” (it still is) and mine was “hey love” and the rest was history. I finally asked him, “what’s your name?” and he replied “Gypsy.”

Gypsy is such a sweet soul. He is really shy (at least around me) and a little anxious. He has a little feistiness to him on occasion but overall  is so unassuming and quiet that you could almost forget that he is there. He is very humble and never complains. He is very observant and pays very close attention to detail. He has such an impeccable work ethic and works so hard (like a slave), all the time, for him and his girlfriend’s dream house down south. 

If I’m being honest, I’m always a little worried about him. First, it was the chain smoking, which I always pestered him to quit. (Thank God he finally got rid of that habit!) Now, it’s more of his general health that worries me.  Each time I see him, he looks more and more fatigued and weary, although he still musters up a big smile for me. I worry that he, who is such a deserving person of a great retirement, will never get to enjoy it because he has worked himself to the bone (and probably doesn’t know anything else). 

Sometimes, I wish I had Oprah money and endorsements so that just as she says, “you get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car!” I can say to Gypsy, “you get a house and you get a car and you get rest and you get retirement!” All just to ease some of that worry and weariness I see on his face. I pray for him all the time, asking God to preserve his strength and make him a Caleb so that he can see, have, and enjoy his mountain before he takes his final rest. 

What Gypsy lacks in his short stature and frame, he makes up for with his big heart, his kindness and thoughtfulness. One day for Valentine’s Day, he bought all the women at my job these beautifully hand-crafted and scented artificial roses and lunch (so sweet!). We both have birthdays in June about a week from each other. I don’t know how he knew my birthdays are so important to me, but he has never missed a beat!(He has to teach some of my other friends some things!) On my day, he is always waiting outside for me to get off the bus, and with a smile, hands me the most breath-taking, thoughtful, awe-inspiring Blue Mountain cards. (I always tell him to take back his money when I find it because I don’t want him working harder on my account.) They are amazing cards! (Whoever owns this company, i would love to buy shares!) The words in those cards speak so much life to my soul. It’s almost like the person who wrote the card had a magnifying glass to my life and new every detail about me or knew exactly what I needed to hear. And knowing Gypsy, I’m sure he stayed in the store and scoured every card until he found the “perfect” one just for me. He always has this genuine way of doing his best to make me feel special. (Some of you should take notes and learn a thing or two!) What he doesn’t and can’t say on his own, the card says for him. And his words are the most thoughtful, kind and inspirational words that anyone has ever said to me. 

For the past three years, his words (once you buy something it’s your to claim) in those cards have prophetically declared career moves and choices, provision, complete shifts in my life and the best well wishes ever. In some of the darkest moments of my life, without him even knowing it, Gypsy’s cards and words have given me the hope to endure, pierced light through the darkness and brought the ultimate joy, making me smile. Getting my birthday cards from Gypsy has become one of the most anticipated moments of my year.(I’m sure he has no clue just how much his simple gesture means to me, although I convey my thanks and try to do double for him the following week for his birthday.) Each year, I feel like a little child on Christmas day opening my most prized and desired gift, anxiously waiting to read the new card’s content. And each year’s card surpasses the last one and completely blows me away. I smile so big for weeks, knowing that someone cares that much about me to be kind and so thoughtful enough to speak life into me. (Gypsy is my unsung hero!) I’ve held on to each card like it is my most prized possession. I only hope that my presence, my words, and my acts of kindness toward him come nearly as close to the joy that his bring to me.

I give thanks for Gypsy and those like him in my life who are kind, thoughtful, warm, and awe-inspiring with their words. If you have people like him in your life, you know just how much of a treasure they are. (Make sure that you appreciate and value them. Go back to Day 15!) If they work as hard as Gypsy does, be mindful to make sure they have real rest; do your best to make sure their loads are much lighter. 

Today, I also highlight the organization, Random Acts(www.randomacts.org/), which is a nonprofit that is dedicated to random acts of kindness worldwide. The work that they do and the projects of kindness that they fund are incredible. Just reading the stories on their website of the acts of kindness that people have done through them will inspire you to do more to conquer the world with one random act of kindness at a time. Please support them in all their endeavors and donate.  If you have a cool idea for a random act of kindness, they are willing to fund it up to $499 for first time applicants. Go for it! You’ll impact a life or lives for an entire lifetime with just that one act of kindness. 

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

AfroBeat Radio Arthur Mitchell Tribute

The podcast is here!  It’s the  Arthur Mitchell, founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH), Tribute aired Wednesday, September 26, 2018 on AfroBeat Radio.  Now you can listen to an edited version of the Tribute.  Enjoy  as DTH’s Artistic Director, Virginia Johnson and former dancers Karen Brown, Dr. Adesola Akinleyke, Dion Wilson, and Lorraine Grave share their life as dancers, students, and mentees pay tribute to the late Arthur Mitchell!

Wuyi Jacobs (host of AfroBeat Radio) and I co-produced this show and podcast: https://www.afrobeatradio.com/arts-entertainment/2018/12/3/arthur-mitchell-mar-27-1934-19-2018-a-tribute

AMandCo

On Monday December 3, 2018 Arthur Mitchell Memorial took place at Riverside Church.  In 2019 Dance Theatre of Harlem will Celebrate 50 Years.  Join in the Celebration!!

https://www.dancetheatreofharlem.org/

AM50

MT days 21 – 25

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.

Love Ya,

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.

Story 1:

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. 

Story 2:

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.

Love Ya,

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.

Love Ya,

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.

Love Ya,

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.[1] 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.

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

 

The Gathering

Sunday, January 14, 2018, 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center

“Conceived by choreographer Camille A. Brown in 2014 and presented in partnership with Dance/NYC, The Gathering serves as an open forum for intergenerational black female artists to support one another and to advocate for greater cultural equity and acknowledgment in the contemporary dance world. ”

CADD – 2018 Dance Black Joy: Global Affirmation and Defiance

Colloquium on African Diaspora Dance, February 2018 Honored to have been a part of this amazing gathering!! Proud to have delivered my workshop Ecstatic Reasoning -blackness protracted: Migration and Constructed Identities.  https://www.cadd-online.org/2018-conference.html Looking forward to 2020

MT days 16 – 20

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 16: Smile

Happy Day of Thanks Everyone!

I’m so grateful for the ability to smile.

I have no idea why but I love to smile. I smile for just about everything too, even when I’m going through some of the darkest moments in my life. Smiling is so contagious and all consuming. You can’t do it and be sad or sorrowful. For some reason, I have always felt as if my smiling into whatever situation was bringing sunshine and joy to it. And a few years ago, a photographer showed me just how much my smile radiates light, verifying my theory.

I never thought it was possible, but a little over three years ago I meant someone who smiles way more than I do.  She is one of the most beautiful spirited young ladies (I really should say diva!) that I’ve met in my life.  She hails at about 3 feet tall, has the littlest hands and feet, and strength, resilience, and personality that are out of this world.   She was born with Peter Plus Syndrome, a genetic condition that is characterized by eye abnormalities, short stature, cleft lip and/or cleft palate, distinctive facial features, and intellectual disability.

Cele, as we call her, is the younger sister of my goddaughter and, thus another inherited goddaughter.  She has had more surgeries in her young life than any of us would have in a lifetime just to create the ability to have normalcy and a smile. And that she does so beautifully! After all that she has endured in her young life time, she still finds time to be a girlie girl, twirk, put on makeup, and smile real big.

I don’t even need to mention the advice that Cele’s mom received as she was developing prenatally and after they detected all of her malformations via the amniocentesis and ultrasounds. When Cele was born, her cleft lip and palate were so extensive doctors were not even sure if after many surgeries, they would be able to reconstruct it.  But her mom, as the doctors did, pressed through every surgical reconstruction to make her smile brand new and perfect. The light of her smile and personality are one that blesses me every chance I get to see it.

Each year, a pediatrician friend of mine goes to Latin America with a team of doctors to perform reconstructive surgeries on children with cleft lip and palate.  Their service guarantees that these children all over the world will have a sense of normalcy and be able to smile and show their lights to the world.  If you ask me, that’s pretty amazing of them to give such a beautiful gift to children and their families. They are forever changing and impacting their lives!

So, today I am so thankful for smiles (and their light!) and my ability to have one. I have attached some photos to this email of Cele and my friend on his medical mission trip with their permission.  Make sure that you bless someone with the light of your smile and capture the rays of someone else’s. (I attached a pic with a big smile and my pearly whites just for you.) If you can stretch and share a little more, please find it in your heart to give to the two organizations, Smile Train (https://www.smiletrain.org/) and Operation Smile (https://www.operationsmile.org/), who I salute and have highlighted for giving children the ability to smile, through the corrective surgeries necessary to repair their cleft lips or palates.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 17: Food

Happy Seventeenth  Day of Thanks Everyone

 I give thanks for food and the full cabinets in my house that store it.

 In the early 2000s, I began my journey of living in Cuba, which in terms of resources is still considered a developing country. It was an interesting experience that has forever shaped my life and taught me so many invaluable lessons. It was the first time that I got real worldview lessons on how nature, politics, and political will affect the conditions and economy of a nation.

 During my first year of living in Cuba, we had a hurricane that wiped out over 70% of the crops that the country used to sustain itself. Since food is rationed for every family in Cuba, the destruction of these crops would mean that food would still be rationed but that we’d just get a lot less of it. Standing on the cafeteria lines for meals, we could see how the beans had much more aguita than frijoles and how the portions of rice, meat or vegetables had significantly lessened too.  We took what we could get because that was all that there was.

It was the first time in my life that I had truly experienced hunger, coming from a first world country where there was an infinite supply of pantry, government food when there was minimal resources in the cupboard, and infinite supply in the supermarket.  I went to bed with silent tears flowing from my eyes because I had hunger pains in my belly that could not be squelched. I was reminded of the late night commercials I’d see of children in African countries with swollen bellies from malnutrition and wondered if we were all destined to be in that state. (Clearly, my mind went to the extreme because the anxiety of not having enough food was plaguing me as I felt my belly tie in knots.) Each day, we were all on a search for food and hoarded the little we could gather to help each other during the troublesome nights. Peanut butter became the mainstay on the top of our survival food list. And we all became a collective source of sharing so that we all survived the food drought.

Luckily, after several months, the nation started to see a surge in food production and things started to get back to normal.  However, I was forever impacted by the anxiety of what it meant for anyone to live with lack of food and thus I always make food or a home cooked meal available to anyone who wants and/or needs it. (My neighbors and friends will tell you that you can pretty much knock on the door at whatever time and food is available to you.) Years later, I could have no money in my pocket or in the bank, but I’d ensure that I had a completely overstocked refrigerator, deep freezer, and kitchen cabinets with food. (Isn’t it interesting how having food, financial, and housing security become unconscious themes that are ever present?) That was my mode of operation for a long time until one of my friends, after being in her prayer time, said that she felt led to tell me that I could calm down and stop worrying about not having enough food because God would make sure that I never lacked in that area of my life again. Of course, she had no idea that I held that anxiety because of my former experiences. I relaxed for a long time.

Four years ago, that same anxiety started to creep back into my mind. Delilah started a dietary treatment (a ketogenic diet—a modified atkins), instead of pharmaceutical medicines, for her seizures. The diet has done wonders for her. Those 10-15 seizures that you have heard me talk about have been reduced to 1 or 2 during menstrual cycles, her hormonal imbalance have shifted closer to normalcy, her 80 pound water weight gain has completely ceased. (Her doctors are beyond amazed and impressed!)

However, the foods of this diet are extremely expensive. I have to pay $8 for a tiny loaf of bread; $2-3 for a 7 oz bag of no carb shirataki noodles or rice (faux spaghetti or rice) and $3 for a 1 oz bag of her chips for snack. Her medicines and supplements are a whole other story (Yikes!) During the first year of her diet, I had to minimize (greatly) my food supply in order to ensure that she could eat, have her food and supplements. I was really stressed out because I didn’t know if I could financially maintain the diet, although it had done wonders for her health. And I was hungry too—I didn’t dare touch her food supply because I never knew when there would be more money to buy her another supply. I also had to find extra time in my days to cook and do meal preparation.  She can only have 10 grams of carbohydrates per day which means that I have to prepare and make ALL her meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) to go with her wherever she goes. In those beginning years, it was so tough and stressful (thus my drastic weight gain) but, things started coming together.  For those of you who know me, you know that I am the queen of bargain shopping for quality products.  I researched the best quality supplements and food sources at the lowest prices for her.  I was able to save about $100 per month on her supplements. (If anyone knows a good brand of CBD oil that is not totaling $300 for 100ml (3oz), let me know. I’m still searching.) I now have an angel that sponsors some of her food each month and that child support, which takes a great deal of the financial pressure off.  I now get to eat better too.

I am so grateful for the food that nourishes my and Delilah’s body each day because I realize that there are so many people, most of whom are children, who don’t have it or live in jeopardy of not having it on a daily basis.

Today, I’m highlighting a nonprofit organization called Price-Pottenger Nutritional Foundation (https://price-pottenger.org/) which focuses on teaching the value of traditional diets for achieving optimal health in the modern world. Through their library of research and educational materials, they provide concrete, trustworthy and reliable information about the importance of nutrient-dense traditional whole foods for achieving optimal wellness.  If you know anyone who suffers from food insecurity, you can connect them to a local food bank in your area and they will provide food for anyone who needs it. There are also many churches in local communities that serve delicious meals throughout the day to those who need food.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks! 

Day 18: Embracing Diversity & Differences (with Childlike Innocence)

Happy Eighteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today, i give thanks for the embracing of diversity and differences in the way of childlike innocence and curiosity.

By now, all of you who have been part of this thirty day journey know that I have a wonderful, intelligent, diva-licious sixteen year old daughter who is autistic.  Delilah is minimally verbal, stems and often makes noises when she is in what I call her other world. Most times, when she does these things people stare, make fun of or laugh at her (Ignorant!)

While we were in church one Sunday, several of the children were making fun of her as she belted out one of her many echolalic phrases. As I watched the children for a little while, I noticed that one of my friend’s grandsons, who was about seven or eight years old, started to ask his older cousins some questions about Delilah.  He asked his cousin, “Do you know what she has? Why doesn’t she talk?” More concerned with having laughs, his older cousin brushed off the questions. The young boy looked so unsatisfied that he hadn’t received any answers or responses to the questions he had just posed.

Half hour later as we were all walking to the bus, he came beside me and said, “I’m not trying to be rude. But, can I ask you something?” I said, “Sure.” He began, “why does your daughter make noises and doesn’t speak? What does she have?” I asked him if he had ever heard of autism before and he said no. Then, I begin to explain in the simplest, three minute, child-like version what autism is. When I was done, I asked him if the definition I gave was sufficient to his level of understanding. He said, “Yes, I understand it now.”  

Then, with such innocence in his voice, he said, “Do you know what eczema is?” I replied yes. Lifting his hand and his arm, he showed me the scares of the eczema on his body and said, “this is what makes me different. My grandma gave me this [holding a small tube of organic coconut oil] to help me.” The little boy was so absolutely adorable; I wanted to just hug him.  Clearly, this was a young child who was teased for being different and having his own unique condition. Knowing what that felt like, made him much more empathetic to not join in with the other children to laugh at Delilah but to explore further her uniqueness and difference. (I love child-like innocence!)

That moment reminded me of just how innocent children really are.  They are not mean spirited; they don’t know to hate, compete, or discriminate. They don’t know or understand any of the racism, sexism, and the other “isms;” of our world. We (adults) teach them that.  They have a natural curiosity to detect and learn about difference. How much better would our world be if we learned to embrace diversity and differences, respecting each other’s uniqueness?

So today, I am thankful for and celebrating ALL of my differences and uniqueness and encourage you to do the same! Get to know or talk to someone who is completely different from you, using love as your guiding light to accept, embrace and cherish them. At the core of things, you may just realize that you are more alike than you are different. (Try it!)

I am also highlighting this wonderful organization called Border Crossers (www.bordercrossers.org) who does fabulous workshops and conferences for parents and educators to talk about race with children. If you can attend one of their conferences, you should definitely do so.  I also encourage you to donate to help them expand their programming and influence throughout the many city schools and communities.

Love Ya,

Have A Great Day of Thanks!

Day 19: Forgiveness

Happy Nineteenth Day of Thanks Everyone

This reflection comes with a disclaimer to it. It is going to be long (so brace yourself) and the content discussed is pretty heavy and may be controversial for many who read it.  If it’s too much, take a breather. I’ll even understand if you can’t proceed because of the content’s emotional weight for you. I share my story and experiences, not as a means to judge anyone else whose ideas and choices are/were different than mine or for you to judge anyone, but, to let you know that you are not alone. I know that the enemy tricks us into thinking that we are the only ones going through major life crisis and that when we make certain decisions or there are certain outcomes, there is no coming back from it. There is life beyond our decision making. There is forgiveness for us, if and when we need or want it. And there is always redeeming grace in God for whatever choices we make.

I grew up not really wanting to have children until after about thirty (and definitely before thirty five). Growing up with a chronically stressed and depressed, financially-struggling, undiagnosed, mentally-ill single parent did not leave me wanting or desiring to take on the task of being a mom at an earlier time. My mom was emotionally and psychologically unstable and really mean sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, she was a great parent considering all the things with which she was dealing—we always had the necessities of food, shelter, clothes and education (we lived in our local library and we’re taught to excel in school). She also tried to give us as much of her time after her daily double shifts as a live-in home health aide because she knew that we had no babysitters and were raising ourselves. Although I honor her no matter what because she gave me all of what she could give and because it is one of the commandments with a promise (Honor your mother and father so that your days will be long on the earth.”), I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into this world, not giving it more than the stability I had. Besides, I also wanted to be this international medical missionary who’d always be traveling the world and would only have time to come home (the USA) to be the cool auntie who dropped off presents and said hello to my family for a short moment’s time before I got whisked away to another mission.

Can you imagine the anxiety I was feeling when I had my fourth vivid dream (at that point, they were coming every two months) of me holding this baby in a yellow crocheted outfit without a husband, let alone a boyfriend, in tow? I literally had to tell God, “I have no idea why you keep showing me with a baby when I don’t even have a boyfriend?” The crazy thing about that last dream was that when I woke up, my roommate at the time, Sully, told me that she had the same dream that night of me holding my baby, who had lots of hair, wearing a yellow suit. (That was way too freaky!) A few weeks after that dream, I had another vivid dream with a man in it who I didn’t know or recognize at the time. It turns out that I would meet that same exact man from my dream a few days later at an airport in Havana, Cuba. In the long run, he would turn out to be my daughter’s father.

I always say that my daughter was really a gift from God and that he wanted her here in the earth more than anyone else.  She was conceived on February 16th, 2002, in spite of all my birth control. Since I was faithfully on birth control and went several months getting regular menstrual cycles, there was absolutely no reason for me to think I was pregnant. (I wish I knew then what I know now! My daughter even metabolizes a twelve week Depo shot in seven weeks.) However, one morning between a sleep and semi awake state, I felt something move really quickly from the front of my abdomen to the back of it, as if with the notion to completely hide (it is still my daughter’s nature to be sneaky today!).  The movement startled me and shook me awake. I got in the shower and quickly got dressed for class. (My mind was still farthest from a pregnancy.) In the next week, I had developed this incredibly strong craving for tea biscuits and coconut ice cream throughout the day, which was still not a trigger for me to think of pregnancy because I love all things coconut and ice cream was a mainstay in the hot tropical climate of Cuba. It was not until one day that I had this overwhelmingly nauseous feeling, as if to projectile vomit, on an empty stomach after the common lunch hour and went to the doctor. At that visit, I discovered that I was almost 12 weeks pregnant.

I was completely numb hearing that news. I needed to finish the next three weeks strong, studying for and completing my medical school exams. Delilah’s dad was graduating that same year and going back home to Grenada so I know he was not going to be around.  I had all these anxieties about being a mother because I didn’t want to screw up a child’s life, I didn’t want my dream of becoming a doctor to be forsaken, and I definitely was not in a position to financially support a child.  Although I was in my mid twenties, I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to tell my family that I was pregnant.

My medical school was in a place where there really are no secrets. By the day’s end, many of my peers managed to find out that I was pregnant, without me ever saying a word to them. It was quite annoying because I needed my own time to process how I felt and what I wanted to do, rather than receive all of the judgments, comments, stares and low whispers that I got.  You’d be amazed how so many people make being pregnant out of a scarlet letter experience, especially when you are not married. I understand that being pregnant out of wedlock is not an acceptable ideal according to most religious standards, but the inability of people to be kind, gentle, or loving with someone who is/was in “error” is also not biblical.  Some people bring a whole new meaning to cruel and unusual punishment and treated me like the scud on the bottom of their shoes. It was pretty horrible how they made comments about me being “knocked-up” or condescendingly made it a point to say as loudly as they could that the would never be in my situation. I got anonymous cards on my bed taunting and making fun of me that didn’t stop even after I gave birth. I also had two young women who were openly doing witchcraft on me as well. But, thank heavens for real friends and a support system, a God who never forsakes and my fortitude to press through every situation that would arise from that moment.

Although many wanted me to feel like a “knocked up”, “rejected” individual who was alone or isolated, I knew better. My famous saying at the time to those who were making the comments was “the only difference between you and me is that I decided to have mine!” Most hurt people don’t realize that they mimic the same patterns that were done to them.  The only reason why they wanted and needed me to feel ashamed was because in my same circumstance they felt and were made to feel that way. And more than ninety percent of those people who boldly declared that they would “never” be in my situation, ended up in the exact situation months to years later. (Never say never!)

I kept telling myself that I would just focus on school, get through the next three weeks of my exams and then figure out what I wanted to do with the pregnancy.  I started all of my prenatal care right away just in case I decided to be a mother. Since my daughter’s father lived about four hours away in another province, and we were both at the end of our semesters and focused on exams, we didn’t really communicate or have that much interaction during that time either. After I passed all my exams and got my plane ticket home, I began processing and thinking about the pregnancy. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it before I talked to myself and God because I didn’t want any outside noise to infiltrate my decision making. (I know that some of my godmothers, Nia and Peaches, were hurt at me shutting them out of my initial decision-making process but that was how I always do and have done my important decision making—me and God—because I had to be able to live with my choice.)

I toiled for days with the decision because I didn’t know what to do. I, along with the voices of so many people in my head, had convinced myself that if I had my baby my life would be completely over. (Of course, that was farthest from the truth.) I researched at the time the cut off time for abortions and in NY state, a woman was allowed to have an abortion until 20 weeks.  Although that fact was really scary to me, because I knew how developed a fetus is at that time and because of my protestant upbringing, that knowledge didn’t stop me from being objective enough to still consider abortion as another of my options for this pregnancy.  I remember my last sincere prayer, “God, I’m so scared and I don’t what to do. You know how badly I’ve always wanted to be a doctor and I don’t want to mess up this child’s life.  But because you know me and what I can and can’t handle, I ask that you take over and let your will be done.” I cried so hard (tears are falling as I type, remembering what I felt at that moment) because I never thought I’d be facing that kind of decision and be choosing to opt for the abortion. It was against everything that I knew to do or was raised to believe.

The next day, I went to the clinic on a mission. But somehow, everything was spoiling it.  I remembered the conversation with a young lady who got pregnant very shortly after her “forced” abortion when we were teenagers. When I asked her why she got pregnant again she told me that no one had ever told her that she would have recurring nightmares about dead babies after the act. There was a lady two block from the clinic who I did not know but stopped me, looked me dead into my eyes and told me that I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t do what I was about to do. (How did she even know what I was about to do? Did I have something on my forehead that said it?) I started to turn around but talked myself into making it into the doors of the clinic. When I got to the exam room, the ultrasound tech accidentally forgot to turn the sound of the monitor off. I heard this wonderful, strong beating heart that arrested everything inside the core of my being and melted away all of the objectiveness in my mind.  I hadn’t noticed it before, but right there in that exact moment, i realized there was a little mini-me life with a really strong heart pumping inside of me. And she was fighting to survive. After hearing her heart beat, I could not go through with the abortion. And even if I thought about proceeding, it wasn’t going to happen.  Although Lilah was only 14 weeks, somehow in the ultrasound, she decided to appear as if she was 21 weeks old and the doctor said that the abortion was not going to be an option for me.  (Whew! What a relief!) Luckily, in the exam room I decided to claim Lilah as mine because hearing that news, without having a concrete decision made, would have created another type of disaster.

Since I decided to keep Delilah Christina (interestingly, she had her name, which is another reflection for another day, the same night I received the news about my pregnancy), I went to a hospital the next day and signed up for a maternal infant program that guaranteed the continuum of my prenatal care and financial supplementation for food and formula. Guess what the ultrasound in the hospital the next day stated–Delilah Christina was exactly 14 weeks old. (Didn’t I tell you she was sneaky and that she was a gift from God that he wanted to be here in the earth?)

The weight of that decision left me for a short time; I relaxed and was able to sit with the idea of motherhood for a few moments, since it was, ultimately, the choice that I made (or that was made for me). I began to strategically plan and write out the next stages of my pregnancy and how I wanted/needed everything to go so that I could also finish medical school. Then, I submitted the plan to God in prayer for approval.  However, although my plan was approved, it did not mean that I wouldn’t go through a few more “hell on earth” experiences in the months and years to come. I went back to school to finish the first semester of that year. At 39 weeks and 5 days, I started my leave of absence to come back to NY to deliver my baby. (Papa was nice enough to extend the offer for me to have Delilah in Cuba if I wanted to and I will forever appreciate that since the rule was that I couldn’t.) Because of delays with the flight, I didn’t get home until after midnight of the next day.  I remember landing in Laguardia telling Lilah, “okay we are home, you can come now.” (She was born the next day.)

My mom was not at all fond of the pregnancy but I asked her if she would care for my daughter while I finished school. Honestly speaking, I did not want her raising my daughter but I didn’t feel as if I had any other options at the time. She agreed to help me at that 14th week but somehow managed to change her mind, as she frequently does, at the last minute. Delilah was born exactly the day of her 40th week.  My mother told me that neither I or my daughter could stay in her house.  She called all of my family members, particularly the paternal ones who were my support system all of my life, to tell them that I had better give my baby up for adoption because she wasn’t helping me anymore and that we would not have a place to stay. She told the social worker in the hospital the same thing, thinking that it would get the child services agency involved. My paternal uncle and aunt were calling me crying wondering why my mother would behave in that way, because they never saw, knew, or encountered the regular treatment that my sister and I endured growing up. My uncle, a hard-core bachelor, told me that he would take and raise my daughter for me because he wouldn’t ever allow me to give her up for adoption when we had a blessed family who could help me.  My uncle has basically been a father to me all of my life and my daughter is his biggest fan!  Ultimately, he didn’t raise my daughter but visited and checked on her as his daily routine for the three and one half years that I was away at school.  It’s so wonderful how they love each other and she lets everyone know that he is her “unc” or “uncle Thumper!” I had three weeks left to figure out where Lilah was going to live before I had to go back to school.  But, the more I spent time with her, the more I didn’t want to leave her, and the more I was coming to the conclusion that I should probably leave the medical school I was in to restart in the US just to be with her.  I spent those three weeks laced in prayer, asking God what I was supposed to do and if I could forfeit on the previous plan that I had submitted for approval. God answered me and confirmed it with three prophetic people that I know; I was to go back to school. Two days before I was supposed to leave for school, my mother miraculously came to herself and decided that she would now help me.

Completely stressed out and trying to focus on finishing that first semester when I returned to school, I tried to always have enough money to call home each week to check on Lilah. (Thank you Mama for giving me the funds that one time to call home. It saved me from having a nervous breakdown!) I had established some traditions, always sending Delilah tape recordings of my voice to let her know how I was doing. I also made elaborate colorful cards or designed projects that I would do just for her. I had to make sure that she remembered me and she always did. I would come home and she would wake from her sleep the minute she heard my voice.  When I was home, we had our own bubble, whose space no one was allowed to invade. Our time together was always so magical for the both of us.  We would come together in our bubbles every few months or as necessary, according to the new crisis that arose in her life.  However, I remember the first time my daughter was aware that I was leaving her. I prepared her a week ahead letting her know that I had to go for a little while again but that as always I would come back for her. She was so devastated and looked at me as if her soul was saying “why in the world are you leaving me here again?”  Although I hugged and kissed her good-bye at the airport, she would not hug me back, which brought me the biggest heartache and left me crying for many nights afterwards.

Several months later, I received a call and email from my mother saying that my daughter had stopped talking and would blankly stare at her as if she did not understand anything.  I dropped everything to get home. Initially, doctors started doing all manner of testing to figure out what happened to her and couldn’t find anything. My mother said it was right after she had received a vaccine that her speech and behavior had changed. I couldn’t stay in NY until the completion of all of her exams and follow-up appointments.  However, a few months later I received another email detailing that my daughter had not recuperated her speech, was now dealing with sensory issues and had been officially diagnosed with autism. That diagnosis was a real kick in my face. My friend Nowa tried to comfort me at that moment but there was nothing he could say that helped the pain I felt reading those words. How did my perfectly healthy baby, who was speaking normally and fine, suddenly go mute, have such issues with feeling fabric on her skin that she had a repulsion to wearing most clothes, and was now lacking in social interaction?

I spiraled into depression and denial for several months trying to figure out how to help her.  My pediatric attending was also the head of the autistic institute in Havana and I picked her brain for everything.  I also knew a lady who worked at the Carlos Finlay Institute in Havana, where they were studying the effects of diet on autism at the time, and I would ask everything and anything about her research and the results they were getting. (She gave me a usb detailing all the foods in the diet and the research but when i got to NY, I discovered that a virus had corrupted the USB.) Both women helped me tremendously during that early stage. But there was still this gnawing voice in my head that told and convinced me that Delilah having autism was my fault and my punishment. I started my prenatal care at eleven weeks.  I had spent several weeks while she was in my womb contemplating abortion and went to the clinic to actually do it. (How could I think about doing that to my precious baby?) Several times, I had left her with my mom to go back to school even when she was begging me not to leave her again.  I had abandoned her for school. I left her in an emotionally, verbally and psychologically abusive environment. I wasn’t there to stop her from receiving any of those vaccines, which harmed her.  I wasn’t there to observe her meticulously and immediately reverse changes that were occurring in her speech and behavior when they were happening. When Delilah was younger, my mother and all her religious friends told me that she would be cursed because I gave her that name. Did I really curse my baby and give her autism because of her name? At that moment, all the tormenting thoughts, things that happened and words spoken about her from her childhood began to plague my mind and make me so mentally fatigued. I would go nights crying, completely depressed and ridden with guilt about everything concerning Delilah and wonder why this had happened to my daughter and to me.  And no matter how much I prayed at that time, there were no answers to be found about why (until many years later) this happened to Delilah and why we had to go through the pain and suffering that we were enduring. So the guilt stayed with me for months.  One day at three am in the morning, as I was crying out to God and asking him to forgive me for everything I allowed to happen, I finally felt that heaviness of guilt completely lifted from me. It was a freedom in my soul that I don’t even have the words to describe. And literally that night I dreamed of a hand with crystal clear water completely and thoroughly cleansing Delilah, in a clockwise motion, while she laid in her crib.

After my crying session with God and thatdream, it was as if I shifted into the last phase of my grief of Delilah’s diagnosis. I came to a place of acceptance about it.  Acceptance allowed me to be more action oriented, trying to decipher the many ways in which I could help her heal and progress. I taught her how to speak again using vocal scales and through singing.  I always made sure that she had a soft furry layer of clothing under everything she would wear so that her skin could tolerate it. But, the minute she got home we’d go to work on craft projects that helped her muscle strength, coordination and sensory. We work tirelessly for her healing and progress.

Delilah’s rendezvous with autism has been a very long twelve year journey and that with epilepsy a nine year one (she just had a seizure a few hours ago). We have fought so many powers that be,  have had so many doors slammed in our face, and on many occasions have been treated so unfairly, but we continued pressing forward (trying to keep our joy). And in that constant grind, I had no idea that along the way, the constant bombardment with overwhelming circumstances had left us harboring unforgiveness in our heart and a root of bitterness in our minds toward so many people (including each other!). I was angry and bitter for a long time at God, at my mother, at Delilah’s father, at the people who wronged me and were condescending to me during my pregnancy, and to Delilah. The list went on. And I could only imagine how Delilah felt toward certain people (especially me!) because she was actually getting the direct brunt of their words and treatment and she had known what abandonment and rejection felt like at such a young age. One day, I walked passed two signs on a wall that said “Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace” and “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and realize the prisoner was you.”  I realized that Delilah and I deserved peace in our souls and that we didn’t want or need to be prisoners to anger, guilt, regret, resentment or shame any more. And that kind of real freedom would not come unless we forgave and released all those who had wronged us and ourselves. So, in prayer and in our session, we started with ourselves and forgave ourselves for the mistakes that we made. Then, I begin to ask Delilah to forgive me for all the times that I left her and she felt abandoned, uncovered and rejected, for all the times I didn’t get parenting right, and for exposing her to a world of things (ie. shelter system, my mom’s instability, paternity test,) that no child should ever have to face.  We wrote and sent letters to many people that we thought needed to be released from the grip of our unforgiveness and judgment for vengeance. (It’s still a work in progress and we still have more people to write.) But, each day we are freeing ourselves a little more and opening the door to access God’s forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15) and deliverance.

My journey has taught me a level of compassion and empathy for the many adult women and men,  young adults, teenagers and pre-teens who find themselves in a situation of having to decide whether they want to bring a child, which they have conceived, into this world.  It’s not an easy decision to make, although many individuals on the outside of the situation, judge, dictate, and determine that it is. I think that I have also learned some dos and don’ts that I think are noteworthy to mention here.  If you are part of the support system or know of a person(s) facing this type of situation, be kind, loving and gentle at all times. If you find that your belief system is not in agreement with what the situation entails, be honest with the person and let them know that you do not feel comfortable being part of their support system in this type of situation. (In the long run, it will benefit you to remove yourself from being a support in the situation.) Please allow the party (parties) involved to make their own decision. Do not tell them what to do in this situation because the person(s) must be able to live with their own choice! Most times, the parties involved deal with shame and guilt, as i did.  If you feel comfortable and the person believes or has accepted Christ, pray with them and minister to them with scriptures. Remind that they don’t have to live in their past and that there is forgiveness in God to wipe away all the shame and guilt that is plaguing them. After all “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).

Today, I will not highlight an organization as I usually do. But, I will ask you to make this day a personal day in which you invest time into yourself and give your own thanks for forgiveness.  Think of all the many ways that you have messed up on something and in your relationships with other people and how you were forgiven and given another chance to make things right. Just as you received forgiveness, now you must extend forgiveness to someone else. Think of all the many people who may have hurt you and that you need to forgive and release them from your judgement of vengeance. Don’t forget to include the people who have transitioned from this life, your relatives, spouses or ex-spouses, children, parents, etc. And meaning it from your heart, say, “I forgive  (name)_ for (what they did); I release them from my judgment and I repent for harboring unforgiveness in my heart towards him/her/them. As I release them and this situation, i release peace and freedom over my life and receive them now.”

Thanks for staying on this reflection’s journey until the end. Thank you for forgiving yourself and all those who have hurt you. Most importantly, thank you for receiving and embracing your new found peace and freedom.

Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Day 20: Justice

Happy Twentieth Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today, I give thanks for Justice.  In this world of corruption and brokenness where we often see so little of justice served, it is refreshing to know that, ultimately, the wicked do not prevail and get their just reward. (Proverbs 11:21 states Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.)

One year after we moved into our apartment and a few days before Christmas, Delilah and I came home from a stay in the hospital, due to one of her seizures, to a three day notice of eviction on my apartment door. After leaving the shelter system, since having housing security for us was so important to me, I made sure that I paid my rent each month several days to a week in advance. Thus, I had no idea why there was an eviction notice claiming that I owed over ten thousand dollars in rent. 

I called the Section-8 coordinator, Ms. Odesy Vinas, several times but she would not pick up or answer my phone calls, in spite of her colleagues saying that she was in her office. I immediately went to the Wavecrest management office on the second floor of my building to find out what was happening.  The representative in the office asked, “don’t you have section-8?” I told her yes, produced all my rent stubs and ledgers of payment in full, and asked her to please find out what was happening.  I told her that I called the section-8 coordinator but that she was ignoring my calls.  The representative, looking quite disgusted, made a round of calls to several of her colleagues asking them to tell Ms. Vinas that she was trying to contact her. Finally, Ms. Vinas answered her call and told her several things. When the representative got off the phone with her, she told me that I needed to go down to Gold Street and find out about my Section 8 because according to Ms. Vinas, I didn’t have it and now owed all of the money that the subsidy didn’t pay.

I can’t even begin to describe the ball of confusion and emotions that started to overwhelm me at that moment. All I could ask myself and think was: What in the world happened to my rent subsidy? I had sent in all of the paperwork on three different occasions and verified that Ms. Vinas received it.  Where was I going to get over ten thousand dollars in three days, especially days before Christmas? Where would Lilah and I go if we actually got evicted a few days before Christmas? Why was this issue of housing instability plaguing us all over again? I thought myself into such a huge migraine with neck and back tension that I had to calm myself down through prayer. 

I spent the next few days, missing work, to run to every rent subsidy office in the City (HPD, NYCHA, etc.). Each one was saying that my name was not in their system but I had legal papers with office letterhead stating that I had Section-8 when I moved into my apartment.  After days of running around and getting nowhere, I went back to the management office to ask the same representative what I needed to do because, although I had my proper documents, every subsidy office could not find me in their system.   She suggested that I go to the welfare office and ask for a one shot deal. She explained that a one shot deal was a process in which they would give me the money I needed to pay the large sum of money to my landlord.   I told her that, although I did not understand why I owed my landlord any money, since I had paid all my rent, I would go to the welfare to see if they would help me.

I got to the welfare office and waited for several hours.  When I finally saw one of their representatives, he, initially, treated me like the scum of the earth, while yelling and condescendingly speaking to me. He asked me why I didn’t pay my rent.  I told him that I did pay my rent and gave him all of the proof of my paper work. He then looked just as confused as I was and said that he needed to get his supervisor. When his supervisor came, she thoroughly reviewed my paperwork and said, “someone in your management office is trying to take advantage of you. You don’t owe them any money at all! Do you realize if we give you a one-shot deal to pay them, you would have to pay us back all that money, and you don’t even owe them money.”  I explained to her that I was so confused and didn’t even understand what was happening or why I was at her office. I told her my story from the beginning and asked her if she had any suggestions for me since Ms. Vinas would not take my calls and my buildings’ management representative’s only suggestions was that I get the one-shot deal and pay the money. I needed my apartment and I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. She suggested that I go back to Gold Street to HPD and talk to one of their supervisors to see if they could tell me what happened. I left the welfare office and went to Gold Street and discovered that the head supervisor who could help me was on vacation and would not be back until after the New Year.

I began to talk to everyone about my situation and got helpful suggestions from so many colleagues about to whom I could talk and receive help. A Ms. Rosenberg began to tell me about the corruption of my management company and all of their dealing throughout the city and gave a suggestion to hire a lawyer. I thank God right now for a strong community (this is another day of thanks) of skilled professionals who loved me, rallied around me and stepped in when I was mentally fatigued by this whole process. My friends hired and introduced me to my “kickass” lawyer who has also been a faithful friend since the ordeal.  As I wrote letters to and called my congressman’s and council member’s office, they connected me to the community liaisons they knew at those offices. I emailed the head supervisors of the department of homeless services to verify if my papers for my section-8 were authentic. I finally got the contact information for and emailed the head supervisor at HPD to ask her about my section-8 documents and if I could schedule a meeting with her when she returned from vacation. I called Wavecrest Management’s lawyer to ask him why he was taking me to court if my rent was fully paid. As he checked the ledgers and verified that my story was accurate, I was suddenly placed on hold and hung up on.  I called the CFO of Wavecrest Management, and pretty much got the same response from her too.

 My friends went to the housing court to pick up documents for me because I had to work. With everyone’s help on the case, the councilwomens offices’ personnel began to conduct a full on investigation of what was happening.

You would not believe what I discovered! Although Ms. Odesy Vinas had collected my section-8 paperwork on three different occasions that year and verified via email that she had received it, she never submitted it to HPD. I also discovered, at the time, several employees of Wavecrest Management Company dealing with my particular complex, Bruckner By the Bridge, were selling apartments in my building illegally and under the table. They were evicting families who had subsidy apartments through Ms. Vinas’ method, by not submitting their Section-8 paperwork, and then sending these families eviction notices, which were then followed by legal proceedings in housing court, accusing them of owing catastrophic amounts of money which they could not pay.  I found out that Ms. Vinas had done this same thing to ten other families prior to her doing it to me. Unfortunately, many of those families ended up getting evicted, which means they were headed back to the shelter system. Some of them, not having the same legal representation to which I had access, had even signed agreements to pay back those large sums of money, which they didn’t even owe. (I can’t even imagine how people sleep at night knowing they have done such evil things to undeserving people!) 

Councilwoman Arroyo had an amazing community liaison, Ms. Blake, who kicked butt advocating for me, her constituent. When she reviewed all of my paperwork and the emails I had received from Ms. Vinas verifying that she had obtained my documents and was taking care of my paperwork, Ms. Blake made a call to Ms. Vinas. Ms. Vinas snapped at her and told her that I never had section-8. Ms. Blake asked her to explain why I didn’t have section-8 when she had received my documents on three separate occasions and was responsible for submitting it. She then told Ms. Vinas to schedule an appointment in her calendar that would involve her and all her bosses to meet with me and my lawyer, Ms. Blake, and the head supervior of HPD. (Talk about justice about to be served!!!!) Ms. Vinas got scared and asked why I was bringing legal counsel. Ms. Blake kindly let her know that we were about to set everything right, since there was a great deal of things that were unjustly done to me in this ordeal.

Can you believe that although Wavecrest falsely accused me of owing them money, which I didn’t owe, we still had to show up to court for the charges to eventually be dropped and I now had a housing court record because of them, without ever having done anything wrong? 

Being slick and not wanting her bosses to know the depth of her corruption, Ms. Vinas asked to change the location of our meeting from the Wavecrest office in Queens to Councilwoman Arroyo’s office in the Bronx at the last minute. She also showed up without her boss, even though it was requested that she notify them to come. I spent the morning being calmed by my lawyer in preparation for our meeting because I thought the moment I saw Ms. Vinas, I would rip her throat out and dismember her body. (Not just for me but for the ten families with children that didn’t get their own day in court or justice! I know some of you think Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek to give someone the other cheek. But, at that time, I wasn’t trying to be that Christian; I was angry and wanted my piece of flesh in vengeance, wanting her to suffer the same way she made us families suffer. I preferred to be the violent that taketh by force Christian! and pray those fire prayers against her and the enemy using her as a vessel to come against me and others. My thoughts were, she tried me and now she is going to feel my wrath!)

I actually thought I was going to do serious bodily harm when she sat before the group of us, smiling and batting her eyes, and said, “I would never try to put a family on the street” when it was quite evident that it was exactly what she was planning to do to mine. I yelled at her, “So how do you explain you trying to do that to my family days before Christmas? You know how many days of work I had to miss for this nonsense?” My lawyer had to nudge me gently under the table because by the sound of my angry voice it was clear that I was about to go for her jugular.

Ms. Blake and the head HPD supervisor made it clear to Ms. Vinas that they were aware of what she had done and asked where her boss was. The HPD supervisor had informed us that since my paperwork had never been submitted in the appropriate time frame, I had lost the possibility of receiving my section 8 voucher because HPD did not reissue vouchers for old projects. (She said that she would remember my case if it was ever possible to grant me the Section-8 voucher in the future.) In the meantime, my lawyer had drawn up an ironclad legal agreement for all parties to review, guaranteeing that my rent would be at the section-8 value of the rent or thirty percent of my income for as long as I or my descendants lived in the apartment. Additionally, the agreement would withstand changes in management companies as well as landlord ownership

(I and the generations of my family are planted and have the stability of housing security in a prime real estate location for the rest of our lives. Justice served!) 

Since she complained that she had to show the agreement to the management lawyers, Ms. Vinas said that she would sign and get the agreement back to us. But, of course, she had no plans to do so. After one week of giving my lawyer and me the run around, we carbon copied and involved all parties that were in our initial meeting on our emails to her. After Ms. Blake inserted her request for the document to be sent “immediately!” my lawyer and I received the long awaited document signed by Ms. Vinas via email several minutes later.

I’m not sure if Ms. Vinas’ bosses knew what she was doing or had done. Nor am I sure if the level of corruption that was taking place in the company was authorized and approved by them. (I find it very hard to believe that they weren’t aware of what was happening.)  But, seven years later she was still working for the management company and they had assigned her to work with me again and request my documents to be submitted for my new lease. (Can you believe it?) That did not sit well with me (as it wouldn’t with any post-trauma victim).

I let the management company know that I needed another of their employees to handle my paperwork since she had already proven her lack of trustworthiness. Since they decided that they weren’t going to give me another employee with whom to work, ignoring the fact this woman lacked ethical and professional standards and had done me a huge injustice previously, I decided that I would expose her secret. (I realize that people who operate in secret and not exposed continue in their behavior with no accountability.) I let everyone know who Ms. Vinas was and how she worked. I put all of the previous information of my case seven years ago out for display to all of her bosses, who happened to miss the meeting seven years ago, her fellow colleagues and all the company’s lawyers. (And no you don’t have the right to judge me right now!)

It must have been a complete and utter shock for Ms. Vinas to have to deal with everyone knowing what she had done, if they even cared. (I’m not sure if I had forgiven her at that point for what she had done, but I was determined to let her know that I had not forgotten and since she still sat in her position and had the ability to still do what she had previously done, I was determined to make sure someone would make her accountable.)

 It was time to renew my lease and the management company was trying to ignore our legal agreement, sending me a lease for market value rent. The company was also trying to buy time to let my lease expire, without me having a new one in hand. I called for several weeks and wrote emails carbon copying just about everyone in the company and my lawyer. And for weeks, I still had no new lease. The typical response was that they were working on it. The next round of emails included Ms. Blake, the HPD supervisor and the Wavecrest Management company lawyers. I called the management company one day and spoke to someone in the leasing department and she said, “everyone in this entire management office is trying to figure out and working on your case.” I asked her, “Ma’am what exactly is there to figure out? The legal agreement states what my rent payment is supposed to be. Why is it taking so long for the company to send me my lease?” I imagine they were trying for those weeks to figure out a masterminded plan to excuse themselves from the legal agreement but, not encountering any solutions. Finally, the company had Ms. Vinas request my yearly income to determine my rent. I submitted the paperwork the same day, carbon copying everyone in the company. However, they were still playing the waiting game after many days. On the following Friday, I sent another email asking why I still hadn’t received my lease even after the submission of the requested documents.

A few minutes after my last email to them, my lawyer, disgusted by their behavior, interjected a reply all email and said, “Melissa if you do not get your new lease by the end of the day today, let me know because I have some time tomorrow morning to get to the courthouse to file a petition so that we can be in court with them on Monday.” 

I got my new, corrected lease at 4:25pm that same day via email from Ms. Odesy Vinas, who did not even work in the leasing department. There was justice! The underdog (me), whom the management company considered counted out and worth ignoring and bullying, through the help of all my angels, served them a hot plate of accountability and got justice. I don’t know if Ms. Vinas still works for the management company (perhaps, I’ll find out when I renew my lease again next year). However, if she does, the stain of what she did to those families will stay with her, unless she repents. 

It took me a long time to forgive her. What she did to those families, especially those children, made and still makes me very angry. Every time I thought about the situation, I had to ask God for his supernatural grace to forgive her because I wanted to see her get the “punishment that I thought she deserved.” (As if I have the power to take away God’s job and determine what punishment someone else should have!) I wanted the punishment of her iniquity to be received by the third and forth generations of her family and for her to experience the homelessness she had inflicted on those ten families, joblessness and complete poverty . 

Thank heavens I know better than to wish that on someone else now!  While there is a level of “righteous” anger that we ought to have for the level of injustice done, I repented about the unforgiveness in my heart towards her and released her to the vengeance of God, which is greater than any vengeance I could ever give. It also freed me from the grip/destruction/harm of the root of bitterness that had settled in my heart after the trauma of the situation, which most post-traumatic sufferers encounter. I hope that all of you who are reading today’s reflection, waiting for justice in a particular situation, understand the importance of having a clean, forgiving heart while you wait for justice to be served. The trauma of the situation and the waiting in the meantime can cause just as much destruction (root of bitterness) in our hearts and souls if we are not mindful to release vengeance for God to handle.

Sometimes there is no reasonable explanation for why we face or encounter certain situations. (I have no idea why this or many of the other things I have been writing about has happened to me. I told you all I felt like an incarnate Job for a long while.) But, deep in my heart, I hope that I went through that situation to expose the level of corruption that was occurring so that it would end. (There were definitely changes in how things were done in the management company after this whole ordeal.)

 Not only do I give thanks for justice, but i am thankful for those advocates, activist, liaisons, and lawyers, who everyday fight tirelessly on the front lines to make sure that the “voiceless,” the “forgotten” and children in our society are protected and receive the justice necessary in all circumstances they encounter. I want to highlight the organization, LAWG (https://org.salsalabs.com/o/625/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=15539) who has been doing some amazing work concerning the migrant caravan and helping many of the migrant families at the Mexican-US border. You may not be able to go and help but you can be in solidarity and send the people who are on the front lines and available to go.  I’m sure you, like me, watched in horror as many of these families were sprayed with tear gas. (Never in a million years is that acceptable!!!) We must advocate for us to do better as a nation to those seeking asylum and help. Please pray for all the families who had to experience that trauma and for us as a people so that we can do better at loving and respecting each other.

 Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

GirlTrek, Critical Joy Interview on AfroBeat Radio

I am pleased to have produced  the interview with GirlTrek Founders T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison with AfroBeat Radio Host, Wuyi Jacobs as part of the Critical Joy Series.

https://anchor.fm/afrobeatradio/embed/episodes/GirlTrek—inspiring-one-million-African-American-women–girls-to-develop-a-daily-habit-of-walking-e2l60c