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!

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

MT days 11 -15

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 MELISSA’S THANKS

Day 11: Support Groups

Happy Eleventh Day of Thanks Everyone!

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving (Anti-Imperialist) celebration. Lilah and I had an amazing time, honoring the Lord and giving thanks for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.  

I am so very grateful to the support groups in which I participate.  They have saved me from the mental house, the jail house, and from committing homicide. (And that’s the real truth!)

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I know who attempted suicide.  As I sat in the hospital talking to her after the attempt, she explained why she did it.  I asked her why she felt as if she couldn’t reach out for help during the really low moments. Her response to me was that the woman in her mother’s generation and older were so strong and had managed to do everything (ie. be single parents, work, hold down their families) by themselves and she wanted to be strong like they were. She, also having a child with special needs, confessed that she saw how “strong and successful” I was at handling the pressure of raising my special needs daughter by myself and thought she had to follow suit.

I have to be honest and say that her words felt like someone was kicking me in the chest.  I could have lost her because she had this false notion that our parent’s generation was “strong” and that I was “handling the pressures of parenthood by myself.” All I could do was shake my head, think oh my goodness, and quickly proceed to set the record straight for her. I had to explain to her that many of the women in her mother’s generation and older had some very unhealthy ways of dealing with, “numbing,” and handling their pressures.  Most of those women were severely depressed, on drugs, alcoholics, gamblers, or addicted to something else.  I also had to share with her that I, on more occasions than I could count, almost lost my mind because (1) Delilah’s 10-15 cluster seizures per day during her menstrual cycles had me worn out and lacking in days without sleep; (2) Delilah had done something as it related to her being autistic that could have caused both of us severe harm; or (3) I had to find the money to feed her and provide all her supplements on this new expensive ketogenic diet by myself.  And it was only through the help of my support groups (and support system) that I had managed to still have my sanity.

A few years ago, my daughter met her bestie through a music program that she was attending. Her bestie’s mom and I, through our two daughters, developed this authentic, blessing of a relationship that will thrive forever. Her mother, in addition to being the most outstanding, awe-inspiring, home-schooling parent I have ever met in my life (who I know is the next Ashoka Fellow, Mama), co-founded with two other women the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle.  This support circle has changed and saved my life.  I now know that I am not alone and that there are tons of others, like me, who are struggling and trying to conquer parenting a child with special needs. (Sometimes a good day is that no one got hurt or died and no one went to jail! Right?) The circle allows all the parents to freely talk about their issues, confidentially and without judgement.  All of the parents share information and their resources so that all of us and our children are benefiting from the information. We have received some of the best workshops that have taught us helpful tools to manage many of the situations that we encounter with our special needs children.  Additionally, the parents have also been taught to focus on our own well-being too.  We do date nights and hang out together as well.  Our last gathering was at a new restaurant that opened near the meet up location. We have really become a family unit of love and support and have, among ourselves, created many of the necessary supports, teams and programming that each of us needed for our children.

Last year in 2017, I started my own Year of Yes (Thanks Shonda Rhimes!), which included having to treat myself to something monthly, with my limited budget, (even if it was an ice cream or a walk in the park) and hanging out more with friends.  The Mott-Haven Mommas “support group” was what I wanted and needed all wrapped in one.  Once a month, the mothers in my neighbor get together at a local spot and fellowship.  We eat, we discuss some of the important concerns that are plaguing our lives, we give some suggestions and helpful tips to the newest moms, if they need or want it, and form a comradery among ourselves.  It was in this group that I got to discuss my crazy encounters with perimenopause, got the courage to continue battling with my daughter’s father for child support, created my new business idea “A Love Affair: The Ultimate Date Night Experience” and got reaffirmed by all of my sister-mommies.  They are incredibly, amazing women!

Because Lilah’s food is so expensive and I’m working with a limited budget, God provided Lilah an angel that takes care of some of her food and supplements (so that I won’t have to sell myself or work myself to the bone more than I do now trying to get those funds.)  I have my close friends to whom I can vent when life gets a tad hectic.  I had respite programs which allowed me to get free time to run errands, take care of domestic work, and go on dates.

The young lady was astounded as I laid out all of the support that I receive, which makes my life a little easier and saner.  I emphasized repeatedly that I have never ever done anything on this journey of life by myself.  In addition to God being with me, he has always sent angels to join me along the way.  If you find yourself completely overwhelmed and in need of help and support, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone who can help you or connect you with others who can help.  Your life is so valuable and important. After all, “why are we all here? To help each other get through this thing we call life.”

Today, as I’m thankful again for sanity and sound mind. I too am grateful for the support systems and groups that I have in place that help to provide that sanity and sound mind.  Please, please, please share information about the Bronx Parent’s Autism Support Circle (http://bxpasc.org/) with any family you know who has a loved one with special needs and on the Autism Spectrum.  Not only will they have great love, support and a connection to resources, we need them to share their testimonials and resources so that all of our families can receive the blessing.  The group meets at Latino Pastoral Action Center (LPAC) on 14 W 170th Street (Jerome Ave. is the cross street) in the Bronx every second (2nd) Tuesday of the month.  We are on Meetup and Social Media as well. Consider giving a donation to this wonderful organization so that we can extend our programming and workshops to and for all the families we help.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 12: Accountability

Happy Twelfth Day of Thanks Everyone!

For the past several years, I have always done my thirty day of thanks journey with God in secret. (It’s my thing that I do with God to be grateful for all that I have been blessed with and to financially bless organizations that are a blessing to others.) So, it was definitely surprising when God flipped the script on me and told me that this year I needed to share my thirty days of thanks with others. Do you know how nerve-wrecking it is to be vulnerable and expose all of your business to others, when I enjoy being a behind the scenes person for just about everything? (Most of you don’t know this but I’m really a very shy person at the core of things.) I do all of this prefacing because today, I will be sharing something that has left some real scar tissue on my heart and soul, although forgiveness has been established. I share it not for you to judge anyone but for you to understand my hurt, my anger, my frustration, and empathy for anyone who has had to endure the same experience. I also share it because I am grateful for accountability, because it has allowed me to continue supporting my daughter and get her to the place of physical health and wellness that she needs.

In October 2016, my daughter’s paternal grandmother came from Grenada to NY and asked to personally meet her, after not reaching out to know her in fourteen years. I took my daughter to her grandmother’s cousin’s house so that her family could meet Delilah for the first time.  The exchange between her and Delilah was very pleasant. During the course of the night, as Lilah was in the kitchen eating, one of the cousin’s asked me how Delilah’s dad was doing. I told her that we don’t speak and that he doesn’t take care of Delilah. Her mouth stood wide open and she said “what?” When I repeated myself and she discovered that her cousin was among the men who are considered “deadbeat dads,” she told me to come into the living room to observe her conversation, without saying a word.

Within the next few minutes, I had discovered that my daughter’s father had been living in Florida for the last five years (when I thought he was in Grenada) with his wife and a five year old son that he was supporting. I stayed completely silent but my blood began to boil. Here I was struggling to take care of our special needs daughter and he was taking care of another family with no issue. (Smh!)When I had moved back to the states ten years earlier, I offered to do a paternity test to clarify any doubts in her father and his family’s mind about my daughter being his child. When he declined the test, I asked him if he was sure because I wasn’t going to revisit what I thought was a very disrespectful topic in the first place, in future years. He said he was sure because he knew me enough to know that I wouldn’t lie to him about the issue.  Then came all the statements about how he wanted to be in our daughter’s life and promises of how he would support her when he got on his feet. I patiently waited but none of those statements or promises came to fruition. Finally, when our daughter was about 7 or 8 years old, her father resolved that he would not take care of her at all because I would not marry him to get his US citizenship papers and demanded that he now wanted and needed a paternity test (which he also wanted to use to advance his pursuit for those citizenship papers). I was so disgusted and done; I severed all communication with him for several years. Though his sister and I had always remained in contact and did play dates and exchanges with our children, I never asked about her brother’s whereabouts. (I’m grateful for aunts, like mine and her, which still do the right thing!)

Since I believe that no one should have to chase an adult to take care of their responsibilities, I left him alone and committed to doing the best I could to support my daughter as a single parent. It’s been very difficult but I have pressed through it. In earlier years, thinking that he was still living in Grenada, I did not pursue child support, because I only had a number and an email; I didn’t know exactly how to find him, location wise, or think that the US would enforce the case.

When I left his cousin’s house that night in October, I wrote my daughter’s father an email letting him know that I was aware of him living in the states for the past five years, outlined the expenses that it took to support my daughter and keep her healthy each month, and let him know that he needed to figure out how he would pay half of those expenses. If he didn’t, there would be a judge that would help him to figure it out.

He began his usual tirade of verbal abuse, and told me not to threaten him, mentioning his desire for the paternity test. When I gently reminded him that I was not threatening but speaking the truth to him and clarified that I now welcomed the paternity test for which he needed to pay, (since I would need it for the child support case too), he was shocked that I called his bluff. The lack of a paternity test would no longer be the crutch that he could use for not financially supporting our daughter.

My email caused a family scandal and he spent the next few days writing me all these nasty emails attacking my character, and claiming that since he was in school he couldn’t support Delilah. (He made sure that he let me know he wasn’t financially supporting any of his other children, including his wife’s son, so I shouldn’t expect that he would do it for Delilah.) He claimed that his family was going to pay for the paternity test and all the other things needed. (Interestingly enough, he called me a day later, with his father secretly on the call,  to ask me to pay for the paternity test that he wanted since his father told him that he wasn’t going to pay the $500 for the test and his flight to NY.)

Since he thought I was joking and had done what he thought was a sufficient amount of verbal bullying and character defamation, he was completely taken by surprise when he received the petition order to appear in court. At receiving the court order, his mother also decided to step in to harass and bully me into not pursuing the child support case against her forty plus year old son. She wrote me an email, attacking my character and saying some choice words about my daughter, particularly not being a part of her. (Thank God that he reveals who people really are. Just a few weeks ago she was hugging my daughter and now had lots of choice things to say about her.) In her email, in addition to justifying her son’s lack of responsibility, she told me that I should leave her son alone so that when he “felt like” being part of our daughter’s life when she got older, he would do so, like her paternal grandfather had done. She was also using God in many of her references to persuade me. (You have to love religious folk! Most times they will tell you that God told them to tell you to do something to get you to do what they want you to do. It’s called prophe-lying and you should be aware of it, especially if your spirit is not in agreement with what is being said.)

As frustrated as I was with what I had read thus far of her email, I was still trying to be objective and understand her perspective. But, then she struck a nerve by putting in her email, “what kind of mother are you? That you would drag your poor child through the legal system.” (For those of you who have never seen my other side, which gets really angry, brace yourself.)  At that moment, I was about to get on a plane to Grenada to whip this woman’s ass, real good, like I know how, South Bronx style!”(Excuse the language!) This woman, who struggled herself as a teenage single-parent, had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was.

She didn’t know that I was the kind of mother that lost countless days of sleep and work nursing my epileptic ridden, autistic baby girl back to health after every 2 hour cluster seizures had plagued her from 11:30 pm to the evening of the next day during every menstrual cycle, which was 14-21 days. I was the mother who spent months at a piano and singing scales, teaching my aphasic child how to sing words to develop speech. I was that mother who, with the little financial resources I had, was trying to keep us out of the homeless shelter system again while paying all the bills and for all of Lilah’s food and medicines that health insurance doesn’t cover. I was the mother who because I loved my daughter so much decided to sacrifice my dreams and put my career goals on hold to be the mother that she needed me to be. And this lady had the nerve to ask me what kind of mother I was. She did not know that she had barked up the wrong tree!

She not only made me angry but her comments wounded my soul. I never thought I’d ever experience another older woman (besides my mother) at this stage of my life attack my character in that way, especially since I do so much to build up and encourage women and young girls on a daily basis. It took me a week to calm down enough to address her sufficiently (in a professional manner), making sure she was smart enough to never send me another email like that a day in her life. (And yes, she got the message!)  But, unfortunately, the woundedness of the entire situation did not end there; the court appearances were worst.  My daughter, in open court, heard her father completely denying and rejecting her. She, along with the judge, bailiff and stenographer heard him defaming my character as well.

 I found out the depth that some men are willing to go to avoid the responsibility of taking care of their children. After our first court case, he quit his job so that he would not have to pay child support. I found out that he had another child outside of his marriage that he was claiming to support but really didn’t. He was usin the fact that he had other children to support to minimize the amount of support that he could give to Delilah. He had several high paying jobs, which afforded him the comfort to address the responsibility of caring for ALL of his children over the years but chose not to do so. He went back to school to become a doctor as well. (I now understood why he had emailed me on so many occasions before to tell me that it was such a pity that I had to sacrifice my career to care for Lilah.)  He hid money on his taxes and withdrew about ten thousand dollars in an IRA to avoid appearing to make sufficient money to pay child support. He researched and was happy to tell the judge that Florida state law only dictated that he would have to financially support our daughter for only two and one half years more, until she was 18 years old. (The judge quipped that New York State law dictated until the age of 24 if our daughter was in school and gently reminded him that since Delilah had specials needs, he would probably need to support her much longer.) 

When the test results came back, proving that Delilah was 99.99% his child, he still was trying to deny the test. After the judge mentioned the confidence of the test after 95%, my daughter’s father was too embarrassed to keep denying the trustworthiness of the test. When the judge then asked him what he was willing to pay, he said that his wife would pay his child support bill. (A complete and utter shame it was to hear him!) He mentioned  that he considered having to pay child support punitive and that he had come to the USA to create a better life for himself. He also told me and the judge flat out that we would see him in Grenada because he wasn’t going to pay anything.  The judge, disgusted with him, began to tell him about a interjurisdictional law, which allowed the US to enforce child support in Grenada as well and that he would be paying. He went a short while thinking that he could avoid paying child support, but according to him, in Florida they took away his license and threatened to throw him jail if his arrears weren’t paid, immediately. (Nothing like good ole accountability!) Now, I receive regular financial support.  At this point her dad is supposed to help pay 56% of her medical expenses, which he doesn’t pay. When I sent him the first round of receipts, he complained and said to not contact him anymore. So eventually, when I get some time, I’ll have to do another round of court petitions and appearances to collect the money for all of Delilah’s medical expenses. (What a hassle! But, I have to do what is necessary to ensure that Delilah has everything she needs.)

I never imagined in a million years that I would have to undergo such a degrading experience. (Believe me when I say that I haven’t even mentioned some of the worst parts of it.) Wounded and full of battle scars, yet again, Delilah and I survived this experience too. If I feel the way that I do, I can only imagine what she must feel being rejected openly by someone who should and is supposed to care about her. I also learned later that her father rejects her because he is ashamed of her autism. (It is his lost because my baby is absolutely, wonderfully made and there is nothing about her existence that is shameful!)

Although there is a level of accountability that guarantees a minimum level of financial support for Delilah now, I left this experience completely flabbergasted and still feeling like so much was lacking. Making a missing parent pay 17% of his/her income is nothing, when all of you know that most of us parents spend way more than that on our children in a given moment. (The majority of us parents pay more than that in babysitting fees.)  In the court system, there was still no real accountability for reconciliation, guaranteeing that the missing in action parent would learn to bond and connect with his/her child. There was no mandate for them to have partial custody and really share the load of responsibility to care for the child(ren) in question. Delilah, like many other children, still grow up in a single-parent household and never know who their fathers (or mothers) are. (Not that I’d really wish that for her at this point!)  Clearly, in some cases, its best to keep a child away from an abusive or negligent parent, but if a parent is clearly capable of being responsible for their children; why isn’t there a standard or mandate for the missing parent to have an equal share of responsibility? Why isn’t there a mandated parenting class or courses that these missing parent are required to attend that will empower them to see the importance of claiming their children and being active in their lives. The task of parenting goes way beyond just providing financial means.

Part of my life’s work in the this next phase will be to develop a parenting (fatherhood) initiative that encompasses just that, empowering absent parents to reconcile with their children as they learn key tools and skills, through dynamic courses and workshops, to equip them to be better, present parents. I believe to make better communities we have to address every aspect of the family. So today I highlight the organization, Strong Families Commission (https://www.thestrongfamiliescommission.com/), whose mission is to advocate for a greater father involvement in the lives of children and families. Please consider donating to this Philly based organization that is doing great work.  On a personal note, if any of you who are reading this happens to be a missing in action parent to any of your children, no matter what age they are,  don’t wait until it’s too late to make things right. (It is never too late to make things right with your soul!) You owe it to yourself and to your child(ren) to ask for forgiveness, attempt reconciliation, and start taking on the responsibility of parenthood (or if your child is an adult, perhaps a friend). If not, you will reap the unfortunate consequences of neglecting those parental duties.

I know today’s reflection was very long; I thank you for allowing me to bear my heart, for staying the course and for reading to the end. I apologize for the expletive as well. It was the only way to truly convey my sentiments at the time. I am grateful today for accountability and the owning of one’s responsibility.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Day 13: A Child’s Laughter

Happy Thirteenth Day of Thanks!

I give thanks for and celebrate the ability to see a child’s joy.

One of my favorite things in the entire world is to hear my daughter laugh.  When she does it, It’s a sound that comes from so deep within her gut and radiates joy like I’ve never experienced before.  Her laugh is so contagious and makes me smile and laugh, even if I don’t know what she is laughing about. Her eyes light up, you see all of her pearly whites, and this melodious sound springs forth as if she is being permanently tickled.   It’s a sight to see and hear her.

I wasn’t even aware that I was experiencing such a gift because it was so naturally occurring and common place for me to witness it.  Unfortunately, you and I take for granted several gifts in our lives until someone makes us aware of it.

Delilah and I were on the train headed to church one Sunday. After singing one of her favorite songs, we were reading one of her scripture lessons in her Veggie Tale’s bible and one of the characters said something funny. When I explained it to Delilah, she burst out laughing. Her laughing was so guttural, and joyous that several of the passengers sitting near us took notice and began to smile as well.

I guess one of the gentleman on the train had been observing our interaction for quite some time. After several train stops, he walked up to me and said “You are a really great mother!” I looked at him with a puzzled face and said “Thank you.” In my head, I’m thinking I don’t know this man at all, how would he know that I am a great mother.  As if he was reading my mind, he began to explain. He said, “ma’am, I am in my sixties now and I have not seen a young child your daughter’s age smile and laugh like that in so many years. The light and joy coming from her eyes is so unexplainably free and happy and content.  Kids today are so hard and so burdened; I haven’t heard or seen the beauty of their laughter in ages. When we were young, we had that all the time. But children today don’t have that like your daughter does.  In order for her to have that light and joy and laughter, love can’t be missing.  You have to be a great mom if she has joy like that.”

Talk about someone bringing to your attention how you take for granted a blessing that has been given to you! What he said made so much since. I had met so many children Lilah’s age and younger who had experienced so much dysfunction and abuse in their lives that they had contemplated or attempted suicide.  Many of the young people I knew who were Lilah’s age told me that their parents didn’t hug or kiss them and they were rigid and hard with brokenness.

The man was right!  My baby experiences love in every love language from this lady right here! Lilah gets kisses on the side of her chin that wake her up out of the bed in the morning (now in her teenage years, she complains “stop, leave her!”) and gets told that she is loved several times a day.  She is showered with a million hugs at home daily and intentionally made aware of my love, support and encouragement for her.  She not only gets the necessities, but she gets foot, hand and leg massages, manis and pedis, and held on those days where she is hurting and just needs to cry things out.  

She can laugh and has joy because she is loved and experiences love each day!

Today as we give thanks for a child’s laughter and joy, I want to suggest that you continue to do the extra special things in a child’s life to show them just how much you love and care about them so that they can continue to have laughter and joy in their lives.  As Lilah was growing up, we used to watch Smile of Child TV (Smile of A Child TV) , which is part of the TBN network. It shows great wholesome programming for children between the ages of 2-12 years old twenty-four hours a day and teaches both positive spiritual and social skills.  Please give the gift of Smile of a Child TV to your little ones.  Please consider donating to TBN network (TBN) as they continue expanding their programming for children and/or the nonprofit the Comedy Cures Foundation (Live. Love. Laugh.) which brings joy, hope, laughter and therapeutic entertainment to patients and caregivers worldwide.  (https://www.smileofachildtv.org/ and http://comedycures.org/)

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 14: Health

Happy Fourteenth Day of Thanks Everyone!

A few months ago I was doing a group activity with several friends that involved us moving ourselves in a particular area of the room if we had a specific health ailment. While everyone had moved multiple times, I stayed flat footed in the same position during the entire activity. I had never had a surgery (not even giving birth), sciatica, back problems, arthritis, broken bones, diabetes, hypertension and several other conditions that were mentioned. (And I pray that I never have them!)

Everyone looked at me in amazement and commented on how lucky or blessed I was. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in the perfect bill of health. (My immune system is probably rock solid because I was always sick as a child, according to my mom.) However, towards the end of last year things began to change significantly. My feet started to swell up (imagine the elephantitis that pregnant women have. Yes, mine was that bad) and I could barely walk on them. I started taking my vitals and blood pressure. I was thinking to myself, neither my heart nor my kidneys are in bad shape so what is happening?  I’d get these severe migraine headaches over my right eye that stayed all day for days (I’m still searching for that red pill!), this woozy feeling that I couldn’t shake for as long as I had the other symptoms and my metabolism was slowing down. I had gained almost 50 pounds and i wasn’t eating more than what I usually did (the belly bulge and love handles are a real thing ya’ll!) I could feel fatigue like a sac of bags on my shoulder; the cough, laugh, sneeze and pee syndrome was in full effect along with all of these menstrual irregularities. 

Perimenopause and Menopause are real! And no joke!

I was talking to my aunt about all that I was experiencing and complaining that I was way too young for all this. She said, “we get menopause early in this family. Mine started with hot flashes at 35!” I felt duped! Now why didn’t someone think to tell me that, so that I could have prepared myself mentally and my body for the onslaught of these changes? Smh! The symptomology had gotten so bad that I went to the doctor to follow-up and check on things. And he said you look great, absolutely amazing, you just need to get rid of some of the weight.

The next day he had the nurse call me to see if I was okay because I should have been passed out somewhere unnconscious. My blood sugar (even having eaten) which has never been anything but normal was at 35 mg (normal values: 70-90mg). That was the woozy feeling that I kept getting. The fluctuation of my hormones had my body completely out of whack.

For the next few months, I was on a crusade to find out everything I needed to know about how to balance these hormones better.  I researched like crazy, getting literature from different sources. I even talked to all of my older friends/peers/colleagues and asked them what they did to control their symptoms. I made a thorough plan based on all the research I had done to whip my body back into shape and minimize all of the symptoms I was undergoing.  I exercised in the morning for at least 45 min; I walked a track across the street from house religiously. I started eating regimented like a diabetic (6 times a day), keeping a snack on me just in case my blood sugar decided to take a nose dive, fasting intermittently and ceasing to eat after 8pm. I also started taking several supplements which are hormone stabilizers. Within two menstrual cycle periods, I had lost more than 15 pounds, had no more migraines and saw no swelling of my feet. Since body fat feeds estrogen shifts, the weight loss had kept the shift at bay. I was sold!!!! I’ve been trying to maintain the plan. However, with the cold, rain and snow I haven’t been going out as much. I’ve been doing the walking with Leslie Lansone videos until I can make room for and buy elliptical.

I learned some valuable lessons about not taking my health for granted.  What’s interesting is that If I hadn’t gone to the doctor, I would have never known or seen just how much God was keeping me “from dangers unseen.” I could have been in an early grave with blood sugar levels that low. Without that knowledge, I would have kept doing the normal “pushing through” that we all do as we go through the new stages of life (ie. Pre-menopause-post), and try to “balance” our lives in the best way we know how. I realize now more than ever that as my destiny is unfolding and my purpose is being made clear, I need to take care of myself even more. I’ve also been on a mini crusade to have heart to heart conversations with the younger women in my life about just how real menopause and the phase of life leading up to it is and sharing the tools that I’ve received with them to ease the stress of that phase of their lives when it comes.

Today, I am more than grateful to have my health and be alive with no hotflashes, migraines, swollen feet etc. (God is good! Now if I can just get the diligence to work on this belly!) Several years ago in my research, as I was dealing with my daughter’s hormonal crisis of estrogen dominance, I found some great books and informational resources from Dr. John R. Lee about every type of hormonal crisis and cancers. The information he shares in his books is invaluable. Please check out his website and his materials (Official Website of John R. Lee, M.D., Expert in Progesterone and HRT). They will be of great help and benefit to you (men and women!)

I’d also like to highlight two organizations. IFCO/Pastors for Peace ( IFCO/Pastors for Peace)  facilitates and sponsors a scholarship program to send young black and brown youth to go to medical school, the Latin American School of Medicine, in Havana Cuba. These students scholarship stipulation is that they will come back to work in medically underserved communities throughout the US. By donating to this organization, you will help us to support some of these young doctors while they are in medical school as well as when they transition back to the US to work in our low resourced communities. Trust me when I tell you that these young folk are desperately in need of your financial support and are deserving of it.  They are going to be our future doctors.

Day 15: Appreciation (Being Valued)

Happy Fifteenth Day of Thanks Everyone! 

It is so exciting to be at the half way mark in our journey. (Yay!)  I hope you are being blessed and inspired by each day’s theme and then being a blessing to others.

I give thanks for appreciation and being valued. It drives me to keep doing what I’m doing.

Several years ago, one of my mentors died unexpectedly. It was a tremendous blow to me and the organization that he oversaw for more than forty years. There was so much chaos in trying to figure out how to proceed because my mentor had the finesse to always make mountains move in getting things done and finding sources of money to support the many projects and the organization’s programming. The institution recruited an interim director until they could find someone permanent. Because the interim director created such a financial disaster of the organization in her time as overseer, the permanent director had excessive damage control to do when she came on board.  All the while, the organization still needed someone to run the programming and no one was stepping up to do that. Since I was volunteering and doing some part-time work for the organization, I had first-hand insight on the internal turmoil taking place.  I would pray for the organization’s security and for the help that they needed to come. (Why in the world did I do that?)

In one of my prayer sessions, God told me that I was to take over the scholarship program that they facilitated. I thought God was bugging out! Working for this nonprofit would mean that I would be making less than one-third of my previous earning, I’d be putting in 50-70 hour weeks to get this program into shape and maintain it, I’d be dealing with way more headache and having to eventually travel more than I could. The list of things that did not work in my favor and the sacrifices that needed to be made to do that job were way beyond any sane person’s capacity to agree with. What was God thinking? How would I support myself and my family on the salary they were offering me? (Of course, God was not concerned at all about my questions or my hurt feelings; I was expected to obey what I was told to do.)

The permanent director and I took over our positions and were overwhelmed with burden. No one knew that, because of the financial crisis we inherited from the interim director, we were working without receiving paychecks for several months and trying our best to keep the doors open and our mentor’s legacy alive.   Not only were we plagued with the question of how do we get finances into the organization, we had to figure out how to walk into the shoes of a great legacy and transform it to be our own and relevant for the times? (Not at all an easy task!)

It has been an incredibly hard journey to complete that task. With a four-membered full-time female staff we try to move mountains every day. We have had to give from our own pockets on more occasions than I can count because we are in deficit. I spend most days trying to encourage one hundred and seventy five graduates of our program (many of whom are now making over two hundred thousand dollars per year without medical school debt) to give back to the organization and the program and trying really hard not to get discouraged when the majority of them don’t. I have seventy five amazing adult students (“my children”) who are in medical school who are always somehow needier than my 16 year old and seem to want all my time and attention too.

On so many occasions when I was ready to quit and get me a “better job” that “appreciated me” and where I wouldn’t be “overworked and underpaid,” I’d get these wonderful reminders of why I needed to do exactly what I was doing.  My students would write me emails like this:

Dr. Melissa,

Wow, I literally cannot believe it! This is so surreal! I was honored for the opportunity to just be among the students that were invited to orientation but to actually be chosen..wow. There are no words that can describe this feeling, only emotions. I’m used to seeing stories like this on TV or hearing about them on the news not ever thinking that something of such great magnitude could happen to someone like me. I’m in a state of disbelief, my family is in awe and my community is still waiting to hear the verdict. Just by them seeing me accomplish this is just..wow. This is so much bigger than just me..wow. I really don’t know what to say. Thank you and the entire ELAM committee for this opportunity. You not only changed my life, you actually saved it.

This was from a first generation black male college student from the back woods of the South and counted out by academic professors He was told many times that he would never get to his dream. Just recently one of my prospective students burst in tears during her orientation exit interview. This was her email to explain the emotion she was feeling afterwards.

I realize that in many ways, this program is something I have been searching for. This realization was very overwhelming. I have never personally met so many Black and brown doctors, and I have never personally met so many doctors who were Black women.  The ice-breaking activities during the retreat, and the in-depth discussions about the realities of the ELAM program made me feel like people who looked like me were truly supported. I have very rarely experienced this in an academic program. At the same time, seeing so many successful Black and brown doctors has helped me recognize my own potential. For me, becoming aware of my own potential is very scary. But most of the fear comes from 11th hour self doubt, even though my life experience and my academic career have prepared me for this amazing opportunity. This orientation/retreat process has helped me see what a successful medical career could look like for me. Regardless of the final decision of the selection committee and the ELAM program, I am extremely grateful to have met so many amazing people over the past 3 days.

Imagine that! The work that I do is appreciated and valued and being recognized by these young people, whose futures I get to change and be part of every day. I may not make the millions of bucks, and, yes, most days are extremely hard to press through as I try to shape the conscious minds of these young people and prepare them to be future doctors in our underserved and poor communities. But, it’s all well worth it to see the light in their eyes as they realize there is someone who loves them and is showing up for them to have wonderful, better and brighter futures.

Today as we celebrate giving Tuesday and being appreciated, open your pockets real wide and give my organization, IFCO/Pastors for Peace (www.ifconews.org) some of your green (money not vegetables!) to support the wonderful programming that we do for these young folk (future doctors).  If you know someone who is interested in attending medical school, is between the ages of 18-25 years old and has the pre-med science curriculum under their academic belt, send them to the website to check out our medical school scholarship program to see if they are interested in a future career as a doctor serving underserved communities throughout the United States. And last but not least, if you have not let the people in your life (spouses, children, colleagues, employees, employers) know just how much you appreciate them when you know that without them you don’t have a penny and a prayer, (shame on you!) Get to calling, emailing, texting and whatever it is that you have to do to let them know that they are loved and appreciated.  And then go out and do something for them because words without actions are dead!

Love Ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

 

More to COME!!!!

 

MT days 6-10

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 MELISSA’S THANKS

Day 6: Gift of Song

Happy Sixth Day of Thanks Everyone!

I’m going to let you in on a secret. Move really, really close so that I can whisper it to you. My back up career choice was to be a background singer. I love to sing until my heart is content! I’m not just one of those sing in the shower people that pretend they have a microphone in their hand and let the acoustics of the bathroom create a false reality that they are good. I’m that person who sings and praises my way through the morning and the evening, through the good times and the bad times, and even through the makeups and breakups of relationships. I’m also sure I’ll be that person who sings as long as I have breath in my body.

I give honor and thanks for the gift of song, today, because it has forever impacted and changed my life. I have been singing in choirs and chorales just about all my life. And there is nothing like a song that can speak to the core of your soul by telling your life’s story! There are songs that tell of your joy, reveal your pain, speak of your need for liberation, cry for justice, and make you want to make babies (you know that’s the truth!).  I know as you read this, your favorite song or songs are being brought to your memory.

So, you are probably asking by now, why is the gift of song so important to her and how has it impacted her life. Well here is the story…

After my freshman year of college (which is many, many moons ago now), I had the opportunity to participate in a summer medical enrichment program at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. During that time, Case Western was piloting a music therapy program for several of their pediatric patients and researching the impact music was having on the ability of these young patients to heal better/faster or respond to treatment. As I was on my rounds with the physician and music therapist, I saw the miracle and bribery of music and how the children responded better to treatment when they knew their reward was music and the gift of song.  They were totally captivated by the music; even the evils that had been working in those children prior to our visit managed to be placated by the music. I remember thinking to myself: I’m going to figure out a way to use music and my ability to sing in my future practice.  Little did I know that I would use music, my voice and the few scales that I could play on the piano to change another child’s life ten years later.

For those of you who know me, you know or know of my mini-me, Ms. Delilah Christina, my daughter. When she was a little over three, she completely stopped speaking.  My perfect, typically, developing child went aphasic and no one knew why or how.  My mother called and told me, “After she got that shot, she hasn’t spoken anymore, she is just staring at me when I say something.” Many of the doctors thought she may have had a stroke and ran all kinds of imaging test, hearing test, and every other test to find out what may have occurred. Shortly after she went aphasic, she started to develop all kinds of sensory issues, cognitive delays and a host of affectations that were very pronounced.

Since Lilah has always been a musical child, listening to symphonies, opera, jazz, rhythm and blues and gospel from the headphones wrapped around my belly when she was in there, I chose to do what I have always done (sing), use the tools that I learned in every choir I had joined and the instruction at Case Western to teach my baby how to speak again. That Christmas, we started a new tradition; Delilah received the first of many musical instruments (a keyboard), and we got to work.  I played scales and taught her how to vocalize vowel sounds. Once she mastered vowels, we added consonants to the vowels until she could sing a whole scale (ma, me, mi, mo, mu).  Luckily, she is musically inclined and has perfect pitch because it made her a quick study. Within a few months time, I would make up songs with catchy melodies so that she could learn words. We had a song for everything, even to say Good night!  It was funny and interesting at the same time that she would sing a word or a sentence but not speak it. (Until this moment, she will sing whole songs but will only speak three to four word phrases.)  Her teachers thought it was the most interesting thing that she would not understand them or carry out a command unless they put the command into a song. A song made her brain’s cognitive switch turn on.  We continue to implement music in her everyday life to help her learn new words, sing her way out of sickness or despair, and put a smile on her face.

At every emergency room visit, due to one of her seizures,or at home, we would sing and praise her back to health. It was even in one of those hospital visits that a song “Oceans” drew a lonely, bad-behaving, young lady, (Kamora Lee) to us who has been my goddaughter and her god sister for the past three years. The “word” she spoke when she started speaking again wasn’t even a word, it was a song. She sang the song “Happy Birthday to Lilah” with Dora the Explorer. Unlimited tears were flowing from my face that day when I heard her voice again for the first time. And as you all know, she absolutely loves birthdays and people singing the happy birthday song to her in every language on her day.  (If you missed singing and submitting your happy birthday song for her sixteenth birthday yesterday, you still have time because we celebrate for the whole month. We’ll be waiting.) On her birthday, we listen to the songs throughout the day. But the exciting crescendo moment is when, right before she goes to bed, we listen to all the happy birthday songs in every language or form (our elder whistles her happy birthday song every year) that come in and she feels the love everyone has for her and she remembers the significance of that song to her. It is one of the happiest moments of her life and puts the biggest smile on her face as she goes off to the lala land of sleep.

Now, Delilah sings to her own beat (even more than I do). She has been learning to play the piano and is getting really good at it. (One day maybe she will be the background singer or headliner that I dreamed of becoming!)

With my complete thanks for music and the gift of song, I want to highlight an amazing organization—Upbeat NYC.  This nonprofit gives the gift of music for free to my child and children in the South Bronx.  They take students from the age of four years old and teach them to play just about every instrument (the cello, the piano, violin, trumpet, drums). They have an awesome orchestra and jazz band. They hold recitals and concerts for the neighborhood where the children can shine musically. They don’t currently have a home but are using one of the local churches to teach the students instruments. (Hopefully once we get the H.E.Arts Center, which you will learn more about in a later reflection, they will have a permanent home.) Please give a financial donation to UpBeat NYC (https://upbeatnyc.org/) so that they can continue to expand their programming and give the gift of music to our children. If you or anyone you know has any working, unused instruments, consider donating them to UpBeat for a child to have an instrument on which to practice. Feel free to donate sheet music and Hal Leonard music books as well. They totally deserve all of the resources that you can give them. And if you are feeling even more generous, along with your gift to UpBeat NYC you can sponsor Delilah’s next musical instrument since her birthday and Christmas are rapidly approaching, so that she can become this amazing musician with every instrument she has.

Love ya!

Have a great Day of Thanks!

 

Day 7: Sound Mind

Happy Seventh Day of Thanks Everyone!

 After all that I have been through, I’m praising God and giving thanks that my mind is still intact.

 If you have been reading the reflections since the first day in our journey of thanks, you know that my life has not been an easy walk in the park and that somehow I have always inherited the longer, harsher, narrower path in life. (I used to think I was Job incarnate and wondered when the double for my trouble part of the story was coming!)

On Nov 8th, I was waiting for what I call NYC’s forsaken bus (the Bx19) to get to work. There was a mentally ill homeless man, waiting for the same bus as well. He had tons of soiled sheets and bags of clothes stacked on a wheelchair. He was flinging mucus from his nostrils onto the sidewalk, spitting, and shouting obscenities from his mouth. He had a hygiene mask hanging from his chin.  The prospective passengers were all watching, in wonder, to see just how the gentleman was going to manage to get on the bus with his load.

When the bus came, two women were laughing as he struggled to get on the bus. My regular bus driver (a very cheerful and pleasant gentleman) helped him to get settled in his seat. But the driver got angry when the man started yelling at him and the soiled sheets dropped and fell on his head. Several people started to get off the bus when the men was settled in his seat because he had an unpleasant stench that burned and saturated the hairs in our nostrils.

I watched the mentally ill man, empathizing, and thinking, that could have been me. I have had several seasons in my life where I felt as if I was walking on a real thin tight rope, trying to hold on to every ounce of sanity that I had left. During those times, I had to talk myself “down from the ledge” of mental breakdowns.

One month after I had my daughter, I had to return to medical school, without her, to finish that school year. I had a month’s worth of academic work to catch up on plus final exams.  I missed my daughter like crazy and hated the fact that I had to leave her with someone who I didn’t trust enough to take care of her and love her the way I would. Before going back to school, each day I debated with myself and struggled to decide whether I should leave medical school in Cuba to start all over in the US just to be with her. But under the direction of the Holy Spirit, I was told to go back to school and to trust that she would be okay. But, while in school, I worried and thought about her day and night. I also kept all of my bags packed in the corner near my bed just in case I decided to change my mind and go home.

On top of that stress, I had a physiology teacher who was determined to fail me (that is another reflection for another day) because I was the one chosen in my group to relay the message that her teaching style and skills were extremely lackluster and caused the students much confusion. (Of course, the group chose me and left me out to dry. Cowards!!!!) I also had some female students in my delegation in the medical school who were purely evil and would send me all kinds of hateful messages and do some of the meanest things to me while I was in that sensitive state—one day someone left me a group anonymous card on my bed telling me that I was an awful mother because I left my child and quoted bible scripture to tell me.

Every night, I cried with my med school books in hand studying. I got to a place where I caught up on and submitted all the work I had to make up; I took and passed all of my exams and had just one left–physiology.  But, that same physiology teacher wouldn’t let me sit for my first physiology final exam “el ordinario” because I had missed too much class, taking the 3 ½ weeks off to deliver my daughter at home in the states.

In my medical school, if you couldn’t take or didn’t pass your first final exam, you ha a second chance to take it (el extraordinario) a week after the original exam.  If you fail the extraordinario, you forfeited your summer vacation and had to take the “mundial” exam in August. There were no more chances after the mundial; you had to repeat the year or you were terminated from school.  

I automatically had to go to the extraordinario for this class. When I took the exam I felt pretty good about it. Our exam was composed of seven sections; I had to pass 5 sections of the seven to pass the exam. Do you know that demon-possessed lady had the nerve to fail me even though I passed the test?!!! Receiving a two (“2”) grade is failing with an F. When I saw a 2 by my name for the exam grade, I marched to her office and asked if I could go over my test so that I could find out why I failed. I got fives (100% on four sections of the test) and she gave me a “2.5” grade on the last three sections of the test. I asked her (in the nicest voice that I could) what did the 2.5 mean and why did she give me that grade instead of a 2. Then I asked her for the answers to those sections. Lo and behold, I got the right answer in those three sections too.  She said that although I had the answers correct, she decided to fail me because I had not thoroughly explained the answers in the depth like I did for the first four. She had a huge smirk on her face and started laughing and said since you didn’t give me “5” point material for those sections, I thought you deserved to fail.” (What do you when do when something like this happens and she, being the head of the entire physiology department, knows that no one on her staff will defy her or make her accountable for her actions?)

In that moment, I saw red and felt rage bolt through my body and had to hurry to leave her office because I was about to commit homicide with my bare hands. This lady could not have known how close to death she was or that I cried every night to see and hold my baby again, and with her malicious intent to fail me, she was revoking my right to see and be with Lilah for the summer . I would now have to stay in Cuba to study for and take another physiology exam in August. I remember my head feeling like it was going to explode and a sharp pain shooting through and burning my heart.  

I left the school campus to check my email at the nearest hotel so that I could process what was happening and to calm down. On my way back to the school, while I was on the crowded 420 bus, my eyesight started to fade. The colors and people I saw around me faded into a blurry grey then went completely black. I couldn’t see anything and I got so nervous. I had to follow the voices and feel my way off the bus to the front gate of the campus. When I felt the pillar at the front gate of the campus entrance, I sat down near the steps of the entrance of the door and told the female security guard that I had loss my sight while I was on the bus and couldn’t see anything. Tears were pouring down my face because I didn’t know what was happening to me or why. The security guard asked me if I had taken any drugs, drank, or had undergone any trauma. When I said “no” to each question, she got nervous and called the ambulance to come pick me up and take me to the school’s clinic. Since the same doctor had followed me for my prenatal care, when he heard that something happened to me, he rushed to my side to make sure it had nothing to do post delivery complications. After the doctor did his history, he told me that he wanted me to stay in the hospital to relax for the night. I sat in the hospital for several hours before I got my sight back. It was during that quiet moment, I decided that I had had enough and was packing all of my stuff and going home. Overwhelming stress is no joke! All of that mental stress was manifesting as biological symptomology.

Once my eyesight came back, I begged the doctor to let me go to my dorm room to sleep. But, I knew that I was going to my room to pack my things. I was having a real crisis of faith and angry at God too. I shouted at God, “you told me to come back to this place and I obeyed you and you let this happen to me! You let that evil woman do this to me! I have served you all my life and have done everything you have asked me to do! You better do something about this and prove to me that you are real or I am done with believing in you forever! I’m done!”

Have any of you had a moment like that with God, where after going through so many trials and tribulations, every belief that you have ever had about your religious faith lay in the balance? It becomes a life or death situation and God is on your judgment seat and you are asking with everything in your soul, “are you real or not?” and want answers now. I was at that moment and, although my mind was on the verge of completely shutting down, I was still fighting to hold on to it.

After my tyrant rants and packing my things and command that God prove himself to me, it was 3 am in the morning.  I decided that I would go and call my mother to ask her if she could loan me the money and buy me a ticket to come home. As I walked down the stairs to go outside, the dorm’s receptionist told me that I should stay in because there were some really dangerous winds outside at the time.  I told her that I had an emergency phone call to make and that I would be careful. She was right (and I should have listened) but I was on a mission to get out of that place. The sky was a grayish color that I had never seen before and the winds were pushing my 175 pound frame around like I was a feather. As chaotic as that wind was, I managed to walk the half mile to the phones and call my mother. When she answered the phone and I told her that I needed a ticket because I wanted to come home, she told me that it was 3 in the morning, to call her back in the morning when I got some sleep, and hung up the phone on me.

Walking the half mile back to my room, I saw the sky put on a theatrical performance that I had never seen before. The lightning was flashing and crackling in the grey sky; the winds were still tossing me as if I was a paper weight, and I was seething with anger at God.

I got back to my dorm and fell to sleep until I received a knock at the door at 10:30 am.  One of my country mates said that my physiology teacher had requested to see me in her office. I did not want to see that lady because I knew that I couldn’t muster up an ounce of professionalism or kindness to address her. I was beyond disgusted and everything from verbal and nonverbal communication would reflect that. So, I ignored her initial request. She sent another person to tell me to come to her office immediately.

I got dressed and went to her office. I didn’t extend her any courtesies and asked, “What do you want?” She looked at me and knew that I was not in the mood to play any games with her so I asked her again, “what do you want?”

She began, “last night the strangest thing happened to me.” I gave her a look as if to say, “do I look like I care about what happened to you last night.” Since she knew I was angry at her and justified in my anger, she spoke soft and patiently and continued her story.

“I was in bed sleeping, and a voice told me to get up and grade your paper again.  Since I had no intention to do that, I stayed in my bed. The voice got progressively louder each time it told me to get up and grade your paper correctly.  Since I wouldn’t do it, the voice got so loud that it drowned out everything to the point that my head was in excruciating pain from the sound of the voice and then I felt a huge push that completely knocked me out of the bed. And the voice said, I said to get up and grade that paper correctly. I got up from the floor and went to sit at my desk. I still didn’t want to correct your paper. The voice said, “grade it properly now.”  I still had to cover my ears from the loudness of the voice but said “okay!”

In the most humble voice, she told me “I graded your paper again. Since you did get the answers to those last sections correct, I gave you the proper grades for them. This morning, I resubmitted your score to the academic office and you have officially passed your physiology exam.” I asked her two follow-up questions; at what time did she have to re-grade my paper. She said, “It was a little after three in the morning.”  I looked at her and said, “so, you had a chance encounter with “a voice”, who was protecting me from you, that knocked you out of bed too? Who do you think that was?” I was slightly mocking the known atheist now.  “Perhaps that was the God that you claim you don’t believe in.”  She said I can’t explain it, “but there was a voice and it made me re-grade the paper.” Before leaving her office, I said “God is real! And you and I both just discovered that fact for ourselves.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how that moment created a shift in my entire life. The Creator, God of the Universe stepped in and came to my rescue, when I was at my lowest moment at that 3 am hour, ready to give up on Him, my faith, my purpose, and shut down my mind completely. God also had this woman tell me this story (I can’t imagine how humbling that had to be for her to have to look completely crazy in front of me) so that I would never forget that in the midst of that grey sky, those flashes of light and that heavy wind, He was speaking in a loud, clear voice doing his best work to save me, defend me and keep me.

So today and every day, I give thanks for having a sound mind because I remember how close I was to losing it. When I am mentally fatigued and overwhelmed, I remember how God defended me so that I could keep my sanity, which means He intentionally gave me this mind to function for a purpose. So, I quiet my spirit to receive the intentional peace, love and sound mind that comes in and from God.  

What do you do to keep your mind sound? How do you make it through some of the most overwhelmingly stressful times in your life? Today, as we give thanks for sound mind, think about the many ways that you can quiet your spirit and keep your mind healthy. Implement a life plan that involve positive outlets and supports that are unique to and for you that you can refer to when you are in those low places. (For me, this includes meditation on Bible scriptures, prayer, singing, participating with my support groups, celebrating myself at least once a month.) Some of the supports can and should include seeking professional help from a counselor or a trusted pastor with capabilities in deliverance.  Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you are feeling down or at a low point so that they can help or connect you to the resources that you need, if they cannot. Today, we highlight a great organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.naminycmetro.org/) that helps individuals and families affected by mental illness to build better lives.  Please consider volunteering your time, giving financially, or even checking out one of their support groups and events that are available to all.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

 

Day 8: Friendship

Happy Eighth Day of Thanks!

 

I give thanks for and to all my besties who teach me how important it is to have love, support, encouragement, and good ole fashion laughs and fun! They have forever raised my standards in how I choose my friendships and have truly taught me that “A friend sticks closer than a brother.”

I have been beyond blessed to have a ride-or-die, loyal, faithful, soul sister, bestie for over 20 plus years. (And she ain’t going nowhere!!!!) My life has been incredibly enriched because she is in it.  She is my go to for just about everything. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine my life without her in it. She means so much to me that my daughter is even her name sake (Christ in her!). We have been through every up and down you can possibly think of; we have outlasted distance as we’ve lived in other countries and states, communicating at least once or twice a week by email, sharing our experiences. (I was so happy a few years ago when she moved 45 minutes to an hour away from me. Yaay!) We have financially supported each other as we were both broke college and medical students who lived off of ramen noodles and prayers. We have encouraged each other to press through the many disappointments of life as we’ve witnessed dreams deferred, denied and delayed. We have celebrated each other’s every victory, knowing that it was each of our personal victory too. We have travelled long distances to show up to each other’s graduations, ceremonies, and events, knowing that the day would not be perfect without the bestie there.

We sang together in gospel choirs, danced together in talent shows and other performances (where we kicked butt), and enjoyed concerts (Joe was awesome!), plays, and puppet shows together. We’ve shown each other the dances (Brown skin), songs, and comedy skits that we created that the outside world would never see. She even played the role of Bonquisha for a skit that I created for my analytic chemistry class in college and played the heck out of the character!!! (I still chuckle to this day!) We’ve exchanged clothes and shoes (‘cause she is always fly!).  We’ve had stimulating, intellectual discourse and debate on just about every topic. We have stayed on the phone for hours until one or both of us have fallen asleep on each other. When I moved back to the US, she introduced me to one of my favorite artist, Lizz Wright (Girl, I surrender! Whew! LOL) That concert in Philly was out of this world! She has always dropped an encouraging word or scripture into my spirit at the right time. We each have done those late night and mid-morning intercessory prayers for solutions to health, financial, and family crisis in our lives. We are so connected that we each know when something is great or wrong with the other without even speaking.  

She has checked me when my attitude was out of control, realigned and set the standard for my moral compass when I was in deep, eye-brow raising nonsense, and changed so much of my perception about how I viewed life’s circumstances. She’s seen me cry through the many challenges of life and parenthood.  When Delilah and I were homeless, she and my other 20+ year bestie were the only people who offered us a place to stay. Faced with decisions about who would care for Delilah in the event of my death or incapacity, she agreed to care and be responsible for my daughter when I asked her if she was willing to do it.  A few times, without us ever speaking, I’d get a deposit of money into my bank account, when the funds were way too close to empty and I was worried about how I was going to get Lilah her food or pay a bill. Sorry in advance to our future husbands (if they exist), but we already made the decision years ago that there would be a permanent room or guest house in our places for each of our families to stay. When you marry one of us, you are marrying the other’s whole family too! 

When we were younger, everyone thought she was the more refined, polished one of the two of us (which is definitely and totally true!).  However, if she heard someone talk about me or if someone did something to me, there was a whole other side to her that would get straight “gangsta” (for real ya’ll!). She’d be ready to come for you to protect me, her bestie. And as for me, don’t even think about messing with my friend unless you want to encounter a good tongue lashing and a beat down! I mean that. She has always loved me, unconditionally, through every good thing or mistake I have ever made, and lovingly, lets me know that she will be here for me no matter what.

One of my besties’ biggest flaws, though, is remembering birthdays, which are very important to me. A few years in a row, she got the side eye for it.  So one year, she made sure that she put it in every calendar and wrote me an ode for my birthday, using one of our favorite Stevie Wonder songs. Come on now, you know that’s love! She did all that work and used Stevie too (just because she knew how much it meant to me).

My bestie is one of the most intelligent, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and talented persons I know! (For all you wonderful men out there, she is single. But, you must have your act together because she does not play!) The first 20 + plus years of our journey together has been incredible. She is a God send to me and sets the standard for ALL my friendships. (If you are not like this, now you know why we are not my friend.)  I look forward to the day that we are both in our 90s, seeing our great grandchildren, still rocking fashionable outfits and our heels, reminiscing and singing (or should I say harmonizing) to some Fred Hammond. (You know we are! LOL!)

As we give thanks for and celebrate friendship, tell your besties just how amazing they are and just how much they mean to you. (Don’t take them for granted!)  Today, we highlight an organization, Friend to Friend America (https://friendtofriendamerica.org/), which recruits and matches volunteers to visit (one-to-one) with elderly and disabled persons living in nursing, mind assisted living, retirement, and adult family homes for the purpose of forming friendships.  Please consider volunteering your time with this organization or for the price of a cup of coffee ($5) donate to help their cause to give seniors and uniquely-abled persons the opportunity to have friends.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 9: Wisdom

Happy Ninth Day of Thanks!

I am so grateful for wisdom! It has allowed me to set necessary boundaries in relationships, avoid the consequences of making foolish decisions, which create irreversible damage in my life and to “let go.”

Earlier in the year, I read this incredible, mind-blowing, life changing book called “If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the Boat” by John Ortberg. It is a must read for everyone. But, I have to warn you. Read it when you are ready to do some real clean up in your life. While I was reading the book, I committed to answering at least one of the questions posed by the book each day. (Not at all an easy task!)  There was nothing superficial about any of the questions and sometimes it took me days to scour my soul. One day I came to the question: “what is your most painful limitation?”

I started to think about all my limitations (and there are many) to figure out if they were actually “painful” or detrimental to me in a life or death kind of way.  My mind started perusing the usual list of suspects: sometimes procrastination, lack of wanting to do domestic work, being a shopaholic, hoarding, lacking in more self-care.  None of them are that detrimental or painful, I thought to myself. As I searched myself deeper and thought longer (it took two days), I finally had a eureka moment and I had to sit with the painful blow of my limitation. “I have a hard time letting go.” Not as much with things but with relationships and people. It has always been a very hard thing for me to do. Most times God has to step in the middle of things, with his stern, loud voice and say, “LET HIM/HER/IT GO!” or “MOVE ON!” It’s usually pretty hardcore because I have never wanted to feel like I am giving up on someone or something.

 As I reflected on this question more and reminisced on the many deadbeat relationships or friendships I’ve had, I realized how much pain I’ve put myself through, tolerating people’s selfishness or holding on to something that just was not meant to be. I slept with men that I had no business sleeping with. I had boyfriends and friends who loved me the way they imagined love to be but not how I needed. I had a mom who continually told me that I’d never be anything, manipulated me, and took me through emotional rollercoasters that left me feeling worst than the scum of the earth. I had a biological father who rejected me to my face. I had friends who used my kindness to get what they needed only to leave when they got it or when they thought they would never need me again. I had work relationships where I was a superwoman and got used until I was completely dried up. I completely shake my head to all of the craziness I put myself through because of my lack of boundaries, because of listening to what someone else thought I should be doing,and because I was scared to let go.

 I am happy to report that I am not that person any more. I am so much wiser now in how I choose my friendships and relationships. I can’t say that it is still not hard for me to let go anymore. That would be completely lying and falsifying facts. But, when things get one-sided or there is no mutual benefit in a relationship, I loosen up the reigns and tell the other party (parties) know that since I can’t be in a relationship by myself, it is time for me to say good-bye. In most situations, I’m less quick to pour out all of me without little in return. One of my new mottos is: “stop investing into thing and people who don’t invest into you! Always make sure there is some kind of a return on your investment.”

 I have spent the last few years getting rid of unhealthy relationships and implementing necessary boundaries. For those people who you can’t necessarily get rid of, I’ve set healthy boundaries that they cannot upset or cross. And when they cross them, our relationship shuts down until they can get back on track. No if ands or buts.

 In the midst of ridding myself of bad and unhealthy relationships and setting boundaries to establish new and healthy ones, I’ve learned about what I need to feel loved and cared for by others. I also take the time I need to shut out all of the “outside” noise and hear myself think and process situations for myself. I do not rush into situations anymore, without a thorough analysis of knowing what I will be getting myself into. I’ve learned to be content where I am and not thinking I should have or be doing what someone else thinks I should have or be doing.

Several years ago, I learned that my twin love languages (Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman) were quality time and physical touch (I love hugs!!!) So, I don’t just accept anything from anyone anymore. If I can be mindful enough to fill someone’s love tank, surely they can take the time to fill mine too. Now, in ALL relationships, I establish and require what I need to feel loved. And I’m unapologetic about it. For those who can’t handle the requirements, I politely say “good-bye” and wish them a happy and incredible life (without me!).

 I’m still a work in progress and this is still new (even after a few years of implementing it) because every person and situation has been different. But, I remain adamant about having people respect my boundaries and my ability to feel loved and respected in any given situation. I’ve welcomed some new people in my life who join the already great people who are here based on our mutual respect and love. And as I have been working on eliminating this “painful” limitation from my life, it has kick-started the need for me to start working on some of the other ones I mentioned as well. (Pray for me!)

Today as we give thanks for wisdom, I am highlighting a virtual, international, nonprofit organization called One to One Women Coaching Women (https://onetoonewomen.org/), which provides 26 week of confidential, intensive, pro-bono life coaching skills to women and veterans emerging from whatever challenging circumstances. Sometimes, we all need a little boost/help in getting our lives back on track and getting rid of old unhealthy patterns of how we do/did things. Please pass along the information to all the woman who you know could use the service and donate to help them expand their realm of help. Since most men often don’t talk about or seek outside help for some of their issues, I am suggesting that you pick up a book called He Motions by T.D. Jakes.  It has been a great resources to many of them to whom I have gifted it.

Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Day 10: Mentorship

Happy Tenth Day of Thanks! (And Happy Thanksgiving or as most of my people say Happy Anti-Imperialist Day)

Today we give thanks and celebrate mentors and mentorship.  Where would we be without mentors and the people who showed up for us? I would surely be lost because all of my mentors literally became my moms and dads. And because they all did such a great job mentoring (parenting) me, I pour out, show up for and do the same for all those I consider my “children” too.

I had the privilege of attending a private, Methodist rooted, international boarding school in Kingston, Pennsylvania at the age of thirteen for high school. It was by far one of the most unforgettable, eye-opening, wonderful experiences in my life.  (I would have definitely sent Lilah there too if she were able to go!) The high school had a mixture of day and boarding students from all walks of life, but was dominated by students from really wealthy families locally and internationally.

My mom (Ms.T) is an old-fashioned Polish woman who taught photography and was the dorm mother in the woman’s dorm for more than twenty years.  She fancied arguing with the girls in our dorm about behaving like young ladies. (I still hear her now in her thick Polish accent, “You must be a young lady!) Although she seemed tough and real strict to most of the girls in our dorm, she had the warmest heart, wanted the best for us, and loved us so much.  During my high school years, my home life was in crisis mode and purely dysfunctional. Because my mom, who was a single-parent, wasn’t working at the time, I had taken on several babysitting jobs with a few of the families on our campus to support my basic needs, while in school. I got paid monthly from the families since the teachers got paid monthly.  But, sometimes in that long stretch of waiting for my pay, I wouldn’t have enough money to wash my clothes in the washing machines or buy some of the basic hygienic necessities.  So when everyone would be completely asleep, I’d sneak to the bathroom after “lights out” with my loads of laundry and hand wash all my clothes.

One day, while I was washing my clothes Ms. T caught me. When she asked me why I was handwashing my clothes in the middle of the night, I had to admit to her that I had absolutely no money until I got paid at the end of the month. She looked me dead in the eyes (she was not letting me escape telling her my whole truth) and asked me why I didn’t tell her or the other dorm mothers my situation.  I started to cry and tell her that I was too embarrassed and ashamed. She told me to put my dirty dry clothes back in the laundry bags and the wet clothes in the bucket and to follow her down to the basement where the laundry machines were. She said, “if you had told us that you needed to wash clothes, you could have come down to wash your clothes for free. We have the keys for the machines.” She created a safe, loving space while she helped me wash my clothes and began to probe more into my family life and what was happening.  With no judgement and much love, she hugged me and let me pour out my troubles.

From that day, she told me to come by her apartment every Saturday morning.  She would check in with me to let me talk out all my problems and frustrations (I had my own pull-out couch to lay on as well!) It was on those Saturdays that she created one of the best and warmest home environments I would ever know.  She taught me how to create and make the best cakes (any and every flavor) and other baked goods from scratch.  We would make different polish and European cuisines and try out some American dishes too. Those moments are where I developed my love for cooking and baking. Until this day, for me, home is the nostalgia of smelling baked goods or food emanating from an apartment or house. Ms. T didn’t stop her lessons there, though. She would talk to me about character building, instill in me the need for academic excellence, show me how to sit up straight (like a lady!), walk in heels, sew by hand, put on make-up, teach me about photography and counsel me about healthy male-female dynamics and relationships. She gave me all the things that my mom didn’t and couldn’t during that time in my life.  It devastated me to know that I was graduating and would have to leave her.  We both cried so hard on my graduation day. Almost thirty years later, we still keep in touch and talk by skype. She knows my Lilah and is happy that all the things she taught me are being passed down to my daughter.  When I renew Lilah’s passport, we will be taking a trip to Poland in the near future to see her.
Also during my high school years, I met one of my friends for life (Bonz!) and her family. Her mother and father became my mother and father and we had the wildest, funniest, and greatest times as a family unit. (I still chuckle to myself at some of our adventures.) They even came to visit me in New York and took us all to see Bring In the Noise, Bring in Da Funk.  My dad, a five foot Jewish, Einstein-looking, doctor, would always puzzle people when he introduced his six foot black daughter, Missy, along with my other siblings.  He came to all our basketball games, took me to my Franklin & Marshall college visit, because he was determined to get one of his daughters to go to his alma mater, and encouraged me to be the doctor that I wanted to be, just like he was. (In the medical field of nephrology, his private practice made great breakthroughs for that region of Pennsylvania.) He was an amazing dad and mentor to me!

My mom, who was a sassy Italian woman, loved to cook and was very artistic. (She drew and designed her own dream house that my dad built for her! Until this day, my dream kitchen has the same island and trinkets in it.) She was one of those superwomen–she worked as a nurse, held her husband and family down, and still found time to do all these other amazing things. (I asked her recently, “mom, how did you manage to make parenting look so easy?” She sucked her teeth to that one.) She not only showed me how to cook and dream for a great future, she showed me how to have a healthy, open mother-daughter relationship. That was invaluable and I am so grateful that my daughter reaps the benefits of those lessons. Of our family, I was the no nonsense big sister, and therefore the lookout and protector –my sister could not go on any outings or long distance trips to see boyfriends without my accompaniment. (Dad was not cool with the boyfriend business!) I also know that no matter what color families are of how much money we have or don’t have, we struggle with the same issues and are all dysfunctional in our own right. 

Mom and dad also came to my rescue financially. When they found out I wasn’t go to my senior prom because I didn’t have enough money to buy both a graduation and prom dress and pay all the associated fees for these events, they stepped in and made sure that I looked like a princess and celebrated me. Mom took me shopping for my prom and graduation and made sure that I had all I needed and even showed me the required table etiquette. The entire family came to my graduation and shouted as loud as my biological family as I took almost 98% of the awards at the ceremony. They, just as Ms. T, were in all of my family photos. After moving on to college and medical school, dad always checked on me and wanted to know where I was and what I was doing. Dad passed away this summer. Before he died, he made sure that my sister called me to tell me what was happening and to make sure I was there to sit Shiva with them. I remember all the life lessons that he taught me and hope that I am still making him proud.

My other mothers and mentors I meant in medical school–interestingly enough they are both pastors. One has her own house church in Cuba and taught me everything about being one of those old mothers of the church who had a direct connection to God and could pray down an answer from heaven. Fasting and intercessory prayer are a lifestyle for her and she would slay the kingdom of darkness and doesn’t play when it comes to being holy before God. She taught me everything about and equipped me for ministry and planting a church. My other mother is a world changer in the field of maternal infant health and dares, every day, to save black and brown babies and shows me how to do the same.   She is a God send and has been my life line on more occasions than I can count.  She is a doula, is a wife, moves mountains and is a strong advocate for the “right way” to do maternal-infant and public health on several continents in many nations. She even convinced some people to build her a clinic (our H.E.Arts center is coming too) to take care of the women and children to whom her nonprofit catered.  I want to be just like her when I grow up and she pours into me to do just that!

My last mother and mentor is a brilliant SHERO who was the first Puerto Rican woman in the Bronx to have her own construction company and build many great projects in the Bronx.  With her four-foot something frame and doctorate of economics, she can dance circles around any administrative task and turn any business upside down and inside out for the better.  When I say she is intelligent, creative, has a gift for business and administration, that numbers and strategies come so easily to her and that she makes the best cranberry sauce in this side of the world (where is my thanksgiving cranberry sauce, mom?), it’s an understatement. I have had the privilege to be her understudy on so many occasions and she has opened so many doors for great opportunities that have blessed me. She teaches me her business savvy, about her naturally occurring talents and shows me how to be a great mom and grandma.  I love her so much and want to be just like her too.

I have so many more mentors and so many more stories but I’ll rest there. 

I know that I am not alone. There have been people (mentors) who showed up for you and invested in your life in significant ways, which has impacted who you are and have become. And just as they did for you, you are now obligated, required, and mandated to do the same for someone else. Most of you do not have to go very far–Pookie and them live right across the hall!  There are children in your schools, in your churches, in your neighborhoods who need you to show them that you are invested in them and willing to take the time to love on them, even when they are not excelling. Today we highlight the organization, MENTOR, (MENTOR promotes, advocates and is a resource for mentoring) that is a great resource for connecting youth to quality mentors to impact and change their lives.  Please consider donating your time and your resources to help expand their work and reach the lives of young people.

Love ya,

Have a great day of thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!

Next installment, days 11 – 15.

MT days 1-5

My friend Melissa has been doing a 30 days of Thanks journey in which  she shares her reflections on her life.  It is with her permission that I have created this blog post.  Her writing is powerful.  Be prepared to cry, laugh, be confused, get frustrated, and be caught up in deep hopefulness.  And, she gives suggestions on where to direct your financial activism.

Welcome to MELLISSA’S THANKS:

Day 1: Thanks for the Breath of Life

Happy First Day of Thanks!

Today we give honor, tribute, and Thanks for the Breath of Life and the Air that we breathe.

Have you ever really thought about breathing or the air that we breathe and how important it is to us? Have you thought about what all has to happen for our lungs to undergo the processes of inspiration and expiration? (It’s okay if I am the only weird one by professional design.)  Because breathing is such an involuntary act or process, meaning that we don’t have to tell or remind ourselves to do it, you and I have probably had more moments in our lives where we have undervalued just how amazingly precious this gift is.

But, for those of us who have or are dealing with respiratory ailments, who care for sick loved ones, or have dealt with death, we have had chance encounters with the air that we breathe and the process of breathing that humbles us greatly.  My daughter has had catamenial seizures (hormone/menstrual-induced seizures) since she hit puberty at 7 ½ years old. The area of her brain specifically affected in her seizure state is called the temporoparietal operculum. This region of the brain is responsible for parts and  functions of the body that include the larynx, vocal cords, facial muscles, salivation, and some of the muscles crucial for the respiration process.  The seizures in this region usually also occur in one’s sleep.   Many times when Lilah has a seizure, with each menstrual cycle, no matter the duration, part of her air supply is cut off.  Over the past eight years, I’ve seen Lilah have close encounters with death because there was no possibility of her getting air into her lungs during a seizure.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how devastating those experiences were; they left me shook up for weeks at a time.  However, each time Delilah reached the post-ictal stage of her seizure and I knew she was going to be okay; I thanked God for letting her breathe another moment in time. But, I also thought of the other children who didn’t make it through their seizure and prayed for their grieving families. (There were two children in Lilah’s school who died last year due to seizures in their sleep.)  Often, I think of and pray for the children and adults who have chronic asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis and heart disease which keep them consistently in and out of the hospital and begging for a chance to breathe their next breaths.  Expanding my thought process and concern on a more global scale, I even think and pray for of all of the urban communities, like mine, who suffer through the worst air pollution and air quality that make it even more difficult for us to breathe and enjoy a healthy quality of life.

Every day, before I start my day, my regimen consist of taking five (5) real deep breaths, holding it in for a few seconds, and then letting the air out of my lungs slowly. You should try it, if you have never done so.  It’s refreshing, revitalizing and healing. Afterwards, I thank God for another opportunity to breathe another breath and surrender myself to God’s plan for my day.

Sometimes, the environments and world in which we live can be such a tough place. The good thing is that we can all care a little more about the suffering of other people and do our part to make our environments better. So today, as we give thanks for breathing and the air that we breathe. Take time to do a simple act of give back.  If you are a smoker, think of cutting down or quitting to not affect someone (ie. your children, family members, neighbors) who is passively breathing in the pollution.  In my community of the South Bronx, there is a community green space, Maria Sola, on 134th Street & Lincoln Avenue Bronx NY 1044, that always needs volunteers to plant trees and daffodils, build ponds, and keep the grounds tidy. Come out and help! If you can’t help in our green space, find your local community garden and invest your time and donate there. If you are one of those put your money where your mouth is kind of people, like I am, you may go a little further and donate to a great organization like American Forests, at Home – American Forests who do amazing work to restore forests. No amount of money is too small. Their 2018 goal was to plant three million trees. Now that is what I call great a vision to provide folk with a great opportunity to breathe some clean, quality air.

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 2:  Thanks for Shelter

Happy Second Day of Thanks

A few years ago, I was living during one of the best and worst of times in my life. My daughter and I became homeless and had to live within the NYC shelter system. (Although I did not know or understand the purpose of why I had to be there at the time, in retrospect, it was absolutely necessary for my character, vocational development, and God’s purpose to be fulfilled.) It was the first time that I had seen poverty rear its ugly head and understood why and how cycles of poverty were perpetuated within generations of a family.  Our shelter in Harlem had some of the most deplorable conditions of black mold, asbestos, lead-based paint and hazardous materials, which directly affected the health and well being of the clients and their children, especially the asthmatics. My first room there was mice infested because there were so many uncovered holes in the walls and floors.  We barely got sleep the first week, because “Jimmy and his cousins” decided that they would use our SRO (single room occupancy) as a playroom when the lights went out. A significant portion of the room’s ceiling had fallen and was never replaced.  They covered it with a false ceiling that would fall when there was flooding from the room above. In the summers, there was an overwhelmingly, exhausting heat because the old building had no air conditioners. In the winter, when the boiler broke, we had no water and some rooms, were extremely frozen because there were no working electrical radiators to provide heat.

One of the young girls living in the shelter kept getting bit by the cockroaches that infested her room, which was converted from a hallway closet and had no bathroom in it. Because she was allergic, her body had whelps all over it.  When her dad, an undocumented immigrant, begged for a change of rooms, he was threatened with deportation from his case worker. The manager of our hotel was a working “junkie” and gang leader who was also the drug dealer and supplier for our shelter’s residents. There were a few drug raids, one which occurred during our second week in the shelter, which involved all but two apartments on the second floor section of the shelter where Lilah and I lived. I remember asking God to always keep Delilah from seeing and experiencing anything negative while we lived in that place. Thank God those prayers were answered! She missed every drug raid, every falling ceiling, every room reconstruction, and the clearing of our room from the mold. (My friend has a jar that she puts money in for her son’s future therapy. I’m sure that I’m going to need a trust fund for the experiences Lilah did have in that place!!! LOL!)

With these existing horrible conditions, can anyone explain how the Department of Homeless services allowed this shelter to pass inspection each time? How was it possible that this shelter, like many others pimping off someone’s poverty, made $2133 per month for each room to house a family in those conditions? Market rate value for many two and three bedroom apartments in the city didn’t even cost that kind of money during the time. So, why couldn’t families in shelters have access to real apartments and affordable housing if the city was willing to pay a slumlord for them to live in a dump? (Shaking My Head!!!!!)

Living in a shelter was where I learned, for the first time, that all the statistics about starving and impoverished children were actually true.  And I was enraged!!!!!  (I fight to the death for a child!) It was where my roots as a social activist/organizer came to a full circle and I became more involved with and deeply entrenched in the issues that affected the families living in that shelter.  I would teach the families how to advocate for better living conditions in their spaces and write letters for the families whose head of households were illiterate.  I’d cook and make sure there was food and formula for some of the mothers by connecting them with a pantry who could supplement food when their food stamps ran out. Many of the families, with neonates, would get turned off of welfare and have no formula for their children.  I arranged a Thanksgiving dinner for the families in the shelter. I’d always bring back several copies of housing applications and resources for the families and the case workers to give to their clients. I connected with a local church to supply toys for all the children in the shelter during several Christmases, even after we moved out. I arranged a hair and make-up day for the mothers within the shelter during Mother’s Day weekend, which increased the morale of all the woman who participated, incredibly.  The caseworkers (except one) and staff loved me because I was basically an addition to their team.

I learned that so many myths about people who lived in shelters were untrue.  You are required to have a job while living in a shelter–no one free loads! The city/state forces you to get on welfare to live in the shelter system.  Although I did not want to be on welfare, I had to get on welfare to live there.  Can you believe that I received $15 per month of food stamps for my daughter and I to eat? If I didn’t have a job, could I have ever survived on that? Most people who know my daughter, knows she can eat that for snack!

As terrible as it was to live in that shelter and experience the horrific day to day of poverty, I had a clear understanding that my situation was different than most of the families there because that place was just a pit stop for me.  I don’t even want to  imagine what it would be like for the shelter system to be a forever station for me.  But, unfortunately, it is just that for many of the families who are there.  The bright light of hope in my eyes still managed to have a flicker and stay lit, while it had completely left many of the eyes I encountered in that shelter daily. Let’s just say that the manager, the caseworker who hated me, and the assistant commissioner of the department of homeless services were tired of me and wanted me out of the shelter much sooner than later, when I got done wreaking havoc.  I reported the shelter to HPD so many times; each time the agents came to inspect the apartments, they fined the landlord over $10,000 per room for the atrocities they found in each room  and gave him a strict deadline of when all the repairs had to be complete.  Of course, I taught all the residents how to do the same reporting. I was told by staff that the manager had a meeting with them and told them to find every possible way to get me an infraction and kicked out. But, when God has you covered, “No weapon formed against you will ever prosper!”

Delilah and I finally got our own place to live (our current domain) as an early Christmas present in December of that year (by accident). My caseworker got an anonymous call from an assistant administrator who worked at DHS one day, saying that she couldn’t reveal who she was but God had told her to call my caseworker to  inform me that I had an interview the next day for my current apartment.  She said that there was a plot by her boss to “punish me” for all I had done in the shelter that I was in. Although I got interviews for several apartments earlier (and woul have been accepted), they purposely didn’t call me to let me know. Thus, I couldn’t move out of the shelter and stayed much longer than I had to. This lady said she was told to warn us so that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to live in my new apartment in a new building in a great location, which would be perfect for my family.  The rest is history (almost!)

The lessons I have learned from the shelter were invaluable.  Not only did I know that everyone, no matter who they are, should have access to a decent place to call home; I learned that with some real political will they could have access to a decent place to call home. If I didn’t learn anything else, I learned that I am a survivor who keeps my joy in all circumstances!!! (I survived my own hell on earth experience!) What killed and destroyed others, emotionally and mentally, gave me the strength and determination to keep pressing towards the mark. I also learned that no one can or should be defined by his or her situation. (People will try to keep you in your past if you let them!)

I love, appreciate, and treasure my apartment. Although it doesn’t always look like it and could definitely use some cleaning and much more organization (don’t even think about judging me!)– I am always looking for volunteers to do this work—It’s ours and a really decent place to call home. Delilah and I have peace of mind. After seven years, we have never had to share it with vermin and “jimmy and his cousin” have never laid foot in it. (Thank God for angels that secure the place!)

During my time in the shelter, I was working with a group called “The Poverty Initiative,” at Union Theological Seminary (Kairos Center) which works on global projects to eradicate poverty in the world. I became published with one of my poems being selected in a book created by the Poverty Initiative called “Out of the Depths: Poetry of Poverty, Courage and Resilience.” I sold a few copies of the book to donate the proceeds back to the Poverty Initiative. I still have a few copies if anyone wants to buy them. All proceeds will go to the Poverty Initiative which is housed by Kairos the Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice (https://kairoscenter.org/poverty-initiative/). I also worked with and became acquainted with a great organization called Picture the Homeless (http://picturethehomeless.org/) and began to advocate more for the homeless and children because I realized how they were truly the voiceless in our society.

Today as I give thanks for shelter, I ask that you remember that there are millions of people who you pass on the streets, in the trains and in subways who don’t have it and are longing for a hot meal, clean clothes, a nice bath, a bed to lay their heads and a hope for a better tomorrow. Help in the small ways you can! A smile, an encouraging word, and some change go a long way, but advocating to change policy with elected officials to clean up the shelter system and provide affordable housing for families that need it is the lasting change that we need to see.

Love ya,

Have a great day of Thanks!

Melissa

Day 3: Divine Provision

Happy Third Day of Thanks Everyone!

Today I’m so grateful to God for Divine Provision

Have you ever had a moment where you remember where you were a few years ago and (for my church folk) you wonder how you got over? And you know that it is only by the grace of God that you made it. Whew! I’ve been there more than enough times to count.

While I was in medical school for six years, a relative ran my credit card up to more than $50,000 without me knowing it.  A week before my graduation, I got a call from a debt collector, who was given my international phone number by the person who ran up the debt, telling me that I owed them over fifty-thousand dollars and they wanted their money. My initial reaction was total shock. Then rage began to set in because I was beyond pissed.  I told the bill collector that I had no idea what he was talking about, how that tab was created and who incurred the debt because I had been living out of the country for several years. He began to explain to me that unless I was ready to bring up criminal charges on the person, I was going to be responsible for the debt.  I was just finishing school and about to graduate in a week; I had no job or money to pay a cent of the debt so I kindly explained to the gentleman that I would handle the matter when I got home, and pay the company when I got a job.

Since I decided not to press criminal charges, I was responsible for paying that debt. If you have ever been in debt, you know about the endless, harassing calls debt collectors make to your home, your job, and your cell phone. Each time, I would tell them, I don’t have a job yet but when I get one you will be the first to know and you will start to receive your money.  I finally got a job and, after extracting the money for my tithes and offering, rent, and food, the credit card company would get lump sums of money to tackle that $50,000 debt. I didn’t do any extra activities that required me to spend money; I made my lunch at home and maintained a strict budget to pay as much of the debt back on a monthly basis.

After several months of paying that large sum of money, I had a nice long conversation with God during my prayer time and mentioned all my grievances. I couldn’t get a place to live because my credit was shot.  I spent so much money trying to pay back the debt that my daughter and I could not enjoy any leisurely time together.  I let him know how unjust I thought it was that I was paying back someone else’s debt. I also gave him back God’s word. Every sentence I used started like this: “You said in your word…” and after I began to belt out every promise that gave me access to justice and divine intervention as God’s child, to have my name and the debt cleared.

A few days after my grievance prayer, I was in church and the pastor was asking for a special offering for the new building the church was about to build. As I was sitting there, the Holy Spirit (for those of you who are not believers and are interested to know more about the Holy Spirit, we can talk offline later) told me to give $500 for the offering. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. I pouted to myself, “Lord, why would you be telling me to give that much in this offering, when you know I need that money to pay these debt collectors so they can stop harassing me!” because I sure didn’t have the courage to ask or say it out loud. I am a firm believer that “obedience is better than sacrifice” and that when God tells me to do something, no matter how outrageous it seems, I better do it. So, I chalked up the money for the offering.  Little did I know that God was making a miracle with my faith to trust Him at what the Word of God says.

Two days later, in my Morning Prayer and Bible reading time, the Holy Spirit began to speak to me and lead me to the passage of scripture in Exodus 14:13.  When I read the words, they leaped off the page and connected with the core of my soul. I just knew that there was a release with that scripture passage.  I got ready and walked the twenty five minutes to my job.  Ten minutes after I opened my office door, I got a call from the debt collecting agency. He said, “Good morning Ms. Barber, I am calling to see if you want to cancel your debt with us today.” I got so excited because that was the release that I felt in my spirit that same morning.  I told the debt collector, “Yes, sir! God told me this morning that I wouldn’t see this Egyptian after today. I want to settle this debt today for $5000.” Of course, he thought I was insane and said that my settlement price was way too low. I told him to go talk to his boss, representing me as a Child of God, and tell him that my daddy said that I wasn’t going to see this debt after today. He put me on hold for 30 min and I begin to pray(those move mountains faith prayers). When he came back, he told me that his boss said he would settle for ten thousand plus dollars. I told him that he didn’t hear me well and to go back to his boss and tell him that my father, God in Heaven, told me that the debt was getting settled today and that we had to settle for $5000. When he went back this time for another 20 minutes, I was praying those bulls-eye, fire prayers. The debt collector came back and said, “I’m sorry ma’am but my boss said that he is willing to settle for $7,550 and no less because you are asking him to settle for less than 1% of your debt, which is unheard of.  I have been working for this Jewish man for 26 years and he has never done that before.” I told the representative once more, “Go back to your Jewish boss and tell him that my father in heaven said that we must settle this matter today because according to Exodus 14:13, I wasn’t going to see this debt/problem/Egyptian after today.” The representative got very scared and asked me to please not send him back to his boss because he was sure that this last bother would also get him fired. I told him, “listen to me. You will not get fired.  Do you know who my father, God, is? You are representing me, his daughter, and since he already told me in his word that we were settling this debt today, don’t worry! God will have you covered. Now go back to your boss and tell him that we are going to settle for $5000 today so that I will not have to see this Egyptian anymore.” He went back to his boss and I prayed. He came back 5 minutes later and said, “I have no idea what you did but this is unheard of! My boss said, “who is this lady? Give her what she wants already! I can’t take it. My chest is about to explode and I can’t take it anymore!” And we settled the debt for $5000 that very day. And I never had to deal with that debt collector ever again after that day. (Never mess with a praying woman!!!!!)

I thanked the gentleman profusely for being patient with me and told him that if he was ever in NY that I would take him to lunch or dinner.  Since he was still completely bewildered and awe struck by all that just happened and my faith and trust in God, I told him that if he didn’t know Jesus the Christ, he should get to know Him. I told him about Jesus and salvation and said that he had just witnessed and experienced a perfect example of how my God defended his children. (I look back at that moment now and know that Mr. Gregory must have thought I was insane and had lots of nerve almost putting his job in jeopardy.) God heard my prayer and answered it.

So do you trust God at His words? How much do you trust him? Are you in need of a miracle? Are you willing to step out on faith to receive it? Has God told you to give something of yourself that seems incredibly outrageous to your normal mind? Then give it and watch God bless you in return. Obedience is always better than sacrifice.

That experience happened years ago and it made me a firmer believer in what God does for his children. Some disagree on paying tithes and giving an offering to the church, and it is your right to believe what you want.  But, I do it, standing on the promises of Malachi 3:10 and have seen God tremendously bless me and my family with his divine provision, through people, over and over again when everything should show lack.

I have been visiting a church that I have seen do the work of Jesus Christ (feed the hungry, help the poor and widows, heal the sick and set the captives free) and where I believe is great ground to sow money into since they are doing the work of Jesus. I am highlighting the ministry of Pastor Ed Citronelli of World Healing International Church in Yonkers, NY. (http://whichurchny.com/)However, if you know of a church/mosque/synogogue  that is doing the work of Jesus, I encourage you to sow into that ministry as well. If you are in need of a miracle, deliverance and you have tried everything else and it has failed. Try Jesus!  Jesus works and is always the best remedy.

Love ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Day 4: Thanks for Unconditional Love

Happy Fourth Day of Thanks!

I can remember from the time I was about nine years old my aunt Phyllis, in her NYC drawl, saying to me “Melissa, never marry or settle for a man who doesn’t treat you like your uncle Freddie treats me!” I would always observe her and my uncle’s relationship and marriage so that I knew to what I was supposed to be comparing mine. And if I’m being totally honest, what she said and what I saw stuck to me and is so ingrained in my mind and heart that it’s as if she branded those words on my brain. I’m probably still single and afraid (more like terrified!) of commitment because of her words and the demonstration of their marriage. Once you know something you can’t un-know it.  And I’m not (nor will I ever be) willing to settle for less than what I know is possible.

My uncle Freddie worshipped the ground my aunt walked on. He worked hard and brought his entire check home; he cooked, cleaned, and washed laundry. My aunt never had to lift a finger. As I was growing up, I would hear his words to her: “all you have to do is sit there and be your pretty self for me!” He took her on vacations. They talked and laughed together; made decisions together and functioned as one. They were the kind of couple you made fun of because they would even wear matching outfits from time to time. They were such an impenetrable unit and their love was so strong. My uncle loved her dirty draws (as we say). For more than thirty years, I thought my aunt had a fairytale husband and a fairytale marriage and to a certain extent she did. What I didn’t know, and found out from my uncle after her death, is that to have that kind of unconditional love, it cost her so much. But, she was willing to sacrifice everything for it.

My aunt was raised a devout Catholic and firmly believed in the no sex before marriage rule. (I’m so glad she did because, ultimately, her belief saved her life.) She worked in a hospital at the time and one of the elderly patients who loved my aunt and thought she was so cute told her since he couldn’t date her, he wanted to introduce her to his grandson, my uncle Freddie. She met my uncle about 10 years after her first husband died and they hit it off really well. They traditionally courted for several years until he finally popped the question and asked her to marry him.

After getting the necessary blood work done in preparation for the marriage licenses and the wedding ceremony, they discovered that my uncle had HIV. He told my aunt that they couldn’t go through with the marriage because he couldn’t live with the idea of her getting sick or infected because of him. With tears in his eyes, my uncle said to me, “Melissa, she loved me so much. You know what she said to me? ‘I don’t care what that test says. You are my husband; I love you and we’ll get through this together.’ She never left me. She never cheated on me. She really, really loved me.” And never telling a soul about my Uncle Freddie’s condition, she married him and for the next thirty five years of their lives, loved, honored, protected, nurtured and cherished him.

She never thought that her ability to care for him would be cut short but, my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She prayed and willed herself better to love and take care of her husband; she survived a 28 hour Whipple surgery and lived through 8 years in remission after her first diagnosis. When her cancer came back the second time around, it came back with a vengeance.  After a year and one half of treatment, the doctors said nothing could be done and sent her home to die. I put together a team of naturalist and we came up with a plan to keep the cancer at bay for as long as we could and we did for about 5 more months. My aunt, on her hospice bed at home, would ask for Freddie so that she could hold his hand in the stillness and warmth of the makeshift room environment and fall to sleep in his arms. They would talk, laugh and make promises to each other even then.

As she got closer to her death and the sequelas of the multiple strokes set in, I started to notice that things were not right with my uncle Freddie. I had spent so much time focusing on my aunt’s care that, although I noticed he didn’t look well, I chalked it up to the stress level of knowing that the love of his life was leaving him. When I started noticing other signs and symptoms, I asked both of them what was going on with him. He barked at me and told me to mind my “damn business.” She stayed quiet but I reminded her that I was a well trained physician who would wait for her to tell me the truth, even though I already knew what the deal was.

A week later as she was in the hospice bed at the hospital, she confessed to me “he has the cancer” and begged me to promise that I would care for my uncle Freddie for her when she was gone. I couldn’t say no to her. She was one of my best friends and took care of me as if I were her own daughter since I was a small child. She was also the matriarch of our family.

After arranging all the details of my aunts funeral and her estate, and the day after burying her, my focus had to completely shift to caring for my uncle Freddie. My uncle had wasted away to almost nothing and could barely sit through the repass of my aunt’s funeral because he was so weak. The day after her funeral, he finally confessed to me that he had AIDS and asked me to promise that I wouldn’t tell the rest of our family. He was still struggling deeply with the shame, stigma, and embarrassment of his condition. I encouraged him to tell his biological children and eventually he did. [He begged his daughter to keep it a secret but she didn’t and it caused havoc in my family for several weeks. My entire family wanted to know if he infected my aunt with the HIV virus and if that was the real reason she died. To some I even had to show her health records to prove that she was never infected.] My uncle  said that his condition got as bad as it did because he couldn’t afford the medications any more. Although there were free programs for him to receive the medication, because he struggled with the stigma of HIV and didn’t want anyone to know his status, he never applied for the programs and set out to pay for the medicines himself.

Within the next 8 months, I became his only caregiver, his health and financial proxy, his round the clock nurse, social worker, pastor, and his confidant. It was the most chaotic time in my life because I had to balance every minute of time to make everything fit. I had my full time job, parenthood (Lilah is another full time job), caring for Uncle Freddie (another full time job) and was trying to grieve the loss of my aunt.

Uncle Freddie became really difficult to deal with and didn’t want anyone else to care for him but me, which was almost impossible. Most people would get distant because his wound smelled like rotting, putrid flesh and he would curse everyone out. I was the only one who had the patience to tolerate him, did the wound care effectively and made a promise to stay. All his tantrums and meanness was because he was so ashamed of the depth and smell of the wounds the Karposi sarcoma left on his entire legs and groin area.

When he could no longer stay home and I had to put him in the nursing home, I would dedicate my entire Saturdays to him and some weekdays that didn’t interfere with Lilah’s schedule, making sure he had everything he needed. On the Saturdays that I couldn’t come he wouldn’t eat and be so depressed, just to get me there. It was on our Saturday encounters that we prayed, read scripture, talked about his transition and my aunt. He would tell me stories of their entire love affair from beginning to end. By the time he was finished, we’d both be covered in tears.

My mind was blown by how much they loved each other and how much my aunt sacrificed to love him and stay with him. She was so courageous and defined for me a new level of unconditional love.  I always wonder if I would or could have done what she did. She was willing to uphold the covenant of marriage and the vows that she made before she even spoke them, because they were already sealed in her heart. And even on her deathbed, like Jesus, she was leaving the person she loved into the hands of someone she knew would completely care for him the exact way she would if she were still alive. She embodied I Corinnthians 13:4-8: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.

That is love! And she loved him.

I always think about how her gift of love came in such an unconventional package. If she had discarded the gift because of the packaging, she would have never experienced thirty five years of the best, awe striking, unconditional love that God had for her. Do you or have you or will you and I throw away a valuable gift that encloses love in it because the packaging is not what we expect it to be? I know so many people who do.

Today as we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of unconditional love, if you are married, celebrate your love for your spouse. Perhaps, you want to experience “A Love Affair: the Ultimate Date Night Experience” when my team and I have our next event.  If you are not married, celebrate the unconditional love you have for your friends, relatives and children. For me, I have loved and am very grateful to have loved. But, my earthly unconditional love thus far has only been for my baby girl, Delilah Christina Barber. In the attachment of today’s email, I have enclosed the poem, Black Love Unconditional, which I wrote for my aunt and uncle, and read with Freddie’s permission at his funeral. In his death, he wanted everyone to know that he finally got over his fears of people knowing his status, just how much my aunt loved him and how grateful he was for all her love. Enjoy it and help me continue the celebration of their love.

Today, I am also highlighting these great organizations The Alliance for Positive Change (http://alliance.nyc/) and ACRIA(www.acria.org )that care for and provide education to patients with HIV and AIDS. Acria is one of the leading organizations, internationally, that has brought the first-ever activist, community-based approach to the study of new treatments for HIV.  Please find it in your heart to volunteer your services to these NYC based organization and give financial donation to them. ACRIA also has a shop of artwork that is sold to raise money for the educational programs and research that they do.

Love Ya,

Have a great day of thanks!

Day 5: Positive Identity 

Happy Fifth Day of Thanks Everyone!

Aside note: Over the course of the next 25 days, you will see me share stories about my wonderful daughter, Delilah Christina. Not only am i a very proud parent and single mom, but it is through her and my experiences with her that I have been molded into a better person in so many way. She has taught me to gauge my parenting skills, how to listen and communicate more effectively, how to boldly advocate for the oppressed, how to have incredible resilience and strength, as well as how to love unconditionally.  Today, she turns 16 years old! (Make sure that you all send her a birthday shout out in every language you know, to fulfill our annual tradition of receiving the happy birthday song in every language possible on her day.  Birthdays are our absolute favorite time!!!!!

In my reflection today, I give thanks for Identity, particularly a strong, positive, affirming identity.

When I was in med school, I lived with some beautiful dark-skinned Nigerian women. During a group conversation, one of the young ladies, mentioned that she didn’t think she was beautiful because, unlike her mother and sisters, she wasn’t endowed with light-skinned features to pass for white or long straight hair.  Hearing her and so many woman with her similar features down-grade their beauty based on the darker hue of their skin concerned me, because I was raising a beautiful dark-skinned child whose sense of self I didn’t want to be warped in that way.  From that moment, I knew that I would be working overtime as a parent to make sure that my daughter, Delilah Christina, saw beauty in all that she was created to be.  The take away mantra/life lesson for Delilah is: “You need to know and define for yourself who you are and whose you are so that no one (not even me!) will dare to do it for you.” Coupled with that ideology, I’ve always taught her that neither the labels of “Autism” or “Epilepsy” will create barriers to limit her from conquering the world or any other thing she sets out to do. (I’m sure it must sometimes “suck” to have a mom like me because there are never any excuses tolerated or acceptable!)

I’ve watched the evolution of my child, who is now 16 today. (OMG! I still can’t believe I have a sixteen year old). And in spite of this world and its non equal opportunity for women, Blacks, and the disabled, I am really amazed and awestruck at how intelligent, beautiful, independent, fierce, expressive and unique she is.  She knows it too, but not in a vain or conceited way.  So today, I thought I’d highlight being thankful for strong, positive identity, giving a shout out to Girl power,  and take you through the evolution of Lilah’s expression of identity so that you can see just what I mean for yourself.

While Delilah was in sixth grade, I re-wrote her Black History Month curriculum, providing all of the literature for her teacher and the six girls in her class, with the intention of exploring themes to:

  1. reinforce and affirm, positive racial identity, “blackness” and beauty
  2. highlight black women (inventors, activist, scientist, healers) who have made significant contributions to American History
  3. feature the role children and young adults had in the Civil Rights movements
  4. Convey Resistance and Social Activism as part of African American History

One of the books her class was to read that addressed Racial Identity & the diversity of African American colors and hair textures was “The Color of Us.” It was an awesome book that the 6 girls in the class absolutely loved.  One of the activities was to reread the book and draw a portrait of themselves.  That night I asked Lilah to draw a portrait of herself. Of course, it doesn’t help that I am a doctor, a social scientist, and black conscious, because I tend to scrutinize children a little more than the average folk. Although it was a fun exercise for her, I was evaluating mentally how she identifies herself in the context of what she really looks like and if she was aware of her surroundings and capturing everything in her environment when she drew the portrait. I was jumping for joy (and screaming in my head “That’s my baby!”) when I saw that she  drew herself as a beautiful, big-lipped, big-nosed, hipped, dred-locked, happy, BLACK child who rocked her activist t-shirt (ENOUGH!) to stop the blockade against CUBA (see attachments). I told you all that my baby is fierce! In that moment, I knew that I could go ahead and pat myself on the back. She knew exactly who she was and showed up in that portrait as her authentic self. (Go ‘head, Lilah!) Don’t you wish all our young girls could be and feel like that all the time?

Let’s fast forward to thirteen years old when she came home and told me that she wanted her hair cut.  I was devastated that my baby didn’t want the dredlocks that had been growing on her head for seven years anymore. She kept secretly cutting pieces of her dredlocks because she was too scared to tell me that she didn’t want them anymore.  When she realized that I would wait a day or two to fix the bald spot she created (Yes, I’m that mom who makes you live with the consequences and wear your decision, no matter how crazy it looks!), she mustered the courage to say, “Mommy, cut hair!” I responded, “Finally! You don’t have to sneak to do anything! You can always tell me what’s on your mind and what you want!” I told her that we’d start small with a cute afro since we didn’t know what kind of head shape was lurking under all that hair. (I was way more vain about it than she was.)

We did two weeks of the afro, when she decided to tell me, “Mommy, cut more!” She wanted a clean-shaven head. In my mind, I thought she had lost her. But, she was determined to get the look she wanted, especially for her graduation coming a few days later. Lilah and I trusted one of our best friends, who is really family, to give her the cut. I never saw a bigger smile on her face as the day she got that first hair cut.  It was a major moment of her expressing her creative idea of what beauty for her would look like. [This was before the blockbuster Black Panther movie too.] And she looked absolutely stunning! I’m not saying that because I’m biased and her mom. See for yourself! The cut suited her perfectly. She rocks her clean shave and usually doesn’t let me go passed an inch of growth.

At fifteen, Ms. Diva (another name for Delilah now) comes home and says, “mommy, want hair.”  My response was “okay. We’ll grow it out.” It grew to an inch and she started flipping out in her teenage way saying, “Mommy, cut!”  I respond, “Didn’t you just say that you wanted hair? Make up your mind!”  She comes home two days later and says, “Mommy, want wig!” I said, “Oh! That’s what you meant!” Although that was a very “interesting” request, I was so proud of her because she had gone through all the trouble to notice and find out what a wig was and then learn the word to come home and ask me for one. Since I don’t have the first clue about wigs, I asked my cousin where to go and how I should shop for one.  We went to a store and they wouldn’t let us try on more than two wigs, which would not work for Lilah’s curiosity. I ended up purchasing some cheap wigs online for her to explore. (Comical adventure! See pics) Some looked like a hot mess! There was one that she decided to work with and make it look like she wanted. This child used my most expensive shampoos, products and grease to turn this wig into her own master piece. I even had to get mannequins for the wig to sit on! I was floored when she was done; that wig’s ‘do was cute but in my head I was thinking, did you really have to use my good stuff?

Most of you who know Delilah know that she is also diva-licious with fashion too. Clothes and accessories have always been her thing. (I think she inherited that from my aunt Phyllis.) My auntie always told her to look cute, rocking some earrings, and nice clothes. And ninety percent of the time she does just that! If you only knew of some of the battles in the morning to get dressed because she didn’t want to wear something I had chosen or the countless times I had to run back to my apartment, as we were rushing to her school bus, just to get the pair of earrings she left in the house. (SMH!) I also think she got the clean shave from my aunt too, whose final hairstyle was exactly the same during her fight with pancreatic cancer.

These years of creative expression have been an adventure, but I am definitely a PROUD MOMMY!!!!!! From the moment I welcomed her into the world at 4:16 pm on November 17, 2002 and committed to cherish, love, and protect her, I’ve been trying my best to be the best mom she could ever possibly have. And today, I say that I am beyond grateful for my daughter (she is so lovable and amazing!) showing me how important it is to have her own voice and a strong, positive, affirming identity.

Today as we give thanks, take some time to reflect on who you are and evaluate if you are showing up in every situation as your authentic self.  Additionally, make sure that you are doing everything you can to empower and mentor young girls. Affirm their intelligence and beauty every chance you get because this world is very cruel to them. On a larger scale, please consider giving financial support to one or all of these organizations: The Uniquely-Abled Girl Scout Troop, started by Ms. Irene Watson, empowers young girls with who are differently-abled to learn leadership, character development, and social skills through the Girl Scouts model. You can send a check or money order to Irene Watson  with UMG1151 noted in the memo field and send it to 825 Gerard Avenue, Apartment 6C, Bronx, NY 10451. Irene has done wonders for Delilah’s and these young girl’s confidence and self esteem; Delilah will leave me for her Ms. ReRe in a hot second. Please do not forget this amazing woman and all the work she does for young girls with disabilities. (She is currently in the process of setting up a paypal for the troop so if this old fashion payment system deters you from giving, talk to me and I can arrange another payment system to get Ms. Watson your donation.) She will give you a tax deductible receipt. Gyrl Wonder (About), started by Tola Lawal, engages girls through their four pillars of Self Care, Self Image, Empowerment and Development. BLACK GIRLS ROCK! (Donate) started by Beverly Bond, is dedicated to enlightening girls through leadership (BLACKGIRLS LEAD Conference), education (SATURDAY ENRICHMENT Institute and GIRLS ROCK TECH) and positive identity development.  (See: https://www.gyrlwonder.org/ and https://blackgirlsrock.com/)

Love ya,

Have a Great Day of Thanks!

Next installment, days 6 – 10.

 

Melissa’s Thanks

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.  Melissa wrote the following preface before beginning her sharing:

If you are receiving this email, i have decided to include you in my journey for the next 30 days of giving thanks for anything and everything for which I am grateful.

During this time, I will be sharing reflections, short stories and anecdotes about my “interesting” life experiences associated to the theme of my thanks. I realize that some of my sharing will expose me at my core and make me considerably vulnerable to your thoughts, opinions, and attitudes. However, I am willing to do that. If my experiences bless you enough to deal with and confront yourselves and your issues and set you free from the bondage of suffering in silence, then we are right on track to doing some great things together. 

My hope is to bless and inspire you to be thankful as well. But, ultimately my goal is for you and I to put that gratefulness into action. Each day, i’ll try to highlight great people and organizations that are doing the work to make our world a better place. Consider giving your time and/or financial contributions. No gift is too small or too large! Stretch yourself and don’t be selfish with your time, your love or your affection. Someone else needs you! Give what is in your heart knowing that the blessing is in your giving and will always come back to you (pressed down, shaken together and running over).

If you know someone who you think would benefit from the journey as well, please share these reflections with them too. I can’t wait to hear about and see what you have all done over the next 30 days an how you have grown!

Love Melissa.”

What follows is Melissa’s  thirty day journey.  For ease I will post her emails in 5-day segments, without edits.  The only thing I have omitted are photos.  

First installment, days 1 – 5.