Family, Freedom, Gratitude, Love, Peace, The South

I’m a Chick From ‘The Hood’

Sisterly selfie. Location: The Hood.

I’m from the hood. By hood, I mean a black neighborhood with some dynamics stereotypically envisioned. The occasional box Chevy, all candy paint and rims, blares southern hip-hop. Well-known panhandlers request coins. Crime is heavily scrutinized.

However, my community contains more variance than flat thinkers usually consider. My late grandfather, a middle school science teacher, Sunday school leader, and Kappa, purchased the lot our family home is on 50 years ago and had it constructed. He and my late grandmother, a television producer and his wife, built a family in the home.

The hood was more the ‘burbs then. The hood had firmly middle class black families and fostered intergenerational wealth. Homes stayed in families. People could go off and live, work, and learn, while knowing there was somewhere to return. Others “boomeranged” back home to save for big American purchases, like their own homes. The community thrived.

The hood was also uprooted by the 2008 recession, resultant housing bubble and predatory lending. Generational conflicts exist. Priorities look different. Class dynamics are pervasive.

Barbecue wings and crab legs sell faster than froyo. Kale might as well precede nah. The hood is a place where business building is slow, but improving. Yet, it’s also a place of tireless activism.

And we should remember that hoods, or their functional equivalents, are ubiquitous. But, this post is about the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville, Florida, where my family home is.

The hood bred civil rights watchdogs who outed the city for building on unfit lands. My grandpa was on the NAACP’s toxicology board and helped spread awareness. Apparently building schools, homes and parks for black, brown and impoverished white people on toxic lands is standard domestic practice. But, environmental justice is another story.

Living in the hood is similar to attending an HBCU. Stuff happens. Some of it is glorious and soulful. Some of it is annoying or troubling. Stuff usually doesn’t occur because people are black, though. It’ll be another issue.

Social status. Family name. Profession. Associations. Religion. Sexual orientation. Grammar. Dialect. Speech is huge.

One benefit of being from the hood, but attending majority white magnet arts schools and storied black universities, is effective code-switching. Code-switching ≠ being disingenuous. I learned to tailor messages for audiences. Such is common practice where I’m from. It’s a survival mechanism. As Philly-based rapper Meek Mill spits, there’s “levels to this.”

The hood is cool (enough). I can always find hair products, and thrifty ethnic jewelry. People are loud–in speech, dress and persona. Some have ironic nicknames like, 350 pound men called Tiny. Elders know your kinfolk.

Clever children make music with instruments and random objects. Politicians buy groceries with normalized fame. You know, everybody knows them, but mostly nobody’s fazed. That’s just Representative So-and-So.

But, fear persists. Jacksonville locals nearly quiver when finding out that they or their loved ones ventured into the abyss that is the hood (as if a city so large doesn’t have other hoods or tony and tawny areas are exempt from dysfunction).

In Lion King Mufasa cautioned Simba to remain where the light touches. Not trying to grasp for low-hanging fruit here, but what does the light touch? Whose light? Must the hood Macklemore to get the same love?

My parents’ house is not in a war-torn third world country. Guests come over, usually for graduation parties, rousing discussion and/or food. They return safely to their destinations.

Typically, if I expect company, I’m on the front steps Stoop Kid style, or beside the window in our airy living room, prodding my sister to practice piano for her betterment a free show.

The hood is also a place that, as the nation grapples with killings of unarmed black kids, confuses outsiders. Jordan Davis was killed in Jacksonville. Non-Floridians, especially people who don’t know much about Jacksonville, don’t know or care that killer Michael Dunn wasn’t on the northside. Trayvon Martin was slain about two hours away in Sanford. The entire state (nation and world) experience set backs when lives are devalued and wrongfully taken.

On a personal level, the hood houses our family home. It is a reasonable structure that afforded us memories, passport stamps and nationwide travel. But, people from the hood do take preventative measures. Our home has burglar bars, a Rottweiler and an alarm system.

Our home provides comfort, which could develop anywhere. It’s a place with art, music and pets. Pets should not to be confused with siblings; however, some of them live there, too.

It contains gap-toothed pictures of relatives, smells like incense, and has more books than opportunities to read them, but enough room and natural light to try in good faith.

It’s a brick house, and mighty-mighty, a place with people bound by biology and values. It welcomes good energy and intentions. The people at home in our home might surprise you.

More than anything, our home and hood illuminate classism, fear and respectability issues.

Hoods are often good enough to give the world greats, but too shamed for longterm appreciation. Yet, no place or people are perfect. As the nation’s face evolves, so should perspectives of community value. A hood, barrio or cul-de-sac’s composition isn’t the biggest quandary.

Hierarchical personhood is. Do as you wish. And live where you may, but don’t disparage where other people stay.

Health, Love

Steps for Crohn’s & colitis + bravery lessons

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Some kids are braver than adults.

Insert 11-year-old Dyllan Lovero, who, along with his mom, Rachael, recently shared insight regarding Dyllan’s life as a champion.

While many pre-adolescents’ concerns include I-gadgets, locker combinations and hormonal imbalances, others face grown-up realities.

Dyllan, an honor student who enjoys watching wrestling and wants to be a doctor, has Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. He also has colitis, which is inflammation of the large intestine. He was diagnosed four years ago.

Day-to-day life can be a struggle.

“I have more tough days than I would like,” he said.

Rachael shared that many of his health concerns trigger domino effects of pain.  He reports feeling like his bones are being crushed.

From January until early March of this year Dyllan was unable to walk or stand up because of his inflamed intestine.

Despite all of that, when asked about his goals, he replied without missing a beat: He doesn’t want to miss too much school.

And with As and Bs in his courses despite being unable to physically attend school last year, the self-proclaimed “smartypants” is a testament to a focused mind. Dyllan’s favorite subjects are mathematics and writing, personal narratives in particular.

The baby faced preteen spoke with the wisdom of someone who’s been here before.

He continuously referenced close friends and family who support him.

That support system extends beyond his familial and friendly relationships.

After being hospitalized twice (once in 2010 and once last year), he, his teachers and his family moved to a technological approach for his education.

His teachers Skyped him from school to keep him abreast of his studies.

“My teachers were amazing,” he said.

He and Rachael talked about how included Dyllan was. He was up to speed because of his teachers’ technological approach. Skype lessons not only kept him academically in the loop, but also socially. His classmates interacted with and frequently Skyped him during lunch.

He said that he appreciated the communication. Appreciation was central to his discussion as he said that his days can be pretty emotional, but he is grateful to have parents who care about him because not everyone has the same.

Of parental guidance, Dyllan continued.

“They love. They push you.”

His mother also pushed for him to participate in Take Steps for Crohn’s and Colitis, a walk/fundraiser for digestive diseases. This year’s walk will be held Sunday, October 14 in Prospect Park. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) sponsors the walk.

When Dyllan first attended he was sad to see so many other people who go through what he goes through, but was glad to be around people who understood.

According to the Take Steps website, 1.4 million American adults and children are affected by digestive diseases. The site also reported that the walk supports patient programs, education, research for a cure and has raised nearly $32 million to further its mission.

CCFA has 40 local chapters.

Rachael said that when friends and family attended the walk with him, Dyllan realized he is not alone.

He said, “I never knew there were so many people that loved me.”

Check out Dyllan’s Take Steps page. http://online.ccfa.org/site/TR/2012TakeStepsWalk/Chapter-GreaterNewYork?team_id=110086&pg=team&fr_id=3242

Academia, Freedom, Joy, Love, Peace, Prejudice, Relationships

Embrace summertime, not pervasive personal questions

As the sun beams, wind blows, tan lines surface and memories accumulate, remember caution, especially when addressing recent graduates and upwardly mobile peeps.

Some stuff is not your business. This is a mighty revelation for some because nosy people feel entitled to everyone’s business. Because other people’s business underscores universal issues, right?

Your finances, proclivities and politics belong to all. It’s social commentary, not nosiness, right?

Child boo.

Add prevailing notions of a woeful romantic climate for women (especially of color), abysmal job market for all, and the prevalence of Facebook notifications, that yes, even they are engaged now, and the stage is set for pervasive post-grad personal questions.

I graduated in December, but recurring interrogatives often confront me. Spring graduates, prepare. You will develop nosiness spidey-senses.

You know the type. They occur as visions, when one knows that an individual who may not have taken as keen an interest in your professional and academic pursuits, is about to hit a recent graduate with the flex.

Who cares about community service? Let’s discuss carnality. Internships? So, what’s your boyfriend’s name?

It’s the pressure that causes women to hide their relationship statuses on Facebook, hashtag #him on Twitter or take to blogsites of anonymity to express the desires of their hearts without rampant judgment and assumptions.

Breezily dropping questions in speech does not change the fact that some questions are not necessary.

Too many people are team Mind Everyone Else’s Business (MEEB). And what many MEEBs fail to realize is that technological advances and instant gratification do not trump manners.

We live in an era of hyper-connectivity with key words and paparazzi creating facades of access when most people do not owe us anything.

If a celebrity, or heck, even friend of a friend, decides to put something out in the public domain, there is a strong correlation between its existence in that space and the likelihood of people commenting on and noticing it.

Fair enough.

But, even when people make something known, a notion prevails that MEEBs can ask whatever, whenever in whichever capacity the almighty collective schnoz deems appropriate.

No.

There are real opportunities to help and frequently in less invasive ways. We must remember time and place. As we embrace summer we must acknowledge that this is a transition period for scores of people, especially young women.

And transition points are tough. They are marked by reflection, trial, triumph and reassessment. All of that is not breaking news nor should it be.

Transitions do not have to occur under a microscope by obsessive observers who ought to channel their investigative gifts into self-actualization more than dirt digging.

Obviously I’m not addressing everyone. Some people have relationships of trust, love and expertise, which make their interactions meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. Every inquisitive soul is not a MEEB.

But, sometimes sexism is a little too blatant as some situations expose how little unfortunate minds think of women on their own, independent of their romantic relationships or decision to express certain personal choices on a plethora of platforms.

As recent graduates collect photos, funds and memories, many begin planning and working toward the next phase of their lives. Support them. Sponsor something. Connect them with viable professionals. Love them. Help if you can.

But, a bargain for exchange should not be access to the whos, whats, and whens of their bedrooms, date nights and black books, especially if you’re not dating, pursuing or remotely close to them.

As the temperatures rise, don’t catch MEEBer fever.

Freedom, Health, Joy, Love, Self-help

Oh, boy. She chooses joy. ;-)

Full disclosure: In between my usual  fashion, national, global and marginalized community reads, I am also into self-help, Law of Attraction, Handel Method style goodies, and the occasional uplifting Bible verse.

With that being said, it is always something. A friend, a foe, a romantic interest, a bill, a familial issue, a misunderstanding.

There is always a reason to choose chaotic interpretations of life. There will always be something, and that fact is neither a negation nor an excuse.

Sometimes it is an opportunity to take more time for and with oneself. Other times it’s a wakeup call. Sometimes it seems like a quintessential sucky situation that only makes sense a few life markers later. Even with our troubles we can choose joy.

The alternative: philosophical plate tectonics. Mad shifty, yo.

Figure out what works for you. For some, conceptualizing the temporary experience of life in terms of a larger, collective body is helpful. Feeling kept by a power greater than our understanding provides solace for many. Others believe that such is scientifically unproven hogwash.

And that’s fine. Everyone should not believe in God, although doing so suits me. Humanity is not helped by advocates of monolithic understanding, worship and/or existence. Free will keeps our kind spicy.

I’m pretty proud that a series of recent occurrences reminded me that I control my happiness, destiny and decisions more than any other force, voice or noise.

People throw shade. Life reroutes ships. We question the waters. Still we sail.

Taking offense to ideological differences is not helpful because people bring their frame of reference, which includes experiential knowledge, privilege, biases, successes and shortcomings to everything that they encounter. It is far less about us and more about them.

Owning other people’s issues is inappropriate. And applying one’s own logic to a dissimilar individual rarely begets peace or understanding.

Baby steps. Sometimes backwards. Sometimes away from the chaos. Sometimes to the mirror. Sometimes three hops this time. Reverse!

Life will not always be  quality conversation, eel and avocado rolls, good wine, room for dessert and tan lines (or your version of happiness), but if we actively seek, appreciate and revel in joy, perhaps, it won’t seem so evasive.

It is an exciting time. Do things loom or bloom? Your choice.

 

Freedom, Journalism, Love

Count your blessings, yo!

I dwell in abundant grace. It is not always transparent. But, if I refocus, it is always apparent. It is not always as accessible as I would prefer. But, I accept my role in reclaiming it.

So much of the world is what we create it to be, and for that I am grateful. Again, for my perception I am responsible.

People tend to think I have rose-tinted glasses, perpetual peace signs, and rechargeable Zen. Boylookaheeeere.

The older I become the less it is about what people perceive and what I perceive about myself. What I want. What I go for. When I succeed. When I falter. Humble pie a la mode.

When I bandage bruised knees and sprint against Father Time. Or Mother Time. No phallocentrism.

During my freshman year of college a journalist whom I admire told me that I write well, and have potential, but need my “ass kicked by life.” He told me that he could tell that I grew up in an environment where I was nurtured and, essentially, allowed to be a happy, observant hippie type. He told me that trying experiences would improve my work.

That was a trigger. My work is integral to my worth. And while I  am unopposed to juggling tasks, my words are the work I most enjoy.

Yet I wonder how much will happen? In what time frame? *turns around, looks at donk, files for it’s-been-kicked documentation to send to verification office that will reverse the odds*

On a cognitive level I know to acknowledge that which is empirical and experiential, but the overlap of sensory stuff and emotionalism are real in the field.

At first the expression “in my feelings” was irksome, but mid-issue it is beautifully simple and profound.

This is the part where open-book-painfully-honest-Imani makes an allusion to trials and tribulations without naming them. She summons wisdom, meditates on some Proverbs, and backstrokes into optimism as if her soul needs buoyancy.

Because it does. And that’s ok.

When I was 14 I confronted a life changing decision to go forward with spinal fusion surgery to correct my scoliosis. I grew like a sunflower. From 5’5 at age ten to 5’10 at 13.

I am now 6 feet tall.

I did not become a world-traveled model, glorified for height and opted out of awkwardness and alienation. (I have interviewed them for stories, though!) Instead, a doctor told me that if my spine were not corrected, my organs could fail in the future.

Think about it. A straight back keeps everything in its proper spot. A sideways curve, which I had, could wreak internal havoc.

I told my parents that I wanted it corrected. And so it was. Roses. Carnations. A hot, cocoa haired nurse. I still cannot determine if he were real or an intravenously induced halleluj–oops, hallucination. Excruciating recovery. Appetite loss. Ringing a bell for family members to bring me food.

What sounded royal in nature sucked for an independent spirit that would rather fight the power than say pretty please.

But, God was with me. I came out of the surgery with a scar that did not keloid (a very real fear for people of color). I am in good health.

I met several people who either had or need the surgery through the years.

In a teen club near the beach, I spotted the telltale mark on a girl’s back in a restroom. I snatched off the fishnet shirt over my bikini top to show her my solidarity mark.

At first she looked weirded out. Then it was a really cool, random, human moment of frailty and understanding. We complimented each other’s scar, exchanged anecdotes, and rejoined the foam partiers.

(Judge not, y’all.)

My cousin went to school with a girl who fell into the small percentage of people who were paralyzed by the surgery. I thank God and my cousin’s discretion that I never heard the story until I healed.

My sister was a toddler when it all unfolded, so she was not aware of my difference until she became older. A year or two ago she asked me why I have a faint mark from between my shoulders to above my tailbone.

I told her that I have sexy back, and proceeded to gyrate and serenade her off-key dinnamug in my best Justin Timberlake impression.

One day I was boring. I told her the grown-up version, a clinical story of rapid growth, S-curvation, and why I told my mom that she could not send me to school with an Afro and back brace with headgear.

I bring this up not to have more eyes on my back, although I don’t mind my scar, but to remind myself and someone else who might need it, that we are built for survival.

It does not take a huge risk to realize our potential, although it can help.

Sometimes we find our resilience in  painful, trying and inopportune ways. Sometimes people can bring about discomfort.

If we let too much outside noise reverberate, we lose the safe space to dare, dream and do. If we lose our technicolor dreams and improvement themes, the world falls flat.

So I write this as a promise to improve my gratitude and attitude. Stuff sucks, but so much more does not. I will do my best to pop-and-lock during what my mom calls “but, God” moments.

Go ‘head. Be gone with it.

Academia, Entertainment, Freedom, Joy, Love, Peace

Ego Trips, epiphanies and intellectualism with Nikki Giovanni

When public figures present their humanity to crowds it is that much easier to understand why people love them. This could not have been more apparent than when Nikki Giovanni made an appearance in my hometown, Jacksonville, Fla., last night.

It was an honor not only to see her encourage and empower a mostly Black audience at Edward Waters College, but it was also humbling to see that a woman, whose brand withstands the test of time, share triumphs, pain and progress with audiences.

She delivered a constructively critical presentation and performed spoken word.

After signing every autograph requested of her, she graciously engaged the media and talked everything from peace to hairpieces in a  press conference at the college. She told the media that she had nothing else planned that night and would answer every question asked.

She re-emphasized the need for urban youth to have technology, namely computers or iPADS. She shamed anti-immigration legislation.

When asked about natural hair, Giovanni did not espouse self-hatred themes about women who embrace chemical alterations.

In fact, she said she thought it was quite clever when young women had green hairpieces.

“One plays with oneself,” she said. She shared that when overcoming cancer she colored her hair blonde to show her mother that she would be ok. Also, as a woman with tawny skin, her hair color gave what she described as an instant tan.

Giovanni kept it real. She kept it human.

The professorial poet reminded listeners of the need for emotionalism in light of technological advances. She said that she does not ask her students at Virginia Tech year specific questions that could be answered with their gadgets.

Instead, she said that she asks questions like “What role did personal ambition play in the Renaissance?”

Many told her that they had never encountered emotional responses to academic material.

I could go on and on about the myriad perspectives that she shared and causes she championed… However, I hope that you’ll check out my story for HBCU Digest on her visit.

** Sneakpeak**  She and I talked hip-hop and misogyny.

 http://www.hbcudigest.com/34244/