Just Because You Can Get a Seat at the Table, Doesn’t Mean You Should Sit There

Just Because You Can Get a Seat at the Table, Doesn’t Mean You Should Sit There

In keeping up with the theme of relationships that I seem to be writing about lately, let’s talk about friendship. But not in the way that I have written about them before. Let’s talk about something a little more uncomfortable. Something that some might consider to be controversial. I want to talk about what it is like to be a black woman in a racially charged, Trump-Driven America with predominantly white friends–in the predominantly white region of America called New England.

My Grandparents raised me to be understanding of all types of people. But they also raised me to be cautious of white people. There is no other way to explain it. My Grandparents were brought up in the Jim Crow South and experienced much of the trauma and racism that is taught about in our schools in what feels like only Black History Month. I say this because when I was in school, the only time I ever remember learning about any sort of Black History was in February. I often felt enraged or uncomfortable. But because I didn’t feel safe enough, I never spoke up about my feelings.

I use the word safe because I used to believe that if I could fit in–or blend in–then I would be safe from being labeled terms like ‘ghetto’ or ‘underprivileged.’ I wanted to be like my white friends–a part of me wanted to be white. Life would be easier. I wanted light-colored eyes and straight hair. I had my first relaxer at age 5 and learned to hate my natural hair. I wanted to be skinny–I didn’t want these curves that seemed to develop too fast at age 12. I wanted to be light-skinned so that I could be considered beautiful. I wanted to shop at Old Navy and Aeropostale. I wanted to wear skater shoes.  I listened to Pop, Rock, and Country music. All in public or around my friends. Whatever it took to fit in as best as I could.

But when I went home, I listened to the hip-hop and R&B radio stations. I listened to the Motown and Southern Spiritual music my grandmother played on her record player. I spoke in the southern slang that my Grandparents raised me with. I ate Soul Food and watched black sitcoms. I was comfortable in my home life–in my culture. I didn’t have to wear a mask–I could be as I am and there would be no repercussions for being myself.

So I learned to compartmentalize. I split myself in two. Even if it was glaringly evident that I was different (i.e. black). In elementary school, I was always aware of the fact that I was black because I was the only black (and sometimes the only brown) kid in class. Middle School and High School were much more diverse because unless you went to private school, the only alternative were the public schools. As a result, I was exposed to other black people who I wasn’t related to. Not all of my friends were black–that’s near impossible in the North East–but there was…balance. Thinking back, there were some things I would do with my black friends that I simply wouldn’t (or really, couldn’t) with my white friends. And I am finding that in my adult life, that hasn’t changed much.

By the time I reached high school, I started to realize that I had suppressed some of the best parts of personality. The more black friends I made, the more comfortable within myself I felt. I didn’t have to pretend with them. I didn’t have to watch what I talked about and they would understand my humor. We shared all the same interests and it was fluid.

Fast forward to college. I went to a private University where again, I was a minority. There were a few other black kids on campus, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with them. Again, I found myself surrounded by white friends. In college, I learned what kind of person I wanted to be. I started walking the path that I wanted to walk. I stopped relaxing my hair and went natural. And for the most part, I stopped censoring myself for my white friends. I started waking up.

I was asleep for so long–trying to fit in with people I will probably never be able to fit in with at the cost of myself. I traded all the best parts of my Blackness for people who can’t actually truly relate to me. I always wondered what it feels like to be white. Is life easy? Would I ever be questioned in odd situations? I have never known any white person to ask the same about being black. That’s what privilege is.

After the rise of the Black  Live Matter Movement, I started doing my research. I taught myself about the real Black History. I fell in love with my roots all over again. I discovered my Black Girl Magic and I am no longer afraid to speak my true mind on matters of race and social justice. As I have risen out of my sunken place, I have become hyper -aware of racism and microaggressions projected by white people. I have questioned many friendships and associations as a result. In my awareness, I have found myself feeling awkward in my friendships. All but two of my friends are white. I have maybe 7 friends. And although I no longer censor myself, I find myself questioning people I thought I knew. I love my friends–I truly do. But they will never understand my experience in the world in the way that other black people–especially black women– can. They just can’t.

My reality as a black woman is different from that of my white friends. In the last year alone, I have been told (by the same white woman)  that there is no such thing as African-American culture by a white woman. I have been told by a white woman that she will never have children with a black man because she wants her children to look like her–and she honestly though that wasn’t a racist comment (Hitler, anyone?). I’ve had a white person tell me that the African lady who must do my hair has done a beautiful job and how she [the white lady] wishes she could wear her hair in long purple braids. I’ve had a white girl pat my curls and say that my hair is ‘so cool’– as if I were some display in a zoo somewhere.

My goal for this Black History Month was to stop explaining my Blackness to white people–that includes my friends. My experiences have taught me that if someone truly values your friendship and culture, they will make an effort to research and learn about it. Being able to say that you have a Black friend doesn’t make you any less of a bigot than the woman with Hitler-esque views. I am not a trophy and there is no award for how many black friends you have.

The same goes for me. It doesn’t matter how many white friends I have–I will never be white. I will never experience those privileges. I will never be able to truly fit in. I am finally okay with that.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t see color, right? The truth is, WE ALL SEE COLOR. However, the way we see that color and how we choose to treat people is what defines us. I see color. I see black and white–I have to. But I beyond that, I see PEOPLE. And we are all human. I value the differences we share as humans. But I also value the comfort I feel in my own Community. There is strength in numbers. Science teaches us that.

Just because you can get in, doesn’t always mean that you can fit in.


Don’t Tell Me I Have ‘Daddy Issues’

Don’t Tell Me I Have ‘Daddy Issues’

My Grandfather was the lighthouse in the middle of the ocean on a dark, foggy night: steadfast and spearhead.

I recently realized that I have shared a lot about my Grandmother but only limited amounts about my Grandfather. This isn’t because I didn’t have a good relationship with him. He just happened to pass away during some of my most impressionable years. I was 12 when he passed away.

My GrandDad was the son of sharecroppers and was built for hard labor. He was a carpenter–a builder. His hands were large and calloused from years of construction but he was always gentle with his family. He was a big man–standing at 6 foot 2, 250 lbs–but his heart was bigger than his frame. He was secure in his manhood and put his faith in God. He was a provider for his family in more ways than money could buy. He had a 6th grade education but he was the smartest man I have ever known. Most of all, he loved my Grandmother unequivocally.

When I was a youngin’,  I was very much a Daddy’s girl. As a small child, I spent a lot of time sitting at the kitchen table–or on the porch–with my GrandDad. Besides fishing, this was literally his favorite thing to do. “Turn on the news,” he would say. It always had to be Channel 12 WPRI. When I was in preschool, my bus would leave early in the morning. My Grandfather got up every single day around 5:00am like clockwork. By the time I was up and ready–by 6:00am–he had a fresh pot of coffee brewed with the tv tuned into the news. He would sit me in his lap and I would steal sips of his coffee (a Maxwell House blend with milk and sugar). I would watch along with him and shout “look Daddy, I’m on tv!” whenever our local Meteorologist Tony Petrarca would predict warm and breezy weather. Breezy is a family/childhood nickname of mine.

My Grandfather was very hard on me and was strict in his guidance–but with good intention. As I grew older, we would bump heads when I tried to push his limits. I wouldn’t push too hard. It wasn’t his judgement I was afraid of–it was his disappointment that terrified me.

My favorite memories of my Grandfather are those of love and laughter. He was never afraid to get dirty with the kids, and he was never afraid to stand up for his family. He could hold a grudge, but still he loved his family unconditionally. Because of my Grandfather, I know what love from a Dad should feel like. I know what love from a husband looks like. I am spoiled with the fact that my Grandparents loved each other unconditionally and fearfully. Because of them, I know love. Because of them, I know what I want my marriage (if I should be blessed) will look like.

My last memory of my GrandDad is the morning that would ultimately lead to his hospitalization and shortly after, his death. It was before 6am and I was getting ready for school. He was waiting for his ride to bring him to dialysis. He seemed to be disoriented and out of it.  He didn’t really know where he was or where he was actually supposed to be going. He was stumbling and slurring his words. My Grandmother was already in the hospital at the time, so I couldn’t go to her for help. So I called my aunt, who then directed me to call 911. But I was 12 and confused. So my aunt called. My Grandfather had fallen on his way out the door to meet his ride and I remember becoming hysterical. I couldn’t help him get up and he was completely out of it. The paramedics arrived and I told my Grandfather I loved him as they wheeled him out of the house. Then I went to school. A few days later, I came home from school and my Grandmother told me with tears in her eyes that GrandDad was gone. I didn’t cry then. I didn’t cry at his memorial service. I willed myself to cry. Because that’s what you should do when someone you love dies, right? I was sad, and I missed him. But those tears never came. It wasn’t until my Grandmother passed away that I would cry for my Grandfather. 12 years later. I’d like to think that somewhere–deep inside my soul– I knew that I would be okay. Because I still had my Grandmother. And she was every bit of him as she was herself.

I think it was about a year after my GrandDad passed that I began looking for my biological father. I was unsuccessful. I wrote a lot of poetry during my middle school years, and most of my poems were about feeling lost and out-of-place. In hindsight, a lot of this had to do with the loss of my Grandfather–I didn’t have Dad around anymore. But once I couldn’t find my biological father, I realized that my GrandDad had given me all that I needed–he was more than enough.

And then a few years later, my biological father found me on Myspace. A part of me was excited. Because, in theory, I should have been able to make up for all that lost time. But there was an even bigger part of me that wanted to (and still does) push him away. I had a vision of what he was supposed to look like in my head from stories my family told me-but he didn’t live up to those expectations. I had dreams of he and I immediately clicking and bonding over funny stories–but again, he couldn’t deliver.

When my Grandmother passed, my father didn’t call to check on me, or pay his respects at her memorial service. The woman who essentially (in my eyes) did what he should have done as a parent had just passed away and he did not even have the decency to attend her service. Despite the many differences my father and I  have, some part of me was willing to sacrifice my comfort in exchange for knowing him. This was not one of those things–this was the ultimate disrespect. How could he care about me–his only child– when he didn’t care enough to be there during those crucial moments? I still don’t understand. A part of me doesn’t want to. So I cut him off. Entirely. But life has taught me that people don’t always learn from silence–especially men. So now, when he calls, I don’t send him straight to voicemail. I answer the phone. I don’t have much to say, but I indulge him.

I may never have a “normal” relationship with my biological father, but at least I know that I possess the ability to forgive the people who have hurt me most. Every time I answer his call–that’s my growth and forgiveness. I will probably never be the one to pick up the phone and call him. At this point, I don’t feel that I am the one with something to prove. I am now at a point in my life where I can finally see things from someone else’s perspective. Who knows what he thinks of this whole situation? But I am at peace with my feelings. Finally.

So, no, I don’t have “daddy issues.” I have people issues. I have trusting issues. I had a Dad–my GrandDad. And he was the light of my life. There are bits of him engrained in the darkest parts of my soul. And those pieces of him I carry with me each day, are the very pieces that have helped me grow into the woman I am today.

Finding Family

Finding Family

For the last few years– since my Grandmother’s passing–I have struggled to find where I fit in the world. A major part of who I am–or rather, who I was– depended on her. She was the Matriarch, and I was her dutiful right hand. With her being gone, I felt like I didn’t have any family that I knew inherently that I could count on. I’m an only child but I grew up surrounded by my aunts, uncle, and cousins. I never felt alone. Even after my family had issues, I still had my G-Ma. But with her gone, and my family members dealing with their own grief in the best way they knew how, I felt alone again. Whether it was true or not.

I wrote letters to my family a year after my Grandmother passed explaining my feelings of loneliness and the depression I suffered from. Not a single family member responded to my letters. It would be months before I learned about the apparent issues some of my family members had with me. For a while, I let my pride get the best of me and I had made up in mind  that it was their problem. I decided that it wasn’t even about me. I decided that I didn’t need them. But then the depression started to seep in around the holidays I spent alone.

It wouldn’t be until last Spring that one of my older cousins called me out on my hypocrisy. How can we want to be a family when ridicule each other? How can we even begin to build a relationship with each other if we are all afraid of hearing what the other person has to say? I will admit, what my cousin said to me initially pissed me off. But as the year went on, I realized that he was right. And I decided that even if some of my family members weren’t ready to confront their own egos, I was ready to confront mine in an effort to rebuild the relationships I used to have with my family.

I celebrated Easter with two of my older cousins and we reminisced about the times that used to be. I was still cautious, but I began to feel more comfortable with the idea that we could all be connected again. I craved more. I spent a lot of time asking my Grandmother for guidance. I’d like to think that she has helped me knock down all those walls I used to keep stacked high because I was so terrified of being hurt by the ones I loved the most. Fast forward to Thanksgiving and my oldest cousin tells me that we’re all celebrating at his house this year. He tells me that the very cousin that told me about myself only months before would be flying in with his family.

I contemplated not going. A part of me was still angry–or maybe more ashamed about our last interaction. But something told me to go. Be with the people I love. In all honesty, I love my family despite our shortcomings. I will always strive to remain connected to the frayed edges of fabric because we are all cut from the same cloth. And it takes strong fabric to build a garment. So I decided that I wanted to mend the pieces that had come undone.

I went to Thanksgiving dinner not knowing what to expect. I tried not to anticipate any arguments or any sort of drama at all. I got dressed, I slayed my makeup and I showed up. And it was beautiful. I was beautiful. We were beautiful. Magical. I can’t properly express the love and familiarity I felt in the presence of my cousins and their children. I’m not even sure they understand how much one day made up for all the lost time we wasted. I don’t even know if they felt the same. For me, seeing my cousins’ kids play together the way we used to restored my faith that we could do this. If not for us, but for our children. And if not for the kids, then for my Grandparents. Because all they ever wanted for us all to get along.

Fast forward to Christmas. I had this excitement inside me that I hadn’t had maybe since I was a kid. I was giddy for Christmas. Not because I would receive gifts, but because I would spend it with my family, and this new, enriched version of myself. And again, it was magical. And it felt it right.

Shortly after the New Year began, I received a message from the same cousin that helped me realize the flaws in my perception of family. I was snowed in at work, and had just come in from shoveling 14.5 inches of snow when I looked at my phone. To say that I was humbled is an understatement. His words were those of appreciation, admiration, and love. It felt good–deep in my soul– to know that he could see the changes I have been making and how hard I am trying to break through the walls that we have all built over the years. To know that he saw my strength, and that it gave him hope for people, and the future is so incredibly beautiful.

Although I have mended relationships with the majority of my family, there are still a few people I haven’t been able to reach. I have tried, but I suppose it isn’t the right time for them. I’ll keep trying, though. And when they are finally ready to let me back in, those moments will be beautiful, too. I have faith.

I share this story because I know there is someone out there with a family that isn’t perfect. The truth is, no family is. We all have our issues. I remember writing about being able to choose your friends but not being able to choose your family. The truth is, you CAN choose your family. Just because you are related, doesn’t mean that you are a family. Being a family takes work. It’s about love, loyalty, and honesty. All of these are choices that you can make. I choose Family over that dark abyss of loneliness. I choose love. I choose hope. But most of all, I choose to strive to continue to a better person each day so that one day the rest of my family can see what I see. So they can feel what I feel.

For a long time, I struggled with my close friends referring to me as family. But, I get it now. They were the family I had when I felt that my blood family wasn’t around. I’m sorry that it’s taken this long to see that. But again, I’m learning.

Since my Grandmother’s death, I have been searching for the type of wisdom she had that you can only find in the older generation. Little did I know, I would find it in a Monday night knitting group in a cafe. I didn’t know that you could feel so connected to strangers. I didn’t know that I would ever feel the love and wisdom my Grandmother shared with me. But I’ve found it. And it is beautiful. These two little ladies–now known as Gram and Auntie–have given me the pieces of my Grandmother that I couldn’t experience anymore. They each remind me of her in their own ways. And I love them for it.

I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. My depression and loneliness served a purpose and I am stronger for having experienced. I have no regrets because now I truly appreciate the concept of Family and all the many shades, shapes, and sizes it manifests as.

You don’t have to be alone. I encourage you to have faith and choose love. It’s true what they say: Love conquers all.

My family is bigger than I could have imagined. Love ya’ll. Always. ❤

Out of Ashes: Finding Faith

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Faith is a fickle thing. I am living proof of that. I’m not just talking about religious or spiritual faith–I mean just faith in general. I have a tendency towards pessimism and cynicism. Life has always shown me it’s ugly side. Logic and things I could tangibly touch and feel where the only things that made sense to me.

I was raised in the Church. A Southern Baptist Church to be exact. So think: lots of old school negro spirituals, folks dressed to impress, baptism, Sunday school, and long, drawn out services. I hated going to church as a kid. I was more or less coerced into going. My Grandmother would bake me cakes if I behaved and my Grandfather would keep me quiet with peppermints and butterscotch candies. When I was about sixteen, I started to rebel against the church. I used to purposefully be scheduled to work so that I could skip out on service. My Grandmother expressed her disappointment in me but I stood my ground.

It was around this time that I stopped believing in God and the church. How could I believe in a God that allowed me to experience the pain I was going through after the Big Bang? What kind of God allows his children to suffer the way that I was? I had an awareness of spirituality and what that might look like, but I just didn’t buy into it. Interestingly enough, around this same time, I started calling myself the Phoenix.

I think I’ve said this before in a previous post, but it makes sense to explain it here. Out of all the magical creatures from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, the Phoenix is my favorite. It was the Phoenix that healed Harry’s wounds and brought him the tool to defeat his demons (the basilisk). And it was the Phoenix that allowed me to believe that life was worth living. The Phoenix gave me faith in myself and my abilities. Most of all, the Phoenix gave me faith in something bigger than me. And I have continued to rise again and again.

The Phoenix gave me strength, but my Grandmother continued to talk to me about God. I decided that I could live with being spiritual, but I was not religious in the way that my Grandparents were. I still didn’t go to church, but I found strength and grounding in the gospel music that my Grandmother listened to. It wasn’t until after my Grandmother passed away that I would think about finding my way back to a church. I went to church the day after she passed. And then I didn’t go again for three years. I couldn’t go to her church–it would be too painful. And for a long time I was too afraid to try something new.

The funny thing about faith is that you can possess it without knowing it. You don’t have to believe in God or some invisible divine being to feel trouble within your spirit and soul. My natural school of thought is logic and even I knew when I needed to go to church–or at the very least, hear some words of comfort. Anything to help me make sense of the stress and obstacles of life.

So today I went to church. Something completely different than what I am used to. I grew up with the rigidity of the Baptist church. Today I went to a contemporary church– in a movie theater of all places. I was researching churches and I knew that I didn’t want to be reminded of my Grandmother’s church. I didn’t know what to expect.

What I found was a community of individuals brought together by their shared faith. I didn’t feel pressured to do anything. I was openly welcomed and given a tour. I believe that everything happens for a reason. And I do believe that I was meant to go to church today to hear the message I heard. The message was about listening and obeying. It was about how we have so many distractions in life and we don’t take enough time to be still and listen to what God/the universe is trying to tell us. If we are still and listen, we can obey and understand.

Which brings me to my next point, after my Grandmother passed away, I found comfort in watching Pocahontas. I heavily identified with Disney’s Pocahontas because she relied on her Grandmother Willow for wisdom and comfort. Grandmother Willow says to “Listen with your heart, you will understand.” She also tells Pocahontas that “sometimes the right path is not the easiest one.” It took me up until this very moment to understand that this is just another example of my faith–just like the Phoenix–it gives me strength. It helps me keep the faith that everything happens for a reason.

No matter how hard life gets, no matter how much you want to give up, keep the faith. Find something that keeps you going. Find something or someone that you can resonate with. I am by no means a master of faith, but I have seen first hand how it changes things. Faith comes in all forms–it doesn’t always have to look like a church, or a bible, or even prayer. Faith is the belief that things can change for the better. Faith is believing in the things we cannot see but believing anyway.

I share all of this because I have lived a difficult, painful life. And for a while, I let it get the best of me. I felt defeated and hopeless. I felt like I was covered in darkness for a long time. But one day, I opened my eyes and saw the light. I discovered that life is whatever you decide for it to be. If you think that everything is always going wrong, your life will continue to go in that direction. It’s the law of attraction. You must speak things into existence. But if you dare to choose to keep your head up and see the lesson in every situation, you will find strength. It will make things more bearable.

Here I am, out of ashes. Rising again in a positive light.

Take a Knee and Get Out

For many black millennials–such as myself– the turning point in our place in the world was when George Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That was in 2012. In 2013, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was officially born after the acquittal of Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin. And then there was Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice–the list goes on and on and gets longer everyday.

For me, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been vital in understanding where I stand in the world. Personally, I have found myself in more heated conversations about race and civil rights than ever before. “Blue Lives Matter” and statements such as “All Lives Matter” were formed in opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Let us not forget that our Grandparents are children of the Civil Rights Movement. And their parents, and probably their parents, parents were sharecroppers and slaves. We have grown up thinking that the work was done. The Civil Rights Movement was only 60 years ago. Ruby Bridges JUST turned 63.

In the 90s, when Rodney King’s assault was caught on camera–that was a turning point in American history. There was digital proof that police brutality was real. In the last decade alone, with the development of video/camera phones and social media, these events are readily accessible at the tips of anyone’s fingers and easily distributed throughout the world wide web.  

I can only speak for myself when I say that I was asleep until Trayvon Martin’s death and all the deaths that have followed. I grew up in a place surrounded by Whiteness and I was blinded by the fact that I come from a family that was accepted by the Whites in our neighborhood. I was comfortable in that guise of acceptance. But what I failed to realize growing up is that I could only ever attempt to blend in–I would never, and more than likely, will never be able to “fit in” with white people. And if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t want to.

When White America elected Donald Trump as it’s president, I felt the ground underneath me shift. The air felt different. People didn’t look the same to me. Everywhere I went, I felt like a walking target. Then I made the mistake of going to see Jordan Peele’s acclaimed Get Out alone in a theater full of white people. Again, I was the only black person present. In scenes where I was literally holding my breath, they were laughing. This enraged me. But, they were watching a different movie than me, I was seeing it for what it was in relation to the Black Experience. They were just watching a thriller. Again, I live in a predominantly white State. So why I thought it was a good idea to go grocery shopping in the more affluent area of my city–I don’t know. But I felt apprehension and terror seeping into my consciousness directly after watching the movie. Needless to say, I didn’t get any groceries and I took my black ass home.

And then there was all that media coverage about the Neo-Nazi rallies. I found myself just trying to keep my mouth shut around white people. For the first time, I am taking these incidents personally. In the past, I would allow microaggressions to slide. I would ignore things in plane sight. I would swallow myself in order to be “accepted” by white people. I don’t anymore. So when I experience incidents of racism at work, I address it. But what good is that? The same person I am reporting these things to is clueless when it comes to racism in America. I have been told by white people that “it is 2017, people don’t teach their kids to be like that anymore. They teach them not to see color because color doesn’t matter.” This same white person in particular, also told me that I couldn’t play a guess the baby picture game because I’m the only black employee. But that’s not racist, right? It’s questionable, to say the least. But then to go on and say that you were tan as a kid so maybe I could pass? Are you serious?

There are white people that I have considered to be friends that I’m questioning. Because knowing and acknowledging your Privilege is not enough. And I just don’t have the energy to educate every single white person I come in contact with on the Black Experience. They seem to have it down a la appropriation, anyway. Yeah, I said it. And?

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in 2016, his intention was to bring awareness to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. He took a knee because the countless number of black lives lost should matter more than a song and a flag. Nevermind that the Star Spangled Banner celebrates the oppression of blacks and promotes slavery. What happened after he made these statements? He was basically fired from his job. For exercising his Constitutional Rights. Freedom of speech.

Let’s revisit Get Out for a moment. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll recall the auction scene. When I was watching the auction scene, I thought about the black athletes–the modern day slaves. White people own them, their brands, and if these athletes don’t do as they are told, they are penalized for it. The only difference is that they refer to their owners as “Coach” and not “Massa.” That’s why Kaepernick is a free agent. Not because he isn’t a good enough player. He is a free agent because he couldn’t play nice like the rest of the slaves.

And then once again, Donald Trump centers white supremacy and labels the players “SOBs” who deserved to get fired. And for what? Speaking up? Being black? I am so confused by the state of America and how this man is even President. What I am talking about is basic 8th grade American History.

The sad part is, Kaepernick’s message has been overstepped by the players taking a knee more recently. I’m not sure that they are kneeling for the same reasons Kaepernick did. They are kneeling in rebellion against Trump’s statements. That’s all anyone sees it as–it’s no longer about #BlackLivesMatter.

I recently joined a knitting group (don’t judge me, it’s a coping mechanism) where the ladies basically “stitch and bitch.” There was one woman in particular who didn’t look pleased with my presence. Let me point out that I was the only black person sitting at the table. Another woman asks “what do you think about this knee thing? And I see the other woman’s face twist into a red ball of rage. She begins shouting–literally shouting– that she doesn’t care what color you are and what you’re protesting. She says that it’s disrespectful to the flag, to veterans, etc. In that moment, I knew was no longer safe at that table. I did not have the energy to even address this woman’s line of thought. What did I do? I stood up and left. I tried to talk to someone else about it (also white) and I am told that perhaps I’m being sensitive about it.

There is nothing sensitive about racism. There is nothing gentle about white supremacy. So why should we be gentle in addressing issues that affect us as a people?  

I’ll take a knee before I ever stand for racism.

Expand Your Brand


One year ago, today, I started this blog. A whole year. 365 days. 52 weeks, 26 paychecks. And I am still here. I used to dream of having my voice heard by strangers. And look at me. The girl with stage fright–the girl who hates attention–is speaking out. I haven’t posted as often as I would have liked to but self forgiveness is the key to moving forward to a better future. I have spent this past year finding my voice and what is that I am passionate about speaking on. In the beginning this blog was about me sharing my story in hopes that others would find the same burning strength that I do through words.

But, if you’ve followed me on this journey, you’ll see that Finding Fenix has been more than just my story. There have been book reviews, author Q and A’s, political views, shared experiences, and topics about what it means to be a black woman in America. Originally, when I was starting my blog, I wanted to call it Phoenix Tears. At the time, I was (and still am) writing a memoir of what would have been the same title. I wanted to promote myself. What better way to become known than a blog? It hasn’t been that simple.

I decided that Phoenix Tears was a little depressing and not catchy enough. I needed a gimmick so that people would remember me. Thus, Finding Fenix was born. And, to my surprise, this last year really has been about me finding myself all over again. Finding Fenix could not have been a more perfect title for my blog.

I am incredibly proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the first steps to put myself out there. I am humbled that 534 people took the time to view my site and read my content. This number might be small now, but this is just the beginning. I want to expand Finding Fenix. I want to brand it.

There will be more content, and more consistent posting from this day forward. Ambition without a plan is just a dream. I’m awake, now.  I have so much more to say and I want to share it with all of you.

Thank you for flying on this journey with me. Flame on.

Flight of the Fenix

Flight of the Fenix

I have lived a difficult life. My struggles may not seem severe to some, but my life has been hard. I have lived a life full of fear because of the trauma I have endured. I have never known a life that was fluid or easy. It was never in the cards for me. I have spent the majority of my life struggling to find ways to be comfortable and content. But it was never for all the right reasons. I never wanted to be comfortable with myself because I was so busy trying to make other people around me comfortable.

My mom passed away when I was two years old and because my family is well-known, every one in the city knew. Parents told their kids. And those kids bullied me. They thought it was funny that my Grandparents were raising me. They thought I was a freak. We were in kindergarten and first grade and kids went out of their way to my make experience uncomfortable. I was the freak with no parents. And no one–not even my family–ever let me forget that.

In middle school, my Grandparents and I relocated to Indiana. Where I was bullied some more. My hair wasn’t right, my clothes weren’t stylish enough, I was too quiet.  I wasn’t pretty enough. I remember being grade a C- on the Appearance Report Card. But that grade wasn’t low enough for the classmate who consistently groped me in the middle of my last period art class in 8th grade. I was 13. No teacher ever came to my rescue. My Grandfather had just died and I didn’t want to burden my Grandmother.

In high school, I had trouble adjusting to being back in Rhode Island.  At the end of my sophomore year everything around me just started to crumble. I felt myself splitting in two as the familial issues arose. July 3, 2007 is a day I will never forget. My cousins and I call it “The Big Bang.” In Spring of my junior year, at age 17, I was homeless. I found solace in working and playing sports. Circumstances forced my hand and long story short- -I had to live with the source of my anxiety. I developed insomnia, ended up in counseling, and my grades slipped. I started skipping school regularly. Then, again, in Spring of my Senior year, we were homeless again. My Grandmother’s health was all over the place during this time, so I had that pressure on my shoulders in addition to the regular stressors of teenage life.

After I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. I thought that would be the cure-all for my PTSD and its symptoms. I was wrong. My freshman year of college consisted of going home every weekend to work and living alone in my dorm because the roommate I was assigned didn’t work out. I was always in my room and I hardly ever went to campus events. I stayed on campus to work the Summer of 2010 and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. That Summer I met new people–who I’m still friends with to this day–and came out of my shell. I still went to counseling and my Grandmother’s health was still all over the place. By my junior year, I was working 3 jobs and going to school full-time. I got into a relationship with someone who was older than me and I thought I was in love. That’s what we all think, right? Young and dumb, I guess. At the end of my junior year, I knew that I was not mentally prepared to go back to school in the fall. But I went anyway. And then I had a nervous breakdown. And I allowed myself to break down in front of my Grandmother for the first time. She was spooked. It’s crazy how people are always surprised when the strong person can’t be strong for those few months. She cried with me and told me that she supported me no matter what I did. She let me know that it was okay to take care of myself. Shortly after that, I got out of the mentally/emotionally abusive relationship that I had been in for almost 3 years.

Fast forward a year or so, I was working at a group home for teenage girls and found that I loved working with kids. But I paid a price for it. I worked there for 5 years and I was assaulted and injured. I worked 40+ hours a week. A few years later and my Grandmother’s health starts to decline and I decide that it was time for me to move back home to help her out. The very same day I began moving my stuff back into her house, was the day she died. She had no idea I was even moving back home. It was a surprise. I self medicated with sex and alcohol–but ended up back in therapy because I found that I wasn’t coping in healthy way. It has taken me two years to come to terms with the fact that she is gone. I have my moments, but I am not in the deep abyss that I used to be. Two years later, and I got the courage to leave a job I loved because it wasn’t good for me–mentally–anymore.

My whole life I have lived in some sort of fear. Always afraid of what people think about me and how they perceive me. I have difficulty forming relationships because ultimately, I believe that people will leave me. The way each of my parents did. The way most of my family has. I fear being lonely so I put up these walls–brick-built–so no one can get in. I thought it was safer this way. But in hindsight, it hasn’t been healthy. It hasn’t been easier. I’ve just made it harder on myself. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being touched so I used to stay in the house all the time. But there is an entire world outside waiting for me to explore. So now I spend my days living and exploring. I want to live my best life.

I say all this because someone out there needs to hear this the way I needed to hear this 10 years ago. IT GETS BETTER. But ONLY IF YOU WORK FOR IT. You create your happiness, it doesn’t just fall into your lap. The fear of missing out on your dreams has to be greater than the sum of your other fears.

Present day, I help homeless families find stable, affordable housing. I still work a lot, but I enjoy what I do. And every day off I get, I am doing something that scares me. I want to be fear(less). Fear less. If you told me 10 years ago, that I would be where I am today, I would have laughed. I came close so many times with thoughts of suicide. But I don’t allow those thoughts to permeate my self talk. I have learned that you have to trust your fear. There is a reason you are afraid. But some fears have no reason other than preventing you from living your whole life. I don’t really care what people think of me. I still get anxious in public, but I don’t allow it to prevent me from living my best life.

I am so grateful for all of the experiences that have shaped who I am today. Without fire and ashes, I couldn’t be the Phoenix that I am today. They key is to persevere. Rise above your fears and self-doubt and let that fire push you to your full potential. I’m not where I want to be, but I thank God and the universe that I am not where I was 10 years ago.