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.

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Expand Your Brand

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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.