Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point

Poverty is a beast!

It was the November 29, 2008, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was listening to Dear Life by Anthony Hamilton. At 12:06am (I have this weird thing about remembering specific times), we pulled into the driveway after taking Kyle, my brother, back to school in Kentucky. It was his first year of college. It was nearly pitch black out except for a few dimly lit, orange street lights and the light on our porch. I stepped out of the car, followed by my parents.

“Give me the bag. Don’t move” A gun pointed directly at me and two men standing in masks demanding everything we had. There are very few moments that are as memorable as being robbed at gunpoint in your driveway. I was helpless.  In a moment that seemed to last forever, my resentment turned to hate. I hated the person standing in front of me. I was angry that there was nothing I could do. My hate was unfiltered and uninhibited. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

A week later, we received a police report that read like a grocery list. Bread, milk, peanut butter, chips, juice, and a two-liter Red Faygo. Less than two miles away, they bought groceries from a gas station. They lived in my neighborhood. Why would they rob us only to go buy food? Why were they in those circumstances? Was this normal? Why us? Why? Why?

Poverty. Poverty. Poverty. The anger lingered, but it was joined by confusion, compassion, fear, and uncertainty. The next two years floated by in a fog and I just moved on. I left Detroit for college with the intention of never going back. I didn’t have answers or solutions. I couldn’t fix anything. I walked away. Little did I know just how important my blackness and my community would become to me. A shield. A target. A reminder. It was the end of one story and the beginning of another, or so I thought.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #7: Bad Genes will be up and ready for your reading.

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Growing Pains #4: The Escape (Gymnastics and the Ocean)

Growing Pains #5 – The Escape

You’ve probably reached this point and have thought, “wow this guy’s childhood was rough.” We all have our rough spots, but my life was full of love. It took me some time to see it and appreciate it. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, there are bright spots that I reflect on now. I was a competitive gymnast in traditional gymnastics as well as trampoline and tumbling. (I’ve included links for trampoline and tumbling because people are less familiar with them.) I started at age four and rounded out my competitive journey at 17 before I left for college. Gymnastics gave me freedom. It was my escape.

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First National Competition. First National Championship. (It sounds cooler than it is. It was me and one another kid in the division. I only beat one person lol)

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I could spend hours in the gym. I wouldn’t even have practice and I’d want to be at the gym. It helped that my mom coached and eventually started her own team. There’s a certain level of peace you get from leaving the ground and just being still in the air for a moment. Yes, there’s the rush of trying newer, more difficult skills, but there is nothing like flying through the air detached from everything for a moment.

 

Our family vacations coincided with Nationals or the Junior Olympics. My favorite competitions happened in Florida and Virginia. I was near the ocean. Similar to the feeling of flying through the air detached, there’s nothing like the stillness beneath the waves in the ocean. I felt so much peace in the ocean. My life felt less chaotic, less loud, and less crowed. The ocean gave me rest and it always seemed to come at the perfect time.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #5: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #3: Space (The Beechdale House)

The Beechdale house was in my family for three generations. Decades of family history filled the walls. It is a four bedroom house. My favorite part of the house is the French doors that separated the living room from the dining room. Twenty-eight small windows filled each door. Anytime you entered either room, it felt like a grand entrance had to be made. There are seven stairs from the bottom floor to a landing with two windows that let light in halfway up to the top floor, and eight stairs followed upward after a short turn. The living room had three beautiful bay windows, a fireplace, and enough room for everyone. I loved that house. I didn’t love living in it.

There are plenty of happy moments. Like setting up my mom’s old gymnastics mats to have wrestling matches with my brother and our cousins in the living room or playing hide and seek in the dark with 10 people. Even family dinners at my grandmother’s victorian dining room table were very much enjoyed. Those happy moments will always be a prized possession. They also gave way to some of the pressure and anxiety I felt as a child.

I felt like I was suffocating more and more each day. I couldn’t wait to go in my room and shut the door. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted my one space. Everywhere you turned, despite having an immense amount of space, there seemed to be no room for anyone. Throughout my childhood and teenage years someone lived with us –  a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, another cousin… multiple people at the same time. Honestly, the list could go on. I didn’t fully understand the role poverty played in creating these circumstances. I didn’t know people chose between paying rent, buying food, or buying school supplies. I didn’t understand how difficult it must have been to ask for help. I just saw the people taking up space as a burden.

I resented my parents for always welcoming people in. I resented people who seemed to always lean on my parents in a way that took them away from me. At ten years old, I remember breaking down to my dad. We sat in our basement for what felt like hours. He asked over and over again, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Help me understand what you’re feeling. What’s wrong?” Each question landing on my ears the way a sledge hammer lands on a wall being knocked down. I searched for the answer with each question. I clawed deeper and deeper to find nothing. Uncontrollably, I responded “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know.” With tears pouring down my face “I DON’T KNOW!” I didn’t have the words to communicate what was crushing me. We left that that moment unresolved, hanging over us like a storm cloud. A few weeks later, I went to a few therapy sessions and it helped a lot. All I wanted was my family. (GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT! THERE IS NO SHAME IN TALKING TO SOMEONE.)

Even to this day, I am very selective of who gets to meet my family. The few people who have met my family have done so mostly because of circumstance. It has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting people I care about to meet my family. It’s more so about privacy and separation. You see, I love people and I learned that from my parents first. The values my parents demonstrated were love, compassion, humility, and dignity for all. Give as people need. The values communicated by their actions became my core values. People are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. It took so long for me to learn that.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #4: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

Quiet Sunday Mornings

The start of a new week begins as one closes. Quiet Sunday mornings are for gratitude, tea, reflection, and simplicity.

Here are a few things from last week for which I am deeply grateful:

  1. Train rides
  2. Passionate people.
  3. Loved Ones
  4. Great Company
  5. Art Museums
  6. Dancing
  7. Good Music
  8. Delicious Food
  9. Tea
  10. Sleep
  11. Displays and celebrations of love
  12. Family and Friends

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The Best Place in the World – Italy.

A country filled with history, art, culture, food, life, and so much more. Imagine how lucky I’ve been to meet wonderful people and stay in amazing places. Most people don’t get to do this in their entire lives and here I’m sitting at a communal table in a guesthouse waiting to learn how to make pasta in a picturesque, quintessential Italian kitchen. But Italy, oh man, Italy has stolen my heart in a way that is just down right wrong. After two short romances, one for a week and the other for two weeks, here I am head over heels in love with this place.

To describe Italy is to describe home. The people, the food, the interactions, the places, the simplicity, and the commitment to mastery. Even making pasta sauce takes 8 hours to be made properly. I think of the holidays as a child when I, along with my brother, cousins, and friends, would run in and out of the kitchen to taste whatever my mom, grandma, and aunts were making only to sneak out the back door to snag a piece of barbeque that my dad and uncles had made on the grill. This place is deeply reminiscent of those feelings and experiences. It’s the place that reminds me of a simpler time and an all encompassing lifestyle. Something that I crave deeply for myself.

Family, culture, music, food, art, work, balance, happiness, contentment. These are all of the things I feel with each passing day in Italy. From the busy cities to the countryside and small towns, Italy feels like home. So I’m making plans to move here in a few years. Being able to stay in the countryside for three days has given me time to find clarity in what seems to be a storm of figuring out what to do with my life (if you know me this changes quite frequently) – not what I should do or could do, but determining what I actually want for myself and my life.

Ultimately, I am young enough to pursue one passion, while diving into another with bit more direction and after more preparation. To do everything all at once is to do nothing well, and if I’ve learned anything from the Old Masters (great Italian Artists), it is that mastering your craft takes a lifetime. To build the life I want will take years, not months, of working, planning, changing, and discovering even more about myself than I know now. But I’m on the right path and being here as helped me see that. So Italy, thank you for a short introduction to what will be a lifelong romance.

(Ps. I thought about adding photos, but I couldn’t find the ones to fit this bests. I may add some later).

Advocacy and Adventure: Three Months & Seven Continents for Multiple Sclerosis

Mom and Dad

Nearly 2.3 million people have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My mother happens to be one of those millions. She has been a gymnastics (tumbling and trampoline) and cheer coach for the better part of two decades. She started her own team nearly 14 years ago. She’s dedicated her life to coaching athletes, serving the Detroit community, and empowering young people to become their best selves. She truly is my hero. She will never say it for herself, but because of her, my dad and brother, and the team of coaches and parents, thousands of lives have been changed.

So why do I share this? Why does this matter beyond it being personal to me? She was diagnosed with MS years ago. I think my earliest memory of it affecting her care from when I was in sixth grade and she spent several days in the hospital. Now, it hasn’t stopped her from coaching and I don’t think it will anytime soon, but here’s what it has done. The hard days look like dizziness and blurred vision, extreme fatigue, tingling and/or numbness for hours on end, an inability to handle anything that is too hot or too cold, and a steroid shot once a day. On good days it means a day full of coaching. It means volunteer and service projects in the community. It means caravanning with 50 or 60 people to local, regional, and national competitions. It means participating in the MS walk in Detroit with your entire team walking alongside you year after year. It means giving young people and families a positive outlet through sports. It means being at your best with the support of loved ones. It means changing lives.

I’ve shared the cause and now I’ll share the adventure – 3 months 7 continents all to create awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. In 14 months, my graduate work will be complete and I’ll have several months to decide what to do next. However, fourteen months from now, I’ll leave on this adventure. You see, MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system – specifically the brain, spinal chord, and optic nerves. To live with MS is a daily challenge of willpower and strength. It is a challenge my mother takes on daily, and does so like a gladiator entering the arena day after day. Millions of people around the world do the same. For me – three months of travel may look like the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m sure it will be, but this journey will be one of service and advocacy. For three months, I’ll visit places to advocate and fundraise for those with MS and to complete some act of service in a local community. Given that Antarctica is virtually uninhabited, I will go there as a test of mental and physical fortitude; one that sheds light on the strength it takes to endure MS for years.

Over the next fourteen months, I’ll be planning, training, learning, advocating, and doing all I can to prepare for this journey of advocacy and adventure. I hope you follow the adventure.