Growing Pains #15: Authenticity

“I Pledge allegiance to myself…” “…I became the country I deserve.” – Chace Morris (Mic Write – Link to Music Video)

If you’ve made it this far, you know parts of my journey are dark, hazy, and uncomfortable to read about or even experience. Other parts are lighthearted, positive, and characterized by persistence and tenacity. That doesn’t mean my journey is over.

You see, I’ve gone from seeing the world as isolating and having no place for me to a person with a great confidence and ownership of nearly all parts of myself. (The work continues). I am constantly learning how to be my most authentic self. As I learn more of what I want, I seek that out and I let my curiosity guide me. It sounds deeply selfish and to some degree it is. I am trying to become the best version of myself, and I’m doing that for me and the people I care about. I’m learning about myself so I can give someone meaningful to the world. I want others to do the same. I compel others to do the same, but I have no qualms if they don’t. You get to choose – and that choice is not free of consequences or rewards. I am who I am and I believe I will continue to learn more of what that means.

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I pledge allegiance to myself and all that means – It means prioritizing what is important to me – caring for self, caring for others, building relationships, creating opportunities for others and taking advantage of my own, being creative, seeing the good in the world while staring evil in its face with honest eyes, giving love and positivity to the world and recognizing that my reality is not the same for others, recognizing my privilege and power and using it to lift others up alongside me and even higher, giving a damn about making this world better for others, while also living out my dreams and plans.

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I became the country I deserved – one that communicates the value of black people and blackness to himself and others. A country that advocates on behalf of all marginalized people because I know what it feels to believe you have no value in the world and to live in a world that tells you that you have no value. I became a country that is aware of the fact that some people suffer more than others and need more support that others. A country of equity and equality. A country that is complex and full of human qualities. A country that does make mistakes, but seeks to learn how to be better. A country that is full of love and joy and frustration and hope. A country that honors himself and respects his brothers and sisters. A country that is compelled to challenge, breakdown, dissect, and replace any and all broken systems that has “evolved no place” for him and others. A country that enjoys the things he enjoys with no guilt or shame or care of what others think (well maybe care for what the 5-15 really important people in my life think – I love yall, but some of yall opinions don’t matter that much because of the context in which it’s being shared. I don’t know everything about everything and neither do you – let’s keep it 100).

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Something about Know They Self – Learn about yourself – What do you want? What is taking your energy? What is giving you energy? When are you at your best? When are you at your worst? Who are the people that enrich your life? Who are the people that take from it? What is important to you? What do you want to prioritize, but feel bad about prioritizing? Who are you? Every few months, I ask myself a similar list of questions – I do so to see if I’ve changed, and most often how I’ve changed. Am I being true to myself? How does being true to myself make me a better person to be around? How does being authentic leave room for others to be authentic as well? Am I who I want to be right now, and is that leading toward were I want to be in the future?

Become the country you deserve. I’m working on it too.

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Tomorrow the series ends! 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 skill, 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 chapterGrowing Pains #16: And Beyond 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.

 

Forging New Partnerships. Transforming Communities.

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Photos Taken by Arturo – Mujerave Staff Photographer

There is something beautiful happening in the countryside of Guatemala in Totonicapán. It’s happening quietly, too. Lives are being changed by the work of a community based organization – Mujerave, which was created by Kody Gerkin, a former member of the Peace Corps. I learned of Mujerave (moo-hare-ah-vey) after sitting on a panel with Emily Gerkin Guerrant, Kody’s Sister. She spoke about her brother’s passion with great zeal, which prompted me to dig a little deeper. I knew I had to find a way to get involved after learning of the values, commitments, and goals of the organization.

Mujerave’s mission is to contribute to the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of malnutrition, and the reduction of preventable illnesses by empowering women through sustainable development projects in indigenous communities in the department of Totonicapán, Guatemala. As for the vision of Mujerave: Through increasing food security, expanding community-based education initiatives, and improving health-related infrastructure in underserved rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, Mujerave’s vision is a Totonicapán less burdened by preventable illnesses, chronic malnutrition, and debilitating poverty.

In 2011, at the LeaderShape Institute, I was asked the big questions, “what would you do for the rest of your life if money and time weren’t barriers?” or “what are you doing today to make the world a more just, caring and thriving place?” These questions stayed with me throughout the week and for many years to come. I still ask myself those questions year after year. My vision, though extremely limited and inarticulate at the time, was to make a division-less world. Nearly 6 years later, I can explicitly say that even back then, it had everything to do with ending poverty, creating opportunities for others to have better lives, and working with and on behalf of the global community.

After a few bumps and bruises, failures and mistakes, I began to realize that I didn’t have to save the world on my own. I simply had to do my part to make the world better in my own way, as well as find ways to support others who were already working in other capacities, industries, and communities. This led me to Mujerave, as well as a philanthropic partnership. I’ve made a five-year commitment to support Mujerave’s work to reduce poverty, increase gender mainstreaming in policy and action, as well as aid in sustainable development.

Many women around the world are powerful stewards in their communities, yet they are still overlooked and underrepresented in places of power. Mujerave provides resources and a space for women to use their voices, wisdom, and experiences to make their communities healthier, improve economic stability, and much more.

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To learn more visit: http://www.mujerave.org

Feel free to make a donation in support of the many projects that are currently taking place, as well as future projects.

A Month Has Passed…

It’s been exactly one month since I decided to try eating as a vegetarian and I’ve learned a lot. Here are a few things I experienced over the past few weeks.

First and foremost – To be honest, my choice to be try  this whole vegetarian thing was purely selfish. I wanted to be healthier for me. Though I’m sure it has positive affects on the environment, animal rights, and a variety of other things, I didn’t want to make this change scientific, too deep, or some dramatic event with meaningful lessons and all that jazz. Much of those benefits are byproducts of the last month. I admire people who choose to be vegetarian for noble reasons. My journey has no direct connection to nobility.

Secondly, I thought about food so much over the last month, especially at the beginning. What foods would I miss having? Could I really go an entire month without meat? How much salad would I consume in 30 days? My first non-salad, vegetarian meal was a wonderful homemade, spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with pesto. There was also wine (much needed wine).

Thinking about food constantly made me talk about food constantly. I annoyed myself so much (others too I’m sure). All the memes or jokes that say part of being a vegetarian is telling everyone are so much funnier now. It took up so much mental space. I felt like I had to proclaim it to the world, and really only other vegetarians care so you can exchange recipes and secretly/openly judge everyone who is. I didn’t participate in the judging, because all I wanted was Wendy’s chicken nuggets, which, I’m sure, barely qualify as meat anyway.

So what have I discovered from being vegetarian for a month?

  1. There’s more to life than salad. Though I love a good salad, there are so many other foods out there and they are just as delicious, if not more.
  2. Fastfood isn’t very vegetarian friendly, which worked out for me because this choice was health related (I still miss Cheesy Gordita Crunches – shout out to Taco Bell).
  3. Your body responds to different foods in different ways. I have more energy. I feel more focused. I have more clarity. Overall, I feel better.
  4. Food is such a big part of my life. I love cooking, trying new recipes, finding awesome wine pairing with great appetizers, and so much more. I love food and food culture.

Here are some challenges I encountered:

  1. Eating became much more involved – I thought so much more about food. I talked a lot about food. (Sorry if you were around me a lot during the last month.) It took up a lot of mental space.
  2. Cravings. Cravings. Cravings. I wanted a greasy burger for an entire week. Didn’t get one and I’m not really on board with black bean burgers yet. Still kinda want a burger.
  3. I ate a lot of oatmeal. I got so tired of eating the same things. It helped with my creativity in the kitchen. Dealing with this got easier as time went on and I tried new recipes.
  4. Sometimes I wouldn’t have enough protein and I learned the new meaning of HANGRY even though I was having normal portion sizes.

All in all, I’ve learned a lot over the last month and I feel healthier. I haven’t decided if I’ll continue on or not. The journey continues.