Growing Pains #13: Mirrors

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There is no “right” way to be black, but because of how culture works, there are similar or shared experiences. Being a member of the culture and seeing myself as different caused me to reject some ways of displaying culture norms and widely accepted behaviors. Trying my hand at archery, being a gymnast, camping (which I’m still not sold on, but I’ll do because I love spending time with my friends), and a variety of other things are examples of “non-normal black people activities” (Stereotype).

My context has most often been US-based so my perspective is influenced by the culture in the United States. Consciously and unconsciously, I received information about what it meant to be black in the world from all sides. From how to speak and dress to the types of lives we “lead” and what we’ll be successful at. I needed to find representation. I needed to unlearn the stereotypes I, myself, held about blackness and black people, while also being true to myself. I needed to find present-day mirrors that reflected me back at me, while I worked to embrace blackness as a whole so not to exclude others.

I found a treasure trove of artists, friends, family, peers, icons, people larger than life and historic figures that transcended generations. I think of Donald Glover who is as creative as it gets. He continues to dive deeper into the work that inspires him, while also addressing issues affecting black communities through shows like Atlanta. I think of Andre 3000 who challenged the notion of black masculinity, while giving us great music and meaningful messages. I think of rap music and all its form. I think of Ava DuVernay who’s given us amazing films and commentary on issues that affect our people generation after generation. I think of Michelle Obama, and the grace and commitment she shows through her health and women’s initiatives. I think of where I was when Barak Obama was first elected. I think (often) of James Baldwin, who shared the feelings of wanting to leave or escape the US, but ultimately felt compelled to come back. (In some places around the world, the grass is actually greener for black people.)

I think of Nikki Giovanni who said “If you don’t understand yourself, you don’t understand anybody else.” I think of Ta-Nehisi Coates who discussed stolen moments created by fear as he explored Paris with a new friend he thought might bring him to harm because of what he experienced growing up in Baltimore. I think of Chadwick Boseman, John Boyega, and Idris Elba as the superheroes I looked for in all my Saturday morning cartoons. I think of my parents, black barbershops, family, laughter, creativity, travel, fellowship, and community.

I found mirror after mirror, all of different shapes and sizes and colors. I was seeing myself in my community. I learned that it’s not how you show up, but rather showing up at all and being authentic. A lesson learned early on, but later forgotten and learned again later, is that people just want you to be real. No two-way glass. No distorted funhouse mirrors. Just a mirror that might hold a reflection from time to 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 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 chapter – Growing Pains #14: Curiosity will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains 11: Tipping Point

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.” – On Becoming, Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe

My hurricanes took the form of earthquakes. After graduation, I worked for an organization in Detroit that focused on using your interests and passions to participate in project-based learning. The relationships I gained from the work would transform my life. In meeting good people, I would learn to heal myself and crack open the parts of me that still needed healing. I began to learn what it meant to be black, what it means to be black for myself and for others. I would learn how to change through Sherina’s art, On Becoming, which is a one woman performance that invites participants to engage as contributors. The final quake came like a 9.0 on the Richter Scale. Any semblance of what I used to believe about myself was about to crumble.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.” – On Becoming, Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe

Blackness is not, I repeat, IS NOT (for the people in the back), a monolith or a singular way of being & existing in the world. We are a mosaic of beautiful people and abilities and interests and skills and genius and creativity and power and identities and complexity and life. I hadn’t fully understood this idea yet – the whole not black enough idea still ran through my mind. I was about to get some insight. As I sat in the crowd as both audience member and participant, I was invited to see all the parts of me. I was invited to work on myself. I was invited to trade my two-way glass for mirrors. I was invited to change. I was given an example of how to change from start to finish. It was time to “get free”. I was heading north.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.”

In her example, Sherina gave me insights on how to heal, on how to change, and on how to reconcile the relationships that might otherwise be severed. I had to go through and not around, nor under or over. I needed to be honest. I needed to be open. I needed to be authentic. I needed to accept how I viewed myself and others, as well as how others saw me. I chased after it and I’ve been finding it ever since. I was beginning to change. I was becoming whole.

“To be unfukwitable: to vibrate at the frequency of evolution, to be free, so far North, that you are able to restore your wholeness, to feel safe within yourself; to move calmly at the center of hurricanes.”

*Special thanks to Sherina for carving a path out for herself and showing others how to carve their own.

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 chapter – Growing Pains #12: Reflections will be up and ready for your reading.

HUMAN – A Reflection on the Film

With a vision to truly capture the essence of what humans experience, Yann Arthus-Bertrand spent three years taking photos, recording stories, and creating a deeply personal and effortlessly human film that allows people to be vulnerable, authentic, honest, and free to share parts of themselves that we can all find in our own lives. (Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a French photographer, journalist, reporter and environmentalist.)

HUMAN the movie (Link to VOL. 1) strips away the complexity of human life to date and shares it with viewers who can immediately empathize or connect with the people who are sharing their stories. Universal themes are at the center of the film – disappointment, love, hate, pain, happiness, sorrow, frustration, change, isolation, difference, belonging, anguish, trust, kindness, and uncertainty.

Many have said, and will continue to say, that technology has isolated us. My usual response to statements and situations when it comes to human interaction, belief systems, and how we treat each other is “It’s more complicated than that.” HUMAN makes the perfect case for that. In the wake of seeing how it has divided us, Arthus-Bertrand demonstrates how technology can be used to bring people closer together.

Right now in the United States, we are publicly seeing people treat others an inhuman. We are desensitized to the reality that we are all people first who have lives, emotions, experiences, needs, desires, ambitions, love, pain, worries, fears, and people that we care about. We are being crushed by adding layer upon layer as to why we are so different from one another, why we have disdain for people, and why we could never even be in the same room as some people. Whether you are liberal or conservative or neither. Black or white or multi-racial. Gay or Straight or Neither. Even if you fit into not of those categories, you are a person first. I am a person first. Though our beliefs may differ, we are people first. Though our ideologies may differ, we are people first.

I understand that how we come together is much more complex than that. There must be acknowledgement and reconciliation from past and current injustices. There must be progress made in achieving equal rights and human rights, as well as in the enactment of those rights. Poverty must be addressed. Decades of work or harm must be undone in order to create a more peaceful world, a world that thrives through collaboration, mutual trust and respect, and honesty.

Even as insurmountable as it may seem to build a better world, it starts with taking a deeply honest look inside to say, who do I see as not worth of life, support, love, opportunity, friendship, happiness, joy, rights? Why do I feel this way? What has brought me to this mindset? How can I get out of the way of others? How can I change the minds of people close to me? Do I see others as human beings? If so, I know what it means to feel pain, be forgotten, and unloved. But I also know what life is like when I feel joy, connected, loved, and appreciated.

When we can acknowledge one another’s humanity, we will be able to have better conversations about our differences and gain understanding about one another’s lives. Even if we do not agree, even if we do not reach a place of true consensus, we have taken the time to acknowledge one another’s humanity and treat each other with dignity.

I’ve included the trailer for a short introduction and a link to VOL. 1 of Human The Movie near the start of the blog.

 

 

But I’m Not That Creative…

Are you Creatives

To some, creativity has joined the junk drawer of buzzwords that currently houses inspiration, and innovation. In some cases, it fits the context in which it is used, but in many cases it seems to only translate into a filler word. *Skip to the bottom for tips and practices on increasing creativity.*

I’ve been wrestling with the question, what does it mean to be creative? After thinking about this for a few days, other questions followed: Am I creative? Can anyone be creative? How can I increase my creativity.

What does it mean to be creative?

To be creative is to have: “The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” – Dictionary.com

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In practice, creativity is:  “The use of imagination and original ideas to create something new; inventiveness.” Oxford Dictionary

To me, these definitions serve as a frame of reference, a sort of launching point to discover what it means to be creative. Historically, creativity has been a badge of honor assigned to artists, musicians, writers, designers, and the like. Now, it has become a commodity for communities, businesses, classrooms, non-profit organizations, and largely on the internet. People are constantly creating (not hyperbole). People are literally creating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most importantly, in my opinion, people are using creativity to solve problems that our world faces.

My initial reflection led to surface level questions that were directed outward: Is that really creative? Am I being a hater (a check we all need sometimes)? Is that what creativity really is? After my doubtful, judgment-filled questions subsided, I looked inward. (We all have these moments… At least I hope we all do. ha ). My reflection birthed different, more interesting questions. How can I become more creative? How can I think creatively? What skills and passions do I possess that can be used to solve problems?

My curiosity led me to painting. I drew inspiration from Jesi Ekonen, who owns justfollowyourart, which is an Etsy Shop for “Hand Lettered Pretty & Witty Gifts & Decor.” Her products are amazing and she donates some of each purchase to a given charities. I painted small canvases with a variety of colors and patterns. I enjoyed the process, but it didn’t stick for me. So I tried something new.

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Next, I tried writing. In my last role, we were tasked with keeping a blog. I wrote about 50 blog posts, over two years, which is basically one every other week. Also, my 4-line poem career on Twitter was short lived. It was less than 7 Tweets. I enjoy writing, but not enough to do it consistently. My desire to write comes in waves. Then I found my niche, cooking. From start to finish the process of creating a meal was methodical, passion-filled, and deeply enjoyable. I focused on the process and other people. An idea on paper translated to the plate and enjoyed at the end by myself and others.

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Creativity is imagination, original thought, trial and error, pausing, practicing, and learning. The questions isn’t “am I creative?” The question should be “how can I become more creative than I am now?” Think of creativity as ranging from coloring outside the lines to painting Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It can be enhanced through effective practice and consistency. It also doesn’t matter where your creativity is directed. Clarify your interests, refine your skills, and take risks. It’s how we use our creativity and connect with others that matters.

*Tip: Spend some time identifying one problem that exists in you life and 50 ways to solve it using your skills, passions, and interests. (Inspiration for 50 – Kid Cudi sampling Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover to make 50 Ways to Make A Record.) Try all of those

I needed to find where my interests, skills, and passions worked together to solve a problem or produce something useful/meaningful. Even in practicing the two that didn’t work best for me, I realized that the process of creating and the outcome have to be equally important. You have to enjoy what you create and you have to enjoy how you are creating it.

Various processes revealed that I enjoyed painting and writing, but not enough to practice them consistently. I also realized that the outcomes for both weren’t tremendously important to me. With cooking, I enjoyed the process and I also was invested in the outcome – Does the food taste good? Is it plated well? Are there various colors on the plate? Will the people I share this meal with enjoy the time we spend together eating it? Did we feel more connected as a result of dining together. Keeping these specific things in mind intensified my creativity in the kitchen.

I was able to build deeper and more meaningful connections with people I care about by using creativity – my imagination, skills, passions, and interests, . It wasn’t that we weren’t close friends to begin with, but I wanted to create a shared experience that resulted in us being more appreciative of each others’ presence.

Creative pursuits add value to my life in unexpected ways.

Now more than ever, I believe creativity is necessary to solve people problems. “People Problems” are problems, simple and complex, that effect people in various ways. We have to use our imagination, empathy, skills, and passions to make life better for others. It is no longer true that we reserve the title of creative solely for artists, musicians, and writers. WE ALL must use our imagination, passions, originality and creativity to make our world better. We must create a better world by listening to others, practicing our skills, collectively finding solutions, and making space for different types of people.

I’m excited to see how you bring creativity to life.

What does it mean to be creative:

  1. Using your skills, passions, and interests to solve problems that exists in unexpected/original ways
  2. Enjoying the process as much as the outcome
  3. Taking into account your head and heart when you generate original content
  4. Using your imagination to see the world around you differently

How to be more creative:

  1. Identify your skills, interests, and passions.
  2. Find processes that are enjoyable and outcomes that are important to you.
  3. Look for a problem that you can solve with your skills, interests, and passions.
  4. Enthusiasm is important! Enjoy what you do. (Taken from Tina Roth Eisenberg’s 99U Talk)
  5. Try. Try. Try Some More.

 

 

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Graduation

  1. Hiring Processes are Slow (most not all). When application closes to the start date of a new hire could take 3 weeks or 3 months depending on the organization. Even if an organization tries to move quickly, there are still factors that get in the way of an efficient hiring process. Go in with the expectation that you’ll be in a process for at least a couple weeks and it might reduce your stress.
  2. Moving to a New City/Town/Country is Difficult, Even if You Know People. It can be difficult to feel at home initially. That feeling can last a for a few weeks or a few months. Recently, I moved to East Lansing and for the first month, I just traveled between work and home, with the occasional outing when Maggie visited. However, I found some cool community events that happen consistently. From Community Reads to Music Festivals, there’s plenty to do. The challenge was finding these resources. Googling your city or town might help. There is usually some a website or calendar of events provided by the city or town, especially during the summer.
  3. The Workplace is Very Different Than the Classroom. Companies and organizations are trying to create value. The best way to create value is by solving problems in a way that is effective and efficient, especially when it comes to time and money. Organizations are looking for critical thinking skills, creativity, initiative, and execution. Some organizations may “want” that type of employee, but the organizational culture hasn’t quite caught up yet. Give yourself time to understand the culture and how you can use your skills to be effective. Also, autonomy and decisiveness are important in many professions. Your supervisor may ask you to work on a project, but provide very little feedback during the process. Use that opportunity to be creative and decisive while working within the guidelines of your role.
  4. Relationships Matter BUILDING AND MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS IS IMPORTANT. Small organizations may solely rely on teamwork and collaboration. Large organizations definitely rely on the functions of effective teams. Group project members don’t go away at the end of the semester, which makes it that much more important to build trusting, mutually beneficial relationships. Thinking, and working, like an individual only take you so far, and it may also leave you with few supporters. Acknowledge the contributions others make and be sure to extend gratitude when appropriate.
  5. Diversity and Inclusion is Paramount to Success. This statement is loaded in that there are some general perceptions about what this means. The common perception is that diversity comes in the form of numbers, while inclusion means being invited to the table to share your perspectives, which are valued and appreciated. Organizations NEED both. Creating shared experiences to build trust and respect among different people can shift a company culture. Individuals may feel more comfortable sharing and challenging ideas in an environment where trust is shared. The inclusion of diverse perspectives and ways of thinking enhances a teams ability to be more creative in their solution finding, more empathic toward different communities, and more responsible for a common social good. It starts with relationship building.
  6. Initially, Work Will Stress You Out, but Eventually You Will Get the Gang of it (Hopefully). Change is difficult. Learning new skills takes time. Understanding how you fit in an organization takes time. Recognizing your own talents and strengths in a new context takes time. You are capable of learning what you need to learn to be successful. If you don’t know, ask. While talking with various supervisors, I learned that they prefer that you ask for clarification or support rather than moving forward unsure of what you’re supposed to do.
  7. Give Yourself Time to Advance. Ambition is good. It’s even better when paired with discipline and diligence. The perception is that we should be holding executive level roles as soon as we graduate, or at least within a few years of graduation. However, this perception is just that, a perception. For many of us, it will take a lot of work, more time than we expect, more schooling, and maybe even switching careers for us to “climb the ladder” of success. (Sidebar: Identifying what success means to you personally and aligning that with what your organization’s definition of success is important). This can cause undue stress and create a sense of failure if we haven’t progressed. Gain new skills. Build new relationships. Enjoy the process. Be intentional about your learning. Embrace challenges as they come. Try to make your work meaningful.

Keep learning to see the bigger picture.  – VincePRofe (1)

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.

The Craft of Writing

Practice. Practice. Practice. Fail. Correct. Correct again. Rewrite. Revise. Practice. Practice. Practice.

“I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago – the craft of writing as the art of thinking.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

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I’ve always loved writing as a form of communication. I have five journals for five different topics, but they share a common purpose –  they exist for me to get my thoughts onto a page in order to make sense of them. Over the years, I’ve learned to etch my thoughts into semi-eloquent phrases that may yield cohesive thoughts, but more often than not, I write, organize, rewrite, edit, post, notice mistakes (I hate this part), revise, update posts, and the begin again.

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After a discussion with a good friend, I decided to revisit Between the World and Me, authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The writing itself is captivating, but more important to me is the fact that the ideas expressed are deeply personal to me because they are reflective of my life experiences. I imagine that one day, I’ll be able to write in a way that effectively articulates my thoughts and emotions, but also reflects back what the world has given me, as well as what others have experienced.

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Writing as a way of thinking is time consuming in many ways, but for me it is time well-spent. Organizing thoughts and emotions related to personal experience relieves stress and aids me in finding clarity. In the developmental or academic context, writing helps me bridge the seemingly invisible gaps between the concepts of human dignity, leadership, human rights, communication, and cultural pluralism to name a few interests. Writing, in personal and developmental circumstances, produces clarity and new understanding.

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So, I challenge you to write your thoughts down. Allow them to flow in an unorganized fashion, draw, revisit, edit, rewrite, and then share them with someone close to you. Ultimately, I think writing as a practice has made me a better thinker, more inquisitive, and more appreciative of writers who can author books, create meaningful poems, or produce art that captivates the hearts and minds of others. Words may not always be enough, but they sure help. Write your heart out!

Building Together – Finding Inspiration in Your Circle

Community is deeply important in regards to success, social support, and development. When I look at the community of family and friends that support and build me up, I can’t help but be inspired, hopeful, and deeply grateful. These are the people I love, I support, and care about. One of my intentions is to better express my gratitude toward them all.

The initial idea for this post came last Friday after I sat down with my badass mentor, Lisa Hadden, who does all kinds of great work related to Asset Based Community Development. To quote her, “The greatest diversity is the proliferation of gifts to your community. Our communities should allow space for people to become great.” This struck me in a way that resulted in a great deal of reflection over the weekend. Who was in my life doing amazing work? How could I support them? How can I share their stories?

I thought about mentors, friends, family members, and people that I’ve just stayed connected to in one way, shape, or form. The second inspiration came from catching up with my girlfriend. We talked about proactive strategies related to social issues related to education, politics, and enacting change. She’s a boss, challenges me to really be invested in ways I wouldn’t normally be, and she reminds me that there is good in the world.

The last note focuses on a friend and brother that has been in my life for nearly 10 years. Zo was on Snapchat discussing his journey toward joining the US Navy, having a beautiful baby girl, making long term plans for success, and where his life is headed. Seeing your friends succeed as well as find their niche creates a great sense of pride. He also dropped a few musical gems in between the positive notes.

I look at my circle and see tons of inspiration – My family is doing well (parents, brother, cousins, and so on). My best friend is moving to Georgia soon. My college best friends are in their careers and thriving around the country. Lastly, I LITERALLY (not in the ironic way) have friends on every continent, except Antarctica, that are fighting for good causes, building business, sharing their creativity with the world through music and art, and so much more.

Years ago I had the savior approach many passionate people have at some point or another. “I have to be the one to do it.” “This is my burden to bare” “It has to be me” mindset that can really cause you to do more harm than good. Great friends and mentors serve as a reminder that we, as a community, make the world better. “The world needs less ME and more WE.” Happy Monday, everybody.