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.

What will you do today?

I was gifted the book, The Crossroads of Should and Must, a few months ago. Author Elle Luna gives similar advice as many authors have in recent years; pursue your passion. Throughout the book she informs readers that they must make conscious decisions to do whatever it is that they must do. Must is described as an ache so compelling that the rest of our lives fall to the background when we pursue must. She warns that pursuing must shouldn’t be done on a whim, but also that we don’t have to be fully prepared to go after it.

In a similar way, we begin to feel a sense of wholeness  or fulfillment when we give time to the people, activities, and practices that feed our soul or nourish our deeper desires. Something deep inside us begins to manifest when we start giving more time to must instead of should. Should is the laundry list of things that we feel obligated to do because it is the “right” or traditional path to take. Even if only for 10 minutes a day, there is time to do that activity that they absolutely enjoy. It could be painting a canvas, writing a poem, reading a book, taking that nap, enjoying a cup of coffee, going to that Zumba class, journaling, watching funny YouTube or Instagram videos, taking that trip, getting into a relationship, getting out of a relationship, skydiving, or visiting that friend in another state. The list can go on forever.

Some of these activities require planning, time, money you may not have right now or want to spend, or a variety of other resources. However, doing something you love to do or want to do doesn’t always have to be a huge, time consuming task. It takes 20 minutes to make a cup of tea and watch that interesting TedTalk that you’ve had bookmarked for three weeks. Do something; anything that has been on your list, but you’ve somehow resigned to being out of reach. You don’t need permission for many of the items on your list. I’m advocating that you do something you love. It doesn’t have to be a big career move. It can be spending more time on that craft project or small business idea. It can be traveling alone or simple going to that local coffee shop.

Pursuing your passion has become a buzzword-like phrase that in someways has defined much of our generation. I would like to inform that statement by saying that career choices and pursing your passion don’t always have to be synonymous. Live a life you enjoy. Also, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to happen all at once, which is a lesson I’ve  learned over the past few years. Slow down, take your time, and build a life. Fill it with people and experiences that enrich your life and the lives of others. It’s important that you do.

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Here are some of the must do items on my life. It includes traveling, meeting new people, learning new skills, spending time with friends, and so much more.

Youthful Ambition and Lifelong Goals

In 8th Grade, I was voted most likely to succeed for mock elections. It happened again my senior year of high school. My “first word” was actually a full sentence. When I was two or three years-old, I was learning words, phrases, spelling, math, and grammar while my brother was learning it in school. I started picking up information much earlier because my parents would practice with him while I was in the car and while at home. In my formative years, I was promoted a year early to third grade and given the chance to be promoted again from sixth to eighth grade. My parents declined because I wouldn’t have been socially prepared. Thank God they didn’t. I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

I don’t share this seeking praise of any kind or to highlight a tremendous academic history. Trust me, Chemistry classes were and still are my worst nightmare and as time has gone by, my strengths have come to lie virtually anywhere excluding math. I share all of this to say that it instilled in me a youthful ambition; a disposition that compels me to prove that I worthy of the praise and insights others have so graciously bestowed upon me over the course of my lifetime (grand total of 23 years). The idea that I could do great things was reinforced consistently and for that I am deeply thankful.

This youthful ambition has pushed me to take risks, fail and make mistakes often, shun success or become self-defeating in times of self-doubt or uncertainty. It has also granted me some great successes – becoming a published author, being the youngest recipient of the Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication Fellowship and building an international philanthropic partnership all before 25. In an interview for Vanity Fair, President Barack Obama and Doris Kearns Goodwin discuss topics including past presidents and their decisions, temperament, and ambition. President Obama shares that “…when you’re young, ambitions are somewhat common – you want prove yourself.” He continues on to say that these ambitions can develop for a variety of reasons and stem from a variety of circumstances.

Upon completing the article,  I spent several days reflecting on why I have certain goals, dreams and plans. Are these plans rooted in youthful ambition or are they part of my values system and passion for making the world better? Who is the inspiration for pursuing the goals I’ve set for myself? What are my reasons and what circumstances helped create the reasons? The last five years have been filled with success, failure, uncertainty, consistent goals and changing plans. My youthful ambition is still present, but it is decreasing as time passes. I’m becoming more decisive and particular about the work I take on or the goals I set for myself.

“But as I got older, then my particular ambitions started cohering around creating a world in which people of different races or backgrounds or faiths can recognize each other’s humanity, or creating a world in which every kid, regardless of their background, can strive and achieve and fulfill their potential.” – President Barack Obama

The President and I share this sentiment for creating a better world for everyone. What differs is age and experience. In some cases, my youthful ambition has been rooted in a desire to prove myself, but more and more I’m beginning to realize that the commitments I make, the values I espouse, and the actions I take are rooted in something much deeper. At my core, I hope to make a better world for those suffering from great tragedy, injustice, and trauma. I will have to determine how to best do that in the coming months, but I know that this is where my heart lies.

Here is the link to the full interview on Vanity Fair’s website: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/barack-obama-doris-kearns-goodwin-interview

How a Messy Room Showed Me the Love in My Life

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I wanted to end today one a positive and grateful note. Too do that I’m going to talk about a realization I had several days ago during a wonderful conversation with a beautiful, passionate, and amazing friend of mine. We talked about love and community and friendship and the importance of recognizing it in our lives. (For my grammar friends, I apologize for that sentence.)

I vocalized that I was looking for love in my life and I wasn’t finding it for the longest time. To set the stage for how I realized my life was full of it, we have to go back in time; I mean wayyyy back to some childhood days. I was messy kid (there’s a difference between messy and dirty). My school shirts landed where they landed, I hated folding my laundry, and my favorite excuse what that geniuses have a place for everything, even when others don’t recognize their organization system. Everything was in its proper place even if it looked like a tornado hit my room. I spent many Saturdays trying to find the easiest way to hide clothes rather than simple folding them and putting them in their place.

Fast forward to my first year of grad school and moving into the housing provided. I am much more organized and I actually put my laundry away. However, I never set my room up to feel like a home. Tables, couches, a bed, a mini fridge and other items all seemed to go in the most practical place. For a year, I felt discontented and unsettled. The arrangement didn’t fit my needs. So I decided to get rid of a few things and reorganize a few objects here and there, which resulted in my room feeling welcoming and reminiscent of home.

You may have ask yourself why does any of that matter and why hasn’t he gotten to the point about love. I’ve purposely delayed the message about love because it is one that is deeply personal. Though introverted and deeply thankful for my private space, loneliness does set in from time to time. In a favorite poem of mine, one of the lines reads, “…Many fears are born out of fatigue and loneliness.” I felt like I was losing my friends and that I was disconnected from those that are important to me. Once I changed my room around, I realized that this could not have been any further from the truth.

At the beginning you found a collection of paintings, books, journals, travel themed items, and many other objects that are all physical representations of the care and love that my friends have for me. I share this because people have different ways of showing affection and care in friendships and relationships. My life is full of love because of the people in it. How they express love is not for me to decide. However, it is my decision and responsibility to see their love through their behaviors and actions. It is also my responsibility to express how I need love to be shared with me. Communication and openness are deeply important practices for friendships, partnership, or relationships of any kind. Love is all around you, you have to be open to seeing it in the ways that others give it.

Ocean – Questions

**You’ll find a video by John Butler for a song called Ocean. Feel free to play it as you read.

In a vulnerable act of authenticity, I’ve decided to write to you what fills my mind daily. Questions; some to which I have answers and others, for which I am still searching. Some may perceive it as unnecessary. Some may find a mirror. It is not my intention, purpose, nor decision to tell you what to find. Take what you need. If something resonates with you, please feel free to share your thoughts with me. Thank you.

Like the ocean, I am deep, powerful, and mysterious. Even to myself, parts are unknown. Some days I am patient, consistent, and peaceful. Other days, my heart and mind rage like storms that produce hurricanes and tidal waves. I become restless. I follow the moons pull. And I smash against the shores of my own soul. What lies inside me that is undiscovered? What in me creates the storms? How do I discover it? Why am I searching?

Deep, unrelenting, filled, home. This is me. This is the ocean. How can I be all of who I am if I do not know all of myself? What can I let go of? What can follow the path of nature and disappear from my identity? What can pass on and what must stay? What must remain? What must push and pull? How can I be all that I am?

The loving? The sarcastic? The kindhearted? The judgmental? The intellectual? The creative? The pacifist? The war-monger? The rage-filled? The peaceful? The impulsive? The thoughtful? The glutton? The self-disciplined? The prejudice? The unconditional lover? The dismissive? The embracing? The warm soul? The cold shoulder? The soft handed? The hardened heart? The imaginer? The pragmatic and practical? The idealist? The realist? The bold? The meek? The isolated? The surrounded?

Of this all, what can I be? Can I be it all? None of it? We’ll see. Just like many creatures in the ocean, parts of me will reveal themselves or breach as they need to; out of enjoyment and out of necessity. The ocean (me).

Reflection – Fellowship with the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication

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During most of the month of July, I had the pleasure of serving as a Fellow for the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. Throughout SIIC, I built new relationships, deepened my understanding of myself and others, and I learned a great deal of practical skills that will be useful in building bridges across cultures and across differences. This came through participating in workshops as well as living the experience alongside representatives of 39 countries, many cultures, and across a variety of languages. This time was shared with many others. I am thankful for each person who made this experience truly amazing.

As a fellow, I arrived July sixth greeted by the beautiful, nature filled campus of Reed college and welcomed by smiling, yet unfamiliar faces. These faces would turn into friendships that would transform my life. During our first meeting as a cohort, I sat alongside other Fellows uncertain about how much closer we’d become, how we’d work together to provide an experience for participants, and how we’d find lifelong friendships. There was one thing I knew for certain; sitting with people, from all walks of life, who share a common purpose is deeply inspiring as well as comforting.

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As the days passed, we learned from long-time professionals and experts who helped us understand the process of Personal Leadership, which was developed by Barbara F. Schaetti Gordon C. Watanabe and Sheila J. Ramsey. Personal Leadership, or PL, is a practice we used to deepen self-awareness. We were prompted to use PL throughout our time as Fellows, which proved to be extremely helpful and has continued to be since I’ve returned home. I am better aware of how I respond and react to others, which has allowed me to become more open to understanding why others do what they do.

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I learned some deeply important lessons beyond what I took away from the seminars, workshops, interpersonal interactions, and experience overall. I learned to live as a multicultural individual who embraces all aspects of my identity. I learned to allow myself to be all of who I am regardless of the environment. I have a deeper sense of purpose and direction for my life. Finally, I have learned that if we are to ever make change, we needn’t focus on the loud voices so intensely, but rather focus on the quiet listeners seeking to make sense of a scary, uncertain world by extending an invitation to a difficult conversation. We must be willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of understanding one another. We must listen patiently to those who have differing opinions and prompt them to do the same as we share of ourselves.

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You May Not See Me, but I am Here.

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I’ve decided to be honest. I’ve gained some clarity that has allowed me to express what I’ve felt for many years. It took leaving the US three times to find the words and it’s taken seeing the photo and caption below to find the courage and clarity to express what you are about to read. I feel unsettled here in the US. I feel anxious. I contemplate leaving often. The more I travel the more I feel compelled to leave for good. For now, I plan to live and work abroad by the start of 2018. This is lengthy and there isn’t a short summation at the end or bullet points to recap, but this is quite possibly the most honest reflection I’ve been able to share. The more I discover about myself, the better I am at articulating who I am.

To begin, I want to acknowledge that I don’t hate the United States, nor its people. I’m often frustrated and angered by it, but I don’t hate it. The words you will read hold some generalizations and may or may not apply to you. Whether it does or does not is not for me to say. That is something you must discover for yourself through experience and reflection. As a country, my existence as a black person has been contextualized by violence, oppression, poverty, systemic and interpersonal racism and injustice, self-hate that extended beyond self and into my community, and so many other things. All of which occur at varying degrees of severity. I’m saying this is what has contextualized black experience. I am black, thus making the aforementioned part of my lived experience.

Constantly trying to explain to yourself and people who look like you that you have value, significance, and are a contributor to your community and country while daily messages, physical surroundings, and broken systems communicate otherwise is painfully exhausting. It’s like habitually lying to yourself and those you love to give some peace of mind or paint a less grim picture. The pervasive barrage of messages influences everyone in some capacity. This place… this country taught me to hate myself and my people, while causing me to see them as less valuable or significant. It taught me to see context rather than person and I believe much of our society sees the same thing. The caption says, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surrounds, themselves, or a figment of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.”

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Damn if that ain’t a sad reality. Even as part of this community, I see us that way. I’m not speaking about friends, family, or colleagues who have taken time to build strong, interpersonal relationships, but maybe they see other black people that way. Either way, it’s the reality of my lived experience. I’m talking about immediate misconceptions and assumptions, preconceived notions, and avoidance. I’m talking about inherent fear, distrust and mistrust, hate, and distance that has been instilled in generations, in friends, and in me.

In American society, I am invisible. In every instance during my time abroad, I have felt seen, heard, validated, and valued. I was able to be deeply authentic, embracing all of my identity. Black, Native American, Scottish, and many other parts of my identity that aren’t confined to ethnicity.  I’m stifled here. Something is keeping me from being open to learning and I believe it has to do with what I’ve held inside for so long. So I’ll leave for some time to learn, change, and find ways to create change. For several years now, I’ve been undoing the damage from how I’ve felt and what I’ve experienced. As an institution and country, this place never loved me and most of all it made me hate myself and people like me. Coming to these realizations enraged me. As my anger subsided, I found awareness and understanding. I am now searching for my place in the world while learning new ways to give back to others. One day it will help me give back here in the US. I am reconciling past transgressions against myself and others, while restoring my wholeness.

What’s next? I’ll be finishing up my grad program in May 2017, traveling around the world for three months to advocate and fundraise for those with multiple sclerosis, and then I’ll try to find a job in South Africa, Italy, or with the Peace Corps/an NGO. I understand the responsibility and urgency to rally for and fight alongside minority communities. Some may even say that I am shirking these responsibilities by moving away. Whatever criticisms and critiques you may have of my thoughts and decisions are perfectly acceptable. I’m sure they are informed by your lived experiences, which I will not question, but seek to understand. I invite you to send me a personal message so we can create understanding for one another.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. You’ve honored me by trying to understand me more and for that I will always be grateful.

*Photos Taken at the Art Institute of Chicago – The Invisible Man exhibit

Food and Life – Final Trip Reflection

Until today, I couldn’t find a way to really bring my trip to a close. Writing a final reflection on such a tremendous journey seemed to be a daunting task. So much happened in three short weeks. New friendships were formed. I saw beautiful, natural places. I slowly explored cities and towns. I ate, drank, laughed, talked, woke up early and stayed up late into the night with strangers and friends. I realized that every decision was intentional. I made decisions about what my life would be like each day, but I remained open to how the experiences would unfold.

Today, I used a skill I learned in Certaldo, Italy. I made my own pasta. Luckily, I stayed in at Fattoria Bassetto and they offered a cooking class. It is definitely one of the highlights of my stay. The entire process took about four hours between the preparation and cooking. After that, seven or eight of us (myself, other guests, the owner of the guesthouse and the chef) shared a meal together during dusk. We talked and laughed during the entire meal and enjoyed one another’s company. We worked to prepare something that all of us would share together. What an interesting way to live?

Traveling has helped reveal the best parts of who I am. It’s given me clarity and insight that I could not get in any other way. Together, consistently and patiently, we worked together to achieve something that would benefit the entire group. These subtle, but deeply important, lessons revealed themselves day after day during my travels. Food and cooking was the avenue through which I was able to recognize the importance of working collectively and methodically, but also with heart and care for others in mind.

My trip has shown me the value of intentionally caring for and working alongside others. I’ve known this inherently, but by intentionally embracing this mindset, I will be better able to help others draw out the best in themselves like others did for me. Like a chef who must draw out complex flavors and marry them together in a way that reveals the food’s best features, I will work to bring together people of differing cultures, backgrounds, lifestyles, and histories in order to create a more beautiful, caring, and just world. It is with much gratitude, happiness, and peace that I’ve written this reflection.

Many moments were shared with beautiful, interesting people and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.

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The Four Stages of Travel Grief

After a long trip, you may experience the four stages of travel grief. I arrived home yesterday from a three week backpacking trip in Europe and I’m definitely in stage one. Enjoy!

Stage One: Home Happiness. Duration: 4-48 Hours. Your journey home has ended (Yesterday, I was traveling for 16 hours. It was exhausting). You’ve arrived tired, excited to see loved ones, and get into some sort of routine. You also don’t need to think about where you’ll stay next or carry your pack around wherever you go. Your brain and your body gets some much needed rest.Sleepy

Stage Two: Bitterness. Duration: 1-2 weeks. “Why did I come back to this place?!!” “There’s so much to see and so much to do!” “I could be anywhere else in the world, why am I here?” Ever looked up flights the day after you landed to see if you can get a cheap ticket to literally anywhere in the world tomorrow? Yeah, me too.

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Stage Three: Sadness: Duration: Varies per person. This is when you realize how good you really had it and wonder if you’ll ever go back. “How could I leave my new friends so quickly?” “I just want to go back?” We’ve all been there.

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Stage Four: Acceptance and Planning: Duration: Until your next trip. This is the final stage during which you accept that you had an amazing experience, met awesome people, and saw some beautiful places. It is also the stage at which you begin planning your next adventure.

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Cheers to getting through the stages of travel grief and getting on to your next adventure.

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I made it to Italy, but I may never leave.

I love Italy. It is my favorite place in the world. It’s the people, the pace of life, the history, the culture, and so much more. I want to move here. Honestly, I probably will at some point in my life. I fall in love with it more and more with each visit. If I can’t move here, I’ll come here once a year for the rest of my life. I digress.

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Today was especially awe inspiring. I stood in history, appreciating that these places were built by people with little technology and a great deal of genius. Massive structures towered over me as I walked through never ending corridors. I stood on plateaus overlooking the entire Roman Forum. I had panoramic views of the city from atop the Altare della Patria. I sat quietly on a stone bench, journaling in a small corner of the one of the gardens hidden away from everyone. I roamed for hours amazed by beautiful places filled with history I’ve read in books.

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In quiet reflection, I walked around Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica taking in what this place means to people around the world. Max Ehrmann, an american author, writes “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.” In quiet moments and on the overcrowded metro, in solitude or in the company of others, I have found peace here in Italy.

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