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A Nation in Grief . . .

REPRINTED by the permission of my beloved journalist Mother, Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson, who has managed to put into words what my tearful, broken heart could not manage to process:

Recent news coverage, including this professor’s first hand account of the tragic school shooting occurring in his classroom at Michigan State University, has been so poignant, so sensitive, and so much a reflection of our troubled times. Thank you for penning what our hearts feel for ALL of the victims; who were young, innocent, bright and so deserving of a long fruitful life!

I am an Alumnus of the University of Michigan, but my eldest Granddaughter, Jendayi, is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, and majored in “Environment Sustainability”- a subject which was not even fathomable during my college days.

In the aftermath of this MSU tragedy, my heart was gripped with horror and pain for the victims and their families. When my Grand baby was matriculating at MSU and staying in a dorm on campus, my deepest concerns were about her grades, her health, and her ability to apply discipline regarding social functions on campus. I drove to East Lansing, MI frequently whenever I felt “Big Mama’s” presence would be helpful (when she developed strep throat, when she was homesick and in need of nurturing or a home-cooked meal).

I am in tears and heartbroken over every student who was senselessly slain. No student should be confronted with ‘Terror on Campus’ and no family should be making plans for their child’s funeral, or maintaining vigils at a hospital’s ICU unit, rather than making plans for their child’s glorious, hope-fulfilled Graduation!

Mass shootings in the USA must not continue to become a ‘norm’ that traumatizes and paralyzes this nation–The USA’s Domestic Terrorism must end with this generation.

Arielle Anderson, 19, was a sophomore at Michigan State University and was a straight ‘A’ student who aspired to be a pediatric doctor.
Brian Fraser, 20, was a sophomore at Michigan State University and was the chapter president of his MSU fraternity.
Alexandria Varner, 20, was a junior at Michigan State University and her father described her as a “beautiful soul.”
An initial message on the rock of the Michigan State University campus.
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No Toxic Relationships in 2023

Without echoing the cliche “New Year, New You” sentiments we seem to traditionally subscribe to and share in the beginning of the (Roman) calendar year – it is possible to firmly set your expectations and intentions at the start of even a new month or season . . . So in that regard, my personal manifesto for this year is to be fully present and make space for spiritual, high vibration energy, relationships and to avoid indulging (even temporarily), in low frequency and vibrational toxic relationships. The featured photograph from our family’s recent and spiritually uplifting Kwanzaa celebration is my own personal reminder and accountability measurement to be true to my word and promise to myself.

I have always, unofficially operated with this as my personal preference, reality mantra, and norm. But even in the past, I would almost always make exceptions for people with whom I worked, worshipped with and/or with family. Well, since even the past 7 days of the year otherwise known as the traditional Kwanzaa season, which my immediate family and I have observed for as long as I can remember. . . My sacred, meaningful observance of the 7 principles of Blackness was marred from ugly, unwarranted, and negative behavior and toxicity which has prompted me to adjust my prior exceptions to the rule of toxic relationships. And never, no more will I embrace exceptions for those with whom I’m forced to work with; happen to be blood related to and/or find myself in sacred worship spaces with. In other words, I pledge to be my authentic self in all relationships and situations, despite my own admitted high expectations of myself and others around me.

By contrast, in making allowances for OPP or other people’s problems/pathologies etc. I have been subject to toxic situations I could and should have avoided altogether. Live and learn as the adage goes. So, there are no mistakes! Only lessons. And best believe, I have learned mine and “here endeth the lesson”. And just in case what I experienced has the unintended benefits of being a cautionary tale of what to avoid like the plague for others, I will share several of the toxic traits and experiences to which I was subject to and have since learned much from.

In the most recent, inexcusable case of toxic behavior, I encountered ableism – and trust me, within the past 7-8 years I’ve seen and personally experienced much more of this prevalent form of discrimination more than I ever even imagined existed, when I was still a young, naive and fully functioning, able bodied cis person. But ableism – please click HERE for a salient explanation and point of reference for exactly what ableist means – is extremely common, grossly inappropriate and deeply harmful, discriminatory, and traumatizing to the disabled persons who are regularly subject to this level of toxic behavior and abuse. Namely, while in our church’s annual Watch Night service on NYE I ran into a parishioner who attends the church very infrequently and no more than 1-2 times per year. As a general rule, I engage with her sister, a regular member, as infrequently as possible and with a long handled spoon or at a distance (for a short history of troublesome incidents). However, in just speaking to and exchanging pleasantries with the infrequent ‘guest’, after we exchanged what I wish had only been a routine conversation about how our respective, young adult children were . . . Her follow up ableist and inappropriate comments alluded to our collective need to focus on self-care and making sure that we were in the best possible shape and health, since our now grown children have their own lives and would soon have their own families. Of course my eyes (which are truly windows to the soul), were communicating: Now, what now?! And, Bye, Felicia . . . w/ your ugly acting, messy ass. But because we were in church and in the past I had/have made exceptions for this kind of toxic behavior and energy, I said nothing. Lesson learned though and in the future, I can’t promise that anyone who would deign to test me will come out unscathed. 👀

Sadly, this type of ableism is a form of discrimination which is admittedly new to me but is nonetheless encountered almost daily within public spaces. It’s why I have made a conscious decision to make my home a place of spiritual refuge and I rarely, if ever, venture out unless related to work, worship, or family. In my own personal case, I have an “invisible” disability, which renders me vulnerable to additional slips and falls and which has plagued my physical mobility for years now. Though I do use a mobility aid (cane), to get around outside of my own home – my disability and/or the fact that I have a full leg of hardware (from my femur to my tibial plateau; achieved in separate implantation surgeries, two years apart) – my need to use the cane is not readily visible to the naked eye. I am admittedly a robust and even physically strong and formidable appearing woman of large stature, standing 5’9 in height and weighing over 300 lbs. So, upon first glance, I just look like an overweight, middle aged Black woman. And to see me with my cane, which I have used since my early 40’s is admittedly surprising to some since I don’t present as “disabled”. However, just because someone isn’t frail or have a visible prosthetic limb, does not mean that they are as able bodied as they appear. Yes, although my right leg appears intact, and the 30-40 inch long scarring from the two prior surgeries (in 2015 and 2017 respectively), have healed nicely over the years, there’s no provisions for the residual nerve pain and joint damage (or just general, daily stiffness and discomfort), that one experiences. So, the bottom line is that whether a person looks disabled or not – don’t assume that your brazen, arrogant, and unsolicited weight loss tips/self-care advice or crass comments regarding what happened to another person is appropriate and/or warranted! When in doubt . . . Just err on the side of caution and STFU especially since a person suffering fibromyalgia, enduring stage 4 cancer, and/or valiantly managing one or more invisible disabilities is in need of your simple minded, judgmental, and toxic opinions. Full stop.

I will end this cathartic blog post by sharing how and why I have similarly come to the conclusion that family values and/or love of our relatives should not exempt the people to whom we’re blood related from the same high standards and vibrations to which the rest of our relationships are subject. Within the past few days, I have relinquished my own power, energy, and peace of mind to extend olive branches to family, who were woefully undeserving of the same. On Christmas morning, I called an Aunt with whom I have held a grudge for almost a year (for publicly speaking negatively and hurting my mother’s feelings), and unexpectedly wished her happy holidays. The brief conversation seemed to start well enough until I made the grave error of extending an invitation to the informal, family Kwanzaa gathering I was soon hosting at my home. Well, I should have kept my happy holidays call and warm invitation to myself, because this seemingly innocent extension on my behalf only seemed to re-ignite the original drama and toxic behavior. Needless to say, my aunt vehemently refused my offer (completely within her rights to choose to opt out and to not be ready to forgive and move forward). And she also shared that anything she said to my mother was not directed to me anyway (sad because the total absence of remorse only means that my response was warranted). Sigh . . . Of course I am aware that all things are in divine order and that to everything under the sun, divine timing and universal order reigns supreme. But it does bear mentioning that family members are just the people to whom you happen to be related – it doesn’t require there to be a relationship to even send them love and light. And trust me, I do send them positive energy across the miles. Being in one another’s presence is not always warranted or easy. In fact, I have personally noticed that family disputes and drama has been more prevalent since the onset of the global pandemic and I could care less how a person is related to you by blood. Attitude and behavior speaks volumes and it is much more desirable to maintain your personal peace and high vibrational energy and joy than to force toxic alliances with family.

Ultimately, I plan to keep my own company, forge relationships with others who are equally yoked and to reject any/all relationships, even those tied to my livelihood and employment – which requires one to diminish or snuff out their divine light in order to maintain. I consider it a blessing and privilege to have learned this powerful lesson so early in the year. And though in the African tradition, it is really the spring months (March/April), which usher in the growing season, newness and fresh start that European culture reserves for this time of year; I pledge to start with today. No time like the present and when you know better, you must do better. Asé!

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Choosing to Vibrate Higher

As I openly embrace the month of December and universal ritual prompts us to prep for celebrations (the end of the year; the abject commercialism of the Christmas season and the start of 2023), I do so with intention: I choose to vibrate on a high spiritual frequency.

My intention is to elect to vibrate higher than my current circumstances. In so many ways, life is a never ending cycle of uncertainties. For instance, at the beginning of November – just a mere 30 days or so ago – I had an inner sense of calm. I embraced and resonated deeply with the spirit of elimination (which characterized the whole month of November, according to the Unity Church which I regularly attend). And most importantly, there were so many things of which I was absolutely sure. Honestly, even in the areas of my life where there was uncertainty, I was at least optimistic. Because in all things, my innate nature of light and love has this dynamic capacity of seeing the greatest good in just about anything. Now here in the present, the month of December has begun to unravel in such a way as to shatter the illusion of certainty and calm. Where there was once confidence and communal stability, there’s now questionable motives, realities, quiet times and lots of solitude. This too shall pass . . . And in the meantime, I welcome the lessons of this valley.

Despite this perceptible shift, I choose to vibrate higher than my circumstances. I elect to manifest my own destiny and command joy, peace, joy and light – even in the midst of this storm. There is no crisis, doubt, and fear in the world and external forces of the universe, which can supersede the impact of the reality I envision and create within my own life and experience. So with that said, I eschew the unnatural desire to resist change and to seek to hold on to the past. I reject old fears, ideas and assumptions about that which is ahead and is admittedly unknown. I embrace only those things that enlighten, empower, inspire and motivate me and others around me to encounter the greatest, divine right goodness in all things.

I pray, meditate, think about the positive possibilities of life to come and accept that all things are in divine order and timing. I drink water and stay hydrated throughout the day. I eat live foods that nourish the soul, body and mind (fruits and vegetables). I eat no more than one heavy meal per day (not for weight loss but increasingly as a ‘best practice’ for my own sensitive digestive system, clarity of mind and health). I force myself to get restorative rest and beneficial sleep (I have always thrived on 5-6 hours or less but I am conscious to quiet my mind and still myself when warranted). And as I intentionally vibrate higher – I visualize the effortless flow of blessings which are undoubtedly en route towards me and I welcome the manifestation of my spiritual vibration with excitement and giddy anticipation. I Am a child of God, a divine reflection of God and I do not inherit lack, disease, brokenness and/or suffering. I Am (as I proclaimed publicly and quite convincingly amongst a large number of my professional peers, recently), and I repeat: I Am stronger at the broken places. Furthermore, I’m “bulletproof nothing to lose . . . I Am Titanium”.

I vibrate higher, I vibrate highly, and I manifest countless treasures and blessings yet to come. In the words of one of my most beloved, classic poems, “I Dream me a world” of pleasures sublime . . . My heartfelt wish is the same for each of you. Asé

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Academic Travels Gratitude Post

As I depart Albuquerque, New Mexico today, after having enjoyed multiple, glorious days of engaging in professional learning and development with a vast community of both nonprofit and K-12 peers, I’m holding so much space and gratitude for the warm, beautiful Indigenous people of the Tamaya and Santa Ana Pueblo, whose sacred lands cover 73,000 acres east and west of the Río Grande. Within the inviting bosom of their picturesque environment, I am energized, made anew and ever so grateful.

I salute the absolute beauty of my travel experience from the rich, inclusive professional learning sessions I was fortunate enough to both actively co-facilitate and eagerly participate in during what will long be regarded as a life changing and absolutely power packed, 3-day convening with several hundred educators from across the country at the joint Education First, NoVo and Rockefeller Foundation sponsored SEL In Action Conference; to being nestled in the healing space of the luxurious Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa accommodations. After being home bound, like many of you, over the course of the consecutive years of zero travels given the rigors of the still prescient, global pandemic – this initial excursion from the familiarity and safety of the comforts of my own home – was like a warm, bear hug and a spiritual retreat for the soul. Now, even in my travels home . . . My heart smiles from having been blessed with such an opportunity.

Perhaps the best way for me to share just a hint of the tangible highlights of the deeply meaningful time convening with hundreds of educators who are each worthy of salute, for the creative ways in which we have all respectively engaged in the grant award winning, arduous work of imparting culturally relevant and responsive, anti-racist, social emotional learning across K-12 schools and both rural and urban communities across this country, would be to provide insight into the remarkable educators I was fortunate to meet along the way.

I’ll start by extending heartfelt gratitude to Adam from Denver, Colorado who works on a neighboring Pueblo and had a ready smile, sound professional practices, and genuine enthusiasm to share re: having made the 2-hour drive to the conference to represent the meaningful work he and his colleagues do with our Indigenous youth on the Navajo reservation. Likewise, how fortunate I was to have met Stephanie, a middle school principal from Charleston, South Carolina who was determined to take back any/all of our “best practices” to help her ensure that her teachers would feel appreciated, inspired and encouraged to continue in their daily work. This priority was paramount to her because she shared that she increasingly sensed that they were already overworked, overwhelmed, losing strength, motivation and zeal just a few short weeks into the start of the school year. Kudos for any school leader willing, ready, and prepared to center the needs of her overworked instructional and support staff. I was transparent and effusive in my respect for her style of leadership.

I was admittedly impressed by and hereby express gratitude for having met Linda from Illinois (by way of NY), whose work in the community and former work as an engineer, offers her unique insights into how all educators must prepare for what she calls the “long game” of dismantling entire systems of oppression. I’m also grateful to have met Robin, Schevonda, Medina, and the beautiful Evelyn, originally from Cuba and who now lives and works in LA. during a brief yet meaningful roundtable discussion on organic topics ranging from how to engage our students in classroom discussions and manage to distract them from their phones long enough to activate the critical thinking and deep learning which comes from what Paulo Friere refers to as “naming the world” in the liberatory practice of acknowledging the five foundations of discourse.

And no doubt, as confirmation that God had clearly predestined that we share space, despite our meeting place occurring across the country, how fortunate I was to meet a Mother and daughter team from my own stomping grounds here in Detroit, MI. Given the admirable beauty, impressive reach and powerful impact of their nonprofit work with the My Sisters Keeper program here locally, I stood in awe of my newfound sister and an awesome grassroots, community leader in her own right, Tanesha Windom, whose powerful gift of discernment, spiritual anointing and commitment to our children and people, is rather effortlessly weaved through her admirable body of work in the local community. I must also express gratitude for the beautiful energy and infectious joy of my new friend, Anna, from California. She and I had the privilege of breaking bread together over a delicious Mexican culinary feast and then later, she found me and was kind enough to congratulate me on my recent opportunity to bask in the limelight of peer affirmation after I received such an incredible, rousing response from conference participants after having delivered my own Ed Talk. Thanks to her kindness and enthusiasm, Anna and I celebrated this moment by embracing as if we had known each other for a lifetime (fully masked of course), and even did a little celebratory dance to David Guetta’s inspiring jam Titanium, featuring Sia! Eternal gratitude to all who were so affirming and generous to me, in response to my brief personal testimony and aha moment.

I will wrap up my salute to the awesome educators I met (note: there are countless others, too numerous to name and for whom I give thanks), by taking the time to express deep gratitude and respect for the thoughtful and brilliant keynote address we received from dynamic author and educator, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad! From her, we were applauded for our body of collective SEL work, patiently advised how to be much more intentional in infusing joy in the work we do daily, and through her historically responsive framework, we were able to glean from countless, tangible examples, reflective of every grade level and subject area, to cultivate students’ genius in the key areas of identity, skills, intellectualism, criticality, and joy.

Ultimately, my post travel takeaway is that I will long treasure the authentic connections made with like minded educators from all walks of life, this past week. How utterly empowering it was to be in the presence of so many educational leaders, who are humble, talented, creative and intentional in their admirable levels of commitment to the work of advancing the status of what one fellow SEL presenter, Baionne, proudly referred to as the “global majority”, which is to say that together we pledge to increasingly meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Black students and other students of color in this nation’s schools. And to that I can only say: Asé ✨

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Experience is the Best Teacher

I wish that I could pass along all of the most important and meaningful things I’ve learned in life to others. But the truth is that most of the pivotal things have been gleaned from life experience. And we all know that experience (just like one’s influence), is not transferable.

Things like distinguishing the light in the fog after heartbreak leaves you vulnerable to pain; listening intently to our gut instincts and realizing that it’s never once, steered you wrong; valuing the centeredness and clarity which only comes from the deafening silence of honoring our inner voice, amidst a sea of other people’s opinions. These are the virtues and deep, meaningful lessons that my current self would have shared with my much younger iteration. My only wonder is, whether I would have listened to this 50-year old version of me? Or would I have laughed and soldiered on, undaunted? Hmm . . .

But since experience is truly the best teacher – and wisdom only comes with age, I am admittedly fortunate to have made it to an age, rank and lot in life that the younger version of me would scarcely recognize. And ohh how grateful I am to have made it to my own middle aged status. I’m not yet an elder, who’s able (or even wanting), to retire and enjoy the fruits of an entire lifetime of labor and experiences. But Lord knows that I don’t want to be someone in my 80s, still working everyday, trying to retrofit myself to times long ago passed and still yet increasingly unwilling to bow out gracefully.

Having lived this long, I’ve certainly witnessed the unpleasantness of senior executives and/or elected officials who would sooner die in office and tarnish their own sterling life legacies, than to properly mentor and anoint their successors and elect to willingly retire from service, while maintaining an honorable emeritus capacity. I have also sorrowfully witnessed the harmful implications of their own narcissism manifesting in a general disdain for their years of faithful service and at least in one case, an elected official was forced into retirement under the suspicion of scandal and his position (once revered as an esteemed, legendary and coveted space), is now being held by a charlatan with deep enough pockets to have purchased his capacity of unearned privilege, power and political influence. So, clearly the alternative to learning from experience and allowing wisdom to reign supreme is disastrous.

And while I’m far from my time as a young person, when an opinionated outlook and impatient, fiercely fiery personality was my general go to persona; I am still cognizant of my coveted position of leadership and experience and keenly conscious of my obligation to increasingly pay it forward, through targeted, meaningful mentorship’s (I actually hate this word and all of its negative white supremacist context and implications), so I will elect to embrace its African-Centered, wholistic reference of being blessed to be a Godmother to many. As this is something I was blessed to learn from and am fortunately still seeing it being modeled by my own dear Mother. Mostly, I have mellowed and matured to the extent that I opt to quietly observe, listen, and watch (almost) as much as I speak 😂. And as my outspoken personality sort of naturally takes a backseat as I age and acquire wisdom – I can certainly attest to having learned so much more!

Likewise, as educators many of us are guilty of having this sort of myopic, tunnel vision where our subject area expertise and/or personal knowledge base and belief systems intersect with our instruction. As a school administrator, I have seen this in practice and intervened more times than I can count. I have even blogged about the seemingly well meaning, highly educated and yet thoroughly racist, elementary teacher (who had formerly taught in a gifted school), but who regarded her role as an inner city, Title I school teacher as no more than a babysitting job, with which she could defy the norms of preparation and high expectations and merely spend her days reading to her students on the carpeted floor area, she had affectionately termed as “the beach”! Tuhh, if you don’t get your ass up and teach, there’s gonna be trouble. And trouble there was, until she elected to remove her biased, terminated ass from our midst rather than to pursue her baseless wrongful termination case. In any event, I’ve come to realize that there’s so much more value in learning and growing in continuous fashion and in maintaining healthy levels of humility as it regards all of the things we do not yet know.

I can only hope that as I continue to approach teaching, learning and life in this my 28th year as an educator, that I do so with a new set of experienced eyes, not fully jaded by life’s disappointments, but still much more knowing than I was even 20 years ago . . . I would love to morph into the kind of mother, teacher, partner, sister and friend who is as gracious a person as I imagine myself to be. I want to exude love, light and the delicious wisdom from experience in every professional development training experience, college course or interaction with our high school Scholar Ambassador’s. I want to take my wins and innumerable blessings as a testament to God’s ability to somehow use me as a vessel and not as a reflection of my own brilliance and hard work, though certainly I’m blessed with benefits of both and a tireless work ethic to match. But truly, to God be the Glory for all the things that go right and may I be grounded and careful enough to learn from my mistakes, losses and disappointments.

Mostly, I honestly do appreciate and long for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. As I prepare to embrace my coveted role as the elder sister who traditionally hosts our immediate family for holiday get togethers, may this Labor Day and official start of yet another school year bring smiles, memorable moments and time for thoughtful reflection and optimistic hope for the year to come. Amen-Ra, Asé and so it is.

Thank you for reading!