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Strength and Brokenness in #BlackGirlMagic

Part of my personality profile as a strong woman has been my ability to tap into innate gifts. I am intelligent, loving, nurturing, effortlessly optimistic and spiritually centered. As the second eldest of four children and the eldest daughter and granddaughter (on my maternal side), I have always held positions of power within the family structure. Both my leadership abilities and my future career as a teacher were predestined and honed early on in life, as my older brother (a true saint) and our mutual friends-all older boys, allowed me to lead them in occasional sandbox school lessons and boss them around as the teacher and/or the mother (smile). Despite the physically demanding sports or rustle and bustle games the boys preferred to engage in, because my brother and our friends humored me in my youthful delusions of grandeur, later in life, when everything was effortlessly charmed (save a broken ankle and my parents’ separation in my early teens), I thoroughly expected that life overall, would be a dream. Suffice it to say, when my rose colored dream was shattered by the grayish-blue reality that is: broken promises, a broken heart, a broken marriage, seemingly lifelong struggles with weight management, overcompensating for a non-existent personal life by engaging in dangerous patterns of over-working and tackling each of these extremes with grace, charm, a ready smile, a willingness to people-please and an impressive portfolio of being the strong, go-to woman . . . who knew that I was setting myself up for an inevitable fall? But fall I have, and more than once, but with each hard lesson comes some revealing truths. I am the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic, yet I am strong in my brokenness.

Even with all of my strengths and admitted flaws, I am not unique. I am that well pulled together sister that is easily recognizable. Trust me, if you are not a strong woman/man yourself, you have certainly encountered one. We are known by our outer beauty and charm, unmistakable confidence and fierce independence. We are characterized by our successful careers (and often ascend to positions of leadership in a wide variety of fields). We are noted by: our active civic engagement or service, perpetual goal-setting and an articulate ability to express ourselves with ease. We are either happily married with a family and seamlessly juggling the dual demands of nurturing both home and work, with relative ease. Or, as referenced in my case, we are adept at overcompensating for the lapses in our personal lives by exerting great energies towards being sanctimoniously other centered and/or professionally driven (often to a fault). Friends, family and colleagues gravitate to us for advice, support and wisdom and we fulfill the voids of others as best as we humanly can. Other observable characteristics of those with a strong personality type which also appear to be unique to the strong women in our midst include, recognizing and nurturing the growth and development of others while mindlessly neglecting our own needs until met with a personal crisis. Whether referred to as superwoman with a classic type ‘A’ personality or as a self-titled Queen – we wear our titles of: wife, mother, sister, executive, academic, leader, teacher, pastor, coach, athlete, scholar, mentor and guide with pride. Until it all falls apart that is. And when things inevitably fall down and our dreams are irrevocably shattered by the harsh realities of life, it’s what we do with the brokenness that remains, which truly matters.

You see, in spite of giving off the distinct impression that we’ve got it going on (because quite honestly, in many ways we do), there’s an inner core of vulnerability crying out to be affirmed in even the strongest woman/man among us. The harsh truth is that not one of us has lived without having been hurt. Now in my 40s, I have experienced more disappointments than can easily be shared in a single blog post, however an all-encompassing book meant to share my lessons learned thus far, is a forthcoming work in progress. Ultimately, it is what we do with that hurt, the broken pieces, that makes all the difference. The key is not to ignore our own inner needs as a means to maintain our pristine image(s) of strength – but to reveal our personality flaws, our gaps in character development and our mistakes; so that our very lives can be an example of our countless blessings, in spite of the inevitable storms of life. When our hurts multiply and are compounded by the pressures of daily life, we are reduced to each walking through life as broken vessels, unable to pour out of a full cup. So when we wonder, aloud, what is wrong with the world today – we must look inwardly and conclude, perhaps it is me/us too?! I, for one, have learned the hard way that I cannot maintain the unrealistic image of perpetual strength, joy, having it all together and am even more hard pressed to heal the hurts of others when I have not nurtured my own broken pieces. In many ways, we are a collective of hurt people trying to serve others. But, if we are unable to ease our own suffering, there’s little hope that we can live out our true potential, much less serve the needs of others. So yes, while I am admittedly a strong woman, with soooo many virtues and an inherited skill set of #BlackGirlMagic born of generations of strong women – I have learned to be strong in my brokenness. With age comes wisdom and my strength is now evident in my ability to say no, prioritize self-care and to increasingly shatter the facade of having it all together.

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From Divine Suffering: An Imperfect Masterpiece

For some of us, life’s lessons are far more painful than poetic and just plain hard. As for me, there has been no gentle nudges, soft whispers or idyllic narratives to accompany me along my life’s journey – only harsh realities, and sledgehammer wielding obstacles to litter my otherwise ‘charmed’ existence. I promise you that there is truth to the belief that “you don’t look like what you’ve been through”, because my broad smile has the capacity to mask a multitude of hurt. Yet through it all, because each trial has been a profound lesson, I have emerged as an admittedly scarred, and complex person with a powerful testimony and unique gifts to offer the world: an Imperfect Masterpiece.

Though it may appear cliché, I can honestly say (and believe scores of others will agree), that bad things really do happen to good people. It seems when bad things repeatedly occupy residence in life, they exist for a reason beyond logic and worldly interpretation, but embody a divine purpose reserved for those for whom suffering frames powerful growth and required intervention. My hardest life lessons, have also been a universe balancing testament to an equal overabundance of good fortune. Strange as it seems, there was always more infinite love, light and purpose-driven focus on my part only after having experienced unimaginable emotional and/or physical pain.

My purpose-driven pain portfolio includes: early childhood trauma which contributed to underlying self-image issues, a sum total of three painfully debilitating orthopedic surgeries (the first in early adolescence and the most recent just last year), a seemingly irreparable broken heart from spousal infidelities (prompting an abrupt end to my marriage), and a rather typical litany of ‘hard knocks’ which are all too common to the plight of other Black women: overexposure to abject forms of both racism and sexism, single motherhood, sole breadwinner interruptions to employment, sexual harassment at the hands of an abusive male supervisor, suffering merciless fat-shaming – both socially and professionally, not to mention the annoying stereotype of being labeled an ‘angry Black woman’ when I have deigned to be outspoken about injustice in any form. Essentially, I can readily identify with having fallen, repeatedly and literally. Except with God’s unrelenting grace and the ever-present support of my family, I have somehow summoned the strength to get back up and to attempt to put the broken pieces of myself back together, as skillfully as orthopedic surgeons have done. The result? My own unique form of an Imperfect Masterpiece.

The priceless, teachable moments of each of these unscripted and woefully unwelcome trials have inspired: impactful truths about relationships, increased patience, deep spiritual insight and the mental clarity that one can only obtain after having survived a life-altering tragedy (and lived to tell about it). Perhaps the most moving component of my testimony of imperfection, is that I have come to understand that my experience is not an exception to the rule but rather an optimistic exemplar of a universal pattern. The seemingly ‘bad things’ which curiously seem to befall countless ‘good, benevolent’ people…exist not as a divine punishment (as organized religion and some enlightened people may tout), but rather as a non-negotiable, sacred appointment to fulfill a task more closely aligned with our uniquely personalized calling in life.

The concept of ‘the rose that grew from concrete’ may be foreign to some who were born with privilege, are on their divine-right paths and have never experienced life’s detours, misfortunes or imperfections. However for those who, like me, are able to acknowledge the presence of an all-too familiar life pattern of heart wrenching pain, loss, and missteps; this message will ring true. Rest assured, you are not alone in your experience of an imperfect journey wrought with hard life lessons. What’s more, the absolute last thing you may need to hear – during periods of acute pain – are reminders to “be positive”, “attract your good”, or to “create another reality through the power of your affirmations and thoughts”. These admonishments though often well-meaning, are often ill timed and received as offensive, pollyanna poppycock which may indeed have legitimate merit but are too often taken out of context or preached in the midst of a purposeful, divine suffering – which must run its full course in order to ultimately emerge in the context of a powerful lesson.

The best, non-offensive advice I can offer others in the midst of a trial is to just recognize that: this too, will pass. It’s important to understand that though the depth of your pain is real, the heartache is tied to a purpose or lesson and is merely a natural, unavoidable component of life. After the initial shock of grief, utter sadness and profound loss there is an inner knowing of the need to change paths or to learn a transformational life lesson. We, the chosen lot of Imperfect Masterpieces, must endure this pain and survive it in order to later inherit the spoils of war.

In my case, my surgeries have blessed me to enjoy life-altering periods of seclusion and a profound alignment with the plight of the disabled; thus substantively impacting my work on behalf of those oppressed. Prior to the abrupt dissolution of my apparent fairytale marriage – I gave birth to a literal Goddess who gives my life meaning in the most profound sense. And finally, the breadth of more than two decades of divine-right work in education has yielded years of fulfilling classroom teaching, successful leadership tenures as an A.Principal, Principal, Chief Academic Officer and most recently, I have achieved an ultimate goal of earning an Ed.D in transformational leadership. My unique, circuitous path admittedly empowers my current pursuits in an affirming and powerful Educate to Liberate model devoted to countering widespread mis-education. If my personal testimony can serve as a testament to anyone, please embrace your status as an Imperfect Masterpiece recognizing that we must allow the personalized colors and patterns of the select ‘bad things’ in our lives to paint the beautiful canvas and craft the unique tapestry of our divinely fulfilling and purpose-driven lives.

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Rites of Passage: In Celebration of Our Daughters

As I welcome my daughter’s 19th year of solar returns, I pause to “Give Thanks” for my most revered role of: Mother. Among such titles as daughter, sister, wife, friend, educator, scholar, activist, writer, Goddess, Queen and soon-to-be Dr…still, nothing is, nor ever has been quite as fulfilling, (for indeed all else pales in comparison), to the esteemed rank of motherhood.

This year my annual, sacred and Rites of Passage inspired tribute to my daughter is rendered somewhat more public – because of this blog designed to Educate to Liberate. Moreover, what is natural to some, might be instructive to others – so I willingly share a portion of my unique philosophy of maternal experience as a means to exchange ‘best practices’ and to otherwise challenge familiar, Euro-centered, seemingly shallow traditions and norms accompanied with the sacred Mother-daughter relationship.

Namely, many conscious Black women don’t regard the title and responsibility of Mother (purposeful capital ‘M’) lightly, and this fact alone speaks volumes. On the contrary, I, like my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmothers before me, recognize the divine presence of ‘Loyalty, got Royalty inside my DNA’. And so, as an intentional embodiment of God and the divine I Am… I am proud to be a Black Woman: Mother of Creation, Progenitor of planet Earth, and Queen of the Universe. This status is a reminder that it’s incumbent upon me to teach and (most importantly), to lead by example.

Thus, as is our family’s personalized interpretation of traditional Pan-African cultural custom, I exercise the right to annually salute the Rites of Passage significance of my young adult daughter’s solar return with expressions much more meaningful than that which our resources can afford. A traditional, ROP acknowledgement of one’s birth is to exchange authentic gifts of the heart. Such endowments are not expended or measured in wealth, but are priceless all the same in that they reflect the insight, instructions and literal wisdom of the ages that Mothers are duly obligated to impart to our beloved daughters. It is important to establish an annual practice to cherish and commemorate the sacred Goddess Consciousness of our daughters throughout their lifetime(s) – because the world is comprised of far too many young women suffering from low self esteem and without a knowledge of self thus dooming future generations.

Nurturing, lessons and love don’t automatically cease at age 16, 18 or even 21. Nurturing our Goddess consciousness is a lifelong endeavor-so I am proud to celebrate my daughter. As a pertinent case in point, in prior years our ROP-inspired occasions and gifts of the heart have encompassed: poetry, sunrise meditation near a body of water, sacred women circles, books, chocolate dipped strawberries, unique trips and stay-cations, narrative/video tributes, handmade jewelry and waist beads, ceremonial henna, piercings (not automatically bestowed at birth, but rather earned and gifted beginning at age 7)…the list is endless, but the objective is abundantly clear. So long as Mothers substantively sow into and celebrate our daughters via time-honored, culturally significant and notable traditions, then we perpetuate a legacy of strong women who too have ‘Loyalty, got Royalty inside our DNA’ for countless generations yet to come.

Ultimately, our solar returns are meant to foster an increased knowledge of God/self and to bathe one in the infinite love and light, which will divinely center their life’s purpose and order one’s steps for the entire year ahead. And when as daughters, we are no longer blessed to have a Mother’s physical presence to bestow these sacred traditions and gifts, we are then entitled and divinely encouraged to engage in ritual libations, to ensure one’s readiness for the path ahead. So this year, prior to embarking on a long anticipated spiritual retreat and commencing with an annual narrative or video tribute – I pause to publicly salute my ‘Warlike, Revolutionary Blessing’ of a daughter and to give thanks for the divine light that is Jendayi Nkenge. Ase’!

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Embracing Your Goddess Consciousness

“I found God in myself, and I loved her…I loved her fiercely” – Ntozake Shange’

As an educator, a common adage is that everything we ever needed to know we learned in Kindergarten.  Undoubtedly, many of us have heard this phrase and perhaps even smiled in agreement – but I submit to you that indeed, everything any of us ever needed to know “we were actually born with.”

Truly, absolutely every, single thing we need to know is already written upon our genetic codes and resides within us – subconsciously.  In fact, all of what we need in order to thrive and prosper on every level is not a popular “secret” that we must accidentally discover, but is an inherent ‘knowing’ which is deeply embedded within our sub-conscious mind, body, spirit, soul – and must merely be tapped into, re-awakened and activated to empower us today.

Contrary to popular belief, our gift to the universe is not the fact that we merely exist, add beauty and value to the environment or even in our admirable performance of good deeds (an honorable task which drives many of the enlightened amongst us, on a daily basis).  Arguably, our gift to humanity is not evident in our level of formal education, our jobs, spiritual piety or even our children – who are indeed blessings but come through us in a very real sense rather than from us; and are therefore, here to fulfill their own divine destiny.

Rather, in my honest and humble opinion, I truly believe that the only gift that any of us could ever offer the creator, universe or humankind is the meaningful ‘knowing’ of who we are from a God/Goddess consciousness and standpoint.  This consciousness is obtained through extensive self-knowledge, a courageous willingness to strengthen our own weaknesses (while simultaneously sharing of our strengths) and actualization of our oneness with the divine.  This knowing inspires the subsequent fulfillment of our very unique, God-given purpose(s), within our respective life trajectories.

Alas, although I readily admit to being a continual ‘work in progress’, formal adoption of an intentional Goddess consciousness has helped to bring me progressively closer to the fulfillment of my universal goals…and by embracing God in yourself and LOVING her fiercely, you can similarly bear witness to a life path of divinely ordered steps.