The Joys of Summer Bundled Up in One

You have everything you need for complete peace and total happiness right now.           -Wayne W. Dyer

As I am thoroughly revived through sunshine, food, and relaxation in The Town Where Time Does Not Reside, I’ve finally found some time to process my feelings and thoughts on my summer spent in the Bay Area.  It was a hard decision to make to go out there in the first place. I wasn’t going to be able to sublet my room in Miami, and I’d have to rent a place in the Bay as well as get my plane tickets and everything else during that time. But I got a job that I knew I would love and I had a strong feeling inside of me that I was meant to spend an extended period of time being in the Bay and living the West Coast life. So I thought about it, prayed about it, and made an extensive budget sheet. At the end of the day, It boiled down to how happy would I be there. I knew I needed to leave Miami for some time to really be able to reflect on the year and move forward, and I knew that I loved my friends out there, many who I had not seen in 2 years. It didn’t take much convincing after that, as I signed my contract with College Track, bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco, and joyously texted all my friends in the region.

It could not have been a better summer.

My roommate Cameron noted that he believed I had the best summer of anyone who has ever had a summer ever. His words are pretty close to the truth. I’ve always said that home revives me after long series of being ‘on the move,’ and Miami is the site of work that I feel fulfilled by. But the Bay Area…it was like a completion–I felt holistically vibrant in all aspects of my life. There would be times I would be on my bus ride with a book in my hand, crossing the bay, and then rest my head on the window, breathing out a sigh of contentment. Everything was right–I had everything I needed for complete peace and happiness.

Now, there were obviously people I missed: good friends in Miami such as Thecla and Xavier, and always missing my family. But it’s been a long time since I believed I could have everything I loved in a nice, neat bundle that I could carry in my arms from place to place. Life isn’t a perfect formula, it’s a careful balancing act of being there and being ‘there.’

What it boils down to is this summer had the perfect combination of meaningful work, a gorgeous environment, friends I have longed to see since graduation, and roommates that made me feel welcome from the moment I stepped foot into their home. I even had the complete happiness of having my sister visit me for a holiday weekend. The Bay just felt like a place I could carve out a life for myself. It was one of the most permanent feeling places I have ever collided with.

So even though my life cannot be packed up and bundled and taken everywhere with me, I can bundle the joy bestowed upon me during six remarkable and energizing weeks in the Bay. I am so grateful for my College Track team, epic nights of sake bombs, dancing the night away, Uber adventures, amazing craft beers, bowling nights, kicking Pramod’s behind at Mario Kart, the most dedicated scavenger hunt team, trivia nights, Cream ice cream sandwiches, movie nights with my roommates, great food, dinner parties, naps on grassy hills, a million sleepovers, long brunch waits, tranquil transbay bus rides, comedic relief on the Bart and on the streets, liberals, a renewed investment in education reform, 12 hour unexpected reunion with a best friend 2 years overdue, and so much more.

And to TiffJanePoppBitaAseemPramodAlexRichardAlexTracyKimZehnderSeemaStaceyWillaWillTracyMichaelMelodyJuliusLiaSeanJenJessicaMikeMichaelAkashGabby and all friends old and new, my heart bursts with love from you and to you…I’ll be back. To Cameron, Rudy, and Adha, I’ll always be grateful for the warmth you showed me and the laughs we had being your summer roommate. You allowed me to enter your lives and I will miss you terribly.

I have fully embraced the gifts that only summer can bring. And as summer draws its last breaths, and I prepare next week to drive back to Miami, I relish a few more lazy afternoons under the sun and moon and stars of a Town Where Time Does Not Reside.

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The Gift of a Day, The Promise of Hope

I have a younger brother. He’s now 21, but at one point he was 17, and wore hoodies, and snacked on Skittles just like Trayvon Martin. Being an older sibling is a very special role in one’s life. I constantly “meddle” in my brother’s affairs, wondering who he is dating, what classes he’s taking, who he is hanging out with. And then there’s the fear and worry that sometimes grips me when I’m faced with harder realities of places my role cannot help, things beyond my control as an older sibling. The fear that leads me to warn in a rushed voice that he must always be wary, always watchful and mindful because there were those who had the world in the palms of their hand and he could so easily lose everything..and sometimes that could be his life.

My brother and I overlapped one year in high school, my senior year his introduction to high school. It was during that year that things began to become more apparent and real to me the perilous roads in life he would have to traverse. Incidents occurred that had me try and assert my my older sibling ways, trying to protect and shelter, while making sense of situations that made little to none at all. I hate to throw out the sentiment that it’s “unfair,” but sometimes that is all I can think when who you are isolates you and makes you a “threat” wherever you go. It’s like Brent Staples states in his essay on black men and public space, that he with his mere presence had the ability to alter public spaces in ugly ways. Trayvon Martin apparently created such perverse ugliness on a sidewalk that February evening…so much so that the person his presence so angered took his life. George Zimmerman’s not guilty sentencing hurts my very soul because it flashes me back several years, first though being how easily Trayvon Martin could have been my younger brother.

Survival? What will it take in this type of environment? Earlier in the year I read with my students an article entitled “Trayvon Martin, My Son, and the Black Male Code.” My students really identified with the author’s words:

As I explained it, the Code goes like this:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.

Some people have to prove who they are. It’s not enough that you put your clothes on and go about your business, but you have to go one step further in making sure that you do not appear as a threat to others, who in fact, are the threat to you. That’s the paradox–the real threat comes from those around our young black men, who profile them around each corner they come around.

“America the beautiful. Who are you beautiful for?” Jonathan Kozol once etched in one of his books on racial inequality in American schools. It’s times like this the question creeps into the forefront of my mind. There is no ‘post-racial’ America. We can’t feed ourselves the lie that because someone who looks like Trayvon Martin is in the White House that suddenly all things are fair. So then how do we survive in a place we were not meant to survive? How then do we prosper when laws are made that are not supposed to protect all of us? A friend posted about how she doesn’t know how our ancestors did it–watch beatings and profiling and discrimination and yet get no trials. How did they continue to believe in a better America? And how do we continue to believe in that dream on days like this? I would tell her that it is because we continue to choose this as our home, and the place we have worked unacknowledged to build it and help make it what it is today. As long as there are people striving toward the small victories that continue to reshape and remake America, there’s enough to believe in. We have to. We ALL have to.

Because the truth is, this happens every day. We just care about it once in awhile when it make the headlines.

So what then do I say to

Antron

Darren

Alejandro

Michael

Titus

Anthony

Terrance

Michael D.

Jawan

Montrel

Ladarious

Ladarius

Marc

Y’Airnes

Reynold

Rashad

Jonathan

Regimen

Derek

Freddie

Dimitrious

Keir

Sherrod

Hassan

And all the other beautiful souls of young black men I have had the honor to teach or mentor throughout the years? Because I can see their accusatory eyes turning to me, stabbing at my heart with silent cries of how I told them if they worked hard and focused on their education that they would be successful and prosper…and survive. I don’t want to John Henry them–a case of someone telling you that whatever you want in life is yours no matter your place in life or race, etc.  and then when they hit their first obstacle, they fall apart because no one warned them of the Zimmermans of the world.

So I’d tell them that yes, I told you that, but that’s why I’m also compelled to tell you this is why you must do all that you can with every blessed minute and hour and day that you have because for you, no matter how brilliant and talented and promising you are, someone can take it away from you at any given moment…any February evening while you’re walking in your hoodie and holding a bag of Skittles. For you who knows that each day is a gift, you are Trayvon Martins memorial, because you have another day. Hold on to that.

The words, “I don’t know I can’t”

This summer I have been working as an ELA teacher for the non-profit College Tracks in San Francisco. The premise behind the organization is that taking students from traditionally under-resourced communities and giving them added academic and personal assistance throughout their four years of high school and then making sure to keep track of them and help them through the four years of college will ensure that they not only go to the college they want to, but that they finish it and become productive and inspiring citizens through the process. I have been nothing short of inspired by the stories I have read from College Track students or the ones who are three, four years into the program and I hear all that they have been able to do because of the program. College Tracks turns every ‘I want to’ into an ‘I did it.’

Today during GRIT class, the character building session of the program, the topic was resiliency. The students were reading speeches that college students had written about times in which they had shown resiliency and what it had come to mean to them. One of the speeches really struck me and stuck with me throughout the class. It was a young man who had gone to Cal and was writing about raking leaves with his dad and wondering why he would “choose” the job that he had. He went on to write:

…I also had to study twice as hard because I walked into my first semester at college and opened Plato’s “allegory of the cave” for the first time, while everyone had already read it 3 times it seemed, and got Cs on my first papers compared to the As I was used to in high school. So much was new to me that wasn’t new to other students, and I had to play a game of “catch up.” I knew that I did not start my education at Cal on an equal playing field when faced with other more affluent and privileged students, and that the root of this inequality was not in me or in something I did wrong, or that I didn’t work hard enough or prepare enough for college, but that it was in our society…feeling a little lost, behind, and like I didn’t belong… But…very appreciative of what the sacrifice of my parents and the struggles of my community did for me: make me unbreakable.

 

I felt drawn to the words of this student. Drawn to the fact that I am a girl who lives a wavelength of high frequency. My low points are very low, but they give way to high points, and through that the birth fo my resiliency. I remember well the faces of people who didn’t seem to quite grasp why my father had two jobs, the fact that only around 40% of a graduating class from my high school went on to higher education, or the “incidences” one is privy too when they are racially different from those around them. I know it is not everyone’s life and I would never want it to be. Everyone gains their wisdom in various forms. But for me, I am the sum of all the strange and terrible things that happen in the trough of my wavelength. I am Delia’s Law that things that don’t happen to other people have happened to me or will happen to me. I don not say that to call it upon myself, but rather as an acknowledgement that in those times have been shaped an unbreakable spirit. I don’t know I can’t.

I didn’t know it was a big deal that the lone black girl from rural Cascade could be the first in her district to go to Harvard. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to go there and thrive. However, I did know that people had more than me and seemed to be starting with a lifetime of extra book knowledge and AP courses and counselors who always believed they could go to college. But I didn’t know that just because that was true that I couldn’t still work harder and get just as far along. It’s like I said: I don’t know I can’t.

I say this to my students, that the type of strength given to one who has faced adversities and beat the odds is the type of strength built to endure a lifetime if you let it. Resiliency has shaped my life at every corner, and today in GRIT class I realized again why infusing it into curriculum is so important to me. Believing that one could turn troughs into resilient steps to stand on until the crest of the wave is reached may not be the end all of inequalities, but it’s certainly a fortified beginning. And as one who has ridden the wave time and time again, I know this to be true.