When Red Lights Signal Hope Not Warnings

I remember sitting down to write one of my blog posts last year and being inspired by the likes of some of my friends who had really taken a reflective look on the jobs they had post graduation and realized that they were not happy, and made the necessary changes to pursue what would, in fact, begin to fulfill their life. I have always admired my friend Elizabeth Tang. During college, we became friends during the second half of our time at Harvard. I was the ‘strange’ black girl who had joined the Chinese Students Association, and she was the bubbly dancer and feminist. That’s how we met. And as our friendship has evolved over the years from Friday meals at noon in Dunster Dining Hall to summers spent in NYC and long emails from across oceans and time zones, my admiration for Elizabeth has only grown.

Last year, Elizabeth embodied the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “It’s never too late….to be whoever you want to be.” She left her comfortable investment banker life in New York City to pursue a more uncertain path working for AAWC in India. AAWC works with the daughters of the women who work in the largest of India’s red light district in order to help them break the cycle of trafficking into the sex industry. I could not have been more proud when she told me her plans to uproot her life to India and start this new journey for a cause that has always been dear to her heart since I have known her. And I was even more overjoyed to hear that she was staying for another year. 

As Elizabeth has inspired me during low times teaching with poetry such as “The Art of Making Possible,” so has she been inspiring all around her both home and abroad (her new home) with her passion and convictions. Elizabeth doesn’t allow passive sexism to cross her path without knocking it down. She’s not afraid to voice her opinion on the things that matter, the things that drive our world toward being a little better one day at a time. So what I’m doing is asking you to help her as she continues to pursue a world filled with hope and possibility for young girls in the heart of India’s largest red light district. Please click on the link below to find out more, hear from Elizabeth herself, and consider donating to this very important cause:

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And Mom Always Told Me Half Full Glasses Can Still Fill the Soul

It’s been a rough week. And after each day I thought things would get a little easier, but something harder came along the way. It’s one of those trough periods of my life, and this one is especially low. But today I saw that glimmer of tides to turn. One simple sign reminding me that God is still in control and is the master storyteller. Even after years of practicing, it’s still hard for me to let complete control go. But I’m releasing all the pressure and stress up in one bundled up prayer to someone who knows much better what to do with all of it than I do. And as Thanksgiving comes around, I know even when the glass threatens to be half empty, that I will be thankful that half full glasses can say to the soul, “Even when it feels like there is no one holding me. Be still, my soul. He is.” 

“She Turned Her Can’ts into Cans and Her Dreams into Plans”

I remember distinctly two days during my senior year of high school. Well, there were more than those two I remember, but these two were linked. The first day was the day that I came into my bedroom and found a Harvard application on my desk. I knew immediately it was my mother who had put it there, and I picked it up to start flipping through it. I won’t lie. I was a bit overwhelmed and intimidated. But what was a more powerful feeling was knowing that someone believed that I could do more than what was offered in my isolated corner of the world. Someone cared enough to think beyond that one stoplight to years of a successful future. And that one day turned into the second day I remember so well: the day I got my acceptance letter. All the hard work, and the plans, and the boldness to to do what others had not around me had led to that moment. And there’s no greater sense of accomplishment when you see all you put in opening doors.

Usually on my birthday I reflect through a series of numerical countdowns on what I accomplished over the past year and what I hope to do in this coming year. I’m doing something a little different this year. This year I’m asking that instead of any facebook posts or phone calls or texts, that you will simply take 2 minutes out of your day and consider donating to help my students make this college tour of Boston a reality. I know I would not be who I am at age 25 without the support and investment of others.

So I’ll end on this note. Included here is a vide of a student who I am now teaching for the second year, Tyanna. When Tyanna was a freshman, she was fine with being average. She didn’t want to take honors classes because they were too hard and she was fine making B’s and cruising by in life. But over the last year and a half, Tyanna has changed because of the investment and belief in herself that I have worked hard to instill in her. Now Tyanna wants to take honors and AP classes, she pushes her reading and writing levels, is cognizant of what she needs to do to make her dreams into plans, and wants to one day go to Harvard. When I look at her I’m filled with pride for who she is becoming and how she is taking responsibility for her life. She told me before she didn’t think something like that was possible, but now she’s starting to think she can do it.

And she can.

http://www.gofundme.com/54oa7c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXfOfme6apo

That First Encounter

In my teacher book club we are reading Beverly Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I find the book club an interesting experiment in who among my fellow corps members are well versed in talking about topics of race and ethnicity and education and who are trying to understand the concepts, and most interestingly, those who are navigating their own known or unknown preconceptions. In yesterday’s discussion we began by sharing stories of our first encounter with race. A few of us braved sharing with the group, including myself, telling a story I’ve shared countless of times: my second year in school, refusing to give up my seat and being asked when did all the African monkeys start getting let inside the school. I recounted how in the moment I was overwhelmed by my feelings. A small girl at age 7, I didn’t know how quite to respond or the entire implications of what he was saying (Africa was a far concept from my mind, as well as the connection to monkeys) but I knew that I should be angry at what he said, and I certainly felt hurt and ashamed at what I could tell even at a young age was something ‘different’ about myself from the rest of those on the bus. I remember then telling my mom about it and watching at how sad she looked as I stammered through the story. Looking back now I can only imagine the length of the work it takes to be a parent in those moments of reaffirming one’s child’s humanity and worth, as well as navigating through the complex maze of race relations, both scientific and social.

But what struck me the most about those who shared in book club was how vivid the memory was for each person. They, like myself, could remember almost the exact date, what they wore, what they ate, the names of others involved, etc. It was like yesterday because despite the fact one may try to write the terrible things that happen or are said in sand instead of stone, one still remembers the process of the writing.

This moment especially stuck with me because of an incident that occurred last week. I was out with my friend Thecla and her friend from home in South Beach. We were enjoying our night, dancing to the music and laughing the night away when a man close to our age barged through our circle. I put my hand on his arm to gently steer him away from running into me. In that moment he looked at me with eyes that were filled with such disgust and hate and sneered at me that he ‘didn’t like black girls.’ I was struck by the slap of words in the face, and had to calm Thecla down from going after him. He wasn’t worth the time nor the pursuit. At almost 25 such human actions sadly do not surprise me nor do they confuse me the way it had that day on the school bus almost twenty years ago. But the words hung in the air hours later because for the briefest of moments he had brought me back to the rush of feelings of younger days. For a suspended second, I was back to that first encounter.