Finding Flow

Some days feel erratic. There’s a little bit of something here, a little bit of something there, and time feels all over. It’s hard to find solid blocks of time to sit in a moment –to relish the essence that is being completely and totally rooted in that second, that place, that feeling.

I miss those.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention describes “flow” as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.”People master an art or a craft through the type of flow that engrosses them. And I think about the last time I felt that type of focused energy. I’ve barely had time to write in the last few months, something I am trying to ease my way back into through this writing challenge (which I have not been succeeding at) and other passion projects. I think the last time I felt like my entire being was involved in an activity was last July when I was finishing edits for the co-written book I have been working on, so that we could enter it into a book competition. 

I had dreamt of this book for some time. My year at Cambridge writing my master’s thesis was also a time of flow. And it was also a time of immense change and realizations. It was the type of year that you need to find a way to represent and commemorate. For me, it would be this book. But I couldn’t and did not want to tell the story alone, so I reached out to a few other women of color I knew who I trusted to be in communion with. I think about our book often. I reread chapters often, the words soothing me and reminding me that I have words that long to be dripped from ink to paper. That in the telling there is power. I spent hours editing our work, going line by line asking questions of the authors, asking questions of myself. I lived those pages and those stories over and over again. I feel as though I know these women in very special ways. Through the flow of editing, I was helping memories dance off the pages and hopefully into the lives of future readers. I felt like these stories had to be told, and they had to be told soon. I did not know then what November would bring.

Winters not only freeze the land, they sometimes freeze us to the places we are at. As spring comes, fingers thaw and once again fly across keyboards and papers to create and recall the stories of healing and of thriving. The stories of life. I hope this spring brings that flow back, so I can once more use my writing to help myself and others say the words on our hearts.

How to Get to the Other End of a Dark Tunnel

People often ask me why I research black men and not black women. The answer to that is long and complicated, but it boils down to doing the work of what would be so close to my own life day in and day out, would be to live that life twice. I am so grateful and blessed by so much in my life, but there are many parts outside my control that do not need to be repeated.

It has been a painful year. It has been filled with tears and raging anger that bubbles up at times when it threatens to swalllow me whole. It has been a year of seeing some I love come undone by the news headlines and the carefully planned stripping away of black bodies, black presence, and black voice. They silence those who say what they don’t want to hear, and dead people certainly don’t tell their stories. I’ve inherited most of the calm, contemplative strength of my mother. It’s sometimes all that keeps me together, but I can’t quite press it down sometimes because I don’t do politness for the sake of other people’s comfort anymore.

I’d find myself in the midst of large groups of happy people and force myself to smile, because I felt like I should. White comfort often leads to black isolation, and I decided I would rather be silent in those situations than branded. But some labels are worn better and braver than others.

monachopsis: the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place

I have this thing about me that draws me to spaces and places that weren’t created for me. But I go there anyway because as token and as invisible as those places beg me to be, I can’t be erased. No, I was here. I leave my mark in the ways that I find how. You can’t forget something or someone that refuses to be forgotten, and to play by those rules.

Interviewing the eight young men for my case study opened up wounds that have never quite healed. It reminded me of the pain I feel deep in my heart when I think about my students I left for the ivory towers of a Cambridge graduate degree. There are a lot of days that felt hollow about that, but there would always come a reminder in the form of friend’s writing or conversation or an article that shook me back to the reality that the work I am doing is necessary. Not because I have convinced myself of this, but because in the journey of liberation, there needs to be liberatory practices within academia as well.

I have been encouraged in this journey too by amazing mentors, from my tutors and professors in undergraduate to Hliary, who was the supervisor I needed here. Hilary took a bright-eyed but cautious woman in October and helped her get to July without making compromises on her research. I remember one conversation we had after I had written an especially theoretically worded section of my second essay. She looked at me and talked about how sometimes when people come from a disadvantaged background and find themselves in places such as this, they are seduced into the rhetoric of the ivory towers that writing must be a particular way, but in reality that writing only does the job of shutting others out of academia. Oftentimes it was the ones who the research claimed to be for, but she eloquently spoke to me about the type of research that is done with the communities the research is about and not about them. The type of research that begins conversations that includes everyone. She never used my name, but I knew all of what she was saying was for me, and I have never appreciated her more. At an education conference in Chicago, a black male academic reminded a room full of aspiring academics of colour that when you make compromises when you want to be a compassionate researcher, working within communities and putting their trust and relationship with you as your top priority, you never stop making those compromises. He told the story of how he took hip-hop out of his final dissertation and even though it won many prizes, he felt it would have been even better–and more him–with it. Being in academia as a black woman is an act of resistance in itself. Being a black woman in academia who is there to make a statement that genius has many faces and mannerisms is revolutionary.

When I began editing my thesis, I told the people I gave it to look over that I would not compromise on the findings. I refused to cut the part of my work that came from the participants themselves. I had made a promise to them to tell their story as honestly as I could, and I would keep that promise.

How do you get to the other end of a dark tunnel with your head and your heart intact? The answer is you don’t. At least not by yourself. I thank God every day for flows of survivance, and for friends here and abroad who make me smile and laugh and dance. And they don’t know it, but those eight boys saved my academic soul. As they found ways to survive outside of a desire to forge identites in relation to the white dominant discourse, I was encouraged to continue finding my own. I didn’t just write this thesis for them, I wrote it with them…their lives guiding the pen and hugging me until the final words hit the page.

I feel grateful, again, for the chance to share their stories, and await a time when they don’t need me as a medium. But this…this job of being an ally, I can do, because I have survived and refuse to do anything but thrive, with and for communities of my people, and communities of love.

From Overwhelmed to Empowered

But the horror of that moment stays with me, the realization that being smart and working hard might never be enough. I wasn’t sure how I could survive a world that would constantly question my abilities, give me more obstacles than my peers, and then downplay my achievements when I somehow managed to deliver. I was overwhelmed by the thought of having to be a black girl for the rest of my life. –Khadijah White

When I was about 9 years old, I auditioned to be the lead in the school’s holiday play. I was determined to get the role and practiced all the lines fervently. I gave it my all when the auditions came about and many of my classmates told me what a great job I had done. But I didn’t get the lead role. In fact, I didn’t get any visible role. The lead went to a new girl with bouncy blonde hair and blue eyes. When I asked the music instructor if she did not think I did a good job, she said, “It’s not that…it just wouldn’t have looked right.”

At age 9 I had encountered enough moments of overt and passive racism to know that what she had meant was that I as the lone black girl in a sea of white faces would have been ‘alarming’ as the lead in a Christmas play. And years later I can add to that by reflecting on the fact that for her, she couldn’t comprehend of me existing in such a space.

Even before I possessed the words to describe what was happening to me in my world and in my mind, I still deeply felt it. And I often wondered if it would be that way for the rest of my life.

My only solace was in the centre of my universe–my home, where Mama Younge did not raise any self-hating children. There, within those four walls, I could at least have my humanity affirmed, as my mother’s greatest fears each day as she sent us off to school was not about our failure–no, she always knew we would excel academically–it was that people would attempt to cut us down, to make us feel like we were less and did not belong.

As I grew older I felt the intersection of my race and gender more. The boldness that allows some to declare they would date you if you were white, or the constant bombardment of images that excluded you from standards of beauty. The feeling that I must cover up lest I draw attention to my body, the lessons of body shaming embedded, evoking images of Toni Morrison’s sugar-brown Mobile girls who dare not laugh or wear anything too tight for fear of sexualization.

Somebody, anybody, sing a black girl’s song

I refuse to choose sides for those who require it. I feel the weight and lifting of my race and gender like the ebb and flow of the ocean tides. And drinking from that ocean quenched my feelings of being overwhelmed for the rest of my life.

And now at 26 I find myself at Cambridge, yet another institution with much to offer but with that  centuries of elite white patriarchy–a space not created for those like me: a working class, black female. But I have learned over the years to make homes out of nothing, and friends out of foes.

I have a very close friend at Cambridge who actually started out as someone I was in constant battle with. On the night we forged a friendship that I can be sure will weather all elements, he asked me why it was that we had encountered such a deep rift between us. I told him I could remember distinct moments in class and in conversation when I would offer my thoughts on a topic and I could feel him mentally shut me off, sometimes physically rolling his eyes and turning away, as if to say that I had nothing of value to add.

He had dismissed me.

And I felt that it had opened the door for others to treat me that way in class, whether they realized it or not, and I could feel myself drowning in a thick smog of the need to be validated, to have my voice counted. I had to actually reassert myself into the classroom, and not back down in moments when I knew I had something of value to add, and I refused to let others diminism my experiences or silence my voice.

And therein lies the contradiction, the catch-22. The hyper-examination that comes with exceling and the hyper-examination that comes with my mere existence, coupled with the need to dismiss me as an anomoly–the exception.

The ability of cops to dismiss your statements and brand you the offender, while at the same time desperately stating how you attend a prestigious institution. KNOW ME. RECOGNIZE ME. 

I am hyper-visible and hyper-invisible all at once. I have a deep fear of drawing too much attention to myself, and a deep fear of being ‘dismissed’ and ignored.

I am the face of people’s fears, whether I am on the street or in a classroom.

Even amongst those I count(ed) as friends, there have been stinging moments of subtle to not so subtle reminders that you are not one of us, you do not belong. 

Some people cannot recognize how exhausting it is to reside in spaces that were not meant for people like you. The constant need to validate that existence. And how even more hurtful it is to have people make you feel that institutional shut out on a personal level. The constant reminder of difference.

There’s been a movement of famous blacks–many entertainers—calling themselves part of the New Black who believe that race and racism do not matter all that much anymore. I often wonder what happens not quite when these individuals meet with society at large, but rather when they encounter themselves. I’m okay with being Black. I’m more than okay with it. I love it because it is me and it has empowered me. Sizo nqoba ngoba thina siya zazi. Ibala lami elimnyama ndiya zidla ngalo. (We wil win because we know who we are. The color of my skin that is dark, I am proud of it.)

After years of feeling overwhelmed and the fears of being silenced, I have found power in discomfort, as I discussed in an interview with a friend of mine in Miami. Claudia said, “In college, I was in intense classes and forward thinking conversations, and I realized I was different than other people. I never knew the discomfort when you realize that you are the only person in a room that isn’t white or only person who is female and speaking and sharing ideas. In that kind of discomfort you gain power because you realize that you have important things to say. And because I have things to say because of my experiences, I have an authority to speak on issues, and should be speaking on them. With my voice I should be allowing those without a voice to have a place to speak as well.”

I am grateful, in a way, of learning the lessons of discomfort at a young age. I am the walking litany for survival, and for those who cannot indulge in the passing dream of choice and those who were imprinted with fear from birth, I have found that as Audre Lorde stated, it has been better to speak as one who was not meant to be here–not meant to survive. I can cower in a corner, wielding my personal success as the end all of success. Or I can push the boundaries of discomfort, not just throwing the ladder down, but climbing back down to help others to climb up it. Platforms, diversity, and gender equality, these things do not just happen out of nowhere. We have to actively and consciously make them happen.

That’s why I write. Not just chronicles of my life, but works of fiction as well. I started writing at a young age to create spaces for myself where I and people who looked like me could also exist. After all, one of the first steps is imagination; the ability to do what my music teacher so along ago was incapable of doing: widening the narrative. And when I find myself in spaces where the walls threaten to close around me– spaces that dare to silence me–I think about the words of Assata Shakur:

And, if I know anything at all,

it’s that a wall is just a wall

and nothing more at all.

It can be broken down. 

When the Teacher Becomes the Student Again

Idealism and perspective.

Two words and ideas that have come to form the foundations of my research and practice.

Yesterday, at the end of the first meeting of my 15-person route on politics, development, and democratic education (PDDE), the head of the route, who is also now my personal supervisor, told us that we would have to dig deep within ourselves to find a place that allows us to keep our idealism in the face of an onslaught of heavy criticism. I smiled as I wrote down her words in the cover of my notebook.

I smiled because it’s what any passionate teacher does. We work tirelessly for our students–our children–in the face of a relentless onslaught from callous adults, blinded school administrators, and a bureaucracy that has tried everything to ensure that a joy of learning is stomped out of the school systems. It would make even the biggest and warmest of hearts fall prey to the dark depressions of October onward. And it takes support from colleagues and the faces of your students to keep that idealism that things can be fixed, day in and day out.

But then again, that’s just the representation and perspective I have come to adopt as the reality of my life. I understand that there are different value systems, different viewpoints in life. What I loved most about the introduction to my course was that they honored those different perspective and want for us to deeply engage in that.

During one session they showed us a map of the London tube. It was a very dense map of all the stations that the tube has and looked like it covered a large part of London. Then, the instructor showed us another map. This map was a geographical map of the London tube. It showed us how many areas in which people would think they lived far from, they were actually direct neighbors of the people in that community. The map also showed us all the areas that were vastly missed by the tube and went without underground rail service. The third map the instructor showed us was a map of the wheelchair accessible service of the tube. There were very few stations that were wheelchair accessible, and it was obvious how hard it would be to get from one point to another in a wheelchair on the tube. In fact, when the tube was out of service for awhile and people were complaining about the stops that were not operating, one handicapped individual said that it was what the tube looked to them every day. That’s perspective.

What the instructor challenged us to was the idea of representations of truth. She said that the more we know–such as in the case of seeing different viewpoints of the map of the London tube–we would question the notion that sources are reliable. She pointed out that he more we knew of those maps, the more we were willing to look at things differently.

We have to challenge the representations that exist. For so long, on a macro and micro level, there has only been the voices of those in power. We have to find the sweet spot between knowing that what is represented can be skewed by those in power, but also acknowledge that as humans, we need to represent ideas and issues in order for people to understand them. It is a problem and a paradox all in one. I have always been taught by my mother and the professors that I have come to treasure that those are the questions that determine the role of the historian, the researcher. Oftentimes, I don’t know if I am doing any of this right. I do know that I take my role as one who represents and whose representation are taken seriously very much to heart. I want to be the voice of the marginalized, but I don’t want to BE their voice either.

It is a careful road to walk on. I look forward to the discourse and the challenge.

The Science of Movement

“To truly understand yourself, your purpose and those around you, you must keep moving. You must move at least five times; five times to open your heart and dip your toes into something new, fresh and life changing.”

I have almost begun the single digit countdown to my next big move: Cambridge, England for (at least) the next twelve months, as I begin a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Development, and Democratic Education (PDDE). It’s a huge mouthful of a thematic route in their Education Department that basically boils down to me investigating how we can use curriculum and school design to facilitate spaces in which students from what I refer to as ‘domestic urban conflict zones,’ can use school to ‘learn to make’ and create a cycle in which what they learn in the classroom is directly translated into their lived experiences in a way that helps them create positive impact and changes in their communities. (Again, I know, a mouthful). And while my excitement about going back to school and living in a new place grows, I am reminded again of all the emotions that accompany such moves.

I would never say that I derive ‘hold fast to my heart’ wisdom from the types of articles that we have all seen that tell you 5 ways to do this, or 9 reasons you should not do that. But once in awhile, I stumble across one that has a title that catches my eye, and I give it a chance. I came across an article a few days ago that was entitled, “Staying is Settling: Why You Need to Move At Least 5 Times in Your Life.” This title piqued my interest. As I read the contents on the page, I began to take a journey over the last seven years of my life, and to the moves that have shaped me in very similar fashion to what the article described. And as I got to the very last line, I realized how much I stood by this philosophy. Maybe not so much in the words that staying in one place is ‘settling.’ I do think that some people just know where they want to build their life and sometimes life just requires such permanent roots. However, I do believe that in movement there is life, and in movement there is the type of ability to grow and change that one does not always find in one sedimentary spot. There is a form of the scientific experiment in moving; a time old positing of questions and and testing them out to see if what you thought was true, was indeed true.

1. To get away from what you know

Your first move is like taking flight for the first time. Like learning to fly, you realize the only thing stopping you from the world is yourself…You have the world in front of you, with nothing but open sky and limitless possibilities.

But first you must leave the nest. You must say goodbye to everything you grew up with, the small world you once considered enough. You must unlatch yourself from the comforts of the familiar and place yourself in the middle of chaos.

This first move is the hardest. It’s the moment you willingly decide to be uncomfortable, scared and alone. It’s making the decision to become a foreigner, an outsider, a refugee. It’s abandoning everything you once cherished for the idea that there’s something better out there.

My first big move was definitely seven years ago when I boarded a one way flight to Boston, a city (and state) that I had never been to before but I had accepted it as my home for the next four years after sending in an acceptance letter to attend Harvard. I always knew I wanted to leave my tiny, rural town of less than a thousand people and see just exactly what else was out there. I knew my opportunities were limited where I was, and I knew that if I could just get a taste of the outside world, I would find my way to the very edges of this earth. Being that far from home and feeling so different from the majority of my classmates life experiences, meant that the first semester was a hard adjustment. I had made a decision to becoming a foreigner in many different definitions of the word, but foreigners also oftentimes bring so much value to wherever they go and can accept to make a new place their home. And over the course of those four years, Harvard became a wonderful home and place of immense growth for me. It allowed me to travel the world (and on someone else’s dime), and I learned to appreciate every opportunity that came my way and drank deeply of each new experience.

2. To find new experiences

The second move you make should be one of restlessness. You should be tired of the same flavors of your now comfortable surroundings. This move is about feeling again. It’s about accepting that you can’t possibly know everything, but you are going to try.

You are going to have experiences, adventures and an unforeseen future. You don’t know who you’ll meet, what you’ll find or how you’ll get there, but you will do it. You will jump into it blindly and openly.

You will make new friends, find new flavors and reignite that passion for life that came with your first move. You will not rest until your hungry soul is placated. You will leave your old friends for new ones, your first language for another and that idea that you’re home for that invigorating feeling of homesick.

While Harvard became home over those four years, it also became too much of a familiar. I had gotten into a routine, and in many ways I was over extending myself because I felt comfortable. I was taking classes that demanded a lot of writing and research, and I was agreeing to more leadership roles in a wide range of extracurriculars. By sophomore spring, I had entered a precursor to burn-out, and I knew I needed to shake things up in order to fall back in love with the world of not knowing what to expect. So I grabbed one of my closest friends, Scott, and we jetted across the Atlantic for a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.

Being completely immersed in a culture so different from the American one I was used to, with the romantic Spanish language spoken all around me was the move I needed to remind myself of just how much I did not know, and had not seen. And the fact that school was a lot more relaxed than the one I had grown accustomed to, also helped me refocus on other aspects of the world around me. Every day was something new–new people, new sites, new tastes, new smells. And on the weekends, Scott and I, and others we had befriended, would oftentimes go off to another country and briefly experience yet another way of being and living. We had the world at our fingertips. It was a blessing that I was grateful for each day. I did not know what to expect when I made the decision to study abroad, but it was in not knowing that I knew it was what I was looking for and wanted. Between the summer before in Ghana and going straight into my fall semester in Spain, I had stretched myself to new heights of knowing myself and what I was capable of doing and being. I returned that winter different from how I left the previous spring.

3. To chase love

To chase love is to chase happinesses. It’s to decide that you will throw yourself into the swirling, maddening and restless chase we’re all trying to enter. Because love is the ultimate destination, is it not? It’s the reason we move, every day.

If you think you’ve found it… in a person, a city, a job, you must move for it. If your dream job awaits in Spain, you must move there. If your heart yearns for the pink beaches of Bermuda, you must go there. Chasing love is not irresponsible, it’s honest. 

Senior year of college, I remember thinking for the briefest of moments that I should be reading case study books and going to interviews with banks and consulting firms like so many of the other people that I knew who would be graduating with me that year. A brief moment. Luckily, despite a severely flawed and lacking career studies office, I had met enough incredible upperclassmen who were not on a ‘traditional’ path, who I could talk to about choosing a different course. Along my road to find that different course, I did stumble across a traditional route of sorts in the form of Teach for America. I applied, and felt very confident because of my past work in education (a field I do plan on staying in) that I would be accepted. When I was accepted, I wasn’t as excited as everyone else was for me. It didn’t feel right.

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I had been granted money to pursue work for a local child rights NGO in Accra, Ghana. My summer writing and implementing programs to help educate children on their rights and how to get help when those rights were being abused, made me feel alive in my work in a way that few things have managed to top. I was part of a community and bringing aid to an area of direct and very real need. When I left to head to Spain, I felt like my work was not done. And there’s nothing I hate more than unfinished work. So even though I got accepted to TFA, I continued to search for ways to make moving back to Ghana possible. Three weeks before I was set to move to Miami, I got word that I was being granted a postgraduate public service fellowship that would sponsor me for a year of work. I loved (and continue to deeply love) Ghana and its people, and I am so glad that I chased it that year instead of just taking the first thing that came my way. I knew it was the ‘crazier’ more ‘unpredictable’ road, but I was ready to BE there and EXPERIENCE that unpredictable road. I needed to see what post-graduate Delia was capable of doing and being, and in pushing that boundary, I would be able to finish what I had started.

That year brought me greater clarity in what mattered to me in values, more insight into my thoughts on education, made me better prepared when I transitioned back to TFA, and introduced me to my first love. It was an incredible whirlwind, that picked me up, and after it had put me back down, everything it had touched was marked deeply by the relationship I had with that space and place.

4. To escape that love

Love isn’t infinite. It can be found in a moment, a single dose or a fleeting romance. It can be a year of perfect love with someone who isn’t supposed to stay in your life. It can be in beaches that bring you peace until your heart years for something new. It can be in the first bite of pasta and over with its last.

Love isn’t defined by its length but its capacity to touch you and change you. Just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. 

You must never settle, never give in to the idea that you can’t have another one. Because the world is full of things to throw your heart into, things to make you weep and realize (yet again) why you’re alive.

After a year of being immersed in the red dirt of Ghana, landing back in America was an uncomfortable jolt. In an instant I went from a simple existence (cooking on the floor, water from my well, no running water, etc.) to a life that seemed filled with excess. And Miami was a capital of excess, even while being home to those who had so little.

When I left Ghana, was the right time to leave. I had accomplished what I had gone back to finish, and I had made a promise of return to children I had yet to meet in Miami. I couldn’t help but have the internal struggle though that somehow I was doing the normal by going back to TFA and I was going to settle into a life devoid of the “exotic,” the ever-new. I would go from the child who was learning with each day to the adult who needed to immediately have answers because I was now in charge of other people’s children. I had so much love and peace in Ghana, and coming back did not excite me, except to see my family. But I was wrong.

I was wrong to think that one only finds the ever-new thousands of miles away. I was wrong that I would not find exactly what I was looking for within my grasp. I will always have Ghana. That red dirt is a part of my bones and who I have become. And just because I am no longer there does not mean that what was there was not the journey I felt it was when I was there. But it was always meant to be a finite journey. An affair to remember. There in Miami, was still very much a feeling of immense growth and learning. I entered a world in which I was once again the foreigner. Here I would find more things–or I should say students, my children–to throw my heart fully into. Students who made me realize you don’t get just one love, one life-shifting journey in your lifetime. Miami in all its problems and dichotomies was the imperfect-perfect transition from my temporary search for love across the ocean. And even though there are parts of that love (again, people) that are no longer part of my life, I now know that they just become something else that you take and learn from, and move forward.

 5. To begin all over again

You must resist the confines of comfort. You must defy the idea of settled. You must never resign yourself to the ordinary or the easy. You must challenge tranquility for the promise of something greater.

To live is to be born and to continually live is to be reborn, again and again. As a new person, new lover, new friend, you must willingly evolve and transform into new versions of yourself. You must never allow the new place you’ve created to become the final place. You must consistently defy the idea of comfort. 

Here I am, two years after moving to Miami, no longer living and teaching there. The summer found me easing out of my Miami life in California, and now I am spending time in The Town Where Time Does Not Reside, before being swept away in another movement, where I’ll begin journeying all over again.

Staying in Miami would have been easy. I could have taught anything I wanted to, and it would have been an entire environment that I knew the basic ins and outs of from days of tracing the same paths of work and personal life. I had a close group of friends, who defied my claim that I would not make closer friends than the ones I made in college. But it wasn’t where I saw myself long-term. And I wasn’t being developed in the ways I wished to be developed. I felt like a placeholder. I looked great where I was, but I did not have to be there. So I made the difficult decision to leave, and to go in search of, once again, that something that would help me to continue to evolve and grow. My students were growing, but I was not, except in the sense of understanding how to teach reading better, but that was not enough for me. So in a week when I leave for school, I will start to figure out what those next steps look like, but I am content in my thinking that I will feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be. 

I don’t know where my next move will be after England. It is too early to tell. I just know that whether it is to get away from what I know, find new experiences, chase or escape love, it is always a chance to begin again in some manner of the phrase. Here’s to a few more footprints in the air.

The Best is Yet to Come

I was so excited to attend my first Harvard-Yale weekend since graduation. Ghana did not make it very conducive to going back my first year as an alum, and I had now not seen my college friends (minus about two) in about a year and a half. I kept telling my students all week how excited I was to finally have a vacation and to see so many loved ones in one place for my birthday. And it could not have been a more wonderful weekend.

What made the weekend so special to me were the people who went out of their way to see me, to make sure that they spent time with me not only for my birthday, but because they valued me as an individual worth putting in the time to see. From brisket dinners in Brooklyn with Scott to epic sangria toasting birthday dinners in Inman Square, I felt the love poured over me. My favorite moment was at dinner when my 9 dinner guests went around and made toasts about me. It’s not my favorite moment in the narcissistic sense that I loved hearing people talk about me, but it was a great reflection piece on why it was that people would be willing to dedicate so much time to making sure I had a wonderful weekend. One of the elements of the toasts that came up repeatedly was my ability to stay in touch with people even though I’m often so far away. It made me think back on this past year and all my reflections on trying to perfect the art of ‘being there’ when I’m hardly ever able to actually physically be there. I guess the concentration on that is paying off. And as we toasted one final glass of sangria, I could not help but look around and think how extremely blessed I have been during this 23rd year of life. I had accomplished everything that I had wanted to do on my list last birthday except have something published. And I’m not even worried because looking around that room full of friends who have helped me through every possible high patch and low patch, there was no doubt in my mind that for me, the best is yet to come.

Here is my look back and look forward in 24 ways:

3 Things I Accomplished During the Last Year

1. Successfully implemented my peace education program at the pilot school Edbek Academy in Ghana

2. Passed my certification tests for my temporary education instructor license in Florida

3. Helped my summer school students in Tulsa, OK grow several levels in writing over 5 weeks

7 Things I Did or Places I Went During the Last Year

1. Got lost for 15 hours on trains in Bulgaria with Caitlin

2. Celebrated Christmas in beautiful Istanbul with Caitlin

3. Sampled fruit wines in the Greek mountain town, Sirince with Caitlin

4. Rang in the New Year with Mom, Dad, and Scott at Le Casino in Monaco after lounging on the Mediterranean

5. Had an epic adventure all over Ethiopia for 11 days with Tristen

6. Took in the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland with Mom, Dad, and Scott

7. Moved to palm-tree, sunshine filled Miami Beach, Florida

5 Things I Want to Accomplish Before 25

1. See a growth of 2 reading levels in each of my students

2. Help my brother expand the start-up

3. Have something published or performed that I have written

4. Research and make proposals for greater access to mental health resources for corps members (with the help of my good friend Aley)

5. Instill in my students a lasting sense of work ethic and good habits, meaning hard work always pays off in the end

5 Things I Want to Do or Places I Want to Go Before 25

1. Spend time this summer at home in Indiana

2. Travel to 2 new countries

3. Spent part of my summer in San Francisco

4. Finish writing two scripts

5. Visit most of the major tourist sites in South Florida

4 Things I Learned This Past Year

1. I should always follow my gut when I think something is a serious matter, even if others do not believe it is

2. The best friends are those who are always ready with a listening ear

3. Holding students to consistent and daily high expectations is a really tough job

4. Transformational change for students takes a lot of time, patience, and eternal optimism