Here We Go!

Here We Go 7

Not that long ago someone accused me of writing blog pieces that were too Pollyannaish. That once in a while I should write and act as if every moment that takes place in my life isn’t beautiful and magnificent.

Fair enough.

I do wonder what that same person thought once I began My Bad. A radio program that focuses on the value of sharing mistakes. Actually, I don’t wonder what that person thinks. But it is was humorously ironic.

I must agree that many of my pieces are attempts to celebrate the beautiful moments in life that often go unnoticed. Others are simply the amazing stories that are taking place right before my eyes. I enjoy looking for and writing about these things because they make me happy and I believe that they make other people happy. Therefore, I am not going to stop searching for them and telling them.

But…

The time has come for me to share other stories. Stories that aren’t so happy, but that must be told. Stories that often go untold. Stories that we want to pretend don’t exist.

I will tell them as best I can and in doing so my intention is not to depress but to inform.

I could continue to dance around the edges and I could continue to lean to one side or I could jump in headfirst. The way I see it, if I can write about all of the beautiful moments that my children and I experience then I must be willing to write about moments that are anything but beautiful. Moments that occur each and every day. And contrary to what we may believe, usually away from the public eye.

It took me having some very intense and heartfelt discussions with the person who is responsible for much of what you read and much of what you listen to on this site, BAmRadio, to realize that the time is now. Errol St.Clair Smith inspired me and truth be told I think I may have inspired him a little bit as well.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so profoundly explains in her TED Talk, it is very dangerous when only a single story is told. It is time we start having these tough and sometimes uncomfortable conversations. We must do so respectfully and with the intent of learning from and with each other. Pushing each other to think in different ways. There will be times when we inadvertently offend each other. And when we do we must apologize. Not back-away.

I look forward to the day when we can argue one minute and hug and high five the next. We must start having these conversations. They will not be easy at first. And I am quite sure that I will generate many My Bad moments for future episodes. I will make every attempt to listen and learn and move forward. 

I am certain that some of my pieces will offend some people. They will say it is not my place to write about race, or sexuality or poverty because I am white, heterosexual and middle class.

So be it.

No longer am I going to preface my thoughts or my pieces apologetically with phrases such as;

 

I am white

I am middle class

I grew up privileged.

 

I can not change who I am or how I was raised. Nor would I want to. I will apologize when I am wrong. And I will try to apologize when I see injustice and do nothing. But why should I apologize for being me?

No longer will I use the terms African-American or People of Color when I write or when I speak. Whenever I use them I feel as if I being pretentious. As if it’s not really me speaking. So I will use the term black instead.

Over the course of the past couple of years I have been given an amazing platform from which to share my opinions and voice my concerns. And while I have tried to do so to the best of my ability, I believe that there is much more that I can do. There is much more that I can say. Because now there is much more that I see.

So here we go!

If what I share or what I write or what I talk about upsets you or bothers you then

block me

unfollow me

don’t read my pieces 

don’t listen to my show.

I’ll be okay.

But, if you are interested in engaging and discussing and even disagreeing and politely arguing with me. Then please join me. I will not be offended if and when we don’t see things the same. In fact, I hope that we don’t. How boring would that be?

To be quite honest, if I can’t handle a differing opinion or a raised voice now and again then I think it is time for me to put on my big-boy slacks and get some thicker skin.

But for those of you that have been with me and supported through thousands of tweets, hundreds of posts and a handful of radio shows I say this;

I promise I will never stop looking for the beautiful.

But I am going to stop turning away from the uncomfortable.

It’s time that I must.

 

 

The Little Things

glass of water

All I wanted was to finish my last bit of dinner in peace. Resting my head in my hands wasn’t really easing the pain but it wasn’t making it any worse. As my head continued to throb, I alternated between food and water. My family knew my head was killing me and they gave me the space and quiet that I needed.

A few more bites and I would make my way upstairs. The stillness of the room was saving me from this migraine that came out of nowhere. It was one of those headaches where just the slightest noise or the faintest light is painful.

Then out of nowhere, I saw my five year old son coming towards me. He had noticed that the water in my glass was getting low and he didn’t want me to run out.

Watching him wield the water filter so as to top off my glass was a sight to behold. He had to garner all his strength and summon every bit of his coordination to transfer the water from the filter to my glass. But he did it quite well. And it warmed my heart.

The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness.

Victor Hugo

My son’s small act was unexpected and I’m certain it was not planned. Yet, it will go down as one of the sweetest gestures I have ever witnessed.

Why?

Simply because it was unplanned and unexpected. It was a spontaneous reaction by him. He saw an opportunity to do something kind and bring me joy. And so he did.

If my five year old son can do this then so can I. Acts of kindness don’t always need to be grandiose and they don’t always need to be planned. Just imagine a world, a school, a classroom in which small acts of kindness fill the room like air. That is where I want to be.

As I am lying in bed typing this piece my son has woken up. If I’m being honest, the first thing on his mind was whether or not his iPad was charged. The second thing? He asked me if I was feeling better.

I am.

Much better.

I am sure much of the reason I am feeling better is because I took something for my headache and I had a good night’s sleep. But I’d also like to think that my son’s small acts of kindness helped a little.

Oftentimes we sit and ponder ways in which we can change the world. We think and we think and we think. All the while, the potential for small acts of kindness pass us by. I am not suggesting that we stop searching for big answers. What I am suggesting is that every once in a while we stop, for a moment or two, to do the little things.

Sometimes the simplest gestures, smallest compliments or just knowing that someone is thinking about you can be enough to make you smile for the rest of the day.

Author Unknown

Knowing this makes me smile. Over the course of the next month schools will develop plans, learn new teaching methods and receive professional development on everything from A to Z. And that’s okay.

But I can rest a little easier knowing that maybe the best way for me to make an impact, to cause a child to smile is by simply being aware of what in fact does so.

The little things.

That I Can Do

chess 7

My daughter and I took a “Photo Walk” today. With camera and iPhone in hand we did our best to capture the world around us. Sometimes I see more when I am moving. Sometimes I see more when I am not. We were successful in capturing many of Nature’s majestic beauties. From butterflies to flowers to palm trees to the occasional lizard.

But one scene in particular grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. The thing is, I had walked past it many times before this day. And while it was always worthy of a glance, it had never gotten me to stop and stare as it did on this particular day.

I sat down beside it to get just the right shot. My daughter was forced to wait. Contrary to what the photo depicts, she survived.

The photo of the chess board above was what stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the size of the pieces that caught my attention. I had seen large boards before. It was the color of the pieces that provoked me (I am aware that they are almost always black and white. But this was different).

All black pieces opposite and opposing all white pieces.

It made me uncomfortable.

To me it represented much of what I see in the media. And believe me, I watch virtually zero television. But I do stay informed.

As a middle class white male I am aware of the fact that the world is very different for me than, say my black friend, who still gets stopped while driving, simply because he is black. I watched Jessie Williams’ speech the other day and was moved and awakened. I don’t have anything profound to say about the speech nor do I feel as if my interpretation of the speech would be appropriate.

Back to the chess board.

I don’t like looking at it.

I don’t like what it awakens in me.

Out of nowhere a voice hollers, “TOO BAD!!!”

I have friends that are racially profiled, I work with children that face discrimination daily and I live in a country in which citizens are subjected to unfair treatment, sometimes resulting in death, simply because of the color of their skin.

But then I read the quote below by acclaimed journalist and National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates and I become aware of the fact that I have much to learn.

What we want is a kind of colorblindness. We think that’s the answer. But colorblindness isn’t the answer. Color isn’t the problem. Racism is the problem. And being conscious of racism is the solution.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

The last two schools in which I have worked serve predominantly black students.

I can’t afford not to know. What exactly I am not sure. But I know that I don’t.

So I look for answers by attending seminars, reading books, watching movies and listening to music. And I begin to feel as if I have a better understanding of what it means to be black. As I finished typing the previous sentence, I realized how absurd it sounded. Just because I can bob my head to the same music doesn’t mean that I hear the same song. And I might not ever. And that’s okay. But I should at least be willing to sit and listen.

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This past year I have gotten very good at shutting my mouth and listening. And learning. I do the best that I can to learn the stories that I know nothing of. I listen to my students when they are angry and I listen to my students when they are mad. I give an ear to parents when they want to vent and I give an ear to parents when they feel that something isn’t fair. I have gone to their homes and I have walked their streets to try and get a better understand of the setting in which my students’ stories take place.

And while I realize there is no way that I will ever know them all, I won’t stop trying. I will continue to listen and learn as many stories as I able.

That I can do.

I Almost Spoke Too Soon

I Almost

She had been telling me about it, but we had yet to sit down and watch it together. But a few nights ago we did. And I almost blew it within the first few seconds. Luckily, my mouth wasn’t working as quickly as my brain. And I was able to hold my tongue.

For the next ten minutes or so my daughter and I watched Emma Watson give her HeForShe speech in front of the UN. It was inspiring. It was powerful. It was brilliant! I love that my daughter found this video on her own. I love that Emma Watson’s speech resonated with her. She is only ten years old but she is wise beyond her years. This was never more apparent to me than when she wrote a recent piece for #KidsDeserveIt titled I’m Infuriated.

In the piece my daughter expressed her concern for the double standard that girls and women face today. I was quite impressed, but then again I am biased. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

But back to my near screw up.

See, we have been watching the Harry Potter movies as a family as my daughter finishes each book. She is currently working on the fifth one. I have really enjoyed watching the movies and the adventures that the kids get themselves into. The operative word being kids. And I am very much looking forward to seeing the next movie.

It’s important to note that I watch very little television and am not always current on what the “stars” are up to. My daughter takes joy in reminding me of my ignorance in this subject matter.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw 24 year old Emma Watson walk up to the podium. I thought to myself, she is absolutely beautiful. And those words almost came out of my mouth. Thank heavens they didn’t.

Because what would that lead my daughter to think?

As I listened to Emma speak I was absolutely mesmerized.

Not by her appearance. But by the power and conviction of her message.

My daughter recently told me that it bothers her when she gets complements on her appearance.  She said she would much rather get praised for her intelligence than the way she looks. She works very hard in school and her mother and I couldn’t be more proud of her. And the more I think about it I don’t tell her this enough.

I often call her my Beautiful Girl because I am her father. And because she is beautiful. But what I don’t do enough of is praise her for her hard work, her good grades and her intelligence. That changes today.

I still have that opportunity. Because I didn’t open my mouth. As fathers and teachers and men we must be careful with the words we speak. Our girls are listening and as their role models they are looking at us to see what we think is important. If I had commented on Emma Watson’s beauty before her intelligence, then what message would that have sent to my daughter?

 

Our girls are watching our every move. And they will see themselves through our eyes. We must be careful what it is we are looking for.

Why Wouldn’t They?

Why Wouldn't

Heading into this school year I was a little bit worried about how my son Derek would handle things. He had never been to public school and for the most part, has been sheltered his entire life. His experiences up until this year have been wonderful and have helped shape him into the child that he is today.

His mom and I are quite proud of him. He was recently awarded “The Most Caring Award” in his class. To be quite honest, that meant more to us than anything else. Derek couldn’t have had a better year. And for that we are forever grateful to the women who loved him like he was their own.

But as you can see above, this piece is not about his relationship with his teachers. That is for a later piece. No, this piece is about a connection, a friendship, a bond that formed between an unlikely pair. The photo above is of my son and one of his best friends, Mr. Johnson, or “Juggy” as he affectionately called. Mr. Johnson wears many hats throughout the day. He spends much of his time working as a mentor to students that may need a little extra help just making it through the day.

I am not quite sure how their friendship started. It just did. Somehow they found each other. They look forward to seeing each other every day. Derek often runs and jumps into his arms and Mr. Johnson always catches him. Derek knows that he always will.

Earlier this year, when my wife and I forgot to inform our parents that Derek’s school was celebrating Grandparent’s Day, Mr. Johnson offered to be my son’s grandparent. He stopped what he was doing and went to Derek’s classroom. Because he didn’t want Derek to be sad. Because he knew that’s what Derek would want. Because they are good friends.

Each and every day we do everything we can to try and build relationships with the students that we serve. And it’s not easy. Whether we want to admit it or not there are factors that oftentimes can get in the way. Sometimes it is age. Sometimes it is race. Sometimes it is culture.

So knowing this, how is that these two unlikely souls found each other? A large middle-aged black man and a small four-year old white boy. What could they possibly have in common? Why did they bond from day 1?

Doesn’t race matter?

Doesn’t age matter?

Doesn’t culture matter?

Yes! Yes! & Yes!

They all matter! But they shouldn’t be roadblocks and they shouldn’t be impediments.

I truly believe that both my son and Mr. Johnson are fully aware of their differences but they aren’t about to let them get in their way. My wife and daughter and I all call Derek Little D and earlier this year Mr. Johnson asked my daughter if it’d be okay if he could do the same. That was an easy question for her to answer.

I spend my days trying to help students and staff build the type of relationship that my son and Mr. Johnson have. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. And for the longest time I could not, for the life of me, figure out why these two unlikely characters bonded and became so close, so quickly.

Well the other day I went to their school. I got to witness them spending time together for the very first time. And after a few seconds I knew the answer to my question.

Little D and Juggy enjoy being each others’ company. It’s wasn’t anything that they said to one another and it wasn’t anything that they did.

They just were. And that was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. It was everything.

That is what we must work for.

So the question still remains, “why is it that a small four year-old white boy and a large middle-aged black man get along so well?”

And to that I now say,

 

Why wouldn’t they?

 

 

Work For The Smile

Derekgloves

I got the call around midday and there was no hesitation. I could be there in about twenty minutes if I left right away. So right away is when I left.

My wife had called and said that our five-year old son Derek, had been injured on the playground and that she was driving him to the Emergency Room. Apparently at some point he forgot to duck. I quickly assumed that since he wasn’t going in an ambulance that things weren’t too bad. But still I was a little worried.

That’s my little buddy.

Twenty minutes is not long.

Only about five songs and I’d be there. Please no commercials. I wanted this time to fly by. And it did.

I quickly found a parking spot and ran to the waiting room. My wife was holding Derek and he was funneling Skittles at quite an impressive rate. Whatever it takes to distract a five-year old and sugar usually does the trick

It seemed to take longer than I had imagined, but then again it always does. Especially when it’s your own child and you’re not quite sure what happens next. After about twenty minutes we were called back to a smaller room. I’ve learned over the years that as you get closer and closer to seeing the doctor the rooms get smaller and smaller.

The nurse came and gave him the once-over. He wasn’t worried so neither was I. I could tell that the sugar was wearing off and that Derek was beginning to wonder what was going to happen next. Still he clung to my wife.

As we waited a bit longer we tried to get him to relax but we also realized that it wasn’t that long ago that he was covered in blood. Sitting still and waiting is not easy for me because my mind and body always feel the urge to move.

And so I decided to try to distract him.

Hmmm.

What could I…?

I got it!

I reached into the box that was stuck to the wall and pulled out two gloves. Next, I blew and blew and blew into them until they were balloon-sized. I handed them to Derek and the result is what you see above. A smile and laughter that made everything okay. If just for a little while.

Soon after my son had three staples put in his head and a week later they were removed. He was/is fine and actually ran around the house the next day while my wife and I took a nap.

I choose to remember that day as one in which I was able to get my son to laugh using just two rubber gloves.

Not a day that I had to rush to the ER.

Not a day when my son was crying and covered in blood.

Not a day when my son got staples put in his head.

Each and every day that we work with children we have the power and the ability to make them smile. We are the ones that can determine what memories they take home with them each day. That is an awesome responsibility!

No matter what, we should send our students home each day with at least one thing to smile or laugh about. And we should make a big deal about that one thing. I think we owe them that much.

What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we can all enjoy them…Happiness doesn’t lie in the objects we gather around us. To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

I Will Try Harder

I-Will-Try-Harder_20160520-001707_1.jpg

Look past your thoughts so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment.

Rumi

Approximately eight years and one month from today my daughter will be graduating from high school. While I realize that graduation is a time of celebration and great joy, the thought of one of my children no longer living under my roof makes me sad.

And yet I have today and tomorrow and many more with her. So how is it fair to her that I allow anything to slice away even just a sliver of the precious moments that I have remaining with her?

It is not!

And yet I do it all of the time.

Moments do not repeat themselves. That is what makes them so special. We may not always be able to fully experience each and every one. But we owe each moment our fullest attention because they presented themselves to us when they could have just as easily gone on the next person. Yet they didn’t.

But they just might, if they begin to notice that we are not fully present when they appear.

And they will notice.

And so will our children.

I do not watch the news and I do not read the newspaper simply because I try to keep my mind free of negativity. So far this strategy has worked fairly well, although from time to time I will inadvertently hear mention of this catastrophe or that breaking event and it chips away just a little bit of my inner peace.

But it is that which is within my control that I must improve upon. As I mentioned earlier, I have only a finite number of moments remaining with my daughter at home and I want to be fully present for as many as possible. It is not fair that while I am with her, my brain is secretly trying to solve some work related issue.

There will always be a problem to solve or an issue to resolve. They are a part of life.

But I must remember that they are just that.

A part of life.

They are not Life.

Life for me is a series of beautiful moments strung together.

I want to make my string as long as possible.

I want it to be so long that I am unable to see where it begins and where it ends.

I want it to be strong so that when times get tough I can wrap this thickly braided string of moments around me to keep me safe.

I will try harder.

I must.

I owe it to my daughter to make our string as long and as strong as I possibly can. And while I realize that I can add to it when she is away, I also know that it will be much more difficult.

My little girl will be graduating from high school in about eight years and one month.

I can’t wait to see how many incredible moments we can string together between now and then!

I make mistakes every day, but I am learning from them. If you have just a few minutes I’d be honored if you’d check out My Bad. The radio show about how and what extraordinary educators learn by sharing their mistakes.  It has been an honor to learn from these folks and I hope you gain as much from their honest reflections as I have. Click on the link below to see what I am talking about.

My Bad