This Life

April 27, 2015

Opal Palmer Adisa

often we forget

this is all we have

no second chance

to cherish those we love

to go for what we want

to be present

to be mindful

to be alive

our life is

as slender as a piece of thread

easily boken

but the moments we share

speaking our truths

being thoughful

giving freely of our love



that we have this time

this day

this breathe

breathe into life

breathe into all you have

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Armed With A Hoodie – A Black Mother Speaks

July 22, 2013


July 22, 2013

I wrote the posting below on Monday, July 15, 2013; 48 hours or so after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.  I held off on posting because my intention with this blog is not only to share with you what’s on my heart, but to create a space that speaks to your heart.  I wasn’t sure if what I’d written would do that.  Then I realized that it would be less than honest to censor my heart.  So here’s what I wrote:  

Anger.  Disappointment.   Rage.  Disgust.  Pain.  Sadness.  Frustration.  Disillusionment.  These are just a few of the emotions felt by so many of us in the aftermath of the Zimmerman “not guilty” verdict.  Unless you’ve been in a coma, under a rock or just landed from another planet you are now aware that 29 year old George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of the February 26, 2012 murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in Florida.  The emotion for far too many of us were NOT having was shock or surprise.  After all, take a look at the basic facts:  Florida.  White man (for all intents and purposes) shoots and kills an unarmed Black boy.  The jury (5 white and 1 hispanic woman) find him not guilty.  Of course, we’d hoped this time would be different from the hundreds of other times this crime has occurred in America.  We’d hoped that once the jury returned with  a “guilty” verdict we’d be able to exhale the breath we’re always holding.  We hoped we’d be able to tell our Black sons that they really do matter. Instead we had to return (or maybe have for the first time depending on the age of your son, nephew, grandson, etc.) to the conversations we’ve had in the past about living Black and Male in a nation that begins criminalizing them before they leave grade school.  We had to tell them how much we love them and how special and important they REALLY are and hope that message gets past all they see reflected in the world. 

We had to AGAIN dry our tears, clear our minds, and steel our souls…in preparation for the next time.  Some of us told our sons to stay away from guns; that they were dangerous; that they weren’t toys.  Do we now have to add hoodies in our “dangerous weapon” speeches?  It is not uncommon to hear other Black parents talk about the “Driving, Walking While Black” sermons we’ve preached so that our sons could be “seen” by others as we see them.  Do we now have to warn them about a simple item of clothing, worn by white boys without concern for their safety or “threat” to their neighborhoods?

The question that will more than likely remain with us always, burying itself deep into our spirits; finding it’s way into the salt of our tears, is how can America call itself a FREE country when we allow grown men to shoot and kill unarmed boys in the street?  I’m reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela (and inspired to keep my head up and not become bitter) in his 1990 tour following his release from prison, “I am not free, until we all are free.”

Until a Black, male child can walk home from the store with snacks without being seen as “suspicious”, our fancy alarm systems, guard dogs and security bars simply provide an illusion of safety.  Until the Trayvons of the world are seen and treated as valuable members of our society, despite their attire, we are not free. 

Where do we go from here?  To another rally or candlelight vigil?  Somehow today, that doesn’t seem like enough.



March 5, 2013

Imagine a world where the 13 year old boy who broke into his neighbor’s house, stole the bounty of prescription drugs from the medicine cabinet to sell to the test-crazy high school students who hang out near his middle school working his debt off by serving his community instead of time in a juvenile detention facility. Imagine him reciting his contrition and intention to do better at a meeting of his family, friends and neighbors at the community center or neighborhood church. Imagine him standing in a receiving line where his elders embrace him and applaud his courage for taking responsibility for his actions; where his peers give him “high fives” and the now popular “fist bump” as they utter words of encouragement. Imagine him becoming a man with greater personal insight and compassion for others. Imagine him becoming a man aware of his greater purpose; a man with a vision. Imagine.

That is exactly what Freedom Fighter and lifelong activist and organizer, Angela Davis is asking us to do in her new book, “The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues.” It is what she asked all of us on March 1st at Oakland’s Marcus Book Store as the walls bulged to capacity with young and old, Black and white, as we sat, crouched or stood to hear her call to Imagine a world without a thriving prison industrial complex.

I have to admit that before reading her book I had never thought about a world without prisons. In my lifetime, that’s the only answer I’d ever seen offered to correct wrongs or punish folks for “wrong doing.” What I’ve observed, as I’m sure many of you reading this have observed, is that imprisoning millions (America – “land of the free, home of the brave” has over 2 million people locked up right now and that doesn’t count the millions more on parole or probation!) isn’t making a difference in crime rates or leading our homes and communities to peace and productivity. Something else must be going on. Something that mass incarceration isn’t fixing.

I don’t know what we do with those that commit heinous crimes and acts of violence. There are people who aren’t prepared or equipped to live beside the rest of us. But now I am challenging what seems to be America’s answer – prison all the time, for everything…especially if you’re Black or brown or poor.

As a woman of color, the proliferation of incarceration in our communities is personal. I’m weary of seeing people who look like me (and the men I love, since that’s the majority of people in prison) cuffed and wearing orange jumpsuits. Children who ought to be participating in spelling bees or getting ready for their first dance, chained and facing prison sentences that will keep them locked away for decades, saddens me in a way I can’t express with words.

If you find yourself weary, worried, frustrated, dismayed, or angry by this, too, Ms. Davis is offering another option….Imagine.

“Keep On Pushing”

July 1, 2012

If any of you read this title and start humming to yourself, you like me, remember The Impressions led by Curtis Mayfield and the anthem that reminded us that only moving forward would get us “there.”  If you are too young to know what I’m talking about, You Tube it or something…….

Today is July 1, 2012.  Today marks the beginning of the second half of this year.  On Friday, in conversation with some of the women I work out with at Curves they started talking about how they couldn’t believe that half the year was already gone.  As  I listened, I was amused by the conversation as I thought about the reality of the situation – time isn’t going any faster than it ever has (it can’t); it just FEELS like it.  Since the very thought that they were “losing” time was beginning to depress them, I offered them that this is a great time to assess where they are and set intentions for the rest of the year.  This comment was met with some thoughtful looks of consideration and few a enthusiastic women said “good idea.”

Then guess what happened?  This morning during worship services, my pastor made mention of the same thing and posed this question to the congregation:  “In what ways have I moved forward since January?”  He encouraged us to evaluate our physical, spiritual, professional, emotional, financial states.  He asked us not to omit looking at the areas where we feel “stuck” and to figure out what is keeping us from moving forward.  He challenged us to ‘quit threatening to move forward and move!’ (ouch!)

I smiled to myself, jotted a few notes on my bulletin (because this entry was taking shape, even as he spoke) and said to myself, “Okay, God.  I get it.  Time to pause and see where I am, where I’ve been and chart a course of action for moving forward.”

So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  Over the next 7 days I’m going to take a mid-year assessment of my life and see what’s going on.

I invite you to join me (I’d love to hear all about it!) and I’ll certainly let you know if in my mid-year assessment I discover anything that might aid your journey~

History Becomes Personal

January 25, 2012

January 16, 2012 –

I just finished watching “Oprah and the Legendary Cast of Roots:  35 Years Later.” on OWN.  I couldn’t keep the smile off my face or the tears from my eyes.

If you are old enough to remember January 1977, you can’t do that without having a memory of the groundbreaking miniseries, “Roots.”  Based on Alex Haley’s 1974 book of the same name, most of America – Black and White – spent 5 evenings in front of a television set watching the lives of Kunta Kinte’s family unfold.  While it was truly the family history of the Haley family, it soon turned into a look at the history of America and inspired many of us to fill in our  own family tree.  Most of us who were alive at that time, have a “Roots” story.  Here’s mine:

“Roots” was about family and mine’s was certainly a huge part of my “Roots” story.  Each night for the entire week my parents, grandparents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins came together to watch.  I’m not sure if the adults planned it like this ahead of time or if it was just something that happened organically since they were used to being together in this way anyway, but each night found the bunch of us together in someone’s living room.  Adults were on couches and in chairs, as the children found seats at their feet on floors covered with wall-to-wall carpet (which was all the rave in the ’70s.)

One of the things I remember most about this time was the complete and absolute silence that fell upon the room once the show started.  Even the squirming of my younger cousins was stilled by the story playing out for us on the tube.  Conversation, snack and bathroom breaks occured only during the commercials.

I remember one particular night, riding home in the backseat of my father’s Oldsmobile from my Uncle Lou’s house and feeling a deep sense of sadness.  The scene of Kizzy being taken away in the back of a wagon while her mother, Belle, screamed and cried in the dirt wouldn’t leave my mind.  While I was certainly closer in age to Kizzy, it was Belle’s anguish that rode home with me that night.  I couldn’t imagine what it must’ve felt like to lose someone so precious.  It was almost as if I could feel her heart breaking…inside of me.

Everyone everywhere was talking about “Roots.”  I was 16 years old and fortunate enough to have an English teacher (Clara Daniels) who allowed and encouraged much discussion about each night’s episode in class.  We were assigned the reading of the book (if you’ve never read it,  I highly recommend it, as it takes you far beyond the miniseries) and the completion of a family tree.  While history or anything that even resembled it had never been my favorite subject, I found myself unable to think about anything else.  I began to question my parents and  grandparents and pour over old mementos, papers, and letters that my grandmother kept in a box in her chest of drawers. 

Even though I have yet to connect the branches on my family tree to Africa, “Roots” told me I’d come from somewhere other than Oakland, CA and I loved that thought.  The spirit of Alex Haley’s African ancestor, Kunta Kinte, lived in the spirit of my ancestors and that felt good; real good.

As African Americans, we have ‘come this far by faith’ owing EVERYTHING to those who came before us across the waters to a strange, violent and hostile world that held up the values of freedom and equality only if you weren’t Black.  Let the knowledge of their resilience, endurance and triumphant make you stand up a little straighter the next time you’re faced with an obstacle or encounter adversity.  Let’s remember that we truly are ‘the hope and dream of the slave.’ 

SPECIAL NOTE TO MY YOUNGER FOLKS –  If you have never seen the miniseries “Roots” go rent or buy it today.  Sit down watch it.  Share it with your family.  America was able to have this experience because Alex Haley’s elders TOLD THE STORY of “The Old African” as Kunta Kinte was known to the family.  We cannot expect our children to know if we are unwilling to TELL THE STORY!


Tomorrow Awaits YOU

December 31, 2011

“You are so much more amazing than you know or feel.”    La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson

As 2011 draws to a close, let us find the real JOY in each day, acknowledge our innate brilliance, and welcome all that God has promised.  No matter what has occurred this year or what comes your way in 2012, KNOW that you already have everything you need to excel.  There is no fear too scary for you, no obstacle that you can’t overcome and no challenge that you can’t meet head on.  You came equipped for this journey.

Peace & Power

More Than A Trip on a Ship

December 24, 2011




Let me get right to it:  On September 11, 2011, I boarded a Delta airlines flight from San Francisco to New York to Barcelona, Spain!!!  Now for those of you reading this who are world travelers, this may not seem like much.  However, for me it was HUGE!!!!  This was my first “out of the country” travel – my goal now is to wear out my passport!   The Ruby Princess (which hosted 3100 passengers and over a 1,000 crew members for 12 glorious days) was waiting for me in Barcelona, Spain.

With 2 days in Spain before we embarked, I set the intention to remain present in each moment.  To help me with that, I kept a daily journal….

09/12/11 Thoughts as I arrived in Barcelona:

Black feels different here.  No one seems to notice or mind.  Until I speak, I wonder if they even know I’m not one of their own.  I see more people who look like me here than when I travel the streets of San Leandro.  I’m also acutely aware of the loss of language as my ears take in the tongues of a shared and native language as we pass through customs.  I watch their comfort with each other and the way their tongues caress each word.  I realize my tongue only tells of those who oppressed.

As I watched the GPS flight map as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean, that once hundreds of years ago an ancestor who’s name I’ll never know crossed these same waters going in the opposite direction in the hold of a slave ship.  As the anticipation of the great adventure I’d have grew, I wondered what fears he/she felt?

Me in Barcelona, Spain










After a self-guided walking tour around the area near our hotel, we retreated to our fabulous hotel room (think Jetsons) to rest and prepare to board the Ruby Princess…..was I in for a surprise!

This cruise was an amazing 50th birthday gift from Ernest, who’d told me about the room we’d have, the ports of call, etc.  Well, when our Stateroom Steward, Rolando, opened the door to our room, all I saw was water.  A suite with a living room and balcony!!!  Felt like I was getting a peak at heaven!

09/13/11  Setting Sail For Monaco

I’ve dreamed of this trip, long before I knew where to find The Mediterranean on a map.  The suite with living room and balcony are as they say, “to die for.”  After an evacuation drill at our Muster Station (information, I’m praying I never have to use) a complimentary buffet and booking our shore excursions, we returned to the room to unpack.  Right now I’m looking at a full golden moon, set high in a dark blue sky as we float gently across ink black waters.  The sound of the water reminds me of the vastness of this place I’ve been blessed to inhabit; makes me want to treat the world a little better.  I am overwhelmed with the blessing of this moment.

My home aboard the Ruby Princess /Dolphin Deck (14)






There is something completely relaxing about having a staff who’s main objective daily is to make sure that you enjoy every moment. My experience aboard ship felt as if my ever desire had been anticipated with loving detail. Believe me when I tell you, that it was completely effortless to get used to living like this LOL.  I felt open and receptive to all experiences.  I got an entirely new understanding of “living in the moment” as I awoke each day in gratitude and wonder.  I wrote the next entry after my first morning on board:

09/14/11  At One With Creation

Walked the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) as the sun rose on the Mediterranean.  Wish my thought could’ve been recorded but I’m sure they were heard by God….here’s what I remember thinking:

…..the moon stayed in the sky as if challenging the rising sun for space…..saw a pink that reminded me of a knit Easter suite my sister wore when she was about 4 or 5,  as the rising sun teasingly exposed a new day…as the sun turned the deep, dark, black velvet of the sea a warm and welcoming teal, I wondered how many journeys it had witnessed; what stories it could tell….

Sunrise over The Mediterranean

Okay, so we reach Monaco, our first Port of Call.  All I can think about are the movies I’ve seen here and Princess Grace.  The weather is beautiful; the sky seems bluer here than at home and the air fresher.  The French Riviera!

Playground of the Rich and Richer







September 15th found us in Livorna, Italy.  Did some shopping and reveled in the easy, slow pace of things.  Forgot the camera, but just imagine a shopping area, similar to SF or NY with one exception:  almost every store is closed from 1pm – 4pm so that folks can go home and have a meal with their families.  We saw uniformed, school aged children of all ages, walking home to eat with their families.  I’m now totally convinced that the U. S. has it all wrong with its 30minute lunch breaks!  The food here is fabulous, and I’m enjoying it all!   After our time in Livorna, we had a great dinner on board with couples from New Zealand, Canada, London and a sisters from Ghana.  We shared about our lives “back home”, our time in Livorna and our excitement about Rome.  Being surrounded by folks intent on having a good time does something amazing for the spirit!

09/16/11  Rome, Italy

The cost of these shore excursions were incredibly high, so we did a little prioritizing.  Since Ernest JUST HAS TO SEE The Colisseum and I MUST go to Athens and Venice, we decided he’d go ashore  on an organized tour without me and I’d either stay on board or shuttle in on my own.  You’ll see some of his amazing shots below.  I decided to stay on board and what a time I had…there is something to do every minute.  I saw a movie, took a Zumba Class, and came in 3rd in a Jeopardy-like Trivia game!  Read on deck while eating the most delicious gelato I’ve ever head and read one of the many books loaded on my Kindle for moments just like this.  LOVING This Time!!!

The Colisseum


The Colisseum






There is a different feel in the air when you walk streets where things are thousands of years old.  The sense of history is EVERYWHERE even when you’re passing by a McDonald’s.  Ernest had the time of his life and I sat with wide eyes as he told me about his time in Rome and shared the pictures!

09/17/11 Our Day In Naples, Italy

Up early today for a day in Naples, touring and some time in the streets on our own…OMG!!!! A magnificent day in Napoli.  Ernest and I took off on our own around the downtown area in the morning and took a City Drive Tour in the afternoon.  GREAT Photos and ice cream that had to have been made by the gods.

One of the many castles along we saw in Naples

The beauty of Napoli

09/18/11  A Day At Sea 

Headed to Mykonos, Greece!  Took advantage of the soothing motion of the sea and slept late.  got some writing done (yes, the novel went with me on my fantastic voyage), spent some time in the ship’s library.  The sun is hot and bright, the waters are easy and blue.  You can’t ask for more.

Okay, I have to tell you all something magical about this trip to Greece.  Years, and years and years ago, I saw a picture of some square, bleached white houses with these amazing blue roofs.  From the moment I saw this picture I was drawn to it in some way I couldn’t really explain.  Over the years, I learned the picture was from an island in Greece and began to say that one day I’d go there! And here I was on a cruise ship, headed to Greece.  I’ve always been a believer of dreams, because I’ve had so many of them come true.  This trip is just another example.  Keep dreamin’, y’all!!

09/19/11  Mykonos, Greece:  My Soul Has A Home

Glorious!!!  The teal to aqua to navy blue waters alone is enough to take your breath away.  Ernest got AMAZING photos.  I had a Greek Salad while watching the crystal clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea splash against ancient rocks.  The baklava is DIVINE and the areas famous almond cookies were unlike anything I’ve ever tasted.

2pm we set sail for Istanbul, Turkey.  My time in Greece was too short….guess I’ll have to return.  How GREAT is our God?

My Soul's Home

The Blue Roofs of My Dream

I have never felt so “at home” and “at peace” than I did during my short time in Mykonos.  I now know that while I “live” in San Leandro, my soul’s “home” is in Mykonos.  Can’t wait to get back home!!!

09/20/11  Istanbul, Turkey

An entirely different vibe here and after the magic of watching the sun rise over the majestic Blue Mosque (named after the hundreds of thousands of blue tiles inside the Mosque), Istanbul was a city of noise and traffic. Ernest slept in, missing the early departure of the tour, so I was off on my own! I visited the Palace and Harem of The Sultan and saw a rug weaving demonstration while drinking their traditional apple tea..yum, yum.  I was totally overwhelmed with the shopping madness of the Grand Bazaar.  Think MEGA indoor mall/flea market that is the size of a small town.  Over 4,000 vendors….kept my Euros to myself.

Entry to The Palace


The Blue Mosque

 09/21/11  Next Stop:  Kudasi, Turkey

Now this is the place to be in Turkey.  Small, quaint, people so friendly you’d think that you must have met them before and THE ABSOLUTE BEST FOOD I HAVE EVER EATEN!  I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 16 years and that has been a challenge. I now realize why; I should’ve moved to The Mediterranean.  Meat is second thought here and the vegetarian choices when you go into a restaurant are unbelievable.  Everything is fresh and flavorful, and the combinations are amazing.  Today for lunch I ate a hot flatbread, a bellpepper stuffed with nuts, cheeses, spinach, grains, tomatoes, etc.  and of course, my favorite travel dessert:  gelato!

09/22/11  Athens, Greece

It’s official:  Greece is the place for me!  LOVED Athens.  The vibe is warm and inviting, the people are kind and the food makes me glad to be vegetarian (NEVER felt like that before LOL.)  Saw the mountain from which St. Paul began his Christian Ministry.  Did you hear me?  I looked upon the mountain where Paul gave one of his earliest sermons.  WOW!  The Acropolis – which means High City – is phenomenal.  Pictures in front of the Parthenon and climbed the Steps of the Propylea (the gateway to The Acropolis.)  The visit to the National Archeological Museum of Athens was wonderful.  I could have stayed there all day.  In the Plaka, their shopping center, we walked on glass sidewalks which displayed the neighborhood of an ancient city.  The journey down the streets was liking walking in 2 worlds – cars, modern condos and hotels stand side by side with the ancient structures.  We saw the Old Olympic Stadium, the site of the 1st Olympic Games in 1896.  As I looked into the place that held the 69,000 spectators, I wondered what Jesse Owens felt during his historic time here in 1936….

Fortunately for us, the streets of Athens were free of demonstrations today as we passed the scene of last month’s demonstrations – The Constitution Hall.  As our tour guide, Crista, told us of Athens problems – 16% unemployment, young adults out of college unable to find work, 1 million state employees being fired, it sounded like our troubles in the U. S. and reminded me that ALL people just want the opportunity to BE WELL and have their children do better than they did.

Temple of Zeus

View from The Acropolis

….So many moments here feel like worship.  My soul is well and the simple acts – feeling the sun on my feet as I sit on my deck watching the waves of the Aegean Sea takes “blessed” to another level.  God’s presence is in each blink of my eye and beat of my heart and I feel it until my eyes water.

…..Set sail for Venice.  The large fluffy clouds block the sunset tonight, a yellow glow between them that reminds me of the warmth of a Christmas morning blaze in the fireplace.  Despite the warm, moist air, the blues of the sky and sea are icy-looking making me think of Christmas cards with silver foil and glitter that mimics frost.

09/23/11  Day At Sea

Our last day at sea – for this cruise anyway, LOL – began with a sun that seemed brighter and a sea that seemed bluer than any other day as if in celebration of our grand journey.  Heading to Venice, Italy with it’s streets of water.  

On Board


Poolside on The Ruby Princess

 09/24/11 Venice Italy

No words here.  I’ll let you take a look at some of the amazing sites we shared in this wondrous city of canals and waterways…..

Venice, Italy

The beauty of Venice

Venice's Amazing Canals






09/25/11  The End of A Grand Adventure

Disembarked in Venice, Italy from my beloved and enchanted Ruby Princess at 9:15am.  Making this entry from the Hotel Biasutti in Venice after a water taxi ride (quite an experience for a non-swimmer) and a pizza lunch that was YUMMY!  Realized I do like pizza, but only in Italy!  The Hotel Biasutti has an old world feel.  The room is quaint and European and makes for a gentle re-entry after the pampered luxury of the ship.  What a grand adventure.  


Completed this journey with a visit with Raymar in New York before returning to San Leandro, CA.  It just doesn’t get any better!!! It literally took me 3 or 4 days to feel back as the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Mediterranean lingered (took months before the food here tasted like anything.)

As this year draws to a close, make sure to rest in the simplicity of each moment and prepare to meet 2012 anticipating the JOY of every minute.  Blessings for a wonderful 2012…….here are some more pictures of one of the best times in my life.  ENJOY~

The French Riviera




Mykonos, Greece

The Harem in Istanbul



Sunrise on the Ruby Princess






Morning on The Aegean Sea

From the museum in Athens







Venice, Italy







Mykonos, Greece

Speak The Good

June 28, 2011


It’s been a while.  As I’ve made SPACE in my internal and external worlds lately, the thoughts and words have been flowing.  For a writer, that’s always a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been almost hyper-conscious of the words coming out of my mouth and the mouths around me.  Finding it critical to my mental, spiritual and physical wellness to Speak The Good.  Yes, I know….there is so much that isn’t good going on in and around you.  Yes, I know…..we’ve just “got to get them told.”  Yes, I know….people don’t often say good things to or about you.  SO? 

Let’s begin to spend less time focusing on what we can’t control and make it our goal to do what we can:  Speak The Good.  So how do you move from a language of negativity to a person whose tongue drips good?

Take out the trash!  For some of us, it is piled to the rafters.  It’s in our homes, on our TVs, iPods, etc.  It is piled just as high inside of us, where we can’t see the good in anything or anyone.  It is all that STUFF that weighs us down and makes us think less of ourselves and others.   Question what folks  have told you about who you are, what you can be and what you can do.  Is it true?  If it is not WHO YOU BELIEVE YOURSELF TO BE, then it is trash!  Get rid of it.

I recently started watching, “Finding Sarah” on OWN and heard her ask with all sincerity “how do you get self-worth?”  The title of the show lets us know she has (like many of us at one time or another, so don’t start judging)  lost HER way.  She listened to and believed what she was told about herself so much that she completely lost herself.  That’s what trash does to us.  It makes us take on the language of negative thoughts, beliefs, words, actions and behaviors. We become strangers to the good that we were created to be. 

Taking out the trash means that we have to make a conscious effort to Speak The Good.  Don’t know what to say?  Find yourself some inspirational books or tapes.  Go on-line and search for affirmations that help you with your “trash of choice.”  Make up your mind to do better.  Yes, you can, so don’t go talking about “that’s just how I am.”  It is not.  It is who you choose to be. 

Practice saying something positive each day to yourself and someone else.  It may feel forced or artificial at first, but stay with it.  When we are beginning something new it often feels this way.  STOP listening to negative things about others.  For those of us hooked on “The Housewives” of any state or any other “reality” show where women have made a sport of cussing, backbiting, etc.  it means detox from this for at least 30 days.  It may mean telling our girlfriends, co-workers, sisters, mothers, etc. “I can’t hear that right now.”  See if your ideas about yourself and other women begins to shift just a bit.  Practice not criticizing what another sister is wearing, or where she lives, what she drives or who she dates, loves. etc.  Bring the focus inside and practice being loving and positive to yourself.  Allow yourself to make a mistake.  Forgive yourself for “the great wrong” you think you’ve committed.  Allow yourself to have a good cry, to rid yourself of loss that you’ve been carrying around.  Dance naked in the mirror, thanking God for every bulge, lump, bump.   Speak The Good into your situation. 

I was raised in a faith that was based on the belief that God is Love.  As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that we know this not because God went around “telling” everybody He was love, but by showing up as love in the life of folks.  Love is about action and the place to start is with yourself.  I know for many of us, we’ve been taught that to think of ourselves first is selfish and even sinful.  SO NOT TRUE.   One of my favorite African proverbs says, “Before healing others, heal thyself.”  Truly this is the only way we have of positively impacting those around us.  Our words are seeds we plant deep in the hearts, spirits and minds of others.  The words we use to describe ourselves and others informs both our talk and our walk.  In order to walk well we must SPEAK THE GOOD!


Thoughts of Mama: 33 Years After

February 4, 2011

January 31, 2011

So yesterday, January 30, 2011, was the 33rd Anniversary of the death of my mother, Irma Johnson Smith.  She wasn’t just any kind of mother either.  I could (and did) talk to her about any and everything.  Now don’t get me wrong, Mama wasn’t one of these mothers who bragged about being “friends” with me.  It was always perfectly clear that she was the only adult in the relations.  Mama was just one of those rare and special adults who really listened.

I never missed the fact that I was very fortunate to have her as my mother I realized that I was enjoying something that many of my friends didn’t have – a mother who not only loved me, but one I liked!  One that I could talk to about the things that mattered to me (even if they must’ve sounded childish and sometimes a little crazy.)  In hindsight, I like to think that God knew we didn’t have time to waste with the common “mother-daughter” stuff that sometimes separates mothers and daughters for years and years.

Mama gave me a gift, that as a parent, I’ve tried to give my son – the gift of being SEEN and HEARD.  Mama listened to it all.  And believe me as much as I liked to talk there was plenty – LOL.  She made room for me to figure out things on my own without leaving me alone (BIG difference.)  I was even free to think my own thoughts, figure out what worked and didn’t work for me.  I was even free to disagree (respectfully of course) with Mama without fearing repercussions.

Thoughts of Mama stayed with me more than usual this year.  I welcomed each thought or flash of memory with a smile and a silent praying; hoping Mama would be proud as she watched over me from above.

I thought about sitting down and writing her a letter, to catch her up on things.  Got busy and that didn’t happen.  Instead, this morning as my night’s sleep slipped away to welcome a new day, the following was On My Heart

My brain couldn’t get around the fact that she was gone.  I had nothing to measure the loss against. 

Must be a mistake.  Mama’d never left me before.  It took me a while to realize that what I was feeling was ALONE.  With Mama, I’d never felt that before.  How could she just leave me?

Who would smile at me first thing in the morning or remind me to have a good day before I left for school?

How could Mama just be no more?  Who would listen to all I had to say now?  Must be a mistake; I mean I was only 17 and wasn’t this the time a girl needed her mother the most?  Was I even sitll a girl?  Was I still a daughter now that Mama was gone?

How could she just be gone.  Daddy didn’t know me and I wasn’t all that familiar with him, either.  Anyway, he didn’t get off work until 5pm.  Who’d come to award assemblies or bake cupcakes for the class Valentine’s Day party?  Who’d go on field trips and write notes so I could leave 6th period a little early to get to away football games?  Who’d be there to ask “How was your day?”  when I got home from school at 4pm?

I’d always imagined Mama would keep my room the same when I went away to college and fix all my favorite foods when I came home for a visit. 

Who’d take picures of me on prom night and wait up for me to get home,  so I could relive every moment?

I’m probably getting ahead of myself, I mean I’m only 17, but who would help me shop for my wedding dress or come home with me from the hospital after my first child was born?

Now that Mama was gone, who’d listen to my every dream and make me believe they’d all come true?  Would I be expected to take her place?

Breast cancer?  Mama always joked about not having “much up there” in the first place.  How had cancer had room?

I must’ve fallen asleep and woke up in somebody else’s life.  Mama wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.

Better get my brain together.  Better let it know she’s not here anymore.  Better hope my brain can remember to make the beds, fix dinner and help my little sister figure out Mama is gone.  Yeah, better hurry up and get my brain around the space Mama left because it’s going to take a while for my heart to get it.

dedicated to Mama . Irma Smith. Oct. 17, 1924 – Jan. 30, 1978

33 years is a long time.   Today in the place where sorrow, anger, fear and doubt came to visit after Mama passed, is only a deep sense of gratitude for the lessons learned along the way, for the countless “Angels” who came to guide me in her physical absence, for the valleys where I got to learn that “Mama’s Girl” was as beautiful, capable and strong as Mama always believed, for those times on the mountain where I could catch my breath and thank God for sunshine in the midst of my rainy days.

Is Alabama in America?

January 17, 2011


Each “On My Heart” entry is just that – something that is weighing in on my heart.  I didn’t want a blog that moans and groans; whines and complains or even one that rants and raves.  It is my hope that “On My Heart” inspires and engages and at its best moves you to action.

“Is Alabama in America?” was a question asked of me several weeks ago by a 9th grade student.  Take a moment with your “WHAT?!”, “You must be kidding me!” “Oh, My God” and” !@@$#”  and then read on. . . . .

This 9th grade student is an American born citizen of Latin descent whose parents were also American born and raised in the United States.  He and his parents were all educated by the public school systems in the Bay Area; he since kindergarten.  I was on a multiple day substitute teaching assignment in a Bay Area high school English class.  This is my FAVORITE assignment for all the obvious reasons.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the lesson plan left for me indicated that students would be reading a ballad entitled, “The Ballad of Birmingham.”  The ballad centered on the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed 4 Little Girls:  Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

I imagined that the teacher had walked them through key facts about the Civil Rights Movement.  I imagined how much I would’ve enjoyed this particular unit of study – what additional materials I could’ve brought in to supplement the pitifully limited and lacking information provided in most current history texts. (SEE BELOW FOR A LITTLE MORE ON THIS ISSUE.)

I became somewhat nervous, when the students told me they had been “studying” poetry for several weeks and didn’t know the difference between a ballad and a sonnet.  I looked this up in their literature book, gave them a couple of examples and then explained the assignment left by their teacher.  Once they were able to settle themselves (which took way too much time for any 9th grade students anywhere – but that’s for another entry.  Before you think it had anything to do with me being THE SUB, Ms. C. J. as I’m called by students doesn’t have your typical sub challenges) the questions began.  Most questions had to do with the meaning of a word despite the fact that all new vocabulary was bolded in the ballad and listed in a green vocabulary box with the definition to the right of the ballad!

Then my friend who inspired this entry, let’s call him Javier, raised his hand and asked me where Birmingham was. 

Okay, take a deep breath like I did.  I quickly said to myself – this teacher has not done his job and the child can’t be expected to know every city in every state.  I told him Birmingham was in Alabama.  He thanked me and continued his reading.  Moments later, Javier called me close to his desk and whispered, “Ms. C. J., is Alabama in America?”  There was no joking or trying to drive the sub crazy in the big brown eyes looking up at me.  I answered, “Yes” and then STOPPED the class.

I asked for a show of hands of those who had heard of the Civil Rights Movement.  About 5 or 6 hands (of the 27 students) went up.  When asked which of those raised hands could tell the rest of the class a little about the Civil Rights Movement all hands went down.  Then 1 of the brave souls put her hand back up and said “I know something about Rosa Parks.”  I thanked her for her offering and asked her to share this with the class.

In the end I left a note for the teacher, letting him know his lesson plan had been altered.  “The Ballad of Birmingham” had been read aloud, but only AFTER all the children saw where Alabama was on a map and some discussion about the Civil Rights Movement in America.  The 15 questions he wanted them to answer about the ballad would have to be answered on another day because students had been in a discussion getting their questions answered:  1.  Who would bomb a church?  2.  Was it Osama Bin Laden?  3. Was it a Muslim church?  4.  Didn’t the men know people were at church?  5.  Did the men go to jail?  6.  Why were the white people so mad at the Black people?

The next time you are tempted to shake your head at the lack of information and understanding our children have, call the school in your neighborhood.  Find out what the American History class/text covers.  Volunteer to coordinate a Black History program.  You may be surprised to know they’ve been replaced with multicultural celebrations.  Volunteer to speak to a class about a moment in Black History.  Donate some books, DVDs on the topic to a school library.

As we celebrate and commemorate the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day the least we can do is make sure our children know that Alabama is indeed in America!

NOTE:  Over the last 6 or 7 years I’ve been working as a substitute teacher I’ve had occasion to sub in history classes.  I’ve been appalled at the lack of and/or limited amount of  information about the Black experience in America.  Let’s hold school districts accountable for teaching!