Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Strive to be Pro-Good Choice

I don't think ANY woman aspires to have an abortion. In fact, it must be one of the most heart wrenching and difficult decisions a woman will ever face. Men will never find themselves in this predicament so they really can't have an honest, first hand opinion into the matter.

I've been involved with Planned Parenthood since my teenage years. Planned Parenthood sponsored a teen television show in San Antonio and I was cast as a principal actor. Our skits talked about date rape, domestic violence, drug use, peer pressure and some other heavy topics looking back but the reality is that these topics were happening everyday and teens needed to talk about it. Hiding something under a rug doesn't make it go away. 

Women's bodies are simply amazing. With the ability to reproduce, we deserve to have complete autonomy over our own bodies and should be entrusted to make the BEST choice for OUR bodies at any given time in our lifetime. I don't have the right to make a decision for another woman based on my own moral or religious compass because I have not walked in that woman's shoes nor do I know her story or health history to judge.

Planned Parenthood has navigated so many friends and myself through our reproductive development. I know hundreds of women who personally got their first pap smear or birth control prescription at a clinic, received treatment for a medical problem, received a mammogram, received a vasectomy (YES!) and unfortunately, some have terminated pregnancies at a clinic but not every pregnancy was a viable one.

Teenage pregnancies were soaring in the U.S. at one time yet people would not allow Planned Parenthood into the communities or schools. People actually fought the addition of a clinic in their community yet no one is advocating for the neglected and unwanted child.

I stand behind planned parenthood because they want you to PLAN your pregnancy, They educate young women about pregnancy prevention and empower women to be in charge of who they love and how they love. Give people the knowledge and the resources to make GOOD CHOICES and you will not be disappointed.

At the end of the day, we can look within and question every choice we made. Did we eat the right foods? Did we say the right things? Did we have any negative thoughts? Our choices are truly ours and we will always be accountable for them. If you truly want to help women thrive, empower them starting with their own bodies.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

For those who know why a caged bird sings

Dr. Maya Angelou unarguably was one of the greatest poets who ever lived. Gifted with the strength of words, she was able to craft poetry and prose that spoke to the listener in such a way that your soul stirred. Her work was able to transcend racial and gender lines and is timeless in its relevance.

I first became acquainted with her work in the early 90's while a high school student. I competed in UIL competitions and began looking for literary pieces to recite that would also provide an outlet for my insecurities, fears and pain which were often masked by conceit, pride and anger.

As I began to embark on a pageant career, it was almost expected that any Black female contestant who was going to recite poetry would do a Maya Angelou piece. Fast forward twenty years and I continue to see her work demonstrated on pageant stages.

Of all of her works, there are three that have really impacted my life.

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
When I performed my version of this powerful poem, it was a pure reflection of my high school torment. Often outcast from the popular crowd and misunderstood by teachers, I felt that I was constantly being put down, mocked or disrespected. Reciting this poem allowed me to verbalize my frustration at all those against me and reiterated to my inner self that despite all these life challenges, I would rise and could rise.

Phenomenal Woman


Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I think 3 out of 4 of my friends can recite this poem from memory. It is so highly regarded that it was almost a Black women's anthem in my youth. Every word that was spoken when reciting this poem makes the woman embrace her own beauty through society's imperfections and speaks to the inner beauty at the core of being a woman. Not just any woman but a PHENOMENAL woman-always proud, always striving, always being true to oneself.

And the last poem is the most painful for me to openly discuss. Think of a beautiful bird in a cage....often admired as people look into the cage unaware that there are things going in the cage that are trying to keep the beautiful bird from soaring to the heights that God intended for all his creatures. 

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.


But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings with a fearful trill   
of things unknown but longed for still   
and his tune is heard on the distant hill   
for the caged bird sings of freedom.


The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own


But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings with a fearful trill   
of things unknown but longed for still   
and his tune is heard on the distant hill   
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

You see....I know why a caged bird sings. I know that the caged bird sings with a fearful trill and the bird that is free takes that freedom for granted; never coming back to free the caged bird from captivity. And I am here to tell you that when a caged bird is set free, he is going to fly and fly and fly as far away from his captor and into a sky that will welcome him with open arms. Rest in peace Maya Angelou. I will forever be grateful that you shared the wonderful gift of YOU with the world.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Life Lessons from the beach

Life's a beach! A bit cliche, no? From my very first visit to the beach in the early 90's, I fell in love with the sights, sounds and even smells of a beach. It is when I am at my purest self. I'm carefree, no worries and uninhibited.

The cool sand under my freshly painted toenails, the crashing symphony of the waves and the warm (often hot) sunshine on my skin always make me happy. So with all these good vibes and memories about the beach, what can one take away from the moment and apply to daily life?

1) Love the skin you are in. At the beach, you will see people in swimsuits in ALL shapes and sizes. The beauty of it is that no one seems to be concerned with their appearance but focused on the people they are with and enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer. If you're not comfortable with your swimsuit body, then take the necessary steps to change that but in the meantime, embrace who you are and what you look like. Being a depressed wallflower isn't going to change a thing.

2) Nature is a beautiful gift. For the most part, it doesn't cost to spend a day at the beach. You stake your own ground and create your own little paradise under the sun. You can play in the sand, hunt for seashells, lay out in the sun, or swim in the ocean. There you are-enjoying all that nature has to offer with little effort and money.

3) Sometimes you really do have to get away. A change of scenery can be a welcomed view. Sometimes you truly have to remove yourself from a daily routine to recharge your mind, body and spirit. It can be refreshing to partake in new scenery to think things over, mull a difficult decision or simply decompress. Don't be afraid to schedule some away time for you and always keep an open mind.

4) You have to dig through a lot of dirt to find the perfect shell. Looking for seashells is one of the most popular beach activities. My last few beach visits have been disappointing because the shells are either irregular or there aren't that many but when you find a beautiful one, you treasure it. In life, we have to come across so many imperfections and obstacles but if you keep searching for what you want, eventually you will find it and you will be glad that you didn't give up or sacrifice your personal standard.

5) Each time you go into the water, tread a little further. I don't want you to get lost at sea but did you ever notice that with each step into the water, you tend to gain confidence and venture out just a wee bit further? I have had a goal for as long as I can remember of gaining enough endurance and strength to run a mile without stopping. Plagued with asthma and a knee injury, I have always mentally discouraged myself that I can accomplish it but what if I started running down my street and each day ran by one more house? In enough time, I would accomplish my goal. Don't be afraid to step out on faith. One step at a time leads to progress.

6) If you don't protect yourself, you are going to get burned. Boy, did I learn this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago! Having failed to apply sunscreen, I came home with a painful sunburn and unsightly peeling. Just like in our personal relationships, you have to protect yourself from negative influences and associates with ill will or you will get burned. Be careful about sharing personal information or inviting people into your homes and social circles. Take the time to get to know people and always keep your guard up when red flags occur. You can be kind to everyone you met but everyone you meet does not have to become a close associate.

See you at the beach! I'll be the one in the big floppy hat.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Quiet Types

As a substitute teacher, I have spent a lot of time in public classrooms. For the most part, I find it rewarding and consider it my way of impacting students lives. It also gives me a glimpse into the community I live in.


I was actually in a classroom this week when the news broke of the mass stabbings at a Pennsylvania high school and I was horrified. I can only speculate what would fuel a young man to choose a knife as his choice of weapon to inflict slow pain and injury to so many people. His pain must have run deep.


The harsh truth is that most teachers focus on the brightest students in the room. The pretty girls, the handsome boys, the star athletes, the doctor's kids, the behavioral problems and the rich clique often command classroom attention and respect while the quiet, less than ideal, awkward students go unheard and unnoticed. I make it a point to spend time and focus efforts on those kids because I feel they need it most.


The adolescent years are tough. Everyone, no matter how cute they think they are, goes through an awkward and insecure phase. Some youth are more prone to bullying and outcast with hurtful labels and sadly, the damage may be severe and permanent.


I was very outspoken and picked on kids during my youth because I was hurting. My home life was full of turmoil and school provided an outlet where I could get attention and be in control. Unfortunately, that control manifested itself in bad behavior.


My hope is that every student will realize that they do matter, that someone does care and that school caste systems do not equate to life status. We need to do a better job of embracing those in our care and not letting one student fall through the cracks based on our own perception of success, beauty and aptitude.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Addressing Your Perceived Haters

What is a hater? Is a person who simply doesn't like you a hater? Do we put ourselves on such a high pedestal that we feel like everyone should constantly praise, celebrate and applaud our every move? If a person offers constructive criticism, do we label them a hater?

Quite simply put, a hater is someone in your circle who secretly desires to be you. They are willing to lend an ear or offer input into your personal negativity or drama but when you have a positive attribute or accomplishment, they are nowhere to be found. A hater will sit back and secretly hope for you to fail. Unlike an enemy, a hater wants a front row seat but is not in your audience.

So why do we give so much time and attention to our perceived haters? We dedicate time and energy into addressing the haters through tweets and status updates which only validates their opinion matters to you. By even taking the time to address them, you subconsciously fuel them further.

Keep yourselves far from envy; it eateth up and taketh away good actions, like as fire eateth up and burneth wood

If you have an accomplishment, accolade, or good news to share, then share it! Don't sit back and wait for people you already know don't support you nor do they contribute to your success to sing your praises. Why would you expect someone who doesn't support you frequently to celebrate you often?

If you have a "hater" in your circle, you have a choice to continue that relationship or allow them to wander in the mist. Stop worrying about who likes you and who doesn't. Focus on your family and loved ones and be in the moment with those who celebrate and support you. The best way to silence a hater is with silence.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lupita's Oscar Win a Win for ALL skin tones

Like most people, I was elated to see young newcomer Lupita Nyong'o win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "12 Years A Slave." Throughout the award season, she has been a fashion standout and has captivated the public with her beauty, poise, elegance and humble heart.

I remember when Halle Berry won the Oscar for "Monster's Ball." I was absolutely ecstatic because she was the first African-American woman to nab the Best Actress Oscar. What I don't remember is saying to myself "This is for all the light skin, yellow, mixed race girls with long hair out there." And I certainly didn't use it as an opportunity on social media to elevate my own perception of beauty.

Yes, Lupita has darker skin. Yes, Lupita has shorter hair and yes, she is to be celebrated for who she is but there are those who take this opportunity to elevate their self esteem by putting other women down who don't share in these physical features yet we {lighter skin tones} are just as happy to celebrate her beauty. No, I don't look like Lupita but my grandmother did. Who determines who is entitled to celebrate the beauty of a woman? Must we be a mirror image of beauty to appreciate it?

As a lighter skinned woman, I have faced discrimination and racism and behaviors demonstrated by darker skinned Blacks makes me endure all over again it within my own race. It's really an outdated paradigm that will continue to divide us and hamper our intellectual growth.

I am sure that Lupita will change a young girl's perception of herself. My life changed in September of 1984 when I saw Vanessa Williams win Miss America. It just so happens that Vanessa has light eyes and light skin but she would have had the same impact on my perception of beauty and self worth had she been any shade of brown skin. She was someone I could relate to and I won't apologize for that.

Shout outs to "the chocolate sisters" leave me confused because the chocolate I eat comes in white, light, milk and dark. We can never attain equality when we continue to self segregate and create discord within our own race.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Black ballerinas are on pointe!

Last week, I had the opportunity to cross something off of my bucket list. I don't have many lofty or extraordinary things on my list; just meaningful experiences that take me back to the few safe places of my childhood. Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to see a Black ballet ensemble perform and I had the opportunity to see The Dance Theatre of Harlem perform in Irving, Texas.

I vividly remember the birthday I received a doll that looked like a Black ballerina.  She had on a pink tutu with cotton candy pink tights and pointe shoes. When you would press her head, her leg would kick up. She immediately became my favorite doll.

I think most little girls at some point dream of being a ballerina. After all, ballerinas are graceful. They are poised and elegant. They wear beautiful costumes and command attention when they take to the stage and if you are lucky enough to be the star, you twirl in the spotlight and command attention.

My mom put me in ballet classes but I was a very sick little girl and couldn't keep up. When I contracted pneumonia at the age of 10 and my left lung collapsed, my ballet career was done. I do recall that there were few little girls who looked like me in the class. When my own daughter entered classes, she was also the only Black girl in her class and quickly lost interest.

I always wanted to expose myself and my daughter to fine and cultural arts so we frequently attended operas, symphony, theatre, ballet and folklore performances. As a single mom, we often had the "worst" seats in the house but we were there. It always saddened me that there were few, if any, people of color in the performances. You can't be what you can't see. How could my own child have aspirations to be on stage when no one that resembles her is on stage?

In Sheri Bailey's stage play "Southern Girls", the character of Wanda Sue has big dreams of being a dancer. Her friends tease her about being a dancer but she proudly  demonstrates that she sneaks to the ballet school and watches the girls dance. She has even mastered several ballet pointe positions as a result. My daughter and I both shared in the casting of this role to great irony since we both had childhood aspirations of being a ballerina.

If you never see anyone that resembles you in a particular occupation or role, where can you draw from to gain the motivation and inspiration to step outside of your comfort zone and aim for the stars? It is critical that people of color have exposure and opportunities to embrace fine arts. An appreciation of the arts helps develop cultural respect and history knowledge. If fine arts is equated to higher society and income, shouldn't we instill an appreciation of fine arts in our children?

When The Dance Theatre of Harlem took to the stage last week, I fought to hold back the tears. I was overcome with joy with finally seeing my own childhood dream come to fruition through someone else and I was extremely happy to see the front row filled with school age children who could see ballerinas who looked like them perform. Now those children have the confidence to put their own dreams "on pointe."


Myself portraying Wanda Sue in the LSUS production of "Southern Girls"