More Than A Woman… A Force to be Reckoned With

What I am about to address will most certainly be the uncommon, unpopular opinion, and I am okay with that. I’m going to speak anyway, because, in my heart and soul, I feel this is something my people as a community at large miss when we support things in mainstream that clearly undermines who we are and what we are capable of as a people. So, I challenge you to read carefully and think critically about what I am saying. It is my opinion, and as such, I do not expect nor require anyone who reads this to share or agree with what I present. All I ask is that you respond with respect and think before you respond.

When the show Scandal first hit the airwaves, I was intrigued, just like the rest of the world. A well-educated, well-dressed, articulate woman of color who had the resources and capability to “fix” the various scandals that all too often occur on Capitol Hill. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by such a concept? But it was the underlying story line that soon moved me from interested to insulted and infuriated. I began to take great issue with the character of Olivia Pope as her integrity as a woman deteriorated before my very eyes. Here was a brilliant woman of color, classy and eloquent, to whom people flocked to cover up their indiscretions, and yet had no control over her own personal life. When courted by senators and career military men, she instead chose to be the mistress to the President, his dirty little secret. Now, you might say that this is simply entertainment, but why must this be the best that Olivia Pope can do for herself in her personal life? Where is her sense of self-respect and self-worth? Why is it that Shonda Rhimes, another woman of color, thought it would be appropriate to present Olivia in this light? The woman who can “fix” the lives of others, but has no stability in her own life? While it proves that most people don’t follow the advice or suggestions that they give other people, there is much more at stake than that to me. I take personal issue with it as another woman of color.

Growing up, I grew up watching Claire Huxtable and Vivian Banks and Harriette Winslow, strong, educated, articulate women of color who had a great impact on their world, both inside and outside their homes. Claire Huxtable was a well-established lawyer at a white male dominated law firm where she held her own and demanded respect from her colleagues simply by the way she spoke and the way she carried herself. She had a command of the English language and of the law statutes that made you look and listen when she spoke. Her no-nonsense approach to everything she did was admirable for a woman of her time and stature. But, not only was her professional life in order, her home was in order as well. All five children knew that she was not one to be messed with. She ruled her home with an iron fist, demanding respect and excellence from everyone who stepped foot into her home – children, spouses, grandchildren, etc. – all while honoring her husband as the head of the household. She was well-rounded, taking an interest in art and music. She was a strong woman, but she was still a woman.

Vivian Banks was very much the same way. When she spoke, people listened. When it was time to take in her nephew, she held him to the same high standards to which she held her own children. She challenged them to know their history and embrace all that it could teach them as they went through life and education. She stood up to anyone who tried to tell her she wasn’t good enough to be present or participate in any event. She loved her husband, supported him and empowered him to be successful in his career, all while pursuing her own interests and hobbies. And she taught her daughters to be women who stood for themselves in the face of opposition and adversity.

While Harriette Winslow was far less well-known than Claire and Vivian, she had an impact on me in my formative years as yet another example of a strong black woman who could hold her ground and take care of her family, as well as the neighbor’s kid (LOL). She taught her children about self-respect and the important of an education. She was there when they needed her, to listen, to teach, and to nurture. When they got out of line, she would remind them who was in charge and why. She reminded me a lot of my own mother, tough and tender. She was the quintessential black mother, who ran her house well, so that her husband could go out and make a living. There was nothing to be ashamed about being a housewife, because she kept that house running, even with her sister and nephew in the mix.

These are the kinds of models I would want my daughter to grow up watching, to want to emulate. These are the kind of women that I would prefer to see portrayed in primetime television, women of color who knew who they were and what they were about. These women knew what it meant to balance home and work without one suffering at the hands of the other. These women were married to men of substance and character, and continued to encourage and empower their husbands to reach their potential, all while loving them fiercely. But where are the role models now?? I would never consider emulating Olivia Pope, a woman who presents well, but is really struggling to figure who she is and what she wants. Yes, that is a part of the process of becoming an adult, but I would rather have a woman portrayed who has a clear mind about her, and won’t let anyone disrespect her because she’s available. All the fashion in the world does not make up for a woman who does not know who she is and where she is headed in life. I would much rather see women of color portrayed in roles that inspire me to reach higher and dig deeper, who give me something to aspire to, something for which to reach. Olivia Pope doesn’t do it for me, and, if you are a woman of color and you are honest, you would say the same. I was incredibly disappointed to realize that the person who wrote Scandal is a woman of color. Dear Shonda, is this how you want America to see the modern black woman? How is this better than the days of Mammie and maids? How is this better than how they already see us? It’s not. It’s just a different kind of slavery, only she has been given new clothes, all while still doing the master’s dirty work.

We as women have an incredible capacity to influence the world that we live in. We bear and raise children, the next generation that will go on to impact the world. What are we teaching them about self-worth and self-respect when we support shows in the media that portray us in this light?? What are we teaching our daughters about how they are to navigate a white male-dominated world? That they have to sleep their way to get where they want to be? No matter how hard they work and study and learn? No matter how brilliant their mind or how articulate they may be? This is not the lesson I would teach my future daughter. I will teach her the lessons that I learned from my parents, the lessons that I learned from Claire and Vivian and Harriette. I will teach her that she can do anything she sets her mind to do, when she trusts her way to God. I will teach her that true beauty comes through in the way you treat people and how you carry yourself, not from the labels on your back. I will teach her that it is important to have a masterful command of the English language, because expressing yourself articulately will garner you respect everywhere you go. I will teach her that her self-value and self-worth are to be found in the contents of her mind, not what’s between her legs. I will teach her how to love, honor, and respect herself, so that she will demand the same from those she encounters. I will teach her about how infinite God’s love is for her, and that no man should be allowed to look twice at her unless he has a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. And I will teach her that all of humanity deserves respect, simply because they are human and created in the image of their Creator. She will be empowered to be everything that she was created to be, as much as is in my power with God’s help. And, with prayer and faith, she will never grow up to be an Olivia Pope, but rather a Claire or a Vivian or a Harriette, sure of herself, her purpose, and her Creator. Period.

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The Spirituality of Spock

True wholeness requires an understanding and embracing of one’s WHOLE SELF – good, bad, and ugly. One cannot simply EXIST; one must THRIVE. I don’t want to EXIST or SURVIVE. I want to THRIVE, to feel and be fully ALIVE. Not busy for the sake of being busy, but busy transforming the best version of ME. Growing up in church had its advantages and disadvantages. I learned Biblical principles, but, to some degree, I also learned how to hide behind them, like most other Christians. The person I hid from the most was ME. But, with time and maturing, the process of understanding who I am now and am becoming has been the process that I now embrace instead of fear. Being fearfully and wonderfully made means celebrating being fully human AND deeply spiritual. I have come to understand that being spiritual ought not rob me of my humanity, but instead inspire my humanity. Being human used be synonymous with being broken to me. But the first human God created WASN’T BROKEN! Adam, and later Eve, were perfect being fully human. They were not angels or Nephilim or any other spiritual beings. They were INTENTIONALLY HUMAN! Consider this: If God the Creator purposefully created human beings as a part of the ecosystem, why do we, as Christians, spend our entire life journey RUNNING FROM OUR HUMANITY?? Yes, sin exists. But could it be possible that our spiritual connection to our Creator is what EMPOWERS us to be human? Even more, is it possible that our humanity ENHANCES our spiritual connection to our Creator?! We bury our humanity under the busyness of the routine and ritual of the church and religion, to the point where we neglect and deny the reality that we are HUMAN BEINGS! And when you hide from or attempt to discredit your very existence, you cause an identity crisis that cannot be remedied until you acknowledge and EMBRACE the being God created you to be. This, my friends, is LIFE at its very best, one’s humanity and one’s spirituality peacefully coexisting and working together to produce the best version of YOU. Who would turn that down??

I think the best way that I can illustrate this war between the physical and the spiritual is my dear friend Mr. Spock (don’t judge my Star Trek reference – there is a deeper lesson to be learned here). Spock is the well-known first officer to Captain James Kirk on the starship Enterprise. What is unique about him is his heritage. You see, he is half human, half Vulcan, a blending of two diametrically opposed cultures. On one hand, the human race is known for being very much in touch with their emotions, and are willing to embrace and express said emotions based on the circumstance. Vulcans, on the other hand, pride themselves on the seemingly excessive level to which they restrict and suppress their emotional side in favor of logic and reason. To Vulcans, emotions are illogical, and therefore serve no real purpose. Imagine the internal war that Spock faced every single day, trying to balance one part of himself with the other. While he possessed the capacity to show self-restraint and self-control in the face of incredibly strong feelings and emotions, he also was very much human in that he could not simply dismiss or turn off those very same feelings and emotions. And so he faced a challenge – pick a side, and a lifestyle. Living as a Vulcan was very different from living as a human. Everything from education to occupation was approached from a completely different lens and perspective. So, as a young child, by the choice of his parents, Spock was raised and educated in the Vulcan culture. But, when he came of age, he made a choice to attend the Star Fleet Academy, after passing the Vulcan’s equivalent with flying colors. He chose a different path, taking what he had learned from his Vulcan culture and using it to help him excel at the Star Fleet Academy founded in human culture. What he discovered was that one set of education and learning actually complemented the other. And, as he excelled and climbed the ranks in Star Fleet, he learned more and more what it meant and could mean to be both Vulcan and human, two seemingly opposite worlds residing in the same house. It wasn’t as painful or as difficult as it seemed.

This is the lesson that we must learn about our existence. C.S. Lewis stated that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. But the opposite is also true, that we are human beings having a spiritual experience. To take one without the other would be egregious and short-sighted. One of my life mantras is God created us with purpose, on purpose, and for a purpose. If He wanted more angels, He would have created them. But instead He created Mankind, to rule the earth and the beasts on the earth. He created a human being in His image who would mirror His heavenly rule on earth. What a thought! Go back and read the Creation account in Genesis where He, the Triune God, decides in His infinite wisdom, to “create man in Our image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We, in our own unique way, are the Spocks of today, stumbling around, pitting one part of ourselves against the other, when all we need to do in order to live the full, abundant life that Jesus came in order for us to enjoy, is to embrace both sides of the same coin, both characteristics of the same house. Stop suffocating your humanity in order to protect your spirituality, because the reality is that, when you do that, both suffocate and die. So it’s time that we stop favoring our spiritual side over our human sense, and, instead, use our spiritual side to infuse our humanity and our humanity to enliven our spirituality. Being a human is not a curse; remember the words of David in Psalm 139:14 – “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Celebrate both sides of who God created you to be. Embrace what it means to be deeply spiritual and fully human. Let the real journey of self-discovery begin NOW.

Reflections from the streets of Baltimore…

It is the third night of the curfew in Baltimore City, and all I can hear are helicopters hovering in the area. That’s right – I live in Baltimore City. In fact, I live less than 2 miles from Mondawmin Mall, the epicenter of the riots that broke out just four days ago. I am no stranger to this mall or to this neighborhood. I may not have been born here, but, from the age of 5, I was raised in Baltimore City. In the last couple days following the riots, I have found myself exponentially aware my perspective and the environments that I find myself in. You see, I work in one of the counties surrounding the city, in an office that is predominantly white and upper class. These people with whom I work on a daily basis share very little in common with me, other than a passion for medicine and the health of children. I work in a pediatric group practice. They go to the harbor for entertainment. They attend sporting events and concerts in the city. But they do not live here. And the majority of them have never been profiled by a police officer, or a store manager, or a random stranger walking down the sidewalk past them. They don’t know what it means to be black in America. And furthermore, they have no idea what it means to be black in Baltimore City. And so, when I walked into work on Tuesday, after watching the riots unfold, listening to the sounds of helicopters and sirens whine on well into the night, after crying and praying over the city I call home for 25 years, I didn’t expect anything. Most of them don’t know or remember that I live in Baltimore. The ones who did were kind enough to call or text me the night before to make sure that me and my family were safe and okay. But, by and large, they seemed unaffected by the events that unfolded. To them, Baltimore became another Ferguson, another New York, another South Carolina, where another black man was unfairly treated by law enforcement and “it’s just so sad.” I walked in carrying the weight of the city’s pain on my shoulders, and I was the only one who really truly understood it.

Never before in my short 30 years of walking this earth have I been more willing and more adamant about being the voice of truth to those who don’t want to understand, don’t have to understand, or who are trying and yet still fail to understand. I have been blessed to have some really meaningful and intentional conversations with people about the truth that lies beneath the riots. I have been able to articulate for those who are outside looking in what is really going on in the city, and I have been encouraged by those interactions. I have chosen to remain calm or removed from certain controversial conversations with the people that I work with simply because it can make for a hostile or uncomfortable work environment. But this is something that I have not been able to stay out of, and it is something that I refuse to be passive about. I have a connection to this city and these people that they do not have. And, because of it, there are others who have a slightly better understanding. I am glad to know people who are willing to listen and have the hard conversations and seek to understand, instead of labeling them “thugs” and “criminals” and write them off, along with the rest of the city. And these are some of the conversations that I hope and pray are being engaged across the country as we continue to wrestle with the issue of race in America

The reason my family moved from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Baltimore was my father’s call to pastor a church in the heart of the city. I grew up with the kids who lived around the church, got to know them and their families, and learned a lot about what it really meant to live in an inner city environment. The seemingly insurmountable struggles and obstacles these people face because the system has failed them in multiple ways are astounding. One of my best friends, whom I have known from the age of 7 or so, at one point did not anticipate living beyond the age of 17 or 18, purely based on his surroundings and what he had seen mirrored in front of him in his neighborhood. Such a profound and deep-seated sense of hopelessness and despair is typical for a youth living in Baltimore. Martin Luther King said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” I go one step further to say that it is the language of the unseen. It is easy to ignore them when they are not on your radar. It’s easy to dismiss them when they protest and possibly inconvenience you because they believe that their cause is just. That’s the basis of civil disobedience. But you cannot ignore them when they start to seek and destroy. I don’t condone this outlet for their anger, but I understand it, and I understand that we have failed our youth. And, while we continue to come together and fight against the injustices that have prevailed for far too long, I hope and pray that we learn to fight for one another, instead of with one another. I pray that our government leaders and those public servants who were elected to act in the best interest of the city and her residents will do just that. I pray that the sense of unity and comradery that we have found against a police force that has appeared to do everything but “protect and serve” our communities, will continue and propel us forward to repair, rebuild, and grow in ways that they will know why Baltimore is called “Charm City.” And I will continue to pray for my brothers and sisters across the country who join us in the fight in their own respective neighborhoods. WE ARE ONE.

Keep the faith.

Black Lives Matter

**ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON APRIL 26, 2014**

This week, my neighborhood made national news as dozens of peaceful protestors filled the streets of downtown Baltimore in response to the Freddie Gray incident. And, really, the only reason any of this made national headlines is because of all the other incidents across the country that have rocked the nation in recent months concerning police brutality in the black community. But this is not the first time this has happened. One hundred reports of police brutality have been filed in the last four years in the Baltimore City, and who knows how many are unaccounted for. And yet, that is not the major issue. No one marches when we mindlessly kill our own in our own backyards. No one will stand up to the gangs and drug dealers who threaten the safety of our children and our community on a daily basis. No marches or protests have shut down the city because we as a community are tired of the war against ourselves.

People get upset when we say “Black Lives Matter.” The statement does not negate the fact that all lives matter, but it is a statement that must be made in the face of a society that doesn’t act like it believes that black lives matter. No one has to walk around reminding people that white lives matter – it is embodied in everything that is done, and, at times, to the detriment of other people groups that populate the country. The statement “Black Lives Matter” is an indictment on the institutionalized racism that runs covertly in the systems through which the country functions – businesses, education, employment, etc. No one wants to talk about white privilege because it makes people uncomfortable. But that doesn’t make it any less real, or any less damaging to those who are not afforded the same opportunities simply because they have less melanin in their skin. So, I echo the words “Black Lives Matter”, not just to law enforcement, but also to my brothers and sisters around the country. We have to learn to stand up to ourselves, for ourselves. Those who have been afforded the opportunity of an educated mind must remember clearly the humble beginnings from whence you came, and do what you can to go back and elevate your community. Each One Reach One is not a silly cliché or platitude that sounds good. It is the responsibility that we each have been charged with to fight to make our communities better, to provide better choices and opportunities for the next generation. It is our duty to make sure that our children and their contemporaries are able to step on the stones of the foundation that we have laid out for them in order to achieve success in life and become productive, contributing members of society, IN SPITE OF what society may say or assume about them. We must push and work to produce more than drug dealers, gang bangers, and pregnant teenagers who do not know their worth. We must do all we can to remedy the disintegration of the family and the chronic nature of fatherlessness in our community. We have to stop standing in silence as our brothers, sons, uncles, friends, and fathers are lost to the streets and the “hood mentality.” Yes, I will proclaim that all lives matter, because all lives are precious and sacred, even in a world that endorses otherwise. But I will even more proclaim that black lives matter, because they are the ones that are being discarded and disregarded, both by our community and the society in which we live. I am frustrated and saddened by what I continue to see happening in our communities, and I will do what I can to be a part of the solution, and not a part of the problem.