Monthly Archives: January 2013

Where is YOUR Absurd?

It is often said to Achieve the impossible, one must go beyond what is thought to be possible and in recent days, never has it been more evident than in the appointment of Sylvia Simms, a phenomenal Parent Advocate and Founder of ” Parent Power”  to  a place of  honor..  What is so special about her you ask?  She is a mom and grandma in North Philadelphia. A Bus Aide. Has a high School diploma. And Oh yes, she DARED to believe change could happen for the parents in the Philadelphia School District. So armed  with nothing more than that belief coupled with passion and determination, she raised her voice, got other parents behind her and began attending every and anything in the City that affected the children and their families.  That drive and dogged determination, got the attention of people in places that could make a difference and they called Sylvia to the table.  She stayed there through a series of conversations along with asking for guidance where needed.  Sylvia Simms may never say this but I certainly can.  It was not easy. She suffered at the hands of those who thought she should not be doing any of this work, who tried to belittle her because as she puts it, ” She speaks the language of her people with no apologies and had no degrees” and were just downright awful because they could be.  What they all failed to see in their nearsightedness, is that true power comes from within and she has the degree called life living right there among the people she loves so dearly.

Not to be deterred , this brave woman pressed on in faith and on January 28th 2013, she was Appointed to the School Reform Commission by the Mayor of Philadelphia, the Honorable Michael Nutter.  Sylvia is an awesome example of what is possible when you not only dare to dream but believe that change was inevitable,  inspite of what she was told countless times. So, today as I congratulate my sister, she is also the backdrop for what I am about to say next.

Far too often, I hear these words from people; ” It has always been this way and things will never change.”  At what point, will we begin to understand that those are the words of someone who is defeated before they even began?  Why is it that so many of us, see and knows what needs to be done but are so unwilling to do the absurd for the benefit of more than themselves?  Why can’t we understand that in order to truly be successful about anything, money or the lack thereof cannot be the first thing that passes your lips? Why are we not willing to take the risk of suffering and being in need to get to the next step?   What you have essentially done is put out into the universe subconsciously that you want to help others only to a point as you must be compensated.  Why is it so hard for others to comprehend that if you begin your passion and stick with it no matter what, you will then  reap awesome rewards, monetary and otherwise as a  direct result?

Look at Oprah who started out just wanting to change lives… the Universe opened the door for great opportunities that allowed her to land right where she is today.  It didn’t just magically appear either.  She put the intention out and then worked hard inspite of what things looked like..  I have become so annoyed and refuse to give any energy to those who want things to be perfectly in place before they begin to truly step out on faith.  It is not ever ok to allow anyone to take all the risks then jump onboard when you see that a change is getting ready to happen.  It bespeaks of  a lack of courage and faith  among other things. If Sylvia waited for someone to compensate her so  she could work on behalf of these families, she would still be unknown and just another face.

So I ask you, where is your “absurd?”  What drives you to do what is needed despite not having money or the limelight?  what would make you lose sleep, time with your family and face certain failure time and again to see the fruits of your labor?  If your answer is nothing, that’s cool too. Just do the rest of us a favor and step aside while the true work gets done.

Enough said.

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with WHOSE money?

As I continue on this life altering journey to a smaller diva, I recently took on the latest challenge of running in a Diva Half marathon in September.  Lest you start to get too excited, I am sensibly doing the 5k portion o f said race in order to preserve my hips, knees and sanity. Once I signed up  for the race which was a ridiculously long process in my humble opinion, I then went to find a good pair of running sneakers that would absorb what jiggled and shook. No, I am not quite there in the quest to be jiggle free and one must keep it real and honest so as to not live in an altered state of reality.

Keep in mind that I only own one pair of sneakers at a time since the only place I would be caught dead in a pair is while I work- out so when I walked into the store, the colors alone made my head swim. I was then told which design would best fit these narrow feet and what modern technology was in place to absorb the impact of my joints.  Ten minutes later, I chose a pair and almost keeled over when told the sticker price of $134.00!  For what? Remind me again what these things do?  Just how much do they cost to make exactly and why do I feel like I am being taken completely for a ride?

As aggravated as I was, I bought the silly things because they were great for absorbing the shock on my  knees and proceeded to head to a meeting with middle school kids where I complained bitterly that sneakers should not ever cost that much money yada, yada, yada…. Those teens looked at me and fell out laughing until they had tears in their eyes.  When they finally came up for air, one said ” Mrs. Trainer, are you kidding me?  The pair you bought were so cheap.  Our sneakers cost from $250.00 on up.”  Huh? for shoes they walk around in and get dirty?  That has no redeemable value almost before they are bought?  What?  Who is purchasing these shoes for such ridiculous amounts I ask? Their parents, came the all too gleeful replies.

I got home, looked at my sons dead in the corneas and told them if they ever thought they could come to this parent for shoes that cost $250.00, they had a better chance petitioning Jesus to help them walk on water… with whose money??

 

Enough said

 

Ms Norma….

Living in our quiet suburb community across the street from our quiet, well-kept home was what my poor mother considered all at once an annoyance and a nightmare;  Ms Norma.  What is so special about Ms. Norma you ask?  Buckle up and take this ride with me. Enfield Ave, was a place where middle class families resided and everyone took pride in their respective properties.  That block shone as a direct result.  The home directly across the street was no different; well kept and was a beautiful sight. That is until, one of the residents would come outside, half naked in nothing but a slip cursing at the top of her voice at everyone and the light post.  Seriously. no joke.  Meet my beloved Ms. Norma.

Ms Norma lived in that pretty home with her two daughters who were flight attendants and mostly gone.  what I didn’t know at the time was their mother was diagnosed as bi-polar, paranoid schizophrenic. All I knew is that the neighbors gave her wide berth as she was known to get worse if she even thought you were looking in her direction.  A few tried to calm her down and they limped away with verbal wounds never to recover.

there were days when she was lucid and I guess they were able to get her on the meds regularly but when she refused to take them she was off on a tangent again.  That is until the day I was walking out my house and she stopped, looked at me and asked if I understood where she was coming from.  In my innocence, I would stop, listen and talk to her.  We became instant friends.  Whenever she needed anything, she would dust off her feet, walk across the street and softly ask me for a ” Little sugga, Little, rice or little flour”  I gave her whatever she wanted and freely shared my parent’s food to the point that when I left Jamaica, she spilled our secret after one of my sisters refused her..lol!!

The impact of my  patience and kindness towards her was soon made evident years later when my oldest son went to Jamaica as a baby.  When she found out he was my child, they formed an instant bond and Alexander was known to sit and wait for her so he could call her name and they would proceed to have lengthy discussions in a language only they understood.  I am told it made her so happy and I am glad because she didn’t like too many people.

We never know the impact we have  on others each time we give a little of our time; it has been two decades later and  Ms. Norma has since died but she taught me a lesson in love that I will not soon forget.  In her often foggy brain, she gave back to my first-born in spades, what I had given to her; kindness and love, with no judgement attached.

Enough said

Mat-su-tat-su Nak-a-yama

I swear, I was on my way to bed all medicated from this sinus infection that I am fighting with due diligence . Then it happened; my phone pinged signaling an email that I almost ignored but decided to check at the last second.  It’s from my father. Had to open it. Big mistake.  The title of his email is the tag line of my blog above and it immediately brought back a rush of memories.

You see, that name, Matsutatsu Nakayama was the title of our childhood dog that I cannot even remember now, how we came to acquire him.  I just knew he was ours and daddy decided upon the name of a famous Japanese boxer.  Not wanting to keep repeating that many syllables, we called him “Nakka” for short.  41 emails later, we had differing views of this beloved pet but it seemed mine were the fondest and here is why;  It took us a looong time to convince our father that we were old enough to take public transportation to school and in fact, we were well into high school before he allowed us to only if, either he or mommy walked us to the bus stop each morning since it was still dark outside when we left.

This delightful dog would walk the six or so blocks to the bus stop with the parent of choice, barked at everyone and once we boarded the school bus, would run behind it for a mile until we were out of sight.  My sisters were mortified as people would ask in an annoyed voice; “whose dog is that?” they remained silent but Nakka would come and perch right by our legs as if to say ”  oh no you will not disown me!”  The best part though? My beloved dog  would be waiting at the bus stop each evening for me no matter what time I got home and would run around my legs all the way home.

Never quite figured out how he knew the time to be there and he would growl at people he sensed I didn’t like.  I will never forget this brute of a man who saw me at church during our youth meetings and took to waiting for me once he figured out my schedule.  My darling dog scared the mess out of him and was not afraid to bite if he came within a certain distance .  My father only found out about this tonight.  He was such a fabric of our family that when he died, I have not gotten another dog since.  My father wrote his email to see if we remembered him and I do not think he expected quite the vociferous response he got.  I loved that dog;  he was fearless, a protector and gave us blind pure love.

Rest in doggie heaven nakka…

enough said

Moving right along to success..

There are three words many have come to despise in Education in part, because it comes with a serious level of accountability and shines the spotlight on so much that is happening right now; ” The Achievement Gap”.  For those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time looking at the data, it very clearly shows two things; If you  are considered poor or a child of color, you are less likely to succeed in school.  Over the years, lots of new methods have been tried, billions of dollars spent, and buzz words were thrown around enough to make your head spin. We have heard things such as ” these kids just can’t learn no matter what we do”, ” Their parents just do not care” or the best one to date if you reside in the suburbs; ” It’s the kids who move in from the urban areas that are pulling our numbers down”  Sadly, so many people believe this and it has become the mantra in places, as a way to justify low scores.

In many school buildings, there are wonderful educators who have tried, bless their hearts, a myriad of things and while they have had a modicum of success, it eventually peter out in a year or three. The answer to all of this is so simple really but because the largest problems in solving this issue is time  and long-held beliefs that have stuck to the walls of many buildings, it all seemed in vain. Until now.

Travel if you will with me on the journey of a program that has met with serious resistance for the reasons described above but passion and a dogged determination,has led to an undeniable success to the point where this group has gained National attention.  Welcome to VIBE and IMAGINE.  The process is simple; twice a month, a group of children meet to discuss among other things, leadership, advocating for one’s self, aspiring to achieve at all costs and supporting each other.  These young people, in 8 years have been exposed to everything positive under the sun; etiquette business luncheons, college tours, local, state and National leaders to name a few.  A few key parents attend every meeting, makes visits as needed to homes in the communities and developed relationships with the families of these young people in a way that has long been thought of as impossible.

There were tears, disappointment and days when we wondered what had we done because it took about 3 years to truly begin seeing the manifestations of what we had begun. We have been invited to Higher learning institutions to discuss the Family portion of this program and even there,  a well-known professor looked at me in disbelief and said “he truly believed the data was correct and children mostly fall through the cracks if their parents are not involved” I ran into that professor again last year at a National conference and he publicly stated it took his going through all the things we had discussed years before with his own child for him to fully grasp just what was happening with the children.  He is completely involved with his children, well-known for this work and was met with resistance about his child choosing more challenging courses academically.  In that full room, he apologized.

What we essentially did, was arm those children with a respectful voice to be their own advocates, the skills to walk into any room and carry themselves professionally at all times and the confidence to know anything is possible.  Those same young people are now doing presentations to their peers in other districts and the program has been emulated in many places. Last evening, we came full circle as those young people sat in a meeting and did a beautiful presentation about the program and what it has meant to them.

Tears streamed silently down my face as it was relayed that they said things like this;  ” Without this program, we would not be ready for college or comfortable in wearing business attire, or even able to say now with confidence, I am a bio chemistry major. Before this program, there was no one in the building that made us feel we belonged or thought enough of us to help us through our struggles. We have learned to pull our peers aside and have discussions to mentor anyone who is struggling.  We thank God for Mrs. James and the parents who held us accountable at all times in love.  We love Mrs. Watts for taking on the challenge of working with girls and we knew in order to get into this program, we had to have decent grades and stay out of trouble so that we could reap the benefits we saw other kids having.  We want to thank the school and all the Administrators for having the courage to keep a program like this around because it is needed badly”.  Those young people carried themselves so well, it made every tear worth it in the end.

Eight years in, what began as a program of 40 boys is now a program of hundreds.  We partner with community leaders like the local chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and believe me when I tell you, there is nothing we would not do to keep this program alive.  All it required?  Time and Consistency. Contrary to popular belief, it does not cost thousands of dollars to mentor a child; just act like you really care what happens to them and the rest will work itself out.   Oh by the way?  These are children in the suburbs who struggled so much, one would think they came from a system that was less than stellar.  Oh no. the majority of them have generations of family members that has lived in this community so that excuse went right out the window.

We now have a cadre of those children in 4 year colleges AND they are graduating with degrees!! Add to that, we have been working with the parents on how to successfully navigate schools in a way that makes them allies on behalf of their children.

When we choose to get into public education, we made the promise that all children should have an equal opportunity. The law dictates it. We chose to give our lives in a profession that I still believe is the worthiest cause ever and it is not now, or will it ever be ok, to allow a few people latitude to drastically alter the course of what should be children who thrive in some of the best school systems in the country.

So while others continue to make excuses, we continue to do what is right and be a shining example for others to follow.

Enough said

Radical Radcliffe..part deux…

If you are reading this post first, go back to the original entitled ( Radical Radcliffe..Only In Jamaica) and then read this post.. you will not be diasppointed..Promise.

So… to up the Ante, My sister Kelly then sent the following link:http://www.televisionjamaica.com/Programmes/PrimeTimeNews.aspx/Videos/17041

Please allow me to translate the portions that are in Patois:  It seems there were death threats on Radcliffe’s life and this was his delightful response; ” I refuse to hide in or take the color of my house as I am not afraid.  I also do not wish to waste taxpayers money for an armed gaurd. I will be out here everyday as usual and I leave at 11 p.m. every night, taking the same route to my house and you all know where I livc so come on with your bad selves.”  He went further to say this in response to the cab drivers pleading for leniency since they have to feed their families and it’s totally congested in the town with too many cabs; ” Not only are you clowns driving illegally, you do things like going to certain intersections, and from the extreme far right lane, make a radical left WITH passengers in the car.  You guys are flying aircrafts not motor vehicles and we will not continue to allow you to endager people’s lives”  Even the disgruntled cabbies had to laugh because they knew he was telling the truth..

Jamaica, can fit into Pennsylvania FIVE times with room to spare….  I have NO idea how they fit that many people on certain portions of that tiny island…all the same, I love them to pieces for their colorfulness and I still beleive they are some of the happiest people alive on earth.. Our famous slogan is “No Problem Mon!!”

I wish I was making this stuff up… but alas, I am not.  I love my my funny, crazy, close knit clan!!!  Only in Jamaica

Radical Radcliffe…Only in Jamaica

In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to a spate of emails from my siblings and cousins regarding a recent trip they  made to vist some long lost family members in Jamaica.  As I am reading the thread in disbelief and trying hard not to awaken everyone in my house with guffaws, I came across one email that made me stare in utter  shock.  It seems we have on the Island, what many would consider a rogue Traffic  cop by the name of Radcliffe Lewis whose official title is Senior Superintendant of  Traffic Police. Try to follow me if you can. Seriously now. Don’t blink or you will miss what is a great story!!

So good ole Radcliffe has taken it upon himslef to clear up some of the congestion on Half- Way Tree Rd in St Andrew and has been known to rip out signs that the Transportation Authorities put in place if they are deemed not to make any sense to him.  To his credit, he asked nicely and when he was ignored, took it upon himslef to personally remove said sign.  When they replaced the sign and used concrete to hold it down, he put a traffic cop during peak hours there to direct raffic just the way he sees fit.  I swear, I thought my sisters were making this up and then, one  sent his picture…radical radclifee

My guide, My conscience, my light……my father.

To spend a day around my parents, is a day that your life will change.  They are both in my humble estimation, people with whom we could all take a page from as we raise our own children.  My father in particular, is quite a character.  As the man  of four girls and one wife, he often found himslef surrounded by all kinds of estrogen flying in one direction or the other.  He is a jovial, well read human being, who thinks nothing of being helpful and kind to perfect strangers and is infamous for striking up a conversation with anyone, anywhere.  Drove my  mother nuts.

Like most parents, he made sacrifices for his family so that we could all have a sense of normalcy growing up; They ( Parents) were home no later than 5:30 most evenings so we could sit and have family meals. We learned to properly use our utensils at the tender age of three, table manners were a must and we were taught all things a graceful lady with impeccable ettiqutte should have as we continued to grow.  On the occasions where he had to work late, when he got home, he would have a bag filled with goodies for us and we would sit close by as he ate dinner to answer any questions he had about our day.  He sang us to sleep as babies in that deep melodious voice of his and as we got older, would sit with us and discuss things like peer pressure and why he chose not to send us to many parties like our friends were often allowed to do.  In fact, I can remember only attending two parties as a teenager and had to be home no later than 10:30.

As his oldest, I was so intrigued by every life lesson he imparted and was a sponge.  I learned how to wash a car properly, change the oil, tires and brakes.  He even taught me every aspect of a car’s engine which has served me so well to date each time I  purchase a new vehicle.  I can hear his voice saying” The outside and flashy gadgets should only count for 15% of your reason for that vehicle purchase Andrea.  Do your research on the engine, where it was made and any data on how long they last.”  That knowledge has also saved me a ton on car repairs as those mechanics are quite aware, I know my stuff.   I am an avid reader in large part because of both him and my mother and books can be found all over my home.

What my father didn’t know at the time, is that he was developing four  girls into well thought out, passionate and incredibly strong women who would take life by the horns and work diligently at whatever we took  on.  We believe in justice for the underserved, the very young and the elderly and to a child, we have all taken on causes to that effect.  Over the summer, I finally bought smart phones for both parents and flew in to teach them how they can be used.  Dear old poppa took to that thing like a sponge and has been emailing us with expediency each week for updates on our lives and his grandchildren since we are scattered in several places.  I do believe my sisters would like to strangle me at times for giving him such access as he is does not miss a beat each week and we had better respond in a timely fashion..lol!!  He also expects pictures on a fairly frequent basis so he can “see” for himself how were are doing.

Imagine my pleasant surprise to see an email from him this morning entitled ” Weight Loss” The contents of which are below

Congrats on your weight loss. The most recent photo you sent us tells me you are really trying to control the weight. You look fabulous in the Burgundy dress, and I should have told you this sometime ago, but sometimes I get sidetracked.   however, you should continue to exercise as often as time allows you.
See, I have your best interest at heart, and would like for you to have a long and healthy life.

We love you, Pops.
What my father could not have known when he sent that email was this:  I was exhausted, hurting and not feeling at all motivated to hitting the gym this morning but after reading his email, I not only found the energy to go and get the killer workout in, it motivated me to keep going no matter what.
I love my father; he has been my guide into how I should be treated as a woman, my conscience around many decisions I make as I traverse through this life and the Light that has clearly led my pathway into womanhood, mother- hood and just being a good person.
Family comes with all kinds of experiences; some good, some not so good.  I would not change a bit of ours to date and as I get more seasoned with age, feel like the luckiest girl on the planet for being graced with such wonderful conduitsto my life here and my mission is to raise sons who will continue to spread this legacy that has been bestowed upon them through their family lineage…
Enough said.

Beam me up Scotty…with collaboration

this new day of 2013 has been an interesting one indeed. At first, it felt like any other until a small group of us met to discuss some new ventures to broaden the scope of our work in Education and serving families, so I personally walked in with determination to make this work at all costs… what we found, were bright young people who for all intents and purposes,  had great ideas that were largely going unnoticed among the other “door keepers” and after a great planning session, we got to chatting about the experiences that brought us to this place..

Well, if laughter makes a heart merry, then we had enough good medicine to carry us through the entire year because as the dogs ran around our feet, we hooted at the hilarity of life and all that it meant to us…. stay tuned because we are on a mission…