Race and Racial Identity: Is There Room For Everyone? (Part I)

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” – The Western Code

Nicki Minaj is currently allegedly feuding with Taylor Swift over the nominations for Best Music Video of the Year. According to Minaj, who was not nominated, “If your video celebrates women with slim bodies, you will be nominated for Video of the Year.” She continues, “When the “other” girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.” In her subsequent tweets, Minaj presents her confusion over not being nominated for the award. She states in a reply to a follower, “I’m not always confident. Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”

Whether she was throwing “shade” at Taylor or Beyoncé (for her thinner body)– who is also a woman of color nominated in the category– we can all say that her comments poke at underlying topics currently booming on social media and news outlets– race and racial identity. If you watch the news, surf your Facebook or Twitter timelines, or read articles online, race and racial identity are particularly hot topics right now. Are all races equal? Where do we go? Who is to blame? Who is responsible for fixing the problem? These are just some of the questions that people are attempting to answer.

Racial differences, social tensions, the causes, effects, likes, dislikes, and everything in between are the topics of conversation. From feuds about musical accolades, to debates about whether “All Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter,” to religious controversy over the recent Supreme court decision on equal marriage rights to all same-sex couples, or down to the never ending daily personal, relational, career competitions around us, they all make me think about one question– Is there room for everyone? 

Our world history is undoubtedly filled with the forces of competition, domination, conquest for power, class wars, enslavement, imperialism, subjugation, racism, ethnocentrism, entitlement, and sexism. There seems to be a prevailing need to win, and in our society winning means ultimately being better than someone else. With this attitude apparently dominating our society, is it really a surprise that we tend to compare ourselves to other groups? Is it strange that each group ends up determining that their group needs to be on top in order to win? Who defines this standard for what is “better” anyway? When did one body type become better than another? Or one religion become better than another? Or one career more prestigious than the other? Or in the context of race and racial identity, when did the color of someone’s skin continue to make them inferior or superior? We as humans created this complicated society. We made the rules and I would argue that we also still obtain the power to change them.

Our society created the standards that we still willingly follow. And in that sense, we all might bear some of the blame for the continued issues in our society. Yes, there was a time when people were legally not allowed to be equal. Their differences were despised and buried beneath the voice and power of the more influential, the more armed, or the majority. But those events in our history– despite some of the causes they fought for still needing work today– give us information that might help us figure out a more peaceful and honest way to coexist in a overly complicated world.

Based on the lessons we have learned from the past, two conclusions stand out in my mind: (1) we need to learn to love each other more and embrace the commonalities among all humans, and (2) we need to accept the possibility that there is not only room for everyone, but that we all need each other in order to move society forward for the benefit of all humanity.

Throughout history, humans decided to pursue what they thought was best for survival and success. Unfortunately, that repeatedly translated into the exploitation of one group for another group’s personal gain, and co-existence eventually resulted in the domination of one group over the other. Because of that, we all carry the fear that on the journey toward true equality one group will ultimately try to overthrown the other. It is disheartening that even on the smallest scale, we continue to conclude that there is no room for someone else on our level, in our group, or in matters that directly affect our life and our success.

If we peel back all the layers, we will find this fear, although having historical basis, persists as a result of our own insecurities, miscommunications, hurts, hatred, and weaknesses. In the end, love multiples when we choose to use it. There is always more than enough room in our hearts to love someone new after we have been hurt in a previous relationship, right? So then that is proof that there is a lot of love in our heart, if only we allow ourselves to access it. If someone of a particular race, group, or class has slighted you, please don’t assume that there is no more love left inside of you to love other people of that same group.

I am by no means trying to assert that we embrace things that intentionally undermine basic human rights and liberties. I am saying that overall, we need more of an attitude of “your culture, identity, customs, and language are just as equal and cool as mine, and you being on the same level as me doesn’t take anyway from my awesomeness.” Even down to the less attractive issues in our individual groups (violence, poverty, class), if we look closely enough we will find that those issues are less race specific and more problems that plague groups, governments, and societies around the world.

You have something to offer me and I have something to offer you. What I have to offer this world is also just as important as what you have to offer this world. It is from the connections and encounters among ideas and cultures that great progress is made. So maybe just maybe, loving more, viewing each other as human beings, becoming more empathic, embracing all races and racial identities, and actively supporting and promoting equality for everyone are the important steps needed to continue breaking down the walls of hatred and prejudice lurking in us all.

Saying we are “colorblind” in regards to race and racial identity means that I don’t see your cultural differences and you don’t see mine. I don’t think God intended for us to be “blind.” Instead, I would propose that we need to adopt– what for lack of a better term I will call– color appreciation and color enrichment. Color appreciation is to absolutely notice the differences in others and to actively embrace them as both beautiful and equal. Color enrichment is to actively support and advocate for the freedom of every group and the opportunity to achieve success without the limitations of discrimination.

While, we might not be able to solve society’s problems overnight, I can say that most solutions are going to have to start with open arms by everyone. Together, we might have to place particular focus on one group for a certain time, but it is not to the detriment of another– “All lives matter” and “black lives matter.” As issues arise in any and all groups, everyone rooting for that group proves that we stand for unwavering true equality in our society.

Every race should have the opportunity to attain any position and live out any dream within our society. Historically, challenges to progress did not stop people from pushing for progress. We can debate about the correct strategies to bring about true equality all day and night, but I am convinced it starts with a few things: cultural appreciation, cultural enrichment, love, empathy, and open arms. The only way all these will ever happen is if we conclude that we all need every group to play an active and equal role in our society.

Although separate does not mean equal we must be careful to understand that “different” in terms of culture, race, and racial identity should still mean equal. To annihilate one group for the gain of another is wrong. On the other hand, to assume that one group needs to behave, act like, and become like another group in order to be “equal” is equally as wrong.

In my opinion, all lives matter, black lives matter, and [insert your group here] matters too; straight hair is just as beautiful as curly hair; big booties are just as cool as smaller booties; one artist can be just as awesome as another artist; one religion has the right to believe what they want, just like I desire to love God the way I want; your career is just as important as mine; and your talent is just as unique and cool as mine. At the end of the day, there is an element of preference involved, but your preferences should not cross lines of cultural insensitivity, discrimination, or condemnation. We may not all be recognized equally for our greatness (for many different reasons), but we shouldn’t tolerate any one group not being recognized simply because of their given race or racial identity.

I really want to know, is there room for everyone? What are your thoughts…

Read Part II: Success and Competition: Is There Room for Everyone? (Part II)

Read Part III: Relationships: Chemistry and Compromise (Is There Room For Everyone? Part III)

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Me Too: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of One Sexually Assaulted Girl

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and the numerous alleged sexual assaults, like most of you, I read different posts and articles yet could not figure out what or even who I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Article upon article questioned the authenticity of the women involved and many others desperately tried to defend one of American’s favorite TV dad’s. I am not sure why I personally questioned why the accusers waited so long because I too have been keeping my silence.

Growing up so many people watched The Cosby Show in the hopes of someday attaining the image of one of America’s successful TV families. If you were an African-American living during the prime of the show, you could not help but support and love it because there were not many successful African-American families displayed on TV. Overall it was an endearing show, so Black, White, Asian, or Latino, you probably also loved it. Therefore, when the allegations started pouring in, many people’s first instinct was to deny the reality that a man so adored and loved could have drugged and sexually assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were less likely a coincidence or a lie. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life. If someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) amounts to a lot of money that I can’t imagine shelling out just to ruin another person’s reputation. From racial animosity to desperate claims for money, the accusers (for the most part) were vilified in the media by citizens and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6th, major news outlets reported that documents dating back to 2005 revealed Bill Cosby admitting to (1) obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and (2) that he used these drugs on at least one woman. With the release of his dated admission, every doubter, questioner, and supporter alike probably started to change their minds on the subject.

Although the release of these documents confirm the likelihood of sexual assault against numerous women, one major question still remains– why did the majority of the women wait so long to say something? Was it fear, denial, shock, the belief that no one would believe them anyway, or did some of them just lie to obtain fame? No matter what reasons the women have cited for their lengthy silence, some people will never understand or accept it. I feel even worse for the few women who started speaking out years ago and were silenced. Bill Cosby never assaulted me nor could I ever begin to explain or understand how these particular women felt throughout all their years of silence. However, I think I might be able to shed some light on why they might have waited so long because I too was once sexually assaulted.

This is the first time I am sharing this with more than a few people. None of my siblings know. The majority of my friends have no idea. I finally told my mom a few months ago and my father still has no clue (I think). To be perfectly honest, I hope he never reads or hears about this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Hopefully my story will help someone understand the emotional and mental maze that begins to form in the mind of someone that has been sexually assaulted. When the assault is by someone you have known for a while or respected for some time, the mental maze becomes even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you personally know me, please refrain from guessing who my assaulter is. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person, so for that reason I will not include too many details. This post is more about shedding light on the emotional roller coaster that a sexual assault victim may experience. So with that focus, let’s get into the mental maze…

  • Shock: Without getting too deep into the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how (it would be very long and likely blow your mind), I will undoubtedly say that the first emotion I went through was shock. I never in a million years thought that I would be a victim of sexual assault. My assaulter was someone that I respected and interacted with on a daily/weekly basis throughout my high school career. My friends and teammates also highly respected this person and he was very close to some of their families. Never believing this would happen to me is probably one of the reasons my first emotion was shock. I watched movies and shows involving sexual assault and always imagined that I would use some major fight moves to escape such a situation if it ever happened to me. Sadly, my moves failed me.
  • Questioning: “What is he doing? What should I do? How do I get out of here? What did I do to give this person the impression that I wanted this? Were there signs about this person that I missed? What will my parents say? Will my friends– who love this person– believe me? Has this happened to anyone else? What will happen to this person if I tell? And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my case, the biggest question in my head then (and to some extent now) is “what did I ever do to make this man do this to me?” Logically, I know that I absolutely did nothing. All my interactions with this person were always surrounding sports or life, yet this question still baffled me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.
  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion somewhat follows the many questions. Regardless of the innocence you know you have in the situation, it can be extremely difficult to refrain from second guessing how you handled the situation before, during, and after the act. For me, this person assaulted me numerous times, so I blame myself for not saying something to someone after the first instance. I always considered myself to be a strong person, so I was disappointed that I didn’t speak out after the first instance. Instead I worried more about how all my friend’s lives would change if I said something. This person was a father figure to some of my teammates and others depended on this person’s expertise to open doors for athletic scholarships. If I said something, I might ruin their lives, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I blamed myself for my silence.
  • Guilt of Ruining the Abuser’s Life: This one might be a little hard for you to understand. Since I spent a significant amount of time with this person, I knew a lot about this person’s life. He was not married, had no kids, had very few friends, spent most time working, and spent little time with siblings and family due to distance. Before the incident I often felt very bad for this person. My friends and I even spent time joking about how he should date different older women that we knew or how he needed to go partying with his friends and switch up the routine of work-home-work. I had pity and in a weird way I could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So when I was faced with putting this person in prison and destroying the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went though and he should have thought more about his life before he chose to assault young women.
  • Letting other people down:  As I contemplated whether I would speak up, I was torn between the right thing to do and the many people that would be devastated by the news. First, my parents. One of my parent’s biggest warnings and concerns was always to be safe at all times. They did everything they could to keep their children out of harm. How was I doing to break this news to them? I was afraid they would never let me go anywhere else throughout high school, and more importantly, that my little sister would never get to go anywhere without my parents panicking. So, I said nothing. Secondly, my friends. How would they take the news that one of their favorite people was a creepy assaulter? I didn’t know if he was assaulting them too. I tried to watch for changes in their behavior, but I couldn’t find any. In my uncertainty, I kept quiet. In the end, I confronted the person about it (it didn’t go well) and used my independence and maturity to navigate my way out of the assaults and away from that person. The sad news is that I couldn’t avoid being around the person on a weekly/daily basis so I pretended to be okay so that my friends would not figure out the truth.
  • Feeling tainted and unwanted: I know. This emotion/thought makes no sense. Because of all the varying ranges of sexual assault we see in the media, I thought that people might view me as scarred. How will my boyfriend (at the time) react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image be in his mind forever? Will he still want me? I was a teenager and these were the thoughts running through my teenage mind. Sad, but true.
  • Comparison: Who am I to complain? At least I wasn’t raped in a back alley by some stranger and then strangled to death. At least I wasn’t molested by one of my family members. At least… At least… At least. You know the saying “someone always has it worse than you?” Well, this is probably a sexual assault victim’s worse enemy. Although what happened to me was traumatic, it was not the worse case of sexual assault that I ever heard. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop being sorry for myself and be grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Why ruin this person’s life and make a big deal when it wasn’t “that bad?” Right? It made no sense, but like I said, the emotions are like a roller coaster and the mind like a maze.
  • Alone and Misunderstood: Carrying the burden of silence sucks both emotionally and mentally. You really want to scream at the top of your lungs about the emotional confusion you are going through, but at the same time you know that you can’t bring yourself to say something (for some of the reasons already outlined in this post). Of course, I thought I never changed emotionally and believed that no one would see the pain that I was in. However, I may have been successful on the outside, but was failing miserably on the inside. It manifested in many different ways. I didn’t want to get up for school in the morning and was constantly late; I felt depressed behind my laughs and bubbly personality; I failed classes in school that as an A and B student I never thought I would fail; I overcompensated in other relationships because they felt safe; and I strained my relationship with my mom because she confronted me on different occasions about the “change in attitude” and of course I always replied, “I am fine.” For a long time, I felt alone and misunderstood. I isolated myself from certain people in order to cope and I would keep many people at arm’s length so they wouldn’t indirectly figure out my secret.
  • Depression: It is a great misconception that the only depressed people are those that never get out of bed, eat tubs of ice cream, cry often, isolate, and walk with their head down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression from time to time behind my bright smile and all my laughs. This is not to say that my love of laughter was a facade, but it does mean that sometimes my laughter was to keep from crying. It also means that at night when the laughter stopped, I often cried. Yet on the bright side, I can unequivocally say that it means that my laughter and smile saved me.

The emotions and thoughts outlined above are only those of my story. Also, these are in no way a complete list of the possible emotions. I am sure that other people who have been sexually abused can relate, but I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every situation or every person.  It is sad that society and certain circumstances make it difficult for people to feel that they can speak out against respected and well-known people when they have committed wrongdoings.

In our society, some people are dishonest about sexual assault and try to use it as a means to retaliate against other people. Unfortunately, at first the 39+ women in the Cosby case were probably perceived in this light. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers throughout the life of someone that never had the opportunity to share their hurt and trauma is complex. It undoubtedly affected many areas of their lives that they might never be able to go back and change. They often carried the burden alone and had to figure out different ways to hide their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence they were able to find healing. For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, African-Americans in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education, but he might also be a sexual abuser (Technically in the American justice system he is innocent until proven guilty). If guilty, his successes should not trump the pain he has caused many women. Let’s use this as a lesson and if you are still questioning why these women (if he’s guilty) or any other women of sexual abuse took so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light.

If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted and has had to keep it a secret (for whatever reason), or if you have been the victim of sexual assault, I hope that one day you will be able to share you story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

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Untangle Yourself.

Slaves to the mind, trapped back in time

Freedom seems to be confused with nickels and dimes

Success nothing more than a borrowed image

Satiated by perverted perspectives

Chained to rusty bars of mental prisons

Fighting for the chance to realize destiny

While clothed in costumes of hijacked dreams

Stolen language, borrowed frames

Walking in circles waiting for answers

Convinced that conquering the world will reveal it

Yet there’s still no dirt on the bottom of your shoe

And the real you still stands hidden inside of you

If you ever stopped to take an inventory of your thoughts, frustrations, goals, and priorities, you will often find that they have become wildly webbed with borrowed pieces of other people’s goals, fears, and thoughts. Sometimes those borrowed pieces are beneficial and help us push toward finding our true self. Other times, however, those borrowed pieces weigh us down in knotted webs that seem to make finding our true self more stressful than just living out other people’s dreams and expectations for us.

However, it is necessary to determine how entangled you are with the images, goals, fears, and expectations of others. On that journey of disentanglement, you will find happiness, freedom, and purpose in life. Until you make the first steps to untangle yourself, you will always have the weight of the skeleton of the real you pulling you under water. It may not seem like it at first, but once you bring that skeleton to life — by accepting and embodying who you were created to be– you will feel lighter, happier, and less like you are constantly drowning in a world that seems to enjoy pushing you under water.

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Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces: A Story

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.” – Jo Oz @ozlifeadvice

I posted this quote a few weeks ago, but I had to revisit it because it presents such a different perspective on happiness as we know it. Let me begin by stating that I do believe that things and people have the ability to create happiness, or to at least encourage happiness. We would all be liars if we said this is not somewhat true. My family, friends, my wonderful future husband, and having a few extra bucks in my pocket makes me very happy. And to be perfectly honest, I look forward to and hope for more love and more money. Really, who wouldn’t? But when I look at society and within myself there seems to be this insatiable desire to chase happiness at all cost. We chase and chase even more without ever looking internally to examine the thoughts and areas of our past that may be preventing us from finding or sustaining happiness. Some of us still carry negative thoughts, defensive walls, warped perceptions, shallow vision, and sabotaging behaviors that often cause us to overlook and destroy the happiness right in front of us.

Story time: Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting on the floor in the middle of a medium-sized room. On the walls around you are bright colorful pieces of art neatly arranged against white walls. Scattered in the spaces among these paintings are large framed quotes of what you later realize are successful people of our time. As you put your hand down to begin standing up you hear a crunching noise and the feeling of something small and sturdy beneath you. Around you are about 100 puzzle pieces randomly piled in all directions. Fascinated by the paintings and quotes, you begin walking across the room with your eye fixed on a frame entitled “Keys to Happiness.” As you get closer you notice the quotation is by [insert the name of a person whose success you admire and dream to have]. Eager to see more, you examine every piece arranged around the room noting every signature on the paintings and each name quoted in a frame. They are all from people you admire. Naturally, you begin examining your life and plot out what you might need to do to achieve the level of happiness expressed through every piece. How did they create such beautiful pieces? How did they create such beautiful lives? As you ponder on each piece, you begin to notice that the puzzle pieces scattered across the floor have a seemingly consistent color scheme. You see the shades of blues, greens, browns, whites, and yellows and realize that they might connect to create a larger image. Confused as to why they are randomly in the middle of the room, you begin looking around for a box or someone to explain the odd occurrence. Across the room you spot an intercom and are about ready to push the button when you notice something strange about one of the paintings. Now less then 12 inches away from it, you discover that the painting is actually made up of tiny puzzle pieces! Astonished, you look toward the floor, drop to your knees, and begin trying to assemble the puzzle. After five minutes of intense focus you pick up a few puzzle pieces and find a note: “If you can assemble this beautiful masterpiece, it is all yours.” Determined to own a piece of art, you painstakingly find each proper piece one at a time. While assembling the pieces, you notice that they do indeed fit together but are damaged thanks to you walking all over them. Nonetheless, you carry on building your masterpiece. Halfway through your impromptu art project you make a startling discovery – you are a part of the puzzle. Somewhat disappointed that you might not be building a “masterpiece” if you are in it, you still continue on curious to see what the entire image will reveal. Finally finished, you take three giant steps back to see an image of you with/in [insert the people, things, or places that you envision as your ultimate image of happiness]. In awe, you realize the beauty in front of you but also all the dents and rips you created as you crushed your own picture in pursuit of everyone else’s in the room. As you look around again, you now notice that every beautiful image and success quote in the room is made up of tiny puzzle pieces. Overwhelmed by the experience, you slowly sit back on the floor. While staring at your partially self-inflicted damaged image of happiness, you realize that your beautiful masterpiece could have been as beautiful as the collection in the room if only you had not been so quick to reach for the keys to happiness in someone else’s dream.

The moral of the story: Find happiness in the small puzzle pieces life has given you, because from them will come your image of true happiness. Borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle will never quite fit yours perfectly. However, what you can take from their puzzles are (1) the steps they took to learn how to love the puzzle pieces they were given and (2) how they used the small piece to create a beautiful personal masterpiece.

Jo Oz’s quote reminds me to not overlook the light that is inside of me. We have the potential to create the same bright happiness we see in others, but we have filled ourselves with so much “darkness” that we believe that our light is not bright enough to create anything similar. If we were to get rid of some of the “darkness,” I am almost positive that we would see the happiness in the small things, in the people around us, in the present situation, and in ourselves. We would move from chasing happiness to becoming happiness; having become happier, we will attract more happiness; and as we attract more happiness, we will look up one day and see that we are overwhelmed with happiness only to then realize that we never had to chase something that we already had. It gives new meaning to the phrase “I AM happy.”

Do Good and Be Good.

Headphones in. I was feeling good. Honestly, I was just focused on getting to the conference room inside the hospital to set up for my workshop. The only thing separating me from achieving my goal was a steep hill and a much older man slowly struggling to walk up the hilly entrance to get to what I assumed was an appointment. Crap! Half of me wanted to say hello, slow my pace, strike up a conversation, and walk up this hill together. The other half of me just wanted to breeze right by him, keep bobbing my head, and let the guilt of never saying “hello” roll right off my shoulder. Hey, sometimes I am just not in the mood. Don’t judge me. Well, the greater good in me prevailed and I dislodged my headphones, caught up to him, and struck up a short conversation with an old man that I would likely never see again.

As I slowly walked side by side chatting to what seemed like a sweet old man, he started to explain why he suffered such a slow, limp-ridden walk. Unfortunately for him, this steep hill was the only entrance onto the main hospital campus (they obviously did not consider the disabled and handicapped patrons when they chose the land to be a hospital). He told me that an issue with his back was to blame for his knee no longer bending forward as he walked. I found it quite ironic that the doctor he visited to help relieve his pain was located on terrain that required his body to prove that it was failing him.

Doctor: “So, how has your leg been feeling since our last appointment?”

Old Man: “Great, as I long as I don’t put too much stress on the knee and back.”

Doctor: “Well, you should really stay away from hills and stairs.”

Helpless, I just smiled, listened, and offered to be nothing more than his walking partner along that hill for a few minutes. He tripped. I waited. And then, we finished the short journey together in the 88 degree humid heat.

The world moves fast and it moves on. Circumstances were less than ideal for this old man and his leg and I couldn’t change it. But, I could somehow and in some small way let him know that he was not alone if he tripped again; and just in case he did, I was there to let him know that someone really did care about his limp and his journey.

You may never know what someone else is going through and you certainly cannot help everyone, but welcoming the opportunity to help the people that do cross your path might just prevent this world from running out of love. A little flame can still create a huge fire. So, do good and be good. I mean really, what else are you on earth for if not that?

Racism in Fifty Words

Dreaming. Walking. Running.

Falling. Running. Dreaming.

Then, I feel the bump as race steps into me; the blood dripping as race clips my heel, but not my wings.

Back on track, l learned that I must run both looking to the left and the right… and always over my shoulder.

*** Race is still a factor in people’s interactions throughout the world. These are the silent words of those affected. Written in response to the “Fifty” Writing challenge.***

On the Other Side of Fear

It was about 11 o’clock at night and I had just landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I was on the second leg of a three stop journey – Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego. Being my first time visiting Arizona, and not knowing when or if I would return, I somehow thought it would be a great idea to start my Arizona visit off with a drive straight to the Grand Canyon to see the sunrise. Four hours away from the Grand Canyon, I started my midnight journey in a completely unknown place, down a totally foreign highway, to a highly anticipated breathtaking view. This might be a great place to mention that I was ALONE. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to go exploring a canyon, the desert, and a popular West Coast city alone, but there was something freeing and freakishly appealing about going on a solo journey to discover, pray, and relax with only God to protect me. It strangely felt like it was just him and I, and kind of liked it that way.

Traveling down the pitch-black highway, bopping to cool tunes, I noticed fewer and fewer cars around me. My ears popped as I drove through various elevations, my mind wondering how high I had traveled. In the calm of the night, I started to see more trucks and trailers and started questioning what the heck I was thinking driving along these dark roads alone. Ignoring the fear, I observed how BIG and close the stars felt. It was so beautiful and vivid that I had to look away for fear that I was looking into the eyes of God. Big city living comes with many perks, but missing out on pure beauty like these bright natural lights is definitely a downside.

Three hours later, I finally exited the highway onto the final stretch. “Grand Canyon here I come.” But, as the roads quickly turned into a black, you-can-only-see-as-far-as-your-car-lights-shine, heavily signed “watch out” for the deer, mouse, and dinosaurs, single lane road, FEAR became a passenger. Once I saw the first set of highlighter-green-eyed deer staring at me like gangsters wondering what I was doing driving through their streets, I was officially panicked and scared and realized that I could not see ANYTHING to the left or right of the road. Wondering, then believing, that I was driving right on the edge of the canyon itself, I figured that I better drive cautiously enough to not go over the edge and die, yet fast enough to not become the animals’ mid-night snack. After all, I would make quite the tasty piece of meat. Maintaining my composure, uttering a silent pray, and focusing on the beauty that I was fast approaching, I started picturing my adventure more like a surprise. I mean I was in the dark simply waiting for the sun to show me something great. Refocused on the excitement of what the morning would bring, my fears somehow subsided.

Finally, I arrived. The sun rose 30 minutes later. I hiked into the canyon and was back up by noon, grabbed lunch, basked in the awe of the miles-wide masterpiece, and began my journey back to Phoenix for the real portion of the second vacation stop. Realizing that eventually the road became one lane again, I started to look to the left and right to see what lurked in the darkness on my drive up. Ready? Wide-opened fields and desert for as far as the eyes could see with beautiful mountains painted in the distance. No massive animals in sight. What a gorgeous unveiling. My “edge of the cliff” theory could not have been further from reality.

For hours, I was consumed, almost overtaken by the thought of what lurked in the darkness. If I had been back home, I would have probably convinced myself that I needed to turn around, get the heck away from these weird animals along the roadside, and wait until the morning to make the journey. While I don’t encourage you to take this trip alone (although it was awesome and peaceful), and I am not saying I would do it again, I learned a valuable and necessary lesson: Sometimes the most beautiful things are on the other side of fear and just a moment outside the darkness. The key is to feel the fear and keep moving. On that terrifying portion of the drive, I also saw stars brighter than I’d ever seen in my life. Maybe sometimes it takes darkness to reveal what’s beautiful.

Basically, don’t quit in darkness because there just might be something beautiful waiting for you once it’s daylight.