There Is Room For Everyone: Racial Equality

Nicki Minaj’s feud with Taylor Swift over the nominations for Best Music Video of the Year makes me wonder whether there is room for everyone.

According to Minaj, who was not nominated, “If your video celebrates women with slim bodies, you will be nominated for Video of the Year… 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. In a reply to a follower, she says “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” or not, we can all admit that her comments resonate with other discussions of racial equality happening all over social media and news outlets 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.

There is room for everyone.

Racial differences, social tensions, and everything in between are topics of conversation. The debates about musical accolades, whether “All Lives Matter” or “Black Lives Matter,” controversy over the recent Supreme court decision on equal marriage rights, and the never-ending daily personal, relational, career competition all make me wonder whether there truly is room for everyone.

Throughout history, humans decided to pursue what they thought was best for survival and success. Unfortunately, this repeatedly meant the exploitation of one group for another group’s gain. Our history is filled with competition, domination, conquest, class wars, enslavement, subjugation, racism, ethnocentrism, and sexism. The bad and good news: We create and perpetuate it which means we have the power to change them.

We are all responsible for these issues in our society. There was a time when equality was illegal, and that still exists today. Differences are despised and buried beneath the voice and power of the more influential, the more armed, or the majority. But, our history gives us valuable information about what NOT to do to create a more peaceful society.

We need to learn to love and embrace the commonalities among all humans and accept there is room for everyone.

Our hearts don’t have a limit on love. If someone of a particular race, group, or class has slighted you, please don’t assume that there is nothing left inside of you to love other people of that same group. You just have to be willing to do it. We all need each other to move society forward for the benefit of all humanity.

We need more of “your culture, identity, customs, and language are just as equal and cool as mine” and “you being on the same level doesn’t take anyway from my awesomeness.” What I have to offer this world is just as important as what you have to offer this world.

It is from these connections and encounters among ideas and cultures that we make great progress. Maybe 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 we need to break down the walls of hatred and prejudice lurking in us all.

Creating room for everyone does not mean we should be “colorblind” to race and racial identity. Colorblindness means that you don’t see cultural differences which is the very beauty and power of humanity. We need to adopt color appreciation and advocacy. Appreciation is to actively notice the differences in others and to embrace them as equally beautiful. Advocacy is to actively support and champion the freedom of every group and the opportunity to achieve success without discrimination.

Everyone regardless of race should have the opportunity to attain any position and live out any dream they want to within our society. 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.

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 bodies are just as cool as smaller ones. One artist can be just as awesome as another artist. One religion has the right to believe what they want, just as another has the right to as well. Your career is just as important as mine. Your talent is just as unique and cool as mine.

I really want to know, do you think there is room for everyone?

Read Part II: There Room for Everyone: Success and Competition

Read Part III: There is Room for Everyone: Compromise and Chemistry in Relationships

Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and numerous alleged sexual assaults, I could not figure out what I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Many articles questioned the authenticity of the women and others desperately tried to defend one of America’s favorite TV dads. I am not sure why I questioned why sexual assault victims stay silent because I too have been silent.

Will People Even Believe You?

Many people watched The Cosby Show hoping to someday attain a similar American Dream. Not to mention, there were not many successful African-American families portrayed on TV at that time. So, if you were a black person, you could not help but support and love it. Overall, it was an endearing show that appealed to people from many backgrounds. Thus, people’s first reaction was to question how a man so adored and loved could have drugged and assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were more likely true. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life speaking out. And, if someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) is a lot of money to spend just to ruin another person’s reputation.

The accusers were vilified in the media by the average person and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6, news outlets revealed thatCosby admitted in 2005 to obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and that he used these drugs on at least one woman. Although these documents increased the chances the allegations were true, people still wanted to know why the majority of the women waited so long to say something.

Me Too: Finally Sharing My Truth

Bill Cosby never assaulted me and I could never speak for why these particular women kept their silence. However, I can shed some light on why I waited so long.

Fact: I am a sexual assault victim that has been keeping silent.

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 this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to share. Hopefully, my story helps someone understand the emotional maze that can form in the mind of a victim of sexual assault. I also hope this gives insight into why sexual assault victims stay silent. When the assaulter is someone you have known and respected for a while, the mental maze is even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you know me personally, please refrain from guessing the identity of my assaulter. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you would like to know or have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly, and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person. For that reason, I will not include too many details here.

So with that, let’s get into my story and the mental maze.

Why Some Sexual Assault Victims Stay Silent

  • 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 experienced 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 baffles me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.

  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion 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. 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. I felt weak and ashamed. Instead, I worried more about how all my friends’ 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.

  • Feeling Guilty for 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, very few friends, spent the most time working, and spent little time with 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 work-home-work routine. I felt pity and could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So, when faced with the option to put this person in jail and destroy the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went through. 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 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 going 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 strength to navigate away from that person. The sad news: 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 and damaged goods. How will my boyfriend react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image stay 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 of. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop feeling 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.

  • Feeling 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 to cope and 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 heads down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression 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.

For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

The emotions and thoughts above are from my story, but I know so many other victims can relate. 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. And then we have the nerve to wonder why sexual assault victims stay silent.

Unfortunately, at first, the 39+ women in the Cosby case were thought to be liars. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers in 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 carry the burden alone and have to figure out different ways to cope with their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence, they were able to find healing.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, and Black people in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education; and, 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. [Update from the future: He was found guilty and sentenced to time in prison.]

Let’s use this as a lesson. If you are still questioning why sexual assault victims take so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light on that.

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 your story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

Related Post: The Conundrum of Being Strong

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.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/bsszvi

Ask Me: http://wp.me/P31EeG-hg

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 racism steps into me; the blood dripping as racism clips my heel, but never my wings.

Back on track, I 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.