2018 Recap

Reading Time: 5 minutes
It’s snowing in Tucson. So, I feel better that I am a few days late on my 2018 top eight because… snow in the desert. And, as you know or probably don’t because it never happens, watching snow sit on cacti is probably one of the coolest sights.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions. However, I do like to start the New Year with intentionality. At my wedding, a dear friend encouraged my husband and I to choose a specific word each year on which to reflect and meditate on together. Each year, I have enjoyed and learned to enjoy the ways in which I am stretched by this exercise.
No spoilers for 2019, but our word for 2018 was ‘listen.’ Looking back, I cannot help but notice the way in which God has continued to use that word to move my heart to and for marginalized communities, as well as towards my own and our joint healing and wholeness. And yes, I know it’s already 2019, but I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on my top eight resources, in addition to the Scripture, that helped me to listen more closely in 2018.  
  1. Intentional Mentorship. At a recent church gathering, someone tossed out this think piece: what is the meaning of church? It was just quippy/ironic/taboo enough that it immediately caught my attention, and a couple of giggles. I was hooked. What would people say? One of the most concise and profound answers was something like: it is hard to follow Jesus by yourself. Okay, so what does this have to do with mentorship? When people ask me why I advocate for mentorship, I have found myself saying something similar: it is hard to do life by yourself. We desire and need human interaction. And mentorships help to fortify and restore us.  These past two years, I have been blessed to form a mentorship of sorts with a black woman who has encouraged me to radically reconsider my understanding of social justice, womanism and the deconstruction of racism. Mentorship invites accountability and vulnerability – both stretching and powerful! If you haven’t already, I would invite you to consider a mentorship.
  1. Friendship Circles. What is that old saying about friends? Friends are a rare commodity? Growing up, I have been fortunate enough to find, usually, the right friends at the right time. Some have been long-lasting while others have been there for a season. These last few years, I have been fortunate enough to find friends that have continually spent time invested in and connecting intentionally with me on more of the gritty aspects of life. And, for that, I am forever grateful. Where do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable? I have been blessed with a variety of friendships which can hold my questions and can be soft, safe places to land. Where are your safe places? Whom are your soft places to land?
  1. Literary Resources. The other day, I was listening to an NPR podcast between a Syrian refugee and her American friend. During the interview, after doing her best to communicate her empathy for her friend, the American friend said something particularly profound which has stuck with me. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially this: “You know, I have done my best to read and to educate myself on Syria, and I can’t imagine what living through that profound trauma must have been for you or how it continues to impact you. I can’t know…but, I want to tell you that your story impacts me, and I have held it and made it a part of me and what I carry.” While there are pieces of this sentiment that are, perhaps, problematic, I particularly appreciate the image of carrying the stories of others. That resonates with me as well as the idea that educational resources can only provide the smallest glimpse of historic, shared and lived trauma. That being said, don’t stop with your own due diligence. Read. Learn. Educate yourself. But also, don’t forget to invest in and get to know real people. And, because this section is titled “literary resources,” you already know you are going to get a few of my favorite book titles from this last year. Check out the graphic at the top of the post for some of my favorites. 
  1. Community Investment. Nowadays, there are so many ways to get invested in organizations and NPO’s. And, usually these investments cost you something: time, money or both. I spent time breaking down how I wanted to invest in my time and money in 2018 through 4 parts:
    1. Identify my own core values
    2. Educate myself on NPO’s and organizations within my local community which closely aligned with my core values.
    3. Invest in those communities and organizations either with my time, money or both
    4. Resource out the information I have gathered with my community
  1. Educational Opportunities. You know those people that are always like, “I LOVE SCHOOL,” or even “I LOVE HOMEWORK.” Okay, so #nerdalert, but those folks are seriously my kind of folk. I thoroughly enjoy learning and living close to the UofA makes me happy for all things seminars and workshop(py). Part of my listening journey included paying attention to opportunities for growth and then maximizing my growth potential. In education, we probably overutilize the idea of turning everything in a “learning opportunity,” but I believe access to education and continual resources and supports are crucial when considering a more equitable and just future. This past year, I attended seminars on everything from toxic masculinity and black lives matter to intersectionality and wealth disparity, and I wish I could’ve hauled each and one of you to them. From attending workshops led by Jason Reynolds to listening to Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson, I am grateful for free and accessible events.
  1. Truth Warriors. Truth can sometimes be a complicated thing. This past year, I have found myself really struggling with naming and committing to living my own truth. After a few heated scenarios with loved ones regarding my own experiences with racism, I found myself resisting my own truth. I couldn’t make sense of how to navigate living into my own truth if it meant breaking relationship. I couldn’t make sense of living into my own truth if it meant that loved ones couldn’t accept my black body. Problematic…I know.  But I also couldn’t seem to imagine pretending away my blackness for white comfort.? It didn’t seem fair to ask me to make the compromise. I wanted to channel unconditional love and yet the sentiments expressed thoroughly renounced me as a black woman and as a truth teller. What did it mean to live into truth? To be honest, I am still wrestling with this scenario. It hurts me. But I have also learned to fortify myself with some additional truths. I am named and known. I have value. I can speak the truth in love and ask for what I need. I can disengage. I can choose not to argue with those whom are unwilling to see or recognize my inherent value as a human being. I can still have power.
  1. Intentional Mindfulness/Mental Health Awareness. What are the ways you unwind? This past year has been a doozy for me, and as I’ve struggled to begin to manage my anxiety, I discovered the importance of meditation and routines. As resourced in a few previous blog posts, I have particularly found supports like therapyforblackgirls, ourselvesblack and even forharriet helpful and encouraging. On the IG or Twitter, check out #blackgirlmentalhealth, #blackmentalhealth or #blackwomenmentalhealth
  1. Media. One way I listen is by exposing myself to different cultures through television, radio and media. Check out the graphic at the top of my page for my recommendations.

Holiday Mindfulness

Reading Time: 2 minutes
It’s been a minute since my last blog post. And, I will be the first to admit that I needed to take a beat.

For me, particularly in today’s volatile political world, preparing for the holidays continually requires intentional self-care practices. And, family time can be complicated.

Maybe you can relate?

As I got ready this year for Christmas, I was confronted with a few different feelings: anger, sadness, fear and resistance. I was angry and sad about how anxious I was for large group togetherness time. I was anxious about being around certain members of my family. And, I was sad about how my desire to want authenticity can often hinder my own ability to relax. 

In fact, I was so anxious that my anxiety started to physically disrupt my everyday life: my body would tense, my breath would quicken, I couldn’t sleep, and I started to get anxiety attacks.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect that many of us are scared or anxious when we think about large family gatherings. Personally, I wonder if most of us are worried about belonging so much that it feels especially imperative to distance ourselves from our feelings of anger and sadness.

But here’s what I know: what we resist persists.

So, I’ve been changing the way I practice self-talk prior to large family gatherings.

Here are some things that I did:

I took a hot bath.

I rubbed lotion on my skin while verbalizing reasons that I loved my skin.

I deep conditioned my hair and spoke affirmations about my hair.

I allowed myself to meditate.

I lit incense.

I played a playlist of ocean sounds while I slept.

I prayed.

I connected with friends.

I drank lots of water and I granted myself graciousness.

When I speak gently and lovingly to myself, I can prepare myself for events which I suspect will be emotionally exhausting by strengthening my center.  Reminding myself that I am known, loved, capable and intelligent is a helpful strategy which allows me to re-center myself on my strengths rather than on my fears of what could be.  As a Christian, I often also speak truths about God to strengthen my spiritual self.

What are ways you prepare when faced with a tough situation?

This isn’t a fairy tale story. I didn’t end up at my Christmas gathering without any anxiety. But I noticed that because I had prepared myself mentally, I was able to feel more fully present. I was also able to rely on the strategies and resources I had developed more often than I have been able to in the past. And, these realities felt rather miraculous.

As you end this holiday season, what practices and supports have you incorporated into your everyday life which help you navigate the holidays?

6 Tips for Engaging in Political Discussions this Holiday

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re anything like me, you might be dreading the upcoming holidays.

I mean, midterms, am I right? And, of course they were strategically placed on day 6 of the Gratitude journey to Thanksgiving. Because – reasons!

As a (pretty opinionated, and the youngest) black woman in a white (mostly moderate, also very opinionated) largely conservative family, you can imagine that I have all the feels about the upcoming holidays.

Maybe you can relate?

So, if you are feeling anxious about the upcoming holidays, I wanted to share a few resources which I have found helpful, as well as my own tips and strategies for promoting holistic conversations while navigating difficult subjects.

Though, if you need an out, when I asked one of my girlfriends if she had any suggestions, she said: “Tip 1-10: DON’T.”

Anyways, here are 6 Tips for Engaging in Holiday Political Discussions. What are the tips and/or strategies you have developed?

1. Take time for self-care. Okay, so maybe this one sounds obvious, but if you are anything like me it is easy to skip the “obvious” solution. Don’t. Manage your expectations and set appropriate boundaries. It is okay to say that you need a break. It is okay to refuse to engage in devolving conversations. It is okay to ask for what you need. For me, this sometimes looks like setting specific boundaries, ie: I am invested in this conversation and what you have to say is important to me, but I need a ten minute break before we resume…

2. Identify and assess your goals. So, maybe you’re like, what? Goal identification and assessment? This isn’t a business meeting. And, you’re right. But identifying your goals before you enter into an -often emotionally charged – conversation is crucial for managing your expectations. What do you want from the conversation? Do you want to be heard? Do you want the other person to agree with you? Do you want to know that you are valued and loved? When you are able to identify and assess what you need it becomes easier to develop an effective strategy.

3. Check in with your body. Okay, so this one requires some willingness to be intentionally self-aware. And, it’s not always the easiest. But, as you are able, check in. Do you have what you need to feel supported? Are you able to dialogue in a safe place (ie: really distinguish between safe and uncomfortable. There is a difference. For example, a safe white space does not automatically correlate as a safe POC space). Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you irritated?

No one is always in a “perfect” place to dialogue. People have tough conversations all the time without checking in. But, by doing a check-in it helps us to identify and uncover both our needs and our capacity to have sustainable, holistic conversations.

4. Ask meaningful follow-up questions. Are you that person that likes to be snarky? Maybe you inadvertently weaponize intelligence? When feeling desperate, sometimes I give a low blow. Reminder: These conversations -though, if I’m honest, any conversation – are not the place for these snark attacks. Respect one another to ask meaningful questions (ie: questions in which you actually want to know the answer and questions in which you don’t know the answer). 

5. Evaluate your Racial/Social/Political Goals. About a year ago, I was challenged to intentionally identify my racial justice vision and then develop a clear strategy. To be honest, I had never considered creating a strategy with clear identifiable steps for racial justice. But, I am so glad that I have as it has helped me identify how to engage others.

For me, part of my Racial Justice vision includes promoting and attaining sustainable relationships. Understanding this goal has helped me to identify that humanizing and valuing the ‘other’ is important to me, and it has also fundamentally shifted the way in which I engage with the ‘other.’ ie: if I care about the ‘other,’ I will refrain from disparaging, hateful speech. This does not mean that I will not speak truth, but it will mean that I won’t call Trump…well…a lot of things, etc., Additionally, this means the way in which I speak to my more conservative family members centers on humanizing and valuing their concerns in order to focus conversations while also promoting my own needs and concerns. 

6. Be kind. Okay, so I used to hate this phrase because I was pretty sure it was white fragility dressed up as a 10 Commandment…But…I have started to shift my thinking. Growing up, “be kind,” was that phrase your mom used if you said something a little too true to your sister. You know the, “that shirt is ugly,” type of thing. It was a warning to rethink what was coming out of your mouth. It was an invitation to be passive aggressive (I mean, it was an opportunity to exemplify tact). Whatever you want to call it, I had the opportunity of working in education and this fun little phrase somehow became our theme the past two years, and I discovered something. Being kind doesn’t mean being indirect, and it doesn’t mean letting someone walk all over you. I can be kind and still think you are racist. I can be kind and still ask you to check your privilege. What if kindness is a wonderful opportunity of telling the truth in love? Yeah, I know, overused phrase. But, something that I’ve been trying to practice.


Additional Recommendations: 

1. Christena Cleveland. Yes, I pretty much shamelessly promote this woman because…investing in black women (particularly those whom are invested in spirituality and justice practices) is critical. Recently, Christena began a biweekly newsletter entitled Justice & Renewal. And, this week she gives tips and strategies for engaging in difficult conversations over the holidays. Click here for access.

2. Dr. Amanda Kemp. Check out Dr. Amanda Kemp’s blog here for some vulnerable and reinvigorating strategies.

Shalom always,