A Force to be Reckoned With

When I was in junior high, I had the opportunity to take part in an accelerated language arts program. This meant that I was able to handle a bigger workload and take on more responsibility. The teacher was a plump man with a round face, facial hair, and a ponytail that went down to the middle of his back. He looked like the type of guy who loved books.

No, I love books.

I mean, LOOOOVES books.

The first assignment he gave us on the very first day of school (really, who does that!) was to read Fahrenheit 451 within the first two weeks of school. As I shockingly gazed at the thickness of the book, along with the “further required reading” list that accompanied the book. I knew that this class wasn’t for me.

I went to my counselor.

So my counselor took me out of the program and placed me in one of the regular classes. I walked into the class and gave the transfer sheet to the teacher. This was no ordinary teacher, this was a woman — a black woman, which was weird because I had only ever once encountered a black female teacher throughout my academic career (at that point).

She took the slip from me.

“Mmmmm-hmm. You can sit over there.”

I sat — still in shock.

She had a personality that was bigger than life, she had a loud, booming voice, she had a slight southern twang to her voice, and she did not take shit from anyone.

…and I mean anyone.

To tell the truth, I was scared of this woman for the first quarter of the school year. Every time she asked for a volunteer, I sank a little lower in my seat. When she wanted one of the students to diagram a sentence, I would stare directly at my paper, trying my damnedest not to make eye contact. When it was time to go, I would hurriedly get my shit together and get the hell out of that room.

One day, everything changed. That day, I did not get my shit together fast enough.

“How come you never give the answer?”

She smiled.

Oh, shit.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you have the answer. I know you came from the accelerated class. You need to start answering the questions in class. Don’t hide your genius.”

I was confused as hell. Although I have been trying to avoid her, she has been paying attention to me.

“Tell your mom and your sister, I said hello.”

Fuck.

From that moment on, she would push me academically and personally. She would be one of the most influential people in my life — often giving me lessons not only on being a man but a black man as well. She would teach me about responsibility, she would teach me about perseverance, and she would also teach me about respect for myself and for others. I had a mother at home, and I had a mother at school.

What started out as a teacher to student relationship would years later become a relationship as colleagues as I was hired in the same district that I grew up in, and that she still taught in. What I did not know was that she was always looking out for me and doing what she could to give me every opportunity to succeed.

Sixteen years after I sat in her classroom, moved to another state, and started a family, I embarked on a mission to attain my doctoral degree. In the orientation class, we were tasked with writing a letter of appreciation to the person who got you to this point. To tell the truth, many helped me along the way. But there was one person who took it upon herself to not only discuss just how successful I could be but to hold me to a higher standard based on that potential.

I found out that Mrs. Francine Jackson passed away on May 11th.  I never knew if she received that letter in particular, but I think she knew the impact that she would have on my life and the lives of countless students in our area. I can only hope that I am living my life in a way that would do her memory justice.

Return on Investment

In the financial world, return on investment refers to the ratio between net profit (over a period) and cost of investment (resulting from an investment of some resources at a point in time). A high return on investment means the investment’s gains compare favorably to its cost. As a performance measure, return on investment is used to evaluate the efficiency of an investment or to compare the efficiencies of several different investments.
Recently my wife and I have come to terms with the fact that, because we have kids, we will not:
a) live forever. As a matter of fact, we think the “kids make you live longer” research is bullshit,
b) never get enough sleep,
c) never have the nest egg in our bank account that we desire.
So, we both figured. Fuck it, maybe we should throw caution to the wind a little and invest in our kids’ experiences. Perhaps we should show them some things that might be in the history books instead of them being told about it in school. We did set parameters:
We will not clear out our bank account;
We will not spend any of our retirement;
We will not borrow money from anyone or any entity.
We scrounged up the little money we had in investments from when I was younger, budgeted the funds that we had, and picked up some odds-and-ends jobs. But, most importantly, we had to redefine what an investment meant.
When I was younger, with not much money, I started to dabble in things such as ETFs, bonds, and futures, I loved looking at ways that I could grow my wealth. I would read the prospectus of different companies (who the hell actually reads those), look through the tickers on all of the financial networks, and check out the financial history of prospective companies that I could invest in. I was really hardcore!
But as I got older, I started to question how long I would hold these investments. I began to wonder what an investment really was. Especially after having our first child and needing a bigger house, a more dependable car, and diapers. God! Diapers!
Is a child an investment? In what? Futures?
What is the rate of return? When do I start to account for profit or loss?
How will I know if the current rate is running in the positive or negative?
The answer: You don’t, and you never will.
A child is a super heavy, crazy large investment. One that is hard to analyze or compute your return on that investment. Sure, it is all nice and dandy to say, “Every child is a gift that will last a lifetime,” but it is really freaking hard to keep telling yourself that when your rate of return is rolling their eyes when you have a simple request. Or, when your precious investment breaks a different investment because they won’t stop bouncing the damn ball in the house as you told them not to do 100. But, I am not angry.
Not that angry…
okay, angry.
Now that we have decided to invest in family, what does that look like?

Basically, it looks like us saying yes to a bunch of expenses that we would normally say no to. It looks like we are going to spend our money on experiences rather than things, which is good, because it allows me to go into the house and announce, “Okay, we are getting rid of your shit! We are minimizing! Round up the stuff you plan to donate!

My wife says, “You will need someone to push that wheelchair to the home, you know?” I hope that is true. Yes, I hope they are good people. Yes, I hope they give me grandkids, but I would be lying if I did not admit that I would love it if they would place me in a charming home and come visit me every now and then.

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The Letter She Received this Morning

Look at you! My first-born in her first varsity competition! I have dreamed about this day since you were born… although I did not think it would come this soon.

You were so nervous when you found out that you were chosen, you freaked out and started crying. You started the dangerous game of playing all of the “what if” scenarios in your head.

What if I miss?

What if I do the wrong thing?

What if I suck?

It was funny to watch such a composed girl, a girl who I have viewed countless times score baskets in numerous situations, freak out about something that seems so trivial.

But then I remember how young you are. I often forget that. You have conducted yourself in such a way that it is easy for anyone to forget that you are a year or more younger than girls in your grade.

As you are traveling to the venue, I know you are nervous, so I am going to give you some advice:

• You are going to suck; embrace it – It is your first crack at some real competition. Newsflash: you may not win. The coach believes in you but understands that you are very green. You do not have a target on your back, so you are in a low risk/high reward situation. Just go out there and compete.

• Have fun in the moment – There are many who would love to be in your shoes. Next week, it could be someone else; but today, it is all you. Live in the moment, and everything will be fine.

• Take notes – There is going to be a lot of good athletes out there. Most of them have been playing this sport a lot longer than you. Take notes on the best or the ones that you favor. Look at their routines, study their approaches, emulate their techniques so that later you can make those same techniques work for you.

• Do not try to live up to any other athletes’ standard – As I said before, these athletes have been doing this a lot longer than you have. Don’t try too hard to outplay them. You are here to gain varsity experience so that you can learn the game at a different level and with a different pace. If you make this a head game, you will be terrible. Relax, slow down, and play like this is recreational. Winning is nice, but it is not the point.

• It is really about the small victories – Playing a sport that you just picked up 2 months ago is a win; daring to join the school team is a win; being chosen for varsity is a win. Enjoy the small victories. The big ones will come later, don’t look for them now. If they happen – great, but if they don’t, learn from it, count yourself fortunate, and move on.

Your mother and I are proud of you. And we cannot wait to hear about the day.

Now, go have fun.

It is not you, it is me… Promise.

Where have I been? Yes, I know, I have not written a post for a while.
I took a break this summer. I took some “me” time. I did this for one primary reason:
I am selfish.
I don’t feel ashamed.
I don’t owe anybody an apology.
I needed time.
I am a husband, I am a father, I am a coach of many disciplines, an educator, a doctoral student, I am a school board member, a committee member, a writer, and a very active community member – I wear a lot of hats.
I do it gladly – I love being busy, I love having projects, and I love giving myself to others.
But, unfortunately, I burned out.
I found out that I was pulling myself in too many directions, which made me less effective in all other aspects; but most importantly, I was not an effective father or husband. And that is not okay.
So I put all of my responsibilities aside. I walked away from everything.
Except for family.
Family is essential, and we must place emphasis on spending as much time with them as possible. Kids grow up, parents work, significant others get busy. It is too easy to let the time fly by due to everyday “business of life.”
I refused to let that happen. So, I made a conscious decision:
I traveled with family.

 

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If you have not been to Folklorama, you are really missing out.

I explored.

 

 

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights – Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I lived with reckless abandon.

 

 

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I did not get a hole-in-one, but I did split a golf ball in half.

I learned a lot about my kids’ lives.

 

 

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Never too young for a checkers beat-down.

And…
I reconnected with my wife.

 

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It was awesome.
The moral of this story? We all get super busy with life. Make sure you take the time to see what is around you; not just what is in front of you. We are constantly reminded that we do not have very many years on this earth. Make sure you take the time to reflect on what is essential and what is sacred. If there is something that you want to do; someplace you wish to see; someone that you want to spend time with – do it!
I know what you are going to say, “Not everyone has the time and/or resources to cast responsibility aside…”
…And I will gladly call bullshit on that statement… mostly because it is the easy answer.
Yes, we only have 16 hours in our day. A good portion of that day is taken up with employment. But that still leaves us time to practice the things to which I am speaking – we just have to make it a priority.
Just make sure you fill your own bucket first.

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1 Difference is Just as Good as 100

So, I had this idea: why don’t I use my non-profit as a vehicle to create an opportunity for fathers or father-figures to read to their children. Afterward, both could go to a local restaurant and enjoy a root beer float together.

…And so I planned, I networked, I advertised. I played and replayed all possible scenarios, which all pointed to a successful event.

On the day of the event, I waited at the venue for people to flood the event. Slam Dunk!

One hour in and only one person came to enjoy the opportunity.

What the Hell?

This seemed like a slam dunk to me. Why wouldn’t a person take 15 minutes out of their schedule to read to their child? The way I see it, it’s a win-win for our community! Kids are read to, thus increasing their brain capacity; the local public library gains more readership, and a local restaurant gains patrons. I sat on the step wondering where I went wrong.

One hour in, I was ready to walk away.

But, just then, I see a father and his daughter walk in and grab a book.

Shit! A glimmer of hope. Would you look at that?

After choosing a book, they both walk outside, sit together under the gazebo, and read together.

…and that made it all worth it.

Maybe the event did not work out as I wanted it to…

Maybe I should have done a better job planning within the logistical side…

Maybe I should have been more aggressive with my advertising – shook a few more hands/handed out more materials.

I could “maybe” this thing all day. Grasping at what went wrong.

What I do know is that I possibly helped make a difference in that little girl’s life. She got to spend quality time with her father, under the gazebo.

Today, she and her father possibly made a memory.

I won.

 

To Be Young, Gifted and Black…

By now, you have either seen or heard it…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/05/08/mayor-reportedly-said-her-city-isnt-ready-black-leader-council-member-went-further/?utm_term=.e70aa4383b15

Yes. Discrimination is everywhere. Racism is everywhere.

But, it is no longer the person who stands outside your house and burns a cross in your front yard; it is no longer the person who calls you a nigger (or some variation of it) to your face; it is not in the signage around town that prohibits you from using a certain fountain, or entering through the front door of a business. It is systematic. It is when people accept the status quo; It is when people say, “Well, that is how it has always been.” It is when people stand by and refuse to get involved because it is “none of their business.”

There is one line that hit me really hard in this article.

“I can’t imagine anyone is going to be applying for anything in that city anytime soon,” Fuller said. “I can’t imagine businesses are going to want to move in there with the current leaders in City Hall.”

This is where I will concentrate this post.

I live in a town where few African Americans live. Are there people in the town who are blatantly racist? no. Have I been discriminated against and denied opportunities because of my race? yes, but mostly because of the ingrained ignorance that sometimes exists within the community. Ignorance that allows people to discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Most unknowingly. But they do not get a pass.

…which is why it is my duty to make sure that they have no choice but to see me for who I am.

Young, Gifted, and Black.

I did not ask to be black, but I am. My parents taught me that being black comes with responsibilities:

You must be the best.
You must work the hardest.
You must put yourself in a position where saying no hurts them, not you.
If you can help it, you must live to see another day.

When they told me these responsibilities, they did not say:

You must be better than white people.
You must work harder than white people…

It was indiscriminate. They meant all people.

My parents made me realize that being black was the best gift my ancestors ever gave me. I, along with others, get the responsibility of carrying centuries of history on my back. My people were built for this; we made the world go around, we made economies grow, we built cities from the ground up.

And I am the fruit of all of that labor.

I will teach your children,
I will coach your children,
I will sit on your boards and councils,
I will create your businesses, and (God willing), I will be called Doctor.

I will do this because there are more like me. There are more blacks that are driven to accomplish the same goals that I want to accomplish. More brothers and sisters who believe that accomplishing these goals are a responsibility that is owed to our people – a responsibility to your people as well. Your community is not whole without us.

So, although the community in this article may not have been ready, I hope you are ready; you don’t have a choice.

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