Saturday, April 29, 2017

Afrikan-Centered Learning...Life Is Still Our Classroom


Spring '17 Sankofa $Math Entrepreneurs.  


Our year in the Nation's Capitol has been full of long stretches and fast curves...


Sankofa Homeschool Collective (SHC) is an Afrikan-Centered collective of families who have decidedly chosen to create an educational community reflective of the beauty of being descendants of the African Diaspora or, as Baba Obi Egbuna (my daughter's Pan Afrikan History teacher affirms) Children of Mother Afrika.  Know this: We at Sankofa "don't play that".  SHC is the true embodiment of homeschooling.  Life is still, our classroom...

Nanii's Pan-Afrikan History teacher Baba Obi, her crocheting teacher Mama Oni, her writing teacher Mama Khali and last but certainly not least her  (Husband/Wife) Money Math and Algebra dynamic duo, Baba kwao and Mama Lifoma (who also teaches math at Howard University) remind us that we are activist, journalist/writers, our own problem solvers and entrepreneurs.

These "facilitators" are more than just instructors, they have (rather quickly) become our extended family - our village.  These brilliant minds and brave hearts sharpen my daughter's iron but, also they sharpen mine.  I sit and watch in profound wonder at the way learning happens at SHC.  Every Friday, I get to sit-in and learn.  I am always welcome.  In fact, the Babas and Mamas (as we respectfully call each other) encourage parents to join in.  After a lifetime of Public School in the US, old scars are healed when Nani begins her day with Baba Kwao's Algebra I class.  My twelve year old is learning to solve and graph Quadratic Equations from a Haitian brother who greets his Watoto (Swahili for Children) in Creole and who is not regurgitating from a textbook but teaching straight from the dome - like we say in the South Bronx "Brothuh got heart."

In 2nd period, Mama Oni begins class with a ritual of affirmations.  "These hands are magic!" the girls affirm; lovin' on themselves and each other.  Crocheting with Mama Oni is not just about learning to create a (wearable) product; it's about learning to honor your ability to create with your hands what you need and desire and that includes: clothes, financial independence, Ujamaa or, cooperative economics and a self-loving, united village.  I believe there is a deeper work Mama Oni is doing with our girls.  In a world where it is popular to "hate on" and gossip about each other, Mama Oni is boldly teaching our girls powerful unity concepts.  As they learn the "V" crocheting technique I see our girls creating unbreakable chains of self-confidence and strong community.  No girl is ever left behind because a sister in the group will go to her aide.  Unlike public school where my daughter (along with her peers) were forbidden from getting up out of their seat to help another student struggling, to laugh, joke, sing, or even turn around to smile at each other; I see my daughter (who is an only child) help another little sister who is crying because she just doesn't get it.  And, in just a minute or two both girls are laughing and feeling confident in themselves and each other because they reinforced one another.  I know this is the way learning is suppose to happen. Like geese who fly in "V" formation, the V concept in crocheting is teaching our daughters to never leave each other behind but, that they grow stronger, faster, happier and, accomplish more with less strain when they work together.

Baba Obi in Fatigues breakin' it down for our youth.  Spring '17

Our Struggle Our Experience Our Responsibility No Apologies or, 3rd period Pan Afrikan History class is never uneventful.  I believe this is the class with the highest enrollment - 20 (maybe more?).  Best believe Baba Obi can be heard from the sidewalk just outside Studio 2 leading his 9 - 12 year old Watoto in song, vividly recounting an important event, pointing out the media's attempt to anesthetize them against the reality of current-day neo-colonialism or sternly redirecting a wandering mind.  He uses both methodical association techniques like his number-letter formula which helps students learn all 55 countries in Africa, the students perform historical re-enactments, call and response and song.  Yes, on any given Friday, the sounds of learning resound from Studio 2 where  Baba Obi instills "our students must discover two important lifelong lessons: the first is that African children have just as much of a responsibility to educate the society as adults, the second is that our students will learn they are gaining quality  exposure to our history and culture much earlier than their parents/guardians."  If you haven't done the homework be prepared to be called out.  So many times, I am put to shame by how much factual African (American) history our Watoto know.

Parents sitting in class are not exempt from the circle of learning.  You know this year "a sistuh" done stepped up her game.  Obi never lets parents forget that learning about ourselves through our history is a lifelong, continual process.  Last year, Nani played a Ghanaian doctor in a children's play commemorating the life of President Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first Black president.  The media inundates our children with countless and meaningless figures who do not reflect the beauty, power and strength of the African Diaspora.  For the first time ever, my daughter invoked her Afrikan royal heritage in a play; not about fictional characters but, about HER real-life heroic ancestors. Inspired by my daughter, I decided to participate in Baba Obi's adult short-play this year entitled: Guerilla Mothers and Wives a fictional tale based on the true story of the role of mothers and wives in the Eritrean Revolution to be performed on May 19th, this year.

Recess...Reconstructed


Up next is for most students (in the world) the favorite time of the day...you guessed it - Recess.  But, not for the conventional reasons most students love recess.  At Sankofa recess is 90 minutes.  And, so much happens in those 90 minutes.  At Sankofa, playin' soccer on a patch of grass or the park, hoopin', taggin' each other or just hanging out and talkin' with their friends is absolutely encouraged, supported, facilitated and supervised by the collective.  For Mama Lifoma's middle to high schoolers however it is not just about getting out of class in fact, dare I say it?  The learnin' don't stop!  That's right, during recess Mama Lifoma's Watoto have what we call: Sankofa Market and that's when stuff get real, up in Sankofa!  All students are allowed and encouraged to create an item for sale. Yaaaaaaas! Our student-preneurs make it rain paper honey! Money Math is the incubator where on a weekly (now daily at home) basis my daughter and now we as a family are learning and implementing the fourth principle of Kwanza: Ujamaa or to build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all its work and wealth.

Two weeks ago while sitting in on (the other half of the dynamic duo) Mama Lifoma's Money Math class, I had one of those moments where you feel the ancestors sticking their chest out about you; where you can just hear 'em sayin' "dem my babies!"  Mama Lifoma was informing the students they would be participating in their 1st open to the public vending event which they themselves would brand, produce and execute - as a class project.  Whoooa! That is what I call learnin'!  Of course I was immediately drawn in and when she asked "can anyone think of a name for our event?" I thought "Children's Ujima Business Expo" but, I respectfully waited not wanting to impede the opportunity from a student to shine. After a few minutes of silence, I said "Mama Lifoma, what about Sankofa's 1st Annual Children's Ujima Business Expo?"  She liked it but then, Amoa, her son lit up in one of those creative genius moments (I love so much) murmuring "cube, cube, cube" eliciting the proverbial "what are you tawkin' about" look from Zion (our sixteen year old and old senior student in class).  None of us knew what Amoa was babbling about.

"CUBE...Children's Ujamaa Business Expo!" Amoa shouted out spelling it out phonetically for us.  "Sankofa's 2017 CUBE Conference!"  said Zion.  It was the perfect Swoosh!  I tell you, it was magical to be in the middle of that explosive energy. Our children are BRILLIANT!  Immediately Amoa ran to the whiteboard to draw out the logo for Sankofa's 1st Annual CUBE Conference.  The rest of the class came running over to see what all the commotion was about and jumped in with suggestions on the logo.  Reverberating from the synergy, Mama Lifoma and I high-fived.  Need-I-say-more?  Before the end of class Mama Lifoma reminded her Watoto "Don't forget about our upcoming Howard University vending day at the Blackburn Center!"

So what can you find at our highly sophisticated Sankofa Market during recess every Friday?  The Sankofa Market operates on Sankofa bucks which our Treasurer Zion Utsey is happy to exchange for US currency.  Once Bro. Zion exchanges currency with you, you can buy: Amoa's home-made bruffin's browny-muffin, Noah's home-made mint-lemonade, Ania's home-made sweet potato pie, Iyana's original black comic book series and of course the couture designs of the one and only - Ms. Naa Anyele Sowah-de Jesus who already has a rolling pre-order list.

Last but, never least is Mama Khali's 4th period Writing Truth To Power class.  Mama Khali is the culmination of my prayers in beautiful brown-sugar flesh; she is the Jimi Hendrix of Writing teachers.  The end of this session will be our full year with Mama Khali and as a writer myself I am honored to have her as a co-pilot in my daughter's writing journey.  This Sister does the dopest things like taking her students two hours out of the city to go meet Sonia Sanchez, in her own car - at no cost to parents.  Unfortunately this year, Nani and I were in the middle of our move so, she could not make it.  But, honey, watch out because next session is on like donkey-kong (Sorry, you gotta be at least 35 to laugh at that one).  This year, Mama Khali has had students to write about issues they feel very strongly about, create an organization to support that issue which the class will vote to decide what business will be chosen for an actual website launch.  My daughter's writing is a testament to how Mama Khali is inspiring her Watoto to reach higher within themselves.

Some of Sankofa's 9-12 year old girls...Spring '17



Yes, life is still our classroom...

You be safe.  I'll be dangerous.

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not Our Girls...Why Are Our Girls Turning To The Streets?



Yesterday evening I was blessed with one of those 360 degree, full-circle moments in my life as a Mother and a Wombyn...

Nanii is now 12 years old, loves math and science, is good at writing and is extremely creative and gifted in sewing. "C'mon mom, you know I'm a fashionista! I can't let you wear that!" she announces whenever I wear something that does not agree with her fashion sense. My daughter is tall and beautiful. Sometimes, she catches me "scanning" her. "What now, mom?" she asks in frustration. Nanii thinks I'm being critical of her. Quite the contrary, I'm protecting my daughter; making sure she isn't wearing anything that would entice a pervert on the street. "You are beautiful," I always tell Nanii. I want to make sure she hears it from me because I never want her to "need" to hear it from someone on the street.


Nanii's father transitioned 10 years ago. As a single Mother, I triumph daily over mood swings, fear, frustration and worry about our financial and overall wellbeing. Everyday, I push to do what feels good instead of worrying about doing "the right thing." Many of us (single mothers) don't even know "what feels good to us" we only know how to follow the masses who are in the rat race, living just to pay bills. When I allow myself to wallow in worry, fear, frustration and doubt I disconnect from my higher self; I feel heavy and I do not say the right thing or have the right responses to situations. Wallowing in fear, frustration and doubt is equivalent to standing in a pitch dark room - you can not see yourself or anyone else for all that you(they) really are. Those of us who are truly seeking our higher selves know that the more you ascend; the more sensitive we become to external as well as internal negativity. In other words, we catch our negative thoughts faster. I am getting better at rebounding; at stabilizing internal turbulence.


Yesterday, I was really struggling. I was wallowing in worry which led me to having an angry outburst at Nanii. When my anger subsides which lately seems to be rather quickly, I feel guilty. Internally, I asked the Universe for help. Ask and you shall receive...


My homegirl Mo, sent me an invitation to attend a screening of Lisa Ling's documentary "Not Our Girls". Besides a few posts on facebook (which I barely go on anymore) I really knew nothing about the details of the human trafficking of our girls in DC (and all over the world). I just knew I didn't need reminders of how completely powerless it feels to be a little girl and have a man overpower and violate your spirit and body. So, I disengaged from those facebook posts under the guise of protecting myself from the never ending heartbreak of the sexual abuse of children.


I struggled with whether I should bring my daughter to "Not Our Girls", the one year anniversary documentary of Lisa Ling's undercover reporting: 3AM Girls, a show that chronicles the human trafficking of African-American females. "How much fear am I going to instill in my 12 year old daughter?" I asked myself remembering Dr. Joy Degruy's book: Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome where she discusses how people of the African Diaspora in America tend to cripple our children by making them fearful of the world they live in. Meanwhile, Americans of European descendance let their children "discover" their world freely. I am not perfect, but, I am proud to say I teach my daughter to be an explorer of her world. Having said that, something just wouldn't let me renege. I am so glad I pushed past the doubt. Once I arrived, to the Sankofa Books n Cafe, I knew I had made the right choice as a Mother and Wombyn.


Even though there were a few seats upfront, I quietly sat down in one of the back rows. My daughter was on her way and hadn't arrived. Ebony Wheeler, a pretty, delicately slim, sistuh with waist-length locks took the open-mic stage. Perched on a stool, she vividly remembered haunting memories of temporarily losing both her parents to drugs and prison. "My mother was one of the biggest drug addicts in DC." When my mother and father went to jail, I went to live with relatives. "How many of us know, our relatives will take us in but, no one will love you like your mother?" she asked rhetorically.  "I was teased by my cousins. I went to school with high-waters, my hair undone." 

 Low-self esteem is a lethal fume. No matter how much you mask it; every pedafile and predator can sniff it out. It's not the makeup or the clothes that attracts or empowers a predator; it's that invisible fume - low self-esteem. I remember how much I struggled in my self-esteem as a child, teenager and then young adult. How I was attracted to "bad boys" and how I was pursued and preyed upon by predators. I remember the shame I felt because no one in my family stood up for me; no one defended me. In fact, I was implicitly encouraged to 'shut up' about it.


"When my mom got out of prison; she got a job. Providing was the only thing she knew how to do. Our house was impeccable; we had a living room we couldn't sit in. If I got a "C" grade, my punishments were no less than three months," Ebony continued.  "I was physically abused and I had no one to turn to. My mother would call our relatives and turn them against me," she explained.  I sat motionless - speechless. With the exception of her mother's illegal substance abuse (my father was an abusive alcoholic) and their time in prison, our mother's sounded so similar. I remembered - the universe is always listening and responding.


Kristina Gilchrist, of Live Your Life On Purpose, an Wombyn of color owned organization missioned to develop girls and wombyn's highest potential and Ebony Wheeler, with Women Inspiring Strength and Empowerment W.I.S.E, used "Not Our Girls" to engage us in a deeper conversation; to unpack why girls turn to streets to begin with. I am not going to be hypocritical. Time and time again, I have seen young girls dressed in what I consider to be "inappropriate" clothing and makeup and had judgemental or disapproving thoughts. These sistuhs framed the conversation so that we could look beyond the makeup/attire these babies use to cover up their wounds and survive in what for them, is a ruthless world.


Why are our little girls so easily lured by strange men?


Girls who are verbally, physically, sexually or emotionally/mentally abused or neglected by their family have the highest tendency to seek approval, validation and affection from a total stranger. This was such a timely opportunity for my daughter and I. I have a tendency to blow up at my 12 year old. I had just blown up at my daughter two days before. As a single mother, I am always trying to keep every single ball in the air. And, if I drop one ball I mentally beat myself up by thinking I failed. Consequently, I end up transmitting that same (verbal and nonverbal) message to my daughter. After the screening, I decided to treat us to dinner at Sankofa Books & Cafe.  After dinner, we went for a walk. I asked what she thought about the movie. Nanii said "I felt powerless". It's not like I will ever be on the street at 3am, be able to say to one of these 12 year old girl "hey you can walk away from this life". Nani had a very valid point but, I knew I could help her dig deeper in herself to find her power to help - herself or another girl.


"What are some of the reasons girls turn to the streets?" I asked my baby girl. "Bad communication with their families?" she answered hesitantly. "Yes," I affirmed. "Abusive relationships between girls and their mothers, fathers, relatives." I expounded. This was our full circle 360 degree moment.


In the third grade, Nani and I were very new residents of Holyoke Massachusetts; she was very new at her school. That year, Nani made a friend and they became "besties". I was ecstatic. Despite being a year older than Nani, the little girl was smaller in stature; she was petite for her age. A beautiful little girl. I did everything I could to foster their friendship. I chaperoned play dates, sleepovers and baked brownies. The little girl's mom exuded the lethal fume. I made sure to stay connected to the child's mother (who was also a full-time healthcare worker and single mom).


One day, I arrive at the car pick-up line at my daughter's school. Nani jumped in the car but, there was a quiet, dullness about her demeanor. As mother's we know without a single syllable exchange when something is wrong with our child. "How was your day Nani?" I asked expecting the typical good!  Instead, Nanii nervously said "Mommy? There is something I have to tell you but, you have to promise me, you won't say anything."  This has to be in the top five terrifyingly conflicting statements for a parent to hear. On the one hand, it scares the living day lights out of us; on the other, our child is confiding crucial information we need to protect them.


I took a deep breath and measuring my response carefully I said "well, honey, that depends. If you or someone you know is in danger I can not make that promise," hoping she was just being a normally overly excited eight year old. "Now tell me, what happened honey. Are you okay?" I asked. "But, its just my friend made me pinky swear I wouldn't tell anyone, mommy." Nani pleaded. My panic was growing. I was fearing the worst. I thought maybe someone was sexually abusing her best friend. "Nani, please tell me honey. I need to know if your friend is in danger." 

Nani told me her best friend's mother pushed her down the stairs. My heart dropped and I parked my car. I had been in the little girl's home and knew the steps were steep and long. I felt sick in my stomach. I wanted to take the little girl and bring her to safety. I didn't know what to do. I had never been in that position. I went inside the school and spoke to the principal. Child protective services were contacted; they must have visited the home. I went to see the grandmother and told her what her grand-daughter told my daughter. The grandmother matter of factly confirmed the incident and said she was well aware of her daughter's temperament issues but, there was nothing she could do. That's when I really became frightened for the little girl. 

The mother put two and two together and figured out how child protective services found out. Three days, later the little girl came to school and would not even look at my daughter; her mother forbade her. A few weeks later, we went by the grandmother's house to try to patch things up. The mother had bought her daughter a puppy; a tactic men use on the women they beat. The little girl's mother took her out of the school and moved out of the state; only to return the next year. Regrettably, the girls were never able to recoup their beautiful friendship.


My daughter cried and was emotionally scarred by this ordeal because she lost her best friend. Nani felt guilty for telling the truth; for protecting her friend. Just days before our viewing of "Not Our Girls" Nani and I were sitting in our living room when she shared "I will always regret telling you what happened to Yarlin. One day, I had a best friend and the next Monday, I didn't." Nani blamed herself and me for the loss of her best friend; that broke my heart. I tried to explain that we did the right thing but, it still didn't take away the guilt and regret either of us felt. 

Last night, we received closure knowing without the shadow of a doubt that we did the right thing not just for the little girl but, for ourselves. When we hold up the standard of truth for another's safety; we inevitably secure it for ourselves. During our walk, discussing the causes of girls turning to the streets, Nani and I were released from regret, shame and guilt.  It is my firm belief, our truth telling was a 'wakeup call' for that mother and a lifeline for that little girl.  Perhaps, we saved a mother from the grief of causing her own daughter fatal injury or, losing her to the human sex traffic life girls who are abused turn to.  

This is dedicated to anyone who has overcome domestic violence and sexual abuse; tell your story - take back your power; save a life. 

Shout out to all my single parents holding it down.

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Part III: How Do You Know You Are Walking In Your Purpose?

Monica Utsey & Viviana de Jesus: Fearless Bloggers & Homeschooling Mamuz, 2017 The Blogger Code Brunch

What does doubting fear and trusting possibility look like?


Believe it or not, I do not consider myself a blogger especially when I am not inspired to write.  I've told myself I am not consistent enough, prolific enough, culturally relevant, I don't have a serious following, etc....this is called being normal and experiencing doubt is a healthy emotion.  What is unhealthy is allowing yourself to stay in doubt even when you have a clear vision or nudging feeling to write or create whatever it is that makes you feel good.

I doubt fear thought patterns and keep on writing when I'm inspired to do so.  Sometimes months go by and I don't write one syllable.  I used to beat myself up about it.  Now, I just do whatever else feels good to do.  When I focus on an activity that feels good like reading, exercising, thinking, researching or just living then, I open myself up for new experiences, new insights, new good-feeling opportunities.  Instead, of focusing on my writer's block, or lack of inspiration, I might go out to dinner with my daughter or a friend.  I might accept an invitation to do something fun or, just different - something I've never done before.  That is what trusting possibility looks like.  Your next big inspiration could very well be waiting for you in your next care-free rendezvous.

Last couple of weeks I've been completely focused on some major life transitions.  I started a new business venture, I finally signed the lease on our new place and I am no longer an employee of the District of Columbia.  I have been moving on pure intuition of what feels good.  Some might say, well that sounds frivolous or, selfish or irresponsible.  Focusing on what feels good is absolutely selfish (meaning self-centered) but, not frivolous or irresponsible to yourself or others.  In fact, focusing on what feels good to you is a necessary requirement if you are to create or birth your deepest desires - your dreams and be of value to anyone else.  When you are feeling good (satisfied with your current state of being - your journey) then, are you able to envision yourself arriving to your destination.  Enjoying your journey will not only get you to your desired destination faster; you will be able to enjoy it once you arrive.  If however you are in a constant state of complaining, fear-focused, worry-driven about what you do not have, what you are not yet, where you have not arrived you attract more of the same (prolonging your arrival) because you can not possibly receive what you can not focus on.

On March 21st, I received a quick email from my sister-friend Monica asking if I would be available and interested in going to a Blogger Brunch here in DC.  No explanation, just a link.  In that moment, I could have made a million-and-one excuses why not to click the link.  I repeat "I'm not really a blogger...I do not...I don't have...."  Brunch with a bunch of bloggers sounded like fun.  I was intrigued and opened the link.  Seeing the faces of beautifully brown bloggers felt fantastic!  I immediately felt joy at the thought of being with other fearless writers, media branding consultants and a panel of experts. Then, I saw the location for the event was at a restaurant called Cuba Libre (A Free Cuba).  I immediately recognized the restaurant.

Life has an interesting way of talking to you.  I passed Cuba Libre on my way to my work, everyday. Everyday, that sign "Cuba Libre" had so much meaning for me.  If you know me, you'll know why.  I traveled to Cuba in '98 to do research on Afro-Cuban culture; it was truly an amazing time in my life.  My years in college can be equated to the peeling of onion layers so many tears, so much exploration, so much unpacking and then the feeling of flying - no looking back - just moving in the direction of your dreams.  Every morning, Cuba Libre boldly asked me "Are you free?"  Everyday I went to work; I had to look at the sign and ask myself what it was like inside the restaurant or, maybe I was asking what it looks like to be free.

Sound selfish?  Perhaps you are rethinking your response.

I was allowing myself a good-feeling opportunity; this is the equivalent of spiritual bench-pressing.  Allowing yourself to feel your way through your decisions builds trust in you; in your ability to see opportunities which get you closer to your destination - even if you are not 100 percent sure where exactly that is.

I allowed myself to go really general.  "I can't wait to see what the restaurant looks like inside.  I'm excited to be in a supportive forum with expert bloggers and branding consultants.  I'm excited to make new friends or business contacts.  I'm excited to get exposure and more readers for my blog.  I am excited to learn industry secrets to improve my writing, marketing and monetizing of my blogg."

Cuba Libre is gorgeous inside; I really was transported back to places I'd visited in Cuba back in '98. The Cathedral ceilings, shiny oak surfaces, bright beautifully colorful balconies and cobblestone streets were somehow replicated in this restaurant.  Cuba Libre is a work of art.  Even the bathroom was spacious and beautiful.  Now the food...I am not even gonna lie I allowed myself to indulge (proportionately of course).
Me having sinfully good Cuban coffee with coconut milk and a lil' brown sugar.

 Look at our Future...looks bright don't it? 
The Blogger Code Brunch 2017 Panel.  The panelist who made the biggest impact on me sits second from the right. Chardelle Moore.  Chardelle is a bright, earthy Sistuh with so much Caribbean spunk. Chardelle's personal journey of leaving her corporate job to create and live-out her desires spoke directly to me.  she inspired me to do some specific actions that did not feel out of reach or even out of my comfort zone; it was like she came there with a specific message for me. I was really inspired.  Second from the left is Travel Blogger Victoria of Venture with V, LLC. Victoria's insight and serene fearlessness was also inspiring.  Every panelist dropped nuggets, thank you to all of them.


There were about 50 of us in the room.  So many individual's stories touched me.  I was also able to share my story with everyone.  Folks were so curious about my journey; some even identified with it.  Everyone was supportive.  So, I left TBC Brunch feeling renewed, rejuvenated, rewarded, infused with creativity and stamina to continue...walking in my purpose.  

Thank you to Kiarra Wagstaff and Raro Lae for livin' Your Passions.  Looking forward to more of your events and #TBCDC2018

Shout out to my homegirl Mo thank you for thinking of me.

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Part II: How Do You Know You Are Walking In Your Purpose?

Standing in the light of my own energy, I felt no doubt, no fear, no self judgement.  I knew exactly what I needed to do next.  I went home and scheduled my visit for a holistic healing consultation for February 25th.  I'd always wanted to take a cooking class with my daughter; we love cooking together. Just for fun, I purchased an Organic Soul Chef cooking class session with Sister-Mama Madea Allen.  The Universe was orchestrating one good feeling opportunity after the other to prepare me for what was coming...


Almost at the end of the day Thursday (February 23rd) my Supervisor at the DOES came over to my desk and asked to meet with me in an empty office.  He seemed very nervous.  I, on the other hand, felt a serene calm.  The HR person sitting next to him seemed very uneasy.  She pushed a one page document in front of my supervisor for him to give to me.  With shaky hands and barely audible voice he pushed the letter across the table and said "I just wanted to give you this."  I felt empathy for my supervisor; he seemed so dissatisfied with his life.  Without reason, I was placed on administrative leave (with full salary paid) for two weeks with an release of duties effective March 9th.  I tried to contain my elation and the urge to thank the Universe out loud.  I was truly relieved.  I would not have to force myself to spend another minute in what I experienced to be a highly stunted and toxic environment.  I was so happy to get out of there that I completely forgot to take my house key off the work-key chain and gave them both.

While I felt relief I did not feel regret because as I am learning life's contrast is what helps me to know what I do want.  In my six months at the DOES I learned so much about my talents, I developed my skills and gained further insight to what I do not want to do with my life.  I have an authentic desire to help others through my life experiences and to better understand my power to heal my body, my mind and my spirit.  With this self knowledge I hope to empower others who are seeking their own unique holistic healing journeys.

And, because the Universe is always filling our requests, I had an awesome weekend queued up with wonderful Sisters who are living their passions.  On Friday, my daughter and I had a fun time with Mama Madea in her Organic Soul Chef cooking class where six Wombyn who had never met before (and two brothers) of different generations laughed, shared stories, recipes and cooked organic soul food together.  Saturday I had an amazing "me day" with Sis. Mayasa at the It's Time To Heal Sanctuary.  The Universe has our back, all the time...if we allow it.

So much came to remembrance during my time with Sis. Mayasa.  I remembered how wonderful it felt to walk in my power and be happy to share it with other Wombyn...

  

Early in life, I learned first-hand Taino and West African  ancestral botanical medicine.  I am a living testimony to the power of Jarabes [ha-rah-bes].  I grew up being sent to ‘La Botanica’; there was one in every neighborhood.  La Botanica was an herbalist and/or, botanist shop – but more importantly, a place of healing revered and respected in our community.   La Botanica was where Mother, Aunties and God Mothers all went when a physical, spiritual or emotional malady struck a member in the home or, family.  Our healing was not out of our geographical, cultural or financial reach.  We were never without a cure.  My strong foundation in holistic healing began in the kitchen.

I always found a way to sneak time in the kitchen; the Wombyn in my family taught me many things.  Coffee brewed while wisdom percolated on life, love, loss and triumph.  As a child I suffered greatly from chronic asthma.  The steroids pumped into my lungs made me weak, significantly decreased my cognitive abilities and mobility; I could not focus or barely stand while taking them.  One day, a neighbor from Santo Domingo prescribed a lemon, honey and Aloe elixir; that night I slept sound.  My asthma was not completely cured because most of us don't do the research on how detrimental the Standard American Diet (SAD) is to our health.  The elixir naturally expelled the mucus diminishing my cough and allowing my immune system rest so, it could do its job.  In time, my chronic asthma became seasonal allergies.  

Growing up, I watched my mother suffer from migraines. The Wombyn in my community tried everything from wrapping ground coffee beans in a bandana to ice packs; nothing worked.  At around seven or eight years of age, I felt great concern and asked my mother “mommy where does it hurt?” She put my little hands on the spot where it hurt.  I began massaging.  “You are going to be a nurse," my mother whispered as she fell asleep.   
   
Emotional trauma and living in a constant state of crisis or worry can cause physical and mental health issues.  As an emancipated minor in NYC, I suffered greatly from hypoglycemia and anemia.  Due to a nutrient deficient diet, I became susceptible to cavities, migraines and chronic fatigue.  Western pharmaceuticals say “treat the symptom”.  Botanical or, holistic medicine supports examining the whole individual to find and treat the root cause of the malady.  

As result of a nervous breakdown freshman year in college, I came into awareness of the power of being in the present moment.  I began a yoga and meditation practice with the Art of Living Organization.  In this phase of my life, I learned more about the spirit, mind, and body connection.  Through this esoteric practice I learned there is no such thing as “trying” there is only doing.   In fact, if you have thought it; you have done it.  We simply have to receive.  That is, move in the direction of our thoughts for physical, mental, emotional and, even financial well-being.

In 2007, a back molar with 12 year old Mercury fillings cracked to the gum-line and the filling fell out leaving a huge hole.  I began to feel extreme pain.  I asked the Universe for healing.  Searching on the internet I ran across a book called How To Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel.  I had come across the book when Nani was a toddler.  Like most people, I was programmed to believe I had no power over my tooth decay.  I was not ready to let go of fear that comes from relying on others for our well-being so, I didn't believe I could cure my own tooth decay.  It was the BEST $30 dollars I ever spent, in my life.  First I learned about my nutritional needs.  Not knowing how I would afford modifying my diet I simply began taking small action steps towards the direction of my curiosity.  I began visiting farms in rural Massachusetts.  It was so liberating and fun!  Going to the farm became a family outing.  

Because I was focusing on well-being instead of on pain; I attracted more wellness – and, it expanded to other areas of my life.  In the summer of 2014, I decided to take my child to a fun-kid-friendly outdoor health fair featuring massage, Reiki and other holistic vendors.   After getting a massage, the Reiki practitioner offered to do a free energy session.  After she was done she asked me “Do you feel pain or, discomfort?”  “Yes, my back molar,” I replied without hesitation.   The Reiki specialist walked across to a Wombyn standing behind a table with many bottles of oils and came back with a six ounce cup full of scented water.  “Rinse with this for a few minutes and then drink it,” she said.  "She wants me to rinse with the water and then, drink it?" I thought to myself.  If you have ever suffered from tooth pain, you know the desperate feeling of wanting the pain to stop.  I did as she told me.  In less than five minutes, I felt no pain.  For years, I withstood pain, discomfort and also lived in a constant state of anxiety feeling powerless over my dental and overall health.  I have been using doTerra On-Guard Oil for three years faithfully.  Not only has this practice improved my dental health but, it increased my overall mental, emotional and spiritual health.  

What are you focusing on and causing to expand in your reality?  


I spoke my truth out loud.  I want to learn more about womb health, about our Kundalini powers and to steward Wombyn through childbirth.  I also want to write fiction novles and autobiographical books based on my life experiences and insights.  I took stock of my needs, desires and what feels good for me.  I inventoried the last three years of my struggle with different aspects of my health - physical, mental, nutritional and emotional. I no longer want to invest my energy in fear.  Instead, I will invest in the possibility of my desire to feel good - moment to moment.  

I asked the Universe to work from home so that I could invest in my family's desires.  Almost a month ago I became a Wellness Advocate for doTERRA's Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils. I also want to learn more about Doula work.  I created a newsletter called: Our Power To Heal Our Bodies; look out for that.  Your body (and your family's health) is your responsibility, don't let anyone tell you different.  

For more information of the power of CPTG Essential Oils click http://doterra.myvoffice.com/mibotanica/#/

You be safe...I'll be dangerous.

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Part I: How Do You Know You Are Walking In Your Purpose?


February 4th I decided to get really honest with myself.  
I wrote about my greatest fears and desires. Thoughts are things; they are not meant to be ignored. Our thoughts are indicators of our state of being. How many times have you told yourself "Well, I can't control the thoughts that run through my head."? Yes, we can control the thoughts we entertain. We can think - on purpose. 

I did not come to Washington DC to move further away from who I am but, to move in the direction of that which brings me closer to feeling free. And yet, I allowed myself to entertain fear, worry and doubt. Instead of focusing on creating experiences that felt good, I began focusing on conditioned thinking; this held me at a 'stand-still', physically and spiritually. The Universe however does not allow for waste so the contrast I experienced this past six months served great purpose.

I did everything I could to keep "my job". I began getting up at 4:00 amish to do yoga and prepare food so, that I could maintain my physical and mental health. The more I tried the more I resented having to go to work. As a result, I began doing everything I could at work to stay sane. I began listening to teachings on The Law of Attraction, Metaphysics and Alpha Binaural healing frequencies which serve to repair DNA and unlock higher frequencies in you. I was doing this everyday, almost all day. Nothing else held my attention or satisfied my curiosity. I played these frequencies even as my daughter and I slept. My fear diminished and my peace increased. Let me be clear: I still had anger fits, I still fell in and out of "why me" but, I caught myself faster. I became aware of my thoughts faster, even as I felt myself going "there." It is so important to acknowledge and then, celebrate our advances in our consciousness so, that we do not go inert or regress.  
We often do not acknowledge (much less celebrate) these types of advances because they are not tangibles IE: money, lover/life partner, weight loss, status, etc...but, these advances are what move us closer to the tangible manifestation of our desires, our vision for self.

I stopped believing I was at an disadvantage and began to see my advantage was in the contrast which was leading me closer to what felt good.

We can not get to happy from miserable. We can not get to abundance from ingratitude. We can not get to healing from a state of dis-ease. We can not get to Love from hate. We can not get to triumph from victimhood. I stopped believing I was at an disadvantage and began to see my advantage was in the contrast which was leading me closer to what felt good. This shift in thought, increased my momentum for actively receiving more good feeling opportunities.  An awesome thing happened.  I began having flashbacks of the happiest times in my life involved me using my intuition, insight or curiosity to create my reality to empower myself or someone else. This began when I was just a little girl. I pretended - creating my future. I laid on the tar roof top of our tenement building in the South Bronx and followed my curiosities.

I remembered freely boarding every airplane that flew above that tar roof top. I became a math teacher and wrote math problems on the hallway walls; taught an invisible class of students. My cousins, sisters and I pretended to be doctors, conducted physicals, prescribed remedies and healed patients. We circled up on the hallway floor and played the ‘What If’ game. The ‘What If’ game is the Spiritual Equivalent of bodybuilding. The stakes are high and there is no 'playing it safe'. We imagined the most outrageously difficult situations and offered our solutions. We asked ourselves: "What if you knew the world was ending? What would you do?" We invented Survivor. We were our own super heroes. At what point in life does it become not okay, to do this?


Then, there are seemingly insignificant memories of my cousin coming over and playing. I remember pretending to be her voice instructor, lol! My cousin could not sing, y'all...she has the raspiest voice ever.  But, I made her sing her little heart out. Did she become a famous singer? No. The point is it felt amazing to coach her out of her shell. And that is the thread running through my original question: How do I know I am walking in my purpose; my calling? When I create experiences that feel really good.  


There is a common and widely accepted misconception that our purpose looks like one repeated action which we have to work hard to perfect and attain recognition from others - not so. See yourself as a house with many rooms.  We have so many skills and talents and when we execute them we feel good! When we do one good feeling action we activate another. As a result, we begin to reach higher levels of our consciousness. We begin to walk in our power to create.


In Part IV of Six Degrees of Separation I vividly recount my body's physical protest against the direction I was forcing myself to go. I received words of wisdom that everything would be alright.  I healed. However with each passing month, I grew more and more claustrophobic at work. I felt guilty about resenting a highly coveted job with an excellent salary.  
Creative ways of collaborating internally and externally to generate business at work began to flood my consciousness.  The more ideas I shared with my colleagues and management, the more inert their responses became.  I began to mentally separate myself from my physical location at work. 

I asked The Universe to help me let-go of the fear-based reality I had created and help me regain the courage to walk in the direction of my desires. Listening to an Esther Hicks teaching, I heard her say "Do not feel guilty about feeling miserable at work or, of daydreaming about where you would really like to be or, what you would really like to be doing. You are creating the reality you truly desire. Your feelings about what you do not want are necessary to help you know what you do want.  By envisioning yourself doing what you do want to be doing, in the place you want to do it, you are calling it into being. When I heard this, I no longer felt like an ingrate. I felt a sense of confidence that everything was working out and I was moving in the right direction. I boldly moved towards visions that felt good. 

I received an email from a sister friend inviting me to the The Black Love Experience "a conglomerate of artistry and inventiveness geared towards creatives, revolutionaries, kindred souls, and fearless visionaries celebrating ourselves under the canopy of all things Black." (Nubian Hueman, 2017). Immediately, I felt good envisioning the space and being in it.  Everything I experienced on the evening of Feb. 18th led me back to me.  As I entered the Anacostia Arts center that evening, I felt a deep deja vu. I was standing in an almost 20 year vision to cooperatively own and operate an arts-based higher learning center.

The Universe has all the answers, for our questions.  The biggest question we all have is: Who am I?

Everywhere I looked; every room I entered in the Anacostia Arts Center felt good.  There was so much to see, touch, smell and experience: visual artwork, artisan natural soaps, body oils, African-inspired hand-crafted jewelry, clothes, shoes, hair care, live music performances, live DJin', food, body massage and Wombyn's as well as Men's only holistic health workshops.

There is a recurring theme in my life...and it reappeared as I entered the Wombyn's only: Womb Work (Earth) workshop in the Black Box Honfleur Gallery. I crossed the floor over to the stadium-style bleachers.  There were no less than 80 Women seated, standing, squatting, chatting excitedly. There was only one male in the room: the DJ who manipulated the wax. A beautiful Sistuh with waist-length, platinum, locked tresses shyly walked across the middle of the stage taking full ownership of time and space.  She dressed in simple black tee and leggings; silver links with charms adorned her ankles and feet. In an unassuming, sweet, raspy voice Mayasa Telfair welcomed us and without warning took us on a journey to our Kundalini Power.  

Sis. Mayasa exudes an weightlessness in her spirit that emanates joy.  Her humility and genuine joy is what captured my attention; it was infectious.  She talked to us about our powerful female energy, our power to create healing in our mind, bodies, and soul through our sexuality.  As she unfolded her wisdom on the "alchemy of ecstasy, sensual celebration, awakening and channeling sexual energy with yoni egg gemstones" connections flooded my consciousness.  Mayasa asked if anyone had ever experienced vaginal steaming.  The year I decided to leave Massachusetts I accepted an invitation to a women's womb health gathering followed by a vaginal steam gathering.  I brought my 10 year old daughter with me; it was one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had with as a Wombyn and Mother.  Standing there in the dark Gallery, I saw my path illuminated.

Stay tuned for Part II of How Do You Know You are Walking in Your Purpose...

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation Part IV

Wind cut corners on 7th street racing us every step towards Pennsylvania.  Trash funneled into tiny tornadoes at our feet as Nani and I walked arm in arm laughing, talking and enjoying our new home...then, I felt her presence commanding me to stop.


A deeply hued, heavily robed silhouette sat on the wide side-ledge of the towering hotel on 7th Street near Gallery Place; completely undisturbed by the wind, the trash, the dark of night or, even the precarious nature of her circumstances.  Two adjacent suitcases on either side, quilts wrapped tightly around her; she sat queen-esque.  Never raising her gaze from the Black and White composition journal open on her lap.  The swirl from her cigarette punctuated her thoughtful recline.  She wrote.

Two White women walked up to the Sistuh on the ledge.  "This is my friend," introducing the Sistuh to her friend. "Can I sit down next to you?" forcing the Sistuh to scoot over.   "Aren't her journals beautiful?" one asked the other.  The Sistuh appeared baffled by their oohs and aahs.

My body moved past her but, I might as well have been on a treadmill.  I did not put any distance between us.  I stopped and looked in my wallet.  I saw a 20 dollar bill; it was all the cash I had on me.  I took it out and balled it up in my hand.

I quietly walked up to the Sistuh.  Bowing down to meet her eyes I softly asked  "Excuse me Sis, may I share this with you?" extending my hand.   I knew what I was giving her could never equal what in the speed of light, she gave me.  Without words or warning, her spirit reinforced mine.  The fearlessness she emanated reignited my courage; her undisturbed focus, emphasized my complacency.

"Thank you," she replied, surprising me with the sweet, sing-song of an endearing grandmother.  She smiled and I saw myself in the onyx of her eyes.

"No Sis, thank you," I replied.

One of the women looked away pulling on a cigarette through her thin lips; the other spoke in a slow, loud high pitch the way kindergarten teachers speak to their students.

"We are in town for the Women's march," she announced proudly wearing an "I had an abortion and I've asked forgiveness for my sin" button.  

"I just wanted to tell you that I respect you," I said squatting down to be eye-level.  The woman's chatter disappeared into the background.

"Why are you thanking me?" the Sistuh asked me.

"Because, you are not a quitter; because you are here on this street, in this cold and, you are not asking for anything. You are courageous and strong and you are living - not surviving. " I confessed.


Ms. Lorraine Sparks displaced woman, mother and artist, January 2017.


Her eyes softened.  "I have also struggled.  I have never actually slept on the street but, I was an emancipated minor in NYC.  I know what it is to be alone; not have a real home. To not have family to take care of you."  We had never physically met but, her eyes changed; she suddenly recognized me.  

"I also write.  You held me accountable to myself tonight.  And, for that, I thank you."

Slowly, she nodded her head in acknowledgement.  

Ms. Sparks beautiful Journals, Jan. 2017.
Standing so closely to her, I saw how beautiful her penmanship was; like calligraphy.

"What is your name?" I asked the Sistuh.

"Lorraine," she said.  My face lit up in a smile to hear her say such a beautiful name; it fit her perfectly.

"I'm Viviana," I said.

"Oh? You write?" asked the chatty lady sitting next to Lorraine.

"Yes, I do a blog," I said.

"Oh, what's it called?" she asked taking out a pen to write with.

"Breakin' The Afro-Boricua Yoke," I said while she tried to write it down.

Oblivious to her intrusion she stuck out her hand "I'm Mary."

"Viviana."  I replied.  Mary and I shook hands; her smile seemed genuine.  Her friend looked away in honest disinterest.

Feeling intrusive, I bidd Ms. Lorraine good night and continued down 7th Street.

Nani and I walked down 7th toward Pennsylvania, quietly.  The Street grew still as we walked back up 7th towards H Street.  The hussle and bussle of the tourist, pedestrians and even traffic subsided.

And, then I saw her again, she was still sitting on the ledge.  This time, her posture was different; sad.  I just couldn't walk past her.

"Hello again," I said softly causing her to raise her gaze.  I didn't know why but, I needed to understand why this obviously  brilliant woman was alone; on the street; with nowhere to go and no one to go home to.

Treading lightly, I asked "Why are you out here all alone?"  She could have snapped "None of your business".  She could have ignored me; the same way people ignore her.  But, she didn't.

"I don't want to be here.  I got sick." she said pensively looking inwards.

"I used to have a job.  I've always worked and I raised my child; I even put her through college," she reminisced with a heaviness.

Most don't bother to ask people on the street "Why?"  There is a fear of being attacked, lied to or our kindness taken for weakness. People often warn "Be careful talking to the homeless.  Some of them are mentally-ill, desperate, on drugs or diseased."

Standing there in the Sistuh's presence I did not feel any fear, of anything.  I felt her beauty, her strength of character, her wisdom, her loneliness, her sorrow and the lack of rest in her eyes.  I felt an overwhelming responsibility to an elder in the community.

"You have a child?" I asked relieved but appalled that they would allow their mother to be alone on the street.

"Yes, my daughter is married. I don't like her husband" intimating her daughter's choice was a rejection of her.  Immediately, I understood more...more than medical issues or financial instability; family brokenness was at the root.

"You know, sometimes family don't want to take you in because of substance abuse.  People who use will lie to you, steal from you and even harm or, kill you for drugs.  But, I don't use.  I just got sick and, one day my doctor told me " You can't work."

I understood her doctor's words must have sounded like a death sentence; she must have been terrified.

"So, where do you stay when it's very cold?" Sometimes I can go to the shelter but, it's not safe there.  Sometimes I sleep in the entryway of a hotel or, when I have enough I get a room.  I am working with an agency; they are helping me to get my own place."

"Oh, good which agency?" I asked.

"Pathways," she said.

"Pathways?" I asked grateful there was an organization dedicated to helping her.

"Yes, they are working with me to help me get my own place; they said it shouldn't be long now."

I felt so powerless knowing I could not be of more help.  Then as if she had read my thoughts...

"Most people don't speak; they pretend not to see us.  We are all human beings and, I try to remember that they are human just like me.  A simple smile or, "Good morning, how are you today?" makes a huge difference."

I knew that I had done so much more.  I showed Ms. Lorraine respect, concern and she shared her beautiful smile and life story with me.  I learned she is a 58 year old mother of one and, an artist.  Ms. Lorraine is a wood carver and a writer.  This seemingly vulnerable stranger helped me; Ms. Lorraine held me accountable to myself.

Lorraine's presence held me captive and, asked "I see you, do you?"

In acknowledging her I said "I see you" to her but, also to me.  Growing stronger and rooted, I understood our acquaintance was not about me helping her.

We [all] need each other regardless of our circumstances.  We all pour into each other.  

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion

Stay tuned...

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation Part III

We all have a calling; a purpose for which we travel this journey called life.  We keep coming back..until we reach our highest ascension.


Life is moving quickly.   Fifteen days after my last blog post, the Department of Employment Services (DOES) for The District, offered me a position as a Program Analyst in the Business Services Group (BSG).  My job is to offer regional and local employers who are either headquartered or have offices in the district a suite of incentive programs and services to significantly reduce or eliminate the associated costs of recruiting and onboarding DC residents; especially residents with significant employment barriers.

The Thursday before my first Monday, on the job, I was struck with a stinging, burning sensitivity in my right breast.  I had never felt (a) pain in my breasts - ever.  Even the soft wireless bra I wore was like a thousand needles against the soft tissue surrounding my nipple.  I called Dr. Ama, a beautiful sistuh who believes in healing the body through good nutritious food, natural herbs-based supplements and of course a healthy amount of exercise and meditation.   I left an urgent voicemail.  I was overcome with panic "Why is this happening, now?" I demanded angrily.  A high fever consumed me and I barely slept. The next day, I carefully showered trying to avoid the shards of water on my breast.  Every bump in the back of the Uber left me dazed with pain.  By the time I reached Dr. Tyus' office, I wanted to fall on her exam table and go to sleep.  I couldn't.  The cozy, dimly lit living room style waiting area was occupied by five patients; more than I had ever seen.   I sat in the only chair left.  I might have been sitting on a perfect row of sharp nails. Instinctively, my body rocked back and forth. 

Finally, it was my turn to be seen.  I was afraid.  I tried to ignore the question looming over my thoughts.  Dr. Tyus came out with her usual warm, bright-eyed smile "Hi, Viviana!" she began and then her eyes grasped the perse, in my lips and fear in my eyes.  She put her arm around me "come on in" and escorted me into her exam room.  I couldn't wait to take off my bra and alleviate the sting in my right breast.  I felt drained, by the pain radiating from my breast like a sonar attack on my body.

Dr. Tyus looked at me and asked the most unexpected question.  "Tell me what's been going on the last couple of days, emotionally."

While the question caught me off guard; the answer came at the speed of light.

"I start my new job on Monday," I confessed.  "Even though I am excited and extremely grateful for the job; I feel guilty."

"Why do you feel guilty?" she asked.

 "Because, I won't be able to be as involved with Nani (my 12 year old).  I will be gone the entire day; she'll have to get to and from Coop by herself and she'll spend a lot of time alone," my voice cracked.  Because we homeschool and we are new to DC, I worry Nani  is spending too much time alone - as it is.  Now, I'll be gone all day, every day of the week; she'll have to navigate the city all alone.  The more nervous I am about her navigating alone on a daily basis; the harder I am on her to do everything exactly as I instruct her.  I am being too hard on her.  I am afraid perhaps she needs to be in a school everyday with other kids her age.  Instead, she is home alone navigating curriculum three days a week.  With the exception of Tuesdays and Fridays when she is at Sligo Creek Coop and Sankofa Homeschool Collective all day, she will be all alone during the day, until I get home from work.  I am afraid I am failing, as a mother just so I can succeed as a provider."

But there was more...

"This is not my life's work.  I am a writer, a novelist, a truth-teller; a deep thinker, time-traveler.  I want to travel the world and write novels about Afro-Caribbean-descent freedom-fighters who's African Spirituality sparked and sustained independence struggles against slavery and the imperialistic premise of capitalism.  I want to work in my community and empower my people," I revealed feeling completely naked.

Fear of betraying my calling had taken over my mind and swelled deep inside me.

"But, I have to be responsible and take care of my daughter, put a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs.  I feel like I am walking away from - me," I admitted feeling very selfish.

"Does Nani want to go back to school?" Dr. Tyus asked me.

"No, I've asked her many times," I answered.

Viviana, you have to stop being so hard on yourself.  You are a single mother and your daughter's father passed on.  You are a wonderful mother to your daughter and, you are doing what is right for your family - by homeschooling her.

Nani is strong like you...  


Take it step by step.  Make adjustments as needed.  Everything will be alright."

From the time Nani was in my womb, I read to her.  Reading books together started as a simple bedtime ritual; it helped settle her for sleep.  Nani loved my reading to her so much that she would ask me to do it in the middle of the day.  I soon learned our reading together didn't just benefit Nani.  I enjoyed it so much I became the characters in the story and created voices for them.  I was releasing my stresses and worries.  Reading Nani's books to her expanded both of our creative and physical realities.  At times, I laughed so hard tears rolled down my cheeks.

Art has always been a very important part of our lives.  I always made sure Nani had creative outlets at home.   When television went digital, I said "bye, bye" to local channels and, I developed quite the extensive library of books and DVDs.  I purchased seasons of the Cosby show, A different World, Atlantis; movies and quality series we were both entertained and educated by.  But, most of Nani's day was spent playing, reading and just being a kid.  We had crayons, coloring paper, construction paper, lots of colorful wood blocks, glue, glitter, water colors, acrylic paint and canvasses.  We would get on the floor and just have fun painting.  I taught Nani how to use the blow dryer to layer colors on her canvas.

When Nani was Nine years old, I bought her her first baby sewing  machine.  The sewing machine was fire-engine red and plastic. A simple little unit with a few moving parts.  Nani immersed herself in the folded little manual for the entire morning, that December 25th.  The machine never quite worked right so, Nani spent hour after hour trying to make it work. In discovering the different parts of the machine and how they worked together, Nani tapped into different parts of her brain; she was never the same. This is homeschooling; many of us do it without even knowing it.  The only difference is homeschoolers do it, intentionally - all the time.

The tiny fire-engine red sewing machine is a testament to Nani's growth and mine - as a mother.

Dr. Tyus examined my right breast; it was feverish, red and my nipple was hard like a dried up prune.  I was terrified.

"Okay, you can dress," she said.

"Viviana, by nature, our left side is the side we nurture from and the right side is where we do most of our authoritative actions.  Because you are a single mother and Nani's father has passed on, you bear all of the responsibilities, all of the time.  Understandably, you feel you always have to be in authoritative mode. But, being responsible (making decisions) does not mean we are in control of the results.  Always being in control or, authoritative mode has caused an imbalance and is being reflected in your right breast.  We all make mistakes so, please give yourself grace and you won't worry so much or, be so hard on yourself and Nani."

Dr.Tyus' words lingered in my head...everything would work out somehow - it always has.

On nights when I stayed in the office til 7:00 PM Sitar Arts Center stepped in and met our greatest family needs; they have been my co-parent fleshing out my vision for what I knew she needed and deserved to have.  Every night, Nani took (and is still taking) a different art class during the afternoon to evening: Fashion Drawing, Pottery, Jewelry Design, Stage Makeup Design and a teen leadership class called S.E.A.L.   Because Ms. Lorraine Robinson Senior Director of Programs and Ms. Loretta Thompson, Senior Director of Operations walk in their calling and purpose, my daughter and I are walking in ours.  Every staff member from custodial to senior leadership, has enriched our lives in seen and unseen ways.  The Sitar family has helped our family grow bigger and stronger.

In the first week of December, Sitar, parents were invited to attend an student art exhibit/showcase.  I was able to meet all the wonderful instructors who volunteer their time and talents to teach the students.  The theatre students RaSeph and Sia Flood-Wright performed a play; both fellow Sankofa homeschoolers and friends of Nani.  After the play, there was an impromptu award ceremony (I don't think parents were informed about it).  I heard my daughter's name being called from the stage.

"We would like to give the Outstanding Leadership award to Naa Anyele Sowah-de Jesus."

My daughter was asked to step up to the stage and was given a trophy for leadership (I still get choked up about it).

Dr. Tyus' words, "Nani is strong like you. Everything will be okay," prophetically footnoted the evening of December 5th 2016.


As Program Analyst in the DOES our work to service employers in the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland (DMV) aligns with the District's Unified State Plan and the Workforce Investment Council's proposed five high-demand sectors: Construction, Hospitality, IT, Business Administration and Health Care.  At the outset of my job, I was being groomed for the construction sector.  After three months, leadership 'shuffled the deck' again, and there were sector realignments.  I was assigned to the healthcare sector.  As a homeschooler, I am anti-vaccinations, anti-drug prescriptions (unless there is a justifiable reason) and anti-quick fix.  Needless to say, I was worried.  My work, requires me to become somewhat of a subject matter expert on my assigned sector(s).  As a result, I am learning a lot about what is wrong with our healthcare system on the workforce development side and the work stakeholders are doing to push for major improvements.  Clearly, the healthcare industry is doing some things right. I have an wonderful primary care physician who is an African-American woman not yet in her late 40's who runs her own practice however I have been actively searching for a doctor like her for over 10 years and, she is a needle in a haystack.

According to the Greater Washington Workforce Collaborative, healthcare professionals report the healthcare landscape is difficult for career seekers to navigate and that they would have benefited from career coaching to better understand the range of job opportunities, training options, and career pathways available to them.  So, if it is difficult for healthcare career seekers to navigate the healthcare landscape how difficult then, is it for the general public, patients?

Every day I ride two buses to commute from the North West side of the District to the North East.  My halfway point is Chinatown.  Chinatown is a bittersweet place to visit.  Steel wool blankets line the entry ways and alleys of H and 7th Streets.  No matter how busy (in my head) I am, I can never be undisturbed by the homelessness, mental illness and economic disparity evidenced by the many older and, young African American men and women who are seemingly holding on by a thin, splintering thread - it is dehumanizing.  When I first arrived to The District last March (2016) I was approached by young, able-bodied Brothers for money to get on the Metro.  For a few months, I gave of whatever little I had.  Then, as time passed, I was not so inclined to give because I felt there was a sense of entitlement, a demand more than a request.  I also registered a giving up on their own ability to help themselves however there are many who are living on the streets or, under the federal poverty line who have not given up; they are fighting for their lives.

One evening I got off the X9 on H and 7th Streets feeling completely drained by my day. I was mentally reviewing my list of "If only I could...I would be..."  I was feeling sorry for myself; maybe even disappointed in myself because I am not writing as prolifically as I want to.  Then, I got off the bus and was snapped into another reality. I heard a beautiful, melodious, voice singing.

"Is there a free concert going on?" I asked.  The voice I heard reverberated over a microphone and sound system echoing throughout the entire H and 7th Street intersection and its perimeter.  I crossed H Street over to the 7th Street side.  There was a crowd gathered; some were recording on their phones and others were just swaying to the song being sung by a young Sistuh.  The 20 something year old African American female sat on a stool while she played her acoustic guitar; she had a professional sound system: headset microphone, amplifier and speaker.  The young girl wore a winter skully with the dangling strings, sweatshirt, sweatpants and sneakers; she was a beautiful dark mocha complexion and her focus was not on the crowd; she was soaring way above the crowd like a kite in the wind.  I was overtaken. I was standing in the presence of pure joy and it was infectious.  I couldn't stop smiling and feeling a sense of pride.  Yes, I proud to be in the presence of this fearless spirit.  To (my) left on the ground was a sign; it read: Vanny's Music. Vanessa held the crowd in the palm of her hand; everyone was mesmerized. Vanessa sparked a flame of pride, of hope, of purpose; she held me accountable to my dreams.  I dropped five dollars in her bucket; she poured life in mine.  If you would like to see a video of her please cut and paste the link below into your browser. In this video Vanny is joined by a friend; they sing beautifully together.

https://www.facebook.com/viviana.dejesus.528/videos/1789756614608024/



That evening as I stood at the intersection of H & 7th Street; truth spoke to me in a melodious voice: "What's your excuse? Why aren't you writing?  What are you waiting for?"  When you are in the presence of fearlessness; you either receive it or, lie to yourself.  I received it; that's why I felt so much joy.  I knew if that young lady could pour her heart out in front of a mass of strangers; I could too.  H and 7th Street is truly an intersection of truths for many.  Some chose to lie to themselves while others, hold themselves accountable - like Vanessa.

Two Saturdays ago, I woke up to a laundry list of tasks to accomplish: pick up an application for an apartment, handle some banking and finally, register my daughter for  summer camp.  We finished all of our errands.  Nani and I were starving.  I took her to an Ethiopian spot in Columbia Heights off of 14th Street - Letena.  We had a meat sampler of spicy, curried meats, lentils, cabbage n carrots and Ngera (an East African 100% gluten-free sourdough risen flat bread).  I knew Nani had been wanting to hang out in Chinatown; I decided that is what we would do for the rest of the evening.  We made one more quick stop at Five n Below for some ear buds she wanted and then hopped on the Georgia Avenue bus downtown to Gallery Place/China Town.  Knowing what was awaiting us, I was really excited to share the experience with my daughter.

Nani wanted to go into the retail stores and check out the clothes, shoes; regular girl stuff.  I wanted to people watch. We did both.  What I love about Chinatown is that like New York City it still has street front boutiques and stores, right on the ave.  I hate malls.  But, the Chinatown mall plaza is quite small and maintains its original retro architecture with a wide, royal red carpeted stairwell accented with brass that brings you to the second floor with two restaurants and lead up to the third floor where the Regal Cinema is.  Once back out on the 7th street Nani wanted to go further down 7th towards Pennsylvania Avenue. We talked, laughed and enjoyed looking at the different restaurants, stores, hotels and people.  It was cold so, we were walking arm in arm.  Then something caught my eye; my third eye.

Stay tuned for Part IV of Six Degrees of Separation...

#AfroBoricuaLivinMyPassion