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.


Up next is for most students (in the world) the favorite time of the 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.


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.


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.