Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Let me tell you a story...

I love the art of storytelling and consider myself a storyteller of sorts...well, everyone is to some extent. A while ago, I thought about some experiences I have had over the years and then again yesterday, some of those stories played in my mind. I thought, why not share them, after all, they are what I consider great stories and they sure are interesting, or maybe I'm just biased because I am the storyteller. So, here are the stories and no, they are not works of fiction.

When I was a teenager living in Nigeria, my family lived a few streets away from the church we attended. Since church was so close, there was almost no excuse to not attend every event and all scheduled services. Now, a few streets over, there was this vacant house and some bank workers moved in. Young guys, handsome and rather successful. Let your wandering minds rest please for I was a teenager and I was not interested in them rather, they were more like uncle type figures. I remember a particular Sunday after church, very much like other Sundays. My sister and I were walking back home from church when one of the guys pulled up in his car and offered to give us a ride home. We hopped into the car and began chatting with him when my sister who was a busybody opened up the glove compartment and reached in and pulled out a little cardboard box. Let's just say it wasn't a box of candy. She brought out the box in plain view before she realized what it was, after which the chatty ride home in the fancy car turned into one in a hearse.

Several years ago, probably seven or eight now or maybe more, I remember coming home one day to find my grandmother and sister hunched over the trashcan in the kitchen, meticulously sifting through a day's worth of garbage. Now, if you know my grandmother, she has a habit of having a favorite grandchild of the moment and the sister who was sifting through with her happened to be the favored one at the time. As soon as I walked in, I immediately made inquiries so I could join in the search but my grandmother was determined to keep the details of the search a secret and her eyes ordered my sister to not breathe a word. After asking with no response I left them by the trashcan and made my way to the stove. On the stove was a huge pot of crab peppersoup. I love all kinds of peppersoup and I love crabs to a fault. The soup was made from blue crabs and it is no secret that when blue crabs are cooked, they turn a pinkish kind of orange color with hints of white. Also, this color eerily looks like dentures. My granny enjoyed these crustaceans seeped in the peppery broth so much that...

Have a very Happy New Year my friends!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On Prayer and Gratitude

"I will give thanks unto the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of His wonderful deeds." Psalm 9:1

"O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people." Psalm 105:1

"Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." I Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." Philippians 4:6

"Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving." Colossians 4:2

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Run Your Race

Ah, the demon of procrastination! This post is almost a month overdue as I began mulling with the idea of the title several weeks ago. A month ago yesterday, I participated in my first structured race since becoming an adult. Running was something I did in high school and while I was quite good at it, I became sedentary and totally nixed exercise out of my life as I aged. A while ago, I made a list, a bucketlist of sorts, of things I wanted to accomplish before turning 35. I visit that list quite often and I am proud to say I have accomplished some of the things on the list. Some took careful thought and planning while others just naturally happened, like my desire to vacation for an entire month (I was able to do that in Rio de Janeiro for a whole month after taking the bar exam last year). I visited the list again recently and decided to attempt two items on the list that gnaw at me constantly; the desire to run a half marathon and to learn how to swim (swimming because it just makes sense to know how to save myself and others and because I badly want to be a scuba diver).

So, in my attempt to run my first half marathon, I began by walking for a few minutes everyday. I walked for a couple of days and then decided that I would give running a shot. At first, it was rather hard because I had not run in so long. My legs ached, I was out of breath and honestly felt like a backpacker with several months supply worth of items trying to climb a mountain without training. However, I was determined and did not give up in spite of how weary I felt. I ran everyday and with time I realized I could run longer and actually enjoy the sport. When I began, I would run a mile in 14 minutes and in the space of two weeks, I watched my time go down to about 10 minutes. I'm still aiming for 8 but that's another post. Interestingly, my daydreams and spaced out moments shifted slowly to athletic gear; Lululemon, The Nike Store, and the workout section at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. I even surprised myself by joining a running club that met at 5:30am in the morning.

What I learned though about running is that running a race or preparing for a race is quite similar to life. When I first started running, I called my best friend who is quite the runner and has completed a marathon to ask how fast she could run a mile. I then called my sister and asked the same question. Initially I felt a bit defeated because there I was running a mile in 14minutes and on my bad days 15 minutes when they were almost nearing single digits. I was even more exasperated when my almost sixty-year old mother said she could cover a mile in 15 minutes. There I was in the same bracket as an almost retiree!

Foolishly, I forgot to take into account that both my friend and sister had been running for several years while I had only just picked up the sport after a hiatus lasting amost a decade and half. I had to learn that my journey was all mine and that trying to judge myself as a runner against their accomplishments would only bring me ruin. Realizing this was my journey was further heightened by a popular quote by Einstein on fish, geniuses and tree climbing. Even though my application of the quote was somewhat out of context in regards to my attempts to be a better runner, it freed me to run on my own terms and at my own pace.

And truly that is how life is. We need to run on our own terms and at the pace that's right for us in spite of what others around us might be doing (however I do not mean this as a license to be irresponsible with our choices in life, certain things should be done at certain times in life). My first race was a 5k I ran with a friend. When the race started we ran together and encouraged each other to keep going. Eventually she ran ahead of me and I was behind struggling to keep going. I finally caught up with her and outran her because I take very long strides and just generally walk rather fast. We played this little dance and finally in the last mile, we ran in stride. Running in stride allowed us to converse and encourage each other, and in doing so the race did not seem as daunting or tiring because we were in it together. When I wanted to stop and walk, she encouraged me to keep going and I was able to do the same for her as well. We watched as others ran by us, but we kept going knowing we were not in a contest with any other runners but were in the race for individual reasons.

After the race, I was able to reflect on how it mirrored life. Life really is not a sprint, but rather a marathon. Running in the race called life looks different for everyone. We're all built differently physically in terms of athletic prowess and even more so in life. Further, everyone knows what they are aiming for and it would be great folly to measure our progress based on that of others. Further, there's honeslty no merit in trying to outrun anyone, because our understanding of why they run or why they are in the race is quite limited. Also, having a running buddy is invaluable because they help bring something out in us that was already there to begin with. They don't make us any better, but simply by running alongside us, they help us believe that we can accomplish feats we once thought impossible. What's interesting though is that sometimes we have to and need to run alone and that is okay because there is no limit to the encouragement we can supply ourselves from within. Ask King David who knew how to encourage himself.

Thus, as I hit the refresh button to keep up with the results coming in from around the country as yesterday was Election Day, I am reminded again that the race to either the House or Senate or other offices did not begin with the candidates waking up a week ago and deciding to run for office. Running for most took months of campaigning, building a team, raising funds, running out of energy, desperately wanting to quit, but still finding the resolve to run until the stop sign, until the lamppost or not stop until the lake was circled and remembering that the race whatever it is continues with every sun rise.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Memo

I Dwell in Possibility- Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility
A fairer House than Prose
More numerous of Windows
Superior for Doors

Of Chambers as the Cedars
Impregnable of Eye
And for an everlasting roof
The Gambrels of the Sky

Of Visitors the fairest
For Occupation this
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Memo

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievment and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
                                                                                                                                 ~Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Last Ice Bucket

Just over a month ago, it was almost impossible to not see people from all walks of life drench themselves with buckets full of ice water and in some cases cubes of ice to raise awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. I did not participate in the challenge because I really do not like to get wet at all, I was also not nominated by anyone and importantly, I thought it was rather bizarre that I would opt to subject myself to an ice-cold bucket to avoid giving to a cause.

The history of philanthropy is rather strong in the United States and some of the greatest philanthropists of our time are North Americans and so it was heart warming to see a return to that culture of giving. However, what I found unsettling about the ice bucket challenge was that it was just another opportunity for some to post videos to social media and jump on the hip bandwagon of the moment. I would argue that most people who did the ice bucket challenge have almost no idea what the letters ALS stand for, neither do they have an understanding of the basic etiology of the disease nor even know whom Lou Gehrig is, although that last part is unimportant. Still, as I saw scores of people continue to drench themselves and squeal in short video clips I became concerned about how much the ice bucket challenge was more about the people doing the drenching than the actual sufferers of the disease.

Surely, a lot of good has come out of the challenge, because so far, the ALS Association has received over a $100 million in donation, leaving the executives in the fortunate position of deciding what to do with the windfall. The donations pouring in are noteworthy because this time last year, the Association had only managed to raise $2 million. Yet, when put into perspective, ALS only affects a minority of people, as there are about 12,000 sufferers of the disease and most victims are white males and veterans. Thus, all things being equal, and given the percentage of donations that will fund research, visible gains might be recovered for sufferers of the disease with the hefty donations.

Yet, for all the good the campaign has done, I am still not a fan and became even more wary of the entire challenge after reading about a firefighter who recently died after having being electrocuted while helping to stage a massive challenge. When someone has to die for people to have fun raising money for a cause the entire premise is just plain unsettling. Further, it’s also upsetting because I am quite certain that few of those who gathered for that particular challenge or participated in others like it gave much thought to the disease once they got into some dry clothes and gloated over the response their videos got on social media.

If we truly care about a cause, I would assume that finding a remedy should consume a good deal of our time. I am very concerned about poverty and disease in Africa and hardly a day goes by that I do not ponder on what can be done and what lasting contributions I can make. As far as giving to causes, I do so without having to be cajoled into it or without the fun or lack thereof of being drenched in ice-cold water. And for certain, when I have the means to do more, I will do so. What bothers me though is that given the short attention span of our age and the tendency to jump on the next bandwagon, the donations may not be replicated in the coming years, and then what? For sure, most people are now aware of ALS and might be spurred to begin a new tradition of giving to the Association, but the converse might be the result and once the last ice bucket touches the ground, ALS and all it stands for will only be remembered as the fun activity that occupied a certain summer some years ago. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Sister, My Friend

Today my youngest sister Annette turned twenty-one. Perusing through the contact list on my phone, the name Annette and any other variations of it will not be found because I have her name listed in my phone as “Wally.” As a child, whenever she would pose for pictures, she would stand with both heels touching and her toes pointed out forming a triangle. I noticed walruses stood the same way and I began to call her a walrus and soon the name Wally stuck. I even bought her a beanie baby walrus named Paul. Today at midnight I called her to wish her a happy birthday and after I was done singing she mentioned being surprised that I had sang the birthday song and called her “Annie” instead of walrus. I told her it was a new year and I wanted to begin it with her real name.

I remember going to the hospital the day she was born, a few months after I started high school. I still have very vivid memories of being in my uniform and holding the tiny infant in my arms as I sat on the edge of the hospital bed. Over the years, I would always take a lot of pleasure in taking care of her and just doing my best to be a good big sister. As Annette grew I enjoyed going to her schools, both elementary and middle just to have lunch and attending her orchestra recitals and plays in both middle and high school. We would make trips to museums, a ton of events in the city of Atlanta and to the movies. It was with Annette I saw Hotel Rwanda, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ratatouille and a ton of other movies.

Shortly before I went to graduate school, while I was studying for the GRE I took her to a restaurant and she experienced her first big girl moment of ordering from a menu. She ordered fettuccine alfredo and a Sprite. I was hoping she would order a glass of water. Did she know how dry my bank account was? When I lived in Denver, shortly before I moved back home to Atlanta, we spent about a week touring the city and just having a plain good time. I remember at the time I asked what she like the most about Denver and she replied that she enjoyed eating out everyday and not having to worry about doing dishes.

While I lived in Denver I spent hours on the phone going over homework and countless others editing papers. Not that she really needed my help, because she is a great writer herself and currently works at the writing center at her school in addition to writing for the school newspaper. Then it came time to go to college and the college essay writing and review process began. As I reviewed essays I was shocked when she sent an essay my way to review, and the essay was about the impact I had on her life. It was humbling, but beyond that it gave me a feeling I will never forget. She did go on to attend my alma mater, Emory University where she is excelling beyond measure, but not before she won the Bill Gates Millennium scholarship and the Atlanta Journal Constitution Award for being the best all round student at her high school. I remember taking her on a tour of the campus after she got accepted and introducing her to my career counselor who is still a good friend and has become her friend as well.

My sister Annette is kind and wise beyond her years. She is very intelligent, bright, diligent, super hard working and focused. Importantly, she has a growing and steadfast relationship with God, which I believe is the best part about her. Even though I am eleven years older, I look up to her in many ways and go to her for advice about really important life issues. We talk about everything and no topic it seems is off limits. She has given me some really great advice in some trying times in my life, has steadily encouraged me and has listened to me pour out my heart over just like a good sister friend would.

When I read our text messaging log, I can’t help but smile. We pretend to be rappers some days, have long drawn out philosophical debates on others and whom else would I share a picture of the lady with three boobs if not her. Sometimes, all it takes is an emoticon to communicate how we feel. If I took the time to list all the memories we’ve had, I’d be writing all day. We have had so many amazing adventures together. Last year as I studied for the bar exam, we toured Dallas, making stops at the Bush Presidential Museum, Sixth Floor Museum, the stock yards in Fort Worth, mall hoping and amusing ourselves trying on engagement rings worth almost half a million at Harry Winston.

Just last week, I got this text message from her that read, “Missing you and wondering if we’ll ever be living in the same city again.” I replied “Awww Annie! I miss! you too. I wonder if that will happen again. God knows all. Miss and love you!” She replied, “Love ya.” I still carry notes she would write to me as a child and one of my dearest possessions that I take everywhere is a hand written card she made for me when she was probably about seven. You have friends and then you have friends and if you are lucky, you have a sister like I do who is your friend. I can’t wait for all the great things I know she will go on to accomplish because I know for a fact that she will. It’s my celebration too as I recall sweet memories with great fondness of a little walrus who was born on September 22.

Happy Birthday to you Walrus!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Don't Pick Your Wedgie on an Elevator

Over the last few weeks, elevator cameras have become the new big brother and have proven that even those on high can be brought low or at least exposed. When elevator cameras showed the now epic fight between Solange Knowles and rapper Jay Z, the world became aware of the potential fault lines in the Knowles Carter clan. For most, the elevator fight was proof that the perfect image that was presented to the world was merely a façade and a far cry from reality.

While it seems the story has gone away as the media has been inundated by other stories from the clan including how much they made on their recent tour to rumors about an impending divorce, the crux of the video that was brushed aside and lost under the weight of several memes and slapstick jokes was the violent attack that was the highlight of the video clip.

Then there was another clip. This time it was Desmond Hague, the chief executive at the helm of Centerplate, a catering firm that provides concessions to sports and entertainment venues with a roster of clients that includes Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. The forty-second elevator clip shows Hague repeatedly kicking a puppy and at one point jerking on the leash so hard that the puppy was thrown in the air. His excuse, minor frustration with the puppy. Until the elevator clip was released, I had never heard of Centerplate or Hague for that matter. Not knowing much about Hague, it is hard to speculate about his tendencies or character, however, it is almost safe to say that Hague felt comfortable abusing a helpless puppy in what he thought was a space where his acts would go unnoticed.

Unlike the Knowles Carter clan who could release short video clips of an upcoming concert to divert attention away from their elevator brouhaha and Centerplate, which no one seriously cares about, the elevator incident that seems like it is here to stay involved domestic violence and importantly, the NFL, which a great percentage of Americans do care about. The video clip that just only became public fodder shows Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens violently throwing a punch at this then fiancée Janay Palmer and knocking her unconscious.

What’s interesting in all these elevator attacks are seemingly normal people becoming violent in confined spaces they believe provide some semblance of privacy. Interestingly, the nature of the attacks are almost comparable to people who use the restroom and fail to wash their hands because no one is watching or people you see driving down the freeway while violently digging inside their noses with their free hand. Violence in all forms are an age old human tendency and I firmly believe that all humans will respond violently if they are in situations where they believe violence is the only recourse. Pacifism aside, innate violence is something all humans share across the board but there is rarely an excuse for violence. I understand that sometimes we can be provoked and in those moments, the only appropriate response is to attack physically until the anger is spent. But rather than violent outbursts solving problems, they only create fresh ones.

With the attacks in the elevators becoming public, one can only speculate as to how many times there have been physical fisticuffs in the Knowles Carter household or how many times Palmer has been pummeled by Rice. But beyond violence, the larger problem is uncontrolled, irrational acts meant to be private that become public. Why do we do some things in private that we would never do in public? The camera footage aside, it is almost fair to guess that Hague walked out of the elevator and patted the puppy with so much love, staged for the benefit of onlookers. Likewise, the Knowles Carter folks would have continued on, painting a picture of perfection when in essence they were covering up layers of dysfunction. 

With social media, it is even easier to live a double life; the life that is carefully curated with visits to fancy restaurants and exotic vacations on display while the days spent recovering from a black eye or bruised lip, the result of a violent attack are not displayed. Shouldn’t our lives be a continuum of some consistent kind of behavior, hopefully good behavior? Why should we have a game face and another face? Yes, there is room to be oneself, and I do not advocate being on all the time, but when so called private elevator attacks find their way to primetime news, it makes me wonder what demons people I encounter daily are shrouding. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When Suicide Beckons

The last couple of weeks have felt like the apocalpyse. What started off as the end of the world in Ukraine slowly inched into the conflict in Gaza, found its way to Iraq and culminated in Ferguson, Missouri. While these so called apocalyptic events in each instance claimed several lives, the event that hit home the most for me came via a text on Monday night that Robin Williams had taken his life. I read the text in disbelief and let out a low scream. It was not blood curdling by any means but filled with so much anguish. I never met Robin Williams but I grew up with him. He was the gentle voice of the genie, but more importantly, he was Mrs. Doubtfire. Celebrity deaths often invoke some deep sense of loss, often the loss is borne out of the sense that an irreplaceable dearth has been created, but importantly, these deaths are a reminder that these individuals had reached what we see as the pinnacle while still succumbing to the demon of dissatisfaction.

I am particularly sensitive about the passing of Williams because it brings to the forefront an oft overlooked subject, that of mental illness. There are pink ribbons for breast cancer and Livestrong bracelets for all other cancers. There are walks each year for the March of Dimes and now ice buckets for ALS but rarely is the subject of mental health given the spotlight it deserves. Yet, every forty seconds, someone in the United States commits suicide and nearly half a million Americans are hospitalized annually for attempting suicide. Suicide is such an attractive option when life seems bleak because in the moment it purpots to offer a permanent solution to what the victim fails to realize might indeed be a truly temporary problem.

Unfortunately, mental illness is largely stigmatized and while some sufferers are comfortable enough to rattle off a list of their symptoms and corresponding prescriptions, others suffer in silence. Few people want to be seen as unstable, however, at some point in life most of us will be victims of a form of mental illness, most commonly depression.  Mental health issues are viewed narrowly as signs of weakness and an inabilty to ride out the storms of life. For people in the spotlight like Williams, depression can be even harder to deal with, as their lives are lived in the public often without channels to retreat into for brief brushes with normalcy. Not only does celebrity strip some people of a sense of normalcy, but social media avenues empower trolls, who are nothing but bullies behind screens with the power to tear down and cast aspersions. Those close to Williams note that on screen he was hilarious and bore a certain largess of personality, a buoyancy that sadly devolved once the stagelights were dimmed. He craved adulation and lived for the affirmation of the audience, going from a booming voice onstage to a shamefaced Wizard of Oz persona just newly discovered to be a mere apparition.

The largess of personality and excessive exuberance that turn into extreme loneliness and despair in private characterize some sufferers of depression who are prone to suicide. Backed into a corner by life's challenges, most sufferers of depression are unable to imagine pulling out of their deep gloom or envisioning a light at the end of the tunnel of despair. Writing for the New Yorker, Andrew Solomon notes that "at one level, the suicide of young people is obviously more tragic than the suicide of older people; youths have more life ahead of them, more of a chance to work things out. At another level, middle-aged suicide, the vanquishing of someone who has fought off the urge for decades is especially catastrophic." Solomon notes that for most older people who end up so tragically, there is an acknowledgement that things might never turn around, never get better and the light in the candle is easier to blow out because hope seems so elusive.

Hope does sometime seem elusive and in some instances the choice to end one's life might seem an attractive option. I am not a mental health professional by any stretch, but suicide in my opinion is not a sign of selfishness or cowardice. For those who take that route, it might have seemed the only escape. I remember a friend describing suicide as a final decision made in a moment of despair that ultimately becomes the last decision ever made. His remarks were prefaced by an admonition to seek help but how can that be heeded when those who are mentally ill are mocked and derided and viewed as weak? I often remind people that mental illness can happen to anyone and that the mind can get sick just like the body can. Why is it acceptable to entertain open conversations about a knee surgery but not one on schizophrenia? Why do we talk about manic depression in hushed tones but speak of kidney failure in higher decibels. Why is society unwilling to address mental health issues with the audacity that is indeed necessary?

Interestingly, suicide is so contagious and if anything, as the protests in Ferguson and the gun fire in Iraq occupy our attention, the news of the passing of Williams will provide more than a few someones who have been contemplating suicide with the impetus to do so. The rationale often is if someone as celebrated as Williams could end his life in spite of his wealth and gravitas, they can too. So while we are glued to world events many families will be making funeral arrangements spurred by the news of Williams' own tragic death. Suicide is preventable, but we need to address the problem at the root. A light needs to be shone on mental illness and the stigma needs to be erased because suicide does not have to happen, it can be prevented.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Seeking Justice

"Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphans. Fight for the rights of widows."  ~ Isaiah 1:17 NIV

Several months ago, as often as I could, I began doing weekly blog posts on Tuesday with the tag "Charity Tuesday." When I began the series, my intention was to shine a light on philanthropy. I see philanthropy as a muscle requiring frequent use, so that the more we are charitable, the more charitable we become. Growing up in a middle class family in Nigeria, I was often aware of the other children in my neighborhood who didn't have as much as my family did. While we may not have had the luxury of swimming in a sea of cash, we had more than enough. Oftentimes, it was not uncommon for the children in the neighborhood to gather in our living room in the evenings to watch cable television or marvel over some shiny toy or new possession we had. Thus, early on, I developed a keen sensitivity to those who didn't have much and I have always had a desire to give back and help in some way.

The idea of philanthropy in my eyes is not to pass out mere handouts, but rather to equip those who need a boost. There's a difference between giving an unemployed widow a few food items that are soon exhausted as opposed to giving her farm tools and assisting her to clear out a piece of land to farm or seed funds to start a small business. But sometimes the poor just need handouts because I realize that in some cases, poverty becomes so deep seethed that the poor are ill equipped to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Especially where diseases and health challenges are combined, poverty because a lethal booby trap with almost no avenue of escape. 

Over the last week however, I have been participating in a Bible Study written by a group of women under the moniker "She Reads Truth," on the issue of justice. The idea of the recent study was approaching challenges in our world from the view of seeking justice for the oppressed. As the study concludes today, I was suspended in thought by this quote: "If the longing for justice in our hearts does not translate to our hands, we do not fully grasp the passion of our God." So, there in a nutshell is the awareness that we cannot think about justice and poverty and oppression without doing something active to fix the problems in our world. If we truly seek God's heart and are pursuing after doing what is right we cannot be passive about the issues that trouble our world. Even if we do not have an active faith or choose not to believe in God our humanity should move us to do something, say something and refuse to be passive about unnecessary suffering in our world. 

Thus, the idea of fighting poverty is about seeking justice for the oppressed. If we truly care about those who are destitute we should want to solve their problems because in doing so we are seeking justice for them. So, whom are you going to seek justice for? The millions of sexual slaves held captive around the world, victims of bullying, women who are dying from lack of access to maternal care in their child bearing years? Sometimes we don't have to look too far to seek justice. We often do not have to board a flight, for those who need justice sometimes are just next door in our neighborhoods, in our communities and on our jobs. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Life on House of Cards

I spent the 4th of July holiday weekend binge watching "House of Cards," on Netflix. I have so many interesting impressions about the show, let's just say it's my kind of show in every way imaginable. I am typically not a huge television person (you can lock me in a room with a television for a whole week and I just won't turn it on), that's why being able to watch twenty-six episodes of a show is somewhat of a miracle for me. Character development on television shows is something I find totally interesting and I want to find the time to write an article on the Frank Underwood's character, but in the mean time, I compiled a list of some interesting facts that link my life to the series.

1. Like the character Frank Underwood who name Frank is a derivative of the name Francis, my dad's first name is Francis. 
2. The character Claire Underwood was raised in Highland Park an uppity suburb of Dallas with insane old money, same uppity suburb where I went to law school. 
3. When my family was house hunting several years ago, one of the homes we saw and almost purchased was the home of Kevin Spacey's mother. 
4. At one time in my life I actually fancied women like Claire Underwood with so much raw ambition, not sure I do anymore. Power at all costs just doesn't seem worth it. 
5. The set designer for the series totally nails it. I am obssessed with interior design and the interior of the Underwood's home is golden and totally my style. 
6. Claire Underwood's wardrobe is total perfection even though all the clothes don't always suit her body. 
7. I have always had the biggest crush on Sean Penn, who still remains my favorite actor. He used to be married to Robin Wright who plays the character of Claire Underwood.
8. I know a real life person who reminds me of Frank Underwood, no names will be mentioned. 
9. I once worked as a legislative aide to a senator at the State Capitol in a certain state and I can't deny that walking through the Capitol or seating in legislative sessions or attending caucus meetings with power movers can give anyone an inflated sense of self. 
10. I wrote the entire series, I just wasn't given any credit. Not. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

32 Life Lessons

1. Give love a chance, you just never know.
2. My mother taught me to always wear matching underwear. Yellow panties do not belong with pink bras. No ma'am.
3. Talk to God about everything, he already knows.
4. Don't come before God with a bag of sins and ask for blanket forgiveness. Go through them like dirty laundry, sort them out and pray specifically about each sin. I learned that from my pastor, Dr. Tony Evans.
5. Don't go to a party or someone's celebration empty handed.
6. Read as many books as you can.
7. Be interesting.
8. Understand that you have something to offer to the world that no one else has or ever will.
9. Seize every opportunity. Even if it doesn't work out you at least know you tried.
10. Give alms to those who are less fortunate. What they do with the money is none of your business.
11. You reap what you sow. This is a painful lesson because I have not always sown the right seeds.
12. There is truly no such thing as being overdressed. I can't help it if I'm in heels and everyone else chose to come in flats.
13. Study the Bible. There is no substitute for the sword of the Spirit. I keep finding gems in the scripture every time I open up my Bible.
14. Be kind to little children, there is no excuse for being mean to them.
15. Respect your parents and listen to them. They want what's best for you ultimately.
16. Turn away from "SALE" signs often.
17. Spending money one does not have is often a terrible idea. Credit card debt is no joke, especially if it's bad debt. There's good debt too; educational loans.
18. Invest in yourself.
19. Learn new things and keep pushing yourself.
20. Take care of your teeth. Brush at least twice a day. You don't get another set of teeth past a certain age.
21. Do the right thing.
22. Try to see the best in others. Believe that their intentions are right unless they give you good reason not to.
23. I'm learning to not be as sensitive and to give people the benefit of the doubt, make allowances for their faults and make excuses for them in love.
24. Failure is almost inevitable. It is bound to happen as long as you make an attempt to live. Failure in itself does not sound the death knell, but rather our response to it.
25. Do not let anyone speak words over your life that you do not agree with. It might sound like fun and games but don't smile at every ill word spoken. Rebuke the speaker and reject their words.
26. Be kind to yourself. I'm learning this everyday. If a friend said the things I sometimes say to myself, would I still be friends with them?
27. Do not judge every book by its cover. But sometimes do, your instincts might be right.
28. Tithe
29. Do not compare yourself to others. Everyone's path is different and everyone's journey is unique. Trust that God is sovereign and made you whom you are and gave you what you have for a reason.
30. Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo or fight the system. Rosa Parks knows a thing or two about that.
31. One person can indeed change the world for good or evil. Look at Hitler.
32. Do not wallow in self pity and don't be overly angry. Lost moments can never be regained, once time goes by, there's no reclaiming it.

These are the reflections of a 32 year old lady, who just had a very happy birthday. Some lessons are profound and some are mundane. But she has learned them along her journey that has been filled with challenges but been so sweet and graced with abundant love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Charity Tuesday {The Carter Center}

Attending college at Emory University was the beginning of my relationship with The Carter Center. As a student, I would constantly visit the beautiful grounds of the Carter Presidential Library where The Carter Center sits and I was always in awe at the amazing efforts of the Center abroad. Additionally I had the opportunity to listen to President Jimmy Carter, who was always so passionate and a frequent visitor to the campus speak about his global vision centered around waging peace, fighting disease and building hope.

In partnership with Emory University, The Carter Center is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. The Carter Center seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts enhance freedom and democracy and improve health and is consistently rated as one of the most responsible charities in the United States. The Carter Center has been involved in several peace programs across the globe, including election monitoring in Nepal, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Egypt and works tirelessly in conflict resolution missions in Sudan and South Sudan, Syria, Israel and Palestine. In the area of health, the Center works with several countries to control malaria and other diseases and has made a radical push for the eradication of guinea worm. The Carter Center is proof that change and good works can be done through concerted effort and determination. The Center constantly seeks volunteers, offers internships and is a great resource for anyone interested in global humanitarian service.

Disclaimer: The Harriet Project does not endorse the charities that are featured on Charity Tuesday. Thus, before making a donation or getting involved in any capacity, please research the charities featured to make sure they are actually involved in the work they claim to be doing.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Half Time

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Seneca, and it reads "our plans miscarry often because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind." I am not sure how I came upon this quote, but I remember reading it the first summer I read what has come to become one of my favorite books, The Catcher in the Rye. Dreams in general sometimes do not have an expiration date, but I have often thought it wise to set expiration dates on some goals. Without these deadlines it could take a great deal of time to get to some goals, time that could otherwise be spent chasing or actively achieving other goals. If a man sets out on a journey to India and doesn't have a certain date for when he hopes to get there, he might never get there or worse off, he might spend his entire life trying to get there.

Let's assume getting to India is an achievable goal for him and not something akin to winning the Mega Million. So, he could pack his bags and sell his belongings sans ticket and announce to the world that he is going to India. Depending on where he is, he might not have figured out where India is proximal to where he is, if he needs a visa to get there, he may not have even considered the transportation options available to him and where he might possible stay once he gets to India. Thus, even if all the conditions are right for him to get there, assuming his neighbor once lived there and can help him navigate, a sale is ongoing at an airline for affordable flights to India, he might never set foot there because in spite of the right winds blowing he never properly made plans to end up in India. 

Often times when plans miscarry, it can often be summed up to a lack of careful planning and an aversion for introspection. As I sat in church yesterday, the Pastor spoke about how today would mark the half point mark for the year, a time that should call for some introspection. It's not far fetched why he would speak on that because it's a good time to evaluate some goals made early in the year and see why they might still be nothing more that mere scribbles on a pad of flickers in one's imagination. For me, the message at church was meaningful because I  had just pondered over my goals for the year, in fact, I read over them and tucked them in my Bible on my way out to church so imagine my delight when the pastor began speaking about evaluating our lives at the halfway mark of twenty fourteen. 

With the World Cup currently going on, it's interesting to see how some teams are able to turn the tide in their favor at the half time mark. France did that today in their game against Nigeria. It is not without question that sometimes situations do not always work in our favor in spite of any level of introspection or careful planning, that is just a fact of life. But sometimes, some careful planning and deep thought or even light hearted reflection can be enough to set us on the right path after a rocky first half. There are still six months in the year to achieve those goals that can be met by New Year's Eve and if that is inadequate time, there is the benefit of being halfway there by that date. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Gasp! I'm Craving a Taco from Chipotle!

I never really cared for Mexican food until I moved to Texas. However, being surrounded by great Tex-Mex and slowly on my way to becoming a Dallasite, I decided I would give Mexican food a shot. Soon after my decision, I developed a serious love affair with just one item at every Mexican restaurant. Initially, it just wasn't any kind of taco, but fish tacos, and I went to a lot of places in the Dallas metroplex in search of them. Soon enough, I wanted more than just fish tacos and began to try other kinds of tacos. Plain veggie tacos, chicken tacos, steak tacos, everything really besides the pulled pork taco (remember I do not eat pork, save bacon).

I've eaten tacos at basically most places you can name in Dallas because I would do just that, drive around in search of tacos. The one place I never tried tacos from though was Chipotle. I am very anti-fad (see, I have to remind you of that because it makes me cool) and that probably explains why I snubbed Chipotle. In law school, the trick to having a successful event was to give out free lunch from Chipotle. Well, that trick got so many but not me. If you wanted me at your event, offer free food from Fadi's (the popular Mediterranean spot) and I would show up a half hour early. Whenever I would go to those Chipotle traps at school, it was burritos and not tacos that were served. Those things were a monstrosity and I could never quite figure out how to eat them. I guess like with elephants the trick was one bite at a time, but those were indeed big bites.

Last week, after running a bunch of errands, my sister decided she would treat me to some Chipotle. She got the burrito bowl and I got the chicken tacos. I was only able to scarf down two of the flour filled canoes of pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans, sour cream, cilantro rice, and chicken dreams before I had to dash out to a mixer. It's slightly past lunch time and here I am craving a taco from Chipotle of all places. I feel like I might have slightly betrayed my power to rise above the masses because here I am like most common folk craving a taco from Chipotle. To console myself from the shame of falling to that herd mentality, I told my sister that my craving had nothing to do with Chipotle per se, but just that I really wanted to eat a taco. So it's Harriet 1, Chipotle 0. And I am still anti-fads. #winning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Charity Tuesday: The Cult of Victimhood

A few months ago, I began a series called "Charity Tuesday," where I began featuring charities that I believed were in the business of doing good work. One of the charities I featured initially was the Somaly Mam Foundation, an organization with the aim of ending sex trafficking and rehabilitating former sex workers. I got to know about the foundation and the eponymous leader of the organization through the book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" written by Nick Kristof, two time Pulitzer Prize winner and renowned journalist at the New York Times. In the last couple of weeks however, several stories broke on reputable news outlets, claiming that Somaly Mam had lied about her life and her experiences as a sex worker. Also, not only had Mam fabricated a series of stories, but she got others to do the same. Interestingly, it was also reported that Kristof might have been aware of the untruths but did not blow the whistle because the stories were sensational and perhaps aided in the sales of his book.

I was rather blown away by the reports because I respected Mam who had won several awards for her good works, including being a recipient of the CNN Heroes Award. Now, I was severely outraged as I rightly should be by Mam's lies but I was also perturbed by Kristof's complicit attitude to the allegations being made against him and his journalistic credibility. It is often said that the pen is mightier than the sword and this holds true otherwise censorship will not be as prevalent under dictatorships. Thus, being aware of this truth, it is imperative that those we entrust with delivering the news do so with a standard that is above reproach. It is one thing to be duped as some have suggested that Kristof might have been, but then it is another to accept that one was either gullible or perhaps motivated by the wrong reasons.

Stories like Mam's do a huge disservice by creating distrust and adversely affecting organizations that are not only truly charitable but also honest. With every post on Charity Tuesday, I always included a disclaimer advising that organizations and their financial practices be researched before making the choice to lend financial support.

Somaly Mam is not the first individual to craft a moving tale that was false in a bid to gain notoriety. Before Mam, there was Greg Mortenson who lied about building schools for Afghan children and before Mortenson, there definitely have been many others.

The phenomenon behind Mam's lies is what some have referred to as the cult of glamorized victimhood, a scenario where an individual plays victim to garner some kind of sympathy because they rightly think that communities of people are gullible. Thus, when journalist are able to deliver compelling stories, the like of Mam's with vivid imagery in support of the victim's cause, the gut reaction is to get sucked in and ask where to sign up to offer help.

Understanding that not all victims should be believed wholesale, informed philanthropy becomes our best defense, but sometimes even the best of us are gullible. More so, in an age where social media campaigns spread like wildfire, it is even easier to fall for such schemes. In the end, it is worthwhile to support causes, but ultimately with eyes wide open.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On the Eighth Day God Created Quinoa

Over the weekend, I was cooking and asked my sister to help blend some vegetables when she asked me if I knew anyone who juices. Initially I misunderstood her question. Anyone who juices? Then she explained what she meant; the not so new fad of blending fruits, some vegetables and oddly enough some weird grains in an attempt to live a healthier lifestyle or lose weight.

When it comes to dining I am a minimalist. I do not eat a lot. No, I am not trying to maintain a certain figure and I am not trying to lose weight either. I really do eat when I am hungry and that sometimes is once or twice a day. While I am a minimalist, I do eat most things and will try most foods at least once. I have no known food allergies or religious restrictions however, I do not eat pork but I love eating bacon (and no, turkey bacon does not count).

Now, back to the issue of juicing. I mentioned to my sister that one of our cousins juices and had actually made me a dark green concoction of some vegetables and fruits that actually tasted good. Five years ago, I did not know any "juicers." But today, they are all over the place and I am forced to behold their culinary prowess because for most juicers, the glory is not in the juicing but rather in letting the world know that they juice. Thus, my Instagram feed is jammed with green leaves and weird berries the juicers in my life make on any given day. Sometimes I wonder if they robbed someone's pet rabbit, because a lot of the leaves I see being juiced do not resemble leaves of the variety for human consumption. 

I am just baffled by food fads. When I hear references to so called super foods or super fruits I roll my eyes. Who told anyone these foods were super? What made them super because for all I know these foods have always existed so why are they suddenly becoming super all of a sudden (insert snarl)? The food fads that I find amusing though are the gluten-free and paleo diets. I  understand that some people are allergic to gluten but for others, it is just a fad and an attempt to feel as though they belong on the hip train. Who told you you were allergic to gluten? I'll wait for an answer... I just do not get it. And then for my friends who are on a paleo diet, where did that come from? What will be next? The astronaut diet? 

I am just amused when my fellow humans "come upon" some foods that already exist and turn them into the elixir of life. Haven't these foods always existed and aren't they staples in some cultures? Sometimes I almost want to be convinced that God hasn't rested from his creative work. He made quinoa just recently on the eighth day and kale on the ninth. And if I let you in on a little secret, he's about to make cilantro on the tenth. And yes, you read it here first. Happy Monday and keep juicing and living the gluten free life!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Power of Community

A question that is often asked is if the rich have a duty to help those who are less fortunate. The answer to this question often varies, depending on individual attitudes towards philanthropy. It's all built around helping those who need help in their times of distress. Often, distress might not be the issue, but rather, the idea is being able to appreciate the greater good and blessing in helping someone solve a need they have. This weekend, I had started off having what began as a civil conversation with someone I was newly acquainted. A few minutes into the conversation, two individuals within close proximity asked why I was yelling. I didn't realize I was, but all of a sudden as the topic of discussion veered from general politics to inequality and poverty in Nigeria, my voice went several decibels up. When I was finally cautioned and lowered my voice, I realized that I felt tired just from talking about what seemed to me like a problem with no real solutions.

The idea that poor countries should be allowed to wallow in their misery is a dangerous one because at the end of the day, the West suffers when poverty goes unchecked in developing countries. Just like it is often said that when the West sneezes the whole world catches a cold, so also, when poverty is left unchecked the West pays a high price. Besides religious fanaticism, I am deeply convinced that acts of terrorism that befall the United States and a great number of Western states is a result of unchecked extreme poverty in developing countries. In the words of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate - poverty disease and ignorance." Desperation leaves individuals feeling disempowered and lost, without viable options and choices. At least I can substantiate the last sentence because the times in my life when I have felt the least empowered have been times when I believed or felt I was without the ability to choose.

The lack of choice and the link to development is not lost on Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen whom I read extensively while studying for an advanced degree in international development. Sen has often stressed that extreme poverty limits the choices of individuals with the result that they feel hopeless. Hopelessness creates vulnerability and those who are vulnerable in my opinion are more likely to become potential recruits for acts of terrorism. While this connection between global terrorism and extreme poverty still remains unsubstantiated by scholars, it almost seems like a perfectly logical connection, one that take only a mild sprinkling of common sense and a critical eye to make.

Thus, I do not want to be all talk. I have a desire to be part of the problem of alleviating global poverty and this week, I will be traveling to Haiti, a country I became deeply acquainted with my senior year in college as I worked on an independent research paper that explored the origins of AIDS in Haiti. I will be traveling with a group of eleven people from my church and will be journaling extensively and look forward to sharing my travel diary on the blog upon my return. So, please keep me in your prayers and thoughts and if you would like to make a donation to support my trip please visit... Your donations are tax deductible.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Charity Tuesday {How to Get Involved with a Charity Cause - Part 2}

Continued from last week...

4. Time. The quickest way to help is often simply by showing up. You will be surprised how far 30 minutes to an hour of your time can go. Volunteers who go the extra mile are not easily forgotten like Sonya Spann whom Jones credits for managing and coordinating FACE Africa’s annual gala and fundraiser held every March to commemorate World Water Day.

5. Money. You may not be making a lot of money now, but you can give financially in a way that is tangible. While you may have to wait a while longer for that luxury item that $500 you planned on spending on an Hermes belt or a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps may change the lives of thousands of people. Further, you can either give to a cause directly, or you can fund others who are involved by supporting them in their endeavor.

6. Publicity. Using social media as a tool to spread information about your favorite charity can be very helpful. Repost, retweet, and spread the word about your favorite charity. Your laptop is a powerful tool and you can create awareness about a cause and share a story from behind your desk simply by liking or reposting a link. One of the most compelling stories of the power of social media on spreading awareness was the KONY 2012 saga. By coordinating volunteers who wielded all avenues of social media, the organization, Invisible Children was able to get 3.7 million people to pledge their support for the arrest of Joseph Kony and members of the Lord’s Resistance Army with the help of a video that was shared extensively on several media outlets. 

Good deeds beget more good deeds so use these tools to get started on building a charitable lifestyle.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Women and Late Night Television

A reprint of my article published in Levo League. For the original publication, click here
With Jay Leno leaving the Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon stepping in to fill his shoes, there was much speculation about who would replace Fallon in his slot on Late Night. After the round of late night musical chairs, NBC will bring in Seth Meyers to host Late Night while Fallon will move over to host The Tonight Show. 

According to Nielsen Co. ratings, women make up the majority of the audiences for most major late night shows leading inquiring minds to wonder why women are not hosting the shows. 

The failure of major networks to crown a queen of late night is not for a lack of candidates. Names that have been thrown around for the crown include Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Aisha Tyler, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris, and Samantha Bee. However, despite these women possessing what many perceive to be the elements for late night success, it seems like we might even get a female president before we see a woman host a late night talk show on a major network since Joan Rivers got nixed from the spot years ago after a short stint deemed a failure by the network. Sadly, women are not the only losers in the game, minorities such as George Lopez, Wanda Sykes and Monique were also handed pink slips by their respective networks. 

Late night talk show hosts wield a revered place in popular culture. They bring to the table a passive-aggressive sort of charm and they not only define pop culture, but also become the epitomes of pop culture themselves.

At first glance, the required ingredients to dominate the late night spot seems to be a mix of approach, unique quirks and personal style of delivery. 

However, it has been argued that the bottom line to getting hired for a late night talk show slot is having a comedic bone and the contention then follows that having two X chromosomes does not make for the snarky grit required of late night talk show hosts.  

The typical television show host is the quirky white male, reminiscent of the class clown, a role that some argue doesn’t fit the female persona quite seamlessly. The late night talk show host is supposed to be the unapologetic potty mouth whose jokes might be cringe worthy on daytime television but lauded past 11:30PM. Thus, the slapstick humor, wise cracks and fun poking seem like skills guys hone on the playground and in the locker room as they prepare to navigate a world where they go for the verbal kill with their wit. The claim is that these are skills females do not perfect at slumber parties or at ballet recitals and are certainly not encouraged to hone. 

There is a difference when compared to daytime television where there is the need for more wholesome family friendly programming, where audience members might get cars and hidden treasures under their seats. Late night television does not bother with being politically correct or swaying audiences to sample new treats but is about the funny guy who is brash and witty at the same time and can get quick laughs in a matter of seconds.

Besides the argument that women lack the comedic skills to thrive, another claim is that the networks are delivering the personalities that audiences want. 

Late night talk shows often rely on one-liners that seemingly have no plot and get quick laughs from the audience, and it seems as though this genre of comedy may come more easily to men. Daytime talk shows that have been dominated by women like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and lately Queen Latifah and Bethenny Frankel rely on topical plots and in depth conversations with guests on the show. Audiences flock to these shows because the hosts have a persona that becomes a cult of sorts, just ask Oprah adherents. 

In that regard, Chelsea Handler seems to be getting the job done as her appeal and sense of humor is similar to that of the boys, resting on one-liners and the same wise cracking jokes that male hosts deliver. Thus, Handler shows that women can thrive on a late night slot debunking the idea that a female cannot rock the late night spot just like Steve Harvey is thriving on daytime television in a role that has been dominated previously by women. 

However, the biggest game changer that will catapult women to the frontlines [and is often overlooked] is what goes on behind the scenes. 

Late night talk show hosts are just one part of the well-oiled late night machine whose role is to deliver the punch lines that teams behind the scenes spend grueling hours fitting together. At the end of the day there is a need that the joke when delivered sounds like it is coming from the mouth of the writer. So, when male writers dominate, the tendency is to write jokes for other males to deliver and the battle to see a woman delivering these jokes may not be successful until there is a change in the gender of the writers behind the scenes. Women still struggle to get the jobs behind the scenes and the fact that Amber Ruffin just became the first ever black female writer for a late night talk show gives a glimpse of the magnitude of the challenge.

So, since women have proven that they have the comedic skills, personalities with mass appeal, and excellent writing skills why are they still not hosting the shows and why the glass ceiling? Seriously, networks have to be more honest about why they are building the late night circuit as another old boys’ association because really finding the right host should be about someone with the proper work ethic who is the right fit for the show and can hold the audience’s attention irrespective of gender.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Charity Tuesday {How to Get Involved with a Charity -Part 1}

In a Google search for the word charity, over 300 million responses were retrieved in 32 seconds. Unquestionably, charity and philanthropy are an important element of American culture and have defined several important moments in the history of this country. American history is replete with great examples of charitable endeavors such as the founding of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton that was instrumental in providing much needed assistance to American troops during the Spanish-American War to modern day efforts by philanthropists like Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates and Ted Turner who have used their wealth and influence to enhance lives across the globe. 

However, charity does not have to involve great wealth or influence. Anyone can give because we all have something that someone elsewhere needs and it is never too late to build a life that is designed around being charitable. Like other habits or behaviors, charity can be learned by constantly looking beyond ourselves to meet the needs of other. So you might be thinking, I don’t have an account the size of Warren Buffet’s and I have not won the lottery recently. For those of you that are short on funds or are novices to the culture of charity, here are a few suggestions that can help you jumpstart a rewarding lifestyle of philanthropy. 

1. Passion. The most important thing to consider when seeking to get involved with a charity or a charitable cause is to find out what makes you tick. It is easier to make a worthwhile contribution to a cause when you have a level of passion that is unmatched. Passion is what fills up buses and fuels picketers who leave their jobs, families, and comfort of a warm and cozy bed to make the drive of several hundred miles in some cases to Washington D.C. to campaign on the lawns of the mall. Finding what you are passionate about answers the questions of what kind of charitable efforts to get involved in. 

2. First thing first. So you have the passion, now what’s next? Do your research on the organization you choose especially if you are getting involved remotely. Do not be afraid to ask for annual reports or audit documents that show where the money is going, how much the staff is being paid and how much actually goes to funding the actual cause. If you are going to donate your time or other resources to a charitable cause make sure the organization you are serving operates in an ethical manner both from the place of operation and in the field where they carry out their work. Do they use sweatshops, are their workers underpaid, do they overlook abuse, are they comfortable with gender inequality? In essence, be a socially responsible philanthropist. 

3. Skill. Once the charity you are interested in receives the green light, the next step is an inventory of your skills. If you are an expert in the kitchen, consider using your skills to help in a soup kitchen. Saran Kaba Jones, founder of FACE Africa, a non-profit that provides clean water in Liberia, notes that individuals with specific skills and expertise in areas such as accounting, communications, grant proposal writing amongst others are invaluable to organizations such as hers that are young start ups with limited funding to hire talent. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Loveless on Valentine's Day

Few things in the world beat fresh floral arrangements and I have been able to indulge in actually stopping and smelling the roses more actively in the last couple of days because I've seen them at every turn. Initially, I was lost until I had my Aha! Moment. It's almost that day, the one day called Valentine's Day. I've never really considered it to be a big deal, but for some people, it is indeed a big deal and there's no use convincing them otherwise. Days before Valentine's Day approaches, some people either start to fall physically ill or check out mentally because they do not have a special person in their life to share the day with. A special day to show love or celebrate love seems to me like the biggest hoax ever cooked up. Why do we need a day to show love to the people in our lives? Reading through some of my social media feed, it seems like some people are actually losing sleep and super unhappy about today. If that's you, read on...

In March last year, I went to Jamaica with two of my sisters and a few friends for a couple of days. While there, I bought a bottle of rum for my brother as a souvenir. Upon my return, I mailed the rum to his address in Chicago and waited a few days for him to call me and announce that he had received the bottle. Two weeks later over a phone call, I finally asked if he had received the package and he said he had not. I mailed the package via Priority Mail and at this point the delivery was way overdue. Nothing had been returned back to my address and the concierge in his building did not have the package and it certainly was not in his mailbox either. I then asked him to recite his address to make sure I had the correct address and then I discovered my mistake. Now, the numerical portion of his address was '5650' but I thought it was '5600' so I mailed it to the latter. Well, turns out the 5600 building has an apartment number identical to his and the package got delivered to that address. At this point, it was almost three weeks since the package had been delivered.

My brother then decided he would go to the 5600 building to make some inquiries. He got there and after some conversation with the concierge he was directed to the apartment that was the same number as his. He knocks on the apartment door and crazy lady answers. He told her he thought a package might have been wrongly delivered to her. Crazy lady said she had the package and had kept it. Now, why would anyone keep a strange looking package that clearly belonged to someone else in their apartment for three weeks? I thought the proper thing was to return it back to the post office or leave it in the mailbox with a note for the post master. My brother and I were shocked and amused by crazy lady and laughed our heads off at her antics. I'm not sure why I thought about this story, but it brings me to an important question. Which would you rather be? Crazy or 'loveless' on Valentine's Day? To feel unloved today is quite a shame because no one really is unloved. Try dying today and you'll be amazed at the love. People will speak all sorts of niceties about the person you were, even though they may not all be true (but I digress). Even the homeless man is missed when he dies. If this does not cheer you up, then hopefully knowing you are loved by The Harriet Project might do the trick. So, for what it is worth, Happy Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Happy Love Week!

It's love week and I'm sure you've been swarmed by seas of reds and pinks in all shades. I found the above animation of a Brooklyn couple share the endearing story of their love and loss on a blog I visit quite often. I hope that all looking for love someday find the love that's the best fit. Happy Love Week! {Animated by Story Corps}

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Charity Tuesday {End It Movement}

Modern Day Slavery and human trafficking are much larger issues than the mainstream press has given any attention to in the past decade. It is astounding that in our present day, humans, mostly women and children are being trafficked across local and international borders and sold in a manner that some have argued rivals the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I highlighted an organization last week that was doing its part to rescue slaves that have been caught in this unfortunate market. I can be much of an optimist in some situations, however, I am weary of slogans and attempts at ending or eradicating ills of any sort. I do not believe such feats are possible because honestly they are not. What I believe we can do is educate people on the ills that plague our world from enslavement to hunger and diseases and hope that every human who is aware will play a role in rescuing [a] person from whatever prison walls they are trapped behind. If one person is rescued, that is one less slave, one less hungry child...I believe you get the idea. Thus, today, I am featuring an organization I am familiar with, Generation 268, that is affiliated with Passion City Church in the city of Atlanta. Generation 268 began a powerful movement, "End It Movement" that seeks to rescue enslaved individuals. On February 27, 2014, the End It Movement hopes to spur individuals across the globe to join in an awareness drive on the issue. To find out more information on how to join the movement please click here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

5 Instagram Accounts You Should Follow

1. Refinery29
Refinery 29 is your one stop location for tips on fashion, beauty, travel, entertainment, shopping and hot spots in some major cities. Their instagram account is one of my favorites because of the high quality photographs that are always so colorful and nicely styled. I've been following their account for months now and doubt that I've seen a picture that hasn't made me take a second look. 

The brain child of a few wanderlusts, travel noire invites followers to submit pictures of locations they've been to and tries to encourage people of color to ditch the high priced items in their wardrobes and pay for experiences instead. 

The coveteur is your go to source for nice glossies of high fashion. Visual stimulation at its very best. 

4. Yale
Although Yale University did not accept me into its law school, I still love their instagram account that captures the beautiful architecture of the campus. 

I ran into Ms. Howey in a coffee shop in Mansfield and noticed she was doing the most beautiful lettering I had seen in a while. I stopped by her table, we had a converstion and now she fills my instagram feed with amazing messages of hope, grace, and love. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What to Do While Unemployed

A reprint from my article originally published in Levo League
A few months after graduate school I was unemployed and unable to find a job. Initially, I enjoyed having free time on my hands to catch up on some books, watch some television and basically have no deadlines to meet or meetings to plan or attend. However, after about three weeks of free time, including planning my 25th birthday, I began to feel the nagging pull of having no structure. I was no longer scouting for restaurants or shopping for party favors or trying to decide on a theme for my birthday. I was now 25, in my parent’s home and unemployed. Luckily, I had worked all throughout graduate school and had saved a good deal of money. Thus, I wasn’t worried about money, but knew I would eventually have to find a source of income.
Being unemployed is one of those interesting phases in life that provides an opportunity to learn about ourselves and about others. About ourselves because we are hardly preoccupied and there is ample time for a lot of introspection. About others because we are able to observe the perception some have of those who are unemployed, which can run the gamut from seeing the unemployed as lazy, complacent, or sometimes as individuals with little foresight or ambition. However, there are a good number of people who will show some empathy while you experience this challenge.
In reality though, unemployment can happen to anyone. George W. Bush became unemployed after he left the White House in 2009 and who knows what emotions he brooded over as he left the job he had held with so many rights and privileges for eight years?
Undoubtedly, being unemployed can be daunting, but having some reprieve from a job that demands so much of our time can be an experience to be treasured if we face the challenge with some perspective.

What to Do While Unemployed

Calm down and have some perspective

While being unemployed can be unnerving, take a moment to have some productive introspection. I would suggest making a list of things to be thankful for; housing, reliable transportation, good health, dependable and understanding friends, family, and even pets. Having perspective is certainly good. Understand that being unemployed is only temporary, regardless of how long the phase of being unemployed lasts for. Be reminded that seasons change and winter is not eternal.

Take care of your mental health

While facing the challenge of being unemployed, do not neglect your mental health. Listen to your body and make sure you pay attention to your mind. You surely might get into a funk while you wait for that job interview, so pay attention to your emotions. Is it a temporary brooding that lasts for a few minutes or have you fallen into a deep abyss and feel hopeless? Regardless of the duration of feeling in a funk, find someone to talk to and, if you can afford it, seek professional help. Also, be aware that life does not stop happening while you wait to find a job. Friends will get employed, take fancy vacations, buy new cars and celebrate milestones. It might be hard to not get blue or feel left out and this is why it is important to care for your mind and if need be, unplug from social media and focus on your needs and caring for yourself.

Have a support system

Remember that no man is an island. Surround yourself with people who are genuinely interested in your success and happiness. These people could be from your family or friends. Also, it could be just one person you can depend on that will hold you accountable and make sure you job search daily, arrange meetings, follow up on leads and mostly importantly are will provide a listening ear when you need to vent. Don’t approach the challenge of trying to find employment alone. You will need some support and do not refuse meaningful help when it is offered.

Plan, plan, and then plan some more

Approach everyday with a plan. Searching for a job can be a full time job. Invest in a notebook book or several notebooks that will serve as planners and journals. Have a weekly plan that includes a list of employers you are interested in contacting, names of people you meet, a quick summary of the outcome of the meetings, and a follow up strategy. If a notebook seems old fashioned, create an Excel spreadsheet, but visit your notebook or spreadsheet daily, make revisions to the plan, and journal your thoughts at the end of every day. Having a plan not only helps you stay organized, but it will help in answering questions about your search because you have had the time to organize your thoughts and formulate a plan. You will more likely be taken seriously than if you don’t have a plan and instead face each day without much thought or a concrete strategy.

Donate your time

Giving can be empowering. Find an organization with a cause you are interested in and find a way to give back. It could be a few hours a day or it could be a daily commitment. Volunteering while unemployed is empowering because it can provide some structure. It gives you a place to go at certain times during the week. Thus, the feeling of powerlessness is somewhat tamed because there is a task at hand to be done. I would suggest volunteering not because it benefits you, but because it serves the organization. Do it without the expectation of a reward and allow yourself to be surprised by what yields you gain. Not only will you have some structure and a sense of accomplishment, but it will also provide something to put on your resume for employers who might be wary of gaps in your employment history. I volunteered at an elementary school library close to my parent’s home while I was unemployed. All I did was shelve books (I love children’s books), check books out, and help prepare for the spring book fair. However, it was rewarding watching the little children come in daily and I gained so much decorating inspiration from the unique classroom arrangements.

Go start!

Sometimes, the best things in life happen when we build our own doors rather than wait for others to invite us to walk through the doors they carefully crafted. Being unemployed can be a great opportunity to become an entrepreneur, providing not only employment for yourself in the interim, but creating something that could flourish and someday provide employment for others. Explore ideas and do not be afraid to start something. Worse case scenario, it fails and who knows, it just might succeed and prove to be the opportunity you have been waiting for all the while.