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A picture that rendered me speechless, snapped at TED2015

Originally posted on TED Blog:

This photo snapped at the Fellows Closing Dinner at TED2015 gives me incredible joy — six Black women who are masters in different fields loving each other. In the aftermath of the domestic terrorism perpetrated at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel, it also gives me a moment for reflection. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED This photo taken at the Fellows Closing Dinner of TED2015 gives me incredible joy — six Black women who are masters in different fields loving each other. In the aftermath of the domestic terrorism perpetrated at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel, it also leads me to a moment for reflection. Photo: Ryan Lash/TED

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture was worth all the words I had — it rendered me speechless. It’s an image of six Black women, smiling and hugging, taken by Ryan Lash at the TED2015 conference. There we were —  LaToya, Somi, Aomawa, Camille, Danielle and myself — in all of our various and sundry Black Woman-ness.

It took me a long time to figure out why I had such a visceral reaction to this image. I couldn’t decide if it was just a beautiful shot in terms of lighting and composition, or if I just really…

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Dia de Las Madres 2015

Photo credit: Sophieia

Photo credit: Sophieia

By Acasia O.

It’s Mother’s Day in the U.S., and while I’m not a mother, I am grateful for another year to celebrate the woman who gave me life.  I’m thankful for the woman who changed all my poopy diapers, putting up with my shhhhhh well before I was old enough to manufacture it for her. I’m thankful for the woman who taught me how to read, celebrated me when I rode my bike, recited a poem or invented a new board game. I’m grateful for the woman who can make the best peach cobbler before God and man after surviving a grueling week in the classroom with her students. I’m grateful for the woman who loved on me and taught me forgiveness even hours after I disobeyed her and violated her trust.  I thank God for my mother, I do.

Photo Credit: Mark McGuire

Photo Credit: Mark McGuire

Yet I couldn’t ignore the fact that on a day when I would call my mom to wish her Happy Mother’s Day, grief paid me a visit. To my knowledge, grief had no reason to come over. The fridge is full, the sun shines bright where I live and the A/C man came by the house this morning to fix the unit so I won’t faint in my house this summer.  But grief sat with me at the kitchen table while I ate my cereal and she followed me to my room as I considered what I would wear today.  I entertained this uninvited guest longer than expected and she eventually forced me into a corner, causing me to crumble inside, too weak to fight back. She shook me so hard that my teeth chattered and my face became slick from the tears that rushed out of my eyes.

Today we celebrate the woman who gave us life and the women who sustain us.  From grandmothers and aunties to mentors and neighborhood mothers, there’s usually a special someone or someones who looked after us. And even if they aren’t our mothers, they are a loving and affirming presence in our lives. And let’s not sleep on the single mother and single fathers who play both roles to raise their child.

I recognize and celebrate the strong mothers who do the unthinkable to protect and guide their children, giving special love to the military mothers, both active duty and spouses, who do their best to establish stability in the midst of an unstable lifestyle.

This day is especially hard for the motherless.  Advertisements, greeting card sections, even going to church or Mother’s Day brunches can be difficult for the person who lost their mother or even the mother of their child. I’ve been told losing anyone, and especially a parent, is akin to losing a body part and no amount of prosthetics will replace the real thing or get you used to it. “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

I never considered what today meant for the mothers of the children who are no longer with us, but grief caught me by surprise, as it often does, and forced me to think of the childless mother.

Photo Credit: Liugi Morante

Photo Credit: Liugi Morante

There are women who struggle daily to return to a normalcy that seems unattainable.  There are women who never got to greet their little one in-person after up to 9 months of waiting. There are women who watched their baby exit the warmth of their womb, holding them in the comfort of their arms, only for time to be snatched away from them as they watch the cold earth absorb their child.

Today is meant to be a joyful and celebratory day, and indeed it is, but I see that it means something different for the woman who lost her child to the battlefield of war, illness, substance abuse, murder or suicide.  And my heart is heavy for such women.

My intent is not to cloud this day with a somber spirit or melt into melancholy but to acknowledge, just as I would the new mommies, the women who are without their child.  My desire is to intercede for them because the pain is far too heavy to carry alone. And while I don’t know such pain, and I pray I never do, if the level of hurt and weeping I’ve experienced concerning them is any indication of what they’ve endured, then Lord have mercy.

I want to believe they are sacred to The Almighty, for theirs is the pain of Mary who who lost her son and witnessed him die a merciless death.  Theirs is a pain that can’t be measured, not even with a title worthy of describing such a loss, for we know what an orphan and a widow/er is, but what do you call a woman who has lost a child?  Have we forgotten that they exist?

So while we celebrate mothers, do pray for the women who hurt on this day. Pray for their comfort and their endurance and that they be surrounded by a community of compassionate people who love on them through their loss.  Whether they lost their baby recently or decades ago, they still remember that life and they still mark the passing years with visions of what their child would be doing, even on this Mother’s Day.

Photo Credit: Fede Racchi

Photo Credit: Fede Racchi

Nevermore…

photo credit: flickr

photo credit: flickr

By Acasia O.

Baltimore has a place in my heart and a chapter in my book.  Random fact: I started my loc journey at a natural hair salon in Baltimore, MD six years ago.  During that time, I was one of roughly 15 participants in a summer research internship (RISE) for underrepresented minorities and had secured a great opportunity to conduct research through Johns Hopkins University’s pediatric AIDS clinic.

That summer was sweet like penny candy, soft serve ice cream and Domino Sugar. My love and I were in our second consecutive summer health research internship together and enjoying Charm City, making frequent trips to Dominion Ice Cream, taking walks around the campus hand-in-hand while fireflies flashed us a thumbs up and crickets chirped their shrill tunes. We stayed on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, shuttled the bumpy streets to the medical campus in East Baltimore daily, where for 10 weeks, we worked a 9-5 that offered mentorship, and required seminar attendance and delivering a final presentation on our 10 weeks of data collection and research conclusions. Those were the days of crashing ultimate frisbee games, waiting for the shuttle in a long line in sweltering heat and learning the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  Those were the days of watching Robin Thicke at Artscape in his former glory, and running downstairs every evening to catch a dorm-cooked meal by my love.

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Photo Source: Flickr

Those were also the days when I was reminded that walking home in broad daylight didn’t exempt you from assault, burglary or battery.  Those were the days when, one morning on my way to work, I learned that a gang shot up the memorial service of a rival gang member and a shooting was reported right near Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  For those who know or have spent any significant time in Baltimore you know it has its thorns, to put it lightly.  I would often marvel at the pockets of ‘safety,’ surrounded by a sea of poverty and waves of insecurity.  While my now husband earned his Masters in Public Health at Hopkins, nary a day went by during the school year when I wasn’t worried about him. But beyond the constant news reports and alerts of shootings and beyond the boarded up row houses and broken glass windows and flashing blue lights at the lamp posts on the corner down Charles Street.  Beyond the massively huge and saturated graveyards, the constant cry of the ambulance and the littered pot hole marked streets is a city with a noteworthy story to share and hear.

"Washmonument" by Brlaw8 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Washmonument.jpg#/media/File:Washmonument.jpg

“Washmonument” by Brlaw8 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The residual energy and grit of Baltimore’s industrial heyday lingers over it like dust particles that
dance and sway in a beam of light.  The one-eyed mascot of the Natty Boh brewery watches over Charm city, donning his signature handlebar mustache. It’s the home of the Ravens, Orioles, sister city to Bremerhaven, Germany (Chris’ birthplace!) and stomping grounds of Cab Calloway, Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth, Jada Pinkett Smith and Nancy Pelosi to name a few.   I felt and still feel a certain way about Baltimore.  It was home for 10 weeks one summer and my biweekly weekend get away when visiting my love during grad school. It’s the place where I lost my favorite earring in the harbor near Fells Point, and the spot where I witnessed my husband run his first marathon. It’s the city that I would visit almost every year in high school when my folks took their youth group to visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.  It’s the city where I trekked to to complete my Masters’ Thesis and the city where I fell in love with Old Bay and scotch bonnet hot sauce on my boiled oysters, Hot Mustard’s Korean Bip Bim Bap and an ice cold beer at The Brewer’s Art.

It’s also the city where, like Jesus did at the news of Lazarus’ death, I wept while driving past the Baltimore City Detention Center, a tomb in its own right, holding broken men and women beguiled by the lure of fast cash and easy money and those falsely accused and slandered by “a system whereby they lynch men.”   It’s the city where mayors move in and out of office like 18-wheelers at the truck station, only a matter of time before they fall asleep at the wheel or break down to the pressure of the power pipe as either a victim themselves or a perpetrator complicit in the schemes and crimes against humanity that plague cities largely inhabited by people of color.   It’s a city where the level of poverty in some neighborhoods makes you wonder if you’re driving through a 3rd-world nation despite being in a major U.S. city.

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Photo source: Flickr

The murder of Freddie Gray while in police custody adds yet another stain on Baltimore’s already tarnished tapestry. And while the city, for the last few years, has been striving to make progress in revamping its image and reversing its reputation of heroin abuse, teen pregnancy and violence, my hope is that the latest attention on the city will result in people asking the question “Why?” Why is Baltimore in the state that it’s been in for decades?  And why would people loot, riot, vandalize or whatever you choose to call it all in the name of justice?  And why don’t more people see the pain of a people who are so broken, so ignored and so undervalued that they manage to destroy their own property and streets while crying out? It might not make sense, but neither does redlining, education disparities and breaking your own neck, spine and voice box.

When a person is suicidal, while some would ask “why?” and do what they can to prevent a suicidal attempt, I would hope that folks wouldn’t mock or try to attack that person for trying to take their own life.  When someone is the victim of abuse, neglect or financial assault, we don’t lambaste them, taunt them or shame them.  But folks have and they do and that’s the problem.  Baltimore is, in my observation, in need of radical transformation.  I often wondered what it would take for the city to bounce back and clean up its act.  I have often wondered why it was left behind and ignored. And with everything that’s been going on over the last week, I wonder what it will take to restore the city. How long before the systems and environments have to be radically changed before we see the healthy transformation?

When a city’s gangs unite in solidarity to protest injustice, you begin to wonder if you’re in the twilight zone. But, if you’re like me, you also begin to wonder if there will ever be a day when these gangs can take their influence to positively transform their neighborhoods.  And further, you wonder if there will ever be a day when politicians and law enforcement officers stop feeding off the power pump and start striking at the root of the problems instead of pruning the symptoms. But ultimately, when will people start to understand that the Baltimores and the Fergusons and the Oaklands of the country are manifesting symptoms of a larger problem that, if not properly addressed, will continue to fester and eventually explode?

Photo credit: flickr

Photo credit: flickr

Shot of Novocain and a pair of shades

By Acasia O.

bridge

Jared Frondu

I now live in another country, a place where my most persistent reality includes getting acclimated to a new culture, meeting new people and finding a job.  I also happen to live in the Middle East, a region of the world that is most often depicted as war-torn, unstable, and connotes terrorism to those who aren’t from here. The local news stations don’t reflect the modern events of my homeland, not the way I know they do on American news networks. Before moving, I was aware of the local protests and riots that took place throughout various neighborhoods and seasons in my new home. Fueled by the frustrations from the Arab Spring of 2011, there are tire fires and road blocks not too far from where I live. The weary find ways to express their frustration, and to be honest, I don’t feel threatened, worried or as if their actions are a cause for concern but a natural progression of what happens in most situations when marginalized people get fed up. In fact, the reality of the unrest in my new home didn’t phase me, because I left a land where unrest and frustration with the ways of life are bubbling over like a pot of water over a high fire.  I went from one area with an underlying problem to another area with an underlying problem.  And, as far as I know, very few countries have little to no social maladies. Before moving abroad, I used to worry and wonder if I or my husband would become one more statistic or hashtag in the Russian Roulette of America where we might encounter that one officer who doesn’t think twice about pulling the trigger and blaming us for resisting arrest while in a chokehold, wearing our seat belt or already impaled by the bullets lodged in our weeping backs. Because we are in the Middle East, and my prior knowledge of this area was informed by reports of non-natives, I also had to combat this notion that I would be living a catch-22 where residing in America while black was a daily risk but living abroad as an American was also an invitation for assault and hostility, especially given the most recent threats and historic sentiments against the ‘Leader of the Free World”. Not only would we have to remain vigilant in the U.S. but now, there’s another layer of awareness and protection we have to assume because we’re not from here and, contrary to what we want to believe, everyone doesn’t like the U.S.

spiral

Photo Credit: Len dela Cruz

I don’t know what’s going on back home in the the land of my birth. I’m somewhat removed, not by choice but because when you live eight hours ahead of Eastern time and your daily routine doesn’t include watching TV or skimming online news sources, you tend to miss out on the latest happenings both in and out of country.  But thanks be to God for pouring out the spirit of innovation which brought about social media.  It’s not a muted source of information.  To be honest, there is a level of respite to be found in the distance and space between me and that cruel, cold and carcinogenic reality of racial terrorism and white fragility that threatens the progress of our nation. There’s a lot of brokenness and sometimes I wonder if it’s better to just win the lottery, purchase an island and go about life in my own little corner of the world. But then I think about the indigenous people who, once upon a time, lived on their land masses and went about life in their own little hemisphere of the world, before someone invaded, killed, kidnapped and all but exterminated them. And that’s when I realize, as much as I want to escape, ignore and detach myself from it all, even if I press mute, the scenes, emotions and reality will still be there.  If a cop shoots a person in the back and no one is there to hear it, the bullets still make sounds.  If a cop cuffs a corpse, it’s still crazy and absurd. And if we choose not to return to America to raise our family, the system still exists. So, do I turn off the TV all together and go about life detached from a world I may eventually return to, a world that my family, friends and community still swim in?  Do I press mute, silencing the sounds but not the images? Or do I leave the volume on, knowing that for each story, each replayed scene, each report and post on social media, I risk becoming numb and unfazed by an appalling new norm? These are the questions I ask myself while living in a region of the world that, according to multiple “news” sources, is unstable and full of hate. Yet,  I watch, from afar,  the hate of those living in my unstable nation, metastasize into psychological disorders, amnesia, apathy and a social paralysis that will eventually turn the infirm into the walking dead.

Podcast #8 – A Coolikan Christmas

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings!

On this podcast, the Coolikans wax poetic about our favorite childhood Christmas memories and the evolution of Christmas for us now that we’re adults.

Peace and Blessings to you and yours!

Thanks of listening!

**Honorable Mentions**

What is Advent? – LINK

Kwanzaa – LINK

The Five Love Languages – LINK

Ba Humbug – Man upset about Christmas greeting (LINK)

Coolikan Podcast #7 – Jesus and Justice

In 1963, Preacher and Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Junior penned the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he admonished fellow clergy for their silence and reactions to nonviolent civil rights protest. In recent weeks men and women across the U.S. have engaged in civil unrest to protest police brutality and criminal (in)justices.

We at Coolikan see these events as opportunities for the Church to be the light and to unite and speak out against injustice.  Instead, we, like Dr. King, notice the silence.  We sense the need for greater solidarity in the Body of Christ concerning the plight of humanity and specifically racial inequity.

Jesus and justice.  Are these two mutually exclusive? If not, how can we embody the essence of Christ and principle of justice in our lives?

Thanks for listening!

 

**Honorable Mentions **

Embrace Healing Petition for Truth, Healing and Reconciliation – Sign Here

Site highlighting the protests around the U.S – Urban Cusp

Tim Wise – White Like Me Film  –  website: http://www.timwise.org

Blindspots: The Hidden Bias of Good People Link

Article on the need for the Church to come together – A Call to Arms

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail