With our current media landscape it is becoming significantly more challenging to teach middle school children to understand their emotions particularly empathy. With our current culture of bickering and “hitting back” the trickle down effect is real! Students have to digest the fact that what they see on television (reality TV and our reality TV president) are not real. This is compounded by the fact that young scholars must digest that what they see on the internet is not real either. This reality can be even more disheartening for students like mine in Spanish Harlem that are not motivated by their day to day environment, in fact some are drowning in it.
The best way I’ve found the help children understand emotions is by highlighting their interactions with each other. I find myself asking them after every significant comment or experience, “how did that make you feel?” Some scholars are to the point now where they communicate this information without being prompted.
One memorable instance of students demonstrating empathy occurred in my history class. Despite redirection one scholar continued to disrupt instruction. As I continued to deliver the lesson I noticed another student losing focus due to the disruption. I gave the distracted student our nonverbal sign for persevere. I allowed the student to carry on hoping he would grow tired of the class ignoring the attention seeking behavior. I was surprised moments later when the distracted student turned to the disrupting student and said calmly, “I feel like you’re distracting me.” This simple comment to me was an emotional breakthrough. Neither child grew hostile, frustrated, or out of sorts. They communicated effectively and I was able to move on with the lesson. Media in America has created a tangible rift in our emotional intelligence but by teaching children to communicate effectively we can help them better understand their emotions.
I’m not sure if my best friend could read. She figured things out regardless, making a way for herself on her own across America over the course of 93 years. Her words come to me constantly as I work to decipher the stories and tangible history left behind. I remember being frustrated towards the end when she matched my every question with a question. This in itself was a lesson.
“Grandma! How will I get through my questions if you keep asking more questions?”
“You see that baby. That’s how you stay young! You never stop asking questions. You got to ask questions and you got to listen. Especially to the young people! When you stop listening and learning and growing, you start getting old.”
You Can’t Hide Heart
Will I ever write a poem as beautiful as Maya’s?
Will I ever hit a note as high as Mariah’s?
Will I ever love a King like Empress Menen?
If I hold my head high past the flying fruit like Ruby will I ever get in?
Must I continue to sail the high seas like Ida B to tell my horrific story?
Or should I swing a racket next to my sister to earn power and glory?
Maybe I should pick out my crown like Kathleen and ball up my fists?
Or rock a beret like Queen B at the half and stunt on the risk?
So many questions but for me the answer is this.
All the spirits whisper, grab a pen and work your wrist.
I wonder what the world would be like if we were identified by the emotion we show most often. Our conversations would be like “Hey Hater, have a seat right over there” or of course positive emotions like, “Wow Confidence I’m so proud of you!” Even, “Hey Lonely, come here I have something special for you.” Would we be happier as humans if our emotions were better understood by the people around us? Can emotional intelligence make the world a better place? I think so, because if someone texts you, “Hi Lover, what time do you get off work?” You’ll be a more pleasant person for the rest of the work day. Snow White and her dwarfs really were on to something.
At the very least people would be forced to accept what they project. It might be what we need as a human race. It could lead to a better understanding of ourselves as human beings. It is amazing how many people in this world never study their reflection. To some the man in the mirror is the only man in the world. Their actions lack retrospection; they never consider stepping outside themselves for perspective.
I learned perspective growing up in North Carolina. Every year March Madness shuts down the state. Rivalries are real amongst neighbors NC State, Duke, Carolina, Wake Forest, and more. Regardless of what set you claim, excuse me school, one part of March Madness is universal. No, not filling out brackets, not Future’s interpretation, “I’m ballin like it’s March Madness.” I’m referring to legendary NC State Basketball Coach Jimmy Valvano and his famous ESPY speech, “Don’t ever give up.”
I remember Jimmy V’s advice vividly, “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
The world would be different if emotions were apparent. To me emotions make the man or woman or child. If we can find ways to share what we feel and staying in control like Coach V said, “you’re going to have something special.” Show the world the strongest you and try not to hurt anybody in the process. Emotions are essential and being aware of your emotions can save and serve you at the same time.
A few days ago spring began. Josh and Justin went to pick up beer from the store. They always get the same beer, High Life; from the same store, Tony’s. These men are creatures of habit. Josh repeats the same idiom every time the homies pop their first can, “It may not be the highest grade in the dispensary but this some good beer.”
Justin co-signs with this infamous, “Right on.”
Josh exhales, “Did I tell you about my dream?”
Justin, “Nah, but I love a good dream. What happened?”
Josh shrugs nonchalantly launching into the tale:
I really don’t know where to start but the weather was strange. The earth quaked at least six times and it rain a lot too. I could never tell the difference between things I thought and things I actually said. It was so confusing but I didn’t have time to be frustrated since I had so much to figure out. Oh and my abs were super tight. I don’t know why. Maybe I was worried but I remember how sore they were and I couldn’t figure out why. This was confusing too but I had to keep going. Even though I didn’t know where I was going. Isn’t that funny? Just like in life when we don’t know where to go but we keep going. Dreams are the same.
Justin co-signs, “Right on!”
Josh jumps back into his dream:
The rain turned into snow but I wasn’t cold. I told my feelings to turn off when the sun went down. I only felt determined but I never really knew why. There was a woman I remembered from when we were kids. She was tall and she was glowing in the dark. People were lining up to talk to her but I kept walking because I couldn’t remember her name. Everyone that spoke with her left with a smile and I wanted to go to her, but I forgot the lesson I learned and I was too embarrassed to stare until it all came back to me. I was afraid I’d waste too much time and wake up never figuring out where I was meant to be. Then these thoughts surfaced and I couldn’t help but repeat them in my head over and over, “Am I here greet destiny? Will I always walk alone or will someone stand next to me? Am I here greet destiny? Will I always walk alone or will someone stand next to me? Am I here greet destiny? Will I always walk alone or will someone stand next to me? Am I here greet destiny? Will I always walk alone or will someone stand next to me?” There were no hints and no clues. Just time passing quietly.
Josh pauses and takes a few sips from his beer. Caught up in the suspense Justin inquires, “So what happened next?”
Josh replies, “I don’t know. I’m not sure if I don’t remember or if I woke up.”
New York makes me feel so seafoam black in the wintertime.
In this climate no matter what you choose you lose.
So I wander the world seeking various forms of warmth and empty spaces.
Here I am.
Who wouldn’t want to escape? Oh the prices one pays to follow a dream.
What would it cost to skip a step, or two?
Leaving memories right where they are when they hurt.
Learning by backtracking like The Almanac.
Now, I’m looking back on moments I couldn’t wait to complete with nostalgia and mental screenshots of how you looked at me. ‘Faded pictures in a broken glass’ or something like it.
Here we are.
Next to you I sit, breathing in harsh realities exhaling my own interpretations of the truth with glitter sprinkled on top like greatness.
What a rush when you win.
What a rush when you have the opportunity to begin again.
What’s the rush?
What you won’t do, do for love. In today’s world we encounter countless forms of violence, negativity, and hardship. I was inspired to take a minute to celebrate compassion and togetherness.
Firefighter, husband, son, brother and living organ donor Ryan went the extra mile for his beautiful wife Lucrecia. Full disclosure and shameless brag, Ryan is my first cousin. Our fathers are brothers. We have always been very close because we think alike. Recently I caught up with Ryan’s wife who he affectionately calls ‘Cre’ and discussed how her life has evolved since she met and fell in love with Ryan.
“I met Ryan at work in 2007. We were working the third shift at a technology company. The office would be empty. We were sitting at work emailing each other all night. He would send extra long emails trying to sound all smart. I would reply with a few sentences and he was like ‘really that’s all you got?’ We started dating in 2008 and things were going really really well. ”
It’s amazing talking to someone about the person they love. I could tell Cre would talk about Ryan all day if I let her and he is the exact same way. However, love like life rarely goes according to plan and the couple broke up for a year. Lucrecia explained that Ryan had some maturing to do. She was forced to swerve him until he was ready.
“A year later I saw him at the club on his birthday. So cliche.”
We shared a serious giggle.
“He told me ‘I promise you if you just give me one chance I’m gonna marry you.’ I was like yeah whatever, but I guess it was destined to happen.”
At this point, I realized the love story had distracted me from the purpose of our conversation and I asked Cre to tell me about the issues she was experiencing with her kidneys. She explained that she suffered from Nephrotic Syndrome also known as Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis since December of 1998. There is no known cause or cure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disorder usually caused by damage to the clusters of small blood vessels in your kidneys that filter waste and excess water from your blood. Cre knew something was wrong when she was experiencing extreme swelling in her face. She learned the swelling was from the scarring in her kidneys. The disease naturally increases the risk of other health problems, luckily her case was treated early and remained controlled. Cre was told in 1998 upon diagnosis, she would need a transplant in a few years. She elected not to worry and to keep living her life! She took medication to remain stable. Despite the disease she graduated from college, joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and continued to be bright and beautiful.
“I got pregnant on my birthday in 2011. I wasn’t suppose to get pregnant. I was already warned not to because it was going to deteriorate my kidneys. But we went through with it anyway.”
It was beautiful hearing her hash out this painful memory with Zoey playing in the background. Their baby is extremely creative and independent. Blissfully unbothered our conversation she chilled conversing with herself not too far from her Mommy. I asked Lucrecia about her pregnancy.
“We ended up having her eight weeks early because of the deterioration. It was a great pregnancy. I didn’t have all of the swelling and spreading of the nose and other stuff. They were just concerned about the levels in my kidneys. I went to the doctor on a Thursday and was told to come in for delivery the following Tuesday. I had her in March 2012. By July the doctor was prepping me for the donor transplant list.”
We went on to talk about our family and how much we both love and admire Ryan’s strength and determination. We talked about Memphis and the visits we had over the years. All along I never realized Cre was sick. I was distracted by barbecue and sneaking onto Beale street. Which was an obstacle at the time because I wasn’t 21 yet. We laughed at these memories and began to discuss the next steps in the transplant process. So many people wait years for organs, I wondered how she came to receive the new kidney.
“Ryan told me the moment I found out I was pregnant that he was going to give me his kidney. I really thought I was gonna be fine. But he knew. And he always stands by his word. A Lot of people were telling him ‘you never know… you might need your kidney down the line… that’s too much to give up’ but he knew that’s what he wanted to do.”
The decision to be a living organ donor is a mirror reflection of Ryan’s extraordinary character. Being strong willed is an element of our genetic makeup.
Ryan began to workout regularly once he made the decision to give Cre a kidney. I remember vividly because we would be on the phone for hours while he was in the gym. He posted countless pictures on Facebook with captions like ‘ab game on point.’
“A lot of people got tested. My mom, some of my sorority sisters, even my half-brother tried – none were matches. A few people were matches and had to do blood pressure tests. The issue was a lot of times African Americans have high blood pressure, this ruled out a lot of candidates as well. Ryan was at one point disqualified for this reason but he had his doctor send an authorization saying they approve of his blood pressure levels. This narrowed the pool down to Ryan and another girl friend of mine. We were advised that she could have trouble getting pregnant down the line. So Ryan stood by me and did everything he could to make sure we would both be fine. He even put me on a diet to make sure I would be in the best position I could for healing!”
Cre shared that the procedure took about eight hours. The removal, the preparation, and the insertion. The couple was in the hospital for about a week. My Aunt Dottie (Ryan’s mom) kept me updated and prayed with me over the phone. Ryan recovered quickly. The doctors tried to discharge him. But Ryan continued to pretend things were wrong so he wouldn’t have to leave Cre in the hospital alone. Insurance covered both of the surgeries however, there were lots of out of pocket expenses. Hardships came about during healing time for the couple. Being young homeowners with a baby did make for a financial strain but they made it work.
“I feel like our whole situation changed Ryan’s outlook on life.”
I agree with Cre wholeheartedly. Ryan has always been a standup individual. Loving and taking care of his family and friend to the full extent of his capabilities but now he is next level. Ryan is a pillar of his community and a phenomenal role model. He recently graduated with a degree in psychology, became a firefighter and is studying for nursing school.
“I don’t think we would have got to this point if everything was normal. He has always been a caring person. I’ve seen a great change in him. I love him so much. He is the love of my life.”
My hope is that this story inspires you to hold onto love and faith in humanity. Kindness counts. Sharing is caring. I hope one day when it’s time for someone to love me that I’m loved the way Ryan loves Lucrecia. I’m glad they decided to email back and forth during the third shift.
MOB #3: Silicon Harlem
I was honored to attend and participate in the 2015 Silicon Harlem Tech Conference at MIST in 116th street. I don’t go to Harlem often but when I do it’s to discuss making the world a better place. And to eat Amy Ruth’s!
Silicon Harlem is a social venture that has been designed to transform Harlem in to a technology and innovation hub. This includes establishing co-working spaces, gigabit infrastructure, securing investment capital, and hosting monthly meetups. I was reminded of how essential it is for technology savvy individuals to work towards bridging the enormous digital divide.
Member of the United States House of Representatives Charlie Rangel was honored with the IP (Innovative Person) Award. Representative Charlie Rangel is a veteran of the US Army and the Civil Rights Movement. Since 1971 Congressman Rangel has represented the 13th Congressional District of New York. Harlem is his home. Representative Rangel articulated the mission flawlessly when challenging our leadership “to treat technology and science with the same urgency as health care … the more you do for a community the more you do for yourself.”
Congressman Rangel was not the only government representation at the 2nd Annual Silicon Harlem Tech Conference. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is also fighting to make technology accessible, fast, and affordable.
Huge shoutout and thank you to Silicon Harlem.
It’s still Brooklyn over everything though….
NCMAE #5 – Bennie Louise Carter
Sometimes I wonder if anyone will think about me when I’m dead. I think about my paternal grandmother Bennie Louise Carter and wonder did she ever think the same thing. I wonder if she wondered? And I wonder if she knows how much I think about her.
I ask a lot of questions, always have.
When questions about Bennie Louise went unanswered – well not unanswered, just not answered to my satisfaction I grew frustrated. My Dad and Uncle Vonzell always said “she lived a fast life” but that didn’t tell me what I wanted and needed to know. This information didn’t satisfy my curiosity about someone who has impacted the very fiber of my being. I’ve been told I look like Bennie Louise, that I smile like her and that I share her thirst for exploration.
I dug deeper.
My grandmother’s sister my Aunt Ida B. told me stories of growing up with Bennie Louise in Memphis, Tennessee. She had beautiful memories of her sister and smiled whenever she spoke of her. I hung on to Aunt Ida B’s every word as she shared stories of the two fishing in the Mississippi River and sneaking out together drinking corn liquor from a bucket with a wooden ladle. She loved her sister and I loved the stories.
I still needed more.
I couldn’t grasp my Grandmother’s character. I continued to wonder what she valued? What motivated her? It’s wild how the past can influence so many elements of the future.
What I knew hurt.
My Grandmother Bennie Louise Carter was murdered in Richmond, California in the late 1960’s.
To add insult to injury.
Before the family was able to place headstone on my grandmother’s grave the cemetery office holding the records on grave locations burned down. The location of her remains were lost forever and she rests lost to us and alone with no flowers and no visits.
I persevered in my quest for knowledge.
Here in Brooklyn a huge part of my support system is my cousin Cristala and her beautiful family. Cristala’s mom came to visit recently who I lovingly call Auntie Kay. Auntie Kay wanted an update on my life. I had visited several different countries since she and I last spoke. After the update she beamed with pride and asked me about my plans for what’s next. I continued to fill her in. Then Auntie Kay made an offhand comment that shook me to the core.
The story as my Aunt tells it…
“You know I married your cousin Lacy (my Dad’s first cousin) too young and I’ve been around your family for a very long time. I’m not surprised by your initiative and success. You have an ability to plan and prepare that has led you on this phenomenal path that you’ve really just begun. Bennie Louise was the same way. I remember when she passed. I was there for the reading of her will. Your Grandmother was prepared. Bennie Louise set aside money for Jerry (my dad) to go to Salesian High School. She planned ahead. You are your grandmother’s child”
I finally heard insights towards what Bennie Louise Carter valued.
Her family, her sons and their future were clearly a priority. Money from his mother assisted my Dad as he attend one of the top private schools for young men in northern California Salesian High School. My dad lettered in three sports (football, basketball, and rowing) and obtained a full athletic scholarship to Southern Illinois University. My Dad played four years of division one college football and earned a BA in Speech Education. Upon leaving SIU my dad obtained a MA in Sports Administration from Grambling State University, while coaching with the legendary Coach Eddie Robinson. He went on to coach college football and became an award winning NFL scout. My Dad is an amazing father who has always loved and believed in my every dream.
I come from people who care and prepare.
Yes my grandmother ‘lived a fast life.’ She also created life and put those lives on a path to a fruitful future. She did that! I’m certain she is smiling down on what became of the lives she created.