The Roads We Travel

A few days in a life journey.

Archive for the ‘Being American’ Category

My First Town Hall, CA-25

Being a newsie, as I’ve shared before, I look forward to the Sunday morning news shows and the arrival of my Sunday paper. It is a lot of information to take in, but I love to hear other people’s stories and learn about what’s going on in our country and in the world.

During the week, I don’t get to watch as much television news, but I do read news alerts and updates regularly. The weekend presents a great opportunity to get caught up and reconcile what I’m hearing nationally with what I’m seeing locally.

Since the presidential election, I’ve challenged myself to make more time to become involved in issues that deeply and directly impact the community in which I live. This local hyper-focus may come from a feeling of not having much of a voice at the national level. As it stands, I don’t feel that the current incumbent of the oval office has my family’s best interest in mind, nor do we have the level of representation that we need to better balance this out in either the House or the Senate. All I can say is thank God for the judicial branch.

Last week, I attended a public hearing to determine whether or not Los Angeles county would approve the massive expansion of a local landfill. Every person who showed up to testify in support of the expansion had received some monetary benefit — employees who earn a salary for working at the landfill, public officials who received campaign donations, non-profits and trade groups who receive donations and membership fees from the landfill, citizens whose families received scholarships from the landfill. They all showed up with glowing reviews and green-colored t-shirts and caps. The other side of the story was shared by residents living within the community directly impacted by the landfill. They shared stories of health concerns, air quality concerns, water contamination concerns, and corporate bullying and intimidation. I couldn’t believe that this was unfolding right in front of me — in my own small community.

The good news from the fallout of the presidential election is that more people, like me, are starting to become aware of what’s happening in their communities. I think, in the past, I was guilty of thinking that my civic duties ended after the vote, but not anymore.

There were so many people at the public hearing that it was standing room only in a junior high auditorium. Since the meeting had a hard stop at 9:30 p.m. and there were still more than 50 people waiting to testify, the committee has decided to hold a second hearing in April. It’s a really important issue and residents should have the opportunity to voice their concerns for consideration.

I hope the regional planning commission will take the residents concerns seriously. I understand the desire for a business to want to expand and grow, I’m a business owner myself. I just don’t think that growth should happen at the expense of anyone’s health and safety, and certainly not the least among us. Those in the community where the landfill is located aren’t wealthy, so they can’t speak with dollars, just words and visibility. If there are other options to bring about a win-win (like moving the landfill to a more remote, less populated location — I hear there is one already setup and ready), then those options should be fully explored.

Following that experience, my daughter and I got up early on Saturday and trekked about an hour out of town to attend a town hall put on by our congressman, Steve Knight. In my opinion, the congressman did everything possible to minimize the turnout. He picked a remote venue (one not centrally located in the district). He chose to hold the event at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday, doors opening at 7:45 a.m. and only the first 275 were allowed in with id. Not only does this discourage turnout, but it sends a message to the people he represents all over the district that he is not accessible and doesn’t care about their views.

The town hall was streamed live by the local television channel, so hopefully, lots of people got to watch, BUT it’s important for his constituents to have easy access to VOICE their concerns and ASK questions and GET answers. That doesn’t happen when all you can do is watch it online or on tv.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get into the town hall, but we were one of the hundreds who stood outside to share our concerns and rally support for another more centrally located town hall so that Rep. Knight could respond to why he says one thing to appease his constituents in person and then votes another way.

We’ll continue to stay engaged. We’re learning a lot. I encourage parents to get children involved in this process to learn how your local and state government work firsthand and to show them how to let their voice be heard on issues of great concern. This IS what democracy looks like.

CA 25 Town Hall in Palmdale, CA.

CA 25 Town Hall in Palmdale, CA.

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Written by Shara

March 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

How to Appease Anger and Frustration

It was the same routine. This morning, my lovely darling didn’t agree with the clothes that I picked out for her to wear to school. This always happens when we don’t jointly prepare the week’s wardrobe in advance. “Okay, but we don’t have a lot of time and if you aren’t helping me out, then I’m going to lose my patience,” I warned.

I gave her a few minutes to come up with a reasonable alternative given the drop in temperature this week. She couldn’t find the right leggings to go with the dress she wanted to wear. In a rush and in my haste, I lost my patience.

“Just put the clothes on that I picked out so we’re not late!” I snapped.

I have a late gene and I’m afraid that I’m passing it down. It was passed down to me from my mother and her mother passed it along to her. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to fix it. We even got a note from her school about my affliction and I’m trying, really trying, to do better.

“Mommy, it hurts my feelings when you yell at me,” she said — after she was dressed and her hair was done. “When my feelings are hurt, my face looks like this,” she sulked. The alarm on my phone went off and I hit “Snooze” because I’m gonna need another reminder in five minutes. It’s time to leave so we can get to school with a few minutes to spare.

“I know. I’m sorry, but I did warn you that I was losing my patience. Did you brush your teeth? Let’s get that done and head out.”

I usually try to acknowledge when I’m in the wrong, even when I’m feeling under pressure. I want to have endless patience and I want to get her to school on time.

My son’s morning prep game is tight. He’s dressed, hair brushed, teeth brushed, sitting on the couch, earbuds in, head bobbing. Boys!! SMH.

As she slowly walked to the bathroom to brush her teeth, I added that I didn’t want her face to be sad and that I didn’t want anyone to have that control over how she was feeling — including me. “I don’t want you to be sad. I just want you to hurry up and get ready,” I reasoned … with a seven-year-old.

Ten minutes later, we’re in the car and I’m waiting to turn onto the road in front of her school. One final argument about what she’s wearing and how I don’t understand the kids at her school and what they will say about a jacket with thumbholes. I suggest we can donate all of her clothes that don’t match her schoolmate’s requirements including this new Justice jacket and that I’m sure there’s some kid somewhere who would be thrilled to have it. “I’ll place a call to your friend’s mom before I buy you any more clothes to make sure she has the same thing,” I added to make my point clear. “No, no, no!!” she exclaims. Then, her brother initiates a discussion about yelling at mom. The game of “I’m not/You are” proceeds.

She now has two minutes to run inside before the bell rings. I open the van door, “Okay, I love you. Have a great day!” I smiled, genuinely. I really want her to have a great day. I want the last words she hears before heading into school to be words of love and support.

As I pull away and watch her run into the school building, my son sits trying to understand why she yells when she’s frustrated, but then tells me it hurts her feelings when I yell. The apple/tree thing hasn’t quite dawned on him. He wonders if he could have said something different to get his point across to her.

At which point, I explain that when someone is angry and frustrated, they usually are not listening. Nothing you say will matter and in most cases, it doesn’t even matter how you say it. Their response will come from that place of anger and frustration. The best thing you can do is to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” Once things have calmed down, you can try to revisit the topic if it’s important, but trying to reason with someone who is angry and frustrated is a fool’s errand.

Conversations with my kids are very enlightening.

I’m still angry and frustrated about the presidential election. I have every right to feel that way. You can appease me by using calming words. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” But, I’ll still be angry and frustrated. I’m not listening. I’m just reacting from a place of anger and frustration.

Don’t call me a victim. Don’t call me an out of touch liberal. Don’t tell me it will all work out, just wait and see. I’m still angry.

Don’t tell me we’re all in this together because clearly some of us don’t even recognize the humanity of others.

If you can’t commiserate with me, then just limit your response to, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you’re feeling better soon.” And be sure that IF you’re saying it, you mean it, genuinely. Otherwise, best not to say anything at all.

Written by Shara

November 29, 2016 at 1:47 pm

Sadness, Anger, and PB&J

My sister reminded me that I feel better when I write.

The last week has been unreal. I really thought Hillary would win. Now I’m sad, then angry, then sad again, then sad and angry all at the same damn time!

Peanut butter and jelly is my best friend. I’m eating PB&J like a five-year-old. #ComfortFood

I come from the generation of Coca-Cola teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony. You know the “We are the World” generation. I grew up watching shows on television that spoke to Black families and people like me for the first time: Good Times, The Jeffersons, and The Cosby Show. We were breaking barriers and creating new, safe spaces for people who look like me. I will never forget A Different World, which was exactly what I experienced heading off to college in the early 90s.

Everything was hope and promise, but you had to work hard and show up. I learned that I had an obligation to let my voice be heard whenever I’m in the room. I learned that sometimes my voice has to represent an entire race and culture. It’s mind-blowing and humbling at the same time.

And certainly, I’ve experienced my share of discrimination and ugliness — reminding me that though we’ve come far, we still have a long way to go. I learned about “otherization” and “hate speech” firsthand from the moment in high school when a friend said, “Hey, look at me, I’m walking like a nigger!” to the time when my college roommate had a guy friend over who called me a nigger in my own dorm room. That was painful. But even more painful, when I shared the experience with the people I trusted most, nobody did anything about it, including and especially the Black men on my campus who I thought would stand up for me (more on that later).

In college, I learned that some of the issues I experienced weren’t necessarily because of my dark hue. I learned to understand the impact that my presence had on the world as a woman. I remember a college administrator saying to me the process is like getting a new pair of glasses, once you put them on, you’ll see the world as it is and you can never unsee it. She was right.

In grad school, I told a professor that I thought women could do anything and be anything. “Why not?” I asked. My mom raised two girls all on her own without the help of my dad, who was largely absent from my life until after college. I saw my mom do everything, be everything, and never did she say “I can’t because I’m a woman.” She would just figure that shit out. I remember that same professor asking me if I was a feminist. I answered almost immediately, “No.” I didn’t want to be categorized, labeled, or regarded as some sort of troublemaker. Always the good Christian girl that I was raised to be. But she encouraged me to think deeper on it and I decided later that year that I was indeed a feminist. I didn’t want to start any trouble or burn my bra, but I was definitely a feminist.

I voted for Bill Clinton in ’92. It was the year that I turned 18 and the first election that I could vote in. I was so happy when he won. I felt like my vote helped. I remember when Hillary took on a more policy-focused position in his administration. I remember admiring her for breaking out of the traditional First Lady role. I’ve been a fan and supporter of Hillary’s for a long time. I realize that some of her issues in this election were of her own doing, but I also know that many of the problems she faced were because she is a woman trying to make a huge difference in a man’s world. Glasses on.

Remember when I said the Black men on my college campus let me down. Remember when I said my father (another Black man) was absent growing up. Yeah, he let me down too. Now fast forward to this election year and take a look at how Black men voted.

blackwomenvote

I know there’s plenty of blame to go around regarding why we didn’t see higher numbers from everyone for Hillary, but in particular, Black men have been impacted by 90s policies that led to them being targeted by police and jailed in unprecedented numbers. Even with that in mind, I’m still disappointed that they didn’t contribute a larger percentage of votes for Hillary.

They let me down. Again.

It may be an irrational thought to have, but I figure maybe if I put a voice to it, then I can begin to resolve it.

WHY didn’t Black men vote in larger numbers for Hillary? 7% voted for a third party, which everyone warned would be a throwaway vote unless your plan was to see Trump elected and in that case, just vote for Trump. If they didn’t feel they wanted to vote for themselves, then why didn’t they at least show up for us, Black women. Clearly, my history says that it’s just too much to expect. Sad, angry, sad again, then sad and angry! More PB&J.

Now, I’m trying to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward. What do I tell my children about why the bully won? How do I prepare them for the mean, ugly things that they will likely see and hear in the not too distant future?

I blame myself, too, for believing that we’ve come farther than we actually have. Blind hope. I blame myself for choosing not to have those conversations with my children on a regular basis, early on. I just wanted to guard their innocence for as long as I could, build a healthy self-esteem and a natural love for their differences. Now, I have to include conversations about how their differences will (not might) make them targets of hate speech and discrimination. I also need to provide them with the tools to deal with it. It’s exhausting enough just parenting and managing normal child development stages.

That said, I think the tenor of this election and the ugly words that I’ve heard from people on the right and left (including myself at times I’m not happy to say) suggests that it’s time we all have these conversations with our children on a regular basis and starting early on. We should all be teaching our kids about the concept of “otherization” and not stick our heads in the sand as if we don’t teach them what it is and how to confront it, then they will never see it or have to deal with it. We can never have blind hope again. I can’t and you can’t. Hope still has to wear the glasses.

If we want the next generation to do better than we have for humanity, for our country, for our planet, then we have to teach them.

facebook-cover-photo

This is all of the nonsense running through my head at the moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you’re dealing with the election results.

Written by Shara

November 15, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I’m With Her… Shhh! Not So Loud. Not Here.

imwithher

We recently joined a tennis club in our community. I know, I know! It sounds like some high-end shit… at least it did to this girl who grew up in a tough Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. But, 13 years of motherhood have worn away my tough facade and all I could think about was what I would do with my kids all summer.

The tennis club offers tennis camp, swim lessons, fitness facilities, social activities, babysitting and more. Yes, please!

It didn’t occur to me that people like me (a Democrat) might not usually join a tennis club in this community. I mean, I’m usually one of a handful of African-Americans in most of the places I go, but I’m used to that. It is 2016 after all, right? Most people are kind and polite. At times I almost forget that my skin color is different. I said, almost.

So last night at the tennis club, while the kids were busy playing in the kids club area, I made my way to the cafe for a drink and to catch a bit of the Democratic National Convention. After all, just last week the Republican National Convention was playing on the big screens there. Surely, they would have the DNC on?

As I walked in, the two televisions around the bar were set to ESPN. I thought, well it is a tennis club. Duh!

So, I asked the bartender if he could put on one of the other televisions (away from the bar) for me. Sure thing. He was happy to do so until he found out that I wanted to watch the DNC. You would have thought that I just cussed him out, and then forced him to drink a jug of salt water. Ooo, he was salty!

He didn’t even turn up the volume when he finally found the right channel, but it was fine because I had closed caption and wanted to work until Hillary came on. Then, when Chelsea took the stage, I went to the bar and asked him to turn up the volume for me. He walked over, turned up the volume and snarked, “Did she ever find out who her real dad is yet?” He snickered and walked back to the bar. Really?

My husband joined me shortly after his tennis lesson. I told him how I was recently informed by a “friendly” that I’m surrounded by sharks (Republicans). He laughed.

Then, Hillary came on. I think the volume in the room around me increased by 50 decibels. I’m thinking this is the time everyone decides to be loud and boisterous. Okay, they are around the bar, but last week when the RNC was on television you could hear a pin drop.

A woman walked in the cafe and up to the television, she looked at Hillary and said, “Wow, how many face lifts has she had?” Then, she looked over at our table, expecting a response. I was mute. My husband said, “As many as it takes?” and they both laughed as she walked off.

My husband is good at diffusing tense situations. Me, not so much.

When I hear the outlandish, hurtful things that Trump is saying, I used to think, Who is he talking to? Who thinks this is okay? Now, I know.

Written by Shara

July 29, 2016 at 11:35 pm

Cheerios Commercial – Let the Comments Stand

Cheerios put together a beautiful and heart-warming commercial featuring a biracial family and the country is in a spin. The brand decided to remove negative comments from YouTube, but I say let the comments stand. YouTube should publish real first and last names next to each one.

Many are surprised that in 2013 there would still be so much racism. It happens to me– insulated in my culturally-diverse community– where I forget that this kind of hatred and vitriol can still be formulated as a thought, let alone a word spoken or put to print. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, just when I’m ready to relocate my mind to that precious utopia, something happens to snap me back to reality.

Reality is … that hate is taught and people are still teaching it and passing it along from one generation to the next. Reality is … that while we have come a long way, there’s still a significant part of the population who have yet to make that journey as well. Reality is … you can’t confront what is often shared in whispers or spoken in the comfort of home among equally ignorant and unevolved minds.

So, I say let the comments stand. Put the hatemongers on the map and stop hiding what is a very real part of our society … TODAY.

It’s hard to read, even harder to hear as I found out for the first time the year I graduated from high school. A week at the beach among “friends” would offer one of the most important lessons I would ever learn in life. “Hey, look at me, I’m walking like a n*gger,” she said and the words pierced through me like knife. A wound that would never fully heal, as it was re-opened time and again.

Ignorance and fear create this kind of hate. Hiding it pushes it away for the moment from our minds and from our eyes, but never completely from our lives.

Let the comments stand and let those who uttered the words stand by them, publicly, so we all know… and learn… and teach.

 

Inauguration 2013: We the People…

Presidential Inauguration 2013

Photo Credit: Huffington Post

Today, I watched the Presidential Inauguration and felt such joy, pride and hope. Not just for myself and my family, but for so many Americans who in the past have been relegated to the sidelines of  our society — minorities, immigrants, same-sex couples, and even those with disabilities. All mentioned in President Barack Obama’s  inauguration speech.

Wow!

Just earlier this week, I had a conversation with a neighbor who proclaimed there were too many Asian Americans in our community. He said that another neighbor had to move because she was the only one on her street who spoke English. He continued to share that his biggest problem is with Hispanics who are “too lazy” to learn English, and that if they truly wanted to be Americans then they should learn English. He felt that federal tax dollars should not be spent to translate information for government services into Spanish.

Of course, I took issue with everything he was saying. Everything.

For a moment, I was surprised. I’m not sure why because I have had similar conversations with this same neighbor in years past. Also, I have met people with similar prejudicial ideas more than a few times in my life. Then it hit me.

In my quiet moments, in the safety of my loving home and in the ideals of my mind, I forget that not only does this type of prejudice still exist in our nation, but it resides in my community — right down the street. And, while I’m saddened at the thought, I’m also thankful.

Thankful that my neighbor feels comfortable enough expressing his prejudices to me… someone I’m sure he knows is not a sympathetic ear. Thankful that his starkly different views slap me in the face and wake me up to a reminder that our work is not done.

Thankful for a President who has the audacity to hope for something better for ALL Americans and would be Americans.  Thankful for a President who said today,

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”

See, I realize that my neighbor and many like him have never taken the time to get to know someone coming to this country for the first time, trying to make a better life for themselves and their family… and also struggling to learn English as a second language. If he did, he would know that it is certainly not laziness that becomes the barrier to success. Many wake earlier than the sun and work multiple minimum or low wage jobs to provide for their families. They strive for that dream that so many take for granted.

I also realize that it’s not my job to convince him that he’s wrong and I’m right. And while I am baited into the dialogue to express my opinions and strong dissent, it’s not my job to change his mind or enlighten him.

It IS my job to make sure that legislators are elected, at all levels of government, who understand the importance of creating a unified vision for America. One that includes all Americans regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, culture, disability, language, religion, sexual orientation or otherwise.

It IS my job to make sure that I am a part of this dialogue for change, so that when opposing views are expressed, they are not the only ones heard.

It IS my job to make sure that my children learn these lessons not merely from what I say, but also by what I do.

It IS my job to ensure that my children understand how they too can make a difference in this country and in this world.

My heart sank thinking about my neighbor’s comments the other day. Today, my heart soars with hope and progress.  I will keep at the forefront of my mind the President’s words today,

“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky and happiness for the few.”

God bless you all and God bless the United States of America!