Thursday, January 19, 2017

To President Obama and The First Family



This is my personal love letter to President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the millions of Americans who said, "Yes, we can!" (twice).

As a young black boy in America, I was privileged enough to be thoroughly educated on the contributions African Americans made to American history and culture. Reciting MLK speeches and Langton Hughes poems inspired me, but none of that prepared me for the swell of pride I felt when I witnessed Barack Obama get elected POTUS. It was history in real time. I framed and continue to display this article as a reminder of the audacity of hope. Thank you for being a thought leader.

Thank you President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for showing us what excellence looks like. Thank you for showing us that hope and dreams are still relevant in this modern day and age.

Under Obama's administration, I witnessed a determined president who bailed out the auto industry because jobs matter, the repeal of DOMA because LGBTQ Americans deserve to live their lives out loud, the implementation of marriage equality because LGBTQ Americans deserve equal rights, the appointment of fair and open-minded SCOTUS justices, and the enactment of an Affordable Care Act that allowed me to have great health insurance as a post-university, tax-paying citizen who needed specialty care to treat chronic migraines.

Thank you for standing up to our imbalanced justice system and pardoning many undeserved sentences for non-violent drug offenses, for championing the arts by encouraging literature and bringing hip-hop music to the White House and showing us that it is indeed an integral part of American culture. And thanks to Mrs. Obama for always setting the mark and prioritizing up-and-coming designers by wearing their clothes, and for showing us than an Ivy-League educated lawyer and former executive could be the trendiest woman in America. The Obamas have consistently been so damn cool.

Thank you for being an intellectual and making me, a liberal arts major, constantly look up big words you used in speeches and interviews. You reminded us that education is to be inspiring and we should always want to learn more.

You, the First Family, took so much heat from the opposition. When hateful America couldn't find any scandals, they tried to delegitimize your citizenship. When they couldn't fathom Michelle Obama's leadership skills and modern self-assurance, they called her angry, and mocked her bare arms. When Fox News couldn't critique your love, they wanted to demote Michelle by labeling her as your "baby mama." The majority of congress completely abandoned you, but you pressed on. Mr. President, you showed us that a biracial, quirky, but confident young senator was going places, and we are so much better for it. You and Michelle did it all with such grace and swagger that the most serious office in the land was now deemed popular and cultural. So many were envious of the way you connected with the American people and their envy progressed to hate.

Thank you for always going high, because so often many were desperately trying to pull you into the gutter. Misery loves company.

We as African Americans, decedents of the slaves who built much of this nation and its economy through unpaid labor, have always been a resilient people. We are not done, and your work is not done. My nephew, like many his age, has only known a president who looks like you, so thank you for disrupting the mental slavery we were all born into by thinking your presidency could have never happened. "Yes, we did!" Twice.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fulfillment

If there ever comes a time where you feel like you are really busy but you aren't accomplishing much, you begin to question the purpose of exactly what it is you're doing. We all have this one personality vessel that is inherent to the entire nature that is our human being, and that vessel is one in which we seek to overflow with fulfillment.

The problem is that most of us operate in different capacities. For some of us, fulfillment, and I mean complete fulfillment of purpose and satisfaction, manifests through an emotional accomplishment, others it may be financial, and to some it may be spiritual, relational, scholastic, or however one could choose to qualify it. In the end, we share the common denominator of wanting to have a voice. "Am I being heard?" "Am I being validated?" "Am I validating others?" "Have I discovered exactly what it means to me to be validated?"

In some light, it seems as though some of these are not, in fact, reachable feats, but that begs the question to be asked: what is the purpose of being validated? The purpose of validation is self-expression. In our highest capacities we are reasonable, logical, forgiving, spiritual (or consciously not) and creative. The only true way to attain the feeling of accomplishment or fulfillment is to reach the peak of our capacities as humans, in the highest form of expression of our true selves, and to live that unapologetically. The only way to reach that peak is to live your life as it is meant to be lived, and that is with integrity and truth. Oprah said it best:

"You will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal. There really is only one, and that is this: To fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity by using your energy to lift yourself up, your family, and the people around you."

Love.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Disallowance

I am uncharacteristically fond of those instances in life that remind us of just how human we are. There are the moments we discover we are, in fact, not invincible; moments we discover we are bruised; moments our delicate little egos are bruised; and the moments we discover life doesn't owe us a damned thing.

Contrarily, there are moments where we aren't sure as to whether or not we deserve it, but we are shown love, and we win. As a young man, I am learning more and more that nothing about the process of becoming wise is methodical. Allowing your mind to race, attempting to rationalize and make sense of why *some* things happen can, time and time again, prove to be a waste of energy and time.

What am I trying to say here? I'm telling to live in the moment instead of trying to index what just happened in the previous moment.

Allowing yourself to be readily conscientious at given instant lends your mind the opportunity to experience each moment as it occurs. Don't question everything. Don't be skeptical of too many things. And if you're going to complicate your life, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons.

JTE

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Momentum

First week of 2014.

Last year ended on a high note for me and I hope to continue that pattern. I don't think a resolution will do that for me, personally, but I do have other methods I plan to use for personal growth. Coincidentally enough, a man, who is one of few words, told me that in place of a resolution he will use a word that will set the tone for his 2014, and that word is "happiness." That statement was the inspiration behind this post. My word for 2014 is "momentum."

I chose the word "momentum" because this year is going to be about me facing my fears, facing my insecurities, facing my realities and circumstances, and diving headfirst into the direction of the things I want in life.

2012 completely humbled me and 2013 completely restored me. It's amazing what a few rough experiences in life can do for you. As each day goes by, I'm learning to be more and more fearless. I see a chance for professional and academic growth this year. I see a chance to build new relationships while nurturing and repairing existing relationships. I see many opportunities to stop taking myself so seriously. I plan to have fun. I'm going to be my own momentum.

I realize this isn't my most impactful blog post, but I think there is something very special in knowing that you have inspired someone. I wanted to let the man of a few words know that he inspired me, so I hope he somehow reads this and finds it encouraging.

Feel free to share your word for 2014 in the comments!

JTE

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Raisin in the Sun

Today, I was reminded of the scene in A Raisin in the Sun where Mama Younger scolds Beneatha for kicking her brother when he's down on his luck. Walter had gambled the family's entire net worth away in a bad investment deal, and Beneatha was sure to let him know the magnitude of his mistake in the worst way possible. Mama Younger reminds her that you should never kick someone when they are down. She says that's when our family and friends need us the most, when they are at rock bottom.

I experienced that today with someone I love very dearly. I'm so glad I thought of this story before we talked. Sometimes, all people need is a whole lot of love. The world and its obstacles and hurdles will beat people up enough, but that's not our job, especially when someone's at a low point in his or her life.

We all have the potential to start fresh. As long as we are alive, we have potential. The next time you want to beat someone up over a mistake they have made, consider life from his or her perspective. Be encouraging. Love conquers all.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Art is a Form of Prayer

Humans, in their higher capacities, are able to express reason and logic. It's what separates humans from other animals. We as humans, in our highest capacity, are able to express creativity; self-expression and the pursuit of spirituality, it's what connects us to the universe. I may not believe in, nor comprehend, the concept of reincarnation, but I do strongly believe that energy expended in the universe is recycled and repurposed. In connecting with God, the universe, and even other people, oftentimes we do not have the right method to convey what our heart truly means to say. It may also be the case that the message that needs to be shared is much more spiritual, much more complex, and possibly much more intimate. This is why I believe that art is indeed a form of prayer. Energy invested into creativity can either be an act of praise or a cry of surrender to God, the universe, or even oneself.

The Baha'i faith prescribes creativity as a way of navigating life. Actor Rainn Wilson from the hit television show, "The Office," describes creativity as viewed through his faith, "The making of art is no different than prayer. Being creative and being a creator is the ultimate testament to the Great Creator, God." To create from our core and our essence is spirituality. Even if what you are creating from your core or essence is dark and  disturbing, it is no different than that desperate plea for help from God - that midnight prayer of bargaining and surrendering. Christians are very inclined to be offended and label blasphemous, anything that alludes to spirituality but is referenced by a different name, but our essence, our core, it's just another name for our soul. It's that simple. 

If individuals create dark and disturbing art as a cry for help and beautiful, colorful art as an act of praise or rejoicing moment, then how do we interpret the abstract? My theory is that abstract art is a mirror for hope. Everyone wants to be understood, so it's a natural progression to assume that every artist wants their work to be understood. The Bible says in Roman 8:24-25, "But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." The clearest implication is that artists use their imagination for things that are hoped for. Reality is most tangible and easily visualized  and understood, so it's hard to project majesty into reality. Majestic works of art are used as an escape medium for those who suffer through reality, both for the artists and the audience. The fantasy of art is a prayer to God for better days and better circumstances. The most abstract portrait created for us is the picture of eternal life in heaven. At some point in history, it is my best guess that an artist, a troubled soul, decided the best way to sell the idea of eternal paradise was to paint the picture visually for those who were skeptical. Did it help us to believe? I can't answer that question, but I have actually experienced chills at the sight of some religious art works and I would not fight the idea that they serve as pure, vehement reverence to God. 

When I think of Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Last Supper," Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud," or Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," and all of the old negro spirituals written in angst, I envision prayers of grace, compassion, acceptance, desperation, and freedom. I then asked myself why the best work comes from those who have experienced what seems to be the worst in life and I'm reminded of Maya Angelou. She states, "There's no greater agony than bearing a untold story inside of you." Our stories are all told in different ways, from paintings to songs, to even the darkness and heaviness in the late Alexander McQueen's clothing designs. Art is how we tell these stories and just like prayer, art sends energy from our core, our essence, our souls, into the universe and someone receives it; God receives it, the universe receives it. The understanding and appreciation of one's art, the joy music brings, the inspiration people draw is that energy repurposed.  Just like a prayer. 



Monday, April 1, 2013

Afraid of the Dark



Monday, June 11, 2012

Fractions & Whole People

It's a very American mindset to covet everything our neighbors have - the largest house in the suburbs, the large family car, the swimming pool, the ivy-league education. We've gone as far as to motivate ourselves with the inter-generational mantra of "keeping up with the Joneses." Well, I recently came across a car ad on a billboard that - along with the picture of a hip, foreign car - had the message: "%#@! the Joneses!" Keep reading.

In life, we go after everything we can think of in an attempt to validate or measure our worth. If we feel less dignified than normal, we buy a power suit; if we feel lonely, we get a new significant other or have more children or adopt a puppy; if we feel dumb, we read a book and tell everyone in the office about it. This is what I like to call surface-level therapy. Surface-level therapy is when you scratch the surface of a deep-rooted issue, find some way to mask the symptoms for a bit, and subsequently master the give-a-little/take-a-little relationship model. This is the art of compensation. It’s literally like driving an SUV on a road trip, stopping for gas frequently and only filling a quarter of the gas tank, and then complaining about how long it’s taking to get to the final destination.

Most people don’t know that they have the opportunity to live their life as a whole person. Until we transform the way they think, it is extremely difficult to grasp the concept of living our lives as  people who feel whole. There is a misunderstanding of what being whole is supposed to look like; everyone can’t keep up with the Joneses, and in reality, that may not be a bad thing. There is a wonderful Christian scripture that says, "Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). You don't have to be a Christian to understand that  by compensating for something in your life, you are conforming to someone's idea of what your life is supposed to look like or feel like. A renewed way of thinking will give you insight into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge shows you what being whole as a person looks like in the lives of others, but wisdom will show you that you don't have to reflect the life image of someone else to feel whole. If you take a tea cup and place it next to a pitcher and fill them to their respective brims, are they both full? The tea cup has a purpose and a capacity, although not as large as the pitcher, it is still useful. You don't have to be a "pitcher" in life to be useful.Having a performance attitude will cause you to confuse ambition with passion. Usually, ambition stems from a place of scarcity (a probable cause of compensation), be it a lack of power, a feeling of inferiority, a lack of money. Passion, on the other hand, tends to be of a less self-interested nature, and builds on an honest and less-conflicted pursuit.

You may be wondering how to recognize if you're compensating for something in your life. There are many ways to recognize compensation versus resolutions in your life, and many of them start with day-to-day activities. If the simplest of decisions often cause you to feel pressure, you may need to address some deeper issues in your life. Life is full of stress, but small decisions should not cause us anxiety. There should be a portion of your life that you can live out on a daily basis without stress. Compensating by working too much, taking on too much debt, or dating too many people will cause you to overflow stress into the simplest areas of your life. Going to the grocery store to buy milk should not give you a panic attack simply because you don't want to risk being seen by multiple girlfriends/boyfriends, or because you can't afford milk (because you were buying a round of tequila shots at the bar last night), or because you feel like taking 30 minutes away from your desk will cause your business to suffer.

Compensating for your problems will only treat the symptoms of your deeper issues, but being honest with yourself  and admitting there are some areas in your life that you need to improve in (be it time management or communication with family, substance abuse, etc.) will help you alleviate large amounts of stress, and you can begin to heal. Every day that you wake up healthy enough to take advantage of a new opportunity is a second chance to reconcile whatever life issues or insecurities you may be facing. Once you become confident in yourself and move toward the progression of becoming a whole person, you will soon learn that in whatever area of your life that you are lacking, you are covered by your integrity, your potential, and your future. That's what makes a whole person. You don't have to have it all, you just have to be all that you are meant to be at that given time. You want to shy away from the feeling of needing to feel needed, and instead of using people or things as supplements to your life, simply allow them to compliment the life you already have.  And remember, %#@! the Joneses!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Identity vs. Crises





Discovering your identity is not as hard as people try to make it seem. In fact, discovering your identity can be pretty methodical if you approach it correctly - ask a few questions, do some soul searching, and as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, "To thine own self be true." On the contrary, the hard part about growing emotionally and spiritually is maintaining your identity. Keep reading.


We often make the mistake of trying to plan our lives as though an outline has been predestined for us, and any bullet that goes unchecked has the power to completely derail the train that travels the path on which we are to reach our purpose in life. We tend to comprehend our lives in terms of accomplishments alone. Although logical, this type of thinking is rudimentary. To paraphrase Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene, "There's nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of [life], as long as you are in the fifth grade. What I'm saying is, life is to not only be comprehended by our accomplishments, it is to also be understood that failures, misfortunes, betrayals, second tries, and second chances are equally as important. Trials in life build character, and redemption is one of the greatest gifts one can receive in life.


When you meet someone the first thing that is usually asked is "What do you do for a living?" and you respond, "I am a [stockbroker, doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.]." Take the stockbroker; this is what he eats, sleeps, breathes, dreams about - the stock market. As long as he is pulling in high returns, he is happy to identity with his profession; this is how he or she introduces his or herself to people. 2008 - the economy crashes, the stock market is in a fritz, people are losing everything they have in the uncertainty of the market, Stockbroker X goes home to his bathroom mirror. He realizes a bad investment decision has been made and that his reputation is tarnished. Immediately, his identity is no longer a stockbroker, he now introduces himself to his bathroom mirror as a failure. Stockbroker X is now Failure X (or so he perceives).


What happened with the stockbroker? I'll tell you. Stockbroker X has been in this profession for X amount of years; he always did a good job, but this one time he screwed up. Stockbroker X was known to give his clients the utmost professional service, and always ensured them huge returns on their money - several years worth of success. Will his clients remember this when he calls to tell them he just lost $14,000,000? Probably not. They have now labeled him as a failure, a let down, a disappointment. Stockbroker X is sorry, very sorry, but is that enough? No.


The reality of the world we live in is that people hardly remember the good we do - even if it's several years of it. They like to remember us in our low points, because everyone has a complex that makes them feel the need to be superior. Everyone. The other problem is that when we make mistakes, it's not enough for people to see us sorry for our mistakes. Sorrow is not enough - the world wants to see shame. This is why people label us - failure, disappointment, incompetent. This is where you have to remember that it's important to maintain your identity. There is a big difference between sorrow and shame. Sorrow isn't enough for people because being sorry is what you do, but shame identifies who you are. People are very fond of labeling you with your mistakes, but we live in a world where redemption is ours to seek, and we have to remember that we don't have to lose our identity to our mistakes.


Before Stockbroker X was a stockbroker, he was a person. When he got up and out of the bed on the morning he lost 14 million dollars, he was someone. Had he taken the day off and waited to sell or exchange securities, he would've still been the same person. It is royally important for us to find and maintain our identity from much more than our accomplishments, our careers, our money, or our lifestyles. We should choose to be identified by our hearts, our good-nature,our sense of humor, our passions. And it is our duty to maintain that identity. If your passions just so happen to line up with your career or your lifestyle, then so be it, but just know that if all of that fades away, you are still the same person. It is a dangerous practice to place value or significance on your life according to things that are capable of being beyond our reach at any given point in our lives.


Discover who you are, maintain that identity, and to thine own self be true.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Selfless You




It is so easy to sit around, feeling sorry for yourself, expecting the world to throw you a pity party for your misfortune. The truth of the matter is, many of us have been so blindsided by our slight misfortunes, that we have seemed to overlook the abundance of blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

Sure, I get it - everyone has a hard time once in a while. However, what is one to do with those experiences? You can feel sorry for yourself, you can mope, you can hide, you can have failure or rejection allow you to live in fear, but victims are never winners, at least not without choosing to become victors first.

If you live your life in the present, you will very quickly realize that you have the option to choose to be happy. It is that simple. Sure, bad things happen. Sure, we hurt. However, you have the opportunity at any given moment to say, "I am happy. I choose to overcome my problems, because when I think about what lies ahead, the past does not compare." Happiness is not about something you achieve, happiness is looking at your situation, your misfortunes, your pain, and saying "These things are not enough to keep me down. I'm moving on with my life. My blessings outnumber my misfortunes." As soon as you become at peace with your situation, you will realize that you could have been happy all along.

Bad experiences are not meant to hurt us, they are meant to teach us. God does not give us pain and suffering in vain, He teaches us lessons through tough love. It is up to us to use unfortunate situations for good causes. The next time you find yourself throwing a pity party, ask yourself how you can use your misfortune to make your life better. Seek lessons in your pain and suffering, and as Dr. Maya Angelou says, "When you learn, teach." Your testimony could be someone's saving grace. Don't take any life lesson too lightly.

You have a responsibility to yourself to not fall victim to your circumstances. If you are constantly unhappy, it's not because you're cursed, it's because you haven't taken the reigns and chose to overcome your situation. We are who we are because of the experiences, whether good or bad, and so you might as well use them for something good.

JTE