VILLAGES, OTTER PARADES, and that DAMN COVID-19…

In the age of COVID-19, like much of the world, my family and I have had to adjust all that we deem normal. We have begun exploring our neighborhood in ways we had not previously felt connected enough to do. Our relationship with technology has evolved from the rituals of Facebook and Instagram to masterfully juggling work meetings, 4th grade classes and extracurricular lessons through the eyes of Zoom and Facetime. Playdates are Roblox meet-ups. Ladies’ night is no longer overshadowed by dimly lit bars, robust chatter or loud music, but rather synchronized logins, children making cameos in the background and “I miss you” filling spaces where melancholy resides. Even the nature of family crisis differs from what we ever thought we would experience in our lifetime. Irony is not lost on the realization that this is our lifetime.

We move through it like soldiers.

Precise and determined.

We try to avoid counting the days. It all seems so endless when we do, even when it is clear we have officially surpassed Noah’s voyage on the Ark. At least he could see the water. COVID is a ghastly fool lurking in the shadows. Arrogant and incredulous. Always five steps ahead yet everywhere we turn. Taunting us. Rejoicing in our misery.

I once took pride in being introverted.

I told myself and anyone who asked that this forced isolation is without strife. It is not impossible to manage; even in solitude I am still far freer than some. After all, I have a place to call home. A place to take refuge, a place to breathe—literally. When I consider the alternative, it seems irreverent to complain. So, I do not, mostly; even when I realize as an introvert, solitude does not bring much solace when it has been stripped of choice.

It is not to say I do not feel burdened by the need to be strong, at times. Being a single mother with an only child comes with its own set of consequences. Our children begin to see through us. They crawl into the cavities of our most vulnerable moments, linger there like an itch we cannot reach or a film we cannot clear.  They need hugs and kisses and reassurance. They throw their full weight on us, expect us to carry them across this rugged terrain we now call life, despite the mirages. And we do, because we are parents and if we do not, who will?  It all feels a bit deceptive. Like we’re living some secret life but instead of having superpowers and a hidden lair, the façade is actually our strength.

We push through, however. We work on projects we never had time to complete. Read the books that collected on shelves or desks. Pull out board games and puzzles, just to switch up the monotony a bit. We tell ourselves that this will all be over soon. Pray we do not look like fools in the process. We feel impetuous for suggesting yet another video call with friends, as if it was indeed impetuous. It is not. It is just all we have for now. And although they fully understand the necessity of social distancing—they can even joke about it a little, perhaps a silver lining—it is not the same.  Nonetheless, we manage to tuck it all away. The anxiety. The unanswered questions. The fear…

We rise purposefully each day, grateful to see the sun over houses in the distance. Challenge ourselves to take in air fresh and blessed by spring. We find peace in circumstances that feel riddled with danger. Afterall, things can always be worse, right?  A mantra to our indifference. So, we seek ways to truly endure it all. Like DJ parties in our living rooms, open mics that have gone from monthly events to weekly hotspots at the click of a link, soccer in the yard per the direction of a favorite PE teacher, African dance with Joe. Otter Parades—

My son’s small, independent school, a utopia of Privilege and Revolution, where an Otter stands as their mascot, sought to give the children what they have been missing over the past six weeks, each other. At least some semblance of such. At a school were everything is literally hands-on; this digital life has been no less than a culture shock.

It is Tuesday, the clouds are buoyant, and the sun is vibrant. Stepping out into it feels like crawling out of a bunker. May appears to have gotten the memo, April was fierce and demanding, so I would hope so. We coast through the thirty-minute route from home to school. The highway is empty like a Sunday morning. The emotions in the car are elevated. Much like the first day of school all over again.  Not the first day of the school year, but the first day at this school. My son sits hyper focused on a gamer video, exhaling vividly as we glide along. His head darts up, half expecting, half impatient, mostly just ready…

 “Oh Gosh,” and “this is so weird” erupts from his lips with every passing sign. His feet tap the floorboards anxiously. It is euphoric—the anticipation.

We pass the dentist we switched to for convenience, the golf course opened solely to its members. Carol Park. We round the curves absent of sidewalks, maneuvered around cyclist, wait our turn at gridded intersections and gasp in unison as the Library, historical cemetery and the combined safety station aligned in our sight.

Then it happens.

That dip in serotonin.

That reminder of how this pandemic raided our existence as we know it.

My son’s energy is like a book folded to a page that has been read more times than the ink can handle. He stretches his hand up the center console, desperately grappling for any part of me he can reach. It is all too real now. The canceled school year. The missed friendships, the finality of it all. We turn onto that familiar street, narrow and unrelenting in the way it stretches deep into an abyss, just to spit us back out, front and center again. Teachers and faculty line the perimeters, friends hang from car windows, arms waving, kisses blowing, air hugging and smiles wider than mask can cloak.

And then it’s over…

A simple trailer of how things should be.

The Otter Parade was the school’s way of offering the children something tangible. Their way of emphasizing that this temporary pause is just that—temporary. However, this five-minute stroll through campus was far more profound. It was oxygen. Synaptic jolts that left us solemn and revitalized. Hopeful in a way we had not determined as vital. My son commented on how much the grass had grown. That it has time to do so since it is not filled with children. His eyes stared longingly at the play structure. He would hurdle the short wooden fence, if he could.

As we exited the campus, pausing at the “right turn only” sign impeccably placed, we sat speechless, suffocated by our thoughts, teary-eyed and fully aware that we had just been filled with a sustenance we did not know we needed.

 And suddenly we were insatiable.

Ravenous.

Heartbroken.

Numb—

He asked for McDonalds. I was certain food and I would not agree in this moment. For him, it was comfort. Something I’ll monitor and hope doesn’t become a pattern in times of sorrow, an issue for another day. In the moments it took us to travel to the nearest drive-thru, my son concluded what I believe to be the consensus of most ten-year-old boys enduring an egregiously unfair situation where they are forced to find solace. Our fleeting stroll down memory lane had “sucked” as equally as it was “amazing.”

 And it did.

It was.

The fragility of our worlds is no longer encapsulated in history books. It is today in 2020. In the age of COVID-19. On campuses in affluent communities, in neighborhoods where cops still pin black men down for looking suspicious in masks but hand them out like flyers in public parks. In over inundated health care systems, through faltering economies, in the families of lost loved ones and significantly in the hearts of children who just want to go to school.

My son is not yet old enough to understand the impact of true heartbreak. I imagine when he does, he will think back on this moment or something similar and connect it as familiar. There are so many ways in which the magnitude of our isolation transcends our imagination. Those are the moments where our villages matter most. They are the glue that binds us. They stabilize our foundation, even when it seems we are balancing on a house of cards. Whether a surprise birthday party over zoom or 150 families parading through the intimate campus of a small independent school, our villages have never fallen. If anything, they are far mightier.

By nightfall, my son had regressed to his three-year-old self. He forced me to cradle him, his head snuggled in the crook of my neck. His long legs grazing my ankles. The new version of Thomas the Train played on his television. A child who is proficiently articulate never found words beyond his earlier exclamation. Just babbles, and groans. Then again, words were not needed. The moment spoke for itself. So, I gave him what matter most—a space to just be.

From Roxbury to the Multiverse… Oompa’s CLEO, Transcends!

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If you were anywhere other than The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA, on August 10th, then you missed what was undoubtedly the most epic display of passion, talent and the vast reminder that dreams do come true!

Roxbury’s own, Oompa, debuted her sophomore album, Cleo, to a diverse audience of 300+ at the popular standing room only venue. Oompa, a rapper, poet and educator, graced the stage with a live band as her backdrop, an assortment of east coast talent—Red Shaydez, Tides, Benji & Jefe Replay— and a media instillation that took the 90’s classic Set It Off and turned it’s “survival by any means necessary” theme into an anthem of perseverance.

In an age where sharing every experience is made effortless through social media, hits such as, Feel Like Cole, Joy Back, By You and Order My Steps, snapped, tweeted and flooded timelines as listeners rocked flannel shirts and Oompa branded bandana’s, hung on to every word.  When Oompa began rapping the fan favorite, Your Girl, from her freshman album November 3rd, the crowd erupted in true hip hop fashion as the charismatic artist presented the perfect balance of humility and swag.

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Oompa, who speaks openly about her struggles with poverty, loss and the child protection system, bravely confronts the affects of trauma, disappointment and the need to take control of one’s own destiny in a way that offers hope where it would not otherwise exist. The audience embarked on a self-reflective journey while discovering the art of finding joy where pain was once a relentless squatter.

Oompa’s love for Roxbury, Boston’s geographical center and a neighborhood once described as the “heart of Black culture,” is reflective throughout her music as well as through her vow to buy back the “Bury.”

Her signature “Rox” hat is just one of the many ways Oompa pays homage to a community that has seen her at her lowest and is certainly witnessing her rise to greatness.

As I stood observing the countless spectators rapping along, dancing and even cheering as Oompa pulled her two young nephews on stage, it became utterly clear that I was watch history in the making. This was not the performance of someone “up and coming” but rather the unveiling of someone who had already arrived.

Oompa, a self-proclaimed “chubby girl,” transcends the multiverse through body-positivity and the recognition that self-love is the first love. Oompa appeals to hood kids everywhere, the LGBTQ community, the parentless, the ones who seek family in every space, the loved, the heartbroken, the defeated and the Phoenix that finds the strength to spread their wings and fly.

There came a point in the show where I began to wonder where Oompa’s journey will take her a year from now. This stage and many alike, have been the rocket that sends artists soaring.  It affirms that the sky is no longer the limit but rather the platform in which all dreams launch.

Oompa’s Cleo and  November 3rdare certainly albums you should keep in heavy rotation. In a society that preys on weakness of others, Oompa reminds listeners that we worthy of everything and everything we shall receive.

If you are like me, you’ll be following Oompa’s journey closely and spreading the word to anyone who will listen. To learn more about Oompa and the wonderful things she’s doing or to book her for your next big event, check her out at www.oompoutloud.com

When MAGA Hats are Compared to Pu*sy Hats and T-shirts that read “Jesus is a CUNT”

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I do not typically tag myself into the political ping pong games often played on social media. I’ve learned over time that the opinions of others, particularly about things that do not directly affect them, will be just that, their opinions. I’ve learned that most people have little to no interest in hearing or considering other perspectives and frankly, why would they? It is much easier to find comfort behind carefully crafted shades rather than seeing the world with eyes wide open. For most, especially those who know their view is tainted with misinformation or will carry the weight of being held accountable, believe that a distorted view is still a view.

The recent outrage over the MAGA hat wearing Catholic school boys’ vs the Native American elder has sparked a powerful dialogue regarding the glorification of the white male and the persecution of any and everyone who is not. When I first began writing this blog the narrative focused solely on whether or not the Covington High boys displayed disrespectful and racist behavior or if the situation was a simple misunderstanding.

In the days that followed, more details emerged and we even saw footage of a small group of black men identified as Black Israelites shouting obscenities at the Covington High boys. The public was expected to believe that the conflicts were unprovoked and unexpected in nature.  To be clear, I do not condone grown individuals of any kind yelling and acting aggressively toward children. This account of events, coupled with Mr. Phillips need to drum peace into the situation opens a larger discussion as to why the presence of “good catholic boys” created such discord on this particular day. It occurred to me that whether or not the Covington High boys acted inappropriately or whether smirking boy was truly trying to show solidarity, quickly becomes irrelevant when we remind ourselves that in midst of all the events that occurred that day, these boys still stood, danced, taunted, teased and acted as “boys do,” with the fascist symbol of today’s America plastered on their heads, a “Make America Great Again,” hat.

I recently read a headline that said, “Red Hats Are the New White Hoods.” Suddenly the world was beginning to see this situation from the same crystal-clear lenses I’d been viewing it from the moment the story broke.  The details of this story and the remix we were fed had become less about whether it did or did not happen and more about the symbolism hiding in plain sight. The sea of red MAGA hats seen across every picture and every video told a story greater than youth failing to respect their elders, yet it was the one detail, and in my opinion the most important detail, that everyone was failing to discuss—until now.

You see, the MAGA hat has become to people of color and disadvantaged populations what black boys in hoodies are to most of white America. There should be no surprise that a group of white boys in MAGA hats would be viewed as a perceived threat. There is a stigma that lingers when such groups gather, although these groups have been gathering in this way for decades. History tends to repeat itself that way. After all, “Red Hats Are the New White Hoods…”

It’s interesting that when symbolism begins to threaten the character of white America then red hats are just red hats. It doesn’t matter that red hats show up at rallies about what women should do with their bodies or stand firmly with smug looks that do not flinch or speak—because after all Mr. Phillips walked up to him—so why should smirking boy move. It doesn’t matter that these particular red hats suggest that America’s path to greatness can only look one way. Red hats are just red hats yet black boys in hoodies are never just black boys trying to stay warm on a cool day.

Someone on Facebook recently said boys at that age do not take a political stance. Boys at that age simply parrot the beliefs of their parents and that the MAGA hat worn proudly was less about being a fascist and more about the fashion of it.

Bullshit!

We are living in a time where teenagers are heavily invested in the state of society. Perhaps many of their views are swayed toward that of their parents, but these views are still views they’ve adopted and continue to live by. These boys knew what they were doing when they wore those hats on that day to a pro-life rally. They knew what they were doing when they kept them in place, even after conflict stirred, even after angry black men accused them of the vilest things, even while standing steadfast and awkwardly smirking…

The statement these boys were making, both passively and blatantly, was that they represent the definition of a great America. This MAGA hat became their armor. This MAGA hat became their signage and ultimately the driving force behind everything that occurred from that moment forward. It is the mentality this hat creates that cause white America to change the narrative from a disrespectful teen to a “good old catholic boy.”

I don’t know if smirking boy stood before Mr. Phillips with the intent to keep peace or create conflict. I wasn’t there just like many others were not there. What I know, is that a group of white males gathered rambunctiously in the middle of the Lincoln Memorial while multiple rallies occurred wearing hats that present a growing belief that American can only be great if it looks and feels a certain way.

These boys are not naïve. They do not avoid watching the news or scrolling (and in some ways trolling) social media, and they certainly do not avoid open discussions about what is perceived to be right and wrong in this country. They are fully aware of the impact of the “Make America Great Again” movement and the unrest it has created across this country—even the world at large.

I do not fully blame these children for their poor actions, there are adults in their lives who are expected to raise decent human beings. There are adults in their lives who are expected to help their youth, the youth that will one day make decisions in this country, recognize when they’ve offended someone—to care that they’ve offended someone. There are adults who are expected to teach these children how to navigate social situations without expecting the world to adjust, conform and move in order to make their lives easier.

But then again, “red hats are the new white hoods,” so what we get is a group of pretentious, entitled boys who expect society to believe that they did nothing more than smile when someone who did not look like them, did not represent them, simply walked up to them…

People will often choose distorted views in order to claim sight.

A few days after this all began and after several debates, a Facebook associate wrote, “would I walk around in a MAGA hat? No. Would I walk around in a pussy hat. No. But I respect everyone’s individual right to do so…” She went on to share a vignette about a man walking around in a ‘Jesus is a CUNT’ t-shirt,” while she vacationed in Europe as if any of these things should live in any justifiable thought.

Distorted views to most are better than no view at all, although a distorted view remains the worse view one can have.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

It is those who stand by their distorted views that struggle to understand why a group of white males wearing MAGA hats can incite strife among a group of people fighting for the right to have control over their own bodies, people trying desperately to be viewed as more than just black boys in hoodies and simply drummers who would not move even when white America smiles at them. It is cynicism at its finest…

If black boys in hoodies, are not allowed to simply be black boys in hoodies, then reds hats will never simply be red hats. Red hats will be the new white hoods they’ve been cowardly designed to be and no we will not move simply because you awkwardly smile at the pain you’re causing.

 

Aretha: All Hail, the Queen

Like many of you, on the morning of August 31, 2018 I settled myself at my desk—iPad in one corner, ear pods secured—to embark on the emotional journey we would all take as the world prepared to lay the great Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin to rest.

From the moment the cameras began to roll, and guest began to file in, it became reminiscent of the homecoming services I’d attended in the past. The sound of the organ playing while loved ones greeted each other through hugs, tears and the chatter of  memories, quickly reminded us of the untouchable legacy of Ms. Aretha.

She laid decked out in her best fashion, a red dress with matching pumps accented by a gold casket—a diva in both life and death.

The service began.  The choir’s powerful voice erupted in song as the Pastor made the necessary announcements and the final guest made their way to their seats. The immediate family was soon to arrive. It did not take long before each and every spectator, both through various media outlets and in person, were immediately brought to church.

Whether it was Fantasia’s inhibition to step out of her shoes or the classic sounds of “shouting music” followed by coordinated holy dancing, there is something powerful about a good old fashion home going service.

There is the pastor who always shares a little much, the storytelling that often takes far longer than the allotted 3-4 minutes and that one speaker who leaves you chuckling behind the flow of tears offering a much needed reprieve from the intensity of the moment.

Despite the number of people filling the Detroit mega church, this did not feel like a celebrity funeral but rather the funeral of everyone’s favorite auntie, loved by many and instantly touching the hearts of those who encountered her out spoken spirit.

As I wiped away tears in between client calls and case notes, I admired the poise of her family, clearly destine to continue in her impactful footsteps. Ms. franklin’s legacy will continue to flourish as she struts onto the stage of the pearly gates, grabs the mic and snatches off that hair piece in classic Aretha style.

There are few people in society who leave us feeling as though we are not far removed from their greatness.  Ms. Franklin was dubbed the queen and wore her crown well.

May the Queen’s soul rest and may her family find comfort knowing that their mother, grandmother, aunt, and sister left this world just as dynamically as she entered. All hail, the Queen.