Flowers

Earlier this year my brother and I lost our father.  It was one of those experiences in life where it happened all of a sudden.

I had gone out of town for a cabin trip for a good friends birthday. While driving I received a call about 9:30pm that night. I missed the original call and received the voicemail left. It was the Harris County Coroners office.

I was confused as to why I would be receiving the call from the Harris County Coroners office. So I returned the call. The news didn’t really resonate in that moment. I learned a while back how to keep it moving. I’ve perfected a poker face, it started when I was attending college and my mother had two strokes. I was worried about her health, her recovery, and I was nervous I would have to drop out to help take care of things and then my sister was diagnosed with kidney disease. There hasn’t been much that could rattle me since.

I received the news, but thankfully I was heading to a place with very little signal and I probably needed that. Before arriving to the cabin, I sent a text to my mom to share the news and asked her to reach out to my uncle and brother. I remained on that trip for the weekend despite the internal conflict. This is poignant, because I was not forced to stay, but I did not want to ruin the trip for my friend and the other attendees.

What would transpire over the next few weeks and months changed me for the better. It hit me when I spoke at my dad’s
Memorial service. I had never told him thank you for being a role model in regards to his work ethic. I had never given him his flowers while he was here.

Talk about jarring! That realization literally almost made me choke. I’m far from perfect, but I pride myself on being fair. I wasn’t fair to him. The toughest thing is realizing I wouldn’t get a second chance to say thank you.

Over the next few months I felt abandoned by a few of the individuals I had grown close to, people who were like brothers. I hadn’t heard much from them since my dads death. I’m not sure what I expected. I know it wasn’t money, I knew it wasn’t much though. Maybe a call or a text. After speaking to a long time friend, Tiffany, a cancer survivor, I decided to refocus my energy on those who had stepped up and some who never stepped back.

I made a decision to start giving those people around me who prayed for me, called to check on me, offered to have lunch or dinner, their flowers.

I’ve made it a mission and a purpose to give those who set good examples, are selfless, and those who I know I can rely on their flowers.

Losing my father was tough, because I always figured I would have more time to keep shaping our bond and keep growing. I realized death is surely something we all will encounter and that once God calls an angel home each time we have to make a decision. Do we stay resentful of their loss or do we share the flowers we are left carrying that we never shared before.

As a result for me I hope that I’ve been a better grandson, son, brother, and friend to those around me. Don’t hold on to those flowers! Someone could use them!

*This blog isn’t one meant to target any of the friends or former friends who didn’t have the capacity to be there or chose not to be there, it’s simply a piece of the story that brings it home.*

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You Never Know!

I struggled with whether or not to talk about certain things, but this is a poignant topic. Hopefully this helps someone.

One of the topics that has saturated the media as of late is the accusations that Bill Cosby, actor, comedian, producer, and philanthropist, had raped and or sexually by drugging them.

Upon hearing the initial accusations I didn’t flinch. Nothing surprises me anymore. I was definitely disheartened and I was curious to know why the accusations came out now. 

Then I heard several more women come out with similar stories and even infamous celebrities. I then raised an eye brow. Those individuals didn’t stand to gain anything surely they had “made it”. It took me back to my own experience as a victim.

I was about 10 and I was touched inappropriately. It wasn’t a family member or anyone either of my parents dated (they were no longer together). I didn’t understand at that moment what had happened, but I knew that it wasn’t supposed to at leas not with someone my age and someone older. However I would struggle for many years afterwards with the effects. Realizing that I had been violated made me more defensive, almost angry, and more than anything else quiet. 

If anyone knew me growing up I would speak to you if I knew you, but I definitely enjoyed my solace and quiet time. I was always afraid that someone could see or knew what had happened and that I would be judged. As if I had asked for those experiences or encouraged them at 10. I was ashamed. 

So it took me back to that mindset when I saw the accusers of Bill Cosby come out. Everyone from media, to social media journalists, to some of my social media friends and real friends asked, “Why wait so long?”

I can’t imagine what the accusers felt like. Being women, assaulted by a notable entertainment powerhouse, with access power clout and the ability to sway opinions without saying a word. Surely they felt the same guilt, the same shame, and the same fears I shared x 10. 

It also took me back to an experience later on in life that caused me to seek counseling. I had just moved back to Houston after spending about a year and a half at Hampton University. I was working at Best Buy. I met a young girl who worked in the same department as me. Were roughly the same age. I believe 19 at the time. We became close while working together. We shared similarities and talked about our dating life and school. One day I caught her in the break room crying. I asked her what was going on. She shared that her uncle had sexually assaulted her and several of her other female family members. She had been the only one to speak up and it caused a rif in the family. Some of her family didn’t believe her and said she waited too long. Some said she enticed him and brought it on herself. Some of the other victims were upset she brought it up and denied any involvement. All for fear of shame. I often wonder what happened to her. I stopped working there after about 9 months, but i know during our time there she was always sad about the way she was treated by her parents, her siblings, and other family members.

I share this not as an indictment on Bill Cosby, but m hopefully to humanize what many of the women could have experienced at his hands. Too many stories from too many women with similar outcomes from the same individual. I hope this softens someone’s heart and opens their mind that no matter who the celebrity is, be it the family celebrity (that popular uncle or even someone’s dad) should be questioned. 

People do lie, but the consequences of not questioning and taking accusations of sexual assault are serious. The young girl I worked with at Best Buy had contemplated suicide. Though she had passed that stage of wanting to take her life the judgement from those around and lack of empathy made every day a struggle!

Listen to hear what people say. Their intent will show through. 
  

The Similarities

As a black man I wish I knew as a child what I know now. As a child I grew up with great friends of all ethnicities and cultures. I had friends from many different countries that spoke English as a second language, and had hard working parents just like mine.

As an adult racial biases would smack me in the face the world didn’t care how educated I was, what suit I wore, how many countries I had visited, how many people I had helped. I was still just a black man. I can recall the year I was pulled over 9 times in a 12-month span, illegally stopped, and falsely arrested. At that time I was a full time college student, I worked full time, and helped support my family. At the time my sister was undergoing dialysis due to kidney disease. My mother had recently recovered from two strokes and was then unemployed.

You see the majority of “us” (black men) no matter how well dressed, no matter how educated, no matter how well traveled, no matter what you have overcome, have had some sort of run-in with the law warranted or unwarranted and in most cases faced an experience like mine. Bias, Bias, Bias!

I’ve been at work where I’ve been treated significantly different than my peers of a different race. I’ve seen the treatment of others be significantly different thank there non-white peers or made out to be more aggressive (a biased and unwarranted stereotype).

So I shift that dehumanizing experience to another set that I have experienced. Being black and gay, interestingly enough I did not face many questions about my sexuality over the years. In the process I overheard countless homophobic jokes and disrespectful commentary about gay men, from people who did not know I happened to be gay (I have been told I don’t fit the stereotype). As my grandmother would said, “You don’t act like the rest of them…”

Over the years I have heard straight men and women refer to gay men as everything from “faggot”, to “queen”, to “sissy”. Imagine being a black person and hearing your white or Indian family, friend or associate say the word “nigger” in your presence. That’s what I felt. I could see then the bias that existed throughout society. It seemed like no matter how good of a friend, family member, volunteer, or even coworker I would still be viewed as (insert homophobic epithet). That bias existed. Though nobody directed those words directly at me I felt a certain sense of anxiety about it.

I have even seen ignorant posts and commentary about marriage equality opening the doors for bestiality or marriage to animals. Over the years I have seen family, friends, and associates hop in and out of relationships and then get married complete with white dresses a blessing from a preacher. I have seen countless straight friends get drunk, gamble, and party such that it led to pre-marital sex. Many of which would soon go on to get married. Yet we now see here that the sanctity of marriage is in question.

The past few weeks after SCOTUS’s ruling I saw so many bigoted and bias posts, reposts and pieces of commentary, I was shocked. I have seen more support for jailed murderers, drug dealers, and unwed pregnant women. It is crazy that our society and our black community would critique, criticize, and ultimately reject a group who can relate to the treatment blacks receive daily.

It is amazing that black people who were once not allowed to have civil liberties would advocate for the denial of another human being having them. While many would argue my religious beliefs or God doesn’t like “that” I would caution you to be sure you interpret your readings for your self and not just regurgitate information. I won’t go too deep but at one time the bible was used and twisted to unfairly treat black people. Don’t let abomination (which means culturally something is disliked) be thrown around when God called us to love one another.
Imagine if our black people joined together to support initiatives in our communities the way the LGBT community did. I won’t go into too much depth, but I know I don’t get nearly the response to volunteer opportunities that I do to anything related to a community service event and my colleagues I volunteer with gay and straight have long said the same thing.

Imagine if we eliminated racial biases or biases based on sexuality. Your friend that you love to death may not feel the need to be afraid to share with you that they are just a little different. I am so incredibly thankful that years ago when I shared my sexuality with my grandmother, mother, sister, and brother, and close friends they never loved me any less they simply asked, “Are you happy?” There only wish has been that no matter what I be happy. You see there is not much different between the LGBT community and the black community. Imagine no bias for race or sexuality. We could learn something from one another and move the chains so that equality wasn’t just based on sexuality, but even on race! The Similarities we overlook are glaring!
I’ve witnessed members of the LGBT community advocate for equality on their behalf. I’ve seen the LGBT community boycott businesses that openly made derogatory or discriminatory remarks against the community. Imagine if people of color did the same. Most recently the Hispanic community joined together to flex their power on Donald Trump. Again the similarities. Imagine what would happen if black people flexed their economic and political influence until equality was reached. This isn’t to say some aren’t working! I know great groups of thought leaders, organizers, and individuals who constantly work on the greater populations behalf, but it’s surely not the number we could see.

Gallery

Imagine!

Imagine if we lived in a society that saw relationships as freedom and not restrictions. We would probably have more individuals working on themselves and developing ourselves as much as we try to develop our partners and potential partners into what we think we want.

Imagine understanding and knowing that the right person with the right kind of love could free you and open your mind rather than restrict you and deter you. We might have more power couples that encourage growth rather than trying to keep our partners stagnant and compliant.

Imagine if we understood that financial freedom requires a little restriction to provide a lot of opportunity. We might have a few more business owners. We might have a few more people who are fully insured (life, health/dental, and home/vehicle) and not just people looking good. 

Imagine if we saw marriages as long term investments instead of special events. Weddings wouldn’t be the expensive to do’s with no longevity in sight.

Imagine if we understood that despite how good of a person you are you would not please everyone! We would focus on doing what is right and not expecting everyone to do as we would do. 
 Imagine if…

BE SAFE!

Be Safe!

Be Safe! I heard this while out and about the other day. A young student from the Ukraine studying in America was told by an American that lived in her apartment complex, “Be Safe it’s very dangerous out there!”, he said after learning she would be traveling home to the Ukraine for the summer.

I had to pause for a moment. The thought that many Americans have about other countries is that they are all “more dangerous” than we are. That some how traveling abroad would make one more susceptible to violence.

It made me think back to my own travels and experiences. Traveling to Norway and Brazil several times was quite an experience. I made those work trips pretty much alone. Yet I never felt unsafe. I can recall going for a jog in Stavanger fairly late several nights and never feeling like I would have to worry about being robbed or kidnapped. In fact Norway is one of the safest places in the world. They have some pretty unique benefits of being a native or resident. College students attend state schools for free, they have a great work life balance, and fathers receive a great amount of paternity leave when having children.

All that said one thing I learned was about how safe country of Norway was. You rarely see police; in fact police issue more parking tickets, than anything else. What struck me most about my time there is I never felt harassed by police or felt targeted. The gun laws are fairly strict there as well. You cannot obtain a gun license until 18 and you cannot obtain a handgun until the age of 21. To obtain a gun you have to even write a letter explaining why. Guns are required to be locked, in a gun case and police have the right to inspect homes where guns are thought to be improperly secured. The statistics as of 2012 showed at 1.75/ 100,000 people died as a result of gun violence. That’s an unheard of statistic.

It made me think of how often before traveling family and people who haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad automatically assumed the places I traveled were dramatically more dangerous. They uttered similar words to the man I overheard earlier this week.

However when I look at my experiences in America my experiences have been far more dangerous or maybe it just feels that way. I can recall being a 20 year old attending a pool party and upon exiting the car and walking to the pool being met with a gunmen who mistook me for someone else. Thank God he took the opportunity to speak to me and realize I was not the one he had a previous altercation with. In that instance I realized my safety or so I thought I had was relatively non-existent. He was carrying a semi-automatic handgun. Something you would need if going to war, not protecting yourself or your home.

In 2014 on a work trip I was traveling with a colleague (who is from and lives in the UK) in Europe and we started to talk about his experiences in visiting America. I was shocked. He was actually quite nervous about returning. He mentioned that on his first visit while doing what I had done in Europe (going for a late night run) he was pistol whipped and robbed. It was so disheartening to hear this story. I can’t imagine his experience and the difficulty he had in the remainder of his first trip. Losing your wallet, means of pay, and identification while traveling abroad is not a fun experience let alone being assaulted with a weapon and having to make a hospital visit.
I still recall the night I was walking down the street after parking near a local bar I was meeting friends at. A cop rounded the block, lights flashing and randomly stops me. “Put your hands up!” he yells as his hand is on his gun and he and his partner approach me. “Put your hands on the car!” he says and I comply. I am searched and as I am searched I nervously ask, “Officer what am I being stopped for?” He replied, “You are in a high prostitution and drug trafficking area!” Those words still burn me to this day. I’ve worked my entire life to contribute to my community and to uplift those around me so I would not participate in either of those professions (they demean, degrade, deflate, and murder communities). It is in that instance I felt unsafe in a city, in a state, and in a country I have lived in from birth. I have never committed a crime. I have never succumbed to being a stereotype and I have never disrespected an officer of the law. It is in that moment that I did question what I should do after his response. My pride and integrity were hurt, battered, and I felt like someone had spat in my face.

What does this have to do with safety one might ask? In America we have a view of the world that is relatively different from others who live throughout the world. I would encourage those of us concerned or overly concerned with things like gay marriage, women’s right to choose what they do with their body, and whether or not Nene will leave RHOA to pick a cause that impacts more of us. Take up a cause on education, a cause on better gun laws, and/or laws that protect citizens no matter their race or culture.

I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have had in life, to be able to travel and explore different parts of the world and different cultures and most importantly to learn. In America we like to think we have a considerably “better” standard of living! We are a blessed nation, but we could certainly be better. Be Safe!