Start……and keep going.
I’m not here to give a motivational speech, and definitely not here to tell anyone that I know what’s right, or what works when it comes to figuring out this world, and this thing called life. So, it’s important to start off by saying, I don’t know what’s right or what works. But…..you do.
You get to figure out what works best on your own. It’s not anyone else’s idea. It’s not anyone else’s opinion forced onto you. It’s the beauty of discovering what lies within your own intuitions and your own curiosities. It’s something to look forward to every day. Because it happens every day…and when you find it, you’ll look forward to every day. Only you can find that. And…only you can make the choice to do it. Whatever “it” is.
When you find and trust in your own intuition and curiosities, it really doesn’t matter what anyone has to say about how you might consider going about living this life of yours. After that, I mean it’s honestly up to you what you want to let in, let go of, share, create, and ignore, isn’t it? I don’t know. I’d hope so. That’s all you.
There’s something we all want to hear. That we are unique. That we are special. That we are gifted. Different from the rest. Going to be somebody. Guess what? In all honesty, each one of us?…we are. That is what is so awesome. And no, that’s not a bunch of sappy feel good shit. We are each unique. Get used to it, and see how positive it is.
That’s what’s so cool about this world. Each one of us has something to bring to the table. Just be open to finding what section of the table that is for yourself. Then… own it. Find the people who help you own your spot at this table, and then you can strive to develop a section of the table that you can lead and direct. Just remember, you can’t lead this metaphorical table without having people sitting near you first.
These are the people who matter on your journey. Help them make sure they know the spot that they own, and watch as that helps you to own your spot even more. It begins to expand the section of the table around you and you’ll find more people near you. When you can start to see the table as a whole, and as your area of the table expands, then you can start to offer a direction for the table. Until then, find your spot and take a seat. You’re in for an awesome ride in this life.
BREATHE. Mini break time. Think about an idol of yours.
Who is your idol? Who do you most admire? Do you have that person in mind? If not, stop right now and think about who that is…then continue.
It is extremely special to have someone to admire. To have someone who inspires you. Whether that’s a famous writer, sculpture, architect, innovator, creator, dreamer, visionary, politician, actor/actress, family member, leader, entrepreneur, developer, and the list goes on and on. We need people like these to learn from (the good and the bad) and to inspire us to live life in a similar fashion or in a completely new way.
You know what sucks, but is also cool? You won’t be the next (enter name of person you have in mind). No one is going to be the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, or whomever your idols are that span different areas of interest. We learn from and/or read about these figures (and many others that we idol) and sometimes, or in some ways, we want to be just like them. It’s a great thing. But, also a problem.
The one thing that these folks have in common is that they most likely followed their own intuitions and curiosities to become who they are. They didn’t read up on the person they admired before them and then do everything that person did or live their lives in the same fashion that person did. It just doesn’t work like that. They were themselves, and they did what each of us has to do: make mistakes, learn from others around us and from the experiences we have, make our own decisions and sacrifices, dedicate time to discover and follow our own intuitions and curiosities, find our passions, cry, be mad, be sad, be happy, find happiness, explore, learn, fall, fail, succeed, etc.
But… do you. Have some faith and patience if you haven’t found what you love doing yet. It will only come by letting go, being the real you, and making a choice to follow your own intuitions and curiosities (which should be exciting). You may not initially find yourself connecting with those currently around you (or you’ll be pleasantly surprised), but then there is only one way to start connecting with the people that you should, and it will happen way easier when you are the real you. Go be that person who someone else idolizes like you do now. Start now, by learning how to be you. Then, don’t stop being open to being the best version of yourself. This world changes fast. The more we can be open to positively change with it, the better off we’ll be.
One last time, BREATHE. Relax, you are already you. There’s really not much work required. It’s just time to listen to you. Love you. Respect you. Believe in you. And, keep being you. All it is, is a choice. I can’t make it. And, I’m not going to tell you to make it or when to make it. But, I know someone who can make it…
If you want to find out if I might sit at the metaphorical table near you or you feel like we probably sit at the table near each other, or have any questions or comments at all, reach out. Add me on Facebook, follow me on instagram, and/or email me. I will respond.
If I were to ask you if the world is a good place, what would your answer be?
Would you respond optimistically? Pessimistically? Realistically? Logically? Is it easy to sum up in a few words? A few sentences? A few paragraphs? Does it depend on the day? On your current mood? On the song that you just listened to? On the friend that you just made? On the family member you just lost? On the vacation you just took? If I were to ask you if the world is a good place 10 years ago, would your answer be the same today? Would it depend on where you were born? What gender you are? What ethnicity you are? What sexual orientation you are?
Do you think your answer would change if you were a different gender? Born in a different country? Born an orphan? Born and raised in the heart of a city? Born on a farm? Born with a disability or incurable disease? If animals, trees, other living creatures could somehow speak, how do you think they would answer?
Your own knowledge and interpretation? Your own beliefs? Is it possible that our answer to this question is based on the level of education we each receive? Is it possible that your answer could be different from tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of others?
If it’s possible that this answer could change from person to person, perspective to perspective, background to background, birth place to birth place, experience to experience, etc. etc. etc…then how can we get everyone to think, feel, believe, and say, this world is a good place.
The idea behind the simple, yet complex question, “is the world a good place?” may be applicable beyond it’s answer. Humans have different beliefs, perspectives, ideas, thoughts, and theories. And sometimes we get stuck with weird choices (subconsciously or consciously) to share what we believe, perceive, feel, and think, or to keep it to ourselves. To stick to what we believe, perceive, feel, and think, or to allow ourselves to be open to changing.
If you’ve ever read any piece of history in your life, you’ve probably noticed that one thing or another has changed since then. It seems as though things keep changing in this world. I’m not sure of a time where things weren’t changing. So, is it possible then that we are changing too? Is it possible that the earth is changing? Is it possible that your phone will change in the next decade?
That the computer you want will change in the next decade? That the clothes you want to wear will change? That how fast you can run a mile will change? That your abilities, talents, knowledge base, etc. will change?
If it’s possible that all of this could change, then why is it so hard for our thinking to change? Why is it so hard for some of our beliefs to change? Why is it so hard for our perspectives to change? Sometimes we fear change. It’s hard to change. It seems like it takes work. It takes effort. It’s constant. The weird thing about it though, is it seems like it keeps happening even if we don’t put in the “effort,” “hard work,” and time.
So, if everything is changing, shouldn’t we continue to do the same? If it’s possible we might not have a choice anyway, it could be cool to learn to control our change. Not stop it, but live it, love it, and create it (for the better of course).
Step One: embellish change.
I think one of my favorite pictures regarding love and romance is this one:
“What is love?” “A neurochemical con job.”
Because this child can’t be more than eight, and they’ve hit the idea right on the nose. Love is something that we as humans have evolved into finding mutually beneficial, especially in this time of the necessity of two-income households. Our own human biology cons us into finding the way a person smiles and the weird half-laugh they do at dumb jokes on Twitter worthy of our affection and time. Humans are essentially useless when they’re born. As a way to compensate, evolution gave humans oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel bonded with other people. It starts out when our mothers bond with us as babies, or as children.
And then we chase that feeling forever. Humans are social. We – generally – like being around other humans. At the very least, we all need some human contact. So our own biology goes “here, have some oxytocin” when we’re around people we like. And that makes us like them more. And then romance comes in. That fuzzy feeling? It’s just hormones.
There are also the benefits of being in a relationship in the modern world, like shared costs for the Netflix subscription. Or for budgeting for the future because you’re unsure about whether or not grad school will have enough return on investment to go. In an age of dating apps and OKCupid quizzes, it’s hard to find the romance sometimes. It isn’t all milkshakes and going steady. A lot of romance is having real conversations about the future.
“If you were never financially stable enough, would either of you be okay with not having children?”
“Do you even want children at all?”
“Do you have any debt, student or otherwise?”
In this new generation reaching adulthood, these questions are more like small talk on a first date rather than questions you ask after you’ve been together for five years and already own a dog.
But that hormone remains. Humans like and need other humans, and not just for their various accounts to watch TV. Companionship is a part of the human experience. Even when the questions we have to ask each other get harder, it isn’t impossible.
We can find love in a hopeless place.
If Rihanna says we can, I believe her.
It’s a cliché for Lifetime movies and B-list HBO short series everywhere: realizing that a family member has been affected by your actions, or lack thereof, is the epiphany a person needs to shape up.
You likely don’t have to think very hard for incidences of parents quitting smoking to extend their lifespans to increase the probability of seeing their kids grow up, or of people breaking up with their significant others for their families’. But it’s seldom as simple as TV often portrays it.
Background: I am sitting in Starbucks during my senior year of high school. I’ve gained thirty pounds on my once athletic frame, and my eyes are always puffy from either exhaustion or crying. A former teacher of mine and I are having coffee, and she is attempting to persuade me that my home life will not always be as poor as it is. She says that I need to wait it out, that I will succeed with or without my family’s assistance, and that I should not feel alone while enduring it.
I’m 18, I smoke cigarettes in my rebellion to my father’s position as a physician, and put forward effort into being a normal young adult. It’s always been evident that my parents’ wrongs are usually done with good intentions; they, in all candor, believe that what they have done and continue to put me under is the best for me. This fact is little consolation to me, and I end up with multiple breakdowns as a teenager. I give up, and try again; give up, and try again; give up, and try again.
At some point, I started working towards all the wrong things. I don’t know it yet, but the amount of exertion I put into partying and being “normal” is extraordinary, and incredibly far from normal. And yet, I more or less survive life’s trials and tribulations while depressed, resentful of my family, and passively (later, actively) suicidal in my reckless endeavors in the city and outside of it.
My father does not react well to my moving out. He falls into a deeper depression, and becomes nearly obsessed with my daily life. My mother adapts by effectively ignoring my absence and my existence; perhaps, as a result of my sister growing into my role as the elder daughter struggling to find meaning in anything. They blame me for these developments; rather than going somewhere my pain can be remedied, I have left it in my parents’ home to fester. Neither turn out to be true; I took my hurt everywhere I went.
Fast forward two years: my sister is in college while living at home. My parents let her drive, let her wear shorts, and don’t make her abide to an 8pm curfew. She struggles in her studies, and they try to help her in whatever she pursues. My youngest sibling is treated normally for a high schooler. Without going into any detail at all, my mother and father are good to them. And they are good and kind to me. I am no longer angry – I have lived through more than someone my age should have. We have all changed, for better or for worse.
Writing this is not meant to trivialize those with abusive families, nor is it meant to dramatize the tension that all families undergo when during adolescence. Rather, I write this to point out that in addition to circumstances changing, people do indeed change for the better, despite popular belief. We learn from our mistakes. My parents knew that if they maintained their rearing methods, my sisters would struggle, and leave, the way I did.
I love them more than anything, but love is not enough to maintain such relationships, even within families. But love is enough to force people to change, and to forgive. We forgave each other (or at least I like to think so). It is unbearably hard at times to move on at times, but it almost always the best option.
I’m a shy guy. Bottom line, if I see you and I know you I likely won’t go out of my way to get your attention or to even smile and nod as you pass me by.
With a twin brother and a few very, very, close relationships I have never had to make new relationships on my own. I’ve always been a follower in that sense. Perhaps it was a result of always having one of my best friends with me whether it was my twin brother, my long term ex girlfriend, the comfort of my own mind, or maybe it was even just due to the feeling of exclusion that so many of us introverts feel during middle school and high school, but I never felt the need to be open to people. I never needed more friends. That was the old me. That was the pessimistic adolescent who had a one dimensional comfort zone and wasn’t willing to give it up for anything.
Going to college forced me to just kind of get used to uncomfortable situations and while I became slightly independent it was still just getting into a routine and making it a habit for fourteen weeks at a time. The real change in my personality, what really helped me break out of my shell, was studying abroad in Australia. There are so many moments that I am sure I will write about at some point which contributed to this evolution. Even now, six months after my return, I have been noticing a quality in myself that I never had before. I am confident in myself, optimistic about life, and incredibly happy.
Sometimes it’s the smallest thing that can make that impact. For me, the event that unlocked the hinges of my caged in mind and allowed me to discover my true self was a night in Sydney with one of my best friends. We both arrived in Australia early. I went early just to have a week of free time before my studies began and my friend went early so that he could see a little bit of Australia before going to New Zealand for the semester. We met up for a couple of nights where we stayed in a hostel in the city.
The hostel felt like a scene in Fight Club with the yellow stained walls and tight halls. Our room was the size of a closet with bunk beds barely leaving any walking space. The showers were like the filthy high school showers, except these ones are shared with a bunch of international strangers. Who knows where all of those bodies have been? Yet there was a sense of freedom there that I had not felt before. Everyone was a traveler. Everyone had a story. And there I was, silently standing under the water of my own stall with no stories of great adventure, only the thrill of the ones that had not yet come.
My friend, Thomas, was in the stall next to me. He had no shell to break out of, no fear of what others thought or even any doubts about his capability to study abroad. He blasted Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” which was the first time that I allowed myself to stop worrying that everyone who entered the bathroom could hear it. We simply made our presence known, even if it was as the annoying blokes from America.
However, when I finished my shower and went to brush my teeth I realized that all of my anxiety was unnecessary as individuals from all over Europe and Australia were singing along to Thomas’ music. Not only was the atmosphere stress free and completely euphoric, but also everyone I passed smiled and said hello.
We decided our night would begin with some drinks in our room, but our ultimate goal was to meet new people. We didn’t have any expectations for who to meet, how many people to meet, or even how we would meet them; all we knew was that wherever the night took us, we wanted to meet someone.
When we were all set to get the night started, we left the hostel to go get a quick bite. Neither of us had purchased SIM cards, so we had no way of finding directions or anything, we just blindly left the only place in the city that we knew. We only walked a few blocks before we found an outlet with multiple options. Guzman y Gomez, basically the Australian version of Chipotle, is where we had our meal. It did not disappoint. On the way back we found a liquor store and purchased the cheapest thing we could find because alcohol in Australia is surprisingly expensive. We got a box of five liters of cheap wine for ten bucks and right then and there I knew that with my budget this would be my drink for the next six months.
Right before we got back to the hostel to start drinking, we caught a familiar scent, something we hadn’t had the luxury of smelling since leaving the states; marijuana. Thomas and I looked at each other and it was clear we were thinking the same thing—what better way to meet someone. So we followed our noses. All of the sudden we were walking against the crowd of people that filled the city sidewalks, weaving our way this way and that all the while making sure not to lose the scent. We were like dogs tracking down a long lost friend and finally, about two blocks from our hostel, we spotted a group of four young men sitting in an alleyway.
“Hey! Sorry to bother!” Thomas called out. “Any chance you guys know where we could find some greens?”
“No, sorry mate.” They all called back as they scrambled to cover their bag. Thomas and I were fixed on getting high at this point, and we weren’t ready to take no for an answer. We walked down the alley an approached the guys.
“Sorry, we just arrived in Sydney, we have money, any chance we could smoke with you guys?” Thomas was clearly the more experienced social being as I just sort of observed. The four strangers looked at each other and exchanged words in German before welcoming us to take a seat with them. Thomas and I decided to sit on opposite ends in order to really make sure there was no division of culture of cliques. We ended up sitting with them for about twenty minutes just smoking and getting to know one and other. Turns out these guys were around the same age as us, German students traveling during their gap year. And as luck would have it, we found them on their last night in Australia, and since they couldn’t fly with the marijuana they ended up giving us all they had left along with some tobacco and rolling papers.
We said farewell and safe travels to our newfound international friends and, in a pleasant daze, floated back to the hostel with senseless pride in our step. Back in our two man closet of a room, I began pouring the wine while Thomas prepared a couple spliffs fro the night. We decided to start the night with a movie, of course to drink to it, and settled on “Without a Paddle.” We looked up rules for the drinking game, but quickly realized that the bunch of goons in the movie reminded us all too much of our buddies back home. Very quickly, it became a game of us drinking any time the characters did or said anything that one of our old friends would have done or said. We drank a lot.
The wine was bitter, like expired carbonated orange juice, or something like that if you can imagine it. Before we knew it the five liters were gone and the hostel’s wifi managed to keep us from finishing the movie. We had a nice buzz going now, and any anxiety I had was erased by the comfort of my stoned mind and the warmth of my semi drunk self.
We looked up directions to Hyde Park in Sydney before leaving the hostel. Once we stepped out again we knew we wouldn’t have any way of finding directions unless we asked for help. The city was crowded on every sidewalk, but the air was warm and we welcomed the cluelessness that met us on the city streets. We didn’t even know which side of the sidewalk to walk on. Our first intoxicated journey was a successful one, for we found the park pretty quickly. The park seemed like a whole new world, all the commotion of the city was left at the steps and a serenity I had never experienced in a city before welcomed me as if I was a dwarf fortunate enough to find himself welcome in Lothlórien among the elves.
The trees were all thick at the base and spread high and wide with endless branches that formed godly umbrellas over us, yet the protection they provided also cast a shadow upon us that even the lights along the path could not eliminate. Bats hung from the branches, not just any bats; they looked like foxes with wings. And rats scurried from barrel to barrel scavenging anything mankind had left for them before the sunset. The homeless had mattresses set up in the corners of the park and covered themselves in whatever they could find be it leaves newspaper or torn up blankets. As we sat on a bench and prepared to spark the first spliff, we found a pack of saltines next to us. Next thing we know, a creature we had not ever seen before was slowly approaching. It looked like a lemur, and we honestly thought that’s what it was. Yet we were confused because we were not sure that lemurs could be found in Australia. On top of that, we had no cell service to look it up, so we simply appreciated how cute it was and welcomed it to our little clique.
We broke up some of the saltines and created a trail for our little buddy to come join us. He was hesitant at first, but soon he was sitting right next to me with a full cracker in his hands nibbling away as we smoked. At first we just looked at him and enjoyed his company until we decided he had to be one of the boys. So we gave him a little pat on the back and as if to avoid being hunted he bolted away. Moments later, however, the little critter was back. We pet him again and he allowed us to. We built a trust that seemed foreign to him. We made a friend.
When all the saltines were gone and the spliff was out we said our goodbyes and were on our way. When we said we wanted to meet someone that night we didn’t realize that it didn’t have to be human. Our world was opening up and we found an acceptance for all forms of life and an appreciation for the trust we built with this unknown creature from down under.
As we walked through the park we agreed that the next spliff was to be shared with a stranger. It didn’t take us long to find who we wanted to share it with, the only other people in the park at that time of night that were awake was a group of two girls and a guy sitting in the grass talking.
We approached them slowly, but without any caution because our minds had us in a place where fear and doubt were nonexistent and the hatred that so many of us experience in life today was a myth to our imagination. Thomas led the way once again and did the usual “hey there, hate to bother, my names Thomas, this is Pat,” I waved awkwardly with a smile of intoxicated uncertainty. “We just arrived from the United States, would it be alright if we sat with you for a bit? We have a spliff if any of you smoke.” He finished. The three exchanged glances, not of uncertainty, but of amused curiosity, and they allowed us to join them as they shifted to create room for us to sit. We introduced ourselves and became acquainted before the first moment of silence arrived. It was at this moment when I finally stepped up to keep the conversation alive.
“What are those animals all over the park?” I asked as Thomas and I both broke into laughter.
“Yeah, yeah what are those? Are they like lemurs or something?” Thomas added. Our three new friends all just laughed at our ignorance as we continued with our tale.
“Yeah, definitely lemurs, but I didn’t think there were lemurs outside of Madagascar.” I said.
“No!” The blonde girl finally yelled out. “You aren’t talking about a possum are you?”
“No, no way, that thing wasn’t a possum.” Thomas defended. “We know possums, that was not a possum.”
“Yeah no, I wouldn’t play with a possum. We were petting that thing and chilling with it!” I added.
They proceeded to make fun of us for a few minutes stating how gross and annoying the possums in Sydney are. Thomas and I decided to laugh it off and felt no shame due to the fact that these possums were far cuter than any possum back home.
We went on to talk for about an hour with local Australian’s before they got up and left looking for somewhere to eat. When we said goodbye, it was pleasant and quick. Within that hour, I heard about bogan’s for the first time and about slang terms often used in Australia. We traded facts about life on opposite sides of the world; they made fun of us for potentially having Trump as our next president and proceeded to poke fun at their own politics as well. Everything about the conversation was so easy and relaxed, free of judgment. We shared our spliff and they shared their joint, and as they walked away from Thomas and I we didn’t even care that they had forgotten to return our only lighter.
We began to wander in the city once more and decided we wanted to find a Subway. I had been in Sydney a few days longer than Thomas and I knew there was one at Sydney Harbor, but that walk would have been about forty minutes from where we were.
“Oh wow, guess I’m not gonna see the Opera House.” Thomas laughed as he was reminded of the most popular tourist attraction in Australia besides all the beaches. “Gives me a reason to come back.” He remained optimistic.
At that point, I also remembered seeing one at Darling Harbor, which was much closer, and I thought I could remember how to get us there. We walked for about twenty minutes before we decided to stop and try to ask someone, but it was getting later and Sydney seems to get quiet pretty early on weeknights.
It took us a few minutes longer than expected to find someone in a major city, but we finally found a man walking by himself and asked him for directions to Darling Harbor. He pointed us in the right direction and as we were thanking him Thomas decided to ask if he had an extra cigarette. The man was kind enough to give us one, but as we began to walk away we both realized we no longer had a lighter. I turned around and quickly apologized for stopping the man again before asking if he had an extra. Without any hesitation the man gave us the only one he had and said he had plenty at home. We thanked him again and continued on our quest for Subway.
About twenty minutes later we began to worry that the man had given us wrong directions or that we were just clueless as to how to follow them. We discussed turning around or even trying to find somewhere else to eat, but we were set on Subway, and we were excited to be back by the water before making the journey back to the crowded hostel. We were walking down one of the main streets and I noticed an elevated train track that I had seen before, but it wasn’t Darling Harbor. I began to chuckle lightly, but decided not to tell Thomas what it was about. We walked under the tracks and about twenty steps later the Opera House appeared towering over us with a heavenly glow in the night sky. Thomas’ became wide eyed as he realized what he was seeing.
“Guess you get to see the Opera House after all.” I said. We both broke into heavy laughter. Subway was closed, our feet were sore and our minds numb, but we accidentally found the Sydney Opera House on a night that quickly became one the most incredible nights of my life. Not only did I get to share it with a life long friend on the other side of the world from where we come, but also got to find a part of myself that I never knew was there. I discovered a part of humanity that society so often hides from the public.
We did not know a single person other than each other that night, but we were hardly ever alone. After Thomas left for New Zealand and I met up with my program for orientation, I had no doubt that I would be able to continue creating memories similar to that night. I was excited to meet as many people as I could and to enjoy every second of my time there. Thomas never realized how much he helped me break out of my shell that night, but I owe a lot of the friendships I made in Australia to him.
On January 3, 2017 I moved to the District of Columbia for an internship with United States Representative David Scott from Georgia. I say this because I have now supplanted myself at the political center of America and the pertinence of understanding my feelings of this regarding the greatest country in the world speaks to me now more than ever.
For an African-American male who has always felt like I am in a constant battle with an institution that is not built for me, working towards success comes with enough setbacks and disappointment of itself, requiring a hint of inspiration or hope to keep going in the midst of it all. President Barack H. Obama was that hope. To amount to the highest office in the world in the field that I take interest in was all of the hope and inspiration that I needed. But as that beacon of possibility is set to retreat from the spotlight I search for the thing that will now keep me going in the future.
In that very search I begin to reevaluate my status in this country and whether or not my ability to amount to the success I dream for is even possible. The drive is there. The passion is there. The fight is there.
Countless times those that look like me are wrapped up in an unjust justice system that treats them unequally to counterparts. Too many times those who could be my family members are on the receiving end of unwarranted force often leading to their beautiful souls settling in a better place. Too often is the balance of the financial market tilted toward the few leaving the struggling of the many. These are just a few things to mention. These are all things too close to home.
I believe my purpose in this world is when all is said and done to eliminate these unfortunate beliefs from the young minds that will find themselves in my same position somewhere down the road. But the road is brutally tough.
Setting aside partisanship and political bias, this country lives at a time where bigotry and marginalization has become a social norm—again. Just as this country had begun to move forward and I felt as if inclusiveness had pieced together a broken country, it all fell down. In a boomerang effect it had reverted right back to where it all began. This country is definitely not where it once was, but it is also not where it should be. It is demoralizing and dampens the spirit of hope.
Finding my place in the field of politics my calling is to help people. I truly want to make a change; a difference in as many lives as possible by the time my body releases its last breath. I desire to be that change I wish to see. But even I need help and sometimes when I look up the ladder for someone to help pull me up, it feels as if they are removing the rungs as I try to climb. Each and every day I wake up and work to ensure that I can move past all of the trials and tribulations and find hope in God, because often times He is all there is.
So although it may not be the most inspiring time to be alive, the greatest thing about problems is that there is a solution to be found. I hope my story will be drastically different weeks, months, or hopefully not too many years from now. But faith as small as a mustard seed can lead to possibilities unimaginable. I intend to put my head down and pledge to move this country forward, and through all of the darkness, I will find the light.
I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during the turbulent Civil Rights Movement in 1968, the year which epitomized the era with the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The Red Stick has always been a catalyst for change, even if she was often times an unintentional participate.
The Baton Rouge I grew up in is not the same that I see today. My childhood in Baton Rouge was idyllic in that it was filled with all the treasures that children hold dear.
We existed in a microcosm that afforded exposure to the arts, sports, culture, and a rich heritage because we grew up in the shadows of a historic black college.
So, when I think of Baton Rouge, I think of Southern University, Dixie cups, Tabby’s Blues Box, the Ann Theater, Tony’s Seafood, debutante balls, Mardi Gras, Park Vista, the Scotlandville Branch of the East Baton Rouge Public Library, Ethel’s Snack Shack, teacakes, football, Ryan Elementary, family, and home.
To others it conjures up visions of Mike the Tiger, Highland Road, the LSU lakes, and all things south Baton Rouge.
Yet, I have always known that Baton Rouge, despite her greatness and location at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, has been a mistress of sorts because of NOLA.
On June 19, 1953, the African-American residents of Baton Rouge launched a historic bus boycott because black people were forced to sit in the back of the bus, even when the front of the bus was empty. It became known as the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott.
The demands for black riders to ride in the front of the bus, but still refrain from sitting next to whites, was supported by the City Council initially and it led to the passing of Ordinance 222.
However, the all-white fleet of bus drivers refused to enforce the ordinance and it was later overturned after the drivers went on strike. The bus drivers’ strike lasted four days. The drivers returned to work after the ordinance was overturned and declared victory.
However, a local minister, Rev. T. J. Jemison, had a call to conscious and he helped organize the United Defense League and a boycott in a response to the decision to overturn the ordinance by the Louisiana Attorney General.
Residents met in four mass meetings and raised $6,000 in just two days. About 14,000 of residents refused to board the city’s buses and instead received rides in free taxis and in private cars. About 125 private cars were used in the boycott.
The boycott ended six days after it began with Ordinance 251.
Two front seats were off-limits to black riders and only black riders could occupy the wide rear seat in the back of the bus. Blacks made up about 80 percent of the ridership, so the boycott had an economic impact on the city’s transportation system and on the broader Civil Rights Movement.
The fight for social justice in sleepy Baton Rouge in 1953, including the free car ride system that was implemented during bus boycott, served as a model for the internationally known 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.
This resulted in Browder v. Gayle, the U.S. District Court case on Montgomery and Alabama state bus segregation laws, which ultimately resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring Alabama and Montgomery laws require segregated buses be unconstitutional.
The 1953 Baton Rouge Bus boycott also inspired residents to mobilize around other issues, such as securing the right to vote.
As a college student at Southern University, Baton Rouge, in the ’80s, I was all too familiar with protesting and its often heartbreaking cost.
I still remember when – nearly 46 years ago – Denver Smith and Leonard Brown, two African-American students from my alma mater, were killed on campus by white sheriff deputies during a peaceful protest on November 16, 1972.
The two victims were taking part in a peaceful, unarmed protest by African-American students who gathered at the university’s administration building to protest against the administration officials and their policies. Protests were ongoing as students fought for a greater voice in school affairs and the resignation of certain administrators.
Several student protesters had been arrested the previous night, and the students who entered the administration building on November 16 sought their release.
Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards, ordered the campus closed and declared a state of emergency for Baton Rouge, claiming that these “militant” students posed a threat.
National Guard troops and police wearing riot gear patrolled Southern University. The deputies denied shooting the young men.
Governor Edwards said the fatal shots might have accidentally come from the deputies’ guns, or might have come from any of several other sources: “It is obvious there are discrepancies and questions…In the heat of that kind of situation, even if someone accidentally took a buckshot shell out of his pocket, loaded it, and shot it, he would not be able to tell himself afterwards whether he had done it.”
Edwards ordered an investigation, but the shooter or shooters were never identified. The official report by State Attorney General William Guste determined that the shots came from a sheriff’s deputy but it could not prove which deputy fired the shot. Guste recommended that the District Attorney consider criminal prosecution after the investigating committee concluded no students had firearms, tear gas, grenades, or other weapons.
After over four decades, no one has been tried or convicted for the murder. The victims’ families tried to file several lawsuits, but they were unsuccessful. Lawyers in town would not talk to the families and those that did were run out of town.
When the old Administration Building was destroyed in a fire in 1991, a memorial stone was placed on campus near the spot where the students were shot.
I can remember being terribly disappointed as a third grader to learn that former Governor Edwards had not done more for these victims.
It was especially troubling because as a St. Anthony Elementary School first grader, Edwards had selected me to read a book with him in the rotunda of the state capital and so I always had deep admiration and respect for him.
There was no justice for these students, but the Smith-Brown Memorial Union honors them. During my matriculation at the university, it’s now the gathering place for many students to challenge the administration and to speak out against injustice on campus and in our community.
Baton Rouge offers a considerable number of economic strengths and assets. Baton Rouge is a major center for higher education. Southern University, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge Community College, and multiple trade schools are all located in the City-Parish, graduating 5,000 to 7,000 students every year and providing a wider platform for research, innovation, and workforce development.
However, there is great socioeconomic disparity in Baton Rouge despite there not being much divide on the educational level.
These socioeconomic challenges include broader quality-of-life factors, such as concerns about public safety; the quality of the public K-12 school system; low air and water quality; a continuing population shift to the outlying parts of the Parish and other parishes; and acute economic and racial disparity within the City-Parish.
These factors have broader effects, both direct and indirect, on the economy of the City-Parish. For instance, local university graduates continue to seek employment opportunities and a better quality of life in other southern cities, such as Houston, Charlotte, and Atlanta.
Employers report difficulty in recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce, which affects the city’s ability to keep existing businesses and recruit new employers. In recent years, traffic congestion has moved toward the top of the list of challenges facing businesses and employees in Baton Rouge.
Poverty is real for many in Baton Rouge. Teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement are tremendously underpaid.
However, the problem in Baton Rouge is that the socioeconomically challenged have the same hard luck stories, whether white or black, and they cannot appreciate that their lives mirror each other.
Since I know the true story of Baton Rouge’s underbelly I cannot help but cringe and weep when I see recent images from my hometown. They are cringe-worthy images because what is at the root of Baton Rouge’s ailments is economics, not what is being told.
Even after discovering through life experiences that we are all more alike than not, some are reared to believe they are very different. That harsh reality for some is too raw, too real.
All of Baton Rouge, all of Louisiana, was hoodwinked by former Governor Bobby Jindal, but where was her protest then? Her shock, her anger, her commentary? It is also particularly frustrating that Mayor Holden has remained silent and opted to lobby in Washington for a project that offers little, if no, benefit to the community at large. Where is the leadership? How are they all absent in the wake of this?
Early in my legal career, when I was General Counsel of the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority, I worked closely with the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) and my community-policing program was a success in controlling criminal activity, building trust, and rapport with tenants.
Properly training law enforcement officers to build ties with and work closely with members of their communities is critical if we want officers and citizens have a greater respect for each other.
I love Baton Rouge – she is home – so I am always hopeful. I know that it has always been a catalyst of change. Baton Rouge has encouraged change all around her.
However, just because some things are different does not mean anything has changed. Baton Rouge has largely remained the city of her troubled past and that saddens me.
Yet I know positive change is always possible where truth exists. Change is a necessary element of growth. If we change, we grow. If we do not change, we begin to stagnate and decay. That is the simple truth about change.
And we should all be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” where he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Therefore, my prayer for my hometown and communities everywhere is that they are bold, brave, courageous, and humble. I pray that they always remember to have empathy in your hearts.
I hear their voices.
Voices of the people who want the world to stay as it is—the people who have too much to lose
if things change.
They say to stay quiet.
They say to keep my mouth shut.
They say to silence my voice.
They say to push down my emotions so I can stay level-headed.
They say not to rock the boat.
They say not to say anything that will cause disagreement.
They want me to conform.
They want us to conform.
I hear other voices.
Voices of the people who are losing their lives.
They say they are terrified to make one wrong movement.
They say that “freedom” doesn’t feel so free.
They say they are trapped in a system that isn’t fair.
They say they just want equality.
They say they want the same opportunities I have.
They say people are scared of them.
They say they are misunderstood.
They say they are tired of people walking on the other side of the street at night because of their
They say they are tired of not getting a fair trial in court.
They say they are tired of dying.
They say they are tired of crying themselves to sleep at night when they mourn for their brothers
They say they are tired of being punished for doing the only thing they know how to do in order
to put food on the table for their family.
They say they can’t help it.
So they say they want me to help.
They want us to help.
I hear another voice.
It’s the voice coming from deep within my soul.
He says to love people.
He says to care about other people before I care about myself.
He says to encourage my black brothers and sisters.
He says I should make sure they know I love them.
He says I should do what I can to help.
He says I should mourn with them.
He says I should comfort them.
He says I should listen to them.
He says I should pray for them.
He says I should pray with them.
He says I have a lot to learn from them.
He says to see the world in through their eyes before making any judgments.
He says to make friends with people who have different situations than I do.
He says that I should do more than rock the boat—he says I should sink it.
He wants me to move. He wants us to move.
There’s one voice I haven’t heard, though.
In the past, I didn’t understand all the hype around the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I chose to stay silent on it. I would think things like: Yes, I want everyone to be equal, but we have equality already. They need to realize that none of these things would be happening if they would just obey the laws (the list could go on and on).
As I became friends with some incredible people who are affected daily by fear, hatred, and stereotyping, however, my eyes were opened to the inequality we are still battling today.
They led me to believe that something has to be changed so people don’t have to break the law just to get by.
One time, I was driving through Atlanta with my friend a few weeks back. We were on the way to our church to play basketball. My friend has a heart of gold, but he is a teenaged, black male with an athletic build. The clothes he wears represent the culture he grew up in. Honestly, people look at his neighborhood—which he didn’t get to choose to live in—he doesn’t get a chance to show his heart before he is judged.
Anyways, he told me that he had recently spent a night in jail because he was having an altercation with his brother outside of their house. I listened to him tell me about this altercation and I couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t sound any different than fights I had with my brother when I was in high school. Nevertheless, somebody driving by saw the brotherly wrestling match taking place and called the police. When the police arrived, my friend and his brother were done fighting.
I don’t think there any many officers who do have ill-intentions. This is not an attack on them. However, there is a deeper problem in our society: We have a scale that measures how violent, harmful, or dangerous someone is…and we use skin color as the main variable. So, they assumed that my friend was dangerous. When they approached him to talk about the altercation, he tried to explain the story and say that it was resolved. But, the police took his explanation as some sort of resistance. They then violently threw him on the ground as they arrested him. He was arrested on the charges of domestic violence and resisting arrest.
Then, he had to get bail bonds to be able to get out of jail. Basically, he was thrown, arrested, charged, and forced into debt for something I would have got a slap on the wrist for. That dude looked at me that day with tears in his eyes and said, “Man, I swear it felt like they were trying to bring back slavery or something.” At that moment I realized that I couldn’t possibly understand what that was like. If I had a tussle with my brother like that, my parents would have handled the situation after things died down. I speak up now. Something has to change.
I work with a black girl who has become one of the most influential voices in my life lately. In a few short months, she has taught me more about loving people and praying for them than I could have ever known. As we were sitting in the office last week, she read an article about the KKK being allowed to adopt a highway in south Georgia. The article goes on to talk about the organization’s plans to make a comeback after 150 years from the time it was founded.
I want to know what in the world those people are thinking; and then I put it down and don’t think about it anymore. That is not the case for people who are directly affected by that, though. I will never be able to forget the moment when my heart fell to the floor as I watched my friend cry.
I will never be able to forget the loss of words I had as I attempted to pray over her. I will never be able to forget the realization I had in that moment—the realization that I would never be able to understand the pain and the heartache that the inequality we still have today brings into the lives of my black brothers and sisters.
So I speak up now: something has to change.
I could provide story after story and example after example. I could tell you about the kids I work with who are absolutely incredible, but will never have the same experience and opportunities as white kids unless something changes. I could tell you about the high school students I work with who are affected every single day by all of the stuff going on.
They feel like they are trying to be seen, but are invisible because people who don’t understand are too busy looking at themselves.
They feel like they are trying to be heard, but their voices are being dismissed because of the very thing they are speaking up against. People tell them that their opinions are irrelevant. It’s like a soccer player who knows nothing about baseball trying to tell a baseball player that his opinions about the unfair umpire are irrelevant or stupid—it just doesn’t make sense.
If you have ever played monopoly, you know that it can be fun for some people. For others, monopoly
can be one of the longest and most frustrating games ever. One time, I decided to join my
friends in a monopoly game they had already started. Places were already bought and occupied,
and there was only a little bit of money the bank could afford to dish out to me. So, I started playing
without much of a chance. I could basically land on someone else’s spot and have to pay or
the “Go to Jail” spot. Now, nobody would say that I ever had a fair shot.
I think our environment is a lot like that.
We played the game for over 150 years, then, people wanted to join. So, after
we tried to be the playground bully who won’t let anyone else into his clique, we reluctantly
allowed black people to play. We told them that they have the same rules as us and are allowed
to do the same things we are allowed to do and we called that equality. Unfortunately, the only
places they had left to land on were places where they had to pay, take the back seat, or go to
jail. That doesn’t sound very equal to me.
If you want another illustration as you wrestle through what it may feel like for someone else,
Here is a video that illustrates this point in a slightly different way. It is incredible.
So What Can I Do?
Listen. Learn. Love. No matter what you do in life, if you can do these three things before anything
else, you are much more likely to understand, make rational judgement, and make a difference
with what you say.
Speak up. If you are a silent supporter, know that we need your voice. We need the voice of people
who are not personally affected by these things. For example, I could physically go on living
comfortably no matter what happens with this issue in our world, but I speak up because I am
willing to give up my privilege if that is what it takes. I realize that there are people who wouldn’t
claim to be followers of Jesus reading this article, but I do want to point out that Jesus told us that
life is found when we consider others more highly than ourselves. So let’s do that! Instead of
fighting for what we personally want, let’s be willing to fight for the things others need—even if it
means we have something to lose.
Speak up. The world needs to hear that you
care for justice and mercy. The people who are being hurt need to hear that you are with them
and see that you are willing to stand with them no matter what other people think.
I would like to say that I would have spoken up in the 1800’s when slavery was being abolished.
I would like to say that I would have stood with my black brothers and sisters in the 1950’s during
the Civil Rights Movement.
I fail to realize that it wasn’t the popular thing to do as a white person.
People who had something to lose would have called me crazy for doing those things in that
Nothing has changed.
History is being written as we speak, and I refuse to look back in 50
years and tell my children that I didn’t do something to help move the world forward.
I refuse to have to tell my children that I was silent while my friends were living in fear, grief, and pain. So I
speak up—and you should too.
This one may seem a little weird, but people tend to become who they
hear they are. If someone hears constantly that they were born to lead, they will be leaders. If
someone is told they were a mistake, they will most likely live like they are a mistake.
Peoples’ identity often get bound up in the things others say to them or about them. Let’s stop telling people
that they are uneducated and ignorant so we can start telling people that they are smart,
loved, wonderful, beautiful, and Children of the Creator of the Universe.
All the people who have helped move our world forward have done something that
disrupts the status quo. All the people we celebrate as heroes today, were revolutionaries yesterday.
Think about it.
MLK was shot.
Lincoln was assassinated.
Jesus Christ was hung on
a roman death trap.
Each of these people were considered revolutionaries back then, but are heroes
today. So, let’s rebel. Let’s rebel peacefully and joyfully. Let’s speak up for justice, mercy,
equality, and love. Then, lets commit to loving the haters so much that they can hardly disagree
with us any longer.
Let’s commit to going out of our way to help the haters so they can’t bring any
real evidence against our case for justice, mercy, equality, and love.
So let’s rebel. Let’s speak up.
Let’s stand up. But, let’s remember why we are fighting and rebelling in the first place:
Make one difference. Just bring joy into someone’s life by investing in them and helping them out
of a possible situation. It is not our job to change it all, but it is our job to change what we can
and inspire others to do the same thing.
I hear their voices.
They say not to speak up.
It’s not that they are bad people.
They just don’t want life to change for them.
Change is scary.
So, they don’t try to understand.
They say to keep quiet.
I hear their voices.
They are longing for justice, equality, peace, and love.
They can’t help their situation.
They say they don’t have it like I have it.
They say that nobody understands.
They say to speak up
He is hurting for others.
He is causing me to weep when I watch a video of a real, human life being taken.
He is telling me to be willing to give up some of my privileges so that other people can have
He is telling me that the only real love in the world happens when we are willing to lay down
our lives for our brothers and sisters.
And now…now I can finally hear my own voice.
I am shouting to the world that I am not going to be silent any more.
I am shouting to my black brothers and sisters that I am with them!
I am shouting that they are worth dying for.
I am shouting that I love them—that I am willing to lay down my pride, the opinions of my
friends and family, and even my life if it will make their lives better.
I am Silent No More.
Just Mercy all at once is a riveting personal narrative gifted young lawyer brimming with idealism, places you directly in the shoes of his defendants, and is an inspirational perspective on the fight and the pursuit of, not “justice”, but true justice
As a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which placed defending those most desperate in need its utmost priority, from the poor to the wrongly condemned.
It unfortunately shows how our current system ends up leading towards the impoverished people receiving the majority of punishment in our country, which passionately supports the argument on the need for change in our criminal justice system.
An argument so very fitting in our current societal state of affairs
The world is constantly changing, especially the world we call home in the United States. Our economy, political views, social views, business ideas, and individual beliefs are influenced by change, and more importantly those who initiate it.
The rest of the world surrounding us is influenced by its own change. Therefore, change is not the same for everyone or every country. Some accept change, and others may not, however it is evident that it has a firm grasp on how we perceive.
In our economy, people are accepting that capitalism should be replaced by controlled socialism; people like Bernie Sanders and those who follow him. Bernie Sanders is an initiator of change. He holds views that he believes will benefit the economy; views that are very different from the traditional sense of capitalism. Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, is obviously a change from the traditional sense of Republican/ conservative belief. Although he may hold some conservative ideas, it is clear that, as he leads the Republican polls, he is also one that initiates change in our economy and view of politics. He accepts that certain things must be subject to change, which connects the ideas of contradiction and change.
For example, Bernie Sanders would like to bring socialist ideas to a purely capitalist country- is this change or contradiction? Donald Trump is changing the way that people understand politics through control of the media. He is contradicting the idea of professionalism, and how our presidential candidates represent themselves and their parties. He, quite literally, has every Republican candidate battling against him because his views are contradictory to traditional conservatism. But people follow him, and they believe in him. Now how do contradiction and change tie into each other, and our topic of a Level 5 leader? And what defines a level 5 leader?
A level 5 leader is the perfect contradiction. They are one who accepts change, but also holds views that must remain to benefit everyone. They are one who lives their life both professionally and personally. They are one who produces ideas that primarily benefit their own predicament, but does so in order to benefit those around them. This sounds like a positive contradiction, but contradiction has always been viewed in a negative light.
Chuck Blakeman discusses a change in how businesses can be run in a Tedx MileHigh lecture. The change he talks about is from an industrial point of view to what he calls “participation.” Many people may find this change contradictory to the idea of capitalism that we, as an economy, so desperately follow. For example, leaders are defined by how well their ideas benefit everyone within and outside the company; not by position or title that has been given. “Participation,” Chuck says, is not having standard work hours, but working when it is needed to benefit the business. Work becomes a group process, not an individual job. The “Participation” business not only uses a Level 5 leader to its full potential, but does well in training others to become leaders themselves.
Standard leaders of corporations today resort to traditional hierarchies of leadership with strictly defined jobs for individuals. Blakeman initiates change in his lecture by innovating the way that people can work to not only benefit the company by reaching optimal output through groups, but also by redefining how an individual can become a leader inside and outside of the workplace.
In conclusion, change and contradiction have never been simple. Implementing laws in politics is an annual, if not a decadal process. Our economy is structured by traditional business, businesses that have been failing us as an economy. Other, thriving businesses, like Apple and Google, have begun changing the idea of a workplace, however the traditional sense of work remains. Many of these businesses go into bankruptcy due to bad leadership. The idea of a Level 5 leader explains that it does not take one individual to lead a group, but it takes one individual to teach how others can lead groups of their own.
As we become more capable of leadership as individuals, our economy and population will more strongly represent the leader-esque nation we have chosen to become, and continue to be.
My name is Erika Evans. I am 22 years old. I have been attending college for 4 years now, yet still have the academic standing of a freshman. I have made bad choices. I love dogs. And I have Borderline Personality Disorder.
The last part is something I recently discovered about myself. Or at least the proper noun for what it was I was feeling. I was diagnosed almost a year ago after a bad night where I took a knife to my wrist and cried myself to sleep in my closet over an ex-boyfriend. BPD is essentially bipolar, depression, extreme emotional responses, and a dash of instability when it comes to relationships.
“Treatment” is not what I would call whatever has happened in the last year. I tried therapy and didn’t like it. When I am at rest, I know how to logically handle situations, but when I am all caught up, the only thing I know how to do is make an irrational decision based on emotion. So, when my therapist was just giving me logical advise, my answer was “no shit.” Probably another sign of my BPD.
What does it mean? Is there a cure? Will medication turn me into a different person? Can I afford to treat this mental illness for the rest of my life? And so the anxiety ridden person is thrown another load of anxiety with the diagnosis.
Then summer began and I stopped going to therapy. Probably not my best move. Instead I spent a summer full of erratic behavior that included working every day and blacking out every night. And during those blackouts came eating various late-night calzones and going home with random boys. One of my friends compared it to masturbation just with another human-being instead of your own hand. There was no feelings, even though I tried to stir some up just to see if I could feel something. Nada.
Fall semester was much of the same, although I did try therapy again which included adding another medication to my Prozac that would help treat the depression as well as the anxiety. My parents announced that they would be getting a divorce, and my mom ran away to Iowa for a few months to try and figure out her own mental illness. And the guiltless spending continued on food, alcohol, and uber.
Withdrawn from school and looking for another path. I keep waiting for some kind of ah-ha moment. Some kind of moment of clarity for an answer to just appear to me. Still nothing. I’ve taken long showers, gone for a long drive in the country, taken walks- anything that your typical movie scene moment would include. Except for the life-altering decision to be made.
I’m stuck. But the main thing that I keep reminding myself is that I’m not the only one stuck. Whether you’re about to graduate from college with no idea what career your future holds, you’re changing majors, or you’ve decided that school is all too much like me, there are so many other people struggling with you. And maybe it’s a fucked up thing to say that we’re all clueless as to what we’re doing. But I feel comforted by the fact that there are so many of us aimlessly wandering to figure out the answers in life. And I suppose that’s why I feel the need to write and share my deepest secrets here. So that maybe you won’t feel alone either.