What Have You Done for Yourself Lately?

mybikeAbout a week ago I was really stressed out. I was not sleeping well at night because I was besieged with crazy dreams. As usual, I shared this with Da Hype 1. (We talk and text almost every day.)

She asked if there was something, “other than the usual” that was “weighing heavily” on my mind. Nah, just job searching, paying bills, trying to lose weight, global warming. . . Same old, same old. Worrying can be a full-time job.

Then, she asked something that literally stopped me in my tracks: “What types of things are you taking time out to do that make you happy?” In other words, she was asking, “What have you done for yourself lately?” (Cue the Janet Jackson music!) It took me a while to return that text, but I finally answered: “Pretty much, nothing.”

Had I turned into one of those self-sacrificing women who takes care of everyone else but herself? Nah, that’s not my style. However, my financial situation had led me to give up a lot of things to save money. My gym membership, regular pedicures and facials, and bi-weekly trips to the hairdresser had all fallen by the wayside.

What could I do for myself that wouldn’t cost too much? I was inspired by one of Hype’s friends. She rode her bike over to Hype’s house one Saturday morning when I was there. Hmm. . . I had a bicycle in my garage that was essentially gathering dust. I was very careful not to hit it when I parked my car, but I had not ridden it since last summer. So, last week, I went out to the garage, put some air in my tires, and took a ride. I was pretty tired when I came back home, and my legs felt like spaghetti. But it was a good kind of tired. That night I even slept more peacefully.

I hit the gate and I hops on my Schwinn

And I tell the homies, “aight then”~”This D.J.,” Warren G

I’m pretty sure I won’t become like the Lance Armstrong clones I see around my neighborhood. I’m not into racing; I don’t even have that kind of bike. For now, I’m just enjoying evening rides on my Schwinn. I’m doing it for me, and that’s what matters.

So, 2 Dope Readers, what have you done for yourself lately?

A Posse to Protect Your Star Player: Scholarly and Comedic Advice

FWCAIn March (28-29) I attended the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference, which was hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This conference brought together faculty, graduate students, and post-docs “for professional development, personal development, and community building.” Through workshops and various discussions, the conference sought to identify challenges within the academy for women of color and suggest strategies to deal with working and succeeding in the academy. Although often cited as one of the best careers, a career as a college professor can be quite stressful.

Friday’s Keynote Address was by Nell Irvin Painter, distinguished historian and professor emerita from Princeton University, who provided suggestions on navigating the academy. She gave us the benefit of her experience and wisdom, and I was determined not to miss a word. Then, on Saturday, I attended a workshop that was presented by Carmen G. González, professor at Seattle University School of Law and one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Both of these scholars offered sage advice and coping strategies. One of the themes repeated during their presentations and throughout the weekend was that women need to build networks of support in order to prosper. Their wise counsel took me to a less than scholarly place, however. These professors gave the same advice as one of my favorite comedians, Katt Williams.

People of color can find themselves feeling quite isolated on their campuses. To cope with the isolation and stress of academic life, Prof. Painter emphasized the need or collective support. She cautioned us not try and deal with academic life alone. Instead “you need your own ‘posse.'” (Yes, Nell Irvin Painter said posse!) This posse, for example, may include friends, mentors, congenial colleagues, older women, administrative staff, sorors and church members. You need to have a friend who will listen–without interruption–when you have had a bad day. You need people who can offer good career advice. In short, you need a group of people who will defend you when you need it and support you when you need it. While it is helpful if you and the members of your posse work at the same institution, it is more likely that at least some of them will not.

Similarly, Prof. González stressed the need for collective responses to life in the academy by building alliances. These alliances can be cross-generational (with mentors and sponsors); horizontal (with peers from your department or university); or cross-border (with people outside your department or university).

KattWmsIn much more colorful language, but with the same message, Katt Williams gives similar advice in his 2008 stand-up comedy DVD It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’. This comedy show is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Williams riffs on everything from Pres. George Bush to Michael Vick and Brittney Spears. But “Jesters do oft prove prophets.” Williams contends that we have to be a bit more selfish and take care of ourselves. After all, YOU are your “number one star player.” So, “make sure you got your team set up” because you will need four or five people who will “jump in and block bullshit” during a crisis.

America is a country that celebrates individualism, but it’s clear to me that there are times when we will all need a little support from our friends, no matter what careers we’ve chosen. Each one of us needs a posse. I’m fortunate enough to have a posse that includes my husband, former professors, friends from graduate school, sorors, and former colleagues. Who’s in your posse?

 

Rest in Peace, Karyn Washington

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigital Photos.net.

I did not know Karyn Washington, the 22-year-old woman who was the founder of the For Brown Girls website and the creator of the #DarkSkinRedLipProject. But I felt as though I did because of her presence on social media. That is why I was saddened to find out that she died, apparently taking her own life on April 8, 2014, after a bout with depression following her mother’s death.

There have already been various articles and posts stressing the need to address mental health in black communities and to have an open conversation about the often taboo subject of depression, so I will not add another. However, it’s an important conversation to have, and I hope that the discussion continues.

Washington was a source of inspiration. She sought to use social media to empower women and encourage them to love their beautiful dark selves. That’s something to cheer about. But her life ended too soon. I wish that I could write something appropriately profound for this sad occasion, but all I can think of is. . . Rest in Peace.

 

Having a Blue Christmas

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitaPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jannoon028/FreeDigitaPhotos.net

As I noted in last week’s Wacky Wednesday post, I love Christmas, especially the decorations. But I understand that this time of year is not always joyful. In fact, there were times when I’ve had a “Blue Christmas” rather than “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” My Christmas wish was to be on a cruise to the Caribbean rather than sitting at home alone in my apartment, listening to sad songs and watching fictional characters make merry on television.

Feelings of loneliness are often compounded during Christmas, and it is just one of the reasons that the holidays can be difficult. On Sunday I called my mother, who I usually talk to daily, and discovered that she had been deep into her “holiday blues” for a couple of days. She hadn’t called because she didn’t want to burden me. She feared that she would make me sad as well.

For my mother, this season reminds her of the people she loves who have passed away, especially her parents. Both of her parents died in December, although it was years apart. I was only two-years-old when my grandfather died, so I can’t remember him or his death. But my grandmother’s death is etched in my memory, even though I was living hundreds of miles away when it happened. She died December 26, 1995.

On December 25, just as my grandmother, my mother, and their guests were about to sit down to Christmas dinner, my grandmother had a severe pain in her head which turned out to be a stroke. She was conscious as the paramedics were putting her into the ambulance, and that was right about the time that I called home. I was on my way to work that day, but I wanted to find out how Grandma liked my present.

She was in the emergency room for hours while doctors tried to lower her blood pressure, which was skyrocketing. According to my mother, however, they never really provided much treatment. Eventually, later that night, they released her. As my mother was driving Grandma home, she screamed and slumped over. My mother rushed her back to the hospital. Grandma had experienced a cerebral hemorrhage; she slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. She was taken off life support the following day.

My mother feels things very deeply, so I understand how this season affects her. But I chastised her for not calling me. (Even though we live in different states, we are constantly in touch.) I am sure that not talking to anyone only deepens her feelings of aloneness and sadness.

There are so many people who are hurting during this time of year. I have opened this window into my world because I think it is an important topic. Please reach out to family and friends who may be having a hard time. And if you are sad, blue, melancholy, or depressed, you are certainly not alone. Reach out to your family and friends. Let them know how you are feeling. And if your depression is really serious, do not be too proud or afraid to see a counselor.

REPOST: Tracing My Family Roots in Maryland

Crownsville HospitalI often dream about my maternal great-grandmother, wondering what she was like. Was she anything like her daughter, my grandmother? She had long dark hair, her skin color was ruddy, according to the pictures that I saw of her. The U.S. census records indicate that my great-grandmother, Effie, was born in Upper Marlboro, MD and she lived there her entire life. Various census records list her as Effie Adams., F. Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Adams, and later Effie Butler when she got married. Everyone called her Effie, though. Her father’s name was John Quincy Adams (no relation to the president to our knowledge) and her mother’s name was Rachel Kettle.

Beyond that, all I know about her is that she was supposedly “mean as a damn snake.” Apparently, she came to visit my grandmother once after my grandmother moved to Baltimore. My grandmother was holding my uncle, who was a baby at the time, and he was crying for his diaper to be changed. Grandma Effie cursed at the crying baby and all of the noise he made. In fact, she was said to have cursed a lot.

There was another story told about Effie Butler. The legend is that Effie, having been greeted at her door with a crying baby on her porch, looked up and all she could see was the backside of a woman running away as fast as she could. The woman leaving Effie’s yard was one of Mr. Butler’s (as she frequently called her husband) women, running away and leaving their “love child.” Effie then proceeded to pick the baby up and put her somewhere in the yard, in the hot summer sun, and around whatever else was running around loose in the country. I’d like to believe that someone saved that baby that day.

Mr. Thomas Butler, my great-grandfather had another family, and I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to be married to a womanizer and to have many children of her own (roughly 10) by him. Perhaps her meanness was a source of survival and perhaps she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Here is where genealogy research is important, and I hope this story helps in understanding the kind of information that can be uncovered by doing such work. Rumor had it in the family that Effie had a mental illness because she was taken to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Mentally Insane. I had never heard any details about what type of illness she was suspected to have, just that she had to have one since she was housed in their facilities.

Through research, I learned that Crownsville was designated as a place that quarantined black people with tuberculosis. Segregation prevented black people from receiving decent health care in decent facilities, so black people were sent to Crownsville as the result. Crownsville was described as an awful place for African Americans, a place where there have been accusations that black people were used as experiments and their healthcare was neglected.

What I uncovered about my great-grandmother, Effie, is that she was indeed admitted into Crownsville, but as a tuberculosis patient. She did, in fact, die of tuberculosis at Crownsville, according to her death certificate.

Family rumor led me to Crownsville to find her, but research told me how she got there.

Some Suggestions for Getting Started on Family Research:

1. Ask questions and listen to family stories. Write them down and/or record them.

2. Check out U.S. Census records.

3. Look at birth certificates and death certificates.

To Love and Cherish: Thoughts on Black Women and Breast Cancer

Image courtesy of scottchan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of scottchan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Ten years ago, I lost a very close friend and colleague to breast cancer. I met her in graduate school, and like so many of the women I met there, she became like family to me. My friend, C.W., had worked as a nurse for many years while raising her family. She went back to school and got another degree in history. She then decided she wanted to attend graduate school and have a second career as a professor.

She told very few people about her diagnosis. I guess she didn’t want people to feel pity for her. In spite of treatment, the cancer spread to other parts of her body. However, she kept right on attending classes and teaching until she went into the hospital for the last time. I often think of how caring she was, calling to check on my husband after he had minor surgery, when she must have been in so much pain herself.

C.W.’s death made me more aware of breast cancer and the devastating impact it has on African American women. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. (Skin cancer is the first.) Statistically, one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer. While white women generally have higher rates of breast cancer for all age groups (except under 40), black women are 50% more likely to die within three years. Certainly, that is, at least in part, due to disparities in access to health care. Hopefully, the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that health insurance plans cover preventive care (like mammograms) will lead to a reduction in mortality from this disease.

I became vigilant about encouraging those around me–my mother, my aunts, my friends–to do their monthly self-breast exams. I had a part-time job, and I asked a group of my co-workers if they were doing monthly exams. It was not surprising that they all said no, but they also seemed a bit offended by my question. It was as if I had asked them to engage in a lewd act. One of the women asked rhetorically, “Why would I want to do that when I’ve got a boyfriend?” It seemed ridiculous until I remembered that C.W. did not find the lump in her breast; her partner did.

I am not trying to imply that C.W. would have survived if she had been doing monthly exams herself. I am saying that C.W.–like my co-workers, like many black women I know and love–take care of everyone and everything but themselves. Let’s start to change that beginning today. Let’s love and cherish ourselves as we do our families. Let’s agree to do monthly self-breast exams. October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is a great time to start! Who’s with me?

Related Articles and Links to Information on Breast Cancer

Tracing My Family Roots in Maryland

Crownsville HospitalI often dream about my maternal great-grandmother, wondering what she was like. Was she anything like her daughter, my grandmother? She had long dark hair, her skin color was ruddy, according to the pictures that I saw of her. The U.S. census records indicate that my great-grandmother, Effie, was born in Upper Marlboro, MD and she lived there her entire life. Various census records list her as Effie Adams., F. Elizabeth Adams, Elizabeth Adams, and later Effie Butler when she got married. Everyone called her Effie, though. Her father’s name was John Quincy Adams (no relation to the president to our knowledge) and her mother’s name was Rachel Kettle.

Beyond that, all I know about her is that she was supposedly “mean as a damn snake.” Apparently, she came to visit my grandmother once after my grandmother moved to Baltimore. My grandmother was holding my uncle, who was a baby at the time, and he was crying for his diaper to be changed. Grandma Effie cursed at the crying baby and all of the noise he made. In fact, she was said to have cursed a lot.

There was another story told about Effie Butler. The legend is that Effie, having been greeted at her door with a crying baby on her porch, looked up and all she could see was the backside of a woman running away as fast as she could. The woman leaving Effie’s yard was one of Mr. Butler’s (as she frequently called her husband) women, running away and leaving their “love child.” Effie then proceeded to pick the baby up and put her somewhere in the yard, in the hot summer sun, and around whatever else was running around loose in the country. I’d like to believe that someone saved that baby that day.

Mr. Thomas Butler, my great-grandfather had another family, and I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to be married to a womanizer and to have many children of her own (roughly 10) by him. Perhaps her meanness was a source of survival and perhaps she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Here is where genealogy research is important, and I hope this story helps in understanding the kind of information that can be uncovered by doing such work. Rumor had it in the family that Effie had a mental illness because she was taken to the Crownsville State Hospital for the Negro Mentally Insane. I had never heard any details about what type of illness she was suspected to have, just that she had to have one since she was housed in their facilities.

Through research, I learned that Crownsville was designated as a place that quarantined black people with tuberculosis. Segregation prevented black people from receiving decent health care in decent facilities, so black people were sent to Crownsville as the result. Crownsville was described as an awful place for African Americans, a place where there have been accusations that black people were used as experiments and their healthcare was neglected.

What I uncovered about my great-grandmother, Effie, is that she was indeed admitted into Crownsville, but as a tuberculosis patient. She did, in fact, die of tuberculosis at Crownsville, according to her death certificate.

Family rumor led me to Crownsville to find her, but research told me how she got there.

Some Suggestions for Getting Started on Family Research:

1. Ask questions and listen to family stories. Write them down and/or record them.

2. Check out U.S. Census records.

3. Look at birth certificates and death certificates.

To Love and Cherish: Thoughts on Black Women and Breast Cancer

Image courtesy of scottchan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Image courtesy of scottchan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Ten years ago, I lost a very close friend and colleague to breast cancer. I met her in graduate school, and like so many of the women I met there, she became like family to me. My friend, C.W., had worked as a nurse for many years while raising her family. She went back to school and got another degree in history. She then decided she wanted to attend graduate school and have a second career as a professor.

She told very few people about her diagnosis. I guess she didn’t want people to feel pity for her. In spite of treatment, the cancer spread to other parts of her body. However, she kept right on attending classes and teaching until she went into the hospital for the last time. I often think of how caring she was, calling to check on my husband after he had minor surgery, when she must have been in so much pain herself.

C.W.’s death made me more aware of breast cancer and the devastating impact it has on African American women. Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. (Skin cancer is the first.) Statistically, one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer. While white women generally have higher rates of breast cancer for all age groups (except under 40), black women are 50% more likely to die within three years. Certainly, that is, at least in part, due to disparities in access to health care. Hopefully, the Affordable Care Act’s provisions that health insurance plans cover preventive care (like mammograms) will lead to a reduction in mortality from this disease.

I became vigilant about encouraging those around me–my mother, my aunts, my friends–to do their monthly self-breast exams. I had a part-time job, and I asked a group of my co-workers if they were doing monthly exams. It was not surprising that they all said no, but they also seemed a bit offended by my question. It was as if I had asked them to engage in a lewd act. One of the women asked rhetorically, “Why would I want to do that when I’ve got a boyfriend?” It seemed ridiculous until I remembered that C.W. did not find the lump in her breast; her partner did.

I am not trying to imply that C.W. would have survived if she had been doing monthly exams herself. I am saying that C.W.–like my co-workers, like many black women I know and love–take care of everyone and everything but themselves. Let’s start to change that beginning today. Let’s love and cherish ourselves as we do our families. Let’s agree to do monthly self-breast exams. October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is a great time to start! Who’s with me?

Related Articles and Links to Information on Breast Cancer