Mental Health Matters: Adoption with Dr. Masters

marchita_masters_adoptionThis week, I had the privilege of discussing adoption, adoptees, adoptive parents, and foster care with Marchita Masters, PsyD, who not only has worked with foster care children in several settings, but who has also adopted a child. Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts. I hope it is helpful as we seek healthier ways to engage with and support one another.

Monday Notes: My Bisexual Daughter

My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.

She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.

“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”

The next day she was in the four-year-old class.

Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.

She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.

She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.

She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.

She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.

She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.

These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.

Mental Health Matters: Children with Tim Dukes, Behavioral Specialist

tim_children_MHMToday, I share a conversation I had with Timothy A. Dukes, behavioral specialist. We discussed parenting and children, specifically during the pandemic. However, he shared insights about how to help children re-set their behavior, as well as how parents should do something as simple as asking our children, “What can I do to make your day better?,” which can be beneficial even if there’s no pandemic occurring.

Our conversation can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts. I hope these words help us all to become healthier versions of ourselves.

Monday Notes: The Black People in Front of You 👽

kg_FSUI began a tenure-track position at a Research I university August 2013, a month after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. Our academic year began in one of the university’s ballrooms with announcements of new faculty, food, and light banter. I was the only black face at our round table. I’d grown used to being the only, but this felt different. I remember chit-chatting about inconsequential topics so minor that I cannot recall the slightest detail.

I remember wondering if I should ask any of these white faces what they thought about Martin’s death or his killer’s acquittal. After all, we were scholars. I remember wondering if this incident mattered to them at all, not in a Black Lives Matter way, but in a we live in the state of Florida and this just happened in Florida type of way.

Instead, I remained silent, returned to my office, and prepared my syllabi for the semester.

***

That August, I taught a class that was at an integral phase for my students who were studying to be teachers. The class was right before their internship semester. Strict guidelines had been passed down from the previous professor. Students could only miss two classes. The consequence? They’d fail and have to wait an entire year to re-take the course. Rigidity was important because they’d be student teaching the following semester and had to learn the importance of punctuality and attendance. They were two semesters away from being professionals after all.

Long story very short, there was a student who missed more than two classes, and because I wanted to follow the rules I was given, I failed her. The day she realized I wouldn’t budge on my decision, she stood in the hallway demanding to be seen even though my office hours had ended. She stood, with her face inches away from mine and yelled. She’d made such a commotion that the office secretary came out and asked if I was okay.

“Yes,” I replied, my voice no louder than a whisper.

The girl left. I gathered my belongings and left to teach class. I wondered if any white, tenure-track professors had ever been yelled at, in the middle of the hallway, in front of their offices at this Research I university.

I never asked. Instead, I taught, wrote my grant, and prepared to conduct my study, in addition to having to participate in several conversations that reached the dean’s office about why I should change my mind about this student’s grade.

***

Other bothersome events occurred at this university, like the girl who placed an online order and had a Jimmy John’s sandwich delivered to class…while I was teaching.

img_4048There was the time the same girl screenshot an email she’d sent to me to prove she’d completed an assignment. I noticed the emoji she associated with my name – an alien. According to her, she’d used that alien emoji for “all her professors.”

There was the time I was supposed to have a mentor. I asked for a black woman, someone with whom I could identify and navigate this particular university’s world. My assigned mentor was black and female, but she was not tenured. At the time, they didn’t have any black, female tenured professors in our college. She confessed that she had little to offer me by way of advice; she was just trying to keep her own head above water.

There was the time my white colleague asked me to speak to a black student about her use of Black English. I was tasked with placing her on probation if she didn’t learn to use “standard” English. How is she going to be an English teacher? my colleague asked.

There was the story of my incompetent, white, male counterpart, who initially made $12k more than I did, but who needed my help understanding how to create and teach his classes.

And, there’s the story of how I got this specific job in the first place. Spoiler alert: it was tied to Affirmative Action.

***

Since we’re all having moments of introspection and authentic conversations centered on race, I figured I’d share this partial list of how systemic racism manifested for me in three short years at a place I’d least expected it, the highest rated university in our educational system.

This post may be my last about race for a while, so I want to be clear.

Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us.

Subsequently, it’s important for two things to happen: 1) black people should speak up and be explicit about what we need, and 2) white people should understand systemic racism and determine how to engage in anti-racist ways.

For the latter, I think a great place to begin is with paying attention to the black people in front of you.

Monday Notes: Social Media Activism &…

Trayvon Martin was shot on February 26, 2012. Over a year later, Jamie Foxx appeared at the BET Awards in a red t-shirt with the slain teenager’s hooded face. I thought his silent statement was brilliant, so I ordered one and wore it around Jacksonville, hoping to raise awareness and concern about the case. Two weeks later, his murderer was found not guilty of any charges. I tucked my folded t-shirt away and deemed wearing it ineffectual.

Then, Mike Brown was killed by a police officer and left to rot in the street on August 9, 2014. #BlackLivesMatter was active and I’d begun using it, in addition to #MichaelBrown. But the grand jury decided not to indict the officer.

A little over a year passed and Tamir Rice was gunned down by a police officer in a Cleveland park. I created a social media posts and included #BlackLivesMatter and #TamirRice. Later, I found out that Laquan McDonald was killed by a Chicago police officer around the same time, but the video wasn’t released. More posts. More hashtags.

The murders and associated hashtags rolled out quicker than I could grieve: #SayHerName, #JusticeForSandraBland, #BaltimoreUprising, #FreddieGray, #JamarClark, #PhilandoCastile occurred faster than I could post. And I began to wonder if hashtagging was enough. I mean, unarmed black people continued to be murdered whether I tweeted my anger or not.

So, I stopped.

Last month, a video of two white Georgia men seemingly hunting down a black, male jogger surfaced three months after the incident. #AhmaudArbery became popular, and because his birthday was May 8th, supporters ran 2.23 miles and posted #IRunWithAhmaudArbery. 

Similar to when I wore my red t-shirt to raise awareness about Trayvon Martin eight years ago, I scrolled and wondered if this was enough to effect change. *Wouldn’t it be just a matter of time before another defenseless black person was killed?

But, what more could I do?

That’s when I asked my sister, Celeste Smith, co-founder of 1Hood Media and social justice activist to help me understand what would be impactful beyond posting a pithy saying and a hashtag.

Smith is an advocate of social media activism, but she agreed to provide additional ways that we can all be more active in our communities.

Vote, especially in local elections. Smith says voting is important. I mean we all saw what happened when African Americans rallied around one candidate for the 2008 and 2012 presidential election but voting for president isn’t the only office that’s imperative for our livelihood. Every aspect of American life is, in some way, shaped and governed by who represents us senatorially, congressionally, statewide, and locally. Who becomes sheriff and who is elected judge is important, especially when they are racist, anti-black, or represent racist ideals and can dictate how black citizens are policed.

Unify. Organize with likeminded individuals. Smith says, “Our greatest strength is our unity.” Organizations can be international, like Black Lives Matter, national, like the Players Coalition, or locally affiliated, such as the Color of Change in your city. Check the organization’s About page to see if it is aligned with your own core values. Organizations such as the ones listed are constantly and consistently supporting issues important for communities of black people. If this is where your interests lie, then there’s a place for you to help.

Support local activists. “You don’t have to be on the front line,” says Smith. “That ain’t everybody’s mission.” If you’re aware of an activist group in your area, then reach out to them online. Many times, their website lists ways that you can help. For example, Color of Change in my city is hosting an event to help “women returning to society from incarceration.” They are soliciting people who’d like to be a part of the host committee and all I have to do is complete a form. Perhaps, you don’t have time to devote in person. Smith says we should consider donating money or supplies or watching activists’ children. Connect with them and see what the activist needs.

While social media activism has its merits, such as garnering widespread awareness in a short amount of time, it is also important to be active in the in-between spaces. Voting, unifying, and supporting local activists are three ways to be involved before there’s an issue.

***

*I wrote this and planned to submit it to another platform a week before George Floyd was killed but held off and wrote Fire, instead. These days, I literally cannot write fast enough to inspire change.

Mental Health Matters: Perfectionism with Kotrish Wright, MSW

kotrish_perfectionismToday, I share a conversation I had with Kotrish Wright, MSW centered on PERFECTIONISM. She shares 5 strategies we can use to move past procrastination, and subsequently past those debilitating thoughts that swirl around in our heads. It can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts. I hope this brief discussion helps us all to become healthier versions of ourselves.

 

 

Mental Health Matters: Sex as Escapism

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The day my father asked me to leave home, I awoke to three or four trash bags filled with my belongings. They slouched in the middle of my bedroom floor. The day before, I’d thrown myself a seventeenth birthday party surrounded by family. But I’d also just gotten in trouble at school for forging a tardy pass.

“You’re moving to Covert with your grandmother,” my father announced. “You walked around here frontin’ yesterday, like everything is okay. YOU’RE SUSPENDED!” he yelled.

I was baffled. I thought that was protocol…walking around and pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’d pretended my mother’s death hadn’t bothered me the previous nine months, and no one berated me about that. Why was having a party while suspended an issue?

But it was too late to argue. My father’s mind was made up. I moved as soon as school ended in June.

By September, my grandmother had convinced my father that he needed to relinquish his parental rights so that she could “legally take me to the hospital,” if necessary. So, the three of us drove to a small Michigan court, where a judge bestowed my grandmother with the title, legal guardian.

My father droned on about the court appointment being a “formality.” He’d “always be my dad,” he said. I wished I had an appropriate response. A tear or a lip quiver would’ve added affect. But I was dead to his speech and to mounting situations outside of my control. Life had finally completely numbed me. During his soliloquy, I zoned out and devised a simple plan for my new existence: befriend no one, complete senior year, and leave as soon as I crossed the graduation stage.

That was the plan, until I went to a computer class called, Basic and met a boy.

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He was a year younger. He played football, ran track, blew the saxophone in band, and was his class’s president. He made time for me and he made me laugh. More importantly, he made me forget about my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment. He made me forget that I wouldn’t finish high school with friends I’d known since the first grade.

Initially, we talked on the phone for several hours. He lived five minutes away from my grandparents’ home and his house was on the way to my work-study job, which made stopping by convenient. Soon we traded phone conversations for sitting on his mother’s couch, where we watched their floor-model television and kissed. Our time together quickly turned to sex. I enjoyed it. It was liberating in the most poetic way. When we were together, my pent-up emotions floated free like colorful balloons toward a bright blue sky. I repeatedly chased the euphoria.

I was so in love with the idea that he loved and wanted me that I wrapped myself around him. I mattered. He and I ebbed and flowed through teenage love. There was no way I would let him go. To do so would mean returning to earth to face the reality of my circumstances, which were outside of my control, and I wasn’t ready.

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Instead, I (unconsciously) learned men, sex, and relationships could temporarily fill a void. All three helped me escape to a place where I temporarily felt better about myself. As long as I had one, then I knew I was worth something to someone, even if the moment was fleeting. Either of the three were easy to attain, especially in undergrad, where my deeper issue flowed with a sea of everyone else’s rampant hormones and fluid identities. Throughout my life, there were times when I had all three simultaneously in different faces, constantly seeking a high, never quite reaching bliss, still feeling shitty about myself. It would take years before I’d understand one thing about trying to fill an empty space with men. You can’t. There were never enough to make me feel whole. Ever. It was always an impossible endeavor.

***

Parts of this piece were first published on PULP, a sex/uality and reproductive rights publication celebrating this human coil.

This blogger’s poem aptly describes what I’ve experienced.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald explains how escapism is a part of the fight, flight, or freeze group, which can manifest in codependent ways, including addiction.

Monday Notes: *FIRE!

In 1963, Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire (self-immolated) to protest religious oppression in Vietnam. Although the country was at least 70% Buddhist, landowners were Roman Catholic, and so was the president at the time. Subsequently, the president and others had created an environment biased in favor of Catholics, resulting in the oppression of Buddhists. So, Quảng Đức self-immolated (source).

Though, I’d seen photos, I could never imagine the image or smell. I could never imagine wanting justice so bad, that I’d set myself on fire to raise awareness and fight for a cause, yet he and other Buddhists did just that.

I read up on it recently. Apparently, Buddhist weren’t allowed to fly their flag for a religious holiday, while Roman Catholics had donned theirs just days prior. Catholics were being advanced in government and military positions, while Buddhist were not. Roman Catholics were forcing Buddhists to convert to their religion as a requirement for living in Vietnam and as a way to reap equitable benefits (source).

I now understand. Conditions were so deplorable and demeaning for Vietnam Buddhists that they resorted to extreme measures. To make a statement. To announce they weren’t taking the Roman Catholics’ shit anymore. They were over it.

Sounds familiar to me.

Though I would never set fire to anything, I understand. Constantly seeing police, representatives of the American government, murder Black people in the street, in broad daylight, on video, while simultaneously telling Black people when, where, and how to protest or not to protest evokes a sense of helplessness.

We’re told we’re American citizens, yet we don’t receive the benefits of a so-called just system. When cops kill Black people, we watch grand jury after grand jury after grand jury return with a decision to not indict. What’s left to do? To what and whom will the government listen?

Destruction of the system American capitalists hold so dear is what’s left. Burning buildings down, even if they’re in our own community and allegedly for own benefit is what’s left to do. It’s a clear manifestation of the suppressed anger and sadness we’re told to get over and stop harboring. It’s a demonstration of how we feel about being shown that our lives are dispensable.

I hear it clearly. Businesses are expendable. Buildings can be rebuilt. Police cars can be replaced. Similar to Quảng Đức’s self-immolation, protestors want to make a point.

However, there’s this part to consider. Vietnam Buddhists had a five-point plan they wanted enacted. After demonstrating, Buddhists were immediately prepared to ask for change from their government. Six days later, The Joint Communiqué was signed.

So, that’s my suggestion.

Black Americans, including born citizens, naturalized citizens, immigrants, Muslims, Christians, non-Christians, Israelites, and everyone in between need to have one unified voice of a multipoint plan, with oversight…for the entire nation, regardless of location.

Number one on the list should be STOP MURDERING US.

***

*24 hours after I wrote this, it was alleged that white nationalists infiltrated peaceful demonstrations, with looting and fires (source). Whether this is true or not, I maintain that radical action plus a unified plan has to occur to stop police from killing people who look like me; history has proven these two acts to be effective.

Mental Health Matters: Escapism with Elizabeth Fitzgerald, LPC

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Beginning today, I’m sharing conversations that I’ve had with experts in the field of mental health. These are licensed practitioners, clinical psychologists, and everyone in between. I hope these brief discussions help us all to become healthier versions of ourselves.

The first topic is ESCAPISM with Elizabeth Fitzgerald, LPC. It can be viewed on YouTube or listened to on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud or Buzzsprout.