SPINNING

Dedicated to those who experience the world in disbelief.

******

Spinning. Spinning.

When I opened my eyes

when I closed them

When I breathed.

When my 8-year old came in to kiss me on the forehead. 

I am annoyed by his act of love that shakes the bed like a tidal wave.

I just needed the world to stop

Spinning.

The sunlight streamed into my room but I shuddered at it's anger. It's violence.

It was morning, after all.

Mourning.

I crawled on my belly, crying, crying that I just need it 

To Stop. 

"Try this," well meaning friends wrote to me.

"This worked for me," they said.

I tried.

I felt worse. 

I wanted to stay in this bed - hide from a world that assaulted me from every angle.

To envelop myself in the warmth of the place where dreams happen, where soft kisses are exchanged, where the heat of husband's body can be felt from the other side of the bed.

Familiar. I know he is there.

Spin in.

Spin in the cycles of life and death and violence and terror and

Lone wolves in sheep's clothing.

In the soft, White, curls

Spun in

To fabric that I'm told keeps me warm on a cold day

That is good for me. That is innocent.

But I feel cold.

Cold stares, cold shoulders, cold reception when I scream that I just need the world to 

Stop

Spinning.

I feebly pick up the phone and take action.  "Helpme," I cry to the doctor's receptionist. "I can't make it stop."

"The first available appointment we have is in three weeks."

"What should I do in the meantime?" I beg. My eyes closed. My hand to my head.

I feel myself falling forward.

They say, "Call your other doctor" but all I hear is 

"You're not our problem today."

And, so I lay back in bed. The blanket feeling less familiar. 

The bed cold.

My body helpless, victim to my surroundings.

Spinning. 

Spinning stories. Spinning news. Spinning the blame. 

We don't need to fix guns, they say, we need to fix hotel security.

I pull the blanket up over my eyes, tugging, tugging,

stuck at the edge of the bed. 

Wondering who's problem this will be tomorrow.

 

 

 

CELEBRATE LIFE'S LITTLE WINS

It's August 17th which, in our house, we call "Diagnosis Day."

Back on August 17, 2005, our daughter was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive pediatric eye cancer: retinoblastoma. It's now 2017 and she is a 12 year survivor of retinoblastoma, and we honor this day as the one that changed our lives. Today, we honor Diagnosis Day; tomorrow, we celebrate "Survivor Day" (caaaake and ice cream!).

Given all that is going on in our world, it's easy to get caught up in all the sadness and heartbreak and anger. Believe us, we felt that so explicitly on the day our child was diagnosed with cancer. Today, Diagnosis Day, especially, gives me hope. We never thought anything would be better on the other side. We never thought we would get through it. We never imagined a day when we would stop crying.

Today, it's a nice reminder that we all go through wicked and evil times. And, with community and support and facing the fear, there is some good that happens at the end.

Twelve years ago, Jorge wrote this email to friends and family (this was before Facebook and Twitter and all that jazz). We thank God every day for Joli and her team of doctors. And, we thank God for all of you who supported our family during those rough times.

While the email, and her announcement of cancer, was sad, I'm grateful to read it on a day like today. It gives me hope. It gives me courage. It gives me faith that things will fall on the good side of humanity. 

Happy Diagnosis Day, Joli!

WRITTEN ON AUGUST 19, 2005 (two days after diagnosis) BY JORGE:

Hi, Friends!

So, in the last 48 hours a lot has happened in our little family.

My daughter's decided to become the world's smallest and cutest pirate... complete with eye patch. :)

We have spoken to or emailed many of you personally, but for those who may not know the whole story, here's what happened...

On Wednesday we took Joli in for what we thought was going to be a routine visit to the doctor. My father-in-law, who's an ophthalmologist, had noticed that Joli's right occasionally would "wander". He said it was pretty normal for kids her age to experience that, but he recommended that we go see a pediatric ophthalmologist and learn how to correct it as early as possible. So, Wednesday morning we went to the doctor believing that, at worst, Joli might have a lazy eye. No big deal.

When the doctor looked into Joli's right eye, his reaction was pretty immediate. He let us know that there was a large tumor growing inside of Joli's right eyeball. Yet, Liza and I had no way of knowing. That may seem impossible, but it's true. The doctor said it's quite normal for something so dramatic to go unnoticed because kids bodies are so adaptable. Apparently, as Joli's right eye faded, her left eye with its perfect vision took over.

Liza and I were floored. But, things got even more surreal when the doctor told us that he was certain that Joli's right eye needed to be removed as soon as possible.

She has a very rare type of cancer called "retinoblastoma". It occurs in about 1 in 20,000 kids.

Liza and I, on cue, fell apart. We took a breath and then fell apart again.

And then amazing things started happening... the doctor made a call to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Medical and got a hold of a guy named Dr. Mukai. It turns out that there are only five or six doctors in the entire country who specialize in this type of cancer and one of the best, Dr. Mukai, worked a few blocks away from us. Though he had two surgeries scheduled for that day, he made time, in between surgeries, to meet with us and examine Joli's eyes. He confirmed the previous doctor's diagnosis-- Joli's eye needed to be removed to eliminate the risk of the cancer spreading.

[insert me and Liza falling apart again here]

Dr. Mukai was incredibly sensitive and comforted us with his words and his knowledge. Apparently, in 90% of cases, when there is tumorous material in only ONE eye, if the eye is removed, the child will have a full recovery without the cancer reappearing and without chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

The next day, Liza Joli and I, surrounded by our families and the thoughts and prayers of friends and family all over the country returned to the hospital to have Joli's eye surgically removed.

The operation took a little over five hours and when Dr. Mukai re-emerged, the news was good.

There is no cancer in Joli's left eye and the right eye was successfully removed.

Liza and I fell apart again, but this time it was a good kind of disassembly. :)

When we went down to the recovery room, Joli was groggy and crying. Liza picked her up and she stopped crying immediately, curled up in her lap, and fell asleep. A few minutes later we were able to leave recovery and head up to her room, where the rest of the family was waiting.

And here's another amazing part... as we left recovery, Joli lifted her groggy little headed, looked over at the nurse's station and waved. "Thank you. Thank you. Bye-bye," she said.

My kid ... rocks.

We spent a few hours up in her hospital room, letting the anaesthesia wear off. There was lots of laughing and lots love in the room. Joli talked to everyone, but only wanted to be held by mom and fed juice by dad. ;)

So, we returned home last night. Joli slept in bed with us, occasionally complaining that her patched eye was "itchy", but then quickly falling back to sleep and snoring.

We think the worst is over. We'll be going back to the doctor today for some follow-up and Joli will have an MRI next week to verify that there is no cancer in other parts of the body.

The healing process takes 6-8 weeks and, after it's complete, Joli will be fitted with a prosthetic eye created by one of the best teams in the country. Liza and I have seen tons of pictures of other kids who've been fitted with fake eyes and it's friggin' incredible. You simply can't tell that the eye is fake. It even moves like a normal eye.

So, by the time many of you see Joli next, you won't be able to tell what occurred. :)

Friends, Liza and I want to thank you for your thoughts and your prayers. We were both overwhelmed to learn that so many of you were thinking of us these last few days. I sincerely believe that those thoughts and prayers made a difference. I sincerely believe that you played a part in our daughter's well being and we thank you so much for that.

The last 48 hours sort of stunk like ... , but the next few days are already smelling like roses. :)

Love-- Jorge, Liza and Joli

WHAT IS LEFT TO SAY?

Precursor: The brilliant Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher just posted this article which talks about climate and racialized realities. Because my post doesn't go into the social-political-educational context, read here for Dr. Zamani-Gallaher's piece. 

***********

It's August 14th. 

Two days ago, we all received word that acts of terrorism and violence occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Yesterday, I received a message from a wonderful and amazing close friend who wrote, "Had to write to tell you that as (my partner) and I were listening in horror and disgust at everything going on in VA yesterday, I immediately thought of you and told (my partner) (we were driving to get kids from camp) "I can't wait to see what Liza posts about this mess". For good or bad, you are my go to for all things racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic. Your wisdom and perspective on such issues is always well informed, thoughtful and so appreciated!"

I thanked him. This note of encouragement helped me breathe easier.

I responded that I didn't really have the bandwidth to craft a response (other than forwarding a news post on social media). And, that I would try to manage something to write in the next day or so.

But, the truth is, friends, What more is there to say? 

Really, what more is there to say?

I'm sad, but not shocked. Angry, but not surprised. Hopeless, but not defeated. 

As I drove home from my family outing, I tried to think about what I would write, but all I could think about was "which post from the past should I just re-blog."

Because, frankly, I've said what I've needed to say. 

Except, this year, I was silenced for it. Not by everyone, but by some.

See, a few months ago I wrote about white supremacy. Which, c'mon, if you've followed my work for a while now, you know that I write about race and racism.

I had attended a conference about education. And, I summed up the things that researchers were presenting. I wrote about how researchers noted that education was built on white supremacy and how, in many existing cases, seeks to uphold white supremacy. 

I came to realize that people are only comfortable talking about white supremacy when it has to do with people with torches marching through the streets. Those folks who may be reading this and who publicly attacked me believe that only what we see in Charlottesville is white supremacy. "It's only white supremacy if it's the kind we can distance ourselves from."

Well, what about the white supremacy of identifying more children of color as needing "discipline?" What about the white supremacy that keeps our schools, organizations, and companies predominantly white? What about the white supremacy of saying "we value diversity" but spend all one's time and effort taking down the people who are doing the work? What about the white supremacy that silences people of color when they use the words "white supremacy?"

Feel free to talk about all the white supremacy of seeing hundreds of people with tiki torches marching down the streets. Feel free to talk about all of the white supremacy that you can distance yourself from because, "Oh, God, I'm not one of them!" Feel free to make yourselves feel better that you would never publicly yell out "All Lives Matter." 

Feel free to get mad that I wrote this -- that "I'm making people uncomfortable" or that my job as a diversity expert is to "build community" or that you are uncomfortable because "maybe I'm mad at racism." 

By God. I don't hate white people. I hate white supremacy. I hate this belief and action -- not just perpetrated by people who believe themselves to be white -- that talking about racism is somehow racist. 

I could give you a nice list of all the age appropriate ways you could talk to your children. And, I hope for some of you, this is helpful if you are beginning to talk about race and difference. 

What did we do in our home? We watched the movie Malcolm X (which our children have seen a number of times). We took some time away from media. We listened to the news the next morning in the car. We talked about how they felt about what they were hearing. We answered their questions. We were honest with how we felt. 

We were explicit to remind them that white supremacy is not just marchers with torches in the city square. 

That white supremacy is in the air that we breathe. 

So, I'm not sure what people were hoping from me. Perhaps some words of encouragement. Perhaps some ways to take action. I assure you, I've written about all of those before because this isn't the first time our country and our world has seen acts of violence nor been impacted by them. 

What is left to say, friends? 

For me, calling out that white supremacy has actually silenced me has been important. 

What has it done to you?

RESOURCES

OLD POST cross-posted from an old blog

July 16, 2017

 

During the school year, we find ourselves in close proximity to one another — popping into each other’s classrooms to see an interesting lesson; walking by each other in the hallways to say “hello”; or waiting by the copy machine and discussing the latest news story we’ve heard on our drive into work.

But, during the summer, we find ourselves in this absence of community. And, yet, in times and days like these, community is precisely what we need. During this week, there were times when I was thankful for colleagues who checked in on me and who were interested in discussing violence in our communities. At other times, I was grateful for my morning run when I tuned out the world and simply listened to my heart and my own breath.

As educators, we have the privilege of engaging in dialogue around meaning and purpose. In many ways, we seek the comfort of our classrooms, hallways and offices where we can more easily find community. But, the summer time brings about new challenges — challenges to connecting, to seeking predictability, and to experiencing our comfort.

If you are a parent reading this list of resources, know that we, as teachers, struggle with how to have conversations with our students about the recent tragedies in our world. Children look for predictability. Children look for comforting responses from adults. Children look for cues that they are going to be alright. But, as adults, we have been forced to question these for ourselves. Know this this is difficult. Know that this is a struggle. Know that you are human and will experience conflicting feelings. And, know that these conversations with our children are important.

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from parents who are seeking resources about how to talk to their children about recent events in our country. I have provided resources for parents and caring adults; for children in our lower division ages (ages 4-8); for children in our middle division (ages 9-11); and for children in our upper division (ages 12-14). It is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is a simple list. I wanted to provide you with some activities or questions that you can “do now” rather than overwhelm you with feelings of “when do I have time to do this?” I have provided a few follow up discussion questions to each activity.

But, parents and families and caring adults, this list doesn’t do anything unless you have the conversation. I’m asking you to have these conversations. Note that the list below doesn’t explicitly prompt you to discuss mass shootings or racism in America or protocol for when you encounter law enforcement with your children. But, those are important, too. If you are just wading into these waters, I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we normalize difference. I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we highlight that people are treated differently and that we must work together to create equity (that people have access to resources and opportunities for success). I’m asking you to engage in conversations — early in the lives of children — where we co-create tools for ourselves to include the humanity of others in our own lives. 

Diversity is who we are. Equity is what we strive to provide. Inclusion is how we get there. 

The other day, I dropped off one of my children at a sleepover. I was talking to the host parent about the incidents in our communities, and she simply asked, “So, what do we do? Where do we start?” I looked over her shoulder at the small group of children who were gathered for the sleepover, giddy over the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since June 18th, our last day of school. They were hugging and smiling and making plans for how late they would stay up that night. Looking deeper, they were children from different racial backgrounds; children from different family structures; children of same-sex parents; children of parents from different racial identities; children from different socioeconomic backgrounds; children with different interests and likes; children from different towns and communities; children with different abilities and disabilities. And, they were all going to spend time together.

I’m not implying that simply bringing together diversity helps our world. Just having diverse groups doesn’t change our world. I am saying that these children — early in their lives — have developed close relationships across identities. They see each other as people. They see each other as humans. They see each other as friends. They see each other’s differences and have come together across, not despite of, these differences. They have parents who have invited children to their homes and who have welcomed them for who they are. They have parents who have committed to driving across three or four towns to encourage friendships. They have parents who are proud of their cultures, families, class, and abilities and who have invited these difference into their lives.

I turned to the host parent and said, “This is where we start.” I’m not sure if she saw the tear roll from my eye. In the midst of writing about so much hate and violence, I had forgotten that this, too — this joy of friendship — exists.

Where will you start? What are you willing to do to invite difference into your life? What must you do in order to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in which others want to join you? 

Below are some resources where you can begin. I hope that these resources springboard you into other areas of literature, social media, conversation, dialogue and experience.

I continue to keep all of the families and communities that are affected by tragedy in our hearts. I hope you will engage in conversations with your children, your family, and your loved ones. And, I hope we commit ourselves to building community, compassion, and connection to all.

With peace,

Liza Talusan, Ph.D., Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

For Parents and Caring Adults

  • An article about how to talk to your kids about race
  • An article of by a mother reflecting on the lessons she hopes to teach her sons about #BlackLivesMatter
  • A StoryCorps about a White mother and a Black son (graphic warning included)
  • A NYT article highlighting structural class inequity and health
  • An article about how we inadvertently send negative messages about race to our children
  • An article about why it is important to talk about Whiteness
  • A TED talk from Bryan Stevenson titled “We Need to Talk About an Injustice”
  • A list of ways that well-meaning allies are counterproductive
  • The manuscript on the impact of racial trauma
  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas

 

For Students in Lower Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Activity: Crack eggs together for scrambled eggs, cake or meatloaf. Use brown and white eggs and discuss how even though they are different colors on the outside they are the same on the inside.
    • What type of eggs do we tend to buy for our house? Do you think we can try other eggs? What difference would that make? What kind of lesson do you think that would teach us in this house?
    • How might this example of the eggs relate to our friends or classmates or family?
  • Reading Rainbow (Season 1, Episode 24, free with a Prime membership)
    • “A simple misunderstanding almost kept the boys from becoming friends.” What are some examples where this has happened to you?
    • When you met the two girls, one said, “I just got kind of nervous because I was wondering about all the kinds of things in her house.” How do you feel when you meet someone new? What types of cultural things do we have in our house? What are some examples of cultural items you have seen in other houses?

 

For Students in Middle Division

  • A YouTube version of The Sneetches (by Dr. Seuss)
    • How do you think the different characters felt in this video?
    • Have you ever felt left out? What does that feel like?
    • How did the Sneetches change from the beginning to the end?
    • Do you think characters were peacemakers or troublemakers? What would you have done?
    • What things can we do to promote fairness?
    • How can we include everyone?
  • Video featuring children ages 8-11 talking about their reactions to Dr. King’s speech
    • What is your dream for our country?
    • People in our country experience inequality. What are 3 ideas you have for making our country more equal?

 

For Students in Upper Division

  • Video of sports announcer Dale Hansen of WFAA TV as part of Hansen Unplugged talking about the tragedy in Dallas
    • What are your reactions to this?
    • What is something the announcer said that you have heard before? What was something new?
    • What do you have questions about?
  • A video called “Which games are culturally insensitive”
    • Do you play these games? Have you noticed this occurring?
    • What can we do as a family to help you understand stereotypes?
    • What should we do when we encounter racial stereotypes in things that we enjoy, like video games or comic books or movies?
    • What impact do you think this is having on you? What kind of impact is it having on your friends or peers?
  • A series called “Being 12” which has a few areas addressing race
    • As a family, do you think we talk about race? What kinds of things have you learned from our family about race?
    • What do your peers say about race? Are they aware of racism?
    • If there was one thing you would tell your peers about racism, what would it be?
  • Rising Grade VIII students have summer reading assignments that lean into issues of race. We invite you to ask your child about their reading and to engage in conversations that connect their books to our real-world experience.
    • How does the topic of your book relate to what’s happening on our world right now?
    • What types of solutions are offered in your books?
    • What types of challenges to the characters face that are similar to ones we have heard about in the news?

Liza's Summer Reading List

Hi everyone, 

Liza here! 

I had to take a little hiatus from blogging for a while (more on that, sometime) but wanted to share some of the books that I plan on reading this summer. I don't have any book groups going on, but would be happy to chat or discuss or hear your reflections/feedback  about your experiences with these books! 

It's no secret (because I've written about it) that I've spent most of my post-doctoral life catching up on television shows. I've watched The Walking Dead; Breaking Bad; and now I'm on to Grey's Anatomy. I didn't watch these shows at all during my 5 years in school, so, yes, I started on Season 1, Episode 1 for each of these. And, for this, I am proud. It takes a lot to binge watch THAT much television!

But, reading is something I love and never make enough time to do. I have listened to lots of books on Audible, but there is certainly something different about sitting on the front porch and reading a good book. So, here is my line up for the summer:

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Why I'm reading this: People can't stop talking about this book. I wanted to read it because it was important for me to hear the voice of a young, Black, teenage girl growing up in the age of today's violence. I'm about 3/4 of the way through and can see exactly why. It's written honestly and clearly, and I can feel every roller coaster of emotion coming through the pages. If you work with young people, this is particularly an important read. And, if not, read it anyway. 

 

Hunger by Roxanne Gay

Why I'm reading this: I'm super late to Roxanne Gay. I've heard lots of podcasts and interviews and I simply haven't picked up one of her books. Hunger is described a "memoir of her body" and, as a plus sized woman who is comfortable in her body, I need to read this. I have been body-positive for years now, and I know that I'll find lots of affirmation in this book. 

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Why I'm reading this: I bought this book on November 10, 2016 after I woke up to the news about the election. I grabbed a book that I knew would remind me of why I am committed to justice and equity. I started this book and had to put it down -- mostly because my own life/work schedule got the best of me. But, I'm picking it back up this summer.

 

Trans* In College by Z Nicolazzo

Why I'm reading this: In all fairness, I read this book in two sittings a few months ago. But, I was reading it to escape my own difficult realities. I need to read it again to better listen to the stories of Dr. Nicolazzo and the participants in this book. I do not identify as transgender, and this book was important to my own knowledge and practice in education as well as to my own growth as a human being. I highly recommend this book.

 

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Why I'm reading this: Sure, I followed along at what was happening at Standing Rock, but my own ignorance contributes to my limited activism. This book seems heavy and incredibly important. So, it's on my list as I keep trying to push my own limits as to what I know, what I believe, and what I can change. 

 

 

Planting in a Drought

It is my daughter's 11th birthday. 

And, as she reminds us, she was born on Earth Day.

While we were anticipating some requests for technology or an overly priced gift, our daughter turned to us and said, "All I want for my birthday is to plant a garden." And so, with her grandmother, we went to our local garden store and let her have the run of the planting aisles. She picked the soil, the containers, the seeds, and supplies. When she celebrated with her few friends, they came over with gardening gloves, a bright purple watering can, and some sunscreen. 

We stayed up late that night, mixing soil and water and creating a mess in our dining room. We poked seeds into the containers and she crafted beautiful labels for each seed case. 

We laid them all on our dining room floor, eagerly awaiting for the sun to come out during an extended, dreary New England spring. 

I left for a business trip, carefully rolling my luggage between the cases of plants. As I rushed off to the airport, I saw patches of dirt still sprinkled along the dining room floor. 

After a few days, I came home and rolled my luggage back into the dining room. I was stunned by the little containers of dirt that now had bright, green, fragile sprigs. 

My work -- traveling and having difficult conversations about race, identity, privilege and power -- are much like these little plants. It's messy. It's dirty. You get covered with stuff. You take this tiny little seed -- some no bigger than a crumb -- and hope you tucked them into the right spot in the soil. Oh, and that soil? Yeah, it has to be good. It has to be soil that is full of nutrients. It has to be soil that is ready to accept this little seed. You have to water it. You have to give it just the right amount of sun. 

You have to not trample on it.

In our home, the conditions for those little plants were perfect. We paid attention to it -- just like we pay attention to issues of identity. We get dirty. We wait patiently. We believe that the seed will transform.

But, what happens when you plant in a drought? What happens when you plant, only to have it bulldozed? What happens when you water it just right but leave it out in the torrential rain? 

Identity work is hard. That's why I do it. I'm not afraid of talking about race or privilege or power. I know that others are. But, I am not. I am not afraid of the dirt and the hard work. I'm not afraid of the care that it takes to help things grow. 

I plant in a drought.

I plant these seeds of knowledge, even when they are tough, because I believe in what's to come. I believe in the fruit of this labor. 

While there are people who are content throwing poison on the plants, or who fail to have patience to see what will grow, I still plant. 

The other night, I went to a concert featuring my friend, Tom Smith. And, he played this song. It hit so close to home that I had to force myself not to listen. In a room of strangers, I wasn't ready to cry or sway or break down - even though this song does that so easily to me. I needed to come home, listen to it privately, and just let it wash over me. 

Plant in a drought. Plant even when the machines are buzzing and whirring ready to destroy your work. Plant. Plant and believe that there is life in this work. 

Peace and planting,

Liza

 

 

FIRED UP, READY TO GO

I'm cutting it real close here. 

In just a few hours, Barack Obama and his family will leave the White House. I wrote this back in 2009 and re-read it today. It was a hopeful letter to my children - one in which I acknowledged that this would be a different America than what I had grown up in. And, in many ways, it was different. 

In many ways, it was still the same.

But, as I try to stay positive today, at a time when this social and political climate has permeated through my work, home, public and private, and parenting life, I am choosing to continue to be inspired by the past eight years. 

It has shown me that leadership matters.

As a practitioner who works in diversity, equity and inclusion, I know all too well that leadership matters. Both my own and of those around me. 

As many of my colleagues who do this work have experienced, there are times when fighting for equity and inclusion is too much to bear. There are times when the actions -- or inactions -- of others around you impact the world you hope for yourself and others. There are times when you are asked to compromise your morality, to slow down your walk, and tread lightly. 

But, justice work is not about treading lightly. Justice and equity work is about seeing the lives of those who are most marginalized and oppressed and not giving up until they, in their full humanity, can participate in whatever structures exist. Justice and equity and inclusion work is about taking steps, it's about taking action, and it's about honoring the dignity of others through real change. 

There are days when the wall is too tall, too big, and too ominous. There are days when I feel like I have scaled the wall, only to see it get bigger and wider. There are days when I look at the builder squarely in the face and decide if I'm going to crawl back down or keep climbing. 

Behind my desk, I have a giant framed poster of Audre Lorde. Her quote says, "When I dare to be powerful -- to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."

My real decisions to step away from this work isn't based on fear, though. It's based on anger. Frustration. Disbelief in the purposes of pausing. 

In acts of self-care, I tell myself, "That's enough. I'm not doing this work anymore." 

In acts of self-righteousness, I tell myself, "I can do better than this. I'm going to go where the work is wanted."

In acts of self-preservation, I tell myself, "I can focus my energies on other things."

But, time and again, my moral compass keeps me due north. As far as I walk and stray off path, I'm called back to the road.

It is in those times when I know that diversity, equity, inclusion and justice work is not just a job for me. It's a purpose. It's my life's purpose.

Damn if I'll be swayed from it. 

I'll hold this same calling that the Obama family and the Biden family had when they were faced with unbelievable adversity. They dusted off their shoes and showed back up to work. 

If my parents can travel halfway across the world and make a life for themselves and their generations, I can keep pushing on. 

If my in-laws can boldly preach the Word of God at a time when the world doesn't seem to be focused on love, I can keep faithful. 

If examples around me can show up each day, I can continue to be an example.

We have a hard road ahead for us as we fight for equity, inclusion and justice. 

And, I'm all fired up. 

So, are you Fired Up and Ready to Go? Watch here as we get started!

 

Peace and love, 

Liza

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

It usually happens the same way.

He makes eye contact. I make eye contact in return. He smiles. I smile. He waves. I wave. He says, "Hello ma'am, can you spare some change?" I know my wallet is empty, and I say, "I'm sorry, sir. But, God bless you. Please be safe out here."

The light turns green. I creep forward. I leave.

This probably happens to me a few times a month. And, depending on where you live, maybe this happens a few times a week. Maybe a few times a day.

Now, I admit. This story typically ends. I leave feeling sadness at this person's condition. I leave feeling angry at the system that forced or created or positioned or led him to homelessness. And, I drive away patting myself on the back for acknowledging his humanity, for looking him in the eyes, for smiling, for waving, and for sending him off with a Christian blessing. 

I'm a good person, right?

Yes, the answer is yes. But, by God, what more can I be doing?

On occasion, I create little care bags that I keep in my car. Most often it's a granola bar and a juice box. Sometimes it's a baggie of a few dollars, some food, some warm gloves and clean socks. But, once I run out, I rarely purchase more. 

The other day, my family and I were in a hotel lobby eating breakfast. A gentleman came in and called for our attention. "Good morning, sir. Good morning, ma'am." We said "good morning." Then, we looked away. 

"Can you spare some change? Spare some coffee?"

I wasn't paying for that breakfast. It was already free. Yet, I sat still in my seat. I averted my eyes. I turned away. I started a conversation with my son who was, frankly, not paying attention to me. 

I distracted myself from this man's humanity.

"Ma'am. Hello? Can you spare some money?"

"No, sir. I'm sorry. God bless you. Be safe out there."

Within a minute, the staff of the hotel came out. They politely reminded him to leave, saying that he couldn't keep doing this every weekend. 

He left.

We all breathed. Be not mistaken, it was a sigh of relief.

An awkward 10 seconds passed. That felt like the longest 10 seconds of my life. I knew what was right, and yet I did nothing.

Though the staff didn't want us to give him any food, I could have walked over to the snack area and purchased some food for him. I could have offered to pay for his meal. I could have invited him to sit down with us. 

My husband? He followed the man outside. 

When he returned, the staff member asked, "Did you give him some food?"

My husband replied, "No, I told him that the church on the corner has a food pantry." That church was once run by my husband's father. 

We finished breakfast, went upstairs to shower, and we walked to church.

Even writing this is disturbing to me. What brought me to the point of ignoring another human being? Who had I become? Who am I? How can I turn away a human being and then walk myself to church to praise God and preach the word and love of Jesus? 

I'd like to be able to say that I then did something awesome.

I didn't.

I never saw that man again. But, I know, every week, I'll see another person in the same situation.

I went to work the next day and prepared for a presentation I was giving on upstander behavior (sense the irony yet?). I came across this "What would you do?" video and I am reminded that even we "good people" are flawed. Even we "good people" separate ourselves from the humanity of others. Even we "good people" have a lot of ourselves to see in others.

I'm writing this because I know the importance of acknowledging uncomfortable moments -- ones where we are deficient. I know that, in order for me to do better in this world, I have to acknowledge when I have done worse. 

What would you do?

Peace and love, 

Liza

Translator

Are you familiar with Luther

I'm talking about Luther, "the anger translator" by actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key. 

Because, y'all. That is certainly what doing diversity, equity and inclusion work feels like. 

Now, I'm not talking about the necessary and exciting discourse and disagreement. It is important that we disagree and it is important to have people disagree with me. It is important that we seek people who are different from us, who have different ideas, and who challenge our own ways of thinking. My own friend group (and I'll include social media friend groups in there, too) are filled with people from different religions, faith traditions (or none at all), gender and gender identities, class and socioeconomic backgrounds, races and ethnicities, countries of origin, and political beliefs.

Yes, even political beliefs. Yes, even during these times. 

These different identities are found among people in my own family, my work friends, folks I've met out on the road, high school classmates, graduate school scholars, lifelong friends I've made through my children, and friends who I've met through different life experiences.  

Rest assured, while many of my close friend circle do share similar views as me (give or take a few degrees to the left or right), I also have many close friends in my life who couldn't be more different ideologically, who are so far on the right or left of the political spectrum that it's hard to even see each other sometimes. But, they are in my life, and I love them. (I admit, I did draw the line with anyone who was openly cheering for some of the most vitriolic phrases or sentiments we have heard in the past year. Those people had to go.)

How are we able to coexist? (1) We listen to each other.  (2) We disagree respectfully. (3) We have taken the time to explore why we think the way that we do. (4) We have learned how our individual life journey's have brought us to where we are today. (5) We know that, though we may disagree on a few powerful issues, we hold each other's humanity at the forefront of it all.

Now, I don't know all of the details of all 1,400+ Facebook friends; but I do know that they are all people who, in their own lives, have dedicated themselves to those five practices. And, among my friends in this circle, we disagree on some very personal issues: we disagree on abortion issues; we disagree on gender identity; we disagree on sexual orientation -- all three topics that can find their foundation in powerful faith. Recently, I had posted on Facebook that I wanted to start the new year knowing who of those 1,400 I was actually engaging with. I read tons of posts by at least a few hundred different people, and I wanted to get a sense of who was interested in what I was writing. I heard from lots of folks, predictably, who shared similar ideas as I had. But a few had written, "Liza, we disagree on most things. And, that is important. Hoping to stay on and reading your posts because it's important for me to know different perspectives." #loveit 

But, what happens when I'm faced with someone who cannot bring themselves to a place of understanding about difference. It may bring you hope and comfort to know just how rare I run into this scenario. I mean, in 20 years of doing very visible work in areas of justice, I've certainly "seen it all." But, in 20 years, I have only run into a dozen or so people who have escalated their dismay for discourse into hatred. 

And, you may be surprised at this: in my 20 years of doing this work, of the dozen or so who I have encountered, I have only run into 1-2 people who I would say were true racists or homophobes or who were just legitimately anti-diversity. I have only run into 1-2 people who were there to prove their point that Whites were superior or that gay people were going to hell.

So, who are the other 10? The other 10 have been people who have started with "I'm not racist.. but..." or who have told me that their "daughter's Asian boyfriend" or "former roommate who was gay" or "because I grew up poor" and then jumped into racially loaded or homophobic or classist rants. They have said, "I love that my child has classmates of other races, but I just don't want my child learning about them." Or, they have said, "I know being colorblind isn't a good thing, but neither is talking about diversity so much." Or they have said, "I have wonderful gay friends who are good people, but I just don't want my child to know about those other kinds of gays." 

See what's happening there? They like diversity; they just don't like inclusion or equity. And, see how there is a predictable pattern of speech? Say pro-diversity thing then say anti-diversity thing.

Those are the days my inner dialogue is Luther. 

Those are the days, as a professional, when I have had to let people get closer to me than I am comfortable (a woman once put her hand so close up to my face, she was within an inch of striking me in the nose). Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to restrain myself from telling a person to "fix her face" as she glared at me, pursing her lips to hard that I was convinced she was building up enough spit to send one nasty ball hurling towards me across the conference table. Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to meet the anger with the greatest basket of compassion, knowing full well that the same courtesy is not reciprocated to me as woman of color. Those are the days, as a professional, when I have to silently repeat over and over again in my head "She lacks information" even when the person is questioning my very credentials and perpetuating myths and falsehoods. These tend to be folks who know enough not to be a human resources liability and who know enough to fit in.

I wake up every day recommitting myself to this work. I know that, despite hearing every so often that another person is "tired of diversity" or thinks we "put too much diversity in the curriculum" or that "talking about race actually makes people more racist," I know firsthand of the successes of inclusion. I carry 20 years of stories with me of people who have felt validated, heard, and who feel like they belong because of something good we had done for them. 

There isn't much I can do for the 1-2 people who are so firm in their anti-diversity beliefs. My hope and prayer is that they'll come to it in their own time and that no one gets hurt in the process. I'm never really sure what to do with the folks who speak in such strong levels of contradiction -- who know enough to sound like they are committed to diversity but who simply hate the notion that diversity and inclusion take work. 

I will say that, of those 10 or so, their friend group is largely homogenous. 

I travel around the country talking a lot about identity and sense of self. And, much of what I emphasize is that who we are is important to what we believe. 

I'll end by saying I'm grateful for the folks who have invested lots of time in exploring their own relationship to identity. I have experienced your ally behavior and am encouraged by communities that you contribute to each day. I am grateful for people who seek to understand differences in opinions and approaches and who are willing to engage in productive dialogues. 

I'll continue to be professional in times when I'm required to do so. And, I'll continue to keep my good sense of Luther-the-Translator humor as I ride this bumpy ride called justice. 

 

Peace and love, 

Liza

WHAT'S YOUR PLAN?

Alright, this might upset some folks. To which I ask you to reflect on why this is upsetting for you to read (c'mon, you knew I was going to ask that!).

It's about that safety pin you just bought and are about to pin on your shirt. 

First, thank you. Thank you for signaling your support and your commitment to being a safe person for anyone who feels or may feel targeted by the racist, homophobic, ableist, and all the other horrific acts of violence going on. 

And, now I need to be clear. 

If you know me or have been following my writing, you must know that I don't believe in performative allyship  -- that is, the act of showing support without actually knowing what that support looks like. I don't believe in changing my profile picture with a country's flag superimposed on it; I don't believe in just hanging up a "safe space" sticker or card; and I don't believe in pinning a safety pin on my lapel UNLESS I'm willing to take action. I don't change my profile picture to a flag because, frankly, I haven't done anything to ally with people in France or Nigeria beyond reading articles and blog posts. There isn't a single person in country that has experienced violence who is sitting at home thinking, "That Liza, she's really shown up for me and my people in this international violence." I haven't. I want to believe that I am emotionally committed to global equality, but there is no one who has gifted me with label "global ally."

I do feel comfortable having  a Safe Space sticker, but only because people within the LGBTQ have told me that I have demonstrated a commitment to their issues, done work to educate myself and others, and have actively worked to dismantle oppressive structures that have impacted their community. That safe space sticker reminds me of that commitment and the work that I need to continue doing.

I'm not interested in performing allyship. 

I'm interested in actually allying through my every day actions. 

Let me give you an example of why this whole pin thing is difficult for me. 

Over the past 3 days, I have heard about and read about people -- who I know personally and who I don't know -- who have experienced physical, verbal and emotional violence. If someone were to throw eggs at me while I'm on a walk with my children or yell for me to go back to my country or verbally harass me on a subway train, you know what I will be doing? I'll be freaking out. Know what I won't be doing? I won't be looking around for a person wearing a safety pin on their shirt. 

I won't be looking for your safety pin; I'll be looking for a safe escape route.

I won't be looking for your safety pin; I'll be reaching for the keys in my pocket in case I have to defend myself.

I won't be looking for your safety pin; I'll be looking for my child's hand to grab and to protect them, possibly through flight or possibly through fight.

I won't be looking for your safety pin; I'll be looking for a place to throw up after the adrenaline courses through my body. 

Friends, your safety pin does not help me.

But, I hope it does help you. I mean that sincerely. 

I hope that your safety pin reminds you that many of us have felt pricked and stabbed by the rise in assaults against us and our communities. 

I hope that your safety pin reminds you to take action when you see someone being harassed. 

I hope that safety pin holds the witty comments you'll say when you see me frozen in my chair and receiving verbal assaults. 

I hope that your safety pin gives you some sort of confidence to intervene when someone is being yelled or screamed at on a train, on a sidewalk, in a restaurant, or in class. 

I hope that your safety pin holds you accountable for the promise you have decided to make when you put it on. 

I hope that your safety pin sends you on a personal journey of unpacking the decades of racism and racist agenda that has been the foundation of this country. 

I hope that your safety pin gives you the strength to respond when someone says to you, "Nice fucking pin, asshole."

I hope you are strong enough to not hide the pin under your jacket or under your scarf when you are outside in public, only to reveal it when you get to your liberal, progressive, and socially accepting workplace. After all, there are many of us who don't get to choose how we show up in these spaces. We hold marginalized identities whether we are in our socially just community and when we are at the local grocery store. 

I hope that your safety pin is just the beginning.

I hope that your safety pin reminds you of your plan -- the plan you will enact when you witness all of the above taking place.

I hope that safety pin includes a plan -- your individual plan -- for action and reaction. 

I hope you look at yourself in the mirror when you put that safety pin on and practice all of the things you'll say or the looks you'll give or the way you'll hold your body when it's time to ally with others. 

So, what's your plan?

Is the safety pin something you'll just wear because it's the right thing to do? Or is the safety pin the thing you'll do right?

Peace, 

Liza

 

 

A LITTLE LONGER

"No, nope. I'm not letting you go yet."

I could feel the weight of her arms around my back; the curls of her hair pressed against my cheek. Her chest heaving with each inhale. 

"Just a little bit longer," she whispered as she squeezed tighter. 

My breathing followed her rhythm. 

"Okay, now we're good." I felt her arms fall away. 

This all happened as I was heading to the elevator at a conference today. 

"Thank you," I said softly, feeling my eyes well up for the hundredth time today. "I didn't even realize I needed that until you made me stay in that moment."

Just twelve hours ago, the United States election results were announced. And, it's been about 12 hours of living in my own head. Shortly after the morning news, I got into a taxi, onto a plane, on a tram, on another plane, in another taxi, and right into a conference session I had organized. I'm surprised I made it to my destination, though I truly couldn't quite tell you anything about my journey. Nearly all day, I've felt in a daze. 

As a scholar and practitioner who looks at issues from a critical (i.e. disruptive and structural) perspective, I was not surprised by the election results. Let me rephrase that -- I was surprised by the election results, but I wasn't surprised by the election results. To understand race and to understand our country's history of race, this election outcome should not have been a surprise. Different groups of people feel disappointed. Different groups of people feel confused, especially as poll data indicated a different outcome. But, if you know about race in our country, this should not have been a surprise. 

Being in the air for long periods of time today, I turned on my phone to lots of questions and notifications from social media. My inbox was filled with requests for guidance and help  -- help talking to children; help processing the events themselves; and help understanding what tomorrow brings.

So, I'm sorry. This blog isn't about those issues. There are lots and lots of blog posts that have already popped up and you can read those here and here and here

But, I will offer some "now what" moments here. 

Now what?

Learn about race. All of the polling data is conveniently showing the racial divide in voting this election. If you hadn't believed that the implications of race are real, it's time to show up. Race is real. The implications of race are real. Learn about race and learn how to talk about race. If you're White in America, I get it - you've been told you don't have to talk about race or have even felt like it's not "an issue that you need to address." Talking about race made you feel bad or guilty. Listening to others talk about race made you upset. Believing that people received advantages because of race or (mythical) racial advantages made you angry and fire off claims of "reverse racism" (note: reverse racism isn't a thing, okay?) Race is real. It's very implication is that you need to engage in this conversation. 

Believe that people of color and other groups who have been minoritized in our policies and programs are feeling something different today. Now, c'mon. Folx in these groups have always experienced a "different America" than White cisgender folx. It's time you all believe that it's true. Again, quantitatively, look at how voting broke down into racial lines. That's a different America. We were never post-racial (and, if you were a post-racial-believer, please take the opportunity to educate yourself about why that, too, isn't a thing)

Build community. I'll be the first to tell you that e-mail chains make me bananas. Yet, today, I received a 36-message email chain of support and affirmation from people who were strangers to me just a few months ago. But, we shared a very special experience together over the course of three weeks. I needed to hear their voices and read their words today more than ever. That hug from earlier? That physical connection was so important. Today, those few dozen emails from people asking what they could do -- that was community. 

Talk with your children. At my school, we lean heavily into identity and equity and inclusion. So, our children are comfortable talking about these issues. But, children need to hear messages of support at home and at school. Children are also much smarter than we give them credit for -- don't dismiss their fears or anxiety. Acknowledge if they need to express their feelings, let them tell you what's going on, and then reassure them of what your family believes. 

Maya Angelou writes: "... people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; people will never forget how you made them feel." Our children need to feel a sense of security, of safety, and of stability, even in a time when we, as adults, are feeling none of those. But, be honest with them. Be honest with your own feelings while assuring them that you, as their parent or caring adult, are committed to their safety, security and stability. There was a lot of promises during this campaign season that our children have heard and talked about -- assure them that, if these are talked about now as the President, you will address these issues in your home. 

Awaken your activist identity. Many of the messages I've received today have shared a similar theme: "I now know that I can't sit back and let others do the work; I have to do the work, too." Show up in spaces that are doing activist work. As you've heard from me before, there are many ways to engage in activism. For some, I've watched you move from "liking" posts on Facebook to actually "sharing" or even writing your own. Some have mentioned that they started getting involved in their Parents' Advisory Council and been an advocate for inclusion. Some have gone to a rally or to an organizing meeting. Some have joined a church where messages of social justice are the foundation of the faith practice. Some have worn pins or engaged in public conversations about political and justice issues. Ask questions. Read books. Learn how to talk to your children about these issues. If you are a teacher, include books about race and justice in your curriculum (please, please, please). If you aren't a teacher, buy books to give to others. 

I simply cannot accept, at this point, folxs saying, "I don't know what to do."

I can't tell you what to do next. There are at least a dozen of my posts and hundreds more than can give you everything from a Top 5 to a 50-page document of things to do. 

SO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? I recommend you make a plan. Write down the three things you are going to do --- three concrete things -- and then share that with someone else. Or, share it with everyone else. Ask for help. Ask for help with those specific action items. Maybe it's "I'm going to read three books on critical race." And, you might find someone else say, "Yes, can I join you? Can we read the same book and then chat on Google Hangout or Skype or in person?"

Make it happen. 

You have the information. What you decide to do with it is up to you. The question remains: Is the time now or will you wait a little longer?

Peace and pushing on, 

Liza

I admit. I grew up anti-Black.

Read that title. Read the title again. Read it one more time. Then, ask if you grew up the same way.

I did.

The kid in me wants to believe it was unintentional. The well-intentioned and educated grown up in me wants to believe it's not true. The human being who is tired of waking up each day to violence perpetuated against people who are Black knows that it's real. 

To be a person in the United States (because that's the only place I have grown up) means that I have grown up anti-Black. From the moment I came into this world, I was told how pretty my "light skin" was. I was advised not to spend too much time out in the sun because I "shouldn't get too dark." 

I grew up singing childhood songs that used the n*word so much that I didn't even realize it was "not a nice word to say". Back then, we didn't even call it "the n*word." We sang it on the bus. We sang it on the playground. We sang it while skipping home from a friend's house. No one ever told us not to say it. No one ever told us because, frankly, I believe they were using it and thinking it, too. 

When I was in middle school, my friend dressed up like Ziggy Marley -- her favorite singer -- and we saved up our money to buy dark foundation from the local CVS and sponged on this dark makeup, twisted her light-brown hair, and "dressed up like a Jamaican." No one told her to change her clothes when we got to school. No one told her how inappropriate it was. No one told her it was offensive. I didn't know enough not to to think this was awesome. 

I only knew two girls who are Black during my entire time in kindergarten through high school. I didn't have any relationship with them other than a brief shared stint as a cheerleader in 6th grade a bus ride and on a student council trip in 7th grade. 

I was in honors history and English classes; went to a well-resourced public school; and was active in town sports. In school, I learned that people who are Black were slaves; that they picked cotton; that they sang field songs; that they were professional athletes and entertainers. Of course, I had learned in my formal schooling about Martin Luther King (but not Malcolm X) sometime in February and Harriet Tubman (again, when we were talking about slaves). I don't think I learned about Rosa Parks until I was in college. 

The first time I had ever heard about Malcolm X was when the movie Malcolm X was released in the theaters. It was late in my senior year of high school, and all of my friends said, "My parents told me not to go to the movies when Malcolm X is playing because all the Black people are gonna try to beat us up after it's done."

I didn't see that film until I was a senior in college. I watched it by myself in my dorm room. I still have that VCR double tape sitting in a box in my living room. 

I showed up to college and it was my first time meeting peers who are Black, and for the first time, heard about W.E.B. DuBois; Alice Walker; Zora Neale Hurston; Toni Morrison; Angela Davis; bell hooks; Cornel West. These names were strangers to me my entire life. 

Now, you may be reading this and hating me. You may be reading this and knowing that I am part of the problem.

You'd be right. I am part of the problem. 

I hate these parts of my story, too. 

I'm angry that this is my personal narrative. 

I'm angry that this is my journey. 

I'm angry that, some days, I convince myself that it's not my fault that I grew up in an environment that was just so rooted in stereotyping of people who are Black. Oh, but it's not my fault that my early life was void of any messages that would affirm Black identity and Black culture and Black history and Black issues and ... anything, anything that had to do with people who are Black. Then, I remember that it's not my fault, but the consequences are my responsibility. 

I'm angry when I try to make myself feel better and say, "But, I'm a good person...." My head goes there. 

I grow even more angry when I realize that a system of supremacy created this. That, through ignorance and/or intention, the stories of powerful Black people were left out of my development and upbringing. The stories of slavery and dependence were the ones that were told to me. The stories of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" were the ones that were told to me. The stories of "don't go into the neighboring city after a certain hour because those people are all drug addicts and criminals" were the ones told to me. 

And, I grow even more angry when I admit that, as a fellow person of color, anti-Blackness is part of my narrative. 

I've tried to change some of those things. I am heavily involved in curriculum reform to include (and center) more accurate stories of people of color, particularly people who are Black. I moved into that very city that people said was dangerous. I have open conversations with my children, since they could walk and talk, about race, about the beauty of Blackness and parts they self-identify as their heritage, and work to educate people in my age group and generation about how we grew up. 

As an Asian American, I own that my own community has had problematic approaches and education of our own. I have grown to understand just how my own community was set up to be anti-Black. Through systems of education, society, praise, "model minoritizing", being made to feel like I have to set an example, whiz-kid rhetoric, and honorary Whiteness, my very identity was pitted against Blackness. I was given messages that I should distance myself far away from Blackness and Black communities and Black people. I grew up knowing that I was me and they were those people. 

 I grew up with messaging that was so toxic and poisonous that I still have to check it every single day. 

I check it every single day that I look into the eyes of my husband and his family who, through complicated histories of Puerto Rico, run shades from light to dark. I check it every single day when I brush out the tightly curled hair of my oldest child, feeling strands wrap around my fingers in ways that my own straight, smooth, flat hair does not. I check it when I tell my son, "No, I will not buy you that toy gun, even the one that looks like a neon play thing" out of fear that he will be in our front yard when someone calls to report him to the police.

I check it every single day I wake up. 

I check it every single day I go to bed.

I remind myself that I am a product of anti-Black education and socialization. 

I have traveled far from my days of sheer ignorance; but I cannot settle. I will never falsely tell myself that I have moved past prejudiced thoughts and biased feelings. I won't ever lie to myself about my own journey that includes anti-Blackness.  

News stories and violence against people who are Black have already convinced me what happens when we do. 

#BlackLivesMatter

Peace, 

Liza

 

 

 

41 FEELS LIKE 19

In a few hours, I'll be 41. 

Big freakin' deal.

I mean, who gets excited about 41 ?

40? Yes. That was huge. I remember the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday and obsessing about whether I "looked 40" or "acted 40" or "accomplished enough at 40." But, 41? 

Eh.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lots has happened in that year leading up to 41. I earned my Ph.D.; my partner and I sold our house; we designed and built a new house; we survived living with my parents for 2 1/2 months (thanks Mom and Dad); I took my own advice and leaped out of my comfort zone professionally and personally; and I had an overall pretty good year.

But, this year leading up to 41 -- It was also the year that my father-in-law went home to God, and it was a time when we focused on building connections and relationships with family. My relationship with my mother-in-law has never been stronger, and my heart is both heavy and full with the love that her husband had for her and his sons. 

In the weeks leading up to my 41st birthday, I made a commitment. I made the commitment to run 41 miles (total). Over the year, I had gained weight due to a long commute, a new job, and, frankly, some incredibly gourmet lunches on the daily. I spent the summer focusing on my health and wellness, and kicked some serious asphalt in the process. 

The 4:45am wake up call and the 5:15am run were good for my body, but the time to focus on peace was what I treasured the most. During those runs, I talked to my father-in-law. I said, "Good morning, Pops" and told him all about what had gone on that day. As I witnessed the sunrise transition into daylight, I imagined him dancing with God. Truth, I never really talked that much to him when he was here with us on Earth; but I found talking to him on these runs to be so beautiful. 

Day by day and week by week, as I reflected on his life, I began to see my own life change. 

My father in law was committed to peace and justice through Faith. He often said, "You can't just be a person of good Faith; you have to be a person of good use." When Hurricane Sandy devastated his neighborhood, he didn't run off to seek shelter and warmth; he stayed and served people even though he did not have the resources to serve himself. When the killing of Trayvon Martin sparked national attention about the violence towards Black people in our country, he traded his pressed suit on the pulpit for a grey, worn out, hooded sweatshirt. When we drove the long hours to visit with him and his wife in New York, he was often in his room preparing a sermon or organizing a community event or finding ways to support the people in the community. 

In 1992, I turned 18. Huge party, big celebration, and major milestone. In 1993, I turned 19. Not as big a deal. No big party. No big, "you're an adult now" kind of talk. It was just, well, it was just 19. The number 19 meant nothing, really. 

Until now. 

Now that he is with God, I find myself rethinking what "19" means. I used to feel like "19" was the hangover from turning 18. But, for me, "19" marks the number of years that Pop was in my life. In 1997, Jorge and I got engaged. That was 19 years ago. Nineteen years ago, Jorge's dad became my dad. 

And, on the eve of turning 41, I'm having those same feelings -- that 41 is actually more important than I had given it credit. My 41st year is one that I commit to being not only a person of Faith but a person of Use. How might I use my own agency, my own desire, my own awareness of injustice in this world and put myself to use? 

At work, my husband, Jorge, is known for his hastag: #makethingsbetter. While the community has attributed this saying to Jorge, he revealed that it was his Pop that taught him how to #makethingsbetter by living a life of purpose and use. 

Forty-one is no longer "the year after 40." 

I turn 41 in the year that my father-in-law, through God's will, has told me that "it's time to put your Faith to Use." 

Forty-one is my call to action. 

Forty-one is my call to Use. 

How might you turn your awareness of injustice in our world and put yourself to use? How will you make this year of your life as celebratory and as important as every other?

Peace and power, 

Liza

PODCASTS I NEED YOU TO LISTEN TO

hello friends,

I have been writing quite a bit on the "Park School Voices" blog so I'm not going to just copy and paste. Please visit that blog for some helpful resources.

This morning, I went running with my friend Lisa. And, while we usually chat the entire time, I had asked her to bring her headphones and listen to some podcasts. Lisa, like many of my friends, is a White woman who is deeply committed to justice. And, yet, I still needed and wanted her to listen to some podcasts. Thankfully, she agreed. 

Further, while Lisa and I only planned on being out for a little while, that "quick run" turned into 4 miles because we kept turning to each other saying, "I want to listen to more of this podcast. Can we keep going?" I even found myself making more than a suggestion to her. "Lisa, I need you to download these. I need you to listen to these." 

So, friends, I wanted to just use this space to list some Podcasts that have gotten me through the past few weeks. I need and want my White friends to listen to these. I hope that my friends of color find comfort in hearing other voices of color in these. 

While I have been looking forward to my morning runs for the past two months, I found myself in a very strange situation the morning after the Dallas shootings. I had my sneakers on, my running jacket zipped, and my dog's leash ready to go. Instead of opening the front door, I sat on the stairs. I leaned my head against the wall. I cried. My body felt like stone. My heart was pounding. My breath was shallow. I felt overwhelmed with sadness. I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness. 

Then I remembered, this is how racism wins. This is how racism-induced stress wins. This is how people die. 

I picked myself up. Dried my tears. Walked out the door. 

My morning run turned into a morning walk. A long morning walk. I needed to feel air rush through my lungs. I needed to feel the sun on my face. I needed to feel the wind dry my tears-stained face. 

I needed to be. 

That's that. 

Some of you have asked what I listen to during my morning runs. I listen to these podcasts. 

Thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for all your notes and messages asking if me, and my communities, are okay. Thanks for asking for resources and getting me back on the writing track. And thank you for helping us all to move forward. 

Peace and podcasts, 

Liza

Podcasts you can/should/must download

Invisibilia --  all of these  not because they talk about race, but because they focus on the hidden forces in our lives. 

Code Switch - all of these because I have actually stopped mid-run and applauded

This American Life - Birds and the Bees "If You See Something, Say Something" 

This American Life - Three Miles and Harper High School (parts 1 and 2) because they made me rethink schools as an oppressive structure

 

TO MY CIS- AND HETERO- FRIENDS

We are also responsible.

I spend much of my life talking about race. More specifically, I engage in difficult dialogue about how people who believe themselves to be White (h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates) uphold a system of racism. 

I get that.

And, it is long overdue, my cis- and hetero- friends, that we take responsibility for homophobia and transphobia. Even if we consider ourselves to "not be homophobic or transphobic." We benefit from a system that was created for us, shaped for us, and reinforced by us. 

I certainly can't take individual responsibility for the recent tragedy, but I must take responsibility for the ways in which my cis- and hetero- privilege contribute to the oppression and marginalization of people who identify and are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender as well as gender fluid and gender non-conforming. 

We can pray all we want for the families and individuals impacted by oppression and equality; but, we need to take responsibility.

So, here are the things I take responsibility for that contribute to homophobia and transphobia:

  • I am responsible for the times when I do not address homophobic remarks -- veiled or unveiled. 
  • I am responsible for when I have done a "double take" when I have seen, or believe to see, a human being who may be transgender.
  • I am responsible for when I have assumed gender pronouns of an individual, regardless of how one expresses oneself. 
  • I am responsible for when I enter into a bathroom that aligns with my gender identity, reinforcing a structural and belief privilege that protects me from discrimination or harm. 
  • I am responsible for when I enter into a gender inclusive (gender neutral) bathroom as an act of solidarity but, also contribute to a longer line in a space where trans and gender-fluid people feel safer. 
  • I am responsible for when I assume, even in my head, that someone has a spouse or partner of the opposite gender, sex, or gender identity. 
  • I am responsible for times when I have witnessed people show affection to their partners and may have, at times, displayed micro-expressions that displayed my homophobic upbringing and childhood. This may have been a raised eyebrow or a side head tilt. 
  • I am responsible for when my children may have witnessed micro-expressions that de-legitimitized people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or gender fluid. 
  • I am responsible for when I have leaned away from having difficult conversations with my children or loved ones about LGBT equality and rights.
  • I am responsible for when I have not changed policies that oppress people who are transgender - including guests, visitors, families, and friends --  in the workplace. 
  • I am responsible for when I have not shown up to political protests, meetings, action groups or workshops that are aimed at equality and equity. 
  • I am responsible for not going to school board meetings when issues of inclusion, particularly around identities, are addressed.
  • I am responsible for not fighting for the equality of families when events like a "Father/Daughter" or "Mother/Son" dance are presented. Events, even ones that seek to build community, must be more inclusive -- not just because it includes families but also because it raises awareness for all of us of who are structurally excluded when we host these types of events. 
  • I am responsible for reinforcing heteronormativity when I do not critique songs or music that only speak to hetero-centric relationships, especially when my children are listening and watching.
  • I am responsible for reinforcing heteronormativity when I do not address comments directed at my children that affirm their cisgender identities. 
  • I am responsible for not being more intentional about un-learning my own homophobia and transphobia that were ingrained early in my life. 
  • I am responsible for when I Whitewash LGBTQ issues and fail my communities of color. 
  • I am responsible for the types of articles I choose to forward, the tweets I like or retweet or quote, and emails I send that privilege cis- and hetero- communities. 
  • I am responsible for silencing voices when I participate in choosing leadership on committees that privilege, and thereby affirm structures, people who identify as cis- and hetero- people. 
  • I am responsible for perpetuating leadership that privileges cis- and hetero- people when I fail to reach out to LGBTQ communities and develop relationships in hiring processes. 
  • I am responsible for the oppression of LGBTQ people when I fail to keep their diverse, and shared, needs when they are not represented in decision making positions. 
  • I am responsible when I scroll past articles that impact -- and could serve to inform me about -- the LGBT communities. 

And, more each day. Every day, I participate in a system that privileges my identities. And, each day that I allow these to occur in my own life, contributes to oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ people.

I have responsibility in the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ people. 

Friends, these are mine. And you might have read these and felt kin to some of these. But, let me be clear, I also realize that my cis- and hetero- privileged identities participate in interest convergence. Some of these, by nature of oppression, benefit me. 

Naturally, as they should, any of these (and all of these) should be critiqued. People, especially different identities and experiences, will critique these. And, they are meant to be. I don't write these to be controversial. These, at its most simple, are for me to challenge my own role in oppression. 

As a Catholic, my prayers, indeed, are with the families and friends who have experienced loss. My heart is with the many LGBTQ friends who, despite legal protections, are not protected. In fact, their identities are under attack every day. And, my call to action is for people to show up.

Vote. 

As with many communities, many have come before us who have sacrificed their lives for our rights to vote. 

Vote. 

Think. Act. Reflect. Vote. Walk the walk. Pray AND do more than pray. Interrogate your cis- and hetero-privilege. And do something. We must contribute to a community where people who identify as LGBTQ do not have to go to a single nightclub to be safe, but who experience safety and protection everywhere. 

 

SQUEEZE

We aren't big parade go-ers, but, a few times, we have actually been in a parade. When my daughter was celebrating her 3rd anniversary cancer free, an organization asked us to ride in their float. My family, including my sister Grace, climbed up on the flat bed truck and sat on plastic chairs that, honestly, felt like they were going to snap at every single turn. With one hand, we waved to onlookers; with the other hand, we braced ourselves holding the loosely fastened railing. 

When my daughter celebrated the end of her chemotherapy treatments, we brought her to Sesame Place (PA). It was where we had spent our last vacation just before she was diagnosed. She sat up on the (much sturdier) float surrounded by Elmo and Zoe and waved along to the crowds.

Each parade we had been a part of was directly related to our experiences and identities. 

On Saturday, June 11th, my family woke up early and dressed ourselves in rainbow bandanas, headbands, shirts and stickers. We were off to the Boston PRIDE parade with our school.

As with the other parades, I asked my children, "Do you know why we are participating in this parade?"

They seemed a bit confused. 

"It's a parade for people who are LGBT?" my daughter asked. "But, .... aren't you and Dad not gay?"

I explained that, yes, the parade is a celebration of the LGBTQ community. I explained that we are participating in support of our friends who identify as LGBTQ, their families, their teachers, and their community. I made clear -- this parade is not about us. 

And, that is why it is important that we show up. 

The LGBTQ community does not need cis- and hetero- folks. It is important that as cis- and hetero- folks that we listen to the calling of the LGBTQ community. It is important that we have conversations about and with the LGBTQ community through the lens of intersectionality. That, while the needs of the LGBTQ community are unique within, that experiences of race, class, gender, ability, expression, faith, education and so on cross borders and lines. 

And, it is important to talk with our children about issues that impact and affect -- and structurally and politically limit -- LGBTQ communities.

I refuse to raise children who are not aware of the ways in which their  hetero- and cis- privilege oppress others. These conversations are intentional. 

Our own school delegation had over 70 people marching. And, for 2.27 mlles, the streets of Boston were lined with people. About a 1/4 mile into the parade, I turned to one of my children and said, "See this. All these folks are here to show pride in their community, one that believes in the dignity, rights, love and experiences of people who are LGBT. How does that feel?"

"Good," was the response. I knew it meant much more than that.  

Friends, my heart is aching for the community of the people whose lives were taken at the Orlando Pulse nightclub. And, my activism fire is fueled for the many LGBTQ people who, still, live without protections -- legal and personal -- in our communities.

While prayers are comforting, it is time for policy change. We are in an election cycle. Enough said. 

In solidarity, 

Liza