Monday, January 28, 2013

Two Hours In The City

Writing, working in coffee shops, thinking, all part of the plan this morning when I set out to find the new local coffee shop opened in the city's north side.

I am not from here, in that I did not grow up here, left at the ripe old age of seven and didn't return for decades.  I need GPS and before that, Mapquest, to guide me anywhere outside the nine-mile-confines of my west county suburb.

Grand, I know that boulevard, it houses my late grandmother's church, it runs past both highways that take me east, and it goes to Powell Symphony Hall.  Finding something near Grand Center shouldn't be that hard, I thought, even as Chronicle Coffee, didn't show up in any local searches on my phone for coffee shops.

I had a full tank of gas and my passenger seat overloaded with all my work for the day.  It was to be a good long morning of undistracted work and hopefully, good coffee.

Driving past Delmar found me in a very different St. Louis.

We read about what decaying buildings, dark and dreary streets, even in the day time, that make the heart palpitate and one slide the purse under the seat and push the locks on the door, but it is very different when driving past one unfamiliar block after another.  I didn't know when it safe to turn off and ask directions or simply to keep driving.

I kept driving past Cote Brilliante - my father once lived there when he came to St. Louis from Michigan, past Palm - my late aunt lived there, past MLK, past Cottage, past all these other streets until I drove past Natural Bridge and saw the big, white, water tower circle in the middle of Grand Avenue...I gave up my quest and turned around.

Driving back South on Grand I saw more blight and decay, dusty and dirty streets, and hopeful souls at the bus station waiting for the transportation to another place, if only to work or go to school.  I thought how frightened I would be as a woman living here alone, just feeling the grip on my own heart as I drove through unfamiliar places.

Chastising myself as I drove back south past SLU and finally past the highways and Arsenal, Cherokee, and a lot of streets named after states.  What made the south side any different than the north except that I breathed a sigh of relief when I spotted I-55 and jumped on heading South and hoping I was going in the right direction to find I-270 so I could just go back home.

Growing up, my father made deliberate efforts to afford my siblings and I the opportunities and life we had.  We were surrounded by books, had enough food to eat, clothes, and travel.  Education was our middle name and while my step-mother was extraordinarily strict in our endeavors, we were secure in our comings and goings.  It was a different era and time and we were far from the city, tucked away in a big house in the middle of the state, on a street with older white people for neighbors.

As I drove closer to familiar surroundings and my breathing began to regulate, I thought of what it would take to renew and energize the North side.  Fear is real, but fear can also be a catalyst for action.  President Obama spoke during the inauguration that all children had the right to live without fear, to feel safe and secure and cared for it their surroundings. I know there are children that live along the path I drove today that feel nothing like that.

When I reached my home, I hurried to my kitchen to start a pot of water for coffee - my chosen comfort beverage.  I made an early lunch and thought about the bravery of the young man who opened Chronicle Coffee in the North Side and the statement he was making.

He opened the first coffee shop, the kind where writers and artists hang out to work, on the city's north side, the abandoned side.  He signaled to those who live there and to all of us that it matters and that he is staking a lot on rebuilding right there, one latte at a time.

I spent two hours driving around the city today. I saw a lot.  I will go back. Next time with an exact location and the familiar in my sight.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Making It Right For The Customer

My husband and youngest son
I've been shopping for a camera every since the Kirkwood Children's Chorale Holiday Concert when, in the excitement of the college student's return home, my  husband and I fumbled the pass as we were trying to take photos in the beautiful surroundings.  The result...this is the last photo of my Canon, 14 megapixel, 12mm zoom digital camera...handsome, aren't they?

The hunt for a replacement began, three years after the purchase of the other one, and unwilling to spend another $300, I started looking.  In the meantime, my husband used his really good smart phone to take photos of the kids during the holidays.  I, on the other hand, was image-less, and quite sad about it.

Target, where I live, has a cute little photo department with helpful employees.  They had a Nikon on sale for $99 about three or four weeks ago and I started eyeballing it.  It turned out the one on display was the only one they had and they couldn't sell it.  The guy told me it would be marked down as clearance eventually but he didn't know when.  He also gave me the inside scoop that they mark down electronics on Mondays and that since I wanted to take great photos, that would be a good camera, Nikons are better at photos, he said.

I started watching and waiting...and making my husband use his phone for those can't-miss-photos...but this very amateur shutter bug was missing shots and the uber-cheap, Five Below, camera he picked up for our baby girl just wasn't cutting it.  I needed something that would take crisp, clear pictures that I could print out or upload...a bit of the photo hound in me, I guess.

Finally, and I mean finally, I decided to go to the Brentwood Target on my return from taking my husband to work.  I didn't need a cart, was heading straight to the photo department.  This school board candidate needs a photo now and needs it from a good camera!

I got there and it was an echo one around.  I amused myself by waiting and trying to find the Nikon on display - it wasn't - but the one my husband broke was now marked down to $79.99.  I thought I would settle, but remembering what my helpful Kirkwood Target camera guy told me, I spotted a warm body and called them over.  I told him what I needed and eventually the electronics girl showed up.

That is when my shopping experience went downhill fast, like nosedive fast.

I told her what I wanted and she responded that they were locked up below, I mean like bend down below.  She  unlocked the cabinet and then began to profile and stereotype me in the most egregious way!

She first let me hold the box and read it and as I was comparing it with the others on display, deciding if this $99 was worth it with all the little ones on sale.  She was in my personal space, like we could have hugged or something, and kept looking me up and down, speaking rapid fire, and saying that she is just going to take this and literally took it from my hands.  I was asking her what was the problem, why was she in my space, and why was she profiling me. I told her I wasn't going to steal the camera and yes, rolled out my pedigree and that I teach marketing, management, and retail and she was not giving good customer service.

I asked her to write down the zoom and megapixel information so I could compare, she did and barely handed it to me, not apologizing for her rude behavior or anything.  I finally turned around and walked out.

Prepared to leave the store in a huff and about to really dis one of my favorite stores, I stopped at the front and demanded to see the store manager.  The guy behind the counter was also the original guy that found me the photo girl, I told him no, I needed the store manager, not him who was "a manager."

Matt, the store manager, came and talked to me and yes, I was really hot!  I was polite, but hot and went on to explain my displeasure with the shopping experience with the photo girl, Stacie.  I wrote down her name because I didn't want to forget.  I told Matt about my experience in retail and that I teach this stuff and that customers do not deserve this type of treatment.  He kept apologizing and was asking how he could make it right.

He and I chatted for a while, I was really upset, the girl was so rude and abrasive and hovering over me that I was really mad.  I have never entered Target and just walked out without buying what I intended to buy (and then some, again, much to my husband's dismay at times).

Finally, he offered to walk me back to electronics, show me the camera, answer any questions I have, and do what he could to make it right, apologizing all the way.  He was very helpful, explained that he was also a camera guy and which ones they use and that yes, the Nikon was a good camera.

He made it right, telling me about his childhood growing up in a small town with his father's hardware business.  He said his dad reminded him that good customer service was how he was able to eat dinner that night.

Matt, the store manager at the Brentwood Target, showed me what I needed for the camera, explained to me what would happen if I put my old memory card in the new camera and helped me figure out what I needed to be photo ready.  When we were finished, I ended up paying less than what the sale price was for the camera, getting batteries, a photo card, a card reader, a service plan (thrown in), and a smile.

He did over and above what I would have expected and his "let me take a percentage off" ended up being 50% off the sale price.  It was a small gesture in the grand scheme of this multi-billion dollar company, but for me, he made it right.  And I said so to him and his district manager.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is It About Life: Thoughts on Roe V. Wade

It was a busy day and an historic day.

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

An entire generation has taken the last 40 years for granted that this simply is and always has been and will continue to be.

There have been the protests since the inception of the law and throughout the lifetime of the law, each year gaining and losing momentum...on both sides.

Roe v. Wade. Just the mention of the case is enough to separate families and divide friendships, certainly tear this nation apart.

But does the fact that it was part of Nixon's "Northern strategy" to win the Catholic vote really play into the dialogue, that it was never about the life of the fetus, the baby, the woman, the whatever, but about winning a political election?

Does the fact that the ones originally covered and protected under Roe v. Wade were the doctors who feared for their practice if they performed a medical procedure that was legal in some states and not others?

Roe v. Wade to this writer is not about the fetus or religion or anything other than power and control over women's bodies.

It is 2013, history was made just yesterday with President Obama's second inauguration and the parade that included so many parts of the diversity of our nation.  It is that President Obama publicly proclaimed that women should be paid equal to their effort and no longer just 75-cents (67-cents for women of color) for every dollar men make.

The country needs better and hopes that the Supreme Court Justices really evaluate the history and perspective of this decision.  If the argument for life stops at the fetus, is it really a discussion about life?

A discussion about life includes equal and accessible education for all children, health care for all, living wage for the lowest wage earner in the country, affordable housing for all, and the true pursuit of happiness.  If it is about life, that is.

Monday, January 21, 2013

America Today

At the dawn of the morning, I looked at the light streaming through my bedroom patio and smiled.

Hope and promise and dreams were coming together on a crisp Monday morning in the only place where this story could take place.

While the morning coffee was being poured-over and emitting a welcoming scent, my gaze went skyward and outward to the unity of the Union.

It is the National Holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Second Inauguration of the Nation's 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama.  It is definitely a moment to feel the warmth and ray of history in this day.

The thing I thought about the morning and even now, in the evening, as I watched the activities - this is what makes us unique, the us that embraces and enjoys freedom.  This is America.

As a woman, a black woman, I could not help but feel a great sense of sisterhood and pride in seeing Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Robinson guiding Sasha and Malia to their fullness. It is a big deal.

In my moment of thought and reflection, I saw love and joy together, they love each other, truly, and it was displayed so eloquently.

While the moon kisses me goodnight and the clear night allows me to reflect on all that there are not enough words to capture, I am proud to say simply, I am an American, and this was a truly American day.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

One Voice

It is a beautiful Sunday morning in St. Louis.

The sun is streaming into my bedroom from the patio window, my coffee is a freshly made pour-over Sumatra in one of my favorite mugs.  My husband is downstairs making his famous Sunday morning spreads.  My older son is here visiting, nice to have him home.

It is a beautiful day.

I am sitting here thinking about tomorrow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as well as the Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama.  I am watching my girl, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, discuss implications of the second term, and something struck me, the collective us.

The us with one voice, the us with everyday life, us with a mission and purpose beyond money, power, and control.

We believe that this term will have an even greater opportunity to broaden the landscape for everyone.

There is a chance to recognize each other as humans, as people with hopes and dreams, and reach beyond the barriers.

That is if we can reach around race, gender, class, orientation, age, origin, language, etc. and see that the people just need a voice.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mali...France...What Do I Care?

If there is anything I know for certain, it is that things are not as simple as they appear.

I was listening to the news yesterday, NPR to be exact, while driving to yet another thing I had to do, and it was reporting about the French army moving into Mali to fight against the "rebels" who were coming in from the North.

Mali is a former French colony.

My immediate thought was something is not right in the croissant.

Why is France, a European country, concerned about what is happening in Mali, an African country?

Could it be because of Mali's rich natural resources? Could that be the reason a lot of European countries are in an all-out-effort to recolonize parts of Africa under the auspices of providing aid, opportunity, or protection from Al Qaeda?

Are we still fighting the previous administration's world-wide demonization of all things Islam and their false "war on terror" that includes almost literally everything everywhere.

The media is corporate owned, that is just the bottom line, there are only a few reporting arms in this country and overseas and all of them sometimes spill out the same message. We, the public, are not all informed and of the things we are informed about, only partly so.

A facebook group was posting about the things happening in Africa for some time now.  Like a lot of people, we may feel overwhelmed by the amount of hunger, poverty, and essentially caste system that exists for poorer people of color.


Does the color of our collective skin determine that we are the prey for the paler brethren of the world?  Is it more of commodities for other people's consumption as my history professor taught us? Is it because of these smart phones, tablets, and mobile devices that the rape of the motherland is happening literally and figuratively?

Does it even matter? This thing happening on the other side of the world, on a continent I have never visited, in a country that I do not have direct ties?

Yes, it matters because this has happened before.  1791 in Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, a few black slaves dared to stand up against their French planter slave owners, and frankly, Creole ruling class, to demand their freedom.  Through the years of devastation and French "loss of wealth" the fledgling nation began with a yoke bondage greater than slavery itself.  Haiti, while independent, never had the chance to be her full self because the world punished her for daring to say that she is whole, for daring to take up arms against their oppressors.  This has happened before.

I kept driving to my destination wondering what could I, a simple wife and mother, a writer, do here in the states.  I do not have money nor power and can certainly not stop an army bent on taking over the land from the people.

But there is something I can do, I am doing it now, I am speaking about it.  I am not an expert on African-European-American affairs, but I do know when something is not fair, and I do know when history is repeating itself, and I do know when something doesn't smell right.

Stay aware.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Would You Do That?

Why would you do that?

The question entered my mind as I was signing my name on the line to file my candidacy for the school board in  my little west suburban community.

I have never aspired for political office, although, my late father told me that when I was born, my late mother wrote "Chairman of the Board" on the back of my baby picture.  Prophetic, perhaps?

Service has been a part of my middle name for a very long time.  I have mentored youth in my community, volunteered as a tutor, helped kids enjoy summer reading, and lead a group of really innovative little girls in a robotics-focused Brownie troop.  

My life, my message, can almost be summed up in my little company's trademark -  Read.Write.Think.Connect.™.  

I moved to my little community in 2007 and while I was still finding my way to the grocery store, was in a community struck by mass violence in 2008.  That one thing catapulted me into the public arena in a way that my simple homemaker/writer/consultant status hadn't expected.

Over the years, I have met many people who sincerely love this community and the children who make up the schools.  They want this to continue to be a sought-after community, after all, we live here because my husband researched all the enclaves in this city and chose this one because of the diversity of the schools, the emphasis on the arts, and the high academic standards.

Why me?

After I filed my paperwork and picked up my daughters from school, I told them what I did.  My older daughter's eyes sparkled and she did that kid-like open mouth gasp then she jumped over the armrest and hugged me.  "Mama, that's awesome!"  In the backseat, her sister was equally as delighted and said "That's cause kids come first." Her sister then chimed in with "yeah cause daddy said you are a community leader."  It all made me smile broadly to know at least the 3rd and 5th graders would support me.  

My little girl's enthusiasm didn't wane, she immediately called her friend and got her friend's mom instead who said she'd vote for me.  The girls then started thinking about how they would make my campaign signs and buttons.

This is really happening.

I am a firm believer that the community is made up of all of us, all of us have a part to play. It shouldn't matter our color, our income, or even our education status, we are all a part of the school district and all of our children are important.

Why me?

Because I am passionate about what I do and I believe strongly in supporting teachers to do what they do best - teach, that 21st century kids deserve a 21st century education, that the taxpayers deserve to have their questions answered and their issues understood - regardless of if they have students in the district or not,  the doors of communication should truly be open and honest, and finally, money/power/politics do not belong in the decision making of the district.  

It is time, perhaps my late mother was right.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Hardest Thing To Do

There are so many times I wish I could turn back the clock, redeem a moment, a period of time, slow it down.

This feeling is never more true than when it comes to my sons.

My firstborn was gone far too soon, he and I still discovering our song, now his essence is in my heart and his memorial is on my end table.

The older two sons were raised with an "18 and out" philosophy.  I thought it was my job to prepare them to be men, to be warriors, to take on their mantle and go out into the world.  I wonder if I had them take on too much too soon?

My youngest son has barely left the nest and there are moments when I feel like he isn't ready, I'm not finished teaching him yet.  He has been home for the winter holiday break and for the most part has been a hibernating bear.  I look in his room and want to go and fold his clothes like when he was little, forcing myself to back off and let him be the young man he is becoming.

I looked into the room of my two daughters, my last two at home, and resisted the temptation to go and pick up the jeans, rearrange the doll collection, collect the legos.  I am supposed to be equipping them with all they need to survive.

Yet, I want to be like other people of culture and have a family compound, each with our own quarters, but sharing common space.  I want them close to me, near me.

The hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent has been to let the children fly with the wings I gave them.  I know they are strong, their span is massive, and their purpose is enormous.

I just wish I had a moment to stop time, to roll it back, to play in the sandbox one more moment.  It all goes by so fast, eighteen years is not enough, I am not finished yet,

Letting go is hard, but even in that, they all know I am a text or phone call away, that the door is always open, and that mama's arms are always open.

I still have these two, even as I know the next ten years will go by so fast, I am cherishing every sound, every gesture, every moment of overhearing their dreams and their plans.

Being a parent is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done.  And I would do it again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I greet the New Year with the anticipation and eagerness of a writer staring at a blank page of possibilities!

The story I write, the story I read, the story of my year, your year, is yet to be, only a few hours old!

How many dreams and wonders are waiting, like the fresh fallen snow, to be enjoyed and discovered.

The turning of the clock from December 31, 2012 to January 1, 2013 brings excitement and possibility.

My family and I brought in the new year sitting together in our TV room, watching The Lorax, and filled with warmth.  It was better than a big crowd or a bunch of activities, we were together and after all that 2012 was, it indeed was the summation of our year and the promise of the new one.

I wish for everyone the wonder of newness, the chance to expand on a dream, to break out the new crayons and open the new pack of paper, to create a tomorrow of your hopes!