Friday, December 27, 2013

Thanks for 2013! Video Dedication

  Thank you to everyone who was a part of making my 2013 so amazing. I'm sure 2014 will only get better.

"I've been about you and I'm still about you!"
Much love.


When You Don't Like a Christmas Gift…Distinguishing Between Receiving Love & Feeling Love

When you receive a Christmas gift, regardless if you like it or not, you are receiving an act of kindness and love. You are the recipient of love from someone else whose intention is to show care and consideration to your behalf.  

We probably don’t do it as much as we should, but we have to check ourselves when receiving holiday gifts. Our facial expressions, the way we say thanks, all of these require particular attention when we receive something that really wasn’t high on our list or feel useful to our everyday lives.

It makes me think about the difference between what it means to receive love and feel loved.

More often than not, we are consumed with feeling loved. This type of love is important because it’s tailored to meeting our needs and affirms who we are as people. When we feel loved, we don’t question our position with others and develop a sense of safety and stability. So feeling loved is not arbitrary or negatively selfish. What happens though, is that it does have some qualifiers. To love me is to….____________, (fill in the blank), _______________ (verb) and __________________ (example of what it means to love me). It’s sort of conditional in that it puts your needs at the center and asks others to comply. Again this is not bad, but is it the modality of love we should be using at all times, especially around the holidays when gift exchanges occur? How does feeling loved makes others feel, especially when they are trying to love you and you say – NO THANKS!

This past Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of learning the distinction between receiving love and feeling love.

I got into a disagreement with my mother during Thanksgiving, and in that moment, nothing mattered more in the world to me than having her understand my point. She didn’t have to agree with me, but I deeply needed her to understand my point of view, affirm it, and acknowledge that it had merit but that she disagreed.  She didn’t do that and I became very irate and out of character. It wasn’t pretty.  After I calmed down, she kept apologizing and telling me she loved me.

That was nice, but in that space, I wasn’t entirely receiving the love she wanted to give, I wanted to FEEL LOVED  on my own terms by being understood and affirmed. I realized in that moment, a BIG PART of making me feel loved, is to understand and affirm me.

I had to make a choice once I realized that my Mom wasn’t going to understand or affirm me. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to…that’s not how she was showing me love. I had to set my MAKE ME FEEL LOVED card down and just receive the gracious love that she was giving me. And by all means, it was great, because after showing out in embarrassing ways that could be shameful and guilt-ridden, she forgave me, did not judge me and loved me (along with rest of my family).
Receiving love from others you trust requires selflessness and more compassion from the human spirit. It sets aside one’s desires and is gracious enough to receive love. It’s not judgmental of “this isn’t good enough for me”  or “this won’t meet my needs”.  Now again, we shouldn’t run with scissors in receiving  any old type of love either.  If someone you trust is consistently loving you in ways that don’t leave you feeling loved, then there is an important conversation and a set of actions that need to happen. However if someone you trust misses the “I feel loved in this moment” card, but you know that they are showing you love in the best way they know how, it could be nice to love them back and receive it.

A gift receipt! Isn't that clever! 
Cause think about it…how do you feel when you give someone a gift and they don’t like it or use it? It could hurt your feelings because they rejected the love you were giving.

It’s just like Christmas. Sometimes we get gifts that make us feel loved and meet our needs. Other times we get gifts and we need to receive them in the spirit in which they were given. Receiving love from someone we trust deepens the love we have with that person, and in turn can make them feel loved.

My final thoughts…whoever thought of gift receipts is genius! The happy medium between feeling loved and receiving love lies in the space between accepting an act of kindness and translating that kindness into ways that can meet your needs. I prefer to give and receive gift receipts anytime I’m gifting.

Metamorphosis in America pt II: Need for Structure

When I started this series I was frustrated and perhaps even long-winded about the general lackadaisical attitude of people regarding racial inequities and gun violence in low-income urban communities.  And as I’m typing this, I’m listening to the counter thoughts of my readers who are thinking, “yea Brandon…so have a lot of people before you.” And they’re justified to think that. I’m not trying to insert myself as another intelligent observer who is ranting and preaching to the converted. I’m more of an unexpert and I’m really trying to understand and gain knowledge about what sorts of things are contributing to the problems in this community, and then offering any type of solution that’s possible.

Fast forward (well actually rewind) to a conversation my immediate family had with my aunt, two elder male cousins and my friend Daniel on Christmas night.

We were discussing the scarcity of structures in black families, neighborhoods, schools and yes….even the gangs which meander through our streets and communities.

Some black churches of today
 focus their structure on means
to prosperity and materials, 
Black churches were organized community
structures during the Civil Rights Movement
and played a key role in voter registration.
During times of distress for blacks living in the 1940’s – 60’s there were organized structures that focused on healing the lamented hearts and souls of their oppressed brother. The black church was an epicenter and place of refuge, and often did not remain silent in the face of social injustice.  Generally speaking, and please note that I’m saying GENERALLY SPEAKING, most black churches today have shifted their focus from being an organized group that does outreach and advocates for their communities, but rather have become insular buildings that give motivational how-to-steps about how to use God’s Word to get the things you want in life…some are particularly savvy in applying this to money, a spouse, and material possessions.  We need more churches whose structure includes a social justice lens and have organized systems of uplifting the communities.

 The black family structure is also flailing and needs to be revitalized. I don’t mean in the sense that every black family has to have two parents, etc. While those are ideal, I’m simply addressing time  and sharing that is reserved as a priority to  create a communal/familial presence within nuclear and extended families. If I were to have 20 houses in a black community turn on their lights and open their windows for me to see what was happening, I wonder what the percentage would be of those who are spending time together and supporting one another in healthy ways. Unfortunately what is prevalent amongst some black families is the imbalance of berating ex-spouses or children, and/or people who are so busy with their personal lives and social media that they lack deep or meaningful interactions with one another.  While there are a host of issues that sometimes keep families from healing and operating as a united support structure for one another, there is always THERAPY! But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

When discussing the gun violence and reckless crimes that are plaguing the streets of Chicago, there is usually some type of gang affiliation. A lack of structure to the gang  culture is somewhat at work when discussing the gun violence and gang wars. When gangs were actually organized with leadership and clear turfs, there was not the influx of innocent bystanders victims and fluidity to the boundary lines of rival gang territory. What has happened now since so many of the gang leaders are getting locked up is that gang members don’t have a consistent leadership and are constantly shifting and adapting to what they can acquire and claim as their own. There is a by-any-means-necessary approach to the claiming of turf. I’m not advocating that gang leaders need to be released from prison, simply addressing the pattern of chaotic outcomes and its connection to lack of structure.

If a metamorphosis is going to happen in the black community, there need to be more organized structures across the families, churches, schools, and communal organizations. This is not to criticize or discount the work of the organized structures that exist. Blacks would not have many of the successes they have now without the sustainability of many wonderful organized structures. In order to continue and uplift the marginalized black brother and sister who’s lives resemble anarchy,  blacks (and those who care to advocate on marginalized blacks’ behalf) need to be creative about developing new systems of structures which will meet the needs of the ever shifting dynamics in black communities.

Monday, October 14, 2013

UnExpert Update!

Hi friends…I wouldn’t quite say I’ve had writer’s block since my last update…(maybe I’m in denial). The truth is that I was insanely busy teaching summer school, traveling every weekend, getting involved with my church, and enjoying the company of my friends and family.  All that said, I’m so happy to be back with UnExpert updates and I sincerely appreciate all of the love and support you have shown me as a reader of this blog. It’s been a year since I started this blog on a whim and it’s been such a great experience to share my thoughts with all of you.  

With that being said, I leave you with the words that I wrote in my first post about this blog. I feel like I’ve stayed true to this sentiment:

I am not an expert on anything I am talking about. My intent is to show that I’m just like you. I often ask questions that don’t have simple answers. I do my best to make a point with these writings, and if anything hope that people can connect. I gathered the bravery to share these because I realized that perhaps I don’t have to be an expert. I don’t have the voice of some of the most witty and profound writers that I love, but I’ve got my own voice. Take a look and read around…and yes, leave a comment if you feel so moved. Even if you are the only one! J

Yours in UnExpertness,


Metamorphosis in America pt 1 – The Frustration

I’m starting a new series of blog posts which aim to address the following questions:
  1. Do things really need to get any worse in our country before we start to see real change?
  2. What are the conditions that can cause a collective whole to create societal change?
  3. What are some examples of progressive change happening in America?

All that said…I’ll start with how I’m feeling now about the topic of change in America…FRUSTRATED.

Over the summer I had the pleasure of teaching third and sixth grade students more about the Civil Rights movement. While doing that, I also educated myself quite a bit.

I’ve always had a breadth of knowledge about different experiences and stories of the Civil Rights movement; At the same time, having learned about the Civil Rights Movement with a “breadth-of-stories” approach, I think I missed out in learning the specificity of adversity, contributions and admirable character traits which shape so many of the narratives of this time. It sort of all got lumped together in – things were really bad, and these people did great things so you can have a great life.

Through teaching the specific story of the lunch-counter sit-ins to my students, I learned more about the strategic efforts that went into enacting the change those particular participants in the movement wanted to see. I was amazed by the sense of dedication, passion and resilience that those participants possessed, and also impressed by the results of their efforts.  When I saw The Butler movie that recently came out, I let out a quick/small burst of excitement when I saw the Woolworth’s restaurant because I actually knew what this was about and could speak to the efforts those college students placed in arranging the sit-ins and having to deal with pepper  being thrown at them, being spat on, having ketchup and hot coffee poured over them all for a greater purpose.

I begin this post with a lens of the Civil Rights movement for many reasons.  The Civil Rights movement is a movement loaded with rich history, amazing leadership and unsung heroes. The collective whole brought about a change to a society which was in dire need of change.  In my opinion…my country is still in DIRE NEED OF CHANGE.  I want to be a part of a movement that causes change. The only problem is…I DON’T KNOW HOW OR WHAT TO DO TO CAUSE CHANGE? And I should clarify…there has been a lot of positive change and progress that has been made for several causes. Gay marriage is a great example of people rallying together for a cause and creating some results. The changes I want to see have more to do with gun violence, racial profiling, and unfair legislation and systemic racism which keeps blacks and other persons of color disenfranchised.

 Despite the apathetic and complacent attitudes usually associated towards racial socio-political affairs, there are plenty of people who want to enact change in our society. I  think there are a good number of people who may share my feeling of wanting to help change the landscape regarding these issues, but usually get caught up trying to tackle the following hurdles:

  • I don’t know who the enemy is – so unlike during the times of the 1960’s Civil Rights era, there doesn’t seem to be a clear antagonist or singular piece of legislation that could/can magically make things better for the plight of the racially oppressed or countless gun violence victims living in America.  It appears that the “enemy” has taken on a stealth persona caught up in bureaucratic red tape. Not to mention all of the people that believe we live in a post-racial society, and/or those who avidly seek to maintain/protect our current gun laws. This feeling of a nebulous/invisible enemy is troubling and unsettling for someone who wants to see change.  Regardless of the enemy’s visibility factor, the outcomes and repercussions of the “enemy’s” presence is very visible and has had real dire consequences on our communities and lives. 

  • What is our Approach? In the event that there are clear and precise targets to go after that will change the systems of racial oppression and gun violence, the question then becomes, what is the approach change agents should use to catalyze and sustain the desired results? This was often something that was debated during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. I personally can’t see a “by any means necessary” in tow with a gun in hand as the most reasonable way to address gun violence. As ridiculous as that sounds, I use it to illustrate the point in that a strategic approach is one that can capture people’s attention, rally support and create change.  The approach to the Civil Rights movement has often been studied and revered for its keen approach in creating the results it sought to garner. If there is indeed going to be change regarding systems of racial oppression and gun violence, what does it look like to create that change?

  • Immediacy of Results : The last hurdle that I feel like blows out my candle to create change is the immediacy of results. Even if there were to be a clear target to suitably approach to create change…how long would it take for real change to take place and what would be the long-term sustainability of that change? I often question the immediacy factor because as someone who grew up in the “microwave” generation, I expect to see things must faster.  There’s a “fruits of my labor/return on investment” mentality that I can’t help to shake. As a teacher that works at a school in crisis, I constantly am wrestling with the education reform approach taken to address the school’s needs and wondering about the results we’ll see. Sure, some of the kids test scores have gone up, but many of the students are significantly behind academically, and let’s not even begin to talk about the social-emotional pieces which need to be addressed. Will gun violence really be reduced because of new gun laws? Will racial oppression just find a new way to mask itself into the fabric of society if other systemic pillars are challenged and destabilized?  How do we champion the progress made with Obama and yet recognize the journey ahead with Trayvon Martin?

I’m not an expert, but I’m open to suggestions and ways I can educate myself. I take a risk in sharing this because I could come off extremely ignorant to current movements/organizations that are trying to address the issues I mentioned. Either way, I believe this country is in dire need of change. I will exchange looking ignorant for a way to look involved in creating change. Yes I’m a teacher…and I don’t discount the work I’m doing to bring about positive changes in the lives of young people… I’m seeking an additional affiliation though. I want to be a part of an urgent macro-level change movement that reduces gun violence and helps uplift racially oppressed people economically and socially. I know it may sound lofty…but if Dr. King can dream….why can’t I?

Please listen to the words in the video below which really capture my sentiment. 

Facing Fears

Much to my parents’ dismay, I actually like Halloween.  Since college, I’ve been going to themed haunted houses (I should clarify, not “real” haunted houses, but ones that a production company and actors create) and I even started watching American Horror Story.  What I like most about haunted houses is that I am insanely terrified, but yet I manage to press my way through the house, look my fear in the eye and actually deal with it. I get a rush while going through the house, and the thrilling sense of relief and excitement I get afterwards makes me feel brave and fearless.

Though haunted houses do not represent the fears that we encounter in life outside of a spooky themed house, they provide a great model of how to conquer and face emotional and sometimes psychological phobic fears.

Fear of failure, love, rejection, loneliness, the truth….all of these things would fall into the emotional fears section. Usually unmet expectations drive this fear, and while these aren’t the gripping fears that startle you when you turn a dark corner, they can keep you up in the night or cause anxiety. I had been dealing with an emotional fear when I started this blog a year ago, and I’m proud to say that I’ve faced that fear, dealt with it, and have come out for the better because of it. It’s really not as scary anymore.

Then you have your psychological phobic fears…some people are afraid of cats, spiders, small spaces, the dark, clowns, etc. Don’t be too quick to dismiss these as trivial things that just apply during Halloween. These fears are real and can affect people’s everyday life. I have a friend who has a hard time going on elevators…and it’s not a joke. I’m startled/scared of pigeons that get to close to me, mainly because I don’t want to be pooped on or touched by a pigeon. I imagine that if a day ever comes where I do get pooped on by a bird, that it will force me to deal with that fear and keep it moving…though I’m TOTALLY OK living with my fear of getting pooped on by a bird for the rest of my life – i.e. I don’t ever need to experience that.
That’s the thing about fears…once you face them…they really aren’t fears anymore. They can’t control you. I can’t wait until my annual haunted house outing with my friends next week.  Perhaps there will be a room full of flying pigeons in it…Here’s to facing fears!

Revelations on Childish Gambino's "This is America"

Childish Gambino’s “This is America” is a nation’s self-portrait highlighting its flaws while seeking celebration for its ability to do so ...