Monday, December 29, 2014

Confessions of an Amateur Blogger

It’s been hard for me to finish a thoughtful post that I am proud of since June 2014. You could officially say I have writer’s block…which is weird because there have been/there are plenty of things to talk about since my last update. With the new layout, it’s pretty easy to see the various silos that I’ve had a knack for writing about.

Socio-political commentary, relationships,  spirituality, my professional life and quirky relatability seem to be my strongest suits of writing. While I am an UnExpert blogger, and I have the amateur views/stats and aesthetic design to validate my inexpertise,  the readers of my blog have told me that they actually find my content and words to be pretty thoughtful, witty, and relevant. While that is encouraging, presently it hasn’t been easy for me to sustain that level of writing.

In the event that anyone is reading this and cares, all I can really say is THANK YOU. Every encouraging word, social media like, text, or random spike in views from the data tracker have given me the confidence and affirmation to continue to express my ideas through my writing. I started this blog on a whim with no real foresight or identity as a writer. I had no clue how much of a tool it would be for me to create, release, and reflect.

I certainly intend to honor the spirit in which I started this blog…a happenstance site of thoughts with no authority,  and a situational relatable source of affirmation.

I’m opening myself up to writing about other aspects of my life that I don’t typically tend to analyze beyond face value.  My finances, travel excursions, personal fitness and short story telling. We’ll see how that goes.

Right now I can’t force the write….but when it’s right,  the words will flow and I’ll be happy to post. I’m actually feeling a bit more inspired. Until then…read something old or leave me a comment.


- Brandon

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Social Media Personality Matrix: a guide to every social persona

Social media networking sites are a true force to be reckoned with. They have proven themselves to be real social entities which impact people’s daily lives, their interactions with others and one’s own self-awareness. While social media was on the upsurge as a new phenomenon during my college years, I’m sure there are classes now that analyze the sociology behind social media and all the various ways it shapes identity.

With that being said…I’ve been extremely observant and developed a list of online personalities we have all seen, perhaps rolled our eyes at, and may be displaying every time we click the log-in button.


The Digital Narcissist: The digital narcissist has an obsession with social media sites and looking at how much people like what they post. They check their various sites at least 10 times a day, make frequent posts and status updates and enjoy selfies, likes, comments, photo tags and hashtags.

Pros:  At their best, a digital narcissist is complimentary, enthusiastic, confident and according to their frequent posts they have a structured life with consistent routines.

Cons:  At their worst, digital narcissists are self-centered, delusional, share too much information, and send annoying app invites and party requests that no one cares about.


Social Media Socialite:  The social media socialite is fixated on showing how awesome their life is by highlighting their food choices, their friends, vacations and random cultured shenanigans. Unlike the digital narcissist the social media socialite does not rely on selfies, frequent updates and obsessive hashtags.

Pros: At their best, the social media socialite is endearing, authentic, well-rounded and is a great person to ask when you need recommendations for food, fashion, travel and leisure.

Cons: At their worst, the social media socialite is contrived, pretentious, shallow and is a digital narcissist with better clothes and more disposable income. 

Modern Day Philosopher: This social media user views their network as a platform to enlighten, educate, challenge and promote political issues, social reform and self-improvement. They are intentional about their posts and feel that their online presence is substantive.

Pros: At their best the Modern Day Philosopher is insightful, empathetic, encouraging, and trusted for their posts of thoughtful articles, quotes, and inspirational videos.

Cons: At their worst the Modern Day Philosopher is irrelevant, condescending, annoying and overcompensating for feelings of unintelligence or other unaccomplished goals.


Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture:
This social media persona uses their social media as an expansive online conversation between friends to share their thoughts about any and every thing that happens under the sun. They use and coin online abbreviations and acronyms religiously. They love posting humorous pictures and videos from TMZ, World Star Hip Hop or other frivolous internet foolery.

Pros: At their best the Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture is hilarious, relatable, likable, and have great timing for posting hilarious memes that can lift someone’s spirits and provide a much needed laugh.

Cons: At their worst the Purveyor of Ratchet Pop Culture is trivial, crass, prone to gossip, and lacks ambition or drive. 
  
Voyeurs Anonymous: This social media user sees their network as an entertainment movie in which they have front row seats. They love to read, like, and share other people’s posts but do not reveal much of their own thoughts online or make status updates.

Pros: At their best a Voyeur Anonymous is friendly, thoughtful and stable. When this user does decide to post they share relevant, meaningful or sentimental information that is well received in their network.

Cons: At their worst Voyeurs Anonymous are online stalkers, conspiracy theorists, jealous and say some of the most hateful and cynical things about people offline.

Opinion Chameleons: This social media user is a hybrid mix of some of the other personas, but it’s true colors are shown during times of mass public tension and controversy. Their defining characteristic is that they have no filter when expressing their strong/radical opinions about topics like same-sex marriage, racial profiling and dynamics or immigration.

Pros: At their best, an Opinion Chameleon is logical, thought-provoking, fair and can gracefully leave comments in discussion threads that don’t lead to arguments.


Cons: At their worst, an Opinion Chameleon  is insensitive, uses inflammatory language, is purposefully oppositional/argumentative and will cling to “free speech” as a means to be verbally reckless.

Shifting Mindsets…the story of the Junior G.E.N.T.s Fraternity

As a Chicago public school teacher working in an impoverished, food-desert and crime-ridden neighborhood, it is very easy to have a dismal or bleak outlook about the future of your students.  It’s also very easy to get caught up in pointing out all the wrong that’s happening in the neighborhood, and not acknowledging the good.

With all that said, I made an endeavor this school year to highlight more of the positive and inspirational aspects of my job and of my students.  In keeping that frame of mind, it unveiled an amazing group of six 4th grade boys who came together as a fraternity called the Junior G.E.N.T.s and are recognized as scholars, servants and leaders in the school community.

The Junior G.E.N.T.s was birthed out of focusing on the males in 4th grade who have scholastic success and consistently make the honor roll; it was birthed with intent to focus on the the boys who do value upstanding character development and make earnest attempts to consistently make good choices instead of putting excessive energy into the ones that do not follow rules or try to improve their character.  



Through the formation of the Junior G.E.N.T.s I watched six boys unite as brothers, affirmed in their pursuits for academic excellence, community service, and a dedication to helping make their school a better place.

 I watched a new paradigm of  “cool” be set for young black boys growing up in the south side community of the school where I teach. The results were in…taking your grades seriously, being a community servant and school leader is officially “cool”, disrespect, lack of motivation/drive for academics is “lame”.


 This has done wonders for the confidence of the current G.E.N.T. members and has been motivating and aspirational for the non-G.E.N.T. boys in the grade.

So far the boys have done a ton of things to make their presence known. They have hosted a G.E.N.T. week where they show the qualities of what it means to be a G.E.N.T. (generosity, eloquence, nonconformist and tenacious). 

They have cleaned up trash around the field and surrounding area of the school grounds. They have tutored students in math, reading and social studies. They have hosted “GET FIT WITH THE GENTS” in which they lead exercise and healthy physical exercise classes for other students. The G.E.N.T. brothers have even contributed a positive social outlet component as they have performed stepshows and hosted G.E.N.T Jam parties for their grade peers.

All in all it’s been rewarding to watch them grow and thrive. I am certain these G.E.N.T.s will continue to do bigger and better things in the upcoming school years and serve as a role model for their community.



CHECK OUT THEIR VIDEO BELOW: 













Cords, Connection and Compatibility

When you’re trying to assemble an electronic gadget, you’ve got all the cords connected, you’ve got the manual, but it’s just not working…that can be very frustrating. Same thing can be applied to when you’re dealing with relationships.

After my most recent romantic relationship ended in April, I learned a very valuable lesson…THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONNECTION AND COMPATIBILITY.
This was a great lesson for me as it helped ease the hurt and disappointment that often comes with a breakup.  I’ll further explain.

More often than not, a connection serves as a catalyst for a relationship, and it is a great feeling that can attract you to someone physically, mentally and emotionally.  But by sheer definition, a connection is simply a physical or metaphorical link to a person, thing or idea. While our lives are enriched by connections, I’m sure we could all agree that we don’t want to date any and every person that we click with.  Connections are a come and go fleeting type of thing. Yes, we both like Thai food, love Janelle Monae, and challenge the status quo of organized religion, but is that enough to make a relationship work and meet one another’s needs? As I was reflecting on whether or not my needs were met in my last relationship, I realized that there was a great connection there, but that ultimately we both would be left with unmet needs.

Which brings me to my next point… compatibility. By definition, compatibility is a consistent harmonious ability to be matched and used together.  When unpacking and applying that definition to a relationship, it raises important questions that any one and their (potential) partner have to figure out.  “Do we value the same things?” “Can we understand one another’s needs?” “Are we equipped to meet each other’s needs?” These questions alone take someone from the initial attraction and connection phase, to making a sustainable loving compatible relationship.

One person in the relationship may value a faith and demonstrative displays of their spirituality, while the other person may not have a faith or might be more insular about how they practice their beliefs.  One party may value uninterrupted venting and listening while the other person may see it as complaining and unable to solve problems. Neither is wrong for their approach, they’re just different and seemingly incompatible. A good first step in moving from a connections-only relationship based model is to figure out the things that someone would have to deeply understand about you and put up with for the duration of your relationship.

I’m still in the process of learning and discovering what it is I truly value and need, but with the things that I am aware of, I will certainly honor their role in my relational happiness, and commit to engaging suitors beyond a connection level.  You can have all the right cable cords connected…but if they aren’t hooked up in a way that’s compatible to a device’s requirements…it just won’t work.  I’m now seeing myself as a cable cord ready device…and hopefully there’s a matching compatible pair of 
cords ready to make magic happen.

My Simile for God

Jesus be a fence. This is a common phrase used by Christians who have a knack for figurative language yet whose true desire in that moment is for God to be with them as a source of protection and comfort in various situations. There are other phrases like, God is my rock, or Jesus be a lamp. I’m sure those phrases have all come to mean something important to people as they have seen God sort things out in their life through the lens of their given metaphor or simile. I’ve seen God move and teach me things in my life most recently through the phrase, Jesus be a parking spot.

Though the metaphor appears to be frivolous as it mainly involves my need to find a parking spot for my car, it has taught me a lot. God knows living in my neighborhood, looking for parking can be an inevitable dreadful search filled with frustration, hopelessness and rage.  Though through it all, in more moments than I can count I have been able to rely on God to find a space for my car to call home while we are a part.

God has been able to calm me down after twenty and thirty minutes bouts of circling and wandering, with no avail, and my heart is full of rage and despair. God is a source of peace in my life. God gives me calm in the storm of life.

God has given me attitude adjustments when I want to despise someone or make nasty comments about someone who found a spot while I’m still looking, or when they turned onto the block from the intersection a moment before me and get the spot that I thought would have been mine. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but I have noticed a tremendous shift in my response towards “good for them…God is in the neighborhood, I’m sure I’ll get one soon”.  God works on my heart. Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in me.

God even knows when I’m insanely tired after a long day of being on my feet with the kids, putting out fights, enriching minds, pouring my heart and soul to my job, staying late to go above and beyond for those struggling students, pulling up on my street tired and hungry, yet too weary to cook and all I want is a parking spot. And boom…just like that…there is a spot on my block, in a reasonable amount of walking distance to my door.  God is good. God knows my needs and is there for me.  When I am broken down to my most weakened state, God doesn’t give me more than I can bear.

Other times I’ve realized that God is there with me while I wait for a parking spot…even though it may not seem like God is  with me. I can’t always expect to have a parking spot right away because I called on God for one, or because I was intentionally kind or giving to someone earlier in the day.  God may not come when you want God to, but God’s always on time.  After having done all to stand…STAND, continue to believe that God will keep his word.

Sometimes I’ll have a great parking spot, and then I make decisions about whether or not I’ll leave the house to run an errand based on the time of day and availability of spots, or if I should just walk instead of driving…God gives me wisdom and counsel to be a good steward of the things that He’s entrusted me with.

Sometimes I’ll park on the metered street at night , knowing good and well in the morning I have to get up and move my car before the meter timer starts and I get a ticket. Sometimes I get there after the meter starts and there is no ticket. God favors me. Other times I have a ticket on my car after the meter timer starts, God gives me the resources to pay the fine for the ticket.



In all these seemingly mundane and trivial experiences of just trying to park my car…God shows up and is there for me, teaching me lessons about patience, trust, faith, consequence of choices, and attitude adjustments. I trust that I will be able to apply these lessons to other situations that are equally as frivolous as parking , or more severe circumstances around health and stability. My God is an awesome God. Jesus, be a parking spot in a dense and crowded vehicular neighborhood. Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

BlackFaces…the portrayal & progress of black TV characters

So on Buzzfeed, you can take a plethora of trivial quizzes which tell you which state you should live in, what your career should be, and what TV character you are from popular sitcoms. More often that not, when people are getting their results back from these “Which TV character are you” quizzes, you don’t see a plethora of black characters in your quiz results.  As I think about it…it’s been a while since I’ve related to a black character on television.  I remember the first time I did relate to a black male TV character, and that was Tahj Mowry playing the role of TJ Henderson in Smart Guy. It was finally nice to relate to someone who looked like me (and wasn’t a white cartoon character like Nickelodeon’s Doug or an aardvark like PBS’ Arthur).

Fast forward throughout my adolescent, teenage and adult TV habits…I’ve noticed that I haven’t felt there were many opportunities to relate to characters that look like me. On some levels I’m not upset by this and don’t view it as entirely problematic. It definitely supports the “we’re all the human race” ideals that allow me to connect to different gender, racial, cultural and socioeconomic groups.  Simultaneously, my limited opportunities to relate to a black character show that there is an underrepresentation and narrow/archetype representations of black characters in television.  This in turn limits the opportunities that non-blacks have to connect to a character unlike themselves/ or is black.  I am fully aware that TV is not the only way different races can connect. Through this post I am simply focusing on the lack of opportunities that blacks and non-blacks have to connect to black characters through the lens of television.

With all that said, I’ll continue with some feedback I got from other blacks around this idea. I put it together in a short montage video, which highlights the driving sentiment of this post.



After thinking about the implications and solutions to the problems and progress that were raised from my “research” (lol…) I came up with the following:

Problem:  Confusing Positivity with Relatability
Some writers are confusing “positive” and “relatable”.  Sure there are black women dentists, yes there are black male therapists…but flooding TV viewers with squeaky clean/nearly perfect/unrealistically successful adaptations of these black professionals combined with cliché storylines and weak dialogue often leaves viewers let down and unfulfilled.  Relatable characters are flawed, have various socio-economic backgrounds and occupations, and are complex beings with many endearing character traits.

Solution:  More Black Writers, Producers and Directors
Get more skilled black writers, directors and producers who can tell the range of narratives and experiences of blacks. There are countless names for white TV screenwriters and producers, how come we can only think of Shonda Rhimes when it comes to black TV screenwriters???

Problem:  Typecast Tokens
Black characters on TV often exist in siloes with assigned archetypes.  While it helps to get blacks exposure on the silver screen, it limits and stifles the range of black experiences and opportunities for people to connect to black characters. Also, sometimes the typecast role of tokenism perpetuates stereotypical and damaging perceptions of black people.

Solution: Cast Multiple Blacks on a TV Show
I know it sounds crazy…but there are lots of places in America where there is more than one black person interacting with whites, Asians, and Latinos. I don’t know who got the idea that you should just have one black person, but casting multiple black people on a show normalizes and differentiates blacks’ representations. It increases the opportunities that blacks and non-blacks have to connect to TV characters.


In the interim, I’ll be waiting to get a black TV character result from a Buzzfeed quiz that feels fitting and doesn’t leave me thinking, “Did I get them because I’m black??!!?!”