Thursday, July 17, 2014

East End Barbershop Talk

Last week, I went to the barbershop for a haircut, for the first time. I walked in and was greeted by two barbers sitting in the front of the shop, talking and looking out the storefront window, people watching perhaps. Mr. James was the barber I was there to see. I'd attempted to cut my own hair earlier in the week and while I did an okay job, I definitely needed a professional touch to clean it up. Mr. James took me to his chair in the back of the shop and got me all prepped for the cut/clean up that was about to happen. He was great. I showed him pictures of what I was going for and we discussed it a bit. I felt comfortable and I trusted him and his clippers.

Well, if you've ever been to a (black) barbershop, you know there is always a conversation going. These conversations can be about anything, from Beyonce vs. Kelly Rowland to immigration reform. I didn't expect much "barbershop talk" considering it was only me and Mr. James- I was the last client of the day.  I figured we would have the general "Where are you from? What do you do?" type of talk...nothing really substantial enough to carry out a full blown conversation, but at least enough to break an awkward silence and show interest in someone other than yourself and whatever form of social media you may be scrolling through on your phone. The conversation started out that way, with the typical questions and answers, but it did not take long to escalate into something beyond the usual small talk.. I asked Mr. James if he was from Lexington and he replied, "Yep! Born and raised! I moved away for a little bit, but I came back. This is where I'm from! I grew up on (insert East End address), and I lived on (insert East End address)... But even when I moved away, I came back to Lexington,  right back here and I established my shop right here, to give back HERE." And from there, the real conversation began. We talked about the places where we grew up, the choices we made, the choices others made, and the role our environments played in developing us into the people we are today. Mr. James loves Lexington, especially the East End. For those who are not familiar with what I mean when I refer to the East End of Lexington, it is one of those areas that is 1/4 gentrified, 1/4 hipster'fied, and 1/2 historically black. The East End of Lexington is one of those places that sometimes gets a bad rep because of the way it may be portrayed in the media: poor, crime ridden, and "unsafe" (Please note the use of the quotation marks there, as many people seem to think that the East End is comparable to a Southside of Chicago or Compton, CA...and it simply is not. You have a greater chance of catching a stray bullet while driving through UK's campus area during basketball season, than you do while driving through the East End on any random day/night. *sips tea*). Can I be completely honest? It's that area of town that certain groups of people and churches love to select for their special projects and collections... you know, food/clothing/school supply drives... or the area of town that is often forgotten about when people say things like, "There's no racism, classism, or poverty in Lexington"... or the area that is remembered when people want to refer to some place as "the hood". I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. But on the flipside, the East End of Lexington is also the place where many people share an incredibly great sense of community. It's a place where neighbors actually take care of their neighbors. It's a place where you can find community gardens with fresh and free produce available for residents to have because they live in a "food desert". It's a place where you can go to the Justice House on just about any Saturday morning for a free and home-cooked breakfast, hot coffee and great fellowship. It's a place where you can find groups of young girls, like the "Be Bold Honeys", putting together community art nights to bring the community together as well as raise money for outings, so that they are not stuck at home, in front of the TV all summer. It's a place where people are not afraid to talk to each other. It's a place where young people still play outdoors. It's place where you may see someone homeless or mentally unstable walking down the sidewalk and you don't stare in the other direction to avoid eye contact and cross the road for no reason to avoid them, instead you ask them how they are doing and what they need.
The East End of Lexington is the definition of community, if there ever was one.
Mr. James and his wife, Andrea, moved away from Lexington for a little while, some years ago. And when they moved back, they could have chosen to live in any area of Lexington, but they specifically chose the East End. And not only did they choose to live there, Mr. James chose to build his business there. Mr. James deliberately choose to give back there, to the East End of Lexington.

I used to work for a non-profit organization in Lexington and a lot of my work required me to do presentations and share the news of the good work that our organization was doing around town. Of course a lot of our work targeted those who were "marginalized" and we put a lot of effort into developing young people from marginalized environments into something more than just a "product of their environment". Looking back now on the thought process behind that, I feel ashamed. So often, we use the term "product of their/my/your environment" in a negative light, as if it is such a bad thing, when the truth of the matter is this- we are all a product of the environment from which we come. Are we all the same product? No. Does being a product of your environment have to imply that you are a bad apple? No, absolutely not. A single environment can produce or provide many things, for example: the abusive home. Two children grow up in a home where they see their parents abuse drugs and each other. One child grows up to be an exact replication of what they saw growing up, and the other child grows up to be an advocate and agent of change for children who grow up in abusive homes. Both children came from the same home, and while the paths they chose to take in life may have been like night and day, their decisions were based on the influence of the same environment. Being a product of your environment does not always have to be about being a negative reflection of a negative circumstance; it can just as well be the testimony of being a positive reflection of that same negative circumstance.
Mr. James is a product of his environment. He is a successful businessman, husband, father and community leader. If you let the media tell it, he is "someone who became more than a product of his environment", but if you let Mr. James tell it, he is proud to be a product of the East End of Lexington.

I went to a barbershop in the East End of Lexington last week. All I needed was a haircut, but what I left with was a haircut and a new perspective. Thank you, Mr. James.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Dreamed a Dream

When I was a little girl, going to McDonald's for a happy meal was one of my favorite things. Getting a happy meal was a big deal! It was a meal, especially prepared for me, with a prize/toy inside and happiness included? Oh Mr. Ronald McDonald, you have really outdone yourself sir. How could he have been so genius as to put a smile in a box, in the form of a cheeseburger, french fries, orange hi-c, and miniature figurine or beanie baby (do y'all remember how crazy people got about those?)??? GENIUS, I TELL YOU! GENIUS! At least to me, at the time, it was. Going to McDonald's to get a happy meal was something that I always looked forward to, however, I did not always get the experience I'd hoped for. The experience I hoped for was what I saw advertised, which generally included a smiling, happy-go-lucky McDonald's employee who was glad to put the "happy"  in my happy meal. But often times what I actually got was no eye contact, no smiles, no "happy"...just a meal. This did not sit well with me, at all. I didn't even care about the food. My greatest concern was that the happy people that I saw in the commercials were not the happy people that I met in the drive-thru. I felt decided to do something about. One day, I told my mom, "When I grow up, I am going to work at McDonald's, just so I can smile at every customer that comes through the drive-thru." I don't remember my mom's response, but I'm sure she was praying, "Dear Lord, please let her grow out of that." Well...I didn't. I didn't grow out of it. As a matter of fact, as soon as I was old enough to work, my first job was at McDonald's on Veteran's Parkway in Columbus, Ga. I was excited to have a job and proud to be working at McDonald's. It was time to make my dream come true!

Monday, June 23, 2014

This Morning

When I woke up this morning, I did not feel awesome.
I rolled over and stared into the darkness and allowed my thoughts to flow. My thoughts bounced back and forth between acknowledging anxiety and focusing on the present moment. I felt guilty for feeling anxious because I know that what is most important is what is right in front of me, and if I am experiencing anxiety that means I am focusing/worrying about what's ahead and not what is "right now".  So I laid there, feeling anxious and guilty and a little sticky because I didn't turn my air conditioning down last night, thinking that the breeze from the storm would cool the house down, but it didn't. I closed my eyes and I asked myself, "why? why are you anxious???" I was taken back to a conversation I had over the weekend with a friend. We were discussing tattoos when she said, "I don't understand why people get quotes and sayings as tattoos. Maybe you like that quote today, but ten years down the road, your life may have changed and that will be completely irrelevant to you." Well, being someone who has a script tattoo, I shared the reasoning behind my decision.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

And About That Time I Threw a Surprise Party for Myself...

When I was in the fourth grade, I threw a surprise slumber party for myself.
And the best present I got that year, was an invaluable life lesson.
I know exactly what you're thinking... "Why wasn't I that cool when I was in the fourth grade?!?"  Right? Or... "How is it a surprise if you threw it for yourself?" Well, basically, if I told you how I managed to pull that off, I would be giving away one of my secrets to awesome, so you'll have to buy the book for that :)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

For Today's Graduate...Here's My Two Cents

Today, another round of Berea College students become Berea College Alumni. This one's for you.

1. YEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU MADE IT!!!
-I know sometimes it can seem like Graduation Day is just an oasis off in the distance that you will never really quite reach, especially if you received any letters or emails from Financial Aid or Academic Services in the last 3-4 weeks. And if you did receive one of those letters, believe me, I know you were probably ready to burn Lincoln Hall down to the ground. I know. But now, look at you- standing tall on your graduation day with no record of arson to follow you across the stage. Congratulations!
2. I am incredibly proud of you. Incredibly.
-You are graduating from college.You're automatically amazing. That's just what happens. You go Glenn CoCo.
3. The world awaits you. Take that with a grain of salt...and a lime.
-Yes, you graduated and that makes you automatically amazing, but sometimes, the world is not prepared for all of the awesome that is about to hit them, and we are not always so prepared for the world's unpreparedness for our awesome. Take that with a grain of salt and a lime, but be careful with that because...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Am Perfect

I used to think that I was supposed to embrace my flaws. 
But then I realized that I am perfect.

Calling something a flaw implies that there is something wrong- it is imperfect. But who is to say what is perfect and what is flawed? Why should we subscribe to any opinion or thought other than our own? You never knew you were imperfect until someone told you that you were. You never called it a flaw until someone or something else changed your perception of perfection from who you naturally are to who you should try to be.
That pimple on your cheek- perfect.
The chickenpox scar on your forehead- perfect.
The dry skin in the crevice of your nose- perfect.
The one eyebrow that arches much less than than the other- perfect.
You. Your soul. Your everything. You're beautiful. You're perfect.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Started as a Facebook Rant, Now We Here...

This post started out as a facebook rant, which I don't do often, but as you can is entirely too long for that. So I just copied and pasted it into a blog.
PLEASE BE ADVISED: I used the caps lock button a few times throughout this post. Also, this post is about 92% honesty, curiosity, and hopes of expanding perspectives... and only about 7% sardonic and sarcastic., this is an official facebook rant. (well, it it's a blog post)