Thursday, January 31, 2013

10 Surprising Ways to Raise a Future Activist

Act #31:  Pass it on.

1.  Take them to Wal-mart.

Yes, you heard that right.  While the thought of promoting such a conglomerate may seem contrary to this blog's title, my guess is that kids who think that everyone else in the country regularly shops at Whole Foods or the local farmer's market, may grow up just a little disconnected from the harsh realities of socio-economic privilege. 


2.  Buy them a Barbie Doll.

Find the pinkest, frilliest, most absurd doll ever (I'd get mine from a second-hand store), and then talk to your daughters AND sons about imaginative play.  Talk to them about the unrealistic dimensions of Barbie's body, the shade of her skin, the color of her hair.  Ask them how Barbie might grow up to contribute to the world beyond lounging around at the pool with her friends.  And then send Barbie back to her Goodwill home.  Or keep her around to demonstrate compassion, whichever.

3.  Skip Disney.

This may seem like the ultimate childhood betrayal, but instead of taking your child to "It's a Small World" consider spending your $2000-$5000 travel budget on showing them the real world.  Preferably a non-resort environment without princesses or castles.  Preferably a"third world" country to expose them to the way that others really live.

4.  Show them blood.

Not promoting self-inflicted violence here, but in the event that your child scrapes a knee, or you cut your finger slicing a banana, talk to your kid about blood, how we all have blood, how it's always red, regardless of what our skin color is on the outside.  Then you might want to put a band-aid on it.

5.  Follow the banana.

Speaking of bananas, the next time  you give your kid a banana, ask them where they think it came from.  Talk to him/her about where bananas are grown (probably Ecuador or Colombia), who the farmers are, how far it has traveled to get to your local store, what has been done to it to preserve it for the long travel (think pesticides).

6.  Fight in front of them.

If you live with a spouse or partner, don't take your disagreements to another room.  Model respectful, peaceful conflict resolution.

7.  Allow them to skip school.

While the perfect attendance record might seem like an admirable goal to strive for, if life presents itself with a weekday opportunity that might enrich your child's experiences, don't let him/her miss out!  Live telecast of the Final Four might be questionable.  But who am I to judge?

8.  Send them to grandma's.

Every activist should have an understanding for, and appreciation of his/her journey, respect for ancestors, the life stories of those that helped frame his/her very world.

9.  Let them draw on the walls.

To give your child a blank canvas on a space that's typically prohibited is sending the message that his/her world isn't limited, that possibilities are abundant, and that he/she has the freedom to create.  Not all the walls of course. There is still something to be said about respecting boundaries.  P.S. Make him/her help you re-paint the wall later.


10.  Ignore them every once in a while.

Can you imagine a future world made up of children who grow up thinking that they are always 100% the center of the universe?  Shudder.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

So I Married A Gun Enthusiast

Act #30:  Pull up a chair.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been avoiding the topic of gun control.  Greatly.  Sure I’ve mentioned it in the larger context of eliminating violence in our overall culture, but I’ve yet mustered up the courage to directly address my personal views on gun control reform. 

You see, I’m married to a gun enthusiast. Yes, you heard that right.  A man who is actually “enthused” about guns.  Fascinated might be the proper word.  If you are married to, or are a techie/gadget lover yourself, you may understand.  I certainly don't.  While this man’s chosen profession is to take apart and assemble computers, he also has the same propensity and curiosity in doing so with all sorts of other machinery.  You name it - cars, small and large appliances, televisions, model airplanes…and guns.  And before he met me, that is exactly what he did, he built antique guns, hand guns, and yes, even semi-automatic assault rifles.  He has also been target shooting for over a decade – long before he met his peace-loving, anti-violence preaching wife.

You should also know that I have not met a kinder, gentler soul than my husband, Adam.  While he would never admit it, he’s mush inside. No seriously, he is.  He doesn't hunt - he could never shoot an animal.  He can’t take our son for his immunizations, because it pains him to see him cry.  He takes in stray animals; he houses students; buys gas cards for strangers.  He doesn't believe in spanking.  He kisses my sweet 4'9" mama on the head and charms every woman over the age of 85.  He sometimes cries during sad movies.

As you can imagine, the topic of "guns" was a huge source of debate during our courtship, and again when our son came along, and most recently during the Sandy Hook shootings.  During each of those moments, we found ourselves sitting in chairs facing one another, talking for hours about the power of guns, the power of humans, and how powerless we both felt when we saw the faces of 20 children our son's age on the television screen that day.

So as the nation seems to be getting increasingly divisive, polarized, and even combative on this issue, we thought it was important for us to share our journey - how we have come to terms with our different perspectives,  how we have come to terms with raising our son in a world where guns exist alongside people who are broken enough to use them to hurt others.

1.  On the culture of violence.

Mae:  I abhor the normalization of violence in video games, the entertainment industry, the toy industry, the media, and I believe that it all greatly contributes to systemic violence against women, children, and other marginalized groups. It recently occured to me that 90% of the jobs I've held have been to eliminate violence and injustice. I don't watch violent movies and most recently have been purposefully refraining from reading details of violence in news stories.

Adam:  I grew up on G.I. Joe and have some pretty fond memories of imaginative play that involved good v. evil.   During those formative years when I didn't really have any significant role models, that kind of play helped give me a sense of order in the world.   It helped me figure out that I wanted to definitely grow up to be one the "good" guys.  I still play video games that are rated for adults, but I would never let our five-year old anywhere near them.   I think that it is my job as a parent to raise our son to respect human life, to respect all life. I have to admit however, it frightens me to think of living in a society where freedom of expression is limited or controlled.   But I can definitely see how the over-emphasis on violence can contribute to its normalization.

Resolution: We value freedom of expression. We recognize that there is a place and time for the portrayal of violence in films, books, and other mediums. We will not expose our son to these while he is still unable to understand consequences. When we do expose him to them, as age-appropriate, we will have engaged conversations with him about the impact of violence in the world, and his role in minimizing it.  We will continue to remove weapons that come with his action figures.   Although we will continue to permit "good v. evil" play in moderation, we will also make sure that we encourage alternative imaginative play options that do not promote competition or adversarial behaviors.

2.  On personal freedom and constitutional rights.

Mae: While I would never own one personally, I believe that individuals should have the right to own a gun for protection and recreation, responsibly. I don't really see a place in our society for assault weapons or high-capacity magazines of any kind. I think that, like owning a vehicle, gun owners should be trained on proper use, tested for ability and understanding, and registered.

Adam: Having grown up in rural Kentucky, I do feel a sense of security knowing that I could choose to protect myself and my loved ones if I had to. My wife makes fun of me about the sci-fi and zombie apocalypse books I read, but all joking aside, I see the vulnerable and ugly side of human beings all too much - the looting that took place after Hurricane Katrina, the anti-Islam sentiment following 9/11, and the mob mentality that broke out when that defenseless woman was sexually assaulted in the middle of a street parade in New York City.  I recognize that looking at the world from a place of fear is not the healthiest, and I certainly don't want to raise our son with that mentality. Of course I would support more extensive background checks, safety training, and registrations of firearms. When target practicing, high-capacity magazines and semi-automatic guns are preferred for skill training, but I certainly wouldn't want those to get in the hands of the wrong people.

3.  On senseless deaths and violence.

In Agreement: Violence is senseless. Death or harm from violence is senseless.  We are committed to raising our son to practice peaceful means for conflict resolution, but understand that in very rare circumstances (like self-defense), violence is sometimes a regretful, but necessary response.

4.  On finding an answer.

In Agreement: There is no easy answer.  Gun control, like most issues, is not black and white.  There are a myriad of complex issues surrounding gun ownership – individual rights, self-protection, rates of violence, a culture of violence, mental capacities and qualifications of gun owners, registration of guns, personal freedom.  And the list goes on.  You’ve read about it – other countries have struggled greatly with gun control as well.  For every Switzerland (where guns are accessible and crime is low), there is a Japan (where guns are restricted and crime is low), and a Brazil (where guns are restricted and crime is high). There does not seem to be an easy solution to stop the violence. 

5.  On how we can help.

In Agreement: We believe that the problems of the world can sometimes be overwhelming but that true change happens one person at a time, at a local level. We recognize that their are layers and layers of issues that impact violence like poverty and injustice and barriers to mental health access. We hope to be more mindful of ways we can individually contribute to reducing those things, whether it is through charity, volunteerism, or simply by making time for someone in need.

6.  On where to go from here.

In Agreement: We want to raise our son in a world that isn't framed by fear. In a world of compassion and kindness. We recognize that as humans, we are probably all going to have to set aside some of our differences for the overall common good. At the end of the day, we know that we don't want guns in the hands of the wrong people. And we certainly don't want guns to be used to further violence.

Check that out folks. An anti-violence advocate and a gun enthusiast are in agreement with 4 out of the 6 above points.  And on one of the points that we disagreed, we found resolution.  We know this is ridiculously simplified, and that our journey to seek common ground continues, but we believe it's a start in a direction that feels so much more hopeful than the current sentiment. It's quite ironic that as a country, in the midst of a conversation about violence, we seem to be acting more antagonistically than ever.   I hope you consider joining us in pulling up a chair with someone that you disagree with.  Sit eye-to-eye, let down your guard a little and really listen.  You may be surprised at how much you might accomplish if you work together, rather than against each other.  Perhaps before we can figure out guns, we might need to first try to figure out one another.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Go on a Diet

Act #29 :  Feed your soul.

As the New Year begins, Americans are once again renewed with motivation and inspiration to lead healthier and more fit lifestyles.  Gyms are packed, weight-loss support groups are abundant, and it seems everybody is either training for a 5-K, counting their calories, limiting their carbs, or swearing off sugar.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  When I say “everyone”, I am of course excluding the 50.1 million Americans who struggle to put food on their tables everyday.  And yes, this number includes millions of children and senior citizens who live alone.  More than 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger.  Make that 1 in 3 for African-American and Latino children.

Today I would like to introduce an innovative new diet program for everyday activists like you.  This plan is based on a monthly allowable point system and here’s how it works. Each month you are assigned 26 points (that was actually my weight watchers allowable daily points at one point in time, so it only seemed fitting).  Your goal is to reach 26 points in one month, through any combination of the below activities.

1 point:  Pick up an extra can or two of food every time you are at the grocery store.  Set the cans aside so that you can take them to your local food bank at the end of the month.  Each can is worth 1 point.  This is an easy way to meet your monthly allowable points.  26 cans = 26 points.  Presto, you’re done for the month.  To find a food bank near you, visit:  For some reason, my local food bank isn't listed (!/BereaFoodBank?fref=ts), so please consult your local directory as well.

2 points:  Skip a meal.  Let your stomach growl.  See what it’s like first hand for millions of Americans. Maximum possible points that can be earned in a month:  2.  We don’t want anyone passing out.

5 points:  Skip your morning pit stop.  You know, fancy latte (or sausage biscuit, or bagel, or mega fountain soda) for a week.  Put the money you would have spent on those items in a jar and take it to your local food bank at the end of the week.  Each week of self-restraint is worth 5 points.  You can earn a total of 20 points in just one month.  You may even reap the added benefits of personal nutrition.

10 points:  Skip your weekly trip to the grocery store and cook from your existing pantry and refrigerator. Take the funds you would have spent on groceries and donate them to your local food bank.  Research shows that 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year - about $165 billion worth of food that could feed 25 million Americans.  If you think this is impossible, have fun with it and be creative.  You’d be surprised at what you can “whip up” with a can of tomatoes, a can of black beans, and some frozen spinach (vegetarian chili of course!)

20 points: Organize a food drive in your neighborhood or place of employment.  Need help figuring that one out?  Here you go:

Fine Print:  This program is guaranteed to nourish the bodies of others, and nourish the souls of the participant.  Last year 6.1million households accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.  On-going maintenance of this plan is highly recommended for maximum results.  Offer good in all states.   Every county in America is impacted by hunger. For ongoing support and other creative ideas on how to reach your monthly points:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Be a Voice for Those Who Fall Silent

Act #28:   Speak up for the Isaiah's of the world.

If you Google the name Isaiah Welch, you will find genealogical stories of a decorated confederate captain, a professional resume for a coffee barista, and an athletic profile for a high school football player.  What you will not find is information on 21 year-old Isaiah Welch who is someone's son, someone's grandson, and who's lifeless body was found lying on the ground in front of an apartment complex in Richmond, VA on December 13th of last year.  This Isaiah was shot dead the week before Christmas, with shell casings scattered around him.  Before you put the Google test to action yourself, and before you begin subconsciously investigating and mentally interrogating:  Was he involved in illegal activity?  Did he provoke this violence?  Was he a gang member?  I challenge you (as I did myself), to continue asking yourself one final question:  Even if all the answers to these questions were yes, is Isaiah's life any less valuable than yours? 

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I can't help but think that they should be irrelevant as we consider that any life lost from senseless violence, is just that - senseless.

This past Friday, as I snuggled up on my couch with my son to watch Scooby Doo, relishing every second of our unexpected snow day together, my friend Kelly Smith, left her husband, two sons, and her job as a librarian at a local university, to drive across the country to Washington, DC, where she joined thousands of Americans in a march for gun control reform.  She joined educators, and celebrities, and moms, all calling for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as wider background checks on gun buyers. 

Ironic as it may seem, at the end of the day, this rally wasn't really about guns at all.  This was about Isaiah Welch. And the thousands of other forgotten victims of gun violence whose names were written on posters and distributed to ralliers that day.  This rally was about the value of human life.  It was about how we value human life.  It's so painfully easy for us to go about our comfortable routines and forget about the injustice and violence happening around us daily.  It's so easy to give up on the notion that there is anything at all that we can do to stop it.  Despite the demands in her own personal life, Kelly Smith didn't give up.  And she didn't forget.  Before she left, she sent a group text to a few of her girlfriends that read, "I'm doing this for our kids."

If a soft-spoken, 40-year old mother,  a small-town librarian who rarely calls attention to herself, can give a voice to someone who no longer has one....what's our excuse?  Thank you, Kelly for not letting us forget Isaiah.  And for reminding us of the power we have in our own voices, to change the world around us.

Everyone who wills, can hear the inner voice.  It is within everyone.  ~  Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Forget the wedding, get married instead.

Act #27:  Strive to forget your wedding day.

Lately it seems that just about everyone who is half my age or so, is getting married.  No matter how empowered and independent we are, how liberated we've become, many of us have been planning our wedding day since we were little girls.  For some reason, we are in love, enamored - not with our potential life partners - but with the romantic notion that one magical day will somehow transform us into fairy tale princesses.   Some have colors picked out, bridesmaids selected, a first dance song in mind.   Some are convinced that there could be no future moment that would rival those fleeting 5 seconds at the alter where we promise our undying love to our soul mate.

Of course this very notion has helped to create a monstrosity of a wedding industry, a slew of reality shows that portray women as overpowering, irrational, and controlling, extravagant multi-state gift registries - all culminating in a 2-hour event that often times costs more than a down payment for a house.  Or the gross national income of a small country. 

As women, the pressures that we place upon ourselves that day is astounding.  How many times have you heard someone reply, "the day I got married" when asked of the happiest moment in their life?  Having been down the aisle a couple times myself, I am here to live and tell, that your most meaningful, most memorable moments with your life partner will not take place on your wedding day. Period.  Or at least they shouldn't.  

And here's another shocker.  Some of your most meaningful moments with your spouse aren't necessarily going to be happy ones.  Of course you'll probably have those expected moments of bliss like the birth of your child, your honeymoon, the day you move into your first house together.  But the true moments that brought me closer to my husband have been these: 

The day I miscarried our first child.  The day my father-in-law died.  The day I found out that 20 children the same age as our son, were killed in their first-grade classroom. 

It was during these moments that I felt closest to my husband, Adam - someone I haven't even know for a fraction of my life.  During these moments, he went from being my lover to being my family.   During these moments that I knew for certain that we could, and would, uphold and uplift each other, not only in sickness and in health, but when it truly mattered.  While I will always have such fond memories of our wedding day (when we, and 50 of our closest friends and family feasted on boxed wine and good coffee at a surprise wedding that took place at our local coffee shop), there have been so many more monumental moments in our shared life together.  And I hope many more to come.

So while I would never want to minimize the beauty of ritual and ceremony, I challenge us as women to re-think how much sacredness we place on our wedding day.  How we've become the subject of ridicule (think "Bridezillas"), how we've allowed the wedding industry to capitalize on our girlhood dreams, how we've allowed society to imprint those dreams on us in the first place, and how we've been convinced that our weddings will somehow be less wonderful if we don't spend exorbitant amounts of energy and resources on them.

My sisters, if you end up finding love, and you are lucky enough to have the legal rights and choice on whether or not to marry, I hope you consider viewing your wedding day as merely the beginning of the book, rather than the "happily ever after" ending.  I hope you have a "good" wedding day.  But more importantly, I hope that 50 years from now you look back and barely recall your wedding day as a blurry, fading memory - one that has been out-shined and out-lived by a lifetime of more meaningful, more poignant moments that are way more gratifying than the day you hiked your ball gown up to do the electric slide.

The 30-Second Racial Profiling Experiment

Act #26 :  Challenge your own assumptions.

I had just finished lunch and walked into  the continuation of a day-long board meeting where a guest speaker was scheduled to present.  I hadn't had a chance to look at the afternoon agenda, and I had no idea who this man sitting before me was, or what he'd be talking about.

He was a handsome man, who appeared to be in his mid-30's, with striking dark features and a kind smile.  He was most likely of Asian or Hispanic descent.  He wore a dapper, gray suit, probably from a place like Brooks Brothers, and a striped tie.  It would take me less than 30 seconds to formulate an entire opinion around him, so I decided to do just that - a little experiment to see just how quickly I could profile this total stranger based solely on what I saw before me.

Meet Mark.  He's not wearing a wedding band, but since he's so handsome, he must be gay, or divorced.  If he's the latter, he must have been a player.  If he's the former, he's not out to his parents, because no third-world immigrants would be able to handle that kind of news.  He is highly-educated, went to college somewhere like Princeton, or Swarthmore, or Vassar.  He was definitely in a fraternity.  He is of significant professional stature - maybe a high-level federal appointee or large financial supporter.  He works with complex numbers and statistics.  Although he has not yet uttered a word, he will have the perfect mid-western accent, because he's at least second, if not third, generation American.  He's sitting down, but I imagine he's about 5'7" or maybe 8.

Now meet the real "Mark".  Well, his name is actually Charles.  He speaks with a charming and distinct southern drawl that reminds me of Matthew McCaunaghey.  He's from Eastern Tennessee.  He serves in the Joint Force Headquarters, currently with the Kentucky National Guard.  He was active military for 23 years and served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He spent most of his career creating programs to respond to sexual assault and rape in the military.  He knows more about sexual violence than I do.  A lot more.  He's a feminist who celebrates women serving in equal roles in the military.  At this point, his suit is probably not even from Brooks Brothers.

Whether or not we realize we are doing this, it really only takes seconds for us to paint a complete picture about someone based on what we think we know, what we've been told.

Try it, you'll be shocked at how the world around you has biased your views over your lifetime. 

Deviate from it, you'll be shocked at how the world around you will begin to look unexpectedly extraordinary.   When Charles got up to leave, I went to shake his hand and thank him for his presentation  The man was at least 6'3".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Go to Church

Act  #25:  Lose religion, find God.   

I go to a church where members are firm in their faith, but never too firm in their convictions.  Where relationships with God are so personal that each person calls him by a different name, or no name at all.

I go to a church where hierarchy and power cease to exist and one's connection to God stems not from fear or a desire to please, but from a deep awe and personal connectedness, a sense of gratitude, an intrinsic trust that there is a place and purpose for everyone in the greater universe.  

I go to a church where members converse with God daily in their own distinct ways - disciplined prayer five times a day, holy water, bedtime meditations, joining hands with loved ones for grace, watching the splendor of the sunrise.

I go to a church with members who look like me. And who look nothing like me. Where the marginalized and oppressed are not just welcomed, but are needed.  For we are all interconnected, and without one another we can never be whole.

I go to a church where love is celebrated and uplifted in all of its glorious forms.   A church where true love transcends sex, and gender, color, and class. For it is in the image of  love that we were all created.  And it is through love, that we all breathe and exist.

I go to a church where young minds are not molded from existing beliefs , but are encouraged to question, supported to seek. Until they find their own personal path to God. Until they come to call him by their own name.

I go to a church where every Sunday, members sit down to a meal and attempt to make sense of the world around them.  Where joy is found in gratuitously sharing your gifts with others, and being able to humbly receive the gifts of those around you.

I go to a church with muslims and buddhists, and christians, and seekers, and asians, and caucasians, and children, and the elderly, the sick, the recovered, the reformed, the divorced, the depressed.....the fulfilled. Where gay couples and people of all shades and faith journeys regularly join us.

I go to a church at my home. 

Because while I have visited many worthy establishments, I have yet to find a community of worship that embraces all of these things. 

I go to a church in my heart.  Every day.

And I can't help but wonder if the world might make a little more sense, if we all visited that church every once in a while.

Reject Sweetness

Act 24:  Speak up against backhanded sexist comments.

I am going to be judged for this. I'm going to be called inhospitable.  Un-Southern. Ungrateful. Allow me to explain. Yesterday morning, I stopped at a local convenience store to grab myself a cup of coffee. I was on my way to a meeting at our state capital and I actually traded in my regular blue jeans for some dressy slacks, a blazer, and even some pearls. A scruffy male cashier who appeared to be at least 10 years younger than me, waited on me. I smiled, handed him my coffee, and as I was digging through my purse he looked me from head to toe, raised one eyebrow and said, "That'll be $1.37 sweetie." I fumbled a few dollar bills together, handed them over, and stepped aside to let the man behind me through while I placed the remaining change back into my purse. A disclaimer, if I may -  I have lived in the south for over 20 years, and I've grown to become comfortable, even fond of, little old ladies calling me honey, and dear, and even sweetie.

But this felt different. And, I'm sure most women would agree, that this happens regularly, but we usually just ignore it, drop it.  Just as soon as we're done cringing.   You may be wondering why it is that this simple remark made my skin crawl so much.  First, this guy was significantly younger than me. It felt condescending and disrespectful.  Would he call his grade school teacher, "sweetie"? And he was a man, who obviously wasn't calling me sweetie as a term of endearment.  He clearly had no knowledge of my personal demeanor or whether or not I was actually sweet. Him calling me sweetie, and the manner in which he "inspected" me, felt like a backhanded attempt to intimidate, to keep me in my place. Like he was packaging me up in a cute little feminine box. Discounting the fact that I was about to attend a meeting where I would be impacting state-wide policies and legislation. Reducing me to a mere "sweet" little lady.  I was surely, (as most women are) ... sweet.

As the male customer proceeded to check out, the same cashier simply said, "That'll be $2.07." No descriptive adjectives in sight. Just straight up, basic customer service, the kind I would  have been thrilled to receive. As I turned to walk away I spontaneously blurted out, "I noticed you didn't call him sweetie. Don't you think he's sweet too?" And I walked away, not even looking back to see his reaction.  It didn't really even matter.  But what did matter, is that by speaking up, I was no longer giving a complete stranger free reign to reduce me to the most basic female stereotype.  Crazy as it may seem, I felt empowered, in control, un-silenced.   I certainly didn't feel sweet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Give Them Enough

Act #23:  Set a different tone for your kids.

On MLK day, my 5-year old and I watched a short children's piece about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Using animated figures, in simple, child-friendly language, the film began by talking about a little boy who couldn't play with the other kids because his skin was too black, and it ended with his powerful "I Have a Dream" speech at the capital.  When the film was over, we sat in silence, something I learned to do as I allowed my son time to process what he had just seen.  I could literally see the wheels turning in his head and after about one minute, he turned to me and said, "Mama, is my skin black?"  Throughout my brief journey  with "parenting an inquisitive kindergartner", one of the best pieces of advice that was given to me was:  Only give them as much as they can handle.  You'd be surprised at how little information they really need or can process at this age.  I contemplated what might possibly be behind this simple, yet poignant question.  Was my son worried that the other kids might not play with him if his skin was black?  Had I exposed him to an ugly concept like racism too early in his innocent little life?  Was he hopeful that his skin wasn't black so that he wouldn't have to endure what the little boy in the film had? A million questions ran through my mind, and I wanted to be careful and honest in the tone I set that could quite possibly form his early views on race.  I finally took a deep breath and said, "Sweetie, we're not lucky enough to have skin that is as black as little Martin's, but your brown skin is just as beautiful."  I paused again, bracing myself for tough follow-up questions like "Why do people have different skin colors?" or "Why would kids not play with little Martin just because of the color of his skin?"  Instead, my son stared blankly at me and said, "Can I have a cinnamon roll for breakfast?"  Apparently my answer was just enough.  By saying that we were not "lucky" enough to have skin as black as little Martin's, I was hoping to instill in my son, a different standard of beauty, where dark skin was appreciated, sought after, revered.  God knows that the media, other kids, society will try to tell him differently over the course of his life.  By telling him that his brown skin was just as beautiful, I was hoping that he would come to see that there was beauty in  all shades and all colors.  That someday he would emerge from those unavoidable years of questioning his racial identity, and come to appreciate his heritage.

And that simple response was all that my son needed at his tender age, to begin to look through a world lens just as colorful and beautiful as the one that Dr. King looked through his entire life. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Understand the Misunderstood

Act #22:  Dig Deeper

Yes, I have been described by some as “annoyingly optimistic”, but I’m not totally naive.  And while it is a source of personal struggle, I recognize that sometimes there is evil lurking out there in the world.  This often presents a parenting dilemma for me as I watch my 5-year old engaged in imaginative play with his action figures.  Even though he’s not allowed to watch any of the cartoons, read the comics, or watch the movies, for some reason, the superheroes are always pitted against the villains, and there is always, always some sort of battle - no matter how many times I model alternative non-violent play options.  “Jack, don’t you think Batman and Joker might want to go camping together?  Maybe they can talk things out.” or “Jack, I wonder what is making that Bane so angry.  Maybe he’s misunderstood.”  Needless to say, he greatly prefers action figure play with his father.

I’d like to introduce you to a cute and smart little boy named Max.  His family was Jewish, and he lived in Germany, where his father was a decorated soldier.  During the war,  Max and his family fled to Poland, but they were captured and his father, mother, and sister were executed by the Nazis.   Max escaped and was sent to Auschwitz and suffered great hardship and torture.  After the war, he fell in love, had a daughter named Anya who was killed when a mob burned down his house.  Max’s anger manifested into uncontrollable powers and he became Magneto, a mutant who desired to dominate the human race as he viewed humans as an outdated species that no longer deserved its continual domination over the world.  Magneto, as you may know, is one of the top 100 villains in the X-men comics.

Yes, there is evil in the world and yes, Magneto’s subsequent reign of terror, destruction, and killing of innocent lives is deplorable and unacceptable.  But how many little boys named Max do you know with contemporary stories that might resemble Magneto’s?  So while I want to raise my son to be careful and to have good judgment, to understand consequences, to keep himself safe and stay away from danger, I will always challenge him to think beyond the status quo of “Good v. Evil”.  And deep down inside I hope he always leaves a little room in the back of his mind for the possibility that maybe, just maybe someone’s anger, mistrust, hatred might have evolved from pain and suffering.  That redemption is possible.  That Magneto may have indeed, been gravely misunderstood.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Honor Your Man

Act #21: Let boys play with their toys.

This weekend we got together with our chosen family in Asheville, NC for our annual holiday reunion (yes, we're a little late). 6 adults, 3 kids = total love and chaos. There were two dads (one being my husband, Adam, and the other, our dear friend, Dean) in our group, and throughout the weekend I witnessed them running around changing diapers, wiping butts, reading bedtime stories, giving baths, and engaged in a myriad of other essential child-rearing activities. On our last night together, as I sat in the kitchen, sipping on a glass of Malbec with my friend Beth (Dean's wife), I looked over in the living room and observed our husbands and sons, Jack and Miles, sprawled out on the floor engrossed in a board game. At that moment it occurred to me how grateful I was that the boys would grow up believing that a man's strongest trait can indeed be his capacity to be gentle. That a father can and should be just as nurturing, and kind, and caring as a mother. That a man's role as an engaged and involved parent is so much more impacting, rewarding, than his role at the office. That a true life partner is just that: a "partner". I challenge all of us, particularly women, to honor our husbands and fathers of our children - by gifting them equal opportunities to model what it truly means to be a great father. What it means to be a great man.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Confront your Inner Bully

Act # 20:  Teach kindness.

Dear Childhood Classmates,
Many of you are now Facebook friends with me so I hope you don't take this the wrong way.  This is in no way written to blame you or make you feel bad.  Be rest assured, this is not really even about you anymore.  This time, it's about me.  It's about my son.  It's about all of us.  

I truly hope this finds you each doing well.  I mean that.  As I sit here decades later, I want you to know that I'm pretty darn happy.  I'm fortunate beyond belief and even though it took a while, I'm finally comfortable being exactly who I am.  I wouldn't change a thing.  The profoundness of that statement may not be as apparent to you, but you see, for years, I woke up everyday wishing I was someone else.  I hated my dark olive skin color, the curls in my hair, the fact that my family didn't share the same upper class socio-economic status as yours.  I was lucky to have found a close group of 5 girlfriends who loved the real me and who sustained a deep sisterhood with me from the third grade all the way up to 9th grade.  You know who you are, and I do miss our time together! 

But it seemed like outside of that circle, every day I was made to feel like I didn't belong, shouldn't belong.  I remember, and still cringe, over the taunting.  Little black girl.   Little maid girl. Four eyes.  Your skin is as black as the night.  

I remember the time in fourth grade when I had a huge crush on a boy and as he walked by, knowing about my crush, you sang such painful words.  Little black girl is in love.  Little black girl doesn't have a chance.  I ran as fast as I could.  I thought I was going to die.  Or in middle school when I was the butt of a cruel, cruel joke, when all of a sudden the most popular basketball player seemingly developed an interest in me.  I had no idea you were all laughing about the absurdity of this behind my back. How could a little black girl like me dare aspire to  have the attention of someone like that?  For years I subconsciously surrounded myself with the prettiest, most popular girls, hoping for a chance at finally feeling like I fit in, but I was wrong.  I remember the time that you showed up at my door with flowers.  I didn't even like you in that way, but I was so excited that a boy brought me flowers!  You then told me that you had actually brought them for one of my pretty girlfriends, but she wasn't home and you didn't want to waste them. I was crushed.

And then there was that year, when all of my girlfriends were cheerleaders and you told me that I wasn't pretty enough, that I wasn't the right kind.  And there are so many more stories.  So many more.

While this blog post may seem like I've been dwelling on this my entire life, I haven't really stopped to think about this - or you, you for a long, long time.  Since that time, my life kind of took a turn.  For some crazy reason, people started thinking I was beautiful because of the color of my skin.  Boys actually brought me flowers.  I actually went on a date or two with the most popular basketball player.  Turns out he was just as insecure as I was. 

I'm writing this blog at this point in my life because most recently I've come to learn first hand, the devastating impact of "innocent" childhood bullying.  I've seen the results of living in a society that accepts the status quo that "kids will be kids", and I've watched us simply give up on the notion of instilling and teaching respect and compassion to our young people.  I'm one of the lucky ones who found support, who found myself, who eventually learned to love myself.  There are others who aren't as lucky and who will grow up believing you.  That they are less.  Unworthy.  That they are never going to fit in.  I know that many of you have children of your own now, and I pray that life experiences have since helped you grow as a person and as a parent.  I hope that you are raising them with compassion and love, and unlike me, I hope they don't have to go a single day of their lives wishing that they were someone else.

That Girl You May or May Not Recall

Author's Note:  Between the ages of 9-14, I attended a private international school in Bangkok, Thailand.   At the time (God, I hope things have changed), darker skin Thais were typically seen as having come from under-privileged, more working class backgrounds.  My family was comfortably middle-class, but I did not share the background of my peers.  Many of my friends had private chauffeurs, and housefuls of servants and gardeners.   While there are so many rich and wonderful aspects about my heritage that I celebrate, I have always struggled with classicism and the inequitable distributions of power and wealth that I witnessed.  On a positive note, there was one boy who always liked me for exactly who I was. Thank you.

Expand Your Circle of Trust

Act #19:  Walk the Talk.

I have three black friends.  I'm talking circle of trust friends, not acquaintances, not people I used to work with, not former professors whom I love and respect, but three African-Americans, out of this entire world, that I would totally call at 3 a.m. with a problem, drive to their homes and crash on their couches, let them babysit my kid.   So what's the big deal?  Well, let me break things down.  I  graduated from an incredibly racially-diverse high school in Queens, NY.  I have about 1000 Facebook "friends" from all over the world.  I spent a huge portion of my 30's working in an office where I was one of only two non-African-Americans.  I attended and later worked at the first inter-racial college in the South, share an alma mater with Carter G. Woodson (Founder of Black History Month), and for 9 years held an office next to the campus's Black Cultural Center.  I currently chair our local human rights commission and for 8 years of my adult life, I worked as a Civil Rights investigator for city and state level human rights commissions.  Yet, I still only have three black friends.

I realize that this might sound contradictory to my earlier blog post when I discussed how universally declaring one's love for "all black people" was just as discriminatory as declaring one's dislike for all black people: (, but as we approach the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the second inauguration of our nation's first African-American president, I can't help but feel like the world's biggest hypocrite. 

You see, I have no excuse not to have a more diverse circle of friends.  Unlike those who live in non-diverse areas or who have limited opportunities to interact with people outside of their own race, I have had ample, extraordinary opportunities to develop and sustain relationships with some incredible African-Americans over the past 25 years, yet I only have three black friends in my circle of trust.  I have looked up to, collaborated with, trusted, became close, with hundreds of African-Americans over my lifetime, and yet there are only 3 whose shoulders I would cry on.  Today's act may indeed be my most personal and most difficult to admit - and it requires multiple steps.  Won't you join me?

Act #19:  Confront your own views and perspectives on race.  Let down your guard.  Look deeper.  Do not fear rejection.  Embrace the beauty of that which seemingly divides you.  Live your life so that you find yourself surrounded by a circle of trust that is rich and diverse, and fulfilling, and that is not limited to people who think, act, and look exactly like you.

Happy birthday sir.  Thank you.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Be a Nerd

Act #18: Love yourself first so that you can then love others.

I've worn contacts just as soon as my parents allowed me to do so in high school, because wearing glasses always made me feel nerdy, like I was the serious type. I've worn high heel shoes since I was in college because being taller somehow made me feel more powerful, more important. In my early 30's a friend introduced me to the flat iron, and I started straightening my hair. Every beautiful Asian model that I'd ever seen always had long, straight, shiny, black hair - and I had gone my whole life thinking that I was forever cursed as the only wavy-headed Asian girl in the world. The flat iron was a god-send. Since I hit puberty, I've apparently been incessantly striving to become more "attractive", to appear taller, and to fit in better. This morning I ran into a dear friend and he hugged me and said, "Gosh, I didn't realize how tiny you were!" I looked down at my feet, at my leopard-print canvas flats and it occurred to me that I have been wearing flats regularly for the past six months. I've also been wearing my glasses every day and I haven't pulled my flat-iron out in weeks. I save all kinds of time not having to squeeze my contacts in every day, not straightening my hair, and not trying to balance myself on stilts. Maybe that's why I find myself with a bit more time to do the things I didn't even know I loved doing - like writing this blog. The transformation was in no way intentional, but these days I would honestly take "looking nerdy" as a huge compliment. Why wouldn't I want to look serious about the things that mattered to me? While my pants drag a little on my 5'1 frame without my heels, I feel unexpectedly centered when I can feel the ground beneath me. I've learned to embrace my natural waves, clearly passed down to me from my mom - and I love knowing that I get to carry on one of her most defining traits.

And oddly enough, I feel more beautiful, more strong, and more "me" than I ever have.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Challenge Standards of Beauty

Act# 17:  Save your five bucks.

This week GQ (Gentlemen's Quarterly), a popular monthly magazine devoted to "men's fashion, style and culture" released its Top 100 Hottest Women of the Century list. Goodness, I'm blushing. With such creative and imaginative categories like "hottest Chinese chick" and "hottest pregnant Sri-Lankan", how could I not? While I personally am flattered that GQ readers are eager to commend my sisters who are "capable of giving a sensation of heat or of burning, searing, or scalding" (Meriam-Webster), I wanted to offer some alternative top 100 lists for your future considerations. So here is my "Top 10 list of alternatives to GQ's top 100 lists". That was a mouthful!

1. Top 100 Most Influential Women of the Century. OK, so I admit, GQ readers might find this a little less titillating so I'll do better.

2. Top 100 Working Mothers Who Don't Have Bags Under Their Eyes. Clearly, I wouldn't qualify.

3. Top 100 Female Social Entrepreneurs (If a woman who can run a business AND has a social conscience doesn't turn you on, I don't know what does!)

4. Top 100 Women World Leaders. Please don't put them in bikinis, GQ.

5. Top 100 Stay-At-Home Mothers Who Have Temporarily Put Their Advanced College Degrees In a Drawer to Raise Your Kids

6. Top 100 Women Local Community Organizers

7. Top 100 Retired Women Who Changed the World But Who We've Now Heavily Medicated and Placed in Nursing Homes. Hey, you can't blame me for having a thing for wisdom.

And gosh, all this praise for us is making me blush again, GQ! Don't you ever want to honor your own? I certainly do! So here are a few categories for you.

8. Top 100 Working Fathers. And no, that doesn't just include outside the home.

9. Top 100 Men Who Speak Out Against Violence Against Women

 And last but not least…

10. Top 100 Men Who Would Rather Spend 5 Bucks on a Donation to the Local Food Bank than on this Particular Issue of GQ. I think I'm gonna need a cold shower after that one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Don't Mind Your Own Business

Act # 16: Don't fear the children

I'm an only child. I went 35 years of my life without ever having changed a diaper. I've always been insanely uncomfortable and awkward around kids because well, they stared just a bit too long, and talked just a bit too loud.  Quite frankly, I never knew what to say or do around people under the age of 15. When friends had babies, and I tried to hold them in my arms, they cried. Not the whimpering average baby cry but unequivocally 100% of the time, they screamed their heads off, kicking and fighting their ways back to their mothers. When my son Jack was born via c-section, (please keep in mind that I was heavily drugged), I did not cry with joy or utter profound words of love, I said to my husband, "Look honey, a zombie baby!"  The anesthesiologist glared at me.

I can't be for certain when my attitude towards children changed. Some say it was when I had my own, but I think it happened much more recently.  Still unsure of how and when it happened, somewhere along the way I felt responsible. For every child. In the entire world. Maybe it's the unimaginable stories of sexual abuse that I hear at work. Or the fact that I can no longer make myself watch the news without feeling utterly helpless in protecting young lives plagued by violence, neglect, and abuse.  It is beyond my comprehension and bewilders me deeply how any parent could ever hurt his or her child.  But it bewilders me even more that so many of us sit back and watch, when we have countless opportunities to intervene, to mentor, to help nurture our future, but we choose not to.  Because like me, you may be uncomfortable.  Because it's none of our business. 

A few years ago while making a pit stop at a fast food restaurant off the interstate, while I was entering the bathroom a young mother had her son in a death grip, by the arm.  He was probably around 5 or 6.  Her face was twisted with anger while she dragged him with one hand and repeatedly struck him with another.  He was squirmy and clearly being disobedient.  Then she said, "If you don't shut the fuck up, I will kick the shit out of you when we get home." I went and sat in my car for 10 minutes in silence.  I know I should have spoken up, but what could I have possibly said that would change the course of this child's life?  If anything, it might have made that mom even angrier and she might have taken it out on that helpless boy once she got home. 

Now imagine  yourself as that 5 year old boy.  Imagine your norm being daily verbal and physical abuse.  You are probably going to be cursed with a life of neglect, self-doubt, fear, insecurity and lack of stability.  You are probably going to be told every day that you are worthless, that it is OK for someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally to use profanity with you, beat you.   You are at Wendy's, had a little too much ice-cream, felt a bit restless, didn't listen to mom when you should have, and now you face her wrath........again.  But then in the midst of mom yelling at you, making you feel confused and scared and embarrassed, a stranger, someone you've never met in your life stops her.  Tells her it's not OK for her to talk to you like that.  Smiles at you and tells you that it's OK.  That you are OK.  What if everywhere you went and every time your mom belittled and degraded you, someone else stopped her and told you the same thing, and pretty soon more people in the world were lifting you up than the one person at home that was tearing you down.  Wouldn't your world view change?   What message would the world be sending you?  Might there be a chance that you would grow up not thinking that the abuse at home was normal, that you might grow up not repeating all that you've ever known with your own children some day, that you might actually start believing that maybe the problem all along wasn't you?

So when I say, "be a parent", I don't literally mean that I think everyone should have a child.  I have the utmost respect for my friends who do not choose to be parents and my heart is with those who long to but are faced with difficulties.  But until the village assumes more responsibility in the well-being of its future citizens, I'm afraid that we, as a society will continue to be plagued with violence in schools, killings in movie theaters, rapes on buses or in small football towns.  While I applaud the difficult conversations we are having about the roles of guns, video games, and psychologists in addressing violence, maybe it's time we take responsibility for our own roles......and responsibilities in creating a world that does not tolerate or make violence acceptable.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Don't Love All Gay People

Act #15: Speak up

I don't love gay people.  Allow me to clarify.  One of my best life-long friends, my platonic soul mate, is gay and I love him.   Many individuals that I admire and respect for their talents, characters, friendship are also gay, and I love having them in my life.  But for me to make that sweeping generalization that I love all gay people is just as, or even more offensive than me proclaiming that I hate someone because of their sexual orientation. You see I love my best friend, not because he is gay, but because of the kind of person he is.  Because of his drive to better himself and the world around him, because he can make me laugh even when we are waiting in the hospital ICU for my dad to get through surgery, because of the way that he offers me advice and criticism without making me feel like shriveling up in self-defensiveness, because he once used his entire savings to put a new roof on his mother's crumbling little home in southeastern Kentucky.  I love him for type of person he is and for the value he has added to my life over the past 20 years.

Which brings me to my point.  While my higher aspirations are to live in a world where I do, I also don't love all Asians, all Blacks, all Whites, all Hispanics, all the elderly, all Jews, all Christians, all Muslims, all that are disabled, and all women.  While I do indeed have people who are near and dear to me who fit nicely into one or several of these categories, I could never proclaim my love for entire cross-sections of the human population.  Heck, how could I when I don't even know them?  What I DO know however, is that while I may have disagreed with a former white boss, been annoyed with a gay server recently, felt intimidated by a black doctor a few years ago, I still value these individuals as human beings who deserve the same rights that I have.  The right to work, live, and eat in a restaurant without being made to feel like they have the plague.  I don't love all gay people.  But I value them as human beings who should be able to get a job that they are qualified for, live in an apartment that is safe, go on a date with a partner without being kicked out of a restaurant. 

Yesterday the tiny town of Vicco, KY (population 334) became the smallest town in the country to pass a fairness ordinance.  It joins Lexington, Louisville, and Covington as one of 4 cities where it is illegal to discriminate against someone in housing, employment, and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation.  Please allow that to sink in:  if you live anywhere else in the state, you can legally fire someone just because they are gay (or even "look" gay), you can kick someone out of their rental home (or refuse to rent to them in the first place) if they are gay, and you can refuse to serve someone at a restaurant simply because they are gay.

My friends, this is not a complex deeply moral and religious debate about biblical definitions of marriage, freedom of religion, personal beliefs.  This is as simple and cut and dry as this.   You don't have to love all gay people.  You don't have to even love one or know one, but I would challenge you to ask yourself this question:  Can you go on about your life and continue to live in a community (or more importantly, live with yourself) knowing that your neighbor, your server, your co-worker, the guy you go to church with, is currently, right this moment, being denied the same basic rights that you have had all (or most) of your life?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Take Action Even if It Pushes Your Comfort Zone

Act #14:  Be that "Somebody"

As I write this blog, one-third of my colleagues are pulling all-nighters.  They are not partying (although they may be drinking a bit of wine), or spending time with their families, or watching the Golden Globe awards - but they are all pulling together pieces of a grant that, if funded, will allow the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center to reach more victims of violence in hard-to-reach historically underrepresented areas.  It will allow us to partner with faith leaders, and ethnic/cultural leaders to help us find effective approaches to eradicate sexual violence in different ways and in broader, more diverse communities.  

These colleagues are not grant-writers.  In fact most have never written a grant in their lives.  They are counselors, educators, and therapists who earn just a tiny fraction of the immense contributions they make.  They are not doing this because they were asked to, nor are they doing this to please their boss.  They are not seeking praise, raises, or accolades.  They are doing this simply because someone needed to, and they chose to be that someone.  They believe in a world free of sexual violence - so whole-heartedly, that they will do whatever it takes, even if it is unfamiliar, even if it pushes their comfort zone. 

They are today's face of the anti-violence movement.  They are my colleagues and I watch them every day as they sit knee-to-knee in hospital rooms with women who have just been raped, as they advocate for the rights of survivors in court, as they accompany individuals in their journeys of healing and life-long trauma.  Their work is all too real and they know that their efforts tonight will be worth every waking minute if it allows them to reach even one more victim, and even one more ally to help them in their fight.  Their titles and areas of expertise do not limit the ways that they choose to contribute to the movement.  They will not stop until they work themselves out of a job, and they dare dream of the day that their services will no longer be needed. When's the last time you wondered why someone wouldn't take action?   When's the last time you chose to be that someone?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Talk to a Man...about Rape

Act #13:  Challenge the Status Quo

Dear Men:  What did you do this week to keep yourself from getting raped?  Take a moment.  Let it sink in.  Now it's, my turn. 

When I got up to walk the dog before the sun rose yesterday, I turned on the front porch light and kept my back towards my house so I had a clear view of any people or vehicles that might approach me unexpectedly.  When I was getting dressed I determined that my inner tank top was too low-cut so I threw a scarf on so I wouldn't attract any unnecessary attention.  When I got to my office - I was visiting a satellite office for the first time - I parked as close as I could, held my keys between my fingers (a tactic I learned in self-defense class in college), ready to jab any attacker between the eyes if necessary.  I then disarmed our alarm, to our private non-published office (I work for a Rape Crisis Center), let myself in, and locked the door behind me.  Later on when I was leaving the grocery store and a stranger asked my name flirtatiously, I firmly looked at him, told him I wasn't interested in sharing that information with him, and returned to my car, watching my back the entire time to make sure I wasn't being followed.  This is just over the course of one day.  During my single "going out" days, I made sure that my drink was never unaccompanied.  I never accepted drinks from strangers.  I never drank too much if I were depending on a male companion for a ride.  I never walked alone to my car.  My girlfriends and I had elaborate plans to support each other in night clubs and bars, to make sure we weren't drinking too much or leaving with anyone else.  My skirts were rarely too short, my cleavage rarely detectable - and when they were (give me a break, I was 21!), I always felt self-conscious, and a tad guilty for looking like the kind of girl who was "asking for it".  I learned to look men in the eye and walk with authority, like I wasn't intimidated - whenever I was subjected to whistling, cat calls, "baby, lookin' good today" comments.  When I was in the new phases of a relationship and found myself alone with a boyfriend, I always knew not to let things get too far, because men weren't "wired to control" those sorts of things.  In college I sat through a million different versions of "dating safety" classes every year (my male friends never had to sit through such classes).  I attended female self-defense classes.  Even today, I have emergency numbers programmed into my cell phone, "just in case".  This is in no way, shape, or form a statement about all men.  Trust me, some of the biggest supporters of the anti-violence movement are men.  Thank you.  And I want to be careful to point out that men are victims of rape and sexual assault as well, but statistically speaking, we simply can't deny that the majority of people who commit rapes and sexual assaults are men.  

Is this really the world that we are willing to settle for?  A world where we raise our girls to EXPECT the possibility of being raped at any given time?  A world where it is the norm for women to shape their entire daily routines around a personal safety plan?   A world where women learn to always view any man as a potential rapist, given the "right" set of circumstances?  I have a five-year old son.  It seems so much easier for me to simply teach him to respect human beings, and yes, that includes girls and women.  To teach him that it is never OK to violate anyone, to exploit his physical strength for his personal gain, to use violence to intimidate, to take away someone's power.   So as we spend all kinds of energy educating girls and women on how to keep sexual violence from happening to them, I challenge us to commit to doing the same to educate boys and men about their critical role in ending power-based sexual violence.  To learn more, visit,, or contact the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center at if you live in the central Kentucky area.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Don't Wait Till You're 40

January 12

Act #12:  To Thine Own Self, Be True

I wanted a nose ring since I was 20.  I grew up watching Bollywood films and was captivated by the breathtaking Indian women and their artfully feminine expressions of their bodies through henna tattoos, and piercings. When I first graduated from college, I was worried that a facial piercing would prevent me from getting a  job.  So I waited.  When I got my first job, I worried that my supervisor might not take me seriously and that might impact my career progression. So I waited.  When I later became a human rights investigator, I worried that the respondent's lawyers would see me as less competant and it would compromise the case for my complainants.  So I waited.  Then I went on to work for a college, and I worried about how I might represent the institution, the impressions I might leave on the President, donors, older alumni, more conservative alumni, you name it. So I waited.

For 20 years I've wanted a nose ring and the time was never right.  So I waited for two decades.  The day after I quit my job at the college, I got my nose pierced.  I had finally reached a point in my life that I no longer wanted to wait to be true to myself.  If someone was going to discount me because of a tiny sparkly stone in my right nostril, I'd probably not be happy working for them, or in that environment, anyway.

Since the great piercing (and yes, a few tears were shed), I interviewed for, and got a job.  I've attended a reception at the Governor's mansion.  I've met with high-level financial donors and top-government officials.  I honestly don't think anyone even notices my nose piercing anymore.  But they seem to notice me more.  The thing is, when you finally grow into who you were meant to be all along, you radiate from within - so brightly that a tiny little diamond pales in comparison.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Challenge Stereotypes

Act #11:  Assume Nothing

I'm brilliant in math.  I take my camera with me everywhere.  I love rice and my culinary preferences sometimes include your common household pets.  I am submissive to my husband and generally like to please and serve all men, unless of course they're Asian - I'm just not attracted to them.  I came on a boat.  From somewhere in China.  Or maybe Japan.  I'm a trained violinist.  And contortionist.  I'm painfully shy, but I can still kick some butt with my black belt.  My driving skills are a bit lackluster.  But I make up for them by being sexually deviant and kinky in bed.  I worship idols...and Hello Kitty.  Who am I? 

I'm the quintessential female Asian stereotype.

Truthfully, only one of these things is true about me.  Can you guess which one?   Better yet, why don't you GET TO KNOW ME, so you don't have to guess.  So you don't have to rely on what has been spoon-fed to you by Jackie Chan movies, by that guy you used to work with, by your great uncle, by the entertainment industry, the media, your friends and family. Why would anyone settle for gross generalizations of an entire group, when a complex and intricate world of surprising, individual beauty awaits?   In case you're wondering, I'm from Chicago.  No, really, I am.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Slow Down

January 10

Act # 10:  Let off the gas.

It's about 3 miles from my house to the interstate, a route that I take daily to work. This morning I had a fairly important meeting and had carved out just enough time to get there promptly. As soon as I pulled out of my subdivision I found myself following a little, worn, silver car, that accelerated at the speed of 25 miles per hour.  For the next 3 miles, I impatiently "hovered" behind the car, hoping it would somehow sense my urgent need for it to actually utilize its gas pedal. The 3-mile trek was excruciatingly painful for all of us in the long line of cars that had formed behind the little silver car.  And just as soon as I was able, I seized my first chance to escape, and quickly passed the car where the lanes split into two. A quick glance, maybe even a dirty look, may have taken place. I'm not proud of it, but I just HAD to see the person who was single-handedly responsible for ruining the dawn of my day.

And I did.

He was a wrinkled and frail 80 year-old man in a red and black-checkered flannel shirt.  Lying in the back seat was an old beat-up wheelchair, and hanging from his rear-view mirror was a bright blue handicap tag. He was focused, intent, like he was trying, with every ounce of his concentrate, to do the best he knew how. For all I know, he could have very well been going to a doctor's appointment. Or to get some milk. Or even to visit his widow's gravesite.  Whatever his destination, he clearly needed to get there, and probably had to overcome a heck of a lot more than I did to get out of bed today.

I of course felt like the smallest human being on earth. A million random acts of kindness couldn't erase this one act of selfish insensitivity, and lack of regard for a fellow human. Last week Merlene Davis was writing about my kindness. This week, I'm running over a helpless little old man.

While I'm constantly searching for ways to move forward, to make change, to be bold and take action, today I was reminded of the value of stillness.  That true peace begins within.  I'm reminded that sometimes in order to get ahead, you actually have to slow down.  At least enough to see someone else's journey. Enough to care. The world might indeed become a better place if we cut each other a little slack, considered each other's personal challenges.  Slowed down.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mentor Someone

January 9

Act #9:  Believe in someone else and take the time to show them that you do.

Four years ago I met then freshman, Jamie Nunnery in a Berea College "What Not to Wear" planning committee.  She was 17 and walked in with a Miley Cyrus folder.  I remember thinking to myself, who the heck is Miley Cyrus!?  She was beaming, full of life and ready to take on the world - her energy actually took my breath away.  In my former life as alumni director of Berea College, I spent the next four years working alongside Jamie, who was a Berea Ambassador, and I literally watched her grow and blossom right before my very eyes.  This week, Jamie was just accepted to the prestigious Teach for America program.  She will be based in South Carolina.  She will be impacting young lives and the world around her in monumental ways.  As I reflect on our countless coffee dates and lunchtime chats about her aspirations, her hopes, her future, I find myself beaming with pride about the strong, focused, and compassionate young woman she has grown to become.  While I hope that I've been able to pass on some of my life experiences and lessons learned to the next generation of feminists, I know for certain that MY life is indeed richer, fuller, and more meaningful for having known Jamie Nunnery.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Model Love

January 8

Act #8:  Lead by Example

This week one of my role models, Lexington-Herald Leader columnist, Merlene Davis  wrote a humbling and generous piece on people in the central KY area who were practicing 26 random acts of kindness to strangers to honor the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary.  While flattered and humbled by her inclusion of me in the piece, I also felt incredibly unworthy.  You see, it's not that difficult for me to practice kindness, when I come from a place of such privilege:  warm home, supportive family, wonderful education (thank you, Berea College), stable and rewarding work.  I also felt so unworthy because I am surrounded daily by others who practice such acts and go unmentioned and unnoticed. These people are my heroes and are the ones truly worthy of recognition, although they would never seek it out.  There's no earthly way I can highlight every single kind person I've come into contact this year, and I'm certain I will leave someone out, but here goes.  Thank YOU, the individual you - for inspiring us by your example of selflessness and goodness and generosity.

Steve Karcher - called a car rental company to commend the excellent customer service he received, naming the specific employee.

Kelly Smith - randomly gave a gift card to a pregnant woman with toddler who was shopping at a grocery store.

Ronnie Nolan - donated a bench to provide education to future Berea College students, and dedicated it to his mother.

Diana Taylor - visited and spent time with an elderly woman in Lexington who lives alone.

Kif Skidmore - designed a nursery for a friend with a new baby.

Matty Suramek - made spring rolls to thank her grandson's kindergarten teacher for her service.

Gayle Partain - wrote a detailed employee appreciation letter to the manager of her favorite grocery store.

Laura Arnsdorf - created a resource library and reflection area for employees of the BG rape crisis center.

Jo An Gaines - sent money from Hawaii to help out a struggling single mom in Kentucky that she read about on Facebook.

Bill Laramee - provided a listening ear, support, and counsel for a former employee during a critical and transitional time in her life.

Charliese and Robert Lewis - hosted a Christmas party, inviting guests to bring a gift card to help support a struggling family.

Adam Mullikin - bought $100 worth of gas cards to help his favorite server visit home for the holidays.

Dean Higgins and Beth Mainwaring - bought a cow in my son's honor. Well, they made a gift in his name to Heifer International...

Caitlin Bentley - bought gourmet, beautiful coffee for the office coffee pot. Apparently she's been keeping our low-budget non-profit stocked for some time now!

Marisa and Chad Aull - served thanksgiving dinner in a shelter, hosted a birthday party for underprivileged kids, and reached out to countless others over the holidays.

And this, my friends, is just a small list of incidents I can actually remember over the holidays. There are countless others. Apparently I keep really, really good company.