Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Last book post of 2015......

As I was looking at the lineup for the BOCAS lit festival in Trinidad, I ran across an image of Marlon James, and I was intrigued by the picture below:

In this image, Marlon looks like a serious brother who has a lot on his mind, and I just had to give his writings a chance, and so I read A Brief History of Seven Killings. In this novel he tells a fictional account of the killing of Bob Marley, and I was completely captivated by his ability to have so many characters and each character’s voice is clear, unique, and clearly developed.

Recently, a friend sent me a text about The Book of Night Women, and she thought that I had recommended it to her. However, upon reading this completely, fascinating novel, I am sure that I have NEVER read it before; there is no way that I could forget a book like this.

In The Book of Night Women, Marlon tells the story of enslaved Africans who were brought to Jamaica. The novel has a mystery element with the main character, Lilith, having a ‘dark side.’ There are a group of women who are planning a slave revolt, and the women want Lilith to be apart of their plan. However, because of the complexity of Lilith’s situation, she poses a few problems.

The cleverness of Marlon’s writing in this novel is that he is able pull the reader in and really make the reader think about love between a slave and a master, and can there ever be love present between two people when one owns the other one?... Well, the answer was pretty obvious to me until I read this book.

What I loved the most about this book is the portrayal of the women, and Marlon’s ability to create suspense....

The women are shown as being strong and in control of their destinies even while being enslaved; I was pulling for them and was on edge as they planned and implemented their revolt. This novel is totally unpredictable, and I could not even imagine what would happen next; it was suspenseful all the way until the very last page.

This book is a clear indicator that Marlon is a seriously, thinking man and a gifted writer!

Marlon James is ‘The Man'....

Read this book!

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Riot and The Read Harder Challenge!

If you love books and authors, then the DC area is the place to be; there are always literary events going on!

I took some time to look over the books that I read in 2015, and I realized that I did some heavy reading. While I loved most of the books that I read, I've decided that in 2016 I would broaden my horizons some.

So, I heard about a book club meeting that was being held at Upshur bookstore in DC. (President Obama recently visited this bookstore with his girls.) Once I realized that this was a casual book meeting where people would casually sit around and  talk about books, I decided to give this book group a try, and I am so happy that I did.

There were seven people in attendance besides myself, and I realized that this book club is part of the online book group called Book Riot which is a huge book review website and so much more. (Never heard of Book Riot, but now I know.) Book Riot has Read Harder book groups in different cities, and the book club meeting that I attended was one of the Read Harder book groups.

The Reader Harder book groups offers a challenge, and the challenge is to read harder. The way that they want people to read harder is that they give a list of genres of books such as horror, essays, book in a series by a person of color, a food memoir, a play etc. The reader will fill out the challenge sheet as they read books in the genres that are listed, and by the end of the year, a person would have read all types of book. What a good way to get people to read out of their comfort zone!

The Read Harder Challenge sheet, and I even got a few suggestions last night!

I enjoyed the group so much; they talked about books and writers that I have never heard of before, and it was great to get recommendations. Needless to say, I will be going back to meet with this group the third Sunday of each month to talk and learn about books.

In 2016, I am going to Read Harder. 

Read about Read Harder book groups here.
Read about Book Riot here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Books for Christmas 2015!

This year I have written forty-four blogs about books, and I ain’t finished yet......

Last year, my niece, Kayla, thought that it would be a great idea for me to write a blog recommending books that I thought would be great Christmas presents. So, I went through this entire blog and found books that I really, really loved, and I wrote a list of my top ten. (Here is my Books for Christmas 2014 list.)

However, this year, I decided that I would list my top ten books that I read in 2015, and I hope that you will select one or all of them and share them with people whom you love.

My People, my readings this year have been both liberating and stimulating. This highly, racially charged world in which we are currently living in had me frantically reading trying to understand race, myself, and my place in this world. (I am a changed person because of my readings.) 

I definitely read books that spoke to my heart, but I also purposefully read books that created a lot of buzz so that when someone runs across this blog one hundred years from now, he/she can get a feel for the times in which we are living and the impact that the times had on me.

So, here are my TOP 10 Books of 2015:

#10 The Power of the Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy! Joseph is proposing that we can use the power of the subconscious mind to heal our bodies and our relationships; attract wealth, success and healthy people into our lives; be young forever; to rest at night; to be happy; to forgive; to remove fear. He is basically proposing what so many other books such as The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyers proposes: "If you change your thoughts, you can change your life.” I have been practicing being very conscious of my thoughts, and it definitely has not been easy, but I know that changing my thoughts has changed my life for the better. (Read about it here.)

#9 Bicycle Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni! If you read this blog often, you know that I love Nikki Giovanni and her writings. This little book of poetry is so delightful and fun to read. I keep this little book near, and when I want to feel love, I read a poem from this book. Everybody needs a book of poetry in his/her house. (Read about it here.)

#8 Sacred Search by Gary Thomas! This is a book that I know that I was led to by God, really! This book helped me to put all of my relationships in perspective, and this is one of those books that I will read and reread and reread. (Read about it here.)

#7 Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez! With this novel, one of the themes that Dolen deals with is “Letting go of the s#$t that’s holding us back” as stated by Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon. All three characters had to deal with their past in order to fly. And, once they made peace with their past, everything was all right. This is just a great read! (Read about it here.)

Me and Dolen!
#6 The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill! With this book, Lawrence is able to bring the horrors of slavery alive, and he does it in a way that is engaging and with an incredible storyline. At the time that I read this book, I did not know much about Africans fighting during the American Revolutionary War, and I felt liberated knowing that we have been fighting for our freedom since the day that we were forced here. (Read about it here.)

#5 If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin! I read quite a bit of James Baldwin this year, and my reading of Baldwin has me rethinking my thoughts about race. If Beale Street Could Talk is one of Baldwin’s fictional pieces that left me speechless, and to be honest, quite upset. My people, sometimes we need to be upset, and anything by James Baldwin will rattle you just a bit. (Read about it here.)

#4 Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward! This book is Jesmyn’s autobiography that I literally have been thinking about just about everyday since I’ve read it. Her truth is raw and should be read over and over and over. We can not forget the folks who are living in the deep South, and with this book, Jesmyn gives our Southern brothers and sisters voices. (Read about it here.)

Me and Jesmyn

#3 The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs! Much like Men We Reaped, this is one of those books that I just can not stop thinking about it. I am constantly trying to figure out who failed Robert Peace? (Read about it here.)

#2 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson! This is not a feel good book at all, but it is one that must be read. Our criminal justice system is being discussed heavily today, and we all need to pay close attention. This is a book that gives great insight into the justice system, but it reads like a novel. You will not be disappointed. (Read about it here.)

Me and Bryan!

#1 Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates! This book has been making headlines this year, and it is not just hype. This is an incredible book that will be around and discussed for years to come. Coates beautifully strings words together, and I couldn’t help but to fall in love with his writing style. As a country, I think that we need to have some honest, raw conversations about race, and this book is honest and raw and should be added to our conversations. When Toni Morrison says that this book is “required reading,” then it is required reading. (Read about it here.)

Now, there are many books that I read and absolutely loved this year that did not make this list, and so I am also highly recommending God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique, Losing My Cool by Thomas Williams, and Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin.

Give the gift that keeps on giving: BOOKS!

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading.....

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The stories that are being written today from Jesmyn Ward to Kiese Laymon to Robert Peace to Ta-Nehisis Coates are exposing to the world that not all Black people are the same. And, as much as people want to put us in a box, the stories that are being written today are exposing that Black folks are not all the same.

Reading Coates coming of age novel, The Beautiful Struggle, I thought a lot about my own coming of age, and I wish my coming of age was as fascinating at Coates, but it wasn’t....

Coates was raised by a father who was a member of The Black Panther Party and a “practicing facist” who did not allow his children to eat meat, participate in any type of holiday or religion, a man who did not spare his children the rod, he thought that Ghandhi was absurd and praised John Brown, he started doing the work of restoring Black scholar's work that had been lost, and he filled his family's house with books like Black Boy, Manchild in the Promised Land, and Another Country. 

His mom was an educated woman who was “conscious” like her husband: “She went natural in high school... at college she was arrested for protesting," and it seemed inevitable that she would marry a man like Coates’ father who was also “conscious,” and they would put their children in programs like Upward Bound and send their kids to The Mecca: Howard University.

Coates tell his story of trying to find his way while being raised in a household where it appears that his parents expected him to be tough, but he couldn’t always hold his own on the streets; a household where having good grades was valued, but he had a difficult time “getting" school, but he read the books that his father had in the house and became “conscious.” Coates eventually graduated from high school and ventured off to The Mecca, Howard University, and the rest is history!

Reading this books, and seeing how Coates' life unfolds, I couldn’t help but to think about the idea that parents are constantly changing and evolving as they are raising children. The children are at the whim of whatever their parents think is important and it appears that Coates’s parent, much like my parents and your parents, were trying to find themselves and their place in the world, while also trying to shape the lives of their children. So, it seems that all of this growing and changing makes parenting an imperfect art.

I am learning that growing into your own takes a very long time and change is the only thing that is constant... We may have to give our parents a little break on some of the decisions that they made that many of us may see as mistakes. Coates quotes that “Even after I got conscious, I felt robbed of time, that I had been isolated from a series of great childhood events. In my father’s house, values ripped us from the crowd. Dad called it enlightenment. But to me it just felt lonely.” I wonder what his Dad thinks of this quote?

So, I guess Coates, and most of us who are of age, are now critically thinking about our childhoods and may be teaching our children a few different values than what we were taught. However, we will never know how any of this will play out until our children closely examine their own lives.

Now, if you have read Between the World and Me by Coates, this book will give great insight into why he thinks the way that he does. If you have not read Between the World and Me, you must.

This book confirms that we are all the sum of our experiences....

READ this lyrical novel to hear another perspective of coming of age while Black in America.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson and me!

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
                  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

My friend, Alicia, recommended Bryan Stevenson’s book to me, and I put it on my list. Then one of the members of my book club, Katie, sent me a warm message about Bryan Stevenson. I googled him and was completed fascinated by his work with the people many of us literally turn our backs on: the incarcerated. During my research on Bryan Stevenson, I came across his TED talk, and My People, I was moved to uncontrollable tears, and I have been thinking constantly about identity and what defines who we are. During my research, I also found out that he would be in DC to speak on prison reform, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet this incredible man face to face. His presence, spirit, and passion were all over this packed church, and he had the ability to make me sit on the edge of my seat and silently cry as he spoke about people whom he has met on his journey for justice. 

After my research on Bryan Stevenson, I approached his book, Just Mercy, with high hopes, and it did not disappoint.

I just love the writing style of this book. Stevenson goes back and forth in this novel by telling his personal story of navigating the justice system to telling the unbelievable story about one of his clients, Walter McMillian, who was framed for a murder that it was apparent that he did not commit, and he was sentenced to death. 

Now, Bryan’s story of how he came to work with the justice system and his experiences with the justice system are quite moving and powerful, but Walter McMillan’s story had me frantically reading wanting to desperately believe that his story just could not be true. If Bryan had not followed his calling and had not gone to Alabama to start The Equal Justice Initiative, I believe, with my whole heart, that Walter McMillian would have been executed for a crime that he did not commit. (Our purpose is always connected to helping others.) 

Reading this book the word empathy, empathy, empathy, empathy..... would not leave my mind. I believe that our purposes are all about helping other people and especially those who may not have a voice of their own including the young, old, and poor. I truly believe that in order to fully empathize with people, we must find it in our hearts to be able to “rejoice when others rejoice, and weep when others weep.”

Bryan Stevenson is a Harvard educated lawyer, and I am sure that he had and have lots of career options. However, he chose to go to Alabama and work for the incarcerated; people whom many of us never think about. Bryan works relentlessly and tirelessly for people whose names we may never know, and at the beginning of his career, there was very little financial reward. Now, I know that many of us have read the poem about the servant leader, and reading this book and being in the presence of Bryan, there is no doubt that he is a servant leader....

 The Paradoxes of Being a Servant Leader 

Strong enough to be weak
Successful enough to fail
Busy enough to make time
Wise enough to say "I don't know"
Serious enough to laugh
Rich enough to be poor
Right enough to say "I'm wrong"
Compassionate enough to discipline
Mature enough to be childlike
Important enough to be last
Planned enough to be spontaneous
Controlled enough to be flexible
Free enough to endure captivity
Knowledgeable enough to ask questions
Loving enough to be angry
Great enough to be anonymous
Responsible enough to play
Assured enough to be rejected
Victorious enough to lose
Industrious enough to relax
Leading enough to serve

Poem by Brewer --- as cited by Hansel, in Holy Sweat, Dallas Texas, Word, 1987. (p29)

This book is one of those books that I want every person in the world to read in order to learn about the US criminal justice system, to pay closer attention to what’s going on with the justice system, to act within our circles of influence, and to feel a little empathy for others and definitely those who are considered to be the least amongst us.

This is not a feel good book, but I do think that this a book that will cause a person to rethink his life, ideas, and purpose. READ THIS BOOK!

Bryan Stevenson is on tour, and if you happen to see your city on his travel list, it may be worth your time to hear what this guy has to say.

I will leave you with the words of Bryan Stevenson: “We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.” 

I feel inspired to run on to see what the end is gonna be.......

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Mule Bone by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston

Before I even start to pen this blog, let me just warn you that I am bias towards Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes; two of my favorite writers of all time. This blog is even named after Langston’s autobiography The Big Sea. So, on this blog, Zora and Langston can do no wrong.

I read Mule Bone again in preparation for the Food and Folklore series at Eatonville restaurant in Washington DC, and My People, I must admit that I laughed out loud while reading certain parts of this short but mighty play.

The writing of this play caused Langston and Zora, who were very close friends, to die without speaking to each other. The version of the play that I read tries to make some sense of the Mule Bone controversy by adding excerpts from the biographies of both Langston and Zora and the many letters that were passed around about the play. (Boy did I enjoy those letter!) You know how you may be friends with someone and many little things may transpire that may not sit right with you, and you never address those issues? Then, this one thing happens that's really not that big of a deal, but it allows a whole bunch of other stuff to come up? Well, this is what I think happened with Mule Bone. The Mule Bone controversy was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

If you have read Their Eyes Were Watching God, then you know about this character Joe Clarke who was the mayor of an all Black incorporated city in that novel. Well, that town and Joe Clarke are in Mule Bone as well the southern dialect that is in lots of Zora’s writings. A man has hurt another man by hitting him with a mule bone, and they take him to court to see if they can put a guy out of town for hitting another guy with a mule bone. And, My People, the silliness of it all is quite comical.

What I absolutely love about the writings of Langston and Zora is their commitment to telling the stories and feelings of ordinary people. So, I just love the idea that this play is simply called Mule Bone, and I love that it is about common, everyday people. This is a play that I wish that they could have continued to work on and even completed, but things work out the way they are suppose to.

At the discussion of this book at Eatonville restaurant, besides myself, there were five other women, which included the scholar who led the discussion, one man, and plenty of good food. We laughed and talked and ate and discussed Zora and Langston’s Mule Bone and so many other topics. It was so good for my soul to be with other people who love Zora and Langston and wanted to spend the evening talking about and appreciating them.

You know that I love to take care of my body, but I have learned that taking care of my soul is just as important, and the Food and Folklore series at Eatonville restaurant is all about the soul....

My People, when you need a good laugh, try Mule Bone; it might be the food that your soul is craving.

Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

I read The Red Tent many years back, and I fell completely in love with it; I just love hearing the voices of the women in the Bible even though they are totally fictional.

My book club decided that The Red Tent would be our book club book for the month of December, and I jumped at the opportunity to read it again.

This time around, I was just as moved as I was the first time.....

This story is told from the perspective of Dinah, the only daughter of Leah and Jacob. Dinah is only mentioned briefly in the Bible, just like most women of the Bible. However, Anita gives Dinah and many of the other women voices and caused me to give the women of the Bible a lot more thought.

For instance, Leah, the mother of Dinah, and Rachel were sisters who were married to the same man. When I read their story, the Bible does not speak of any conflict between these two women, but I can not imagine that these women were not different than most women, and there had to be some type of conflict. Anita, with The Red Tent, helps to make this situation real. (Can’t imagine sharing a husband with any of my sisters or any woman for that matter; I know that we would be showing out for sure.)

What really struck me in this novel is Anita’s description of childbirth. My mind had to wrap around the idea of giving birth without technology and a hospital. Yea, I know that women have been giving birth naturally since the beginning of time, but WOW! No way to see if the baby is breached, no pain medication, no surgeon.....And, these women would have multiples babies and many of the women and the babies died during birth. Anita paints the picture of many of these women suffering tremendously before they died.

If there is any truth to the stories that Anita tells in The Red Tent, My People, the women of the Bible deserve so much more praise and attention than what we give to them.

For two years, I read the One Year Bible, and the One Year Bible gives the reader scriptures to read everyday and by the end of the year, a person would have read the entire bible. The Red Tent has made me think seriously about reading the One Year Bible again, paying close attention to the women.

This is a well-written, entertaining book that I think most readers would enjoy whether a person believes in the Bible or not.

Give this book a try, and let me know what you think....

Off to read Mule Bone by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas

Well, my reading list is so long, because it does not take much for me to throw another book in the mix quickly, and I have to follow where I am led....

So, I was surfing the internet, and I ran across an article about marriage by Gary Thomas, and I enjoyed the article so much until I just had to give the book a try. Last week I downloaded the book and read it over the Thanksgiving holiday. (One of the many bonuses of having time off for holidays is lots of free time to read.)

This book proposes that “A good marriage is the closest two people will ever come to heaven this side of eternity, and a bad marriage is the closest two people in an affluent society will ever come to hell.”

Gary states that many people are led by their emotions; the feelings that we feel when we first meet a person. However, he proposes that we must be led by more than our emotions. Gary states that we may consider being more concerned with whether or not a potential mate is a humble person, is able to forgive, handles conflict in a healthy manner, communicates, prays, and makes and keeps friends, and I must add that we can not expect our partners to be all of these things, and we not strive to have these same qualities ourselves. He goes on to say that “A Good Marriage isn’t something you find, it’s something you make.” And, I think that this can be applied to all of our relationships: romantic and non-romantic; they must be cultivated.

I know that this is a cliché that we hear over and over, and it seems quite corny, but Gary states that we should “First seek the kingdom...” and you know the rest.

I’ll keep this book with me at all times as I navigate my dating life; it’s my new handbook!!

If you want to be married, is already married, may want to start dating, is dating right now, confused about love, have given up on love, a hopeless romantic.... Then this is the book for you!

Happy Reading...

Even though I threw The Sacred Search in my reading mix, I instantly got back on my reading schedule, and I also finished The Red Tent during the holiday. (The blog will be coming soon!)

Well, I got an email about an event at Eatonville restaurant in DC on Sunday where there will be a discussion of Mule Bone by Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, and you know I could not miss an opportunity to read and discuss two of my favorite writers. So, I will diverge from my reading list to read Mule Bone, and I will start reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson next unless another book calls my name.

Reading really can become an addiction; try it!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Drown by Junot Diaz

After I finished reading Drown, I was completely overcome with emotions.

I truly believe that literature can be used to teach all of the skills that districts and states wants students to learn, but I also believe that literature can be used to teach empathy. Yes, empathy! And, empathy is what our country seems to need urgently!

This book is a collection of short stories about Dominican immigrants' struggle to acquire the “American Dream." Every short story is told from the perspective of a fictional character, Yunior, who is reflecting on his childhood.

When I first started reading this book, the sex sort of threw me off, but I kept on reading. However, that very last chapter actually made me fall completely in love with this book and have empathy for the struggle of immigrants to try and acquire the American dream, and yea I have been turning the idea of the American dream over and over in my mind lately.

We learn early on that Yunior’s father left his family and moved to the United States. Based on the short stories, it appeared that the father never came back. However, we learn, during the telling of the Dad’s story in the very last chapter, that the Dad did come back when Yunior was nine, and he moved his family to the United States. This last chapter helped me to understand some of the earlier stories and how Yunior and his family ended up in New Jersey. This last chapter also helped me to empathize with some people’s struggles of immigrating to the United States and trying to get a piece of the "American Pie." (Whatever that is?)

Reading this book, I thought a lot about Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. In the blog that I wrote about Catcher in the Rye, I vowed to never subject students to that book, but thank God for change, and I have sort of soften up on my stance.

Like Catcher in the Rye, Drown at first appears to be a bunch of random stories with little to no point. With Catcher, a person has to read the beginning very closely or the reader will realize at the very end that Holden, the main character, is telling the story from a mental institution. The first time that I read the book, I missed that he was in a mental institution, and after I finished it, I felt the need to go back and read it again with that fact in mind. Drown, like Catcher, appears to be just a bunch of random stories, but Diaz completely ties these stories together in the last chapter, and I feel compelled to read this book again with the ending in mind.

This is another one of those coming of age stories that we can add to the other coming of age stories already out there.

I enjoyed this book and will definitely reread it and suggest it to my students, and I am also suggesting it to you, My Dear Readers.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rethinking Shakespeare

I absolutely love to read and will read just about anything, and I mean anything. However, I have never, ever picked up a Shakespearean play and curled up on the couch to read it, EVER! I even invested in season tickets to the Shakespeare theatre one year, and I enjoyed every single play that was part of my season package, but I would never curl up on my couch to read a Shakespeare play, especially if it’s not written in modern day English.

Now, do I love Shakespeare's plays, I absolutely do. I love those universal themes and the fact that many of Shakespeare's quotes are referenced everywhere, and I pick up on them. However, I must admit that I know most of the quotes from seeing the plays, not from reading them.

For years, I loving taught Romeo and Juliet, modern language version of course, and no I have never asked my students to go and read it at home alone, because I know that I would not do it. We would read the play aloud, and I would explain what was going on, ask questions, and we would, together, analyze the many poetic devices that Shakespeare cleverly crafts into his writings. Based on the discussion and assessments, and not a whole bunch of multiple choice test, it was apparent that many of the students really enjoyed this play, got the themes and language, and would playfully quote “What’s in a name?” We would wrap that up and go on to something else.

Now, I bet there are many teachers, especially those teachers who feel like a book ain’t a good book if it wasn’t written by an old, dead White man, who teach Shakespeare's plays year after year, believing with their whole hearts, that rigor involves students reading Shakespeare's plays, on their own, annotating the entire Old English text, taking quizzes, and having very few discussions. I asked my students what happens when they are asked to read those great Shakespearean plays on their own, and many stated that this is when they stop reading and rely heavily on cliff notes to help them to painfully get through Shakespeare.

I’ve been thinking about the student who may not have parents who can help him/her navigate through those Shakespearean plays and the reluctant reader, and yes many students are reluctant readers, who may miss the opportunity to fall in love with reading because of the fear of Shakespeare and his plays. Could we capture many of the reluctant readers with literature that is wonderfully written, reflect on the world in which we are living in today, teach some of those universal themes that some of us teachers love to teach, and help the students to think critically. And, the bonus is that many of the writers of these wonderfully written text are actually living, and we can talk to them personally and listen to them talk about their books on YouTube videos.

Now, as for me and my classrooms, I am no longer teaching Shakespeare's plays, and it’s not that I do not value them, because I truly do. But, I want students to love reading as much as I do, I want them to have empathy for other people and cultures, I want to them to critically think about the world in which they live, and I just no longer know if Shakespeare and his plays are relevant for the child whom we teach today.

My people, holler.... I need to hear some other perspectives!

Rethinking Shakespeare!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cyclocross Season 2: Races 4 and 5..... Germantown and Rockburn Races 2015

So, this weekend I competed in two races: Germantown and Rockburn! (Read about Germantown 2014 and Rockburn 2014 by clicking on the links.)

The Germantown race was on Saturday, and it was great to be among fellow cyclocross racers. The atmosphere was fun, and I absolutely loved the course; lots of riding and not a lot of dismounting. The course was challenging as usual, but I felt great. Of course I got winded, but I kept on keeping on. I normally do not race in the forty-five plus field, but today, I decided to embrace my age and that felt good as well.

After the race, the female racers all gathered to talk about the course, hackle each other, and we went to see the results. There were 8 women in my field, and I was number 6. (Super excited that I did my best, and I was not last.)

I left the race feeling good!

The Rockburn race was on Sunday, and it was a tough, fun course: short steep hills, a long climb, dips, riding on the side of hills, and a sandpit which all added up to be a good CX course.

I rode with the forty-five plus women group again and had such a good time on the course. I wasn’t so concerned about if I was first or last; I was more concerned about doing my best and having fun, and I did both.

The race ended, and I could not wait for the results; I need to hurry home to change in order to make it to DC to hear Margo Jefferson talk about her new book Negroland.

Well, I have been checking for the results from the Rockburn race all day today, and they are not posted yet. Yep, I am not worried about where I placed, but I sure do want to know.

I will definitely be doing these two races for years to come....

Find a hobby, and become its slave.

Happy Monday!!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell

Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell is such an inspiring book. This book confirms one of the things that I believe with my whole heart: “To be significant, all you have to do is make a difference with others wherever you are, with whatever you have, day by day.”

John is not saying that we need to go out and try to get our names in the papers and all over the news. He is proposing that all we need to do is intentionally help others, and our lives will matter. AND, we don’t have to wait to live an intentional life; we can start living this kind of life right now, today... Just go out and intentionally do something for someone else.

I had the pleasure of recently meeting Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard educated lawyer who has been working relentlessly for people in this country whom we easily just throw away: the imprisoned.

Not sure about you, but until recently, I had never heard of Bryan, but he has been making a huge impact on the lives of people whom many of us may turn our backs on. "Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.” With a law degree from Harvard, he could represent more high profile people and companies. However, when I heard him speak, he told of how he would go into the poorest neighborhoods, and he challenged us to do the same.

Recently, he has been in the spotlight, and that spotlight is not only shining on him, but on the people whom we condemn and throw away everyday. (Living Intentionally is not just about us.) Bryan Stevenson has been intentionally helping the least amongst us, and I am sure his personal gains are tremendous. Now, whether he was on Oprah or not, this man is living an intentional life that matters. (Read about him here.)

In Intentional Living, John proposes some very basic steps that we may follow such as start with where we are, search until you find your why, put other people first, connect with like-minded and like-value people, live with a sense of anticipation, tell your story etc.

This is book is an easy read, and John gives lots of personal experiences that I totally respect. This is definitely one to add to your reading list if you want to add positively to your life!

Now, my reading is all over the place. Every book that I assign to my students, I read them again. So, now I am currently reading Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I have written one blog about Annie John and several about Song of Solomon and will more than likely not write about them again unless I am compelled to do so.

For my school bookclub, I am going to start reading Drown, by Junot Diaz, which is a collection of short stories that gives us a look at the life among immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

And for my bookclub with my sorority sisters, I will be rereading The Red Tent by Roger M. Young.

Pick up one of these books, and Join me!!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cyclocross Season #2: Races #2 and 3...Biketoberfest and Ed Sander's Memorial Races 2015

Before I tell you about my races, I must tell you where I am emotional which will help you to understand my racing state of mind...

Friday, I had a meeting with my mentor and friend, and the moment that I sat down, I went into the ugly cry. You know the kind of cry where you can’t control your breathing. Yep, that kind of cry. He allowed me to cry and talk out all of my emotions and then we got down to business. (I was not sad; I just needed a safe place to cry.)

On Saturday, before my race, I finally got the chance to do a little research on this writer whom one of my dear friends wanted me to check out, Bryan Stevenson. Well, I read all about him and even had time to listen to his TEDTalk. My people, I sat in Wholefoods and uncontrollably cried; this TEDTalk touched me to the core, and I cried and cried just about all the way to my race.

I got to my race, Biketoberfest, and pre-rode the course which was one of the most hilly CX courses that I have ever been on. After one lap of just pre-riding, I was pooped, but I was still going to give this race a try. Why not right? (I was feeling happy and energized.)

There were eight ladies in my category, and we took off when the start bell sounded. I felt great, I was taking the turns, riding with ease the few down hills, and even mastering the climbs. However, I got to one steep climb and jumped off my bike to run it. Let me tell you, running those hills was even more tiring than riding them. But, I really didn’t have a choice since I definitely couldn’t ride them.

After the second lap, I wanted to cry.. I mean my heart was racing uncontrollably and my legs were absolutely, completely done, but I was determined to finish this race. The third and final lap was brutal.... running and riding those hills just wasn’t for the faint at heart.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt like my lungs were on fire and my poor legs. I checked the race results and sure enough I finished, but I was last....

Let me tell you about the self-doubt that I was having.... I texted a friend to tell him that I felt defeated and maybe should stop racing. He asked if I tried my best, and I did. He went on to say “So, why would you stop racing?"(Happy for friends who don’t feed into my emotional craziness.)

Anyway, I went home after the race, got in the bed feeling a little down, but I decided to try racing again the next day.

I had no idea until I got outside that it was raining this morning. Now, many people who race cyclocross have no trouble with rain and many prefer to ride in rain, but not me so much.

On the way to the race, I had another crying spell, not sure what sparked it, but I allowed myself to cry...

I got to the race site early, Ed Sander's Memorial Race, and pre-rode the course in the rain. And, it was muddy with a few steep down hills that would have been rideable if they were not muddy, but in the mud, I would definitely have to run those steep down hills, and you know what, I just didn’t feel like it. I totally skipped those parts on the pre-ride. The rest of the course was fine but scary in a few places. However, after riding that course, I decided that I would not race but would take my butt home, and I did just that, all the while doubting if CX is for me.

However, I got home and the sun came out, and it was nice and warm, and there was no way that I could pass up the opportunity to practice CX skills on a beautiful fall day, and I did just that.

Beautiful fall day in Virginia!

I was riding up hills, down hills, dismounting and remounting over and over again... My happiness level went to the sky!

One of my co-workers has been doing very well in CX this season, and while I was outside, I decided to give him a call to talk about CX. He assured me that steep down hills in the mud and running those hills give him the blues as well, and he reassured me that I needed to keep riding them, and I will get better. I hung up with him and rode my bike with passion.

Now let’s talk about those crying spells.. Nope, I am not sad at all; I just needed to cry! I’ve learned to allow myself to feel whatever I am feeling and to never, ever trust my emotions; they are fickled!!!

Needless to say, I will continue to CX race, I am ready for tomorrow, looking forward to my safe haven, Tuskegee’s homecoming, and I am hoping that my crying spells are over...

What a weekend... Enjoy your week, My People!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Destiny: Step Into Your Purpose by T. D. Jakes

Well, you know that I could go on and on and on about T.D. Jakes' book Instincts: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive, and I feel the same way about Destiny: Step into Your Purpose.

When I first started reading this book, I was thinking that this is common sense, but I continued to read, and this book started to speak to my heart.

T.D. Jakes is proposing that we all have a purpose for being on this earth, and we can or can not follow our instincts and go with our destiny; it’s totally up to us.

“Destiny is much bigger than us.”

T.D. Jakes challenges us to look back on our lives and think about connections that we have made that we were not necessarily looking for; we were prepared, the time was right, and things just seem to miraculous happen. Like when I was not thinking about buying a house, but I met a lender in a bar, and the rest is history. Or, when I finished graduate school and was stressed because I did not have a job and school was about to start, and I met a man at a picnic who led me to my first inner city teaching job. Our destiny is right before us; all we have to do is answer.

However, Jakes goes on to say that the pull to destiny is strong for some people, and we must realize that even though we are being pulled toward destiny, it may not happen quickly, the road may not be easy to get there, and once we get there “nobody told me that the road would be easy,” but we must remember to stay focused.

This books reconfirms that some people won’t understand, and so what. You may think that you are not ready, and God will supply all of your needs. You may be ready to make a move now, but we are on God’s time.

Not sure about you, but when I feel a pull to move in a different direction, I want it to happen right now. But, this book confirms that we must trust the process and trust God and know that out “Destiny is so much bigger than us.”

Jakes ask “Do you have the courage to take the chains off your brain?”

I left this book feeling liberated in knowing that “Destiny is calling me. I am on the cusp of change. More is calling to me. I am not selfish. I am not ungrateful. I am not greedy. There really is more! I can not stay where I am without feeling discontent. No matter where I am in the pursuit of destiny, I am ready, ready ready to elevate my mind to the higher calling of Destiny.” (p.195)

Read this book, and Get Ready!

I am still examining my life and will start to read Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters by John C. Maxwell!

Knowledge is Power!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cyclocross Season #2: DCCX Race #1 (Almost)

So, this was the weekend for the much anticipated DCCX races...

It’s one of my favorite races, because they are held on the beautiful grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the Nation’s Capital, there are lots of vendors including coffee and beer, and it attracts a huge, friendly crowd, and tons of racers.

I got up early and started doing my affirmations: “Ride my own race!” “Courage is feeling the fear and moving through it.” “I may not be the strongest, certainly not the fastest, but I’ll be d#@$ if I don’t try my best.”

I got to the race early to register and to talk to many of the other racers whom I have not seen since last racing season, like Ashlea. Do you remember me telling you last season about Ashlea who would breastfeed her infant and jump on her bike and race? Well, Ashlea is back this year, the baby is fifteen months old, and Ashlea is kicking butt. I was extremely happy to see Ashlae at the starting line. (Read about Ashlae here.)

This year, this race added a new feature called the flyover. The flyover is this steep ramp that is terrifying just to see. I went to the race site on Friday to try and pre-ride that flyover, but the race promoters were not having that. So, without being able to pre-ride the flyover to assure myself that I could do it, I tried desperately to not focus on the fear, but that flyover.....However, I was determined to not let the fear get the best of me, and I decided to take a deep breath and ride that flyover.

The whistle was blown, and we took off. I felt much stronger and more confident than I felt last year, and I rode my bike. However, when I got to that flyover, there had been a serious accident, and my race was postponed for a little while. Well, after that accident, I was completely not in the racing mood and therefore did not go back to the starting line, BUT I rode that course between every race and had tons of fun.

I felt good about my decision to not start the race again, and I also felt great riding that tough course over and over again just for fun. My favorite cycling photographer, Ben Kristy, even snapped an awesome picture of me as I happily rode that course.

Next week I am going to race both Saturday and Sunday, and I can’t wait!!! I can not even began to tell you the joy that CX adds to my life, and that joy spills over into other parts of my life.

My people, I am strongly encouraging you to find something that is good for your soul and body, that brings you complete joy, that is not dependent upon other people, and do it with your whole heart. As stated by Ray Lewis: “Passion is Free."

Find a hobby and become its slave!!!!

Happy Sunday, My People....

Monday, October 19, 2015


So, I have been thinking a lot about passion and destiny, and this past weekend I had the opportunity to hear the famed illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, talk about his passion: Books! (Check out his website here.)

Jerry has been drawing all of his life, but he began to illustrate books in 1964, and he spoke about illustrating as if he had just started his career: with complete passion and joy.

Jerry talked about the idea that he has always wanted to create something to share, and I think that our passions and destinies are all about other people.. strange right, but I do believe this with my whole heart. I just know that when people look at these great creations by Jerry, they add something to their lives, if nothing but pure joy. And, we all know that pure joy is priceless. He even stated that talking about his work, and seeing our smiling faces in the audience, brought him joy. So, Jerry gives us joy through his books, and he gets that joy right back. (We are all connected!)

Jerry also stated that his great creations do not just happen; they take hard work to complete! (Even if we are operating in our passion or destiny; it still takes hard work.) Now, I know that all dreams come through activity, but you know, when Jerry stated this, it resonated. I am passionate about teaching and books and cycling and working out, and all of these things require a little sweat. However, working on these passions do not always feel like work, because I am passionate about them.

God is requiring me to go in a different direction, and I must admit that I am feeling anxious when I think about the effort that is required to go in a new direction. However, I am trying to remember that the work will feel good and productive if it's my passion. (Trying desperately to remember that work gets me to the next level, and I love doing it.)

Jerry sold newspapers when he was around thirteen, and one day this man, Mr. Lonnie, asked him to see his drawings. Well, Mr. Lonnie was an illustrator, and he allowed Jerry into his studio. Jerry stated that he never thought that he could make a living by being an illustrator, and he went on to state that "The seed of possibility was planted, and we need to see it sometimes in order to know that it is possible." So, you know I have been thinking about the power of visualization, and I have actually being visualizing my next move: how it feels, how it looks etc. (It's amazing how much I use my mind without a television in my house.)

So, in the words of Jerry Pinkney "Passion is like candy; the more you taste it, the more you want it."

Happy Monday!!

Friday, October 9, 2015

House Girl by Tara Conklin

I needed to take a mental break from some of the heavy readings that I had been doing, and so I picked up a book about reparations... I need help!

This story goes back and forth between the years of 1852 during slavery times to 2004 in New York City. This going back forth reminded a lot of what Octavia Butler did with Kindred. I find this type of writing to be quite engaging and suspenseful.

Josephine is a slave who is thinking of running away, and Lina is a New York attorney who has been given a case on reparation.... Well, Josephine is an artist, but her owner takes credit for her work, and Lina is trying to prove that Josephine is the rightful artist, and she’s also trying to find Josephine’s relatives in order to sue for reparation. You following me?

Now, this premise is awesome, each story is written in a manner that was engaging initially, especially the slavery parts, but along the way, Tara was not able to hold my interest. I did finish the book, but....

At the end, Tara infused a lot of letters to tell the story, and she stopped telling a straight forward story, and I got bored.

I like for writers to tie up the end of a story, and Tara just did not do that.

I won’t give up on Tara yet and will definitely read something else by her!

In the meantime, God has been tugging at my heart to make a drastic move, and the tug is so great until I must answer the call. I’ve been talking this over with my sister, Tracy, and she recommended that I read Destiny by T.D. Jakes. Soooo, that is what I have already started reading, and I am loving every page.

Happy Friday!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Brooklyn Book Festival 2015

A few weeks back, I traveled to Brooklyn, NY for the Brooklyn Book Festival....(One of the many perks of living in the DC area, you can go to NY for the day.)

Now, if you love books and writers, I highly recommend that you attend book festivals. Book festivals are normally free, and you can spend the day or days, depending upon the length of the festival, up close and personal with some of your favorite writers. 

Me and Kiese Laymon

I really wanted to see and hear Kiese Laymon, the author of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America at the Brooklyn Book Festival. However, based on my arrival time and the time of the session where he was a participant, I knew attending his session was an impossibility. 

But, you know me, I went to the building where his session was being held, and sure enough, his session was over, but guess who was standing in front of the building?

My people, we hugged and talked like we had been knowing each other for decades, and I can’t wait to read more of his writings.

Me and Marlon James

In preparation for the BOCAS literary festival that I attended in Trinidad earlier this year, I read A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Now, I was extremely disappointed that Marlon did not make it to Trinidad, but guess who I happened to be sitting next to as I ate brunch at this swanky, outdoor cafe in Brooklyn?

Well, you know how I am highly favored, and not only did I get the chance to talk to Marlon, but I also got the opportunity to take a picture with him and to attend the session where he was a participant.

Highly Favored!

Me and Taiye Selasi

I had a little free time in between session, and I decided to peruse the books to decide which session I would attend next.

On one of the tables, I saw the title Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. This book peaked my interest, because I have traveled to Ghana, and I have never read a fictional book that is set in Ghana. So, I bought the book and attended the session. 

Selasi was quite confident and delightful, and I can’t wait to read her book....

The people in the picture above are writers, Vladimir Lucien and Ifeona Fulani, whom I met at the BOCAS literary festival, and I just happened to run into them at the Brooklyn Book Festival. 

This literary world is getting smaller and smaller....

This Brooklyn Book Festival was short but mighty.... And, you may want to consider adding it to your list of things to do if you love books and writers!

“Seize the Day!"

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