Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Are You Running Up Against?

A few weeks ago, I had a very delightful and exciting 48-hour trip in New York City. Half the trip was for pleasure and the other part was dedicated to making up a major session from the leadership course I recently completed.  
The session for this day was 12 hours (!!!) and by about hour #7, I was starting to fade. (Might I add that hour #7 was after our early-dinner break and you know as a Negress I am prone to the “Itis” LOL!). After the break, our session leader invited in one of the major leaders in the program to come in and speak to us about our next step after completing our current program. I LOVE this guy to death (he is one of the few African-American leaders in the program and he is incredibly captivating) but I was in no mood for the “up-sell” speech for the next program. Many folks in the room had body language and expressions that matched my own -- “Really. Please. We are NOT interested.”  Just as I was about to tune him out, he said something that blew my little head to smithereens.  
After the sixth person said, “I am tired and don’t have time to do another program,” the leader asked “Well, what exactly are you running up against?” WHAT? He asked again, “What are you running for, passionate for, and completely engaged in that is worthy of your life? Do you have things in your life that make you strive for the next level and push you to be better than where you are now?”
Well, damn. Now I had to think. What was I running up against? More time on the couch to watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race?” More hours to lollygag on Facebook? Not that either one of those activities are horrible, but I certainly could use my time more productively to write more, get more involved in the community, and focus on my health.
Within the last few weeks, I am proactively starting put different goals and ideas in place that are indeed worthy of “running up against,” namely coaching five folks beginning in May and walking a 5K in early June. (Ya’ll pray for the folks I will be coaching. They don’t know the ride that they are in for. LOL!).  Not that I won’t build in time for “aggressive power loafing” and “Olympic freestyle bubble bathing,” but I’m looking forward to using my time to “run up against” things that are truly worthy of who I am.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Be As LOUD As You Can!

Today is my last day of a four-month leadership course I have been taking since January. When I say that this program has challenged me and has kicked my natural black behind, I’m not kidding. I went into this course thinking that I was going to be focusing on my preconceived notions of what it takes to be a leader (e.g., hard work, persistence, influencing others). This biggest thing that I have discovered is that leadership doesn’t come by taking on the qualities that you think make up a good leader; great leaders are people who are bold and courageous enough to BE themselves.
I have had this huge insecurity since college about being loud. Anybody who knows me and my siblings know that the words “LOUD” and “LAKINS” pretty much go hand and hand. You put all nine of us (plus our kids!) in a room and we can damn near break the sound barrier.  But I remember taking on this complex about my loudness during my sophomore year of college because one of my classmates said, “Gee, Leah you are just really loud and you are making the most noise in this room.” (As I reflect back on this now, this fool was in MY dorm room at 10 p.m. telling me to be quiet in MY own room! If only I had a time machine! I digress…)
Since that time, I have been VERY conscientious about my sound level, especially around white people ‘cause I didn’t want to scare ya’ll and come off as just another loud black person who didn’t know any better.  But it wasn’t until I got into this course that I realized that when I stifled my loudness I was silencing my voice and my true essence.
Anybody who has had the pleasure of taking a class with me at any point in my life knows that I sit right up front and I ask 10 million questions. I’m an eternal learner and it’s what I do. This course was no different. While I was diligent about gaining my own knowledge and be a contribution to the course, I was still very conscious about not talking too much or being too loud. (Again, you can’t scare the good white folks!) My “a-ha!” moment came one evening midway through the program. I was asking my 50th question of the night and one of the young ladies in the program stood up and said, “I just have to say that I just love when Leah speaks. She just really inspires me.” I was thinking, “HUH? You were listening to ME and you weren’t scared of the fact that I was speaking so loudly? You aight skinny white girl?”   
In that moment, I started to get in touch with the fact that there are people in this world who are going to LOVE my LOUD voice and want to hear what I have to say. I know my loudness isn’t everybody’s cup of tea (e.g., the 10 p.m. dorm room crasher of 1998 and random uptight yuppies in Old Town Alexandria) but for some folks LOUD and BODACIOUS Leah is just the bag of Lipton they’ve been looking for.
A few weeks later, the point became even clearer when I had to miss one of our major work sessions.  When I came back to the center the following week, many of my classmates said to me, “Leah, we missed your VOICE last week.” Well hot damn! Who the heck knew that a LOUD black girl from Baltimore could make such a difference in the world?  I’m eternally grateful for my classmates giving me the space and the encouragement to be my LOUD, BEAUTIFUL, and AUTHENTIC self.
Today I stand confidently in the knowledge that my LOUD voice does indeed matter. There are some people in the world who have the gift of being soft, beautiful, and delicate creatures with eloquent and light voices. Umm…yeah that ain’t my gift (LOL!). I recently saw a former co-worker at my local Whole Foods, and I screamed my nickname for him across the parking lot. I realized later that I probably embarrassed him (Sorry, Mint Chocolate!) but if I wasn’t loud and bold in my joy upon seeing him, who else would I be?
One of my favorite quotes from the late, great E. Lynn Harris says, “I think God gets pissed when we come down here and try to be anything other than what he destined for us to be.” I know that I’m not doing the world any favors when I try to be quiet, church mouse Leah. (That doesn’t even look good when I type it!) I owe it to my God, myself, and the world to be as LOUD as I can!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Knowing Where My "Help" Comes From

A good friend of mine recommended that I read the book “The Help” by Kathyn Stockett last summer. I fiercely resisted because the LAST thing that I wanted to read for fun was a book about African American women working as maids in the South during the 1960s. I finally gave in and downloaded the e-book a few days before my week-long cruise to the Bahamas. (More on my joys at seas in my next entry.) I was quickly engrossed by the language and the hilarious characters (Minny is a trip!), and I read a few chapters before my trip. Little did I know I would be in for a real-life revelatory moment with this book a few days later.  

On my last day of the cruise, I found a nice sunny spot in the dinning room, and I was all set to do some journaling and reading on my iPad after I finished eating.  It was late breakfast/early lunch time and it was pretty crowded, so I took the first available seat, which was a full table. An older black woman in her mid-60s asked me could she sit with me and of course I welcomed her to sit down. This was one of the BEST conversations I've had in a long time. We talked about everything from relationships to marriage to motherhood to self-empowerment. It was so refreshing and encouraging to talk with her.
In the course of our conversation, I discovered that she had worked as a maid for several years before she was able to go to college. My ears perked up and I asked her had she read "The Help." She said that she had and that she enjoyed it. I asked her how accurate it was and she said she believed the conditions were different and a little better for maids in North (she worked as a maid in New York).
We talked a little more and she asked me what I did and I told her about my current job as a magazine editor and her eyes just lit up. She said "Wow! I never thought that black women would be capable of doing something like that." In that moment, I understood what “The Help” was REALLY about. Millions of black women have scrubbed floors and toilets, nursed babies, and cooked elaborate meals for years so that I wouldn’t have to. These women gritted and endured long days, aching backs, and swollen feet so that I could have access to the opportunities that I have now. My career path has not always been smooth, but I have been incredibly blessed to have chances that women in her generation could not even dream about. In that conversation, it really reminded me that black women like her sacrificed a whole lot on their hands and knees so that could be where I am now.
Although I was VERY reluctant to read "The Help" I’m now really eager to read more about this chapter of African American life that isn't always so comfortable to think about and remember. As we celebrate another Black History Month, let us pay homage to those who sacrificed time, sweat, tears, and their lives so that we can stand strong and let us never forget where our “Help” comes from.
P.S. I AM NOT FINISHED READING THE BOOK! I repeat, I AM NOT FINISHED READING THE BOOK! So, please NO SPOILERS! I look forward to sharing another post with you when I finish.  

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Writer Never Dies

So...err...ummm....why exactly haven't I blogged in over a year? New love, new job, new church, new fears, and a new hour-long commute are the easiest culprits for the pause in my creative offerings. But the real culprit is that I was afraid to do the very thing that writers are supposed to do...BE REAL. As the eternal optimist, it was hard for me to admit that I was struggling...HARD. The new job I prayed for with every ounce of my being for two years went from the new job to the nightmare to the de-merger to the new, new, better job in three months. (Bring me a good bottle of white wine and I'll be glad to share that story with you in detail!) The new love was a beautiful surprise that went from hopeful expectations to a string of broken promises. The new commute kicked my ass and the cherry on top of it all was having the worse fight ever with one of my best friends for six weeks. The only thing that held me together was my new church and a belief that the God that brought me this far would never leave me.

So why blog again? Because my sister Wanda constantly asks me "Whatever happened to your blog?" Because my dear Mama Juanita told me that something I wrote helped her get through a tough day. Because I looked at the metrics on my old blog and discovered that I had readers as far away as the Ukraine. Most importantly, I step out on faith and blog again because writing isn't just what I do...IT'S WHO I AM. What I know for sure is that BEING a writer is THE thing that God put me on earth to do. And I now understand that my writing shouldn't be just about the beautiful, the awesome, and the amazing; it also must include the difficult, the frightening, and the downright scary. If you are willing to join me on the ride, I pray that as I write and fully live my truth, you will be inspired to do the same. So, here it is, friends, my blog, take #3. Welcome to my life, my thoughts, and MY SOUL ON A PLATTER.

And while my new thoughts are still percolating, you can enjoy my last blog "The Lifestyles of a Cury and Fabulous Diva" here