Family Lessons: Check on Your Friends!

Attention: Please replace all your social media where you have posted this phrase: Check on Your Strong Friends!

As a child, I often experienced anxiety and frustration when doing my homework with Momma. This was especially true when Math proved to be a bit challenging for me. Often times in elementary school, Momma would offer an alternate way to solve the problem, different than the way my teacher had shown me, and make an attempt to teach me the same method she used. Immediately, I would launch into my routine response, “But that’s not how my teacher said to do it.” In spite of Momma’s working with me and emphasizing that it was safe to solve the problem in the way she had shown me, I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. In my 8-year-old mind, it was wrong, and I didn’t have the skills or the experience to work through what I was feeling. Momma did a lot of talking to get me through those moments. She wouldn’t let me lash out, and in other moments, when she suspected I was keeping something bottled up inside, she wouldn’t let me keep it in either. Momma’s way, one which I have grown to treasure, was to talk. We talked about the hard things and we talked through the harder ones. We didn’t avoid what was emotionally strenuous. We dealt with it head on and talked until we felt better. We still do.

What I appreciate the most about being raised this way is that I’ve been blessed enough to recognize when I need someone to talk to, and that my need is not a disservice to the love I have for Jesus in my heart or a symbol of me lacking faith. As my sister would say, “Everybody needs to lay on somebody’s couch and talk sometimes.” In my early 20’s I went to counseling. I found myself at a point where I couldn’t help myself work through the anxiety and depression I was experiencing. For three years, my counselor, Gus worked with me, listened to me, and helped me get back to a healthy mindset and healthy heart place. I am forever grateful for his support, and I am not ashamed to say I needed help. I am quite the opposite, and most thankful that I got the help when I needed it.

As I’ve worked my way through life, and on to adulthood, I’ve often had others tell me how strong I seem, that my personality is bold, and because of that it has sometimes been assumed that I am not tender. As I have moved into leadership roles, I’ve found this to be especially true for me, and countless other Black colleagues, who also are in leadership roles. Just as some people are given an automatic level of credibility, and assumed to be kind, we are often assumed to be just the opposite. Words like intimidating, bold, and forward come to mind. Our self-confidence is unexpected, and because of that, it is often interpreted as aggressive. As I’ve thought long and hard about the deaths of Chelsie Kryst and Ian Alexander, Jr., and watched other people’s commentary on their deaths, I’ve felt compelled to write this blog post. Both were described as pure sunshine, talented, and warm. It’s apparent that both touched the lives of so many people. My heart breaks for their Mothers, Fathers, family, and friends who knew and still love them. For those of us who are outsiders, I offer this sentiment: There is no such thing as strong friends.

We are all human, and because of that we are all weak (at some points and in some ways). The fallacy of “Check on your strong friends” creates an illusion that our work is in determining who is strong and who is weak. Let me be clear: This is a false narrative. Check on ALL of your friends. We do not know what people carry internally and, no matter how strong you think someone is, your perception isn’t what needs to be the measuring stick against someone else’s needs. Secondly, “Check on your strong friends,” is the epitome of passing judgement. Who are you (myself included) to declare anyone as strong? Does that mean everyone else who you don’t deem as strong is weak? And what does that even mean? If you care about someone, talk to them. Call them. Visit them. Connect with them. And most importantly, make it safe for them to talk to you-without your judgement or moral assessment of how they should be doing or what they need to do.

There are battles we all fight that are lodged between our rib cages and our hearts. Some we find the courage to speak aloud, while others we do not. The human condition is weak. Over time, and if we live long enough, our bodies deteriorate, our minds slow, and our hearts eventually stop beating. It is only our souls that are strong enough to last for an eternity. There are no strong friends; there are only strong souls.

Each and every day, I am working to suspend judgement. I want to love without condition, and make it safe enough for others to know that about me without me ever saying a word. It is a work in progress, because just like you, I am human, and I am weak. Judging others is easy. Loving others is harder. I pray that love will always and forever be my guide, and I hope it will be yours as well.

Y’all be easy.

Latoya

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