Family Lessons: Laughter Is As Good As Crying!

When I was a junior in high school, my French teacher called Momma. While I had hoped she would share the news of my good grades, that wasn’t the case. She wanted to let Momma know I’d taken on the role of Class Clown, giving an extra effort to make sure my classmates had humor in their lives. Momma didn’t take to well to that, and she certainly didn’t find it funny. Momma’s reaction to my misbehavior terrified Ms. Fields. I believe my teacher was afraid for my life after disclosing the news to my Momma, who she knew well, having taught both of my older sisters. So much so, that she tried telling Momma that I wasn’t the only one acting up in class. It’s just too bad Momma wasn’t their Momma too, or they too, would have been subject to the discipline I received. It was simple: “Stop. If I get another phone call, you are off the basketball team.” Momma didn’t believe in the three strikes rule. She always said, “it only takes one time to do anything right.” That second call never came, and I got a certificate from Mrs.Fields for good behavior at the end of the semester; a sort of thank you for stopping the disruption of my class with your jokes and silliness.

Over the years, Momma has had to help me learn how and when to utilize my strongest skills and talents. Be a leader. Leaders aren’t bossy. Take pride in your work. Don’t put your name on anything that doesn’t represent your values. Do it right-not fast. Take your time. Don’t rush quality. Do your best. Don’t half do anything. Know when to say what. Timing is everything. Eventually, I learned how to use my humor for good and not disruption. In college, I used it to win a stand up comedy contest and won myself $200.00. I’ve always loved making people laugh, and thanks to Momma, I know that nobody finds disruption funny.

As I’ve matured and endured adulthood, laughter has become very important to me. It’s no different than making sure that I allow myself a good heart washing (cry) when l need one. It’s all about being tender enough to feel AND heal. I’ve used humor to break the tension in a room where everyone was clearly uncomfortable. There’s no greater joy than watching a frown become a smile, a burrowed brow relax, and tears fall from the eyes of someone who has a smile on their face. We all need a good dose of laughter and we need it routinely. Because everything doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be so serious all the time. I’ve yet to find that doom and gloom and grumpiness brings any joy to anyone’s heart.

But laughter can change a tone, open a heart, break the ice, and lower cortisol levels. It’s an important part of living life to the fullest extent possible. My conversations with Momma or my sisters are rarely without laughter. We always find a way to get a good laugh in, and I may or may not be the ring leader in cracking jokes. It’s not being funny that I enjoy; it’s making other people laugh that gives me great joy because I know it will give them the very same.

In a world where every social media feeds and news reel are often filled with all things serious, sad, and some downright scary, we need more laughter in our lives. We need to do the things and spend time with the people who put joy in our hearts. I’m convinced that allowing ourselves to feel joy plays a significant role in our ability to handle tough times, challenges, and move forward with resilience when we most need it. It’s how we stay hopeful and push ourselves to get through what we go through, because we know that joy is always on the other side of struggle.

In this phase of life, I’m not trying to avoid crying. I just want to laugh equally as much, because life is too short to not spend as much of it as possible with a smile on my face and joy in my heart!

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: You’re Worried About The Wrong Thing

One of the biggest battles I’ve fought in my life is worrying. As a young child I worried about many things. Sometimes I worried about having money for unexpected expenses, our car breaking down, and how Momma was going to make ends meet when something unforeseen happened. For years, even into adulthood, I was plagued with anxiety about car trouble. I don’t know this to be certain, but I’m convinced it’s from the many issues we experienced with car trouble as a child. When my two door fuchsia Saturn conked on me because I had a friend connect two ten inch Kicker speakers in a plexi glass box to my alternator so I could be one of the only girls on campus with a booming system in college, I cried. I remember calling Momma and crying profusely as if the problem couldn’t be solved. My car got towed to a mechanic, who put in a new alternator, and let me know not to hook up those speakers to my alternator for a power source or I’d be back at his garage again. Momma talked me through that one like she always did, and with age and experience, my trauma response to car trouble has subsided. It also helps to know that money is no longer a struggle.

I can remember my Momma saying then, and many other times in my life, “You’re worried about the wrong thing.” She was right. It wasn’t that she was minimizing my concern, but rather helping me to realize that worry attached to everything that makes you uncomfortable isn’t productive. In fact, it’s debilitating. Momma’s take was that when we worry about the wrong things and not the right ones, our efforts are focused on symptoms of a problem, but not the root issue. And like Momma says, no matter the problem, if you don’t focus on the root, it’s coming back.

I can’t help but think about how worried American policy makers seem to be about the wrong things in public education. Bills and other potential legislation are focused on censorship this season: banning books, what students are taught, and what teachers can say or do in their classrooms abound. People are giving real energy to this; folks are showing up at board meetings to express their concern over the bad books, CRT, and face masks. COVID isn’t the only pandemic we are facing. Public education is under attack and some folks are too blind to see what is happening right before their very eyes. Momma would say they’re worried about the wrong thing, and I’d have to agree.

This nation is facing a teacher shortage like never before in a time where our students need the best and brightest minds in our classrooms to lead them. Imagine if the focus was on elevating the profession, raising teacher salaries, fully funding the base student cost, and making sure we recognize the impact of poverty on student learning and then doing something about it? What if we were using this time as an opportunity to right the wrong this nation has done to the profession that I see as a cornerstone to our democracy-public education? How might we incentivize young people to choose teaching as a profession, and to stay in it because of the noble work it is, and because it is valued by the American public as it deserves to be?

Public education has been made a political pawn in the nation’s messiest argument of my lifetime, and a result, the children suffer, and the profession is under siege. I often remind folks, our children are watching. They are watching how the world treats its’ teachers, how people treat the profession and the leaders of it, and what being a member of the profession looks and feels like for those of us who are still choosing it. No matter what advocacy or recruitment tool we develop, there is none greater than what we put on display for our children everyday. In my mind, we are indeed worried about the wrong things.

Four years ago, I wrote a book that called for a reshaping of the public education narrative, for educators to take their rightful place in the policy reform and advocacy arena, and shared with the world how I fought back from feeling demoralized as an educator. Today, I believe in what I wrote even more than I did before. I remain committed to the profession I love, and intend to dedicate my entire professional life to public education. I do not underestimate its power to change this world and do so for the better, and I am forever grateful for how it changed my life’s trajectory. For all the divisive issues plaguing our profession, and for every person who asks me what I think about it all, I’m going to give them Momma’s classic response, “You’re worried about the wrong thing.”

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

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

Family Lessons: We All Belong!

One of my favorite memories growing up was getting new shoes. I almost always took off my old ones, put them in the box the new shoes came in, and wore the brand new ones home. I particularly loved sneakers, and truth be told, I still do. I take pride in taking care of my sneakers, and having a variety to match my outfits. I still believe that shoes can make us feel better, give us a new sense of energy, and that hasn’t changed since I was a child.

In the fourth grade, I got a pair of high top pink and white L.A.Gear sneakers for Christmas. I loved those shoes. I felt sure I’d be the best player on the basketball court with those on my feet at recess, and even if I wasn’t, they made me feel like I could be. In my youthful mind, I believed they made me faster, and because of that I played with a belief in my speed and abilities that I didn’t have before I got those shoes.

My sisters could probably tell this story best, but I’m going to make an attempt to tell it here. High top Converse Chuck Taylor’s were all the rage my 6th grade year. I begged Momma to get me a pair, and my persistence paid off. But I just couldn’t get any pair; there was one requirement that had to be fulfilled. They HAD to be hot pink. Luckily, they had a pair in my size and in the right color. It was indeed my lucky day. I wore those shoes home just like I always did, and when I got home I felt it necessary to show my sisters just how much power these shoes had. I still remember jumping up and down and simultaneously exclaiming, “See how they make me jump higher? I’m jumping higher!” My sisters chuckled, but that didn’t matter to me. I was convinced that I would now be able to jump higher and my basketball skills would definitely be elevated because of these shoes. Nothing could change my mind.

My sisters and I laugh when we recall that story now as does my Momma. However, there’s definitely a lesson in all of this in my mind, and that is, we ought to put on the things that help us to be our very best selves. Whether that be shoes, self confidence, or an assurance that we belong, we all need to put ourselves in position to be our best selves daily. I still believe that when I am intentional about my dress, and especially my shoes, I set myself up to be my best self. When I believe I look good, I feel good, and consequently, I do good.

To be clear, this isn’t a post about material things. It’s about self love-not the kind of ego driven love of self, but the kind you need to have self confidence. There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately that I think folks have twisted up: Humility is not the result of being uncertain about who you are or lacking self confidence and confidence isn’t about being self-centered. Instead, humility and confidence are the very two elements we all need in order to know that we belong, and so does everyone else. That balance between confidence and humility is what’s most important, and contrary to popular belief, you can have both. We’ve all been victims of the idea of fitting in, and fitting in doesn’t require confidence or humility. In fact, it pushes people in the opposite direction.

In this life, it is necessary that we have the confidence to attack our fears, take on challenges, persist in the face of difficulty, and do it with a belief that we can accomplish what we set our mind too. I fear, that far too often, we mistake those who have worked on themselves, their esteem, and their confidence to be their authentic selves as being self-centered rather than self-assured and comfortable in their own skin. I worry that so many folks shrink themselves because of this, working to make themselves appear unsure of who they are because it resonates better with the insecurities that others possess, allowing them to “fit in”-whatever that might mean. For me, belonging matters most,and I have done a lot of work to get to this point. My only regret is not having done so sooner. I know now, that self acceptance comes before the acceptance of any other person or group. Because of that, I choose to embrace my quirks, imperfections, and all that makes me…me, which allows me to do the very same for others. That’s the kind of peace and love I want to give and receive in my life.

In this season of life, I am on a mission to live as authentically as possible, and I hope the very same thing for every other human being I interact with in my work and my life. The idea that we allow what others might think drive who we are and what we do is perplexing to me, but I understand that human are social beings, and because of that the idea of fitting in takes a front seat in many people’s lives, but what we need to focus on is belonging. We need to tell ourselves we belong-regardless of what others think, and so does everyone else.The freedom to be yourself with yourself can not be underestimated. It elevates your peace, reduces your worries, and simplifies what really matters.

Imagine a world where everyone felt they belonged. How different would our lives be? How would that impact our work and our world? In this era of my life I’m not focusing on fitting in because I KNOW I belong, and it gives me such peace to let go of that part of life.

I belong. I say it to myself regularly, and especially on the days and in the moments when fitting in tries to rear its ugly head. In some of life’s hardest moments, my Mother has always offered the best advice: Be Who You Are! My goal is to live that way to the fullest each and every day, and give others in my life the freedom to do the same!

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Joy is a Gift to Share!

One of my most prized possessions growing up was my bicycle. It was the old school type. A white banana shaped seat, wide handle bars, and a beautiful baby blue color. I cherished that bike. Santa Claus delivered it on Christmas Day 1984. I was seven years old. It snowed that Christmas, and Momma let me try and ride it in the snow because I was just that excited.

For as much joy as that bicycle brought me, it also brought me tough love, punishment, and hard life lessons. I seemed to struggle with self control when allowed to ride the bike. Whether it was not coming in on time, using Mother’s dishwashing liquid to wash my bicycle, or riding it beyond the areas I had been told to remain in, I always seemed to push the boundaries when on that bicycle. It was no trick bike, not made for jumping curbs and popping wheelies, but of course I had to try it. That usually resulted in a blown tire and ruined inner tube, which meant I had to wait until my uncle had time to come over and fix it before I could ride again.

Each time I violated Momma’s rules for me on that bicycle, I was punished for what felt like an eternity, but usually meant no bike riding for one to two weeks. That bicycle taught me about taking risks, calculating the cost of each one I was willing to take, and deciding if it was worth it. Most of the time, I decided it was absolutely worth it, even knowing I’d be punished. I imagine Momma’s frustration having to keep telling me the same things over and over again only to have me repeat the offense. However, I am grateful that she did not give up on me. I graduated from that bicycle years later and got a ten speed. I was grateful for the upgrade, but it didn’t bring me nearly as much joy as my banana seat blue bike. By then, I’d gotten into sports and my main objective for going outside was to play basketball.

I knew just how much joy that bicycle meant to me when I arrived home one weekend from college and saw that my bike was being ridden by a neighborhood kid. Momma had placed it at the community dumpster, and some lucky kid was trying to ride it. My heart sank. How could she? No I couldn’t ride it anymore, but I loved my bike! It brought me such joy, and even just looking at it made me reflect on memories of riding it down the hill with the wind blowing in my face feeling free and fearless. As I walked in the house, I approached Momma and said, “My bike. You threw it away!” She replied, “You can’t ride that bike anymore. It was time.”

What I learned from this experience is that one of life’s greatest gifts is joy, and our greatest opportunity lies in sharing that joy with others. Seeing another kid trying to ride that bike should have made me happy that day, but I was too young and inexperienced to understand that. Now I get it. Joy is meant to be had and to be given away. Feeling joy is great, but sharing it is even better.

As of late, I’ve been trying to think about what makes me happy and what brings me joy. I want to make sure I am clear about those things because only then can I live my life accordingly. Now I know that joy isn’t derived from possession of material things, but from an experience. It comes from what we’re doing and who we are doing it with, not from what we have or possess. I can’t help but think that we’d all be better people and friends if we could answer that question clearly: What brings you joy? Because then we’d be much more deliberate and intentional with our time and our connections. In this season of life, I’m on a quest to discover that for myself with such precise clarity that I can articulate it without pause. I’m not there yet, but I’m definitely closer than I’ve ever been before.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Everyone Needs A Soft Place to Land

One of my fondest memories growing up is eating supper at the dinner table. It seemed to be the place where minds were opened and hearts were relieved. Momma often had to remind us that we couldn’t bring books to the table as we all loved to read. Her expectation was that we talk and connect with each other, and reading a book at the table wouldn’t align with that. We blessed our food, with the homemade prayer Momma made up just for us:

“Thank you Lord for happy hearts and rainy and sunny weather. Thank you Lord for this our food and now we are together. Amen.”

Together-that was the key word. As we grew up, the conversations at Momma’s dinner table took on a different spin. The challenges of friendships, college, and becoming an adult made their way to the table. With Momma’s love and encouragement we worked through them all. That table has been key in a lot of ways throughout my life. It’s where homework was done when I was young, but it’s also where I spent many weekends reading articles and taking notes for the literature review of my dissertation. It’s where peanut butter and banana sandwiches were eaten after church on Sunday when we were children, and also where we’ve discussed everything from politics to religion as adults.

Momma’s table is a safe space. It’s where you can be sure you’ll be loved and listened to, no matter what it is. No matter what is happening in my life, how challenging life can be, or how crazy the world feels, I know a “sitting spell” at Momma’s table can make everything alright. Problems can be solved, hurt feelings can be soothed, joy can be shared, and happiness can be felt.

As a professional, I’ve always tried to make my work space a safe space for others too. In my office and in my classroom, all folks have always been welcomed. From the moment I started teaching, I always had a lunch bunch-a group of kids, some that I taught, and others who I did not, who elected to eat their lunch in my classroom. As a principal, I also had students who sometimes asked to eat lunch with me, and the answer of course, was always yes. It signified for me a need to connect and I happily obliged.

Thanks to my Momma, I understand what it means to have a place to work through life’s complex problems, to talk through what needs to be done, and how to get through it. I’ve always wanted any space I occupied to be that kind of place for others. Momma’s dining room table has always been my soft place to land, and because of that I’ve tried to make my workspace the same for others who might need that. A filled candy dish on the corner of my desk has been a staple in every space I’ve occupied as a professional. A little chocolate can fix a bad day, soothe a crazy one, and share a space with a smile when there’s something great on the horizon.

As I grow older, and hopefully wiser, I am eternally grateful that Momma didn’t let us read books at the table when it was time for dinner. Because of that, I see the opportunity to share a meal as a chance to build and strengthen connection, and I hope I can practice curiosity and care with others the way Momma did with us. If I can can come close to Momma’s example and make others feel the way she’s always made me feel when I sit and talk with her at that table, I will have made something special of my life.

I imagine if we all practiced being together-being present, listening to one another, sharing our joys and troubles in equal measure, our lives would be fuller, our hearts would be made stronger, and our connections more authentic because then everyone might have a soft place to land.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Be Who You Are!

I was my Momma’s hardest child to raise. I was the one to always push the limits, to do the opposite of whatever my Momma said, and to add levity and joy to almost every classroom I entered as a student. That ended in 11th grade. Mrs. Fields, who had taught both of my older sisters, called to tell Momma she didn’t think she’d approve of the way I was cutting up in class and making everyone laugh. She was right. Momma didn’t approve. That was the last phone call Momma got about my behavior at school. She made it simple. Stop or you will not play basketball. No threats. Only promises. I knew that, and because of it, I made sure Momma didn’t get anymore phone calls.

Momma never compared us to one another. We all had different interests, talents, gifts, abilities. She connected with us on an individual level that allowed her to nurture each of us in just the right way. Whatever we were interested in, and as long as it was positive for developing us into self sufficient and independent young women, she encouraged it. Momma had one rule: Always do your best.

I get it. Lots of parents have that rule and yes, it is cliche, but here’s where my Momma differed. She always followed that with, “whatever YOUR best is,” meaning that she understood clearly that everyone’s best is different. That’s why when I told my Momma I wanted to be a teacher she responded, “That’s great. We need great teachers.” My older sisters chose business and engineering as their career fields. Momma never steered us in toward any particular career. She simply asked that we do our very best at whatever we chose to do. It wasn’t about being the best. It was about doing our best, whatever that was. There’s a difference.

My Momma is the most unselfish person I know. She never brags about how much she does for others, but when it comes to servant leadership she’s at the top of my list. I think that’s why I find it a tad bit irritating when folks self describe themselves as servant leaders. Shouldn’t other people be the ones who decide that? I digress. My mother’s unselfish acts have always been an example of what unconditional love looks like, sounds like, and feels like. More importantly, Momma’s example has taught me how to love others and what it means to know that if you need help, support, or just a listening ear, you have someone you can consistently depend on for that.

Momma has always valued belonging over fitting in, and here’s what I mean by that. She never pushed us to be a part of certain social networks it put pressure on us to engage in certain social circles. Some parents feel an enormous pressure for their children to be a part of certain social groups, and struggle with disappointment when they are not. My Momma just wasn’t wired that way. Momma encouraged us to select friends who accepted us just as we were, not because of what we could do for them or what they could do for us, whatever that might be. For Momma, belonging was key, and she taught us that there was no criteria to belong. If God put you on this earth, you belonged and were good enough (not better than anyone else), with or without other people’s endorsement. Because of that, I’ve always been comfortable with not fitting in, and in many cases I haven’t cared to fit in anyway. My goal has never been to be like everyone else. Momma used to tell me, “I want you to be who you are and do your best,” and those words have given me comfort and security throughout my adult life.

When my sister had her second child, I was blessed to be in the delivery room. I count it as one of the top two miracles I’ve witnessed, my niece’s birth and my Grandma’s death. I apologized to Momma for how hard I’d been to raise after that. Momma knew she had a strong willed child on her hands when it came to me, but she taught me to use it for good, and today I attribute that to my determined spirit. It has helped me get through tough situations and given me a sense of confidence knowing that if there’s something I wish to accomplish, I’ve got the tenacity to endure whatever may be required.

I imagine the world to be a much kinder and loving place if we were to love each other for who we are, accepting one another, not because we fit in, but because we all belong. There would be a lot less group think and we wouldn’t see those who think differently than us as contrary. Instead we’d value the diversity that life can offer us when our hearts and minds are attuned to people being just who they are and not who we think they should be because that’s the beginning of unconditional love.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Watch Your Words

I have vivid memories of my Grandma Moa. I’d write the pronunciation for you but can’t seem to quite get it right. At any rate, I spent a lot of time with Moa as a child. Even when I got into my teenage years, a time when many pubescent hormonal lads are too cool for anyone, including themselves, I still enjoyed hanging out at her house. We did all kinds of things together. We tended to her four o’clock flowers, walked to the grocery store and back, and visited with her friend Beatrice. Moa never had a driver’s license, but she was fiercely independent. She loved to ride in the car. She said it was good for getting earth air, which meant the windows should be rolled down, and many times just before we were dropping her off she’d share that she could ride to New York. She exhibited a heightened curiosity when we were in the car, taking it all in as we traveled down the road. No matter how many times we traveled the same routes, to church, the mall, or the grocery store, she seemed to practice the same awe. She was curious about the world around her, and having a sixth grade education did not limit her way of living.

She read the newspaper cover to cover every day, and when she came to a word she was unsure of how to pronounce, she’d call a family member for help, spelling the word over the phone, and then practicing it by repeating what you’d said. She had the birth weights and stories of how she named each of her 10 children memorized, and she called in everybody’s birthday to the local radio station for a chance to win the dozen doughnuts they raffled off each day. I know everyone thinks their Grandma is special, but mine was clearly one of a kind.

Moa taught me to be intentional with my words. She had a number of sayings , but many of them revolved around using your words with care and intention. “Never say what you won’t do. Don’t talk about other people because you might be talking about yourself. The only way to keep a secret between you and someone else is if one of you are dead.” Moa knew that words, once said, could not be retracted. She was careful with what she said and would guard anything you told her in confidence as if you had died. You could be sure it would never be repeated. There were so many lessons in those three sayings. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to better understand the value of each of her wise offerings.

Moa was right. None of can be certain of what we won’t do, and that’s what I believe is at the heart living and loving in a way that doesn’t render judgement upon other people. Life is tricky and uncertain. Our interactions cannot be predicted and we can only hope to behave in a way that won’t result in regret. Our fragile state as humans doesn’t allow for us to use the word never when speaking about ourselves and our future hopes and dreams. We really don’t know what’s ahead of us and we’d be wise to not put ourselves in a box that later feels like a prison.

Moa valued trust. She’s honestly one of the few people I know in this world who actually could keep a secret. I don’t have any recollections of her gossiping about other people. In fact, when I’d call her and ask, “What you know good?,” her response was inevitably, “All on myself and I’m not telling.” She carefully chose her relationships and their depth. She didn’t offer depth to just those who were willing to listen because I believe she knew that humans needed people to listen, but more importantly to care. She clearly didn’t confuse listening with caring, and I recognize now that the two are not the same.

One of my goals as of late is to be present and curious. I’d like to be as curious as Moa was every time we were riding in the car, as if it were a brand new experience with lots to see and enjoy. I want to exhibit a curiosity in others that doesn’t wane when the phone buzzes, a cheer is heard from television, or the clock ticks. There is so much to take in when we practice curiosity with care. Questioning can indicate curiousness, but it’s not necessarily indicative of caring. It could be plain and simple nosiness, cloaked under the cloud of asking lots of questions.

Everyday I hope to notice something I didn’t notice before. Practicing curiosity with care can make me a better person, and hopefully a better daughter, sister, and friend. It means entering conversations with others with an expectation to learn something, no matter how regular the interaction. Moreover, it means being more curious about the world and people who I desire to connect with deeply, and carefully selecting those who demonstrate care as much as they do the ability to listen.

One of the most significant experiences of my life was being with Moa when she made her way to heaven. This February will be 15 years. I am still learning from her, and her words seem to come to me exactly when I need them. Her love, which she said we had just because we were hers, is something I value greatly, and something I want to give away to those who are curious enough to care even more in my lifetime.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

Family Lessons: Interdependence Makes Us Better.

My Grandaddy was the oldest of 17. That’s right. He had 16 brothers and sisters. A pair of his siblings were twins, named Mary and Joseph, his mother having named each of her children after someone in the Bible. Granddaddy was what I’d call an entrepreneur in his day. He was a farmer, not a sharecropper, because he owned his own land. He sold milk, eggs, and butter on the weekends, and worked at a local mill during the week. He also had a vineyard, and was said to have gone to jail for selling moonshine three times. Each of his children had their own cow, which they were responsible for milking and caring for per Grandaddy’s expectations. Momma said she named her cow Fred because she was so young when he was “given” to her she did not realize cows were girls. She tells us stories about getting up early in the cold, milking cows, helping Aunt Gloria fetch her cow who liked to run away from where she was supposed to be, picking cotton before breakfast, and growing up in a time where people lived off the land and had a mutual respect and interdependence with it.

Other than these stories, I can offer no similar recollections. From one generation to the very next, things can change, and they did for us. However, these stories offer me something greater than just knowledge of family history and traditions. They help me understand the value system I now hold dear and give me an immense amount of respect for my family and all they’ve experienced. That interdependence, the land and its people or the people and their land, is something that’s missing in our world today. In Momma’s time, people believed that community and mutual interdependence were necessary for success. Within families and among neighbors, people helped one another. From borrowing an egg or cup of sugar to sharing a meal, interdependence was not only necessary for survival. It was expected and enjoyed. Today, society seems overrun with a focus on self. Personalization seems to be the marketing genius of every new product. Even the ads on our phones are “made just for us” thanks to an algorithm that takes note of our likes, purchases, and technological behavior.

Before anyone makes an assumption that this is an anti-technology post, let me make a point of clarity. It isn’t. This is a pro-community post. In the midst of all the technological changes of the world, it seems to me that the connection we so desperately need and many are seeking, won’t be rectified by going live on IG, TikTok, or even with the opportunity to FaceTime our friends and family. If there is one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic, it’s that we need to be in the physical presence of one another. While those substitutes may help us bridge the gap in the short term, the human condition won’t be sustained and the disease of loneliness won’t be healed with these methods. Good old fashioned living room sitting, chatting, and sharing the same physical space honors the interdependence that human beings need to thrive.

I imagine the world we live in would be quite different if we were to honor the fact that we need to be in relationship (romantically or otherwise) with others to thrive and that those interactions serve us better when we share the same physical space with others. So how do we move from a world where we count our friends by the number of followers we have and who we are connected to through Facebook to the ones who sit with us in our grief, share with us in our joy, and enjoy our company in the physical sense?

I don’t have the answers, but here’s what I’m going to try in 2022. I want to spend more time in the company of those who are important to me. When safety allows and whenever possible, I’d like that to be time where we are physically present one with another. I intend to share more laughs, smiles, and story swapping over coffee or cocktail with the persons who I believe I share a sense of interdependence with and need in order to thrive. The list isn’t long, but it doesn’t have to be if the quality of the connection is solid and strong. I’m convinced that if we all did more of that, this hyper sense of individualism that America seems to be infected with right now would shift. Instead, we would see and understand that our humanity is connected to that of our neighbors and friends, and that no matter what we achieve individually, we are only as valuable as the community we are connected to is. Just like Grandaddy needed that land to feed and take care of his family, we need each other too, and when we honor that need, we all can thrive.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

2021 Reflections

A year ago I remember hoping for things to transition back to normal-whatever that means. Right now I’m simply looking forward to moving on and coming out better on the other end of things when this pandemic era of living is finally done. There will be no return to normal. None of us will exit this thing untouched. We’ve all been changed by it, and to say otherwise is to deny the reality of a trauma we’ve all shared.

But the world is sick, and I’m not just referencing COVID. I’m certainly not making light of the 800,000 plus Americans who have lost their lives to this pandemic. It’s tragic and certainly a grief we all share. Beyond the obvious illness of the COVID virus, there’s more disease. Hearts and minds are not well. Rugged individualism has perpetuated a new line of behavior that permeates our lives, our schools, and our legislatures. Book banning, infighting over masks, and disagreements about what being American has meant and should mean continue to cause strict division. Common ground is scarce. Differences of opinions, beliefs, and perspectives about who is responsible for what, and most shockingly, what is truth and who gets to tell it, suffocate the timelines, social media feeds, and conversations at American dinner tables, and show up at public comment opportunities of all kind.

A debate usually consists of two concepts, both which usually represent opposites, but possible and realistic perspectives. Weighing the pros and cons of both concepts, using experiences to connect one’s position to the lives of those listening, and understanding how our experiences influence the values we propose to hold dear all makes sense. Yet, what seems to be under debate right now is whether or not America will own its truth-all of it, the good, the bad, and the painfully ugly.

As a child, I remember my Momma distinctly using two phrases that seem to be applicable to these times we are living in right now: 1. “A lie don’t care who tell it,” and 2. “An excuse is whatever you want it to be.” It took me years to fully understand the meaning of these colloquialisms, but I feel as if they are playing out right before my very eyes right now. The people are divided on every issue you can think of-from vaccinations to voting rights. Some of the same battles of the past that the people already decided are back in the debate circle-Roe v. Wade, voting rights, etc. It’s absolutely perplexing to me, and it echoes that nothing is final-not even justice. Freedom is an eternal battle that must be fought continuously in order to ensure that is available and accessible for all. The thought of that alone exhausts me, but there is no time for fatigue.

Over the last year and a half, and throughout this era where everything seems politicized-even when it’s clearly not a matter of politics, I recognize a few things in ways I did not before. The mind is fragile. Group think is powerful. The battle between good and evil is a real thing, not just a thematic concept in the books we read. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves going through the motions of life without thinking about how we are being influenced, and more importantly, how what we do or fail to do, and what we say or lack the courage to say, impacts the lives of others.

Even with all of this heaviness, I have no desire to go back to the pre-pandemic world. Clearly we need to do something different, especially if we want healing. Healing of all kinds-physical, mental, spiritual, societal healing that America so desperately needs. Healing never comes from ignoring the wound, neglecting the sore, or pretending it doesn’t exist. Doing any of those things creates a breeding ground for infection.

Healing comes from dealing with the root issue, facing it head on, with courage, honesty, and love. Momma says if you don’t get to the root of a problem it’s definitely coming back. I recognize I have an incredibly tiny part in the grand scheme of things, I’m taking my part seriously, because in my little corner of the globe I only want to live in a space where love and truth are honored and not debated, because those are the only absolutes in this crazy world.

Y’all be easy,

Latoya

%d bloggers like this: