body, community, Fitness, gender

Boxed Out

alora-griffiths-strength

Unfolding from a plank on a mat, I see his sneakers approaching.

“Are you done with your workout?”

“I’m not sure.” I pull back into a child’s pose and then flop over.

“You look like you’re done. Did you do your weights?” A dark heart of sweat blooms across his chest.

“A few. I just don’t like it here tonight.”

He looks around. Our gym. The place we come almost every free Tuesday evening after he picks me up from the metro. “You don’t like it here?”

“Not tonight,” I say.

“Okay,” he shrugs. “We can go home anytime. Let me know when you’re ready.”

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activism, Children, Take Action

Reluctant Hero

Mendez Piano
Courtesy of the Mendez Family

Sylvia Mendez was nine years old when she became the center of the landmark court case, Mendez v. Westminster. Parents and neighbors joined together in a fight to desegregate education for children of Mexican descent in southern California. The 1947 court decision banned segregation in California public schools and paved the way for the national ban on school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.

On her first day at school after winning the case, Sylvia recalls a white boy coming up to her and telling her she didn’t belong. She says, “I was crying and crying, and told my mother, ‘I don’t want to go to the white school!’ My mother said, ‘Sylvia, you were in court every day. Don’t you know what we were fighting? We weren’t fighting so you could go to that beautiful white school. We were fighting because you’re equal to that white boy.” (LA Times)

Mendez Book
 Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (2014, Abrams Books)

It’s easy to hold up these historic figures as superhuman. It seems they are made of sturdier stuff than us average folk. But Sylvia Mendez was herself a reluctant hero. Her name was on that important decision, but she didn’t feel brave and fierce.

Maybe her connections to her family and her community mattered to her more than the abstract idea of equality. And maybe it was from the strength of those connections that Sylvia drew her sense of purpose.

Sylvia went on to a successful career as a pediatric nurse. For decades, Sylvia didn’t think much about Mendez v. Westminster. Then her father died and her mother became very ill. In a conversation about the case, her mother told her, “It’s history of the United States, history of California. Sylvia, you have to go out and talk about it!” Hesitant at first but guided by her mother’s conviction, Sylvia began vising schools to tell the story of her family’s fight for civil rights.

Since her retirement from nursing, Mendez’ work has grown into a nationwide effort to help students succeed. She sees the de facto segregation that still exists in American education today, particularly in the scarce resources of schools in poor communities and communities of color. She wants all students have the opportunity that she did, and she has dedicated herself to advocating for educational equity.

Mendez Medal
In 2011 Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama

Behind most hero myths lurks a story of uncertainty, hesitancy, and detours. Something propels (or drags) the protagonist to the path they are meant to walk. Mendez’ connections to her family called her back to courage.

For each of us, such a force exists. Maybe hidden, maybe silent, likely disquieting, most certainly mighty.

In what voice does it call us back?

Do we let it?


Mendez vs. segregation: 70 years later, famed case ‘isn’t just about Mexicans. It’s about everybody coming together’.  Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, LA Times, April 17, 2016

The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed. Dave Roos, History.com, September 18, 2019

Who Is Sylvia Mendez? Separate is Never Equal, Sylvia Mendez School

 

 

Brain, Choices, Determination, spirit

Power Failure

bangkit-prayogi-cave

We saw everyone around us smiling and repeating “I’m fine! I’m fine!” and we found ourselves unable to join them in all the pretending. We had to tell the truth, which was: “Actually, I’m not fine.”

Glennon Doyle

It pulls in all the bad stuff: guilt, despair, shame, anger, disappointment, confusion, worry, exhaustion, and pain of all varieties. The ShopVac of Suffering. It sucks into its belly the cobwebs from the corners and the black mold from the basement and the decades-old crud buried deep in the carpet.

Engine growling, it whips this mix into misery soup.

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activism, Children, Learning, Writing

freedom as we have yet to know it

Urvashi Vaid

Progressivism is a spectrum; it’s not an ideology following one leader saying one thing. It’s many people who have very wildly diverging opinions about many things. But, as progressives, if we could commit to a general frame of reference that we are about improving the quality of life for a lot more people, we’re about helping working and middle-class people, and we’re about taking care of poor people, we could really make some inroads in political power in this country. But, if we choose to be purists, if we choose to be arguing for a consensus we will never reach, for agreement on every point, it’s never going to happen.
My son is drawing on a portion of this quote for a 7th grade English project. He is parked at his laptop, wrestling with his thesis statement. The current iteration goes something like this: Urvashi Vaid is dedicated to expanding LGBTQ activism to improve equity and justice for all marginalized groups, and this dedication is evident through her speeches, writing, and activism.

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Choices, Friends, Letting Go

the world is glimpsed through veils

glass sculpture ben young 3
Sea of Separation, Ben Young

Sometimes you sit in a room with someone who is doing something hard. You sit with them and let them do the hard thing. You sit with them not doing the hard thing for them. You sit there not answering the questions facing them unless the questions are some version of, “Can I do this?” The only answer you say out loud is, “You’ve done hard things before. Of course you can do this.” You offer them sips of water. You keep the glass filled.

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Children, Growing Up, Parenting

Sick Day

owl-reads-a-story
From A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (2010)

Temperature pushing 100. Shaking, nauseated, dizzy, and a little green. He sleeps for nearly 13 hours, so motionless at daybreak I have to rustle the blanket to make sure he’s breathing. When I call the school, they tell me Flu B has been making it past the vaccine.

He sleeps on. Sometime after 10am, he creaks out of bed and shuffles to the kitchen with a blanket draped over his shoulders. I am parked at the dining table plodding through cut-rate wifi to VPN into work. As he passes, I look up at his sallow face and ask him how he’s feeling.

“Sick,” he rumbles, his voice dipping even lower than the adolescent tenor which is emerging with increasing frequency these days.

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activism, Brain, Change, Choices, Mindfulness, Take Action

Global Dissonance

tunis-muralfist

Maladapation or simply adaptation?

When experiencing cognitive dissonance, a person has two options. Three really, if remaining in a state of crazymaking incongruity counts as an approach. Assuming that easing the dissonance is the goal, however, you can go through one of two doors.

Door A is adjusting your beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and values to fit the situation.

Door B is changing the situation.

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Art, community, Relationships, spirit, Take Action

Creative Sanctuary

Woodruff Girl Skipping Rope
Hale Woodruff (1900-1980), “Untitled (Girl Skipping Rope)” (c. 1959-60)
Photo: Joyner/Giuffrida Collection

When you open the news, do you find yourself tensing up? Or feel a pull to retreat to some warm, gentle space to catch your breath? Maybe it all would be more manageable if you could just get a hug. Or give one. Or a thousand of them.

This hunger for warmth has to be something more than a simple need for comfort. Yes, we need that too, especially when we carry real trauma. But it seems this urge to connect and catch breath has to do with knowing what’s at stake. We feel something turning. We sense what is roiling under there, the fury and sorrow and maybe even some kind of power that’s awakening under the surface. Something terrible, something very big.

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