Something Missing at the Black History Month Program

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Artwork provided by http://unothegateway.com/

Multiple question marks on paper[/caption]It is Black History Month where America, and more specifically, those Americans of African descent celebrate culture and achievements.  My nieces asked me to attend their Black History Month event last night. It was held at a local church where they go for an after school program sometimes. They waited the day before the event to ask me to go, and they asked me several times.  I submitted and committed to going to the event.  You can tell from my writing that I was very much enthused…not. I love my nieces and nephews, but this part of being an auntie, is not my favorite and I avoid it as much as possible.  

Misery loves company, so I asked my mother if she wanted to go. She genuinely did. At 6:45 PM the next day, my mother and I were driving up to the parking lot of the church.  I dropped my mom at the door so that she would not have to walk in the newly fallen snow and the ice that it covered. After I had parked, I went to the church and was met with the chaos of children of all ages running around getting ready for their performance. I smiled remembering me being in their place. 

My mom already found a seat in the sanctuary. I sat next to her like I use to in church when I was a kid.  She asked me about the time. I told her it was 7 o'clock. She seemed surprised that the show had not started and began to look around, noticing she and I were the only ones in the audience. Around 7:15 others began to pour in; grandmothers, mothers, aunts and the people who financially supported the program. A few minutes later drums played on the sound system and dancing, speeches and singing began.  

In the back of the church sat several young boys. Another young man was standing at the door of the sanctuary making sure no one interrupted the program by coming in and out of the door.  Outside of that, there was no male presence. None of the boys performed in the program, and there were no fathers, uncles or grandfathers in the audience. That struck me. A few days before this, I was interviewing people in my neighborhood for a project, discussing the 1967 riot that occurred in Detroit. One subject that continued to come up in those discussions was the broken black family dynamic and how males are frequently missing in the households.  This program was a blaring outcome of that. Not only were there not males in the audience to enjoy the work of the children. There were not males to help in running the program, and the outcome is no activities in the program that were more male-friendly and supportive. 

The reason male presence is small or sometimes non-existent in the black community is very layered. Here are just a few that feed into this phenomena:

  1. Slavery: Many families were broken up in the buying and selling of slaves, creating a different dynamic in black households than in other American households
  2. War/Military: A vast proportion of men who were drafted and took part in wars and military are men of color. Again, removing them from homes and at times bringing them back in emotionally broken mindsets. 
  3. Drugs: Drugs began to pour into the neighborhoods and streets of lower and middle-class neighborhoods, causing havoc in families and communities 
  4. Sexual freedom: Sexual freedom hit its peak in the 60s with additional access to contraceptives, giving more freedom to have sex without the worries of pregnancy
  5. Women's Movement: The women's movement empowered women to take more control over their bodies and unplanned pregnancies. Women had more options than getting married and having kids, and more women were opting not to get married. Men felt less responsible for unplanned pregnancies and their outcomes, leaving more women taking on a larger parental responsibility
  6. Prison: More men, especially men of color were imprisoned because of drugs, removing them from their families and creating more economic hardships and more single-family homes.

This list can go on and on, but why no longer matters. What matters is finding a solution. Here are some. 

  1. Black men and women do not really talk to one another about these pains and challenges. Not as couples. We just expect better and too many times degrade when we do not do better.  More discussion, listening, and understanding needs to occur in our relationships and our communities.
  2. Therapy and counseling is a must. We are a traumatized people who are told every day to get over it. Talking helps get over it. Building helps get over it. We must make therapy and counseling a regular part of our relationships and community. 
  3. Partnerships, not dictatorships – I have seen relationships where black women tear down their male partners with their mouths and actions. I have also seen the same with men, fighting for dominance instead of working together and loving together. Let's build partnerships. Know your strengths and weaknesses in relationships and build and enjoy accordingly
  4. Plans – economically, educational, trips, families, everything. The world is hard and does not help when you are working to plan for your future, create budgets, create families, but we must.  If we want certain things in life with a partner, planning those things are a must
  5. Autonomy – We are individuals, and we all need space and time to be us.  I have seen relationship
  6. Commitment – What families look like today is different from the 1950s and 60s.  And that is what it is, but when you have children, you must take care of them, and that is more than money. That is time, that is knowledge and enjoyment. If your partnership as mates does not work, your partnership as parents must. 
  7. More community and together-ness. Integration and individualism have caused many of us to disconnect from community and our cultural foundation. It has caused us to invest less in our neighborhoods, our people and businesses and in our educational institutions; things that we need when it is difficult to access them in other communities.  Segregation demanded that we did this before. Now, let's do it out of the benefits and necessity. This doesn't mean isolate from the America culture. It just means build the black culture and foundation as you continue your American journey. Other groups do it. We should too. 

 

 

Days of Doubt


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I move forward, regardless of what is going on around me, what people say or how things appear. That is how I get things accomplished.  There is always a solution to all problems and  roads to all visions. I keep my eyes open and ears open to hear and see where to go. It works for me time and time again. But I have my days where I crash into a wall of doubt that I didn't see coming and before I know it, I am on my ass wondering what happened and why I am doing any of this. I had a day like that yesterday.  

I woke up, I prayed, thanking God and universe for everything and asking for direction and productivity in the day. We are a few days from 2017, so, I sat down and began planning for another stellar year and as I plan, something started happening. Anxiety started setting in and then just right out fear. My daily meditation usually steadies me through the day. Not yesterday. I was blocked from seeing beyond the reality that sat in front of me and that reality said, "Girl, you ain't gonna make it. How you gonna make any of this happen. You don't have…." and it went on from there.  I actually welled up and  when the emotions got to heavy, submitted to the reality that today, I have doubts and I do not know if I am good enough or have the strength or capacity to do any of this.  Doubt exist and it happens. I think the worse part for me is not having someone to call or talk to slap me out of it.

I walked up to my studio and pulled out paper and crayons and started drawing without purpose other than to busy my mind.  A couple of completed drawings done and a few hours later, I was clear enough to talk to my inner self. I told her that the vision is big and it  is what we are here to complete, so we can do it. The world we live in says without knowing certain people, having certain money or other criteria, there are things that cannot be accomplished and when I hit that wall of doubt,  I believed that and folded. We are again conscious and have gone over that wall of doubt and can again see the limitless resources and capacity.  

Move forward, regardless of what is around me, what people say, how things appear, despite the walls in front of us. 

Self-Love

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Teaching school is a fundamental way of sharing. My sister is a teacher. She teaches kindergarten. It baffles me why, because I am not even sure she likes kids. I think she is just really passionate about education and how best to ensure a child will be educated than to catch them at the beginning of their educational journey.  She is just one of many teachers in my family. My aunt, father, cousins.  We learn so much in school. Math, science, how to play and color. We learn how to socialize and even about time (this English class is too long vs. gym isn't long enough).  I told my sister I wish that self-love was taught in schools. I think it would have changed so much in our society and has the potential still to do so. 

I know I may have written this in other posts, but I am going to repeat it. Love, for me, was something you expressed and gave to others. It was something others gave to you if they felt you worthy of it.  Love from others is something you wanted. It gave value.  Growing up in church, love from God was paramount. From what the preacher says, you come into a life already with God's love. Something you never have to worry about, but the world and its views make you work hard just to believe you've earned such unconditional love.

It was not until I was in my 20s that I learned of the concept of self-love.  Those feelings, thoughts, and patience you have with others, to have them for yourself. That was foreign to me. You hear the word self, and your mind goes straight to selfish, at least my mind did. But self-love is not selfish, and it is one of the best things you can do. 

Self-love is this appreciation of who you are as you are. When you appreciate, like and love yourself, you tend to make better choices for yourself from health choices even down to your relationships. When you appreciate and love you as you are, it becomes so much easier to do the same for family and friends. 

I actually did not love myself. There were things I was confident about. I was confident that I was smart. My report cards supported that fact. I was confident that I could draw, but not confident that I was good at it. I was confident that I was a decent musician. I held first chair in middle and high school band and even in community bands while in college. I was confident that I was not a "pretty girl" and somehow became okay with that. There was a lot of pressure that comes with being pretty that I did not have to deal with. I was not confident about love or like. I assumed people like me mostly because of my achievements not because of who I truly was. I accepted that. I tend not to care about other's accomplishments and always wanted to see people from within and to like them from that space. I think I chose to deal with people in this way because I was giving them something I did not have and wanted.

Self love came when I was at a rock bottom. Years of depression, could not think, work or create and no parent, friend or family around to spring me out of that hole. I remember being on my bed, in darkness, hugging myself. There was a warmth with that. It made me fall asleep when I probably hadn't slept for a while. That feeling gave me energy and mercy from the darkness. I thought it was a fluke feeling.  Later, I saw a book about self-love that really opened me to the concept and made me wonder why this is not taught to all. Why little kindergartners aren't told about self-love. 

If everyone loved themselves, no one would feel empty and try to fill it with others. No one would feel they have to give up who they are to be loved, feel secure, feel peace. If at five years old, you were told that love lives in you and you are truly beautiful as you are. If the world truly supported that philosophy this world would be all we imagined and it would be real.

Truth: I am still learning to love myself but I have seen my progress, and I have seen how it makes me feel about my parents, nieces and nephews, friends, associates. I see how it makes me feel about strangers and how comfortable I am with myself. I am not in a rush to be in a relationship, but I know as I am now and where I am continuing to go, I will have an amazing partner to share my life and love with and do it while truly being me.  

 

Colorful Women: I Know You Want to Touch It

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You want to touch my hair. I get it. It's different. Tightly curled, strong, springy and spongy. Soft and scratchy. It may seem a little wild.

It shoots up in the air, connecting with the world  around it, taking in the power of the universe.

You want to touch it. Become one with it if only for a moment.  

It is exotic and beautiful. It's rawness brings you in. 

Let me tell you how it makes ME feel. 

Confident in a world that makes me question myself every day.

Real.

Uniquely beautiful.

Rooted in my skin and in my heritage.

It makes me spiritual and free.

Do you think its beautiful? Weird? Sexy? Free?

Some call my locks exotic – others call it nappy. 

You may say its beautiful – others call it un-tidy

COMB YOUR HAIR? You look crazy! 

WHY YOU WANT TO WALK AROUND WITH NAPPY HAIR?

That is UNPROFESSIONAL. You look ghetto, street, urban, HOOD. 

Why does this world question and deny me beauty and freedom?

POWER. It fears the power of my tresses and miss-understands them. 

I learn not to care and stand confident in my natural beauty. 

BUT You. I know you want to touch my hair.

and one day, I will grant you the privilege. 

The Turtle and the Rocks

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My niece bought a turtle today. She was very happy to have this pet to take care of and taking care of started pretty quickly. She needed to add a rock to the aquarium so that her baby turtle could have somewhere to sleep.  She made me rush to grandma's house to look in her year for a rock. She didn't find one. She asked her youngest sister who has collected rocks since she was two to help her find the perfect rock.  Even with her experience, she could not find anything that could work for the little turtle. Then I remembered. I have rocks all over my house. They are part of my nieces collection that got so vast that different family members had to take some to our various homes.  

I only lived seven minutes away. I told her I would go by my house and see if I have any rocks that may work. We needed a particular size and height so that the little turtle could climb out of the water of the aquarium and sleep on this rock that needed to be well above the water line. My "rock collecting niece road with me to my home.  We quickly got to my home and I let me niece pick three rocks, hoping one of them would work. Seven minutes later we were back at grandmas examining the rocks and making the decision to pick one. After washing it and placing it in the aquarium, we waited. It didn't take long for the turtle to climb up on that rock and rest. 

So many times I thought about throwing those rocks back into nature. I kept them only because my niece lovingly picked them up over the years. But today, one of those rocks was used. It had a purpose. It always had, but today, its purpose become clear. It made me think about life. There is a time an a place for everything. That rock was picked by my niece years ago sat in my home for several more years an at the right time it fulfilled its purpose.  We must be ready and prepared for when our time comes to fulfill our purpose and our visions. I know, sometimes, when we  are waiting like that rock sitting in my window the past years, we may feel like we are not living our purpose and we must do something.  But even in quiet, peace and stillness, things are happening and moving around us, putting things in place to create the perfect moment for our purpose to be revealed and to happen. Our job is to create the vision, be present to hear where we need to be and what we need to do and know that everything else is being taken care of. Right now, I have been waiting for something to occur in my life. I am growing anxious about it. Time sometimes makes believing and staying focus a little challenging to do. I know I am to stay still but some days I fight the urge to do something to try make this thing I desire happen. Acting before an act is needed is just as bad as not acting at all. My saving grace is staying present, listening and being clear on where my place is in this process.  Things are working around me and I must stay still while the universe does its work and put things in place.  Meditation helps me stay still. I learned today from the turtle and the rock.

 

A List of What I Want

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I LOVE LIST.  Every morning I take time to right down what I need to accomplish that day. Sometimes I do the list the night before.  I have been doing this for years and I believe it is a source of my efficiency and success. (The photo above is from a list in 2009/2010). Beyond my daily list, I have a 1 year, 3 year and 5 year goal list.   I think there is a power in writing down things. I believe that it helps manifest them into our reality and for me, it helps me commit. Recently I decided to use my love for list and develop a list of things that I want and desire.  At first I was gonna call it a wish list.  Maybe it is a wish list, but after a lot of meditation, reading and just living I have learned to ask for what you want and know that you are going to receive it. I've also learned that there is no such thing as a big want and a little want. They are all the same to the universe and God. We tend to put values on things making some manifestations and desires seem smaller than others. 

  • 2 GB of additional ram for my Mac
  • All of D'Angelo's music on vinyl
  • 1970 Chevrolet Chavelle in Midnight Blue
  • An amazing mattress for my bed
  • My family members to love themselves which will help us love others even more
  • End of war in the world
  • End of hate in our hearts (which will probably end war)
  • Happy nieces and nephews
  • Continued financial stability and growth (I have specifics here but keeping that between me, God and my book of list)
  • Cure for cancer (I know we have all lost folks to this disease)
  • Decrease in the importance of money in our lives
  • Political campaigns that are not to popularity contest but are about substance
  • Travel two months out of the year in the states and around the world
  • Sit on my porch and read most days
  • Paint every day
  • Meditate every day
  • End to racism and any other prejudice in the world
  • Public libraries that are beautiful, fully funded and used heavily by society
  • A partner that is smart, funny, ambitious, humble, attractive, comfortable in his own skin, open to new things (this can be a list by itself) 

There are other things I want to put on my "Things I Want List" but I think this is a good start. Some of these may seem far reaching. But I truly believe that the world is limitless and the limits we see have been placed my us. I believe all of these things will happen and I will be happy about these things now and look for these things to become part of reality. Write your list. Do not limit yourself and fully believe that your list is as real as the paper it is written (or printed) on. 

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I Already Know

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I have been waiting for you to say it aloud or to at least stop pretending. I see the signs. You can't hide them, but you keep trying. How can you not see that I already know. Maybe that is my fault. I want to make you comfortable so I pretend. I pretend that I do not see the realness. I pretend one day hoping that either I or you will get enough courage or stop being embarassed and say what is true.  Say what I already know and you do too. Just think when it is out in the open, how both of us can live more freely. 

FREELY

Right now and until then, I will continue to pretend with you. 

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Is that Art?

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My friend wanted me to meet a young new artist. She told me that this artist's work was different than mine. After asking a few questions to my friend, I learned that the artist's drawings and creations are more realistic than my abstract-figurative style.  Most of what was shared with my friend were school assignments and from her point a view, she did not really see the  drawings as art. You know, we all had to do the school assignments. and go through these critiques where the teacher tells you what you need to improve and what is not working. School subliminally taught me to not be as critical of other people's;le's work because I feared people being critical of mine. What you create is too personal and was hard to detach the critique from a a personal attach sometimes.  I tended to just say, I may like it or may not like it but art is in the eye of the beholder.  But, when my friend so matter-of-factly stated that she did not think of the drawings she saw was art, it made me stop and be more open with myself. I asked that question I was asked on my first day in art school what is art really?  

I truly believe that anyone with time and dedication can learn how to draw, paint, play music, create a film, dance, etc.  But, art is beyond learning how to use these tools and become the expression of ourselves and our experiences through these tools. It is more than technique, which is really what our teachers were truly critiquing in our art classes. Art is something that comes from the heart and makes its way into our hands, feet, voices and eyes moving us to create something unique. This unique expression that comes out of us is still familiar enough for others to understand and appreciate but our perspective makes it our art. Art can be good and it can be bad. It can be realistic in style or it can be dots  perfectly placed in a pattern by the creator. But if these things you create do not connect with people, then it misses the mark and maybe should not be called art. Today you can go to galleries and see art that the average person would not know what the hell it is. Sometimes artists make things to shock or to be so unique that you look at it because you can't help it.  Is that art? I don't know. Art has a magical essence to it that makes it that, even after I have defined it, it is still hard to define. But here is the challenge,  when we want to make a living off of it we must define it to put monetary value to it.

I am analyzing this because I have been dedicating more of me and my time to creating art. I am doing this because I love it. I feel most like me when I am drawing, writing, creating. But am I an artists?  They say if you call yourself an artist, you are an artist. But I cannot call myself a doctor and be a doctor without credentials. I cannot call myself an architect and be an architect without credentials. I believe to call yourself a professional artists, there are some credentials you must hold. Where did you learn your craft? How many shows have I done? How many pieces have I sold? How many write ups have been written? How many tweets and followers?  The monetary value of art takes away its human value. I hate that. 

I walk away from this write up saying this. Art is the true expression of ones self. An artists is one who uses tools to creatively express and to connect with others. I think a professional artists is one that has the credentials of an artists and the rest of us are emerging artists, that includes me and the young lady my friend introduced me to. 


INSPIRATION: There are always others, but here is a small list of artists I am inspired by. I hope you enjoy. 

Kehinde Wiley
http://kehindewiley.com/works/

Shirin Neshat 
http://www.artnet.com/artists/shirin-neshat/

Kara Walker
https://www.artsy.net/artist/kara-walker

Manuel Mendive
http://www.cernudaarte.com/artists/manuel-mendive/

Candy Chang
http://candychang.com

Tyree Guyton
http://www.heidelberg.org

 

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Birthday Conversation #42

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Yesterday was my birthday. I didn't do anything spectacular. I had lunch with my twin and I finish this very awesome painting in my studio. I got a lot of great birthday wishes. It was great. On my birthday, I have to do a few things, update the registration on my car, make my annual doctor's appointment and do a life check up with my twin brother. 

This is the first year in three years we were in the same city to have this conversation face to face.It started out light. We talked about school, work, his kids, my art. Then it changed to heavier stuff. My brother is going through some things with depression, self-medication and just the struggles of life. I have been where he is. Depression is very much hereditary and I have learn how to cope with it and how to accept it as part of me. He is still fighting it. I share my experience. I listen to his. The oddest thing. He cannot see it now, but  he was such an integral part of me moving out of my deepest darkest space. He did not judge me, call me crazy. He did not try to avoid me or make me better like everyone else did. He was open and truthful while I was off the rail. He supported me and I am here trying to do the same. Men are different though. They think they can do it all by themselves. If I was not his twin, I do not think he would listen to half of what I say to him. If he did not see me 15 years ago, he may not tell me half of the things he share. 

I see our lives like yin/yang. There is a lot of positive things going on in my life and he, right now, is the polar opposite. We talked about that. I would openly give up some of my energy to make his life better. Maybe I can. It is hard for me to enjoy my life when my womb-mate is so miserable. I pray and meditate daily for him and my whole family. This conversation ended with him crying, me hugging and giving him encouragement. I look forward to our 43rd conversation. It must be better for him. 

 

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Black Man, Blue Man Solider Man

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Seeing these black men killed was a numbing feeling.  I didn't know what emotion to have. I wasn't angry. I was sad that people lost their lives and sad that this violence is just going to be piled up on top of the other violence we have experienced. Nothing will change. Nothing will change.  I wrote a post about being a person of color in America, but being a black man in America got to be one of the most challenging experiences. 

I see my brothers and father and friends going through this process of living while being a black man. It is a tough life. I see other men wanting the black man swagger, but not their struggles or pain.  Black men are most powerful and many times most hated and tend to be seen as most dangerous in American society.  That is a heavy crown to bear.

It started with the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and not 24 hours later, another killing by an officer of black man, Philando Castile. This violence was not new.  Only that it was caught on camera and shared on such a large platform changed the story and made us have to talk, argue, protest and cry outwardly about it. 

America was taken aback for a moment and were in outrage. People took to the streets, but that energy and desire for change was quickly forgotten once the lives of police officers were taken. First in Dallas, by a black man who was once a solider, then again in Baton Rouge, but another former solider who was also black. I could not ignore how many American issues were wrapped up in these days of violence. Not only the way we treat black men, but the horrible way we treat police officers and our soldiers.

Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter seem to really mean nothing matter and the black man who for a moment may have gotten some universal understanding was pushed back into that too familiar place.  

All of this nonsense can be traced to the need of changing narratives about black men, police offices and soldiers and after changing the narrative, supporting these groups as they should be. 

OFFICER NARRATIVE

Officers in my community are seen as protectors, but they are also seen as punishers by some. From the 40s, 50s and 60s, police officers used the power they were given to treat people of color as less than human. They were mimicking what was going on in the rest of America.  Sometimes those encounters ended in violence and even death and too many times those encounters and deaths were overlooked and not questioned. People of color, specifically black people, began to see officers as enemies and people you could not trust. Some blacks tried to change this by becoming part of the force. That desire to protect their own communities and to remove the threat of white police officers in colorful communities moved a lot of men and women of color to become officers. The problem is the narrative about officers did not change and sometimes these people of color that joined the police force were looked at as traders and not as the activist they were, trying to change the system from the inside. Rejected by their community, they connected with the honor and beliefs of the police force. 

SOLIDER NARRATIVE

The Vietnam War created a disdain in the hearts and souls of Americans for war. In the 70s when vets returned, they had to hide their service and their identity and not wear their uniforms for fear of being attacked verbally and physically by fellow Americans. This was the first war where soldiers were not held as heroes. My father was one of those men. How awful that must have be to go fight a war and to come back to ridicule, dislike and distrust.  As we protest war and soldiers we negated supporting soldiers emotionally, ensuring they were taken care of and had jobs and homes and full lives. We isolated this group from American society. Many of them ended up homeless on the streets, in mental institutions, in our prisons, or with their families in silence,  not talking about what they experienced or feel. Many of the wars since then have not been completely supported by American society. We have learned not to blame the solider and treat them unfairly, but what we have not learned is the correct way to transition soliders from war to community and sometimes, we continue to isolate this community, creating soliders that may violently lash out at themselves, at others or at who they see as enemies.

BLACK NARRATIVE

The narrative of the black man can be traced from slavery.  "Black men are dangerous animals" evolve to "Black men want our white women, we must protect our women from them", evolves again into "Black men are criminals, we must jail them to make our community safe." These narratives stay and are repeated until they were stored in the American subconscious and shared with new generations. These thoughts are carried by whites, blacks and sometimes officers and the result is the violence we are experiencing. I saw a particular sheriff from Wisconsin spew a narrative about black on black crime. How much crime black neighborhoods have and how blacks are dangerous, yet he said nothing about why that violence exist. He says nothing about the lack of opportunity in these neighborhoods. He didn't share that inequality decreased the number of persons in black community from receiving education or having the resources to get an education that could pulled them out of neighborhoods like this. He didn't talk about the lack of transportation trapping people because of their financial limitations. Some people of color work hard in spite of all of these challenges and get out of the cycle. This sheriff was probably one of them, but that narrative about black crime coming out of a black police officer again was a blow to changing the narrative of the black man and the blue officer. 

America is a systemically racists place but what I think is worse is that we are not comfortable questioning our beliefs and opening ourselves to cultivating different beliefs when facts, experiences and even emotions tell we should. We suck at that and that is why socially, we are behind compared to other parts of the world.  

What we saw in Dallas and Baton Rouge is the culmination of narrations coming together creating a violent end to a chapter in our America story. An end that we could have stopped if we talked to each other, released old beliefs and supported truth.  

Change the narrative and we can change our nation.