The Inside Scoop on Getting into and Thriving in College from Admissions and Education Professional Colin Lord

Inspiration

When I think back on my first year of college, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  I came of age in the Different World generation so the part of me that was excited just knew  I would find a best friend like Kim, my future Dwayne Wayne, and myself.  However, I was also the first in my immediate family to attend college right after high school and the only person I knew to go away.  In some ways, I had a case of “imposter syndrome.” I doubted my ability to blend in when I had no tangible basis for my new reality.”

I met Colin Lord in the early days of my freshmen year at Binghamton University.  More specifically, in my first week.  Okay, my first weekend.  He probably remembers me as the tall, 18-year-old girl who could not stop crying.  You see, I was convinced I had made a horrible mistake.  I was close to four hours away from my family and friends in the hilly abyss of upstate New York. At the time, it felt like there was not another brown face in sight.  I found myself in his office after my mother, frantic to ease my anxiety, called him up.  We had met him months earlier at Multicultural Weekend, an event he spearheaded to help the university court accepted applicants of color.  He reminded me of my older brother and listened to me.  Somehow, he convinced me it would all be okay.

He was right. Ultimately, I found my place in college.  I met friends, more advisors, mentors and professors who helped me navigate new cultural and intellectual landscapes with an open mind.  I grew and met people, and traveled to places I never expected. I realized had it not been for the strong support system I built around me, it would have been easy to falter.

The fact is, of the 7.3 million undergraduates attending four-year public and private colleges and universities close to twenty percent are first generation students. Fifty percent of all first generation college students in the U.S. are low-income and/or students of color.  As I learned then and know now, my experience was not unique.  Many of our students enter collegiate atmospheres with no foundation or guidance and for this reason, retention amongst these students is low. When I began this site last year, I knew I wanted to provide a blueprint for parents and students starting the college process.  I was especially interested in reaching those families who, like mine, were navigating these waters for the first time.  I knew there was no better resource than my former college mentor, Admissions Professional and Educational Consultant Colin Lord, to lend his expertise.

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Mr. Lord was born in North London, England but lived in Barbados (where his parents are from) and New York City as a child. He is a graduate of Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Africana Studies. He attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.  He worked in admissions at Binghamton University and Hamilton College.  He later served as the National Director of Programs at A Better Chance, Inc., Senior Director of Admission and Adviser for Students of Color at Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school, and Director of Enrollment Management at the Latin School of Chicago.  Currently,  he is an independent education consultant and resides in Chicago with his wife and two children.

Q. At what age do you think parents should begin to prepare their children for college? 

College preparation should be an ongoing process throughout a child’s development.  The important thing to remember is it should be developmentally appropriate.  What I mean by that is, you shouldn’t be taking a five-year old to SAT prep classes. You should talk to your child about college and ingrain [in them] the idea that college will be the next natural step after high school.  I find that our students know nothing about college, even when they are surrounded by people who attended.  Another thing you can do to prepare younger students for college is to get them on college campuses.  For example, if you happen to be traveling with your child, take an hour to visit colleges in the that area, even if it’s just walking around the campus.  By the beginning of high school, you can schedule tours and information sessions at the schools you visit.  Also, getting your child into academic summer programs are a great way to assist in their intellectual curiosity and independence.  John Hopkins Center for Gifted and Talented Youth (CTY) provides an amazing boarding experience for academically talented middle school students and many independent day and boarding schools have summer programs too.  In terms of the child, I’ve always believe[d] that intellectual curiosity and work ethic are imperative to academic success.

As a parent, I limit screen time and access to devices and when those devices are used, the content has to be educational.  I also expose my children to anything I can find: museums, music, theater, etc.  It’s [also] important you model the behavior you expect from your children since they get their cues from you.  You can’t expect your child to read when they see you watching TV for most of your waking moments.  Finally, its imperative you assist your child to develop a sense of self.  In my experience, students of color who had extensive knowledge of their history tended to be more grounded and successful in navigating majority white educational institutions.

“College preparation should be an ongoing process throughout a child’s development.  The important thing to remember is it should be developmentally appropriate.  What I mean by that is, you shouldn’t be taking at five-year old to SAT prep classes, but you should talk to your child about college and ingrain in them the idea that college will be the next natural step after high school.”

Q. What tips do you have for narrowing the college search? Do you recommend applicants cast a wide net or focus their time and energy on a quality few?

This issue depends, in part, on your resources.  Applications cost money, as does visiting schools, test taking, etc.  And there’s the issue of time that it takes to complete each application appropriately.  This is crucial since you could hurt your chances of getting into a college if they think you aren’t really interested.  In terms of picking schools, I always suggest the student start by making a list of all the things that are important to them in the college they well attend, such as:

  • Location. Rural, suburban, or city?  Remember that cities tend to be much more expensive and harder to maintain a feel of a campus.  Also, how far away from home would you like to travel?  Again, finances come into play when you consider the price of plane tickets if you go far away.
  • Size. This is always one that trips up students.  Often times I hear students say they went to a small high school so they want something large.  Some students strive at larger institutions because they have the self advocacy skills and independence that’s necessary to excel.  However, larger schools [usually] don’t provide the support that smaller schools can since there is usually a pecking order of faculty’s research, grad students, then undergraduates.  I also tell students that watching a college football game on Saturday with 100,000 fans looks like fun but it’s the ‘Monday through Friday’ that you should be more focused on and lectures with 500+ students may not be ideal.
  • Major. With a few exceptions (like nursing), most reputable colleges and universities can provide you with the courses necessary to prepare you for your career of choice.  We had a joke in college admissions that half the students enroll as undecided and the other half change their majors after they enroll.  There are so many paths to achieve a professional career. I would suggest you make sure there are many majors at the schools you look at and [also] find out what the process is for changing majors, since this may very well be your reality.
  • Diversity. I’m not talking about counting the black and brown students on campus.  Applicants often times review stats and stop there, but there’s a qualitative reality that numbers can’t speak to.  Are students from diverse backgrounds truly included in the campus community?  Are there advocates in the administration? Is the faculty composition reflective of the student diversity?  My college probably wasn’t the most diverse place, and we definitely had our issues, but I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.  I had faculty and staff who were committed to supporting and mentoring me and the Black and Latino community was very close-knit so I never felt alone.
  • Greek Life. I just had a conversation with a young woman who wants to transfer out of her current college.  One of the biggest reasons was [because] fraternities and sororities pretty much control the social life on campus.  If I’d met this student when she was applying to college, I could’ve warned her.  If you want a diverse social life in college, it will be more difficult to achieve that goal when nearly half of the students are in greek organizations.

These are only four things to think about but you can expand on this list.  I always tell students, your list is a personal exercise and nothing is too small.  If you need red Kool-aid every day, then make sure you add that to the list.  Co-ed versus single sex, religious versus nondenominational, discussion-based versus lecture style, core curriculum versus open curriculum, study abroad, and financial aid policies are other things to consider.

Q. What are the primary factors colleges consider in evaluating an applicant?

All colleges are looking for students who can demonstrate intellectual curiosity, this is the love of learning versus just straight As.  They aren’t the same thing.  Demonstrated independence will assure success and the ability to be a good citizen on campus.  More colleges and universities are also looking for students who can manage disappointment.  I had a conversation with a good friend who works at an Ivy league institution. After a suicide on campus, she remarked, “Forget all these… super stars, show me a kid who [can] manage adversity.  That’s the kid we need on campus”.

Q. Many colleges require recommendations. Typically, references can’t be family. Do you have any advice on choosing references?

Most colleges will require a humanities recommendation, a math recommendation (both from your current teachers) and a school recommendation that’s completed by your guidance counselor [or] college counselor.  Beyond that, schools usually allow for optional recommendations.  First, there is too much of a good thing.  Don’t submit 43 optional recommendations because it tends to water down the entire exercise AND no admission officer wants to read 43 additional recommendations!  My rule of thumb is find someone who isn’t going to regurgitate what the other recommenders already said.  It must be of value.

“All colleges are looking for students who can demonstrate intellectual curiosity, this is the love of learning versus just straight A’s.  They aren’t the same thing.  Demonstrated independence will assure success and the ability to be a good citizen on campus.”

Q. What do you feel are the benefits of going away to school versus staying home?

This is very much a personal choice but I’m always going to be a proponent of going away.  College is a way to develop independence with some form of safety net around you.  I did two years in the dorms and my last two years in my own apartment where paying bills and cooking and such was my responsibility.  That was a good precursor for “real life” after college.  Of course, staying home helps defer costs, since room and board is probably around $15K a year or more.  However, most colleges subsidize room and board when you serve as an RA, so that’s one way to take care of that.

When I was at Choate, one of my students was choosing between going away and staying home.  I knew [her father] was not a part of her life and her mother had serious mental health issues.  What compounded the issue was there was a younger brother in the picture.  It was a tough conversation that I wasn’t looing forward to but I told that student her chances of graduating were greatly diminished if she stayed home.

Q. Many parents in our community are raising children who will be first generation college students. Can you recommend any resources parents can use to prepare their children to enter college? How would you suggest parents find “mentors” to help guide them and their children through the process?

Most cities and towns have organizations and programs to help with the college process, it’s just a matter of doing the research.  College Board and NACAC (National Association of College Admission Counselors) are a few places to start.  In a perfect world, the student’s teachers would serve as mentors, but I always encourage parents to approach friends and family to help support the student.  Other than that, tell the parents to contact me!

“…never devalue your reality because it’s different from others.  When I first started working at Choate we had our first staff meeting in the admission office and everyone was asked to say how they spent their summers.  I didn’t know ‘vacation’ was a verb!  Folks ‘vacationed on vineyard’ and ‘vacationed on Cape Cod’.  I started feeling uneasy because while I had heard of these places, I never had the chance to visit them.  Thankfully, I checked myself and remembered that my experiences were different than others but no less worthy.  When I had the chance to speak I said, ‘I retired to my ‘summer home’ in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.'”

Q. For many, entering college is a culture shock. You are often in classes with and rooming with people who are from places and have experiences you may not identify with. Do you have any tips for students experiencing anxiety about immersing themselves in new environments?

When I was at Choate, I gave our students two pieces of advice.  [First], we attend college to grow and evolve.  That being the case, approach the exercise with an open mind and don’t be afraid to try new things.  A regular evaluation of “how do you know what you know” is a healthy exercise.  In other words, re-evaluate and self assess regularly.  It’s called growth. [Second], never devalue your reality because its different from others.  When I first started working at Choate we had our first staff meeting in the admission office and everyone was asked to say how they spent their summers.  I didn’t know “vacation” was a verb!  Folks “vacationed on vineyard” and “vactioned on Cape Cod.”  I started feeling uneasy because while I had heard of these places, I never had the chance to visit them.  Thankfully, I checked myself and remembered that my experiences were different than others but no less worthy.  When I had the chance to speak I said, “I retired to my ‘summer home’ in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.”

Q. Speaking of cultural differences, there have been many articles written on code switching. In many ways, members of our community are celebrated for being able to move in and out of different experiences, changing dialects with ease. Do you think the ability to code switch, that is adapt culturally, is an important part of integrating into a collegiate atmosphere?

All depends.  First and foremost, I tell students that they don’t want to lose themselves in an attempt to adapt and make others feel comfortable.  Each person needs to know where that line is.  Also, I’ve always told my students that who you are and what you learned back home got you this far, so never let that go.  Personally, I value my ability to code switch.  It’s not just about amalgamating to the majority, but the exercise of assessing a situation and being able to adapt to it is a valuable skill.  Code switching is a viable skill, not just for college but life.

Q. Once you get into college, it isn’t always easy to identify a career path. What would you suggest a new student do to prepare themselves for life after college?

I’ll answer by providing my story.  I was pretty good at coding in high school and decided that I would be a computer science major in college because someone told me it paid well and I figured I had an affinity for that kind of work-bonus!  However, I took a sociology class my freshman year called “Racial Stratification in the USA.”  When I learned about the inequity in public school funding (I had an 8-year-old sister in public school), I decided I was going to be the one to address this inequity.  By senior year, I was very involved in student leadership and ended up developing Binghamton University’s first fly back program for accepted students of color called the Binghamton Multicultural Weekend.  It was through this program and my voluntarism in the admission office at UW-Madison that helped me identify my career path and I have never regretted it.

I tell students to explore the curriculum and to get involved outside the classroom.  I think the hardest part of identifying a career is figuring out what your passionate about.  Figure that out and the rest usually falls into place.

“I was empowered by the idea that I was part of community and others had come before me and been successful.  The fact that I represented my community and family was empowering.  [W]e all need to use our education and access to improve our communities without becoming judgemental.  Never forget where you came from.”

Q. Can you recommend any resources for parents and students preparing to begin the application process? Can you speak at all to financial preparedness?

In this day and age, applying to college is like a job.  Given how busy families are it is imperative that everyone in the family is on the same page.  Parents, let your child know what you can and can’t do financially. Be organized and be disciplined.  To avoid all-nighters, I suggest carving out just 30 minutes a day to complete essays, etc.  Get to your teachers as early as possible to request recommendations.  If you tell a teacher, 24 hours before a recommendation is due, that recommendation won’t be your teacher’s best effort.

In terms of financial aid, I’m not a proponent of students incurring large amounts of debt for undergrad, not matter what the school is.  I don’t recommend working class parents incur the debt either.  As a financial planner once told me, “Your kid can take out a loan for college, but you can’t take out a loan for retirement.”  There are many scholarship options out there so hit the internet and take funding under consideration when you are looking at what colleges to apply to.

Any final words of wisdom/advice?

First, I believe in education for a purpose.  Yes, go to school so you can be gainfully employed but it can’t just be about you.  Personally, I was empowered by the idea that I was part of community and others had come before me and been successful.  The fact that I represented my community [and] family was empowering. Secondly, we all need to use our education and access to improve our communities without becoming judgemental.  Never forget where you came from.

If you have any questions for Mr. Lord, visit our Ask The Village section or drop a comment below.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Finding Inspiration for Our Children in Trump’s America

Inspiration, parenting, Thought-Provoking

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States the day after my third son was born. I have to admit, my husband and I were happy to be in our little bubble. In some ways, it seemed like the whole world disintegrated into mass hysteria and it would have been easy to join in except… we had this perfect little bundle in front of us with head full of hair and perfect peachy lips.  While to so many the future seemed bleak, for us, the future seemed blindly bright.

Unfortunately, reality caught up with us. When we got home, our sons had questions. They had trouble processing the outcome of the election. We live in a fairly liberal community. To them, Trump’s election meant the world was about to become a really scary place. We wanted to maintain their optimism for the world they are growing in while at the same time keeping them firmly rooted in reality.  The fact is, historically, this country has overcome greater division and our people have survived greater turmoil.  Not only have we survived, we have thrived.  For instance, the Harlem Renaissance was birthed in the early years of the Great Migration when millions of our people (including my grandparents ) were fleeing the Jim Crow south for a better way of life. The movement included Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Duke Ellington.  The Black Arts Movement grew in response to the Black Power Movement in the Civil Rights era following the assassinations of notable black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Fred Hampton. Without it, we would have never known the work of Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Nina Simone and Maya Angelou.  In response to the crack cocaine epidemic in the eighties and draconian drug laws that fueled mass incarceration, we birthed Hip Hop. While there is certainly a great deal to fear, the beauty in our resilience is something I am looking forward to.

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While distraction would be easy in trying times, I think it is crucial to teach our children to lean in. You may not be raising the next Maya Angelou but it’s still important to teach our children to think and learn outside of their perspectives and process the world in terms of solutions, not just problems.  Here are a few tips to get your children thinking creatively.

1. Travel

Traveling is life changing.  It shifts perspectives on life and introduces you to people and places that force you out of your comfort zone. While opportunities for international travel may not always be financially feasible, traveling can be accomplished just by leaving your home. Which, lets face it, as parents is sometimes an accomplishment all its own.  Visit local museums, cultural festivals and events. Take your children to see live music and plays. Take road trips around your state.  Give your children opportunities to diversify their perspective through experiences.

2. Walks and Hiking

I love a good walk or bike ride through the park. It wasn’t until a few complications from pregnancy grounded me that I realized how therapeutic it was. I missed the silence, the feeling of the wind on my face, and the rush of energy.  When possible, I loved sharing that experience with my kids. After my brother passed away unexpectedly in 2009, I was seeing a therapist who used to encourage me to take time to be silent. When I informed her that “silence” was an impossibility as a mom of then-two kids, she said, they need to learn to be silent too.  She was right. In an age of instant gratification and feedback, it’s hard to quiet the world around you to process your own thoughts and feelings. Kicking it old school and taking a long walk or hike gives you an opportunity to be comfortable in the silence of your own thoughts.  You learn to exercise your ability to think critically and empathetically and grow as a human being.

3. Writing and Art Prompts

My kids are very schedule oriented. They love to know what’s coming. If they don’t, mayhem ensues. On cold or rainy days when we can’t explore the great outdoors, we have a great deal of “art” time where we direct them to piles of paper and art supplies and encourage them to create. While during more frustrating moments, the directions are usually “Go write something,” when we have our stuff together, we create writing and art prompts to drive their creativity. Prompts can include anything from story starters to discussion topics.  Art prompts can include giving them an object to draw or directing them to depict a memorable experience in their life. While you can consult the Googles and find tons of ideas, you can also create your own. Writing and art create wonderful opportunities for discussion and meditation.

4. Reading

James Baldwin wrote, “[y]ou think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” Reading connects us. You may never meet a 10 year old homeschooled kid from New York City living with a facial deformity but then you read R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder” and you know him. Reading introduces your children to worlds beyond their own which is an important part of building empathy.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

7 Ways to Teach Your Children to See Their Beauty

Inspiration

by Faye McCray

It’s summertime and if your children are anything like mine, they have been browning like little turkeys in the sun. Each day, my children come inside a shade darker, and I can’t resist kissing their sweaty sun-kissed faces and marveling at how breathtakingly beautiful they are.  As the school year resumes and they are thrust back into a regimented routine, I want to be sure they are armed with the tools necessary to counteract any negativity they may feel from the outside world.

Here are a few tips on teaching your children to see their own beauty:

1. Surround them with positive images of themselves.

Whether it is artwork, television shows, books, action figures or dolls, make sure the images your introduce your child to are healthy and positive. Whether it’s reality shows or the evening news, our children see enough negative versions of themselves.  Counteract the negativity by surrounding them with positivity.  Find books that feature heroes and heroines of color. Buy them dolls that look like them.  Allow them the opportunity to see themselves for that they can be.

2. Celebrate what is unique about them.

As a woman, I stand a little over 6ft tall.  I was always tall for my age and at certain points in my life, I wanted desperately to blend in with everyone else. The kindest thing someone ever said to me was “When you grow up, you will love being tall. You will command every room you walk into.” I didn’t know if was true then but I stood a little taller and prouder just in case it was. Whether freckles, chubby cheeks or big feet, find the positive in things that are unique about your child.  Celebrate it and they will too.

3. Celebrate your own beauty.

I had a childhood friend whose father used to drill into our heads to “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Even as a kid, I didn’t buy it.  The thing is, children are always watching you. They watch more than they listen.  If they see you gazing at yourself in the mirror and criticizing your broad nose or tightly curled hair, what do you think they will think about themselves when they look in the mirror and see those same features? It may not always be easy, but celebrate your own beauty and allow your child to witness it.

4. Teach them the history of their people.

The history of people of color in this country is rich and diverse.  Teach them about our scientists, inventors, artists, musicians, athletes, businessmen and others who changed the landscape of the world. It’s easy to look back at dark places like slavery and segregation and feel burden and shame. However, even in the dark places we can find tremendous strength.  Let them know they have royal blood running through their veins and because of that, they can accomplish anything. Never make them feel burdened by the color of their skin.

5. Don’t stifle their curiosity.

This has never been an easy one for me. As a self-proclaimed helicopter mom of three boys, I am inclined to hover over my sons. I want them to remain safe and protected. However, I have learned the more I stifle their curiosity, the more withdrawn they will become.  They will be afraid to speak up in class, speak up for themselves and speak up for others. Within reason, allow your children to explore the world around them. Indulge their interests. Allow them to try new things and find answers for their questions.  Allow them to see the beauty in their growing minds.

6. Be discriminating with who you allow into their lives.

The truth is, like in any community, some members of our community aren’t as enlightened as others. They are unable to find beauty in certain skin tones and features and unfortunately, they are not so good at hiding it.  If possible, limit contact or keep these people away from your children. If you can’t, be sure to let your child know that you do not condone that persons comments or behavior. I have found that nothing has made me braver than being a mother. It’s not necessary to be insulting. However, I have shut down many a negative comment by saying, “Please do not say that to or around my child.”

7. Compliment, Praise, and Encourage.

In the early nineties, Toni Morrison was on Oprah discussing “The Bluest Eye.” She asked a simple question, “Does your face light up when your children walk into the room?” I was a teenager at the time but even then something about that moment touched me.  It is important to feel loved, appreciated and valued.  In this age of handheld devices, it is so easy to become distracted. I am guilty of having to be told to put down my electronic device by my own children when I am not giving them the attention they deserve.  At the back, front, side and middle of our brain, we should all hold ourselves accountable for how we receive our children when they walk into a room.  How we respond to them when they do something to make us proud.  How we react when they want to feel handsome or pretty.  Tell them they are beautiful, tell them they matter, tell them they are smart and they are loved.  Whether we want the burden or not, it is us who will teach them their value.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising.

Why I don’t want to be “Fat Dad” anymore

Inspiration, Lifestyle, Opinion, Thought-Provoking

With my kids, I am notorious for saying that I am “fat” nonchalantly in a funny, self-deprecating way. I often tell them “Don’t be fat like daddy!” as a warning of what can happen if they eat too much and don’t exercise. I do all of this, but I can see I am sending mixed messages. I often say this with a smile and a confidence not befitting someone who actually regrets his life choices.

The reality is that I am not happy being fat. I don’t like the way I look in the mirror when my clothes are missing in action. I don’t like getting winded when I do regular tasks like walking up stairs, picking up my kids, or moving in general. I don’t like hating how I look in every picture I take, because my face, or stomach, or side, or legs look huge. Mostly, I hate this feeling that this is how I am supposed to look since I am getting older.

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“My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older.”

My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older. They will just jokingly tell their kids what I tell them and think that being overweight and making terrible eating choices is their right and privilege as a man. I think about what James Baldwin said about children being terrible listeners but never failing to do exactly what their parents show them. I can honestly say I have been a terrible example regarding health, eating and fitness. I know that continuing down this path is a death sentence at worst and a life of health complications and burden upon my family at best.

Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.  While there are socio-economic factors that contribute to our negative health statistics, I believe the major factors at play are poor eating habits and lack of meaningful daily exercise.  We can control what we consume. I can control what healthy foods I eat and what poisonous processed foods I avoid.  I have allowed myself to establish a dangerous pattern of not caring about the nutritional value of my food, as long as it satisfies my taste buds, while I sit and mindlessly eat and drink.

“Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.”

My father passed away suddenly last year of a heart attack.  He was just 61 years old.  He had been overweight for years, but was in great shape most of his youth going into early adulthood.  It was after he became a father that he started to gain weight and eventually stopped working out like he used to.  The thing I think about over and over is the fact that when my father was my age he was not as close to how heavy I currently am.  He gained weight over time, but not as drastically or in the dimensions that I have.  If I don’t make a significant change in my habits then I may not even make it to the age he was and I know that would deeply affect my family and would not be a way to truly honor his memory.

So I have decided to make a change. I am committing to losing 100 pounds by Thanksgiving Day (November 23 this year). To do this I am going to cut out sodas, processed fruit juices, junk food of all kinds and processed foods in general. I will commit to drinking large amounts of water weekly, working out at least 20 minutes per day, walking everyday as a routine, and consistently eating healthy throughout the months. This is my #ThanksgivingChallenge and I am excited to start this! This is for me, my sons, my wife, and for anyone else who needs to make a change but is afraid to start. Walk with me on this journey and let’s see where we end up on the other side!

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter and Instagram @RealRickMcCray.

Let’s Talk Activism! A Conversation with Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU Pennsylvania

Inspiration, Thought-Provoking

I met Reggie Shuford as an intern at the National Legal Department of the American Civil Liberties Union when I was 23 years old. At the time, he was the Senior Staff Counsel in the Racial Justice Program, and I was a summer intern. Prior to taking the job, I courted another offer from the National Legal Department of the NAACP.  It was a hard decision but I chose the ACLU because of their broad base of representation.  At the time, they were evaluating Patriot Act challenges and just gaining momentum in the fight for marriage equality. I wanted to be part of that think tank, no matter how small.

I had the privilege of being paired with Reggie as my mentor.  What struck me about Reggie was his depth and thoughtfulness.  You could have a discussion with Reggie and see his wheels turning. Like most great legal minds, he had the ability to dissect an argument from all angles and reach conclusions based in knowledge and compassion.  During my time, I learned a great deal from Reggie. Most importantly, I learned the significance of calculated actions and reactions.

As protestors evacuate Standing Rock, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturns the phasing out of private prisons and Trump orders mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, I knew there was no one better to help dissect our role in this changing society than Reggie Shuford, the Executive Director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania.

2015-aclu-headshot

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?  Where do you currently reside?

I was born and raised in Wilmington, NC. I currently reside in Philadelphia, PA. Before moving to Philadelphia in August 2011, I lived in Oakland, CA, Brooklyn, NY, and in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, NC where I attended college [and] law school.

Q. Have you always known you wanted to devote your career to social justice? Was there an impetus in your life that propelled you in that direction? 

I decided I would become a lawyer around age six. I was an inquisitive child. Whenever we received visitors at home, I would ask them lots of questions about themselves – their likes and dislikes, hobbies, favorite color, books, relationships with relatives, etc. More than one suggested that I sounded like a lawyer. It dawned on me that, if one could ask questions for a living, then I would do that. Of course, asking questions is just one part of being a lawyer! Representing clients and advocating on their behalf is another. I also grew up in a very poor, racially segregated environment. Although I did not know it at the time, Wilmington, NC, had been home to a race riot in 1898. That legacy persisted, even if it was unspoken. It also impacted one’s opportunities, or lack thereof. Given the social, economic and racial disparities I observed growing up, I decided I would commit myself [and] my legal career to one of social justice, with Thurgood Marshall as my primary inspiration.

Q. What has been your greatest victory?

Surviving a childhood of poverty and limited opportunity with my spirit and dreams intact and having been able to achieve many of my personal and professional goals, which involve advocating on behalf of the marginalized or mistreated.

“I… grew up in a very poor, racially segregated environment. Although I did not know it at the time, Wilmington, NC, had been home to a race riot in 1898. That legacy persisted, even if it was unspoken. It also impacted one’s opportunities, or lack thereof. Given the social, economic and racial disparities I observed growing up, I decided I would commit myself and my legal career to one of social justice, with Thurgood Marshall as my primary inspiration.”

Q. What has been your most difficult defeat?

I have felt defeated whenever I have represented clients, particularly in race discrimination cases, and not been able to achieve the outcome they deserved. That said, I try not to let any one defeat define me and, on balance, I think I have had far more victories than defeats.

Q. What motivates you to keep going?

Need. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I see my job as a civil rights lawyer to help bend the arc towards justice. Until America becomes a truly equal and just country, for ALL of its residents, I will continue to do what I do.

Q. Aside from the legal profession, what profession/professions do you feel best serve issues of social and political injustice?

I think so many professions play a role in advancing social justice. The political system, when it is functioning well, plays an important role. The media, when it performs its role as an objective arbiter of facts, is also crucial. Teachers are critical in teaching us the skills and bestowing upon us the knowledge we need to be informed, productive, civically engaged citizens. Non-profit organizations often fill the gap in services between government and for-profit corporations. And so many more! Really, no matter what we do for a living, I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure our country lives up to its founding ideals.

Q. In today’s climate, it is easy to feel powerless in the face of injustice. Especially if you lack a legal education or formal means to fight injustice. How do you suggest the average person participates in effectuating change?

The first thing we should do is know our history. Think back to the Civil Rights Movement and before, where many activists did not have a legal education. Most activists still don’t. A legal education is just one of many tools to combat injustice. We all need to recognize what tools we do have – a voice, a network, a job, a car, an idea, a blog, an email account, a bank account, legs, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the ability to sing, dance, draw or make art, the right to vote. Those are just a few of the tools most of us have at our disposal to use to fight injustice. Many of us have a lot more.

Q. Rallying and protesting are often depicted as a dangerous way to participate politically. Protestors are categorized as rioters and police often resort to violent means of subduing discourse. In your experience, is protesting appropriate for children? As parents, how do you suggest we teach our children to be socially and politically engaged?

I love a good protest and have been heartened by all of those I have seen in recent months, reinvigorated in part by Black Lives Matter, to send a message about the importance of equality, justice and human rights. In fact, the organization where I work, the ACLU, was founded in 1920 in the wake of the so-called Palmer Raids, when the federal government, fearing the rise of communism, began detaining and deporting alleged radical leftists. The very earliest strategy recognized the importance of protests: “Rights can be maintained only by insisting upon them  — by organization, protest, demonstrations, test cases in the courts, and publicity.” Whether a protest is appropriate for children will depend on the nature of the protest. While most protests are probably appropriate for children, parents should use their best judgment to make sure that is the case. Likewise, parents can lead by example in terms of teaching children to be socially and politically engaged. I think it’s both a responsibility and a gift to do so.

“A legal education is just one of many tools to combat injustice. We all need to recognize what tools we do have – a voice, a network, a job, a car, an idea, a blog, an email account, a bank account, legs, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the ability to sing, dance, draw or make art, the right to vote. Those are just a few of the tools most of us have at our disposal to use to fight injustice. Many of us have a lot more.”

Q. Since Donald Trump took office in January, he has signed a number of executive orders that have had a direct impact on the national and international community. First, what impact does an executive order have? Can our system of checks and balances prevent presidential overreach? As a community, which of his orders do you think we should be paying the most attention to?

The authority of a president to issue an executive order derives either from the Constitution or statutory enactment by Congress. In order to be legal, an executive order must not exceed a president’s authority and must comport with the Constitution or statute. The judicial branch can review an executive order to determine its legality. So, for example, the executive order issued by Donald Trump related to immigration – what some have deemed a ban on Muslims – was put on hold by a few federal judges and struck down by a judge in Washington state, which was ultimately upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump has said he will not appeal the court’s decision and plans to issue another order. We will look to see what the new one involves once it is issued. In terms of which other executive orders to pay attention to, I think all of them. There is reason to be concerned about the impact of existing or potential executive orders on many people – federal government workers and contractors, members of the LGBT community, women and their right to make decisions about their bodies and families, those who engage in dissent, communities that have had a fraught relationship with the police, and so forth.

Q. There is a current vacancy on the Supreme Court as the result of the sudden death of Justice Anton Scalia in February 2016. President Trump recently nominated Hon. Neil Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge from Colorado, who has been likened to Scalia. Gorsuch’s confirmation seems like an inevitability.  Are you concerned about Gorsuch changing the current court? How likely is it that the new court will reverse prior decisions that seemed to be settled law? Can the average person impact the decisions of the court?

If Judge Gorsuch models his career on Scalia’s, I do believe there is cause for concern, both in terms of future cases and for certain decisions that are considered fairly settled law, like Roe v. Wade. Reversing prior decisions does not happen often, but it does and can happen. Generally speaking, Justice Scalia was no friend to women and minorities, and was opposed to abortion and affirmative action and supported the death penalty. The primary way for people to impact a Supreme Court nomination is to vote for presidents and representatives who reflect their values. Once the president nominates someone, the Senate will ultimately vote on that person.

Q. Comedian Steve Harvey met with President Trump and received a great deal of criticism. He explained he felt as though “we” needed a seat at the table. In your opinion, is there room for cooperation with the current administration?

It depends on the agenda and/or specific policy proposal. Is the goal of the meeting sincerely to help people? If so, cooperation may be possible.  Or is the goal to harm, marginalize, or stereotype certain people? Or is it self-serving, to provide an appearance of interest and concern, with the true, unstated goal of deflecting criticism? Also, who is being offered a seat at the table? Friends and those who agree with Trump or those with subject matter expertise or someone who might offer a perspective different than his?

“Whether or not a child – or anyone, for that matter – engages in civic unrest, everyone should know their rights when attending a protest or interacting with the police. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way.”

Q. Many of our readers have children who are tweens or teens with some autonomy and they may be eager to participate in the civil unrest. This can be particularly concerning for parents in our community because our children are often targeted and profiled by police. What advice would you recommend a parent give a child eager to get involved?

Parents have to make these calls for themselves, knowing their children, the current political environment in which we live, and the long history of police brutality in our country. They should also be mindful of anarchists who attend protests specifically to cause disruption and commotion. Their activity often puts peaceful protestors in a bad light, when they are unfairly painted with a broad brush, and can lead to violence. Whether or not a child – or anyone, for that matter – engages in civic unrest, everyone should know their rights when attending a protest or interacting with the police. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way. Visit your local ACLU website for relevant and helpful know-your-rights information!

Q. Any final words of wisdom/advice?

Know your value and never settle for less than you deserve. Dream big and follow your dreams until you achieve them! Be nice! Others tend to remember how you made them feel, more than they remember your job title or how much money you earn.

***

About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye is also the author of I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children available in paperback and on Kindle here. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

10 Must-Have Books and Documentaries To Celebrate Black History Month

Education, history, Our History
For many of us, learning about our history has been a personal endeavor. Generally, American education is largely Eurocentric and the history of people of color in this country centers around slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. As we grow older, however, we realize there is so much more.  Here are 10 must-have books and documentaries to kick-off this Black History Month. Use them to teach your children exciting facts about our rich and inspiring history.

1. African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross

Explore with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the evolution of the African-American people, as well as the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives they developed forging their own history, culture and society against unimaginable odds. (Amazon Product Review)

2. Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines. (Amazon Product Review)

3. The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Wilson

The thesis of Dr. Woodson’s book is that African-Americans of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught, in American schools. This conditioning, he claims, causes African-Americans to become dependent and to seek out inferior places in the greater society of which they are a part. He challenges his readers to become autodidacts and to “do for themselves”, regardless of what they were taught:

History shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning (From Amazon).

4. Vintage Black Glamour

Vintage Black Glamour is a unique, sumptuous and revealing celebration of the lives and indomitable spirit of Black women of a previous era. With its stunning photographs and insightful biographies, this book is a hugely important addition to Black history archives. (Amazon Product Review)

5. When Black Men Ruled The World (Full Video on YouTube)

Hosted by Legrand H. Clegg II, “When Black Men Ruled The World” is a classic documentary of little known facts about the Black people of ancient history. The documentary discusses the migration, origin, and accomplishments of ancient Black people and their obvious impact on the modern world (From Atlantic Black Star).

6. Good Hair feat. Chris Rock

Chris Rock visits beauty salons and hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of the black community in this expos of comic proportions that only he could pull off. A raucous adventure prompted by Rock’s daughter approaching him and asking, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?, GOOD HAIR shows Chris Rock engaging in frank, funny conversations with hair-care professionals, beauty shop and barbershop patrons, and celebrities including Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symon, Dr. Maya Angelou, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton all while he struggles with the task of figuring out how to respond to his daughter’s question. (Studio)

7. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

More than 40 years after the Black Panther Party was founded the group and its leadership remain powerful and enduring images in our popular imagination. This will weave together the voices of those who lived this story — police informants journalists white supporters and detractors those who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. (Amazon Product Review)

8. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley

With its first great victory in the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the civil rights movement gained the powerful momentum it needed to sweep forward into its crucial decade, the 1960s. As voices of protest and change rose above the din of history and false promises, one voice sounded more urgently, more passionately, than the rest. Malcolm X—once called the most dangerous man in America—challenged the world to listen and learn the truth as he experienced it. And his enduring message is as relevant today as when he first delivered it. (From Amazon)

9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.  (Amazon Product Review)

10. 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family – a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave – many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances. (Amazon Product Review)

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

4 Effective Alternatives To Spanking

parenting

I’ll start off by being perfectly honest, I was spanked. Not in the, “Don’t touch the iron, it’s hot” kind of way but in the “Go get my belt” kind of way. Depending on my audience, you are either horrified by that or not at all surprised. The fact is, for many of us, spankings are cultural.  Our parents were spanked, their parents were spanked, and their parents before them.  In most instances, it didn’t stem from a lack of love. In fact, quite the opposite. As parents of color, we are fiercely protective of our children. Often that protectiveness manifests itself in the fear of the life and death consequences of poor behavior. Disrespecting a police officer may get you killed. We want to be sure our children learn disrespect and poor behavior will not be tolerated.

As parents in a new generation, we have learned more about the long term consequences of spanking. A 2010 study in Pediatrics suggested that frequently spanked children (more than twice a month) are much more likely to act out aggressively.  The idea is that children learn that aggression is the best way to solve a problem.  In addition, the study found corporal punishment, i.e., spanking, is more likely to instill fear instead of understanding. Further, the study found spanking is less effective with repeated use which makes it less effective as your children grow older and, arguably, the consequences of their actions become more dire.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I was spanked infrequently and I usually felt like I understood why I was being spanked.  However, intellectually, I can understand how spanking can send a confusing message to a child about the appropriateness of aggression as a problem solver. The fact remains, however, between 70% and 90% of Americans admit to using physical force when discipling their children. Further, corporal punishment is generally legal as long as it is reasonable.   While the definition of reasonable varies from state to state it usually does not include throwing, kicking, burning, cutting and/or other actions that result in physical injury.   A mother in Ohio was recently arrested for taping her toddler to a wall with his mouth taped shut.  Her son was removed from her custody and she was charged with felony abduction.

Whether you do or do not believe in the effectiveness of spanking, you may be looking for alternatives.  Here are four ideas that may help you “spare the rod” and not spoil the child:

angry-kid

1. Quiet Time

I almost called this one “time-out” but I was afraid you would stop reading.  Recently, I was touring a daycare and asked about their discipline policies.  The director said, “We don’t do time-outs or anything. We just give the children time to reflect.” For close to seven years, through high school and some of college, I worked as an Assistant Teacher/Counselor in a daycare center where we also refused to say time-out. We called it”time under the tree.”  There was a pillar in the classroom decorated like a tree with a chair beneath it. A child could sit there quietly or read a book following poor behavior.  Insert “eye-roll” emoji here. It was all the same thing.

To me, unless your locking your kids in an attic or engaging in similar questionable practices, time-out is not a dirty word. In fact, I think they should be used liberally for parents and children alike.  In our house, we call it “quiet time in your room” and in my best friend’s house, they call it “alone time.” Whatever you call it, sometimes when emotions run high, we need time to take a breath.  I find them most useful during times of conflict between older siblings or in younger children following/during a tantrum or meltdown. Conflicts, tantrums or meltdowns are usually periods of high emotion and it benefits all parties to have time to retreat.  For kids, it allows them time to gather themselves emotionally.  It also removes them from situations where they are acting inappropriately, i.e., hitting on the playground or screaming in a restaurant.  This provides direct consequences for their actions. For example, if you don’t stop hitting other children, you will no longer be allowed to play with other children or if you don’t control your tantrum, no one will want to be around you. For adults, it gives us time to cool down and plan. It prevents those moments where you say and do things you may regret because you acted in anger or frustration.

2. Talk it Out

I found poor behavior can sometimes stem from a lack of communication. Whether it is reactive behavior like hitting or dishonest behavior like lying, children act out when they don’t feel heard or understood. Now, you may be thinking “they don’t need to be heard, they need to listen.” I hear you. However, children are just adults in training.  They may not run things but they deserve your respect.  Giving them respect builds their self worth.

One of my sons is extremely emotional.  He has huge reactions to circumstances where he feels like he has been wronged. After the requisite cool down time (see above), I sit down with him to discuss his behavior. I start by asking him his version of events, e.g., what happened? I then ask him to explain his response to the situation, e.g., why did you do what you did? Thereafter, I ask him to tell me how he could have reacted differently to change the outcome.  During good conversations, he comes to his own conclusions about his behavior and how he will do differently in the future. When he doesn’t, I guide him.

When he was a preschooler and unable to think as critically, I made it simpler. We would rate the issue to have him assess the appropriateness of his response. For example, if his brother knocked down his block tower and he had a meltdown and hit his brother, I would say,  “That is a size 3 problem and you had a size 8 reaction. What would be a size 3 reaction?”  In all cases, no matter the age, it is important to lay clear your expectations for your child’s behavior in your home and in the world.

3. Take Things Away

My son bit his brother last summer. They were fighting and he bit him… hard.  So hard, in fact, his brother had to take a preventative course of antibiotics.  Yeah. My husband and I were livid.  We tried every consequence in the book… and I mean everythang.  However, it wasn’t until we took away his Nintendo 3DX for the summer that he really “felt it.”

Revoking privileges seems like a no-brainer but many parents have trouble with this one. I think this stems from a lack of consistency. After all, let’s be honest, sometimes taking away an electronic device, television privileges or outside play hurts us more than it hurts them. After all, now we have to find other ways to engage them.  However, it is incredibly impactful.  Be clear and consistent with your consequences. If you are going to take away the X-Box for seven days, don’t make it five or six, stick to seven days.  Not only does it provide real consequences for your child’s actions, it can also provide a lesson in gratitude. After all, you work hard for the things they have. They should work hard to show they deserve them.

4. Set a Good Example

James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” If you are lying, stealing, cursing and cheating, it is very difficult to teach your children not to do the same. My friend’s father used to say, “Do as I say not as a I do.” Even as a kid, I took issue with this advice. First, he was showing his children he was unwilling to live up to the examples he set for them. Second, he was giving them unrealistic expectations of adulthood. Even in adulthood, there are expectations and consequences. While it is important not to place yourself on an unreachable pedestal, it is equally important to show your children you are trying.  By doing your best, you make their best possible.

What do you think, family? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

20 Awesome Children’s Books That Will Empower and Inspire Your Child

books, Education

Our children deserve to be celebrated! Here are 20 empowering children’s books every parent, grandparent and teacher should have in their collection.

1. Bippity Bop Barbershop by Natasha Anastasia Tarply

From Amazon: In this companion book to the bestselling I Love My Hair, a young boy, Miles, makes his first trip to the barbershop with his father. Like most little boys, he is afraid of the sharp scissors, the buzzing razor, and the prospect of picking a new hairstyle. But with the support of his dad, the barber, and the other men in the barbershop, Miles bravely sits through his first haircut. Written in a reassuring tone with a jazzy beat and illustrated with graceful, realistic watercolors, this book captures an important rite of passage for boys and celebrates African-American identity.

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2. No Mirrors in My Nana’s House by Ysaye Barnell

From Amazon: A little girl discovers the beauty in herself–and the beauty of the world around her–not by looking in the mirror but by looking in her Nana’s eyes. Synthia Saint James’s gloriously bright illustrations in this paperback edition show young readers how to see the beauty, and the accompanying CD of Sweet Honey In The Rock singing the song lets them hear it.

3. In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall by Folami Abiade, et al.

From Amazon: In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall testifies to the powerful bond between father and child, recognizing family as our greatest gift, and identifying fathers as being among our most influential heroes.

4. I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarply

From Amazon: This whimsical, evocative story about a girl named Keyana encourages African-American children to feel good about their special hair and be proud of their heritage. A BlackBoard Children’s Book of the Year.

5. Did I Tell You I Love You Today? by Deloris Jordan

From Amazon: Apart or together, near or far, day or night, from childhood to adulthood — the never-ending reach and power of a mother’s love touches every moment of every day, even when you least expect it. All you need to do is make sure to notice.

6. Marvelous Me by Lisa Bullard

From Amazon: Alex is a marvelous little boy who is just like other people in some ways, such as getting angry sometimes, but also unique because of his special laugh, his grizzly hugs, and his own interesting thoughts. Includes activities.

 

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7. Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson

From Amazon: Inspired by his family experiences and his parents’ paintings, a young boy creates four poems.

8. Happy to be Nappy by bell hooks

From Amazon: Legendary author bell hooks and Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka present a lyrical celebration, brimming with enthusiasm for girls and their hair. Nominated for an NAACP Image Award, this stunning picturebook is now available again in board book form.

9. Salt in His Shoes by Deloris Jordan

From Amazon: Deloris Jordan, mother of the basketball phenomenon, teams up with his sister Roslyn to tell this heartwarming and inspirational story that only the members of the Jordan family could tell. It’s a tale about faith and hope and how any family working together can help a child make his or her dreams come true.

10. Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke

From Amazon: For the youngest member of an exuberant extended family, Sunday dinner
at Grannie’s can be full indeed – full of hugs and kisses, full of tasty dishes, full to the brim with happy faces, and full, full, full of love. With a special focus on the bond between little Jay Jay and his grannie, Trish Cooke introduces us to a gregarious family we are sure to want more, more, more of.

11. Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen

From Amazon: Sassy is a long-legged girl who always has something to say. She wants to be a ballerina more than anything, but she worries that her too-large feet, too-long legs, and even her big mouth will keep her from her dream. When a famous director comes to visit her class, Sassy does her best to get his attention with her high jumps and bright leotard. Her first attempts are definitely not appreciated, but with Sassy’s persistence, she just might be able to win him over. Dancing in the Wings is loosely based on actress/choreographer Debbie Allen’s own experiences as a young dancer.

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12. Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

From Amazon: A little girl longs to see beyond the scary sights on the sidewalk and the angry scribbling in the halls of her building. When her teacher writes the word beautiful on the blackboard, the girl decides to look for something beautiful in her neighborhood. Her neighbors tell her about their own beautiful things. Miss Delphine serves her a “beautiful” fried fish sandwich at her diner. At Mr. Lee’s “beautiful” fruit store, he offers her an apple. Old Mr. Sims invites her to touch a smooth stone he always carries. Beautiful means “something that when you have it, your heart is happy,” the girl thinks. Her search for “something beautiful” leaves her feeling much happier. She has experienced the beauty of friendship and the power of hope.

13. I Love My Cotton Candy Hair by Nicole Updegraff

From Amazon: Charlie is a caring, funny and friendly little girl. Like all children she’s beginning to face the struggles that we all go through with finding ourselves and trying to fit in. Follow this series as she learns and grows, and realizes there is nothing better than loving yourself and being happy just the way you are! In the first book of the series, I LOVE My Cotton andy Hair! Charlie rhymes her way into your heart with her perspective on the many goods and bads associated with her naturally curly “cotton candy hair” and finishes by saying “I love my hair and everything that comes with it.” The book is uplifting and fun for all children, but particularly young African American girls who are under a constant barrage of images of what the media identifies as beautiful or “good hair.”

14. I Am Loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children by Faye McCray

From Amazon: “I am” is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language. What follows has the power to send our children on the path to greatness and fulfillment. This book of positive affirmations is designed to be read aloud with your favorite child or young adult. It is a beautiful collection of all that we see and want to see in the children we love.

15. Big Hair, Don’t Care Crystal by Swain-Bates

From Amazon: Lola has really really REALLY big hair, much bigger than the other kids at her school. Despite her hair blocking the view of anyone that dares sit behind her and causing her to lose at hide and seek, she sings the praises of her big hair throughout this rhyming picture book. Designed to boost self-esteem and build confidence, this beautifully illustrated book is perfect for any girl or boy who has ever felt a bit self-conscious about their hair and may need a reminder from time to time that it’s okay to look different from the other kids at their school.

16. Max and The Tag Along Moon by Floyd Cooper

From Amazon: Max loves his grandpa. When they must say good-bye after a visit, Grandpa promises Max that the moon at Grandpa’s house is the same moon that will follow him all the way home. On that swervy-curvy car ride back to his house, Max watches as the moon tags along. But when the sky darkens and the moon disappears behind clouds, he worries that it didn’t follow him home after all. Where did the moon go—and what about Grandpa’s promise?

17. I am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt

From Amazon: If you believe it, you can achieve it! Princess Truly is smart, courageous, and can do anything she sets her mind to do. She can tame lions, race fast cars, fly to the moon, and dance on the stars.

18. When I’m Old With You by Angela Johnson

From Amazon: A small child imagines a future when he will be old with his Grandaddy. . . . The African-American child and grandfather are distinct individuals, yet also universal figures, recognizable to anyone who has ever shared the bond of family love across generations.

19. A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams

From Amazon: How will Gregory find his way back to Dad?Swish-swoosh . . . Gregory draws a lion in the sand. “Don’t go in the water, and don’t leave Sandy,” warns Dad. But the sandy lion grows a tail that gets longer and longer—and soon Gregory is lost on the beach. This wonderful read-aloud book brings to life a summer experience that is all too familiar for young children.

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20. Whose Knees are These? by abari Asim

From Amazon: Takes a loving look at knees from the vantage point of a mother’s lap.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Thank You, President and Mrs. Obama

Reflections

 

I will never forget election night in 2008. Our eldest and then-only son was just over a year old. He was fast asleep as my husband and I watched the results on CNN. We traded fleeting glances as each states results came in. It seemed more and more likely but we were afraid to call it, afraid to acknowledge it. After all, until that day, that moment and what he was about to accomplish seemed impossible.  We could still reach back and feel so much pain; this future was almost too beautiful to even imagine.  Yet.. it did.  He did. We did. The man who ran a campaign based on hope, equality and unity. The man with a stunning, strong and intelligent brown wife and beautiful brown babies. The man with an African name became President of my country. The country my ancestors gave their lives to build.  For which they gave their lives to survive. As a mom, it felt like I had been given the most precious gift. I could cup my beautiful baby’s face in my palms and tell him he could be anything and believe it.  I could believe it. Until that point, I’m not sure I did.

So…

Thank you, President Obama.

Thank you, Michelle.

Thank you, Malia and Sasha.

Thank you  for your hope, your honesty, your dignity and grace. Thank you for being a living and breathing example of all our babies can accomplish without limits or apologies. Thank you for making truth-tellers out of us optimistic mamas. The ones who paint with vivid colors and encourage our children to never stop reaching. Thank you for helping us look into our little ones’ eyes and say with certainty that the future can be bright and the future can be theirs.  Yes we can. Yes we did. Yes we can.

obama-black-boy

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

8 Teachable Facts About Fences Playwright August Wilson

history, Our History

August Wilson was a prolific playwright known for chronicling the 20th Century African American experience. His work resonated with the American public during a time when people were unaccustomed to seeing reflections of African American life in art.  On Christmas Day in 2016, his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Fences was released theatrically to rave reviews.  Here are 8 amazing facts to teach your children about August Wilson and his contribution to our fabulous history.

1. He was biracial.

August Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in 1945 to Daisy Wilson, who was African American, and Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant. His parents divorced when he was a child and his father was reportedly absent from his childhood.  When he was 20 years old, his father died and he adopted the pen name “August Wilson” as a tribute to his mother.

2. He faced racism and adversity at a young age.

When Wilson’s parent’s divorced, Wilson moved out of the Hill District of Pittsburgh to the then-predominately white neighborhood of Hazelwood.  He was the only black student at a Roman Catholic high school.  In 2001, he told The New Yorker, “There was a note on my desk every single day [and] it said, ‘Go home, nigger.'” As a result, he left school at 15 years old and earned his high school diploma by studying on his own at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.  He bought his first typewriter with $20 he earned writing a term paper for one of his sisters.

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.” – August Wilson

3. He was a poet.

In his twenties, Wilson submitted poems to magazines while working odd jobs.  Invigorated by the Black Power Movement, he and a group of fellow poets started a theater workshop and art gallery.  In 1978, Wilson took a job working at the Science Museum of Minnesota. His job was to adapt Native American folk tales into children’s plays. He wrote his first notable play, Jitney in 1979 and earned a fellowship to the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

4. Coined the “Century Cycle,” ten of his plays chronicle the 20th Century African American experience by decade.

With the exception of Ma Rainey, all of the “Century Cycle” plays take place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where Wilson was born.  Wilson once said, “I wanted to place this culture onstage in all its richness and fullness and to demonstrate its ability to sustain us in all areas of human life and endeavor and through profound moments of our history in which the larger society has thought less of us than we have thought of ourselves.”

5. He won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

In 1987, Wilson’s popular play Fences premiered on Broadway starring James Earl Jones.  He won a Tony Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.  At the time, Fences set a record for a non-musical Broadway production by grossing $11 million in a single year! In 1990, Wilson took home another Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson following its premiere on Broadway.

“Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” – August Wilson

6. Fences almost didn’t get made into a motion picture.

In 2016, a film adaptation of Wilson’s play Fences was released directed by Denzel Washington and starring Washington and Viola Davis.  However, it wasn’t the first time an attempt was made to make the film. In 1990, a major Hollywood studio optioned Fences but Wilson caused controversy by insisting on a black director.  Wilson is quoted as saying, “I am not carrying a banner for black directors. I think they should carry their own. I am not trying to get work for black directors. I am trying to get the film of my play made in the best possible way. I declined a white director not on the basis of race but on the basis of culture. White directors are not qualified for the job. The job requires someone who shares the specifics of the culture of black Americans.” He was a vocal opponent of “colorblind casting,” citing as an example that an all-black “Death of a Salesman” was “irrelevant because the play was ‘conceived for white actors as an investigation of the specifics of white culture.'” Some suggested that Wilson’s viewpoints were a form of self-segregation.

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7. He was influenced by a variety of arts and artists.

In an interview in The Paris Review, Wilson called his major influences the “four B’s”: the blues, Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, writer Amiri Baraka and painter Romare Bearden. He is quoted as saying, “From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don’t write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without compromise or sentimentality.” He also listed playwright Ed Bullins and activist and author James Baldwin among his influences.

8. He worked until his death.

Wilson died of liver cancer in October 2005 in Seattle, Washington. His play, Radio Golf, the last of the Century Cycle opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Sources:

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

5 NEW Children’s Books Featuring Characters of Color

books, Inspiration

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz once said, “…if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”  At the time, he was referring to the importance of diversity in art.  More specifically, stories featuring characters of color.  As a parent, it is very important to me that my children see themselves reflected in the stories we read and the shows we watch.  I want them to believe there are no limits to where their lives will take them.  The search isn’t always easy! Here is a list of 5 recently released books featuring main characters of color.

1. Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

From School Library Journal: Ada Marie Twist is an inquisitive African American second grader and a born scientist. She possesses a keen yet peculiar need to question everything she encounters, whether it be a tick-tocking clock, a pointy-stemmed rose, or the hairs in her dad’s nose. Ada’s parents and her teacher, Miss Greer, have their hands full as the child’s science experiments wreak day-to-day havoc.

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2. Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! by Ruth Spiro

From Amazon: Accurate enough to satisfy an expert, yet simple enough for baby, this book explores the basics of flight – from birds, to planes and rockets – and ties it all to baby’s world.

3. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

From Amazon: Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that’s all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn’t mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he’s done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name…a name that is sure to light up the sky.

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4. Leo Can Swim by Anna McQuinn

From Amazon: Leo, Lola’s little brother from Leo Loves Baby Time, is back in a new adventure at the pool. Leo and Daddy go to swim class where they kick, bounce, and dive like little fish. Joining other babies and their caretakers in the pool is a guarantee for unforgettable fun.

5. Max Speed by Stephen Shasken

From Amazon: Max, a tiny speed racer, is off on the adventure of a lifetime in this adorable new picture book that proves all you need for a big adventure is a little imagination. As soon as Max has finished cleaning his room, he’s off racing his super-secret car at incredible speeds, soaring over rivers of lava, sky diving, and swimming with sharks. This picture book is perfect for every young speed racer, careening from one adventure to the next.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

The Complicated History of Martin Luther King Day

Education, Our History

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In 2000, Martin Luther King Day was officially observed in all 50 states for the first time.  It was a long and arduous battle to gain national recognition for the life of the civil rights icon.  If your kids are anything like mine, that is probably hard for them to believe.  The life of Martin Luther King Jr. is practically central to the public school civil rights curriculum. It may seem as though the leader was always universally celebrated and respected.  In actuality, it wasn’t easy to get national recognition for the slain leader.  Here are seven facts to teach your kids about the history of this important day:

1. A bill to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday was first introduced a few months after Dr. King’s death.

In 1968, a few months after Martin Luther King’s assassination, Congressman John Conyers (MI) and Senator Edward Brooke (MA) introduced a bill to make January 15, Dr. King’s birthday, a national holiday.  It didn’t go to the House of Representatives until 1979 and failed to pass by five votes.

2. The petition to support the holiday garnered close to six million signatures.

Shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, the King Memorial Center was founded in Atlanta.  The center launched a campaign to solicit support for a national holiday from the public and along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, garnered millions of signatures in support.  As of 2006, it was considered the largest petition in favor of an issue in U.S. history.

3. Stevie Wonder wrote the song “Happy Birthday” to gain support for the holiday.

In 1980, Stevie Wonder’s released the song “Happy Birthday” to popularize the campaign to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. Lyrics include: “I just never understood/ How a man who died for good/ Could not have a day that would/ Be set aside for his recognition/ Because it should never be/ Just because some cannot see/ The dream as clear as he/ That they should make it become an illusion/ And we all know everything/ That he stood for time will bring/ For in peace our hearts will sing/ Thanks to Martin Luther King…”

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Letter From Birmingham City Jail

4. Senator Jesse Helms led a filibuster against the bill to create MLK Day.

In 1980, the bill passed in Congress but faced opposition in the Senate. Among those opposed to MLK Day were then-House Republican, now Senator John McCain (AZ) and Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East, Republicans from North Carolina.  Helms and East criticized Martin Luther King for opposing the Vietnam War and accused him of being associated with communists.  In October 1983, when the bill once again came before the senate, Senator Helms led a filibuster against the bill.  He submitted a 300 page document alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously called the document a “packet of filth,” threw it on the Senate floor, and stomped on it.  Although President Ronald Reagan initially opposed the bill, he signed the bill into law in 1983. The first official holiday was observed in 1986 by 27 states and the District of Columbia.

5. The NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to California in protest of Arizona’s decision not to recognize the holiday.

Even after the bill passed, many states refused to recognize the holiday. Arizona was among them.  1n 1992, the NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Arizona to California to protest the state’s failure to recognize the holiday. In response to the NFL’s protest and growing opposition, Arizona passed legislation to recognize the holiday.

6. South Carolina was the last state to recognize the holiday.

In 2000, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges signed a bill into law to make MLK Day an official state holiday. Prior to that, citizens could chose between celebrating MLK Day and other holidays celebrating members of the Confederacy.  Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Virginia continue to combine MLK Day with other observances.

7. MLK Day is celebrated around the world.

Japan, Canada, Israel and The Netherlands hold celebrations in honor of Dr. King.

Sources:

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1872501,00.html

http://www.webcitation.org/5vnLjow8L

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

 

I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children

Inspiration, parenting

I remember the moments after my first son was born like it was yesterday.  It was shortly after six in the morning, and I had spent the vast majority of the previous twenty-four hours in an exhausting labor.  Like so many moms I know, I ended up having an emergency cesarean section.  The decision came swiftly and before I knew it, I was laying in a cold and bright operating room with the lower half of my body shielded by a blue curtain. As the doctors worked, I looked up at my husband, my hand woven with his, feeling a mixture of excitement and fear. It took eighteen minutes to hear that sweet sound but when I did my whole world changed. It was my sons cries. A whimper and then a steady whine. They brought him to me swaddled, his full pink lips pressed firmly together and his eyes open wide. The love I felt was instant, immeasurable and all encompassing.  Almost a decade later, I am a mother of three beautiful sons. Each entering the world with just as much of a profound impact on my life.  It has been a joy to witness them as they receive this world, arms and eyes open wide, dwelling in radiant light.  Anyone who has spent time around children knows the light I am talking about.  A young child can embody all that is beautiful about the human experience. Children greet each day with excitement.  They believe in the good in those around them.  They love without condition, and they see endless possibilities for their lives.

As we know, the path to adulthood can be trying.  Pain, grief, disappointment and heartache are inevitable facts of the human experience.  Even the brightest light can dim in the face of negativity.  Our children will inevitably question their worth, beauty and value.  In a perfect world, we would be there for every threat to their humanity.  However, as our children grow into complete human beings, they will venture boldly into this world without us, having experiences we could never predict.  As adults who love them, it is our duty to release them into the world with the ability to protect their own lights.  By affirming all that is good in them, we teach them to combat the inevitable negativity they will face on their path to adulthood.  In so doing, we can instill in our children an unwavering confidence and belief that they can not only guard their own light but spread that same beautiful light throughout the world.

I wrote my latest book I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children to protect and spread that beautiful light. It is available for pre-order now on Kindle and will be available in paperback on February 14, 2017.  I hope you love sharing these beautiful affirmations with your children as much as I do.

I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children will be available February 14, 2017. Pre-order it NOW HERE.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.