5 Ways to Unplug and Spark Your Child’s Creativity

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Recently, I returned to my childhood home and discovered piles and piles of writing journals.  As a kid, I would make almost weekly trips to Barnes and Noble with my mom. In addition to picking out books, I would often venture over to the journal section and take my time selecting the perfect journal. I would know when I saw the perfect one and I couldn’t wait to write in them.  Some journals contained my most personal secrets and others contained story after story. I would wake up some days and just write… and write.. and write – leaping into strange worlds where I wrote characters that felt like old friends.

The thing is, when I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, the world was very different. While we had video games and some computer games, the internet was nothing like it is now. We didn’t have social media, google or even email.  We certainly didn’t have those things available to us on our phones.  In other words, I could lose hours reading or writing because I had little to distract me.  For better or worse, my kids can’t always say the same thing.

As a mom (and writing teacher), it is so important to me that my kids explore their imaginations.  For me, exploring my imagination was a necessary part of my development as a young writer. However, even if you aren’t a writer, every day life often requires you to explore your imagination in the same way. Whether your child is problem solving or navigating homework, life requires unique thought.  I’ve realized in order to spark my kids creativity, I have to actively engage them in activities that will stimulate their minds.  Here are a few tips I’ve found to get those creative juices flowing!

1. Movement

I have three active boys. They are constantly moving: running around the house, doing flips off the couch, or just leaning backwards in their chairs at dinner. When they are feeling stuck on a project or problem, I challenge them to give into their bodies need to move. We have quick dance breaks or when the weather allows, outdoor play to get the blood and oxygen flowing through their bodies.  Did you ever see the movie Garden State? In it, Natalie Portman’s character, Sam, challenges Zach Braff’s character, Andrew, to make a completely original sound or movement. The challenge, at the most base level, feels silly, but in actuality, it’s kind of genius.  It forces you to exist outside the limits of language and movement and challenges you to say or do something you have never done before.  You can’t be vain or self-conscious… just you.  Often right before a creative activity, I have my boys jump, dance or move in a completely original way to gear them up to think in a completely original way.

2. Oral Stories

In today’s fast-paced and plugged in world, silence and stillness can be scary. I constantly fight my impulse to pick up  my phone when waiting on a friend or on a long line.  When my kids are faced with waiting, they immediately want their iPad or phone to ease the discomfort of having to be still in their own bodies and minds.  In order bring them out of their discomfort without disconnecting from the world around them, I challenge them to observe something and tell me a story about it.  For instance, recently, we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  It has the most magnificent floor to ceiling fish tanks that surround you and make you feel like you are living among the fish.  My kids and I started telling stories for the fish and talking for them.  They were trying to escape, we decided, and we plotted a whole mission on how they were going to do it

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3. Debate

If there is one thing that the instant accessibility of the internet has brought us, it is the constant access to issues up for debate. It has made experts out of the every day man and everyone has an opinion. Issues can be polarizing and often grown adults don’t know how disagree amicably.  The thing is, healthy debate is good.  It challenges you to think about why you believe the things you do and don’t believe the things you don’t.  Often, at the dinner table, I purposely raise an age appropriate controversial current event to my children and give them an opportunity to develop an opinion.  I encourage them to articulate how they feel  and find support for their opinions, objectively and subjectively.  Encourage your children to develop opinions, find support for them, and articulate their opinion on things going on around them.  Play devil’s advocate challenging their thought process and encourage them to delve deeper into why they feel the way they do.  While it’s okay to become passionate, encourage you child to disagree respectfully and amicably.  These skills will encourage your children to think creatively and become better people.

4. Imaginative Play

Fiction writing is a lot like acting.  You are forced to inhabit the mind of someone other than yourself which can be an empathy building exercise.  Provide a space to encourage imaginative play like a park or a playground. If have to stay indoors, provide props and toys.  As your children get older, you can encourage them with murder mystery games or other task oriented exercises. Don’t be afraid to be your child’s playmate and engage in imaginative play with them. You are never too old to let your imagination run free!

5. Prompts

I was recently having a conversation with an author friend about the power of prompts in writing.  She was stumped on how to end a story and was giddy with excitement over how a prompt inspired her to go in a direction she wouldn’t have otherwise thought of going.  Sometimes creativity requires inspiration.  Encourage your kids to write by guiding them.  It can be as simple as assigning a task, i.e., write about a pair of shoes, giving them a story starter, i.e., “It was a dark and stormy night” or finding compelling art online and encouraging you child to describe what they see. You can even use music to encourage emotive writing and journaling.  Just a few sentences encourages your child to activate their creative brains! Remember, prompts don’t just involve writing. Load up on paint, pencils, markers and crayons and use art prompts too.  You don’t need to be an artist to make the most of a canvass. The goal is to spark your imagination and have the courage to go where it leads you.

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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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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.

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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 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.

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

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.

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.  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

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.

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.

5 NEW Children’s Books 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.

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.

I am loved! Positive Affirmations For Our Children

By affirming all that is good in our children, 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 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.

Dedan Bruner, President of the DC Chapter of Concerned Black Men, on the Importance of Mentorship

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor. A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.

I had my first mentor when I was 13. My mother was working as a Court Clerk in Queens Supreme Court in New York, and my elementary school was closer to her job than our home. Rather than take the multiple city bus rides it would take to get home, I took a ten minute bus ride to her job each day and waited in the chambers of the Judge she was working with until she got off.  His name was Judge Kenneth Brown. While I’m sure his chambers were worthy of a man of his stature, all I remember was his small television and toaster.  While he was on the bench, I would do my homework, watch television and call my friends on three-way (which was a big deal in the nineties). When he was in between cases, he would pop in and make us raisin toast while we talked about his life and his cases. He told me about having to send a picture in with his law school application and being denied repeatedly based on his race.  He told me about the joy he felt when finally attaining his degree.  He told me about being a single father to his daughter and working nights in the Post Office to pay for law school.  He passed away years ago, and I doubt he would remember much about the skinny girl eating toast in his chambers.  However, the time we spent together made a significant impact on my decision to go to law school and my dream to one day sit on a bench.  The thing is, my mother had been working for the courts my whole life. I had been around lawyers and Judges but never close enough to hear their stories.  Never close enough to envision myself doing the same thing.  I remember thinking if he could achieve his dreams in the face of unimaginable setbacks, so can I. Mentorship can be a subtle influence in that way.  It makes the impossible seem possible just by humanizing your dreams.

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, at-risk young adults are 55% more likely to enroll in college and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions if they have a mentor.  A positive mentoring relationship can be life altering.  Recently, I had the chance to chat with Dedan Bruner, Attorney and President of the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, an organization founded to fill the void of positive black male role models in our communities by providing mentors and programs that affirm psychological, academic and career enrichment.  Mr. Bruner shared some of his experiences mentoring, his thoughts on the importance of mentorship, and how to make the difference in the life of a child.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Pasadena, California. I live in Washington, D.C. and I came to the area to attend Howard University in 1994 and have been here ever since.

Q. What do you do for a living?

I’m an attorney. I work at the D.C. Office of Human Rights where I investigate employment based complaints alleging discrimination and/or harassment.

Q. How would you define mentorship?

The act of assisting others through potential challenges and pitfalls in a given arena.

Q. Why did you decide to become a mentor? 

It’s funny. I’ve always been an advocate of civic service, but I never felt comfortable becoming a mentor. My old excuse was that I didn’t feel like I’d be in D.C. long enough. After living in D.C. for about 15 years, a friend called me on my flawed logic and challenged me to get involved. I’m glad she did.  I started mentoring through a program sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men (CBMDC) named Just Say Yes (JSY). JSY is a group based mentoring program for D.C. area boys aged 9-15.  I started off as a visitor.  A few years later, I stepped into a leadership role as the program chair and ultimately, President of CBMDC. Most importantly, I’m still a mentor.

Q. Did you have mentors growing up? If so, how did those relationships impact you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several mentors along the way, but the experience I recount most was the mentor I had back in middle school.  While I don’t remember the man’s name, I remember that he took me to my first Raiders game (I’m still a fan), and that he gave me a wallet for Christmas. I recall being disappointed when after inspecting it thoroughly, I learned that the wallet was empty. I have to remind myself of that story on the occasions that I may get frustrated that one of the young men I’m working with “doesn’t get it.” I’m proof that sometimes the lessons take a while to sink in.

Only perfect kids need perfect mentors.

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Q. I’ve mentored young women at different phases in my life. Both in college and in law school, I was involved with mentorship programs that had active initiatives to recruit our men and other men of color to mentor because they had difficulty recruiting men of color. I am so excited to hear about Concerned Black Men and other initiatives led by black men. What, if anything, do you think is the deterrent to many of our men becoming mentors?

Great question. We hear [from] a lot [of] guys [that they] need to “get themselves together” before they can expect to help someone else. My response is usually, “only perfect kids need perfect mentors.”  [Also], a lot of guys have said that they don’t have the time to mentor. Many D.C. programs only meet a few times a month (JSY meets twice). While the excuse is common, I try to refrain from refuting it because we make time for those things that we see value in. If someone tells us he doesn’t have the time to mentor, we thank him and keep it moving.

I have also heard “I don’t have anything to offer/teach,” to which I try to impart that a mentor’s job is not to be a teacher, or a coach or even a lead blocker in the game of life. A mentor’s job is just to be there, to assist in working on a problem, not to solve a mentee’s problem. A mentor is a friend who has been a little further down the road [and] is willing to share what they’ve learned.

In all, the greatest deterrent is the potential mentor himself. If he believes he has something of value to offer, he will. Sadly, the converse is true as well.

Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

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Q. How do you become a mentor?

In our program, all mentors attend an interest meeting. At that meeting, we go over the program because we want to make sure that it’s a good fit for the mentor. For most it is, but some find that our program may not work for them. Taking the time to properly set expectations is critical to getting off on a good foot.  Next, mentors fill out an application and get fingerprinted. We do a comprehensive background check. We are not of the belief that those who may have made mistakes in their past are not suited to mentor. However, individuals with a history of domestic violence and/or pedophilia are not a liability I’m willing to take. It may sound harsh, but the safety of the youth we work with is [at] the foundation [of] everything we do.  After the background check comes back, the potential mentor is either approved to mentor or notified that his background check yielded results which make his participation in our program impossible.

Q. What are the qualities of a good mentor?

There is no perfect combination of qualities but some I look for are: 1) flexibility, 2) a good listener, 3) a person who doesn’t see his mentee as a victim or a charity case, 4) person not afraid to laugh at himself, 5) someone who is tolerant of other views and positions, and 5) most importantly, someone who is consistent and dependable.

Q. What would you say to someone hesitant about mentoring?

One of the great things about having a group mentoring program is that we allow visitors. That way, those who may have hesitation can visit a few sessions before deciding if the program is a good fit.  Generally, I’d tell the person to challenge himself. After all, that is what we’re asking the boys to do. On the same token, I ask potential mentors to be honest with themselves. Mentoring sounds good in conversation with others, but if it’s not your thing, find other ways to give back.  Potential mentors need to keep in mind that often those who they’ll be mentoring have been disappointed by the men in their lives. If you cannot commit at least a year, it may not be the right vehicle in which to give back.

Q. What do you do if you feel like your mentor/mentee relationship isn’t a good fit?

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.  If, it is ultimately determined that a fit doesn’t work, we may switch mentors.

New mentoring relationships take time to cultivate. The first several times a mentee may respond with one word answers (their day was fine, their family is fine, and they had fine for dinner).  That’s to be expected. Mentors, especially new mentors, should not be disheartened if it takes a while for a mentee to let you in their circle of trust. Being authentic and consistent are critical during this timeframe.

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Q. What has been your most memorable experience thus far?

It’s not a pleasant story. When I first took over as Program Chair, a mother told me not to tell her son to pull up his pants. We had a polite exchange of ideas.  Her take was that telling him to pull them up just put extra emphasis on it and made it more of an issue and that if unaddressed, he’d eventually get tired of the fad and would pull them up. My position was that her son was someone the younger mentees looked up to and emulated.  I did not want younger boys in our program picking up what we deemed bad habits. [In the end, she] remov[ed] her son from the program. Last year, she reached out to me because her son found himself in serious legal difficulty, and she needed people to write character references on his behalf. All I remember about the young man is the circumstances in which he left the program.

Q. What advice would you give to parents searching for mentors for their children?

I have a few tips:

Get involved. Statics show that youth programs are more successful when they have parent commitment and buy in.

Ask questions, give updates, and feedback. These are your kids, you should know what’s happening with them and you are [in the] best position to help us connect with your kids. If a boy got a part in a school play, hit the game winner, or if his favorite grandparent just passed away, these events can greatly impact a mentee’s mood. Giving us a head’s up helps mentors to better support the mentee.

Respect the mentor/mentee relationship. I tell parents and mentees alike that a mentor is not an extra set of parental ears. It’s not my job to report back. In fact, doing so can undermine the mentor/mentee relationship which should be built on trust and confidence. That said, I make it clear that if there was ever a threat of violence, I would not keep that confident. However, in a few cases where those situations have occurred, what I was able to do was facilitate the mentee sharing the information. That way the mentor/mentee bond is strengthened as well as the communication between parent and child.

I often get moms who say to me “I need a mentor for my son because a woman cannot raise a man.” I was raised by my mother, a grandmother and a gang of aunts so I don’t believe this.  At the same time, it’s not my place to tell parents that they are wrong. What I [ask] in these instances is, what are the top things you want your son to learn? [Does the list include] integrity? Respect? Consideration? Self-Confidence? Good manners?Discipline? None of those characteristics are masculine or feminine. In fact, they’re some of the same things I want for my daughter. These are things that are best modeled at home and supported by the activities your son is involved in. We will do our very best to help in those efforts through programs that explore those and many other values.

Q. Any long term goals or dreams?

In the words of Big Boi, “ I just wanna sit back and watch my little girl blow bubbles.” For each of the last 6 years I’ve said it was my last year so that I can spend more time with my daughter. So far, I haven’t taken that step back. To the contrary, my mentees have met my daughter, and she knows when I’m going to “spend time with the guys.” Most of my mentees are living in single-parent, mom-led households; I think it’s important that they see me taking care of my daughter. Not because I’m good at it, to the contrary, I tell them about my many mishaps. My hope is that it sends a message that being a father [is] the act of rolling up your sleeves and making good on the commitment to the best you can for your child.  Especially in those times [when] you’re scared and have no clue what you’re doing. I’ll step back one day, but as of right now, we’re having too much fun.

For more information about the D.C. Chapter of Concerned Black Men, visit:  www.cbmdc.org, Instagram @cbmdc and Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ConcernedBlackMenDCChapter/. You can also visit the national website at http://cbmnational.org to find a chapter near you.

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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.

Advocating for Women: One Mother’s Path to Becoming a Doula

With c-sections births occurring far more frequently and rising hospital costs, many women are exploring alternative birth options. One option is hiring a doula. I had the opportunity to discuss this option with Briana Green, a Doula and phenomenal mother of two girls who turned her challenging birth experience into an opportunity to advocate for other moms.

The night I gave birth to my first son, the doctor I’d carefully hand-picked was unavailable. I went through 26 hours of non-progressive labor, had an emergency c-section, and spent 5 hours recovering without my son, who had been rushed to NICU… or my husband, who I’d forced to go with him.  I wasn’t the kind of mom who had a detailed birth plan. However, what I experienced certainly was not what I had envisioned.  Every thing turned out fine but for a long time, I couldn’t talk about the experience without growing emotional.  At the time, there was so much about my experience I didn’t understand.  I was given medications I didn’t have the opportunity to research and had major surgery without really understanding the lifelong consequences.  Although my second birth experience was far less traumatic, it’s still hard to look back on my first without wishing I had made different choices.

As I near the end of my third pregnancy, I consider myself far more informed.  In addition, I have gained a healthy respect for my first birth experience and the time it took to move past it.  Often described as Birth Trauma or Postpartum PTSD, some women suffer from a painful psychological toll following a traumatic birth experience.  With c-section births occurring far more frequently, particularly in our community, and rising hospital costs, many women are exploring alternative birth options.  One option is hiring a doula.  I had the opportunity to discuss this option with Briana Green, a Doula and phenomenal mother of two girls who turned her challenging birth experience into an opportunity to advocate for other moms.

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Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live? How would people who know you describe you?

I am a lawyer by trade and have also worked in real estate. I am a mom of two beautiful girls ages 10 and 4. I am from and currently live in Prince George’s County, MD. People usually describe me as a very laid back person and loyal friend. I am a bit of a straight shooter, too.

Q. What is a doula?

A doula can be described as a support person for women during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the immediate postpartum period. Doulas are not medical providers; however, due to the nature of our business, we do have knowledge of the medical processes taking place during labor and delivery. Doulas are primarily women although I have heard of a few men in the field. We provide education prenatally, arming expectant moms and their partners and in some cases families with information about the labor and delivery process, breastfeeding, newborn care and hospital procedures. This allows our clients to make the best choices for themselves during their pregnancies and ultimately during labor and delivery and the care of their new baby. We help mothers draft detailed plans for their birth and help them implement the plan as much as possible during their labor and delivery.

“The goal of a doula is to empower mothers so that they may make the choices they deem best for them and be active participants in their birth experiences. Doulas help moms learn to advocate for themselves with their care providers.”

The goal of a doula is to empower mothers so that they may make the choices they deem best for them and be active participants in their birth experiences. Doulas help moms learn to advocate for themselves with their care providers. During labor and delivery we may ask questions or be a sounding board for the mother and her family as they face any given choice. We also provide physical support for moms in labor, helping them manage their contractions by utilizing techniques such as massage, counter pressure, acupressure, and the application of heat and/or cold. Doulas are trained in techniques which in some cases can speed or optimize labor by encouraging optimal fetal positioning. Some doulas specialize in postpartum care working more intensively with moms after delivery as they adjust to having a new baby at home. They provide support in the home with meal preparation, newborn care, and breastfeeding support.

Q. How long have you been a doula?

I have been a doula for almost two years.

Q. Why did you decide to become a doula? How did your previous experience lead you to becoming a doula?

After the birth of my first daughter, I was disappointed in my labor and delivery experience. I was in law school at the time and did as much research as I could.  However, I couldn’t devote as much time to it as I would have liked. I made some choices during that labor that resulted from me not being fully informed on their consequences. The result of which left me with an unsatisfying experience. With my second pregnancy and labor, I was much more informed and made what I consider better choices. However, upon reaching the hospital very near delivery, things fell apart. I needed someone there who was knowledgeable and able to help me advocate for myself as I was in no condition to do it alone. Having another informed voice there making suggestions or asking questions would have made a world of difference.

As a result of my birth experiences, I had a desire to be a support for other mothers to help them have the experiences they desire. I studied all things birth in my spare time. I was a resource for my pregnant and breastfeeding friends. Eventually, I took the plunge and decided to get certified as a birth and postpartum doula. I strongly believe that if a mother feels her voice was heard and she made the choices that were best for her along the way, she will consider it a positive experience even if things don’t go as planned. That is what was missing from my own birth experiences and it is what I wanted to help provide for other mothers.

 “I strongly believe that if a mother feels her voice was heard, and she made the choices that were best for her along the way, she will consider it a positive experience even if things don’t go as planned. That is what was missing from my own birth experiences and it is what I wanted to help provide for other mothers.”

Q. How did you prepare? How much time did it take?  

I took my training with a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC. My training included 14 weeks of classroom education, covering the physiologic and psychological processes of birth, holistic birth, hospital procedures, comfort measures, encouraging optimal fetal positioning, breastfeeding support, childbirth education, postpartum support, newborn care and much more. The training was very intensive. We also were assigned a mentor within the organization with whom we would attend our first births so we could get the hands on experience with an experienced birth worker supporting us along the way. Upon completion, I was provisionally certified as a birth and postpartum doula, child birth educator, as well as a lactation coach. There was a lot of follow up work to be done to gain full certification which included an extensive reading list as well as a requirement to provide birth support, postpartum support and breastfeeding support to a certain number of mothers.

Most programs are not this intensive. They generally include a shorter classroom period, which is generally an extended seminar over several days. The students receive the core information in supporting mothers in labor and postpartum. Students are then required to do additional study on their own, such as taking child birth courses and of course attending their required births, before receiving full certification. The prices for doula trainings range from on average $300-1000 depending on how much follow up education is needed for full certification from your certifying agency.

Q. I am currently eight months pregnant with my third son.  I am planning on a repeat c-section but am open to a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section (VBAC) if I labor.  Because of my past experience, I would feel safest in an environment where I am closely monitored by physicians and a surgical team. When I think of a doula, I think of a child birth experience free of excessive medical intervention.  Is that accurate? Who would be a good candidate for a doula?

Doulas assist mothers in all types of births. Doulas are not just reserved for intervention free births, home births or birth center births. I have supported moms with planned c-sections, emergency c-sections, inductions, multiples, high risk moms and/or babies, epidurals, breech babies, VBAC, fetal loss, the list goes on. You name it, I have probably seen it. A doula is equipped to support moms in any type of birth experience, planned or otherwise.  If a doula is experienced they are very skilled and familiar with working with hospital personnel to ensure that a mother has a safe and satisfying experience, even in high risk birthing scenarios that require medical intervention. If you ask me, everyone is a good candidate for a doula!

Q. How would I find a doula?

Many doulas work with agencies which you can find listed online. There are also online databases that list doulas and the services they provide. Another good way to find a doula is to speak with your care provider. Many OB/GYNs and midwives have contact information from doulas with which they have worked before or with which they have met in the office that they will pass along to you if asked.

“This is a very intimate relationship and your doula should be someone with whom you are comfortable and someone you trust.”

Q. What is the average cost?

The cost for a doula varies greatly depending on geographical location. The range is from approximately $500 – $2000. Each doula will vary in what this price includes, but generally you can expect to receive at least 2 prenatal visits, continuous labor support starting at active labor, 1-2 postpartum visits and phone support.

Q. What are factors an expectant mom should consider in finding the right doula?

Moms should look for a doula who feels like a good fit personally for them. Feel free to interview more than one doula if the first one interviewed doesn’t feel like the best fit for you. This is a very intimate relationship and your doula should be someone with whom you are comfortable and someone you trust. Other factors to consider are the doula’s experience, particularly if you have a high risk pregnancy, you would want someone who is familiar with your specific needs. A doula’s philosophy is important to consider as well. For example, if you are a mom who is most comfortable with a medically centered birth you may not want a doula whose preference is for intervention free deliveries. You can find out a lot about a doula’s philosophy during an initial consultation.

Q. What has been your most memorable experience thus far?

I have had a lot of memorable experiences. I guess I will share my most recent memorable experience. Recently one of my clients delivered her 7th child in the car in front of the hospital! We couldn’t get her into the hospital. Her husband ended up catching the baby. Hospital staff came running out after everything was over. That was an interesting one and a first for me.

“Your birth plan should take into account that some things may not go as planned, and there should always be a Plan B. Go over your birth plan with your provider so that you can be certain that you are on the same page and none of your desires will contradict any hospital or birth center policies. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself.”

Q. Any advice for expectant moms in developing their birth plan?

When developing a birth plan, I suggest that you get as much education as possible beforehand. Study the pros and cons of each choice so you can create an informed birth plan. At the same time, it is very important to be flexible. Understand that even the most well laid plan can go to pot in labor and delivery. That is why it is important to be well informed. Your birth plan should take into account that some things may not go as planned and there should always be a Plan B. Go over your birth plan with your provider so that you can be certain that you are on the same page and none of your desires will contradict any hospital or birth center policies. Do not be afraid to advocate for yourself. Sometimes your desires may not be what is typically asked of your provider, and they may say it is not possible to accommodate. However, sometimes with a little creativity you can find a way to come up with a plan that is agreeable to you both.

For more information on Briana Green and her amazing services, visit: www.sacredcirclebirths.com.

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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 Affirmations for Expectant Mothers

There are so many beautiful things about pregnancy. Your child will never be closer to you and that fact can bring you peace. However, it’s easy to get lost in worry and “what ifs” if you allow yourself to give in to all that can go wrong. Here are twenty affirmations to repeat if you find yourself overwhelmed with doubt.

There are so many beautiful things about pregnancy. Your child will never be closer to you and that fact can bring you peace. However, it’s easy to get lost in worry and “what ifs” if you allow yourself to give in to all that can go wrong. Here are twenty affirmations to repeat if you find yourself overwhelmed with doubt.

Dads, feel free to say them with your partners.

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  1. I am beautiful

  2. I am safe.

  3. I am protected.

  4. I am strong.

  5. I am worthy.

  6. I am intuitive.

  7. I am able.

  8. I am growing.

  9. I am confident.

  10. I am vulnerable.

  11. I am grateful.

  12. I am happy.

  13. I am healthy.

  14. I am powerful.

  15. I am peaceful.

  16. I am rested.

  17. I am responsible.

  18. I am hydrated.

  19. I am capable of love.

  20. I am loved.

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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.

Army of Motherhood: One Mom’s Journey Navigating Autism with Love and Resilience

Recently, I had a candid conversation with a dear friend, phenomenal woman and mother of two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Lola Dada-Olley. Mrs. Olley, an attorney and journalist, shared her experience recognizing the signs, getting treatment and emotionally coping with the diagnosis.

When my husband and I first moved into our suburban community in the D.C. Metro Area, I was taken with the hypervigilance of parents and teachers in my community.  Even in preschool, it seemed like every parent I knew had a child in occupational therapy, physical therapy or some form of early behavioral intervention to ensure their children were keeping up with their peers. Initially, I found it comical.  I assumed the vigilance was due to societal pressure to raise competitive, Type A children.  I wasn’t interested in placing that level of pressure on my children.  However, I realized my attitude, for better or worse, was a product of my environment. As a child raised in the inner city, I didn’t really know anyone who suffered from a developmental disorder growing up.  I knew “weird” kids or “quiet” kids, and I never met a “weird” kid who wasn’t expected to eventually “grow out of it.”  As I have gotten older and my experience has diversified, I realize how dangerous that attitude can be to addressing mental illness or any developmental deficits in our children, particularly as it pertains to autism.

According to the Autism Society, “Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability, typically appearing during childhood and affecting a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.” While, autism affects children of every race, our communities have disproportionate rates of misdiagnosis and late diagnosis.  While everything from lack of access to medical care to community stigma may be the blame, it is clear we must make a change to improve the outcomes in prognosis for our children.

Recently, I had a candid conversation with a dear friend, phenomenal woman and mother of two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Lola Dada-Olley.  Mrs. Olley, an attorney and journalist, shared her experience recognizing the signs, getting treatment and emotionally coping with the diagnosis.

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Q. Tell me a little about your family.

I have a five year old son and a three year old daughter in Kindergarten and Pre-K.

Q. When did you first realize something was wrong?

Maybe it was because he was my first baby, but I was very in tune with my son. He was super energetic and met his milestones for the most part.  Around eighteen months, he was a little bit delayed verbally but he caught up.  When he was about two and a half, we had a major life change that unearthed everything.  We sold our house in Illinois and moved to Wisconsin.  Literally around August 1, he was talking, answering questions, and he was bubbly.  By the end of that month, something had drastically changed. The same questions you would ask before would get a  blank stare or a stark one-word answer. He was very advanced in some areas before we left, he was learning English, Spanish and Portugeuse.  What I have since learned from my little bubble of moms, is parts of an autistic child’s brain are often highly advanced before the onset of the autistic symptoms. My son has hyperlexia which is the opposite of dyslexia. There are some parts of his brain that are highly advanced, there are other parts that need support.

Q. For your son, it seems like the impetus was that big life change: the move. Is that typical?

Our son had a serious need for routine so it helped us see the change more. It would have masked itself in another situation.  I first started seeing little things when I was pregnant with my daughter.  His eye contact started changing but verbally, it didn’t change until the move.

“You are suddenly drafted into an army that’s different from other parents.  Most of us enlist into the army of motherhood. Then there is a special unit you get drafted into that requires you to be even more hypervigilent than the “conventional” mom because your child needs extra support.”

Q. What steps did you take once you realized something was wrong?

I suspected it could be autism because I have a baby brother with autism.  Now, they have support groups for siblings of kids with special needs.  When I was growing up, I became like a second mom. I would do research on autism thinking it was for my brother, but it was really for my son that was coming.  All the research I had done was on something called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. I looked into ABA therapy in Wisconsin.  What I didn’t know when I started my search is that Wisconsin has the best autism treatment in the United States because it is home to both a research center and treatment center rolled into one in a place called the Waisman Center.  It was a like a triage for parents.  You are suddenly  drafted into an army thats different from other parents.  Most of us enlist into the army of motherhood. Then there is a special unit you get drafted into that requires you to be even more hypervigilent than the “conventional” mom because your child needs extra support.  There was a six month waiting list at the Waisman Center.  We were only planning on being in Wisconsin for two years because of my husband’s MBA program. I had done enough research to know that the ages between 0 and 5 were crucial for early childhood and the longer we waited, the less favorable the outcome.  A social worker recommended a private facility and as luck would have it, they had an opening in two weeks.

The psychologist, who is a sweetheart, I still talk to him today, told us: “It has been confirmed that your son is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This could just be a phase or it could be a lifelong battle. We don’t know yet because he is just two and a half. We do know your son is incredibly bright and gregarious and very compassionate and loving so we know he will be a delight to work with.”  I cried, they gave me the kleenex and all that good stuff. I realized then that my brother was my greatest teacher.  But for my brother, my son would have been languishing before I realized what was wrong.

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Q. Once you got the diagnosis, what was next?

My son was diagnosed in the fall and by January, he had a team of in-home therapists set up.  He was in therapy eight hours a day and six days a week. We did a half a day on Saturday and took Sundays off to go to church and rest as a family.   Our in-home team consisted of 4 line therapists (the “in the trenches” therapists who would execute our son’s treatment plan), their supervisor, regional supervisors, a board certified behavioral analyst (in Wisconsin, this was a PhD), a pediatrician and developmental pediatrician.  Six months in, he also had a speech and occupational therapist. We had a big team.  Also, every week, a senior therapist would come to our house with the team to discuss what worked and what did not.   People were constantly coming in and out of our house. Fortunately, our insurance covered forty hours of ABA.  Research suggests that thirty hours and over yields the best outcome for kids on the spectrum.

Q. That sounds intense. How did you handle having all those people in your home? 

When my son started therapy, I was still nursing my daughter who was under a year old. You have to be vulnerable when you get a diagnosis like this, the last thing you want to do is go into denial because you are hurting your child.  The sooner they can get support, the better off their lives will be. I immediately went into a mindset of, I no longer look at my kids as five year olds and three year olds.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about a sixteen and eighteen year old version of what my babies will look like. I am very well aware that the clock is ticking.

Q. What role did you play in your son’s treatment?

You hear stories about parents and you don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but you need to be very involved.  It’s a fine line. We would be in the room.  In the sit downs, we would add on what we saw outside of the therapy room. We stayed in constant contact. When someone is constantly in your house, you are always talking about your kids.   Once he got used to the therapy, we would let them do their thing. We had to realize social skills involve other people, not just Mom and Dad.  Our son called his therapists his “big friends.”

“You have to be vulnerable when you get a diagnosis like this, the last thing you want to do is go into denial because you are hurting your child.  The sooner they can get support, the better off their lives will be. I immediately went into a mindset of, I no longer look at my kids as five year olds and three year olds.  There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about a sixteen and eighteen year old version of what my babies will look like. I am very well aware that the clock is ticking.”

Q. Your daughter was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Was her path to diagnosis similar to your son’s diagnosis?

A month into therapy, our son started showing progress which was a big blessing. However, our daughter started pulling her hair out of her head.  We took her to the pediatrician and determined at thirteen months old, she had severe allergies. She was allergic to dairy, eggs, fish, nuts, dogs, cats, summer grass and spring trees. I threw all my breast milk out and stopped eating everything.  That cleared up.  However, her speech was delayed around that time. She had about two or three words and stuck there.  I asked our pediatrician to test her for Autism. However, they don’t test until eighteen months.  So, I called in our state’s Early Childhood Intervention team (every state has one).  Once a week, a therapist would come in and work with her.  As soon as she hit the eighteen month mark, we took her in for an evaluation and she was diagnosed with Autism.  Autism typically impacts boys more than girls. However, when it comes in girls, it could be more severe.  That has so far been the case.

Q. In terms of progress, where are they now?

Our son is doing so well that he will no longer need traditional ABA by the end of the year. He has mastered all the goals. He is in traditional school and doing well.  He is getting along with his peers and socially, he is at the age he needs to be.  He goes to a social skills group a couple of days a week at a clinical center. He is one of those kids you call an early intervention success story.  When the chief therapist told us she thought we could discharge him, she said she never discharged a child before.  We both teared up. We will always have to be vigilant.  The preteen years and adolescence is another hard time. It’s hard for a neurotypical kid; but, its particularly hard for a child who has difficulty with social skills.

Our daughter is three and a half now and non-verbal.  She has been in ABA therapy since twenty months old.  We saw progress. Then, we moved to Texas and had to wait three months for services and she regressed. She is still in the trenches.  However, she has an amazing special education teacher that is dedicated and she is beginning to learn sign language.

Being able to communicate with your child is something people take for granted. Every time my son talks I think, “Thank you, God.”

Q. Is your daughter in the same type of rigorous therapy that your son was in? How do you know which treatment style is best for your child?

She is in a clinical setting.  There are two types of therapy.  It depends on your child.  Some parents go in home first to focus on life skills such as putting on shoes and clothing.   A clinical setting is like a day care setting.  Your child is around other children.  My daughter is at a center with other kids with special needs.  There is a team of  Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) that overlook the treatment schedule for 5 days a week.  My daughter spends the first part of the day in an early childhood school which is a pre-K for kids with special needs and then moves to her center.

Q. Parenting is tough in general. However, dealing with this diagnosis twice must have been difficult.  What emotional obstacles did you face? 

I’ve learned to be a lot more mindful of the blessings in the moment.  We don’t have the same lives as other people.  We pray. It’s hard.  We get down and we get scared.  We are human, but you have to just keep moving. If you work more on the front end, you won’t have to work as much on the tail end.

“Being able to communicate with your child is something people take for granted. Every time my son talks I think, ‘Thank you, God.'”

Q. How important is a strong support system?

People say the divorce rate among parents of special needs children is higher.  That’s debated. We have great support.  Our church has a respite night every other month that cares for kids with special needs and their siblings to give parents 3-4 hours for a date night. Our city in Texas also has a respite night.  You can’t just have any babysitter. You need a babysitter that understands your needs.

I don’t know how else to say it but God has sent us people that have come to support us. I met a woman in Wisconsin who did not have a special needs child but was persistent in getting our children together for regular playdates each week for over a year.   One of my son’s first sentences were at her house.  After we moved to Texas, one of our therapists in Wisconsin just happened to move here, too.  She offered to babysit anytime we needed.

Q. Any tips on finding resources?

Look up where nearest chapters of local support groups with the Autism Society of AmericaAutism Speaks has an amazing resource guide broken down by age group, early intervention, etc.  Call up your local ABA therapy center or find a pediatrician who specializes in autism and talk through your concerns. Find a pediatrician that understands the journey. Remember: persistence, persistence, persistence.  Not all states are created equal when it comes to autism treatment.

I’ve also met some people whose health care coverage doesn’t cover autism therapy at all and they have had to buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Exchange (which is something we have done) or supplement it in some ways.  If you have the means, make sure to get ABA therapy included in some way. Research, research, research.  Even if you aren’t naturally a good researcher, consult the Google. If you work on this early, there will be some strides made.

“This is not your fault. There is nothing you did in pregnancy to your baby, when you nursed, or didn’t nurse. This is not your fault, but you now have the responsibility to make sure you child is the best version of themselves. That is your assignment.”

Q. What advice would you give to a parent just staring this journey?

This is not your fault. This is not your fault. There is nothing you did in pregnancy to your baby, when you nursed or didn’t nurse. This is not your fault, but you now have the responsibility to make sure you child is the best version of themselves. That is your assignment.

Below is a TED Talk from Temple Grandin. Temple was diagnosed with autism in her 40s and is a professor and world renowned spokesperson on autism.

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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.

Living History: Meet Gangster Gardener and Activist Ron Finley

Ron Finley is a man making a difference in South Central, Los Angeles by gardening in his community and promoting healthy eating. His quest to promote community gardening started in 2010 and has garnered him worldwide attention. Here are a few facts about him.

Ron Finley is a man making a difference in South Central, Los Angeles by gardening in his community and promoting healthy eating.  His quest to promote community gardening started in 2010 and has garnered him worldwide attention.  Here are a few facts about him:

1. He fought City Hall… and won.

Finley’s quest began because he couldn’t buy anything healthy in his neighborhood.  He grew up in South Central, L.A. as one of eight children, and knew that there were no health food stores or grocery stores with fresh produce anywhere near his home.  He had to drive 45 minutes away to reach a Whole Foods.  So he decided he would plant vegetables in a strip of dirt by his curb.  After a few months he had succulent carrots, bananas, tangerines and mustard greens.  He also had the attention of city officials who gave him a citation for gardening without a permit. The city owned the “median,” which was the neglected dirt strip that was the approximately 150 x 10 foot area Finley started planting his garden.  Finley worked with other local leaders to file a petition in opposition to the city’s actions.  This garnered media attention, a local filmmaker made a short video about his fight, and the city rescinded the citation and allowed the gardening to continue.

median-gardens

2. He believes gardening is gangster.

Finley believes that community building through planting your own food, sharing it with your neighbors, and improving your surrounding area is an authentic way to be “gangster.” In 2010, he started teaching his neighbors how to plant gardens in their own medians in front of their homes.  Now, he teaches people from all over the world how to plant and make their own vibrant vegetation spaces.  His goal is to redefine what it means to be a “gangster” so it includes being informed about nutrition and gardening.

“I’m an artist. Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art. Just like a graffiti artist, where they beautify walls, me, I beautify lawns, parkways. I use the garden, the soil, like it’s a piece of cloth, and the plants and the trees, that’s my embellishment for that cloth. You’d be surprised what the soil could do if you let it be your canvas. You just couldn’t imagine how amazing a sunflower is and how it affects people.”

3. He helped start a non-profit dedicated to community gardening.

In 2010, Finley, Florence Nishida, and Vanessa Voblis started an organization called Los Angeles Green Grounds that is dedicated to bringing volunteers together with residents of South Central to change their front lawns into vibrant gardens.  To accomplish this, residents host a “dig in” where the community and volunteers come together to shovel, plant, water, and build gardens.  The organization works closely with residents through growing seasons and continually educates folks about sustainability practices.

Finley eventually  moved on from LA Green Grounds to start the Ron Finley Project where he uses his home garden as an example of how to create a growing  and healthy vegetation space by using vacant lots, parkways, and other “throw away” items like old shopping carts.  His goal is to change the face of urban communities into vibrant food forests  where residents eat what they plant and become healthier by eating natural food instead of the processed food that surrounds their communities.

“I live in a food desert, South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-thru and the drive-by. Funny thing is, the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

4. His TED talk has nearly 3 million views.

In February 2013, Finley gave an 11 minute TED talk on his life changing work that was impassioned, funny, and extremely well received.  His TED talk generated massive attention for his cause.  He appeared on several talk shows, including Russell Brand’s late night show, and received collaboration offers from notable corporations.  Despite this attention, Finley stays focused on pointing out that a community-driven gardening program is a way to dramatically reduce obesity among adults and children, gang violence and poverty.

5. He believes lack of access to healthy food in low-income communities is intentional.

Finley believes low income communities are drastically underserved in having access to quality, natural food.  He calls urban communities food prisons because the residents have to escape them to find any healthy food.  Local convenience stores are stocked with unhealthy processed food, and you can find many more dialyses centers than grocery stores with fresh produce in them.  He points out that fast food is often the only food available within urban communities.

By teaching sustainable community gardening, Finley believes you empower community members to fight back.  Through growing their own food, these communities have locally grown produce they can consume for personal use or sell for economic gain.  Children will get exercise by gardening and the quality of their diets increase from eating food that they have grown.  Finley relates the struggle to change the health outcomes for our community to the struggles of the Black Lives Matter Movement.  He feels that urban communities are under siege from food companies, and the way to fight back is by growing your own food.  Finley believes gangster gardening is a way to free our communities.

Information attained from:

Ron Finley Project, ronfinley.com

Kristin Wartman, “Why Food Belongs in Our Discussions of Race”, Civil Eats, http://civileats.com/2015/09/03/why-food-belongs-in-our-discussions-of-race/, published on September 3, 2015

David Hochman, “Urban Gardening: An Appleseed With Attitude”, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/fashion/urban-gardening-an-appleseed-with-attitude.html?_r=0, published online on May 3, 2013

Los Angeles Green Grounds, http://www.lagreengrounds.org/

Andy Simmons, “Meet the Gangsta Gardener”, Reader’s Digest, http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/ron-finley-gangsta-gardener/

TED, Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA, https://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la, filmed February 2013

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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.