The Case for Certificates of Participation

This past weekend I watched the popular news magazine show CBS Sunday Morning. The broadcast featured a segment about Millennials and our concerning approach to the workplace.

Image Source: TheDrum.com
Image Source: TheDrum.com

The piece argues that Millennials (aka Gen Y), unlike our Baby Boomer parents, feel entitled to constant recognition as a result of things like participation certificates often given out to elementary school students. Many talking heads have complained about the fact that every little league baseball player gets an award “just for showing up.” There is a concern that this practice teaches young people that it does not matter how hard they work because everyone will be rewarded and equally so.

While I do not protest that there are probably some young adults out there who do feel as though the fact that they arrived at work today relatively on time and in an unwrinkled shirt warrants recognition, this cannot possibly represent all persons between the ages of 18 and 34. And frankly, I do not believe brightly colored participation certificates are to blame for this self-important attitude.

Life is hard. Even on kids. We are all constantly compared to one another and forced to compete. When someone tells us “you know what – you tried, and we appreciate that,” it may not cause us to excel in any particular avenue, but it keeps us from giving up. If we, as a society, allow messages of inferiority in school, on television, and over social media to continuously stream into the consciousness of our future leaders, what type of climate are we really creating?

Everyone cannot be first. Someone must come in last. These are facts. But what happens to everyone who falls right in the middle? What if we encouraged our little learners and average athletes with a spirit of positivity and some encouraging words, letting them know that just because they aren’t the fastest or do not fit into a specific mode of acceptable attractiveness, that does not mean they are worthless.
A far less competitive environment for students during their formative years — pre-school through fifth or sixth grade (depending on the district) — creates a safe space for children to gain a true grasp of the material. Only once students are confident in their own personal abilities is it appropriate to introduce the concept of competition. The fear of failure or ridicule inhibits learning and that is how we raise a generation of insecure adults with a need for constant validation.
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Snakes in the Field, Bullets in the Sky

As a child I had a complicated relationship with snakes. I lived indoors, snakes lived outdoors. I loved being outdoors, but I did not love snakes. As is life, one cannot survive indoors alone. As I often frolicked in the fields of green dewy grasses in the super suburbs of Seattle, I occasionally encountered a snake or two. They were usually harmless and nonvenomous; despite this fact, their very presence struck a fear deep within me and caused me to run as fast as my child-sized little legs could carry me.

Over time, each unexpected encounter with these snakes rendered me home-bound for a day or so, for fear of running into them again. I do not know if it was the fear of having the life constricted out of me by a boa or if I simply did not like the way they look, but the phobia of snakes had an unfortunate mental hold over me and stole many opportunities for me to bask in the sun that beams on the dewy fields of the super suburbs of Seattle.

Threadsnake
Barbados Threadsnake

Imagine my delight when I found out that Barbados has only one species of snake – the Threadsnake , its size diminutive enough to coil upon a quarter. I am free to once again stroll our yard shoeless, unafraid of what serpent may be lurking under a bush or behind a tree. I never knew how much I missed such a simple liberty until relocating to this tropical island just two short months ago.


Just one month and one day before my family and I left for Barbados, a white man entered the historic black church, Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Parishioners were engaged in weekly Wednesday night bible study and welcomed the presence of this stranger in the sanctuary. Despite the outpouring of Christian love given this individual, he opened fire, killing nine people, injuring one. Forever changing countless lives.

This mass murder was just the latest occurrence of race-related violence against African Americans. Though the initial narrative began centuries ago, the story remains the same as black lives in America hang in the balance as the result of both cultural and systemic racism. More recent displays of racially motivated aggression pit some members of law enforcement or rogue racists against black males as police brutality is highlighted daily on the evening news.

College graduates pulled over for minor traffic violations and pastors attempting to deliver messages of peace and forgiveness have all fallen victim to the ills of the American racial climate. In particular, black boys and men are targeted every day as a result of the centuries old prejudices and preconceived ideas of the implications of blackness. Inasmuch as America views blacks as talented and entertaining, messages from relatives and the media alike teach many non-blacks that dark skin and coarse hair envelope a character that is to be both feared and guarded against. These brown hued beings are not to be trusted in your communities or your workplaces, with your women or your children. It is your duty, white male, to shield this fair land of yours. By any means necessary.

The end result of such widespread, if at times subtle, paranoia is that black women and children pray daily for the safe return of their black husbands and fathers for a hard day’s work. The coming-of-age of young black boys is not marked by celebration but by fear, as daddies equip their sons with all the skills they need to avoid arrest and/or death in the likely event that they are pulled over for speeding (as many teenage boys are) or an illegal lane change (as many new drivers are). Parents hold their breath for four years as their children venture off to pursue higher education in a small college town in the deep south, wondering when they will receive a call late one night that their baby was beaten to death because they were walking home alone at night while black. Black families across America arise on Sunday mornings and prepare to worship a loving God who promises to care for and protect them, praying throughout the service that they will not meet their Maker on this day.


Confederate Battle Flag
Confederate Battle Flag

When I was about 10 years old, my mother and I were walking home from an afternoon of biking riding. As I coasted down a slight incline, the wind in my face and the sun on my back, my mother just a few yards behind me on foot, my perfect afternoon turned into a dark day I will not soon forget. A red pickup truck baring the Confederate battle flag sped past us in our middle/upper-middle class neighborhood in the super suburbs of Seattle. Two white men sat leisurely in the bed of the truck, an unknown number of passengers in the cab.

NIGGER!

Stunned, I dismounted my bicycle and began to walk along side it, my hands shaking on the handle bars. My mother gently, yet urgently told me to stop. I dropped the bike and ran desperately into my mother’s warm embrace. As hot tears flowed thickly from my innocent eyes, I could only think to repeatedly ask my mother why?

This word was not foreign to me. Classmates had even called me the N-word in kindergarten. But this time was different. This was more real, more raw. Perhaps it is because my father was not at home at the time so we felt more vulnerable. Maybe it was because this particular imagery was only supposed to exist in the black and white footage of the PBS documentaries featured during the month of February. Whatever the reason, I was pained to my core and still have flashbacks to that incident, over twenty years later.

The verbal assault I encountered on that blustery spring day, in the super suburbs of Seattle, was not my first experience with racism, nor would it be my last. Whether a direct victim of racial injustice or a witness to its devastating effects on my family and my cultural community, race and racism has always played an integral part in my existence. Denial or avoidance are a futile non-options. Pickup trucks yielding the Confederate flag still render in me a reaction of fear and a feeling of vulnerability. When I am either followed or ignored by store clerks at a local retailer, my heart is heavy under the unwarranted spotlight of suspicion or irrelevance. When my father returns home for literally the 40th time to report that the had been pulled over by a police officer — without receiving a ticket — I exhale in a deep sigh of relief, knowing that my daddy survived a potentially deadly ordeal.

So imagine my delight when we arrive in the Caribbean to discover that its black citizens walk the streets with an admirable freedom from care. Children walk to the bus stop at dawn, couples walk along the beach at sunset, and young men walk to the homes of their friends on Friday nights. All are unafraid that the melanin in their skin might cause them not to return to their homes and loved ones. I now have the mental liberty to walk to the local coffeehouse with less fear of who lurks inside utility vehicles or beneath white, hooded robes.


The absence of large, venomous snakes caused me to realize the freedom I was missing in the United States, where snakes are far more prevalent and potentially harmful. I know enjoy enjoy the fairly snake-free life I now leading in Barbados. Having resided in Barbados for only a short while, but the absence of the ever-present fear of danger following me and my loved ones is also enlightening. Only now when I watch local coverage of United States news, do I fully realize that the state of race relations in America is truly unfathomable. There is nothing normal about living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty as the result of a handful of people’s tragic ideas about your God-given features.

Does racism exist in Barbados? Certainly. Does this racism have a daily effect on the lives of black people in Barbados? Undoubtedly. Does one’s race in and of itself serve as a catalyst for unsolicited violent encounters? No, it does not.

I do not know how long I will remain in the Caribbean, but it is my hope that if I do not to a freer, safer United States, that I would at least be able to positively contribute to the continual discussion on race in America. I want my presence in a country whose freedoms I certainly enjoy and value to be an impactful one. I wish to use my own personal, diverse relationships as an example of racial harmony and progress. I want to reach out to those who are victims of the cycle of racial inequality and encourage them never to give up. I want to appeal to whites and other allies in law enforcement, legislation, and education, to be vocal about the injustices all marginalized persons experience. I want to take the rebellious spirit of pride and renewal of the Barbadian people along for the cultural Revolution.

One Direction

Street Signs

The common understanding of the concept of friendship is that it should be completely reciprocal. Favors should be give and take, tit-for-tat. Each party should be able to carry their own weight.

I would like to challenge this age-old idea by saying that friendship is not a two-way street. It is a one-way street, up hill, around many blind corners. We want our friendships to resemble smooth coasts down gradual declines lined by dewy meadows. We hope our role is simply to glide along, unhindered and unburdened by our friendships. But friendship — true friendship — is just not that way.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
John 15:12-14

Friendship is not about fair or unfair, equal or unequal. It is about the roles we play in each other’s lives. Sometimes your role in a friendship is to push someone along when they can’t climb any further. But we should not expect the same friend to push us in return. Friendship is rarely reciprocal: it does what it does for the other person, expecting nothing in return. If we need to be pushed, we should not expect the person we are pushing to also push us; it is not possible. This is when we have to turn around and see who else is there to push us.

If you truly love your friend and want what is best for them (which may be you pushing them uphill around blind corners) then you will continue to be there for them and ask nothing in return. I strongly believe this approach to friendship could lead each of us to be happier, much more content. We will be pleasantly surprised when we make a friend whom we do not push, nor who pushes us, but climbs alongside us. Uphill. And around blind corners.


[Author’s Note: For all of you tweens and teens out there who visited this post expecting to read about the UK boy band One Direction… my apologies. I just couldn’t resist!]

Waiting Room Greetings

Doctor’s office waiting rooms: the homes of the polite, awkward nods of recognition as patients enter and exit. We sit, thumb through dated copies of People, Ebony, and Better Homes & Garden, drink bitter Folgers. One patient rarely converses with the other beyond mundane chit-chat about the weather or the absurdly long wait. Unless of course you are in a waiting room in Barbados.

Waiting Room

I have had the privilege of visiting several medical practices in the last 9 weeks and consistently noticed the most peculiar thing: people carry on full blown conversations in the waiting room!

I know; my mind was blown too. When someone enters the room, they acknowledge all who are present with a friendly greeting. But the greeting does not end at “good afternoon.” Many continue on to ask how everyone is doing, seemingly genuinely interested in each response. The answers people give often determine the course of the conversation, which is carried on until the next person is called for their appointment.

Once, while waiting for a visit with a specialist, a warm, glowing woman entered the room and greeted all of us with a friendly “How are you?” The other patients and myself all responded with an equally cordial well or fine. “And you?” I responded. “Blessed,” the woman replied. The next piece of discourse was surprising, as she asked if I too was blessed. “Yes. Very much so,” I told her with a smile.

As a friendly yet guarded individual, I did not offer any additional information about how blessed I am, why I am blessed, or how those blessings came to be. This was not the case for my new medical office BFF. She had an awful lot to be blessed about and was very eager to share with the captive audience.

I cannot remember all of the things for which this woman was very grateful. And frankly, it does not matter. What does matter is the fact that her courage and willingness to share has impacted me. She reminded me how important it is that we gladly share the good things going on in our lives, whether grand or simple. Her desire to spread her joy with unsuspecting strangers is encouraging because we forget how important that is.

We interact with people every day and never know anyone’s full story. We never know when telling someone our own personal story of hope, sharing some good news, just may change or save a life. It is for this reason that we cannot allow our own fears and insecurities about what people may think or how they may react keep us from telling our stories.

It is no esoteric fact that this world is filled with sadness and negativity. By remaining silent about our triumphs, keeping our hope to ourselves, we do the entire world a disservice. As a Christian, I am called to share not only the fact that my hope is in Christ Jesus, but also why I have that hope and how that hope is manifested in my everyday life.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:15-16

 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
1 Peter 3:15

In my mind, I often criticize people who seem only to complain about their problems or the people they don’t like. When I hear stories of Internet trolls and schoolyard bullies, my heart truly aches. My long-time motto is the old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” While I believe this cliché saying can help people avoid negativity, it does nothing to add joy to anyone’s life. Therefore, I suggest the following edit to this idea:

If you can’t say anything nice, think harder.


This Rubescent Life was born out of a desire to capture my expatriate experience, but I also want this blog to be a source of light for those whose outlook on life may be dark. I want to encourage and inspire readers to live, learn, and grow from all of their experiences in life. But I don’t want the encouragement to stop there. It is important that I set an example of freely expressing one’s faith, joy, and hope –loving the people of the world with complete abandon. One story at a time.

Healing Waters

One year ago, my mother was in a near comatose state. Doctors and nurses alike braced us for the absolute worst possibilities. She had been diagnosed with dementia for 3 years and Frontotemporal Dementia for just over a year at that point and her condition was declining dramatically. Unable to walk, eat, drink, sit up, or speak, she was bedridden, my father and I performing every task on her behalf to ensure she was as comfortable as possible. Eventually her physical state progressed to include a major bedsore (due to her inability to move unassisted). Everyone we talked to told us we should admit my mom to hospice and prepare for a rapid death.

Everyone except our primary care physician. A man of both faith and medicine, he ordered home healthcare and provided us with the following prescription:

Prescription for Prayer.

We have always been a family that believes in the power of prayer. This encouragement from our doctor was simply a reminder to keep with it. So, he ordered home health services and we continued to seek treatment for my mom. Daily nursing care and a one-room apartment transformed into a triage center became our new normal. Things looked bleak at the start, but we did our absolute best to remain hopeful that one day she would regain function of her faculties and that we would indeed have more precious time to spend with this beautiful woman.


One year later, we are living in Barbados and my mother is not only living, but thriving! Her speech is clear, concise, and comedic. Her eyes are luminescent. Her laugh. A laugh once wilted and listless has returned to its hearty fullness.

Perhaps the biggest blessing of all is that the woman who put the “precious” in Precious Poundcakes (a baking company she once owned) has reentered the kitchen. Since settling into our new home, she has blessed us with delicious meals comprised of our favorite comfort foods from the United States.

While her stamina is not what it once was and she still struggles with short-term memory loss, my mother’s progress is leaps and bounds above and beyond anything anyone expected at this time just one short year ago. As a family we have transitioned from my father and I making funeral plans outside of Atlanta, Georgia, to my mother, father, and I making weekend plans by the beach in Barbados.


No one knows how long any of us will be on this earth. Worldly longevity is guaranteed to no one. Conversely, a diagnosis is not always a death sentence and doctors are not the final authority on lifespan. Treasure the current moments with those you love. Do not give up hope. Determine to seek peace in all circumstances. Take nothing for granted.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Emerging from the Abyss

Off the Grid

Alright, maybe that title was a bit mellow-dramatic. But in the last few weeks, I have come to realize that the term “island time” is not a misnomer. No, in fact, it is quite true. It took three weeks for cable, phone, and Internet to be installed in our home.

CBC TV8 Logo

That being said, I actually did being somewhat disconnected from the world. While I found myself a bit bored at times after plowing through magazines and books of mild interest, tuning into the CBC-TV8 proved to be both educational and excruciating. I like to think of it in terms of the following illustration:

Logos

While the programming wasn’t always exciting or up-to-date, it definitely provided a glimpse into the lives and history of the Bajan people.

Another benefit to having only one channel with no American commercials is the fact that we were not inundated images telling us what car we should drive, clothes we should wear, food we should eat, skin color we should have been born with, or clothing size we should force ourselves into.

I felt so much healthier and saner without the consistent reminders of my personal, superficial short-comings. It’s not to say that I am spiraling downward into a pit of hopelessness, transfixed on the overt and covert messages spewed from the television. But the contrast is disturbing.

Either way, I am reconnected to the rest of the world and I am quite grateful to be able to communicate with family and friends on a more regular basis.

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

The Liebster Award Badge A few weeks ago (before I fell into the abyss that is life without WiFi), I discovered that the lovely blogger Danielle of The Thought Card nominated me for Liebster Award! (Please be sure to visit Danielle’s page – it’s awesome!)

While I am surprised, but very honored. This ‘blog is less than one month old and the fact that people have responded so well to what I have shared is very touching. This journey initially began as an attempt to keep friends and family abreast of my adventures in Barbados. However, it quickly became more of a stream-of-consciousness journal; a look into my daily challenges and triumphs. There are times when I question myself, wondering if I am over-sharing my life with perfect strangers. But I continue writing and posting because it serves as a form of therapy for me and perhaps a source of hope for others.

I do not know where this blog will ultimately take me, but I am glad you are all along for the ride.


Rules for the Liebster Award:
  1. Thank the wonderful person who nominated you.
  2. Display the logo for the award.
  3. Nominate 5-10 other bloggers with less than 200 followers, let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts.
  4. Answer the questions that the person who nominated you has set and pose 11 new questions to your nominees.
My Liebster Award Nominees:
Questions for My Nominees:
  1. Where do you live?
  2. How do you react when an unwanted creature (e.g. bugs, rodents, reptiles, etc.) gets into your home?
  3. Do you stay informed about politics? Why or why not?
  4. What is the best meal you have ever had? (Please describe. Pictures optional!)
  5. If you could solve one of the world’s many problems (e.g. hunger, war, homelessness, etc.), what would you solve and how?
  6. How would you describe the person you most admire in your life?
  7. Who was your first celebrity crush?
  8. How old were you when you had your first kiss?
  9. What is your greatest irrational fear and how do you cope with it?
  10. If you could relive one day over again in your life over again every day for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
  11. How would you describe your faith (e.g. Christian, Buddhist, Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, agnostic, Spiritual but not religious, athiest, etc.)?
Responses to Danielle’s Questions:
  1. What’s your nationality?
    African-American
  2. Would you rather explore a new planet or the deepest part of the ocean? Why?
    Now that I live so close to the ocean again, I would love to explore more of it. I never tire of staring at the ocean and it’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. I cannot for the life of me understand why people would travel millions of light years away when there are so many wonders available here right on our own planet.
  3. What are some of the best friend’s qualities?
    A fondness for the arts and classic and period films is a plus, but it is most important that they enjoy vanilla ice-cream cones while watching said genres of film. A genuine appreciation for mid-1990s through Y2K pop culture will earn you some serious brownie points! The best friend must first and foremost exhibit unconditional love. They should be honest enough to tell me when I am drifting into dangerous territory, but gentle enough to tell me with kindness and love. They must be able to laugh heartily at themselves when they fall down, and they must fall down a lot.
  4. Cats, dogs or neither?
    I love animals; that said, I used to be afraid of dogs and have a very interesting relationship with cats.
  5. Which are you likely to fight for, love or money? Why?
    Love. I think the Bible puts it best:
    On money…
    “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes 5:10
    On love…
    “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”1 Corinthians 13:13
  6. If you could speak another language, which would it be? Why?
    Hablo un poquito de español, but I would really love to learn American Sign Language. It is visually beautiful to observe, but I believe it is also an under-learned language. I have also wanted to learn Japanese since we watched a documentary about Japanese school children when I was in the 5th grade.
  7. Would you rather receive a text message or call? Why?
    Frankly, it depends on my mood. I feel special when I receive phone calls, but the pressure to respond immediately can cause me a bit of anxiety depending on who is on the other end of the call. Texting affords me the opportunity to give thought to what I want to say.
  8. What’s the single best decision you’ve made in your life so far?
    As a Christian, I am supposed to say “to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” And do not get me wrong – this was the most important decision I’ve made in my life. However, this decision I made in 1996 was truly solidified and magnified in 2003 when I chose to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Understanding that Jesus died for me, loves me, and calls me His friend has absolutely changed my life and I cannot begin to thank Him enough. (Look for a post with more on this coming soon…)
  9. Do you focus on the big picture or do you get lost in the details?
    An excellent question! When it comes to other people’s problems, I think I am pretty good at looking at the big picture. However, I tend to examine my own life and its challenges with a fine tooth comb.
  10. Luxury or low maintenance?
    Low maintenance luxury? I enjoy the luxury of having friends and family who love me but I do not feel the need to incorporate theatrics into showing them my love. On a more material level, I like fancy things but I don’t require them to have a full life. I am easy to please and not overly fond of opulence and excess.
  11. What are you looking forward to the most?
    I cannot wait to finally discover who I am in all aspects of my life and truly live in that truth. My formative years were more about figuring out who other people wanted me to be. My early twenties were a combination of learning how I can positively impact people. My late twenties were about caring for and supporting other people. Now that I am in my early thirties, I pray for the opportunity to discover more of my likes and dislikes and to dive into those interests headfirst.