Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Different Point of View On Race

I have strong opinions about race. I'm allowed since I'm black. I remember my mother being absolutely appalled when we kids (I was a teenager in the sixties) started called ourselves black. She said when she was a teenager she was delighted when whites finally started calling blacks Negroes. It was a tremendous step up from nigger. She was born in 1910. I was born in 1953. Martin Luther King had not gone to the mountain top yet so things were still pretty ugly in the early 60's. I spent most of my time being called white girl and being told I talked like a white person. But at home my mother insisted I speak proper English. She bought a set of Encyclopedia (which back then was the equivalent of buying a used car) and demanded I read them from cover to cover. I think this was to compensate for her brutal abuse but that's another story.

All of this training led to my dropping out of high school. You see I went to the guidance counselor when I was in high school and said I wanted to go to the Philadelphia School of Music to learn how to be an orchestra conductor. She gently said that my people generally went to the local training school to learn how to be top notch cleaners, janitors and maybe if I worked real hard - a nurses aide. I dropped out the next day and ran away from home. Long story short, I came back a year later pregnant. Anyway I spent most of my adult life overcoming many of the really dumb mistakes I made in my teens. I went from being a high school dropout to graduating from Vassar in my late thirties. I gave the commencement address at the local community college I graduated from, an experience I highly recommend. It was phenomenal! I went from being a teenage welfare mother to being appointed Assistant Welfare Commissioner for my state. And then everything came to a halt. I've been frozen like this for the past three years. You know how the old ones would say "Well at least you've got your health." I always thought that was such a ridiculously weird thing to say but I totally get it now. My brain is as much on fire with ideas as it was in my 30's and 40's. Writing, books, articles, editorials, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. The difference is my bad health has left me frozen, frightened, afraid I'll be hurt by someone if I say the wrong thing. So this is my first attempt to break out of that icy encasement.

For 25+ years I worked in the grants/non-profit field. Too often I saw organizations given breaks because they were minority operated and the white folks funding them didn't want to risk being called racist. I saw an article the other day about ACORN closing and that's what set me to thinking. Everyone knew it was poorly managed long before the stupid setup they got caught in. But why didn't anyone say something? I can't tell you how many times I've seen gross mismanagement that no one would address. At one point in my career I was hired because I was black and willing to take on the organizations that needed a serious house cleaning. To me the federal regulations were not grey, they were black and white and strict. They did not have wiggle room. Looking back there were times I should have allowed a little wiggle rather than shut an organization down. But I was so afraid of getting it wrong that the Federal regulations became a bible to me. Still I did a great deal of teaching about how to manage grants and I'm proud of that. Any organization that came under my tutelage was expected to adhere to the regulations governing their particular grant. I think one of the biggest mistakes and changes is that back in the day when a federal or state grant was given the organization was expected to spend 3 to 5 days in that state's capital being trained or in Washington if it was a federal grant. As time passed this changed from face to face training to conferences calls to online training to being sent a 300 page manual with the "suggestion" the grantee review it. To be given a quarter million dollar grant with little to no training is a setup for failure. To move from that to fear of saying there are mistakes is an even greater setup for failure.

So this is me, stepping out of the ice cave to say its way past time to stop expecting to be given breaks based purely on being on the side of the angels or because of race when you screw up. It may be a part of the overall scheme of things but the days of it being the predominate reason for looking the other way when serious mistakes are being made should be over. Deep breath.....whew.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Made It Through the Winter

WAHOO! I made it through the winter. Believe me when someone tells you you may only have six months to live, living a year is a very big deal. I saw the pulmonologist who was shocked at how well I was. I'm working with one lung but that's much better than they initially expected. You have to be below 50% lung capacity to even be considered for a transplant. I feel like I spent the entire winter trying to climb out of a deep well and now I've finally got my fingers on the edge and may be able to actually pull myself out soon. First, all jokes aside, let's hear it for Prozac. It has literally been a life saver for me. It ain't easy when you're feeling suicidal and there are two, count 'em two high bridges within walking distance of your house. So to avoid the bridges I spent most of my time curled up in my bed watching DVDs including the complete seasons of Sex and the City. I've even got parts of conversations memorized. I know more about the characters personalities than the actors do. lt always amazes me how easy it is to lose muscle mass when you stay in bed for even a brief period of time. Of course my wonderful devoted husband took his usual extraordinary care of me. Things got so bad that at one point he had to feed me. All I could eat was applesauce because of an infected throat. A long time ago a therapist told me "Never underestimate the importance of just being able to get out of bed in the morning." I totally didn't get it back then but I sure do now. The first thing I did (after I took a much needed shower)was call a good friend who works at a non-profit and say "I need somebody to help." I'll be volunteering for two hours a week helping...wait for it...the disabled. Since I've been fighting the label of disabled for ten years I find this particularly ironic. Don't tell me the God's don't have a sense of humour. I know that helping others for those two hours is going to be really tough physically but I've got to get outside of myself, if you know what I mean. I've got to be reminded that there are others who need help, who are in worse shape than me. So maybe I can help them by just talking.

You remember my promise to myself to get financially straight by the end of the year? Well I paid off a major credit card this month. I'm trying to not look at my debt as a whole. Its too overwhelming. So I started with the lowest credit card and am working my way up the list. I don't care what the economic pundits say, there ain't no jobs out there! My husband has been searching for nine months now and so far had only had three interviews. So many people showed up that it's almost not worth the effort. But he keeps trying and I'm deeply grateful for all he does. He went to a job fair in February and there were close to 3,000 people there.

Many thanks for the kind and supportive emails telling me to hang in. Things like that really matter when you're down. It keeps you going. I've spent three years trying to pull myself together for this journey. I think the journey's about to begin.