One year during Black History Month, we celebrated firsts at our church. We wanted to know who in our congregation was the first to accomplish just about anything. We learned so much about each other that day. We had one of the first black flight attendants in Kansas in our congregation; we had some first black teachers, principals and nurses. The first black homecoming queen in our city, the list went on and on.
As I think about my own family history, I am thankful to come from a family where both of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs. My grandfather on my father’s side, after living though the 1921 Race riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma went on to because a great businessman owning several businesses. I know for sure that he owned a cab company because my parents have a picture of him in front of his cab. He also owned a hotel. I can’t remember much about it but I know it had a couple of floors and a candy store on the street level. My grandfather was also into development and real estate. He was responsible for an entire subdivision in Tulsa. He built identical houses for my parents and my aunt and uncle on different streets. My father still lives in the house my grandfather built.
My maternal grandfather was a landscaper in the town of Berlin, Maryland. He was well known for his ability to make yards look beautiful and well landscaped. He even at one time sold gas to other African Americans in the area. Just last year, a newspaper ran an article about Black businesses in the area and had a picture of my mom standing in front of my grandfather’s gas station. We were so proud.
When I look at Black History I am proud of the accomplishments of our ancestors. They were scientists, inventors and managed to make their mark in history.
I decided to look up a list of firsts – meaning the first African Americans to accomplish anything. I found a long list of accomplishments that began as early as the early 1730’s. Year after year African Americans accomplished some great and wonderful things. What I was most surprised about are some of the firsts that have occurred in the last 10 years. As I looked at the long list, I noticed that 2008 and 2009 were extremely good years for notable firsts. Take a look at just a few of the most significant that I found on Wikipedia.
· First African American to be nominated as a major-party U.S. presidential candidate: Barack Obama, Democratic Party
Maybe what you have accomplished may never make the official first list, but I’m sure you have some firsts of your own. Tell your children about your firsts and encourage them to be the first as well. In some cases you will not be the first, but don’t let that deter you from being thankful for your accomplishments. Keep on celebrating our rich history and decide to continue to leave a legacy for your family and your community. Remember Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
In 1996, former First Lady and current presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a book entitled, It Takes a Village: and Other Lessons Children Teach Us. The book was written while Mrs. Clinton served as the First Lady of the United States. Her focus was on the wellbeing of American children. She wanted them to have better opportunities in life; therefore she encouraged Americans to make a stand to support children and families. Her book was based on the ancient African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Two years prior to Clinton’s book, African American author Jane Cowen-Fletcher published a children’s book entitled It Takes a Village. Again, the focus of Cowen-Fletcher’s book was that in order for children to grow up and be high functioning members of our society, the community must be willing to meet the needs of children and families.
I love this proverb because it teaches us that “no man, woman, child or family is an island.” We all coexist amongst the community and extended family. In today’s society, raising children can be a difficult challenge. There are dangers lurking everywhere designed to rob our children of the security that I had growing up as a child in a very tight knit Black community. As a child I was never afraid being in my community and my parents felt secure that others were looking out for me and my siblings.
Historically, Black families have been known to provide practical support to one another. This tradition started well before my generation and is still practiced today in some communities. In fact, my grandmother and her sisters had the opportunity to attend college back in the 1920’s because my great grandmother made up in her mind that she wanted her four daughters to attend college. In a time when Black women were not even completing high school, my great grandmother used her village to send her daughters to Howard University. During church meetings she networked with other pastor’s wives to find secure housing and to look after her daughters while they attended college. Interestingly, when I chose to attend a college over 1200 miles from my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, my Mother did the same thing for me. She used the village she knew to look after me while I attended when I attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia State University. Consequently, I depend on my village to look after my daughter who attends college all the way in Greensboro, North Carolina.
When I think about my own village, it consists of not only biological relatives, but the friends and colleagues of both of my parents, including neighbors and those in the faith community. While growing up there were many women in the church who could discipline me at any given moment when I was out of line. My mother trusted them that they had my best interest at heart. There were many times we brought additional children home from church with us for dinner. I can also remember going to visit other families especially my mother’s closest friends. My mother’s friends were like family to us. My children did the same thing while growing up as well. I have friends of my son who refer to me as Auntie Jan because they spent a lot of time at our home. My dad even though he was not really involved in the church, had his own community which was centered around the historical “Greenwood” neighborhood in Tulsa which was rebuilt following the race riots in 1921. I remember going on picnics or to my father’s friends home and they were also considered family. My dad’s best friend known to us as “Mister JD” and his wife looked out for us and always made us feel welcome in their home.
In the African American community, family roles are more fluid. The village can be biologically related such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and the broader community in general such as the faith community. According to McCreary and Dancy, Black families have a history of also including fictive kin, people with no biological or legal tie to the family who are nevertheless considered members of the family. As a child there were two older women living next door to our family who were known to us as Cousin Nola and Cousin Inez. Later in life I asked Mom about them and she informed me that they were not really our cousins but they were there to support her as a young mother struggling with four young girls. They had introduced her to the church we attended, where my sister is still a member today. I have countless cousins who when you look at the family history, we are not really biologically related. One of my favorite cousins is actually the daughter of one of my mom’s dear friends who had other children by my Dad’s second cousin. In actuality, I am a distant relative of her little brother, but she and I are not biologically cousins. However, we spent a lot of time together when we were growing up and nobody can tell us we are not cousins.
“Fictive” kin amongst African American families are typically an important part of what makes up the “village”. How many relatives do you have who really are not related to you? How many aunties do you have who are not the sister of your mother or father? How many “play mamas” do you claim? How many children call you auntie or uncle and are not the children of your brother or sister? What do you call your Mother’s best friend? How many women in your church do you call Mom or Mother?
The term “play mama” or “other mother” is common in the African American community. My daughter has used the terms “work mama” or “school mama” to describe Black women who have poured into her life. She even refers to the mothers of some of her closest friends as Mom. Many of them I may never meet, but I appreciate the love and concern they expressed towards my daughter.
The Bible encourages us to support one another. Philippians 2:4 teaches us: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Consider Hebrews 13:16 which reminds us: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” As we continue in the month of February to celebrate “Black History Month”, let us not forget the gift of the “village” given to us by our ancestors. When our ancestors were in slavery and families were broken due to the slave trade, it was the village that stepped in and cared for those in need. Sometimes the village was biological relatives, but again many were not. Nonblood kin or fictive family members stepped up to the plate and supported one another socially, emotionally and financially. Think about your own life and the life of your children, who is currently in your village? As a First Lady, wife, mother, stepmother, co-worker and coach/counselor, I have to embrace the belief that it truly “takes a village to raise a child.”
Who’s in your village?
Since it is Valentine’s Day weekend it is the perfect time to talk about LOVE. What do you immediately think of when you hear the word love? Do you think of a person, place or a thing? If you ask the question of others as to what love is, you will get a wide variety of explanations. You have heard some of them:
· Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies… Aristotle
· Love means never having to say you’re sorry. (Love Story)
· Love is a many splendored thing. (Movie 1955)
· Love is a friendship set to music... Joseph Campbell
· Love is the energy of life… Robert Browning
If you look up the word love in the dictionary, it is defined as:
· An intense feeling of deep affection
· To feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone)
· A great interest and pleasure in something
· A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person
Ask individuals to describe their experiences at love. Some say they have never been in love and others say they have been in love several times. Some say they found love at first sight, while others admit that the other person had to grow on them. Some admit they missed their chance at true love by letting it slip through their fingers.
Love is one of the most widely used words in the English language. Being so widely used it is easy to become confused as to what love really is. Ask five people what love is and what they love and I’m sure you will get a wide variety of answers. Think of the number of times you mention love in a week’s time. Here are some of my favorite loves: I love and adore my husband. I love my children unconditionally. I love my stepchildren with a unique and special type of love. I love popcorn. I love travelling. I love reading.
I love my favorite pair of shoes. I love what I do for a living. I love the Lord. I love my church family. I love my sorority. I love my parents and my siblings.
Notice how I used the word love to define my feelings for each of the persons, places or things I mentioned above. However I don’t feel the same way about anything listed above.
Recently while we were in Mexico, we learned how to say our last name in Spanish. Love sounded so much sexier in the Spanish language. We were known as Se͠nor and Se͠nora Amor. What word is used in other countries to define love? Here are just a few interesting and familiar ones.
In Italian – amare
Portuguese – ame
Spanish – amor
Somali – jeclahay
Swahili – upendo
While looking at definitions of love in other languages, I noticed that the Greeks do a better job of defining love. Here are four words in the Greek language that can define the various types of love.
1. Eros – The love that carries with it the idea of romance. When we think of the word eros we automatically think of the word erotic, however eros is not always sensual, but it includes the idea of yearning to unite with and the desire to possess the beloved.
2. Storge – a natural affection and sense of belonging to each other. This is the type of love that is shared by parents and children or brothers and sisters. This is the type of love we feel in families and in communities.
3. Phileo – This type of love cherishes and has tender affection for the beloved, but always expects a response. Phileo is the type of love shared by dear and close friends who enjoy one another’s friendship and companionship. In phileo relationships individuals easily share their thoughts and feelings, interests, and plans. The city of Philadelphia describes itself as the city of brotherly love indicating it is a friendly, community oriented city.
4. Agape – this describes the type of love that God has for all of us. Agape is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest of all the types of love. Jesus lived out agape by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world.
I searched high and low to find definitions of the word love but always end up coming back to the best definition of love that can be found. If you look in your Bible, the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, also known as the love chapter, is the one that works for me.
Corinthians 13 (NIV)
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Happy Valentine’s Day. How do you define love?
In honor of the American Heart Association’s women's heart health Go Red day millions of women across American donned a red blouse sweater, blouse or dress to acknowledge the importance of being heart healthy. I gladly wore my red sweater to support this noble effort to warn women that cardiovascular disease is no longer an “old man’s disease.” Cardiovascular diseases and stroke are now killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Amongst African American women, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death, killing over 48,000 annually.
It is important that we get the word out about the dangers of cardiovascular related diseases, because according to the American Heart Association, only 36% of African American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk. And, only about 50% of African-American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Lastly, of African-American women ages 20 and older, 48.3% have cardiovascular disease. Yet, only 14% believe that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health problem.
Sounds like bad news for African American women, but here is the good news: 80% of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education. By now we are aware of what it takes to be heart healthy. Most of us know that we are to eat healthy, control cholesterol, cut back on salt, quit smoking, exercise, drink more water and maintain a healthy weight. However, did you know that staying positive is one of the best ways you can improve your heart health?
Researchers have known for centuries the relationship between happiness and health. The data is clear; unhappy people are much more likely to get physically sick. Even the Bible addresses the relationship between our heart and our health. Proverbs 17:22 (NIV) that “ A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Consider Proverbs 15:13 (NIV), “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.”
Happiness even affects our life expectancy and can extend your life by 71/2 to 10 years. Therefore, we should consider positive thinking and happiness as a form of prevention. As women we experience many emotions ranging from sadness, anger, helplessness, frustration, depression, and hopelessness. When these emotions remain in our hearts over extended time our stress responses are triggered and our bodies produce the harmful hormone cortisol which can eventually lead to physical illness. Medical providers know that depression increases cancer risks, is a major risk factor for heart disease, and is linked to pain disorders.
So how can you become a more happy and optimistic person? Here are 5 ways:
1. Have a Grateful Heart and Count Your Blessings
When you focus on the positive things happening in your life and find gratefulness in your blessings you tend to think more about what you do have rather than what you don’t have.
2. Surround Yourself with Positive People
There is nothing worse than being around miserable people. You know who they are. They are at work and even at church. You continue to let them bring you down. Find a kind way to either move them towards happiness or limit your time with them. Don’t allow their pessimism to not only ruin your day but your life. Strive to be around positive people who see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Befriend those who make you smile.
3. Focus on the Things That You Can Control
Why worry about things that you cannot control? You can’t control the weather, and most importantly you cannot control other people. Instead of complaining about the rain, why not learn to dance in it or sport some really nice rain boots to keep your feet dry. Determine those areas that are under your control and handle them accordingly. There are plenty of areas in your life that you have control over. You have the power to quit smoking or to change your diet or exercise habits. Lastly, don’t become a victim in any area of your life, take charge and claim your life.
4. Focus on the Present
Living in the past and thinking about what you should have or could have done can leave you feeling hopeless. Be present in your life and make the right choices that will heal your past and give you a future full of hope. Yes, it is great to think about and plan for the future, but if it frightens you into feeling hopeless, take it one step at a time. Focus on scripture of God’s promises. Meditate on Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
5. Give and Receive Love
Find someone or something to love. It is a proven fact that happily married people live longer, but so do people who are surrounded by friends, family or a community who loves and supports them. Being part of a church family is a great way to be supported and loved. Some people love animals and find joy in having pets.
Whatever you do, make the decision to be heart healthy by taking care of yourself not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Protect and take care of your heart and remember, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” Proverbs 4:23 (NIV).
This weekend we had the privilege of being reunited with our son who had been away at marine boot camp for 13 weeks. We were so excited to see him and just could not keep our eyes off of him. As we gazed at him, we discovered that in 90 days in which he was gone, so many things about him had changed. First of all, he didn’t look the same because he had a new haircut and his face was clean shaven. He was also a lot more muscular than I remember and his muscles were more defined.
Secondly, he didn’t sound the same. When we finally had an opportunity to speak with him face to face, his voice was not the same. There was a deep, raspy sound coming out of his throat. We only got one call from him on day one but if we had called us on the phone we may have hung up not believing it was him. I kept staring at him as he shared his adventures because I was trying to connect his new voice with his new body.
Lastly, he was no longer acting the same. He was standing a little taller, walking more upright and he was greeting everyone including strangers kindly as they walked by. When we walked in a building, he took off his hat and placed it in his lap. When we attempted to cross the street, he went before us to block traffic for our safety. When he stood still, he would stand with his arms behind his back in an at ease type position. While doing any type of talking he used the word sir and ma’am a lot. He seemed much more aware of his environment. As we went to the harbor for lunch, he seemed to appreciate the beauty of the water and the trees.
When we checked into the hotel and as we were out and about he seemed as if he was from another planet. He appeared amazed at the hotel that he could get his own room and have a big bed. When we were at a restaurant, he seemed amazed that he could order whatever he wanted. My husband and I just watched in amazement as he devoured his food. Everything tasted so good to him and he even enjoyed the spinach on my plate that was originally there for decoration. All we could say was wow, what a change!
As I begin to think about the changes in him I began to wonder about all that he had been through in order to change in such a way. He shared with us many stories of what he had experienced and we began to see the methodology and mission of the intensive training he had experienced. All that he had learned was built upon the core values that had been ingrained in him emotionally, physically and even spiritually.
I once heard that it takes a minimum of 21 to 30 days to develop new habits. In my own life, there are many things I have tried to change in a 3 to 4 week period and have not been successful. I did a little more research and discovered 21 days is not nearly enough. According to researcher Phillippa Lally, a health psychology researcher at University College in London, it really takes between 2 months and 66 days to form a new habit and sustain it. For some it took up to 254 days to make a lasting change. That’s almost 8 months! So, the new habit my husband and I have of trying to go to the gym together every day is obviously going to take a little more time. What helps us to be more successful is that we have to be accountable to each other. However, it is just as easy to talk each other out of going as well.
Obviously, reinforcement is key to making lasting changes in our lives. In the book Change or Die written by Alan Deutschman concludes that although we all have the ability to change our behavior, we rarely do. He reviews several life situations when individuals were faced with life or death decisions that required them to make changes to avoid severed consequences including death, many were unable to make the needed changes. According to Deutschman, in order for us to be successful at change, there are three critical keys: relate, repeat and reframe.
1) Relate emphasizes the importance of relationships with individuals and groups that inspire and sustain hope and provide support.
2) Repeat is to learn, practice, and master new skills until they become habits.
3) Reframe means providing others ways to think about a situation.
What changes are critical in your life? Think about your family, your job, your church or even your community. What are your personal goals for 2016? What will you be required to change and how long will it take to see lasting change. Do you think you will be able to make the critical changes in your life to make a difference emotionally, physically and even spiritually? Consider Jeremiah 13:23 (CEVDCUS06), “Can you ever change and do what’s right? Can people change the color of their skin, or can a leopard remove its spots? If so, then maybe you can change and learn to do right.”
Don’t get disappointed if you make mistakes early in the game and find yourself failing to practice your new habit. Get back up, dust yourself off and remember: change takes time.
Janice R Love, Author
First Lady, Mom, Stepmom and Divorce Ministry Coach