DR. BRANDON ROGERS: A BEAUTIFUL BRIGHT LIGHT

On the night of July 11, 2017, God directed me to watch the very last minute of America’s Got Talent. And thank God I did! If I had procrastinated one minute longer, I would have missed a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful jewel: Dr. Brandon Rogers. At the end of the tribute, my face was a tear-stained mess, as it is right now, as I write this reflection.

For those who watched the special tribute to Dr. Brandon Rogers, you might have been captivated and enthralled by Dr. Rogers’ beautiful voice and musical range, of which I was, too. However, my spiritual perception discerned something deeper and profound. If my spiritual gift of discernment is on point, I believe, with all my heart, that Dr. Rogers was a very spiritual, young man who loved God and who loved the people whom God had privileged to his life and care—including family, friends, and patients.

I don’t know if you could see it, but my spiritual eyes could see an extremely bright light shining brilliantly from Dr. Rogers’ spirit and soul. And I immediately knew that he was a very special soul whom God allowed to visit Earth for 29 years. (I only wish his journey on Earth was much, much longer.) At a time on Earth, when so many bad things are happening every day and all the time, we need more and more bright, beautiful God-loving lights like Dr. Brandon Rogers to make a difference in the so many dark places on this Earth.

There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Brandon Rogers touched many, many lives during his short time on Earth. He possessed a very sensitive, kind, loving, humble soul and spirit. For those who were fortunate and blessed to experience Dr. Brandon Rogers’ love, kindness, and friendship, please cherish it and hold on to it every day, and plant seeds of his memory into as many lives as possible.

I decided to write this blog piece to celebrate Dr. Brandon Rogers because I do not want his memory to ever be forgotten. (Today, October 30, 2017, would have been his 30th birthday.) When I learned that Dr. Rogers was from Virginia, I instantly felt a close bond and connection to him, because I too have Virginia roots.

Dr. Brandon Rogers, you are and shall be dearly missed. I thank God for your life and for your humble, beautiful, and sweet gifts and talents which you freely shared with so many people. May heaven enjoy you and your beautiful voice, as so many of us did.

Because God was first and foremost in your life and not fortune or fame, I believe you would have won America’s Got Talent competition! There is no doubt in my mind.

When I die and finally reach the beautiful shores of heaven, I hope you will bless me with one of your beautiful songs. By the way, my favorite Stevie Wonder song is “Lately.”

God bless, bless, and bless you, Dr. Brandon Rogers, and thank you for blessing Earth with your beautiful presence.

INCARCERATION AND ITS TRAGIC EFFECTS ON THE FAMILY

When a family member is incarcerated, the immediate and extended family oftentimes suffers from having a loved one in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary. Regardless of what society thinks and feels about those who are incarcerated, there are many family members and loved ones who feel as if they are locked up, along with their loved one, because of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual connection and attachment that they have with the incarcerated. No matter what an inmate is convicted of or accused of, the inmate is still part of a family system that loves him or her. When a family member is locked up in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary, the family experiences a loss within the family. And when someone is taken away or snatched away from the family, there may be feelings of grief, anger, sadness, guilt, abandonment, fear, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, being overwhelmed, or obsessive worry.  Many feelings flood one’s mind and spirit when a loved one gets locked up.  

The incarceration of a loved one creates many hardships on the family, particularly financial hardships. In many instances when a loved one gets in trouble with the law or becomes a part of the criminal justice system, most family members do not have the financial resources to pay for good legal representation. But for those few families who are able to scrounge up enough money to pay for legal fees, it does present a financial burden.  

Although many prisons and penitentiaries have prison industries, which allow inmates to work, the wages that most inmates make are not enough to provide for their basic needs, especially when the inmate earns between ten cents to fifteen cents an hour. If an inmate is paid ten cents an hour for eight hours of work, eighty cents does not even come close to buying needed necessities. And most items that are sold in the prison’s commissary are oftentimes two to three times higher in price than if the same items were purchased on the streets.

A number of inmates take upon prison jobs because some correctional facilities mandate inmates to work. And if an inmate chooses not to work in one of the prison industries or decides not to work on a particular day, then a disciplinary report is oftentimes written up on the offender for refusing to work in a prison industry or in a prison job detail, thus violating policy and procedure. Also, the inmate’s refusal to work may land him or her in the hole (which is called segregation).

There are many inmates who are happy to work in a prison industry or in an assigned job detail because it gives them something to do and it decreases boredom. In some instances, an inmate can learn a valuable skill. On the flip side, there are offenders who will not work period but who would rather freeload off of family and friends. And there are a number of inmates who do not have a support system to help them during challenging times in their lives.

Although society writes off those men and women who populate the jails, the prisons, and the penitentiaries all cross the United States, people often forget that the offender is part of a family system and that there is a mama, a daddy, a brother, a sister, an aunt, an uncle, a grandma, a grandpa, a cousin, a wife, a husband, a son, or a daughter who loves the offender and who will always be emotionally, psychologically and spiritually connected to the offender.

When most inmates are locked up in jail, in prison, or in the penitentiary, especially when there is a lengthy incarceration, family members and loved ones have to shoulder many financial burdens from month-to-month. For example, family members send their incarcerated loved ones money orders or wire them money through Western Union or through some other financial setup to help them to buy food, hygiene and cosmetic items and other toiletries, clothes, a television (if the prison allows it), a clock, or a fan (for the hot summer months).

Family members have to shoulder the cost of collect prison phone calls. Some of the prison phone providers have expensive phone rates, and some state prisons receive financial kickbacks from phone providers. If a parent has a child who is incarcerated, naturally, the parent is going to accept a collect phone call to ensure his/her child is alright.

There are many family members and loved ones who would love to visit their incarcerated loved one on a regular basis, but the travel time can be long and expensive. Sometimes it can take family members four to five hours to drive to a prison or a penitentiary. If visiting hours start at nine o’clock in the morning and if it takes four hours to drive to the prison, this means that the visitor must leave home at four o’clock in the morning in order to get to the prison in time to be processed for the visit.

Again, family and friends of the incarcerated experience loss and challenges from having a loved one incarcerated. There are family members and loved ones who grapple with shame and isolation and have a difficult time coping from having a loved one in prison. I am here to tell you, no one is perfect and we all make mistakes in life.  

Unfortunately, we live in a very judgmental, condemning, and punitive society when a person makes a mistake, and we live in a society that does not believe in giving people second chances to better their lives. We live in a society in which we fool ourselves into believing that people do not make mistakes, at least, not “those” mistakes.

I believe most people on the streets who consider themselves “somebody” could not survive in jail or in prison or in the penitentiary. Unless someone has a loved one who is locked up in prison or in the penitentiary, most people have no idea or even a clue about how rough and dangerous it is behind prison walls.   

I am a Christian who totally and absolutely believes in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. What made me decide to accept Jesus Christ of Nazareth as my personal Lord and Savior was how Jesus Christ showed compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness and forgiveness to people who were marginalized within the culture of His day. These Christ-like qualities I find to be significantly lacking in today’s culture. The culture of today is: lock ‘em up and throw away the key. But I would like to remind you that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was locked up in prison. And when people and society show a lack of compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards others, particularly those who are marginalized and downgraded in the culture in which we live, how can we possibly expect for God to show compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards us?

At least, for me, living out my faith as a Christian is an everyday challenge, and living in faith is most definitely not a rose garden. I encounter a lot of thorns along the way. Feeding my spirit with the Word of God and humbling myself in prayer tremendously help me to navigate the day. I am often reminded of the words of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verse 40, which says, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!” I truly believe that when we show compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness towards others, we end up blessing God.

Life can be very unpredictable and we never know what is around the corner. And we never know when we might find ourselves in a situation where we might need some compassion, love, mercy, grace, kindness, and forgiveness just like those who are incarcerated.

PRIDE DAY: CELEBRATE THE PRESENT BUT DON’T FORGET THE PAST

I believe that sexual orientation is as old as Methuselah, and I also believe that same gender loving people cannot help whom they love. That’s just the way they were created by God. I believe God is a God of diversity, and I believe that same gender loving people are a part of God’s love and creation.

As Pride Day is being celebrated all across the country this month, I sometimes wonder whether everyone who attends Pride Day celebrations truly understands the struggle of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

Back in my day (the 1970s), I had plenty of gay friends when I was in college. In fact, one of my best friends was a drag queen who wormed her way into my life. The campus population was over 25,000 students. I am telling you, people got along. There was no such thing as relentless gay bashing and hate crimes on campus. Yes, there were a few ignorant people on campus who would name-call, but no one paid them any mind because they had no friends and were only seeking attention.

Mind you, those college students who were part of the gay community were not ostentatious and flamboyant. My gay and lesbian friends were intellectually brilliant and pretty as hell, had beautiful spirits, and we all had a great time. All of my life, I have attracted diversity, like a magnet. I believe that when you really truly get to know people, you are the richer for it.

During my college years, I was blessed and fortunate enough to meet an old lesbian couple who were in their 60s. Of course, they could not celebrate their love freely nor could they freely identify themselves as lesbians. Back in the day, some things had to stay in the closet, even the love between two beautiful ladies who were very nice to me.

I sometimes wonder if the younger generation understands the struggle, the sacrifice, and the hardships that the older gay sisters and brothers had to endure. And to those vain peacocks, I unapologetically say, “You are where you are in life because you are standing on the shoulders of many queens and kings who came long before you.”

As Pride Day is celebrated, please do not forget the unsung heroes and heroines who were part of the struggle in gay liberation.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES: BELIEVE IN YOU, NO MATTER WHAT!

I graduated high school over forty (40) years ago, and it was a different world back then. There were no computers, no laptops, and no internet. When writing research papers, we had to sift through the card catalog in the library and find the necessary books on our subject matter, and read them. There was no such thing as plagiarism or faking it. Also, we had to type our papers with a typewriter, and we used lift-off correction tape to correct errors.

My high school grading scale, I thought, was demanding. 100 – 95 was an A. 94 – 88 was a B. 87 – 81 was a C. 80 – 75 was a D. And below 75 was an F. Whenever I received an “A,” it was well earned.

Recently, my cousin informed me that her daughter was being inducted into the National Honor Society. For some unknown reason, it triggered a memory from many, many years ago. You see, when I was in high school, I was not inducted into the National Honor Society. This particular pain in my life inspired me to write the short vignette, “Looked-Over,” which I will be sharing with you.

To the high school graduate who may feel looked-over or over-looked, my advice to you is to always believe in yourself, no matter what. And more importantly, believe in God. Whatever gifts or talents God has blessed you with, your precious jewels will someday shine. So, keep polishing your jewels. In other words, keep striving to get better and better at what you do best, and your gift will take wings and soar in the sunlight.

Looked-Over

Sometimes, I can still feel that sharpness in my chest of many years ago. It was a pain that made me realized that life is not always fair. So, I thought.

When I was in high school, I was voted most studious in my senior high school class. I was one of three seniors who was nominated for most likely to succeed. At graduation, I received an award for outstanding school attendance (missing only four school days out of four years), and I received the award for the most outstanding foreign language student (completing four years of French and one year of Spanish). I was an honor graduate, originally ranking #8 and then slipping to #11 among all seniors, with a grade point average of 3.52. I was in the French Club and Library Club and lettered in both. I was listed in Who’s Who during my junior and senior year, and I was selected as A Distinguished American High School Student. Guess what? I was the only senior in the top 15 who wasn’t inducted into the National Honor Society. My guidance counselor told me that the reason for why I wasn’t inducted was because I didn’t play a sport. Can you believe that playing a sport was a criterion for being inducted into a club that supposedly was rooted in academics? Several students in both the senior and junior class expressed outrage because I was looked-over.

I was hurt by this deliberate omission, because I studied hard and worked hard in high school. Nevertheless, I continued to pursue life and my dreams. Well, life I am still pursuing, and some stuff that I thought was dreams has fallen by the wayside. With age, one grows in wisdom, and one learns to divorce oneself from the un-necessaries that don’t add an inch to the yardstick of one’s life.

I have learned that success is not measured by how many clubs you belong to, or by how much money you make, or by what type of job you have, or by which neighborhood you live in, or by what type car you drive, or by finite power (that’s here today, and gone tomorrow), or by fame and fortune. Rather, success is measured by the quality in which we treat people, by the time we set aside to emotionally and spiritually invest into people, and by how much we can love people. Thus, ultimate success is building strong bridges of friendships and relationships with people as we live this journey called life. If you want to leave the best of yourself while on this earth, leave footprints of love and kindness in people’s hearts, and you will always be remembered, because somebody is going to share your story and your love.

Not being inducted into my high school’s National Honor Society was not the end of the world. Being looked-over was a true blessing. Because when people look-over you, especially when you are well deserving of recognition, the universe has her way of balancing rights and wrongs. And she balances life—like a checkbook.

It may take days, months, or even years before wrongs are righted. But somewhere on your journey of life, you will experience a God-moment, and you will become spiritually aware that God has given you something very special and unique that cannot be looked-over or over-looked.

God has blessed me with the gift of inspiration that gives people hope, and I don’t miss being looked-over by my high school’s National Honor Society committee one bit. But I do miss some of the friendships and relationships that I built along the way. I only wish I took better care of them.

I am experiencing joy and passion as I write this short story, because I have come a long, long way since my high school days. I thank God for the looked-over times in my life. I have become a richer person because of them—in faith, in hope, and in love. What a joy it is when the candle of your life can be a light to others.

 

UNEMPLOYED: 50 AND OLDER

Being unemployed, having no job, and not being able to find a job can be emotionally stressful and devastating, particularly for those who are fifty years old and older. Since I am in that age bracket, it seems to me that employers are not interested in hiring baby boomers. If a person is not a millennial, a baby boomer has a tough row to hoe in today’s economy and job market.

In October 2015, I, along with 70 other people, was laid off from my job because the company lost a multi-million dollar contract. Although I had a small savings, I was confident that I would be able to find part-time or full time work or even temporary work by the spring of 2016.

Before I was laid off, I assisted in writing procurements for solicitation for housing construction contracts. In addition, I meticulously managed a five million dollar contract budget, prepared financial reports, processed approximately 7,000 invoices per year for accounts payable and accounts receivable, trained new contractors in LCP Tracker software application in order to certify payroll, and accurately entered all construction contracts into Yardi Yoyager. Of the voluminous amount of paperwork that I had to process each day, by the grace of God, I was able to exceed my manager’s expectations.

In February 2016, I actively started looking for work. In March 2016, I had my first interview with a temporary agency, who called me. I went to the job interview with samples of my work from my previous employment. After completing the job application in the waiting area and after waiting thirty minutes to be interviewed, the interviewer entered the waiting area. She did not stop to extend a welcome; she did not stop to shake my hand; and she did not stop to ensure that I was well taken care of. She nonchalantly walked passed me and said, “Follow me.” From observation of her non-verbal behavior, I immediately knew that this interviewer was not interested in me. During the interview, my initial assessment was confirmed. Despite the situation, I still sent the interviewer an email, thanking her for the interview, and I also sent her a very nice handwritten thank-you note.

When you have people in your life (like your husband, your wife, your children, your partner, your mama, your daddy) who depend on your income, there is no such thing as pride, at least for me. Even though I have a Master’s Degree, in May 2016, I resulted to applying for banquet work with two temporary agencies. Fifteen years ago, I worked in banquets (fine dining) as a part-time weekend gig. During my second interview, the interviewer asked me, “What year did you graduate college?” I refused to answer the question because the interviewer was fishing for my age. I politely responded, “If you need a copy of my highest degree, I can provide that for you.” I was so stunned, and upset, about that question, especially for a banquet server’s position, which does not even require a high school diploma.

During the spring and summer of 2016, I soon learned that the temporary agency landscape has tremendously changed in seven years. In large metropolitan areas, at least in Chicago, a person can no longer stop by a temporary agency to complete a job application. If you call a temporary agency about possible employment, they will screen you on the phone to determine if you are “appropriate” for their agency and it has nothing to do with your skillset. In my opinion, this is a form of discrimination. If your resume is posted to CareerBuilder or to Monster Jobs and if a temporary agency calls you, they are not interested in recruiting you. They want to screen you and vet you over the phone to see if you are “appropriate” for their agency. This has been my experience, and I think it is blatant discrimination, and there is no state law to prevent it.

Even though my background was in mental health, I no longer work in that field, although I still possess the skills. My passion now is helping people to deal and cope with the losses in their lives. When a person loses their job or loses their income, it is a significant loss.

Having lost my job and not having an income for almost two years, I do my best to stay in good spirits. The main thing that keeps my pieces together is my faith in God. I know that in all our lives, there will be both sunshine and rain. Despite the weather forecast in my life, I must hold on to the Good Lord, because I know that God is more than able to help me and you during troubled times in our lives. And, you know what? I have not stopped helping others as I survive off of little. I believe that if someone needs your help, you help them the best way you can, without asking anything in return.

My savings is all depleted. I am now selling my DVD and book collection on eBay to put food on the table. I don’t regret it one bit.

If you are unemployed and cannot find a job, especially if you are a baby boomer, I ask you to trust in the Good Lord and have faith in the Good Lord. God will provide, and be thankful to God for what He is doing in your life right now! One of these days, and hopefully soon, God will bless you with a job, and when He does, make sure you give Him all the praise.

I WEEP FOR THOSE WHO HAVE DIED IN THE WAR…

“I Weep For Those…” was a poem that I wrote on the night of May 30, 2004, as I watched Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes acknowledge and pay tribute to the soldiers who had died in the Iraq War. During Mr. Rooney’s commentary, the faces, the names, the ages of 800 plus soldiers illuminated the TV screen and their spirits and souls glowed with so much light until I felt as if I were on holy ground. As I was watching the commentary and writing the poem, I literally was in tears. I could not even begin to imagine the depth of loss and of pain that so many families were experiencing and dealing with.

Over the past thirteen years, I have only shared this poem with few. This Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, I have decided to share and publish this poem in hope that someone will find some comfort in reading it.

I am truly grateful for the huge sacrifice that all soldiers throughout the years have made. Their lives, their sacrifices, and their memories should never be forgotten. God bless each and every man and woman who gave their lives for a better United States of America and God bless their families who miss them, and love them.

I Weep For Those…

who have died in the war
800 plus of them so far
I cried over each and every one of them

As their faces
graced the TV screen,
and as their souls
glowed with luminous light,
knowing that they
had died in a fight,
in keeping me, and you, alive,
and protecting freedom for freedom’s sake
Yes, I am humble and grateful.

I cannot begin to imagine the grief unspoken,
or grief that cannot be put into words

Mothers without sons
Fathers without daughters
Wives without husbands
Husbands without wives

Someone special has died.
And in lamentations, I cried.

What do you do when a loved one dies?
Whether in war, on the streets, in the air, or at home, or in cold places unknown

The answer can be a difficult one, especially,
when there appears not to be a solution for:

The tears that flow like a river at night
The pain that grips the heart all tight
The arms that cannot hold one’s loved one quite,
like before.

In times of loss,
I pray that my faith gets me through my darkest hours.
In times of loss,
I hold on to the beautiful memories my loved one left behind.
In times of loss,
I miraculously discover a strength within myself that I didn’t know was there.

And from that strength, I realize:
I will survive.
I will heal.
I will love, again.

And as long as I am alive,
my loved one still
lives
within the precious memories that occupy my soul.

In memory of all the soldiers who died, I cried,
because someone very, very, very special has died.

SUICIDE: SO YOUNG, AND TOO SOON

When a loved one commits suicide, it’s a life-shattering experience. One is shocked beyond belief! Why and what questions begin to attack one’s mind. Why did she commit suicide? What could I have done to prevent him from killing himself? The loss and the pain is an excruciating, living nightmare.

When someone commits suicide, it seems to me that the person was in a lot of emotional pain, and the only way to stop the pain and to escape from the pain was to kill oneself.

We live in a time and age when almost everyone and everything is scrutinized, from how we look to how we dress, whether we are rich or whether we are poor. Our value and our worth as human beings have the tendency to be judged by people who really, truly don’t know a dam thing about us! This malicious judging, condemnation, belittling and bullying of people have magnified exponentially through social media. There is a cesspool of terrible, awful comments made about people just for the fun of it. Making fun of people, especially people whom you don’t know anything about, is not funny or amusing. For once, put yourself in another person’s shoes and ask yourself if you would enjoy someone poking fun at you and writing obscene, nasty comments about you all over the internet and throughout social media.

Present-day society has become callous and cruel to other people’s feelings. Just because the first amendment right guarantees free speech, it does not give us the right to say whatever we want. There is power in words; there is power behind words; and words can have unthinkable consequences. And there are times when we need to shut our mouths.

When I read and hear of children and young people killing themselves, it’s emotionally devastating. I cannot even begin to imagine the heartbreak that a family has to endure from having to survive the suicide of a loved one. Not only do parents suffer emotional pain, but the sisters and the brothers of the one who committed suicide suffer emotionally too. The whole family grieves over the loss of their beloved.

Over the years I have been asked, “What do you do for someone who is dealing with the death of a loved one?” My reply was “be.” Oftentimes people feel as if they need to say something or do something to help a person through grief. My experience has taught me that through such trying and emotional times, the best gift that a person can give a human being who is grieving is their presence. Being there for another human being, without even saying a word, carries so much power, comfort, and care. There is healing in silence. Too often we feel as if we need to say something, when we really shouldn’t. Holding someone’s hand or giving someone a hug can speak volumes beyond any words.

For those of you who are surviving the loss of a love to suicide, I suggest that you openly and honestly talk about your feelings, even those scary feelings like anger, with your family and with those who are dear and close to you. Remember, grief is a journey, and healing takes time. And I believe God is with us during our deepest and greatest pain.

No matter what society and others may think about suicide, please don’t ever forget the memory of your beloved. Take out the photographs and remember the times that you shared together. The memories may bring some tears, but there is healing in the tears. And I hope as you remember your beloved, there will be a lot of smiles from the joy that your precious beloved left behind.