What Are You Talking About?

When is the last time you had a thought-provoking conversation? These days, I find life happening so rapidly that I don’t know when my next good convo is coming nor who it will be with. I can usually count on between four and five a month (outside of home or work), between chatting with Sean, Maul, Vince, C.B.3, Juju, and Barry. While that’s more than many people I know have,  I miss undergrad and the think tank known as UNCG. I vividly recall going to the basements of Reynolds and Phillips-Hawkins to talk with other students from the wee hours of the morning until the sun came up. Or there were the countless times that the long hand on the clock hit the same spot two or three times as I sat in the cafeteria chatting with Devon or Jakiya.

Ideas flowed freely in college. We had time to think without the burdens that we would come to find accompany adulthood. We didn’t have to worry about bills. The only consequence to quitting jobs at that point for many was having to mooch for more hooch, a favor that would eventually be repaid when our generous friend quit his/her job and we were reemployed.

We have to create that free thought as (true) adults. Some people say childhood is the best time of lifetimes but I challenge that; College, for those of us who are privileged enough to go, is the best era. It is when we can be idealistic while having some semblance of control over our lives. No one can tell us when to go to bed, when to come home, or who to hang out with. We go into classrooms with people of all backgrounds and debate issues that actually matter but have been written off by the world because too much of the world doesn’t believe in happiness and change anymore. Life in college is inspiring.

My challenge to you is to make time to grab coffee or a drink with a friend who brings the best out of you sometime before the end of July. If you can’t get together because of distance, hop on the phone. Either way, without forcing it, make an effort to have an organic conversation with someone that you know feels comfortable challenging you and vice versa. Share what books you’re reading. Talk about politics, socioeconomics, and current events (without dwelling too long on the depressing state of affairs unless you’re figuring out a way to positively impact them). Discuss a business idea and have your friend shoot holes through it.

One of the many true things I learned from my fraternity is that, “college days swiftly pass, imbued with memories fond.” How can we keep those memories coming for years after?

Make free thought that stems from conversations a priority.

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Be Loyal to Yourself First

“Don’t let these fools guilt trip you into anything.” — Bianca Payton

I was having a discussion with one of my frat brothers yesterday who is looking to change jobs. Issue is he doesn’t want to leave his current job hanging. I asked him what I ask everyone I know who is unhappy where they work but still wants to remain loyal: “Will the organization go on tomorrow if you die today? If the answer is ‘No,’ leave. If the answer is ‘Yes,’ leave.”

Don’t give your happiness up for anything or anyone who no longer adds value or purpose to your life. Sure, you won’t always be happy in any relationship, be it professional, platonic, romantic, or otherwise. But if the relationship resides in a state of seemingly eternal joylessness, you should consider terminating it. No one wants to get up for work every single day but no one should hate getting up for work every single day. And, unless you get fired, no one will end that “Wake up and hate it” cycle for you. Make the tough decision and have the uncomfortable conversation so you can live a more comfortable, fulfilling, purpose driven life.

Caveat to my “Seek Happiness” point of view: This may change when children are added into the equation. The moment you know you will be a parent, you have to consider the child’s well-being first because you brought him/her into this world and must provide necessities. But make sure you’re differentiating necessities from luxuries. If you’re working a job you hate and missing out on quality time with your family so you can purchase new iPhones for the family each year, you’re really selling the value of your time and happiness short.

 

Make loyalty to yourself a priority.

The Charge (MLK, Jr. Day 2018)

“We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know we will win. But I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house.” — Rev. Bro. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote is of the Dr. King, Jr. that I have come to love even more than the “I Have a Dream” M.L.K., Jr. It takes a mature person to take a step back and say, “Though my heart was in the right place, I was wrong.”

Segregation was a struggle because of a lack of equal resources combined with an abundance of white people who looked to stand in the way of our self-sufficiency. Integration, however, has been a struggle of epic proportion because many of those who would be our strongest leaders divested from our communities in hopes of separating themselves from the negative stigma America had placed on our communities. White America gave them jobs and titles and affirmative action on predominantly white college campuses and athletic scholarships and, before we knew it, our community was devoid of its greatest resource: leadership.

As they moved the Talented Tenth out, and subsequently their offsprings, we saw the illicit drug industry thrive, single-parent households increase, a spike in black-on-black crime, and the value of education decrease in more impoverished black communities. Miseducation and distractions in the form of substances and soulless entertainment had replaced much of the pride that once defined the exclusively black community. And, on the other side of town, those blacks who had “successfully” integrated themselves and their families into white society felt accomplished and that their mere existence (even if from a distance) serves as an example to those with whom they never come in contact. It is sad to feel uncomfortable walking into a community that is one you should be taking ownership of, only to realize that, in actuality, it is owned predominantly by WASPs, Jewish people, and Asians.

On this Dr. Martin Luther Luther King, Jr. Day of 2018, I charge you to embrace these next few years as a resurrected Harlem Renaissance. Creatives, create. Business leaders, develop. Educators, educate. Investors, invest. But do all of this in our communities.

And, lastly, put your money where your mouth is. This past weekend, I placed a decent amount of money into Mechanics & Farmers Bank, a black-owned bank out of Durham, NC. When I look to secure my home loan, I will be doing so with a black-owned bank. I work out at a black-owned gym (Prime Athletic Training & Fitness Institute). My tailor shop is a black-owned tailor shop (Levi’s Tailor Shop). My graphic designer is black (Charity Coleman). My photographer is black (Reko Daye). My financial advisor is black (George Acheampong). My go to artist is black (Tatiana Camice). Sadly, my grocer is not (though I hope to start growing my own vegetables next year) and my black dentist recently retired and sold her practice but I’ll be back in the market soon.

Self-preservation is not racist. I’m not saying we need to segregate again. I’m saying reinvest in the growth of your own communities. Ironically, for those who think it’s unsafe, we know for a fact that, where money flows, safety becomes a priority. We can no longer return to the times of an untainted Black Wall Street. What has been done is done. But we can take what we’ve learned in these decades since realizing the watered down version of Dr. King’s dream and use it to build our own communities back up and to fortify them.

Feature image by Ernest Camel. Click here to follow him on Instagram.

 

Make a well-rounded community a priority.

Paying It Forward

Next week, it’s time for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s homecoming! Best time of the year for me every year since 2006. Shoot, it’s so great that we got married around the time of G’s homecoming.

Today, I had lunch with two members of the UNCG family and we discussed giving to the school. Many of my friends who don’t give don’t because they are paying their loans. And yes, you’re paying money back but are you paying opportunities forward?

Were it not for UNCG, I would not be where I am today. I wouldn’t have met my best friends. Secondly, I wouldn’t have been made a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. by way of the Playboi Pi Zeta chapter. And, thirdly, I wouldn’t have received the education I did.

Now, many would say that education is the primary reason for going to a university and I agree. But it’s not the most important thing I took from my university. From it, I took relationships, a spirit to give back, and a better understanding of both business and African-American studies (along with many other subject areas). UNCG made me a more well-rounded and more prepared adult.

That’s why I give back to my institution. Why do you give back to yours? And, if you don’t, you should give something. Every dollar counts.

Make giving back a priority.

I’m Your Pusher

 

Yes. I admit it. I’m guilty. I am a pusher. Not a pusher of illicit substances but of an unpopular point of view. I am a pusher of black positivity. I believe that, historically, barriers have been set up that force Americans of all races, black and otherwise, to look at people of African descent through less than favorable lenses. Negative or less-than-sophisticated images of black folks are spread across the world, affecting the global views of us. Often, at worst, we are stereotyped as violent, undisciplined deviants. At best, entertainers. Though portrayals have changed thanks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, the black doctor, lawyer, and professional are still viewed as anomalies while the black prisoner or athlete is seen as the status quo.

There is nothing wrong with being a rapper, singer, or ball player. Nothing at all. I have respect for anyone who does these things and uses their talent to uplift the community. But there are other options. As a professional, it is sometimes challenging to walk into room after room after room and meeting after meeting after meeting where I don’t see anyone who looks like me. So I have to change the narrative. I have a responsibility to myself, my family, my community, and my nation to provide true facts of the positive impact that blacks have every day on America, as opposed to the alternative facts that we are all murderers, drug users, and dependents of the welfare system.

Yesterday, I went out of my way to make the point of associating positive image of with the hashtag #OmegaPsiPhi on each of my social media accounts. I didn’t do it because I have great friends that are Ques or because my football coach from high school is a Que or to go viral. I did it because they, like  Alpha Phi Alpha (my fraternity), are focused on doing positive things across this nation, specifically in the black community, and anyone feeding positivity into my life deserves to have me do the same.  Secondly, negativity associated with any historically black fraternity is not good for any of us. Hiring managers probably do not know Alpha Phi Alpha from Omega Psi Phi from Iota Phi Theta. They just know that Steve Stephens was apart of one of those black step groups and his organization got bad publicity as a result.

People of all races, we must change the narratives surrounding non-whites in America. All blacks are not here to either rob or entertain you. All Jewish people aren’t here to be your lawyers or manage your money. All Latinos aren’t here illegally and looking for migrant work. All Middle Easterners aren’t looking for an opportunity to commit acts of violence. This is the point in history where we have the most access to the most information but we are regressing as a society. So, just as all white domestic terrorists are categorized as either mentally unstable or “lone wolves”, let’s start placing the same designation on non-white individuals whose actions are not a depiction of love for all humankind. And, when we see a group being negatively stereotyped, whether members of that group or not, we have a responsibility as good individuals to say “Not all people from group x commit the act of y. John Doe was acting as an individual and not as a representative.”

You have a sphere of influence. Change the narrative.

As a starting point, type #BlackMenSmile in on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As J. Cole said, “There’s beauty in the struggle.”

 

Make peace and love priorities.

In a Hong Kong Minute

Hey folks! I’m back in the United States! Thankfully I had automated Monday’s post because I was in no position to write on Monday. In Europe, I gave you a rundown of what was going on everyday in real time. This trip, however, was so short and jam packed that I decided I would just put together one extended blog post.
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DesirĂ©e and I left directly from work on Monday to head to Dulles, where our flight was departing out of at noon on Tuesday. We left the car at a Park, Stay, and Ride hotel 8 minutes from IAD, hopped from DC to Newark and then, 16 hours later, we were in Hong Kong. We only fly with carry-on luggage because 1) checked baggage get lost easier and 2) then we have to wait for our baggage. Once we arrived, we caught public transit to the Rosedale Kowloon Hotel and, by the time we checked in, it was 10 PM. Since we didn’t have a chance to stop at an ATM and none of the local spots took credit, we had to eat at McDonald’s but that isn’t too bad. McDonald’s is a bit of an international ritual for me. It allows me to gauge the cultural norms in different places. Example: They had some kind of a salmon Big Mac, with the beef as one layer and a deep fried salmon burger as another. We ate and went to the room to get some sleep in a city that was 13 hours ahead of home. One really cool thing about our room is that the hotel provided us with a cellular device so that we would have connectivity throughout our trip if we needed it. We ended up using that primarily for Google Maps and to call home  but that’s really all we needed it for. Sleep didn’t come easy on this (or any) night in Asia.
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The next morning, we hit the ground RUNNING. First, we walked 20 minutes to this hole in the wall restaurant DesirĂ©e found on Yelp. I had a beef and egg sandwich that was decent and she had this marvelous French Toast. I can’t describe it but it definitely was good. After that, we caught the subway to Ngong Ping where the Big Buddha statue is located. We had to take a cable car over the mountain to get there in reasonable time so I dealt with my fear of heights and we saved a couple hours on a bus. The statue was magnificent. Of course, I’m not Buddhist but I can certainly appreciate the effort put into a monument of that stature. While there, I happened to run into some brothers of my fraternity (I had an Alpha shirt on), one of DesirĂ©e’s Delta sisters, and an AKA. We spoke and, since it was Thanksgiving, they invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with them. Unfortunately that didn’t end up happening because communication there relies on my ability to connect to wifi. But it was cool to be across the world and meet frat. On the way out of the park that surrounded the Buddha, we stopped and I got some dim sum. Was pretty good but some sweet and sour sauce would have helped. After the Big Buddha, we went to the Hong Kong Zoo and got to see some exotic animals. My favorites were the black and gold buff cheeked gibbons. We ended up catching an Uber back to the hotel and were planning on eating somewhere and then going out for drinks but exhaustion had set in. We didn’t make it out of the hotel that night (even though we had dinner reservations that we didn’t remember until we were already in the bed and comfortable), but we did grab drinks on our hotel’s sky bar.
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The second day, we got an early start at around 6 AM (which was fine with me because sleep was evasive). We caught an Uber about 45 minutes out to Dragon’s Back Trail and hiked about 60 minutes up the mountain and 30 down. The climb was pretty rough, but we reached the top of the first peak and it was worth it. The views were spectacular from every direction. I captured as much as I could but no photograph could show you God’s beauty from that point. I posted a photo from one of the peaks and my uncle wrote on it, “Remember to take in the view, but don’t forget to acknowledge the vision.” The vision that created all of this was unmistakably divine and to experience it, a blessing.
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After Dragon’s Back, we caught a bus down to the metro station (we didn’t have exact change for the bus but thankfully the driver gave us a break because, as he assumed, we didn’t speak Cantonese) and walked around looking for food. We came across this street vendor that had great noodles (DesirĂ©e’s) and Crab Fried Rice (mine) as well as some local delicacy snacks (me, a barbecue dish and DesirĂ©e some pastry). Then we Ubered back to the hotel to shower and get out of our hiking clothes (and to sneak in a quick nap before we got back to it). We set back out again around noon, dressed for the rest of the day and the evening, and went to the site of 10,000 Buddhas (which is actually a winding hill with 10,000 monk statues. Pretty impressive even though, after the morning’s strenuous hike, we only made it through about 200 of them before saying, “Well, that was nice.” Next up on our itinerary was the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. The garden was beautiful and well kept. Maybe it was the novelty of it all but the beautiful sites in Hong Kong were more plentiful than those in any major city I’ve been to the United States. Everywhere I looked, there was something designed to enhance nature’s beauty from every angle. We left the garden/nunnery stop and rushed to catch a train that would get us to Sky 100 for high tea on the 100th floor of the highest building in china. As I said before, I hate heights, but once again, I made my way up there and was glad I did. The view of the city from the building’s observatory was rivaled only by the view of nature from the peak of Dragon’s Back. After tea, we walked around some and finally made it to our dinner reservations from the night before, which we were able to reschedule. The reservation was on a dinner cruise across the harbor during the city’s light show, which is held every weekend at the end of November and December. Seeing the city lit up from the water like that was a sight that I will always look back to and smile about (plus the entertainment on the dinner cruise will creep into my mind and make me chuckle as well but I won’t mention that unless personally asked). After dinner, we went back to the hotel, dog tired, and passed OUT. I lied earlier. This was the night when sleep came easily.
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On our third and final day in Hong Kong,  we woke up and it was supposed to rain all day . I knew I didn’t feel like walking 20 minutes for French Toast even though DesirĂ©e wanted the toast she had on Day 1. So I said, “Let’s go around the corner. I’m sure theirs is just as good.” You know how your grandparents say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Yup. They’re right. Because, this time, the French Toast was BROKE. This place decided to put their own spin on the dish by injecting it with peanut butter. We were not fans and, needless to says, I got the evil eye for suggesting that we go there. Following breakfast, we went to Hong Kong Time Square, the Avenue of the Stars (their version of the Walk of Fame), and Causeway Bay (a popular shopping area). We ran into some guys who were marching for equality for the LGBT community. It’s interesting (but not surprising) that, across cultures, some things are still issues that affect all of humanity. We had lunch in Causeway Bay at some hole in the wall. Let’s just say I’m glad there was rice with my meal. A lot of rice. Following lunch, we caught the metro the central part of the city to visit Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most visited temples. Then we went down this ally full of street vendors to find a few souvenirs (we collect magnets everywhere we go so that was one thing we couldn’t leave without) and then we hit happy hour at a couple bars. Hong Kong is known for well-crafted cocktails and I can see why. This one place we went, Aberdeen Street Social, made me the best cocktail I’ve ever had. If you’re ever in Hong Kong, you must go and, if you like scotch, order an Aberdeen Royal Flush. You won’t be disappointed. Along with our drinks, we had a great lobster roll. By then, it had begun raining so we called it quits around 5 PM. On the morning of the 27th, we caught a flight out of Hong Kong to Tokyo, but not before we walked the 20 minutes at 5:30 AM to grab a certain person’s favorite French Toast. While at the airport in Tokyo, where we had a layover, I picked up some Chivas Regal Scotch that is crafted with Japanese oak barrels and only sold in Japan. I’m pretty excited about opening that in good company.
All things considered, this was a great trip. I wish I’d had more time but we made the most of the time we had there. Will I go back? Certainly, one day but we’ve got a lot more to see before then, Lord willing.
Make experiencing life a priority.

The World Keeps Spinning

First and foremost, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY LOVELY MOTHER AND MY AMAZING AUNT!

Secondly, happy 8th Alpha anniversary to my line brothers. Couple years from a decade, LBs. #Fall0gr8

Thirdly, folks, whether you supported Hillary or not, the world keeps spinning. Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I going to not go to work anymore because of my disappointment? No. I can’t afford to let this keep me from working hard and neither can you. So let’s not look to one man to make America great. Let’s make this world great in our own individual way.

 

Make making the world a better place a priority.