walking in west baltimore.

I felt guilty for not helping, for not witnessing the protests or walking the streets where he was shot.

I felt guilty for heading out of town when there were hundreds of opportunities to help clean up the streets that same weekend I left.

I felt guilty because I was afraid to head to the city – the real city – where the media had filmed the “riots.”

But today, I felt different.

Last night before bed, I scrolled through my twitter feed, and came across a post of a beautiful mural dedicated to Freddie Gray. I reached out to the woman who snapped this shot and she gave me the location where I could see this first hand.

I drove to Sandtown, specifically to the corner of Presbury and Mount, to not only see this mural that was curated just a few days ago, but to walk the streets to get a sense of who actually lives here.

At first, I was nervous for walking around, but as I roamed the streets, people greeted me and said hello. It was an overall chill vibe, but I could only imagine what the tension was like just a few weeks prior as some streets were still blocked off as a few scattered cops were standing guard.

As I arrived on the same streets where thousands protested, I felt a sense of peace. Now, the streets are quiet with people going about their day-to-day business. Women on the stoops braiding hair, kids walking around, men standing on the corner, politicin’ as usual. I walked up to the mural, with the fresh spray paint smell still residing in the air. I spotted a popular activist, Deray Mckesson, on the corner filming a piece in front of another building where a local Baltimore artist was creating another mural: a mix of images of MLK protests to what just transpired in these past two weeks. There were a few people with their DSLRs snapping away, but also engaging in conversations with those who were raised on these streets.

The boarded up row houses were not unnoticed, but this was expected. I’ve driven down these streets before, and understood this to be the “normal” west side of Baltimore.

I chatted up with three older black gentleman, one of whom was born and raised at Gilmore Homes – and actually bet $1,000 to his friend [who’s in jail] that he has proof that he was born there and when I tell you he was PROUD of where he was from – he pulled out a folder with his birth certificate with proof that he was born here. These cats just wanted to be heard. They voiced their opinions on how corrupt the cops are, how it took another murder for people to actually take a look at west Baltimore, and how instead of investing millions of dollars to rebuild Canton and the Waterfront, how about taking that money to help those who actually live here. With their frustrations, they all mentioned that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to shed light on this neighborhood. All they can do is talk about what’s going on, with hopes that more people like us (the artists, the curious folks, those wanting to help) will actually do so and not just put this on the back burner.

I no longer feel guilty. I reside in Baltimore, and I have the chance to help 24/7. Spending just about an hour in this neighborhood was enough time to give me a feeling of hope. That there are people committed and demanding change, and taking immediate action to turn this place around.

Progress.

Let’s just hope this momentum continues.

tragedy into triumph.

I remember asking my dad one evening what he thinks it will take to fix Haiti’s situation (poor infrastructure, poverty levels, government issues, etc.). Although I don’t remember his exact verbiage, it was something along the lines of: Haiti may need to be wiped out completely for the people to start all over and rebuild.

This conversation was about a year before the 2011 earthquake struck the country.

The moment the quake hit, I remember the conversation my dad and I had, and immediately thought, well shit…is this what he meant by starting all over? I cringe at the thought and the uncanny feeling I get even typing these words, but it [sadly] took one of the most devastating natural occurrences to strike this country for the world to see and pay attention to this place.

In the wake of the police brutality that seems as if it’s never disappearing, and the fact that it actually happened in the city I was born, reminds me of what my dad said.  Sometimes it may take something drastic/tragic/devastating for people to pay attention.

As I navigate my life and create a vision and opportunities for myself that only appear when I speak my truths, see what’s missing and actually set action plans towards what I want for my life, I often recognize my choices and actions stemming from a tragic event that happened.

This isn’t anything really surprising. There are stories and songs that end up being uplifting and beautiful but it stems and was created from a place of pain or despair. There’s a reason why some of my favorite songs [Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-factor‘ or Bob Marley’s Redemption Song] come from a place of pain or tragedy. The irony is not lost on me.

Some people take a shift in their careers/outlooks on life/their purpose after there has been death in a family, a major relationship break-up or they’ve been forced to do so [e.g. job loss].

A tragedy is a tragedy and some may seem bigger or more important than others, but the point is that there’s a noticeable shift in what’s happening. It’s affecting the way I see the world and what actions I can set in place to ensure I’m contributing to something bigger than myself. 

I’m from Baltimore.

It’s exhausting telling people where I’m from.

“No, but I’m from the county.”

“No, not where The Wire was filmed.”

“No, not in the city. I live about 30 minutes away.” 

“Oh, and yeah, my family is Haitian. “

Maybe it’s because I’m brown, and most people automatically assume people who look like me should speak a certain way, and live in a certain zip code.  But as soon as I mention the last bit “my family is Haitian” it’s like everything I resemble makes sense to them. “Ohh so that’s why you speak like that.”

Today I woke up tired. Most likely from watching the news and reading my twitter feed and being angry at what friends were posting on Facebook – not realizing how racist their words are, or them – from the night before.

We’re all ignorant to what’s actually happening, unless we’ve been through the trenches, and experienced what those who are in the media have been through, or have some empathy towards a disenfranchised group.

It surprised me that people were shocked about these protests, and even more surprised at the buildings that were being burned vs. the actual core of what is happening/has happened time and time again.

Maybe it’s because my family came from the trenches – of a third world country – that they provided me with the safety of growing up no where close to anything that may resemble what they have gone through.

When I say I’m from Baltimore, I feel that there’s two sides. The county and what you see on the news. Just like Haiti.  Portraying a place as always violent and in distress is one thing especially if you’ve never visited.  But we all know there’s two sides to every story.

The core of it all is fucked up. Money, politics and race. It all comes down to race and the injustices that occur from a system that wasn’t built for anyone else than those who built it.

Today I felt torn. I wanted to help, but didn’t want to get hurt. Physically, emotionally – afraid of feeling and seeing what I’ve been raised not to even experience.

This is the exact reason why I need to help. To understand what people who look like me feel – the same people that when others ask where I’m from, assume I am. To create change and to uplift those who think they never have a chance at survival.  There are too many people running away from what’s happening, ignoring these issues (and people) as if they don’t exist, and blaming those who are hurt for disrupting “their” city.

“People don’t want to believe that they actually are racists or that the systems & institutions that they pay into and buy into are actually working actively against certain people…people can’t come up with how they feel and as a result don’t want to face the realities of where they live.” – Clinton Yates

death in motion.

Sometimes I feel that I’m so out of touch with reality that I don’t even know what to prioritize.

Today changed that.  Practicing expressing what I want & feel to others has opened up my eyes on how out of touch I really was, with myself & how I see others.

I shared exactly what I was thinking with my brother after catching him up on my dad’s status, and his sentiments were eerily similar.

He’s a “retired” physician who still thinks he runs the hospital, so he was dictating vs. accepting and listening. Smoker for probably 60 years and 73 years old. We can count the times our entire family will see each other again and it’s frightening. Yet, we have an opportunity (as you do too) to cherish every single moment with those in your circle. Those you love and care for.

My dad is fine and not on his death bed, but today put everything into perspective.  As he’s being treated in the hospital room, we were watching the live stream of Baltimore City Police describing what did or didn’t happen to another black man shot by cops in America. Countless deaths are being broadcasted everywhere you look, and I’ve lost count the number of names that turned into hashtags. Death can put a lot of things into perspective and in motion.

As I was afraid to even enter the hospital, I knew I eventually had to as I’ve learned to face my fear to understand what it’s trying to tell me.

We all need a safe space for people to share their stories, whether that’s through a blog or face to face.  This starts conversations where people open up & trust is built with one another.  We’re all hurt and have a story to tell. We all need healing. Provide the space for someone you love.

why I left Miami.

“Do you miss it?” Of course!

“But you worked for THE HEAT!” Yes, and it was one of the greatest experiences thus far.

These questions often come up once I share my story with others. Fun times, and I love sharing this part of my life with them.

Most people associate leaving a job as a bad thing especially when it entails working in the sports & entertainment industry…and having LeBron James as one of your colleagues. [This in itself is a story for a different time].

I left because I felt a piece of my soul breaking through the shell I created and built during my tenure there. I craved expansion and a new experience and change. I wanted something different and unfamiliar, which was scary as hell, but I leapt and left anyways.

Sometimes it’s exhausting explaining this to someone who’s never taken a leap (leaving a job or place) in their lives, but most times I find myself inspiring and motivating those I speak to, to challenge themselves to do something different than they’ve had in the past. I don’t jump the gun and tell them to quit everything and just go, but it’s along that path [smile].

In Miami, nothing changes for the most part. The seasons consist of hot, really hot, rainy and hurricane season. You know what to expect.

Because of this consistency, it’s a black hole for people to be complacent. Granted, I’m not implying that people who live there don’t do and create wonderful things, but there’s a reason why people choose to retire in South Florida. “Permanent vacation mode” is the mindset and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We all need breaks in our lives and Miami is a great place for that. [s/n: not to get into a complete rabbit hole of why Miami is amazing, but it is a fantastic city to experience at least once in your life and I recommend everyone to try it].

I spent close to 10 years living there, in a period of my life where I kind of thought I was an adult because I was “on my own.” This city raised me. I loved every minute of it. However, I only knew so much to get by – which turned out just fine – but I physically felt that I wasn’t growing. I wanted a new challenge.

You see, when you’re forced to adapt you are automatically put in a position where you have to make a choice. On a literal sense, where I’m from, I was used to having seasons. I was forced to prepare myself for winter by buying boots and a heavy coat. When it’s below 20 degrees consistently for a month on end, I had to make a choice. Do I get out of bed to go workout? or do I stay here because it’s comfortable. Most often, I caught myself staying in because who-the-hell-wants-to-work-out-at-6am-in-December.

In Miami, every day was beautiful. It was easy to just put on some shorts and a top, walk out the door and head to CrossFit, at 6am. It was 70 degrees! The discipline wasn’t really needed, or rather it wasn’t even tested.

Do you know how hard it is to talk yourself into getting out of bed during the winter when it’s negative 10 outside?! Discipline is a helluva habit. Living in Miami taught me how to create (and break) habits. Leaving Miami taught me how to let go and trust the process.

I loved and still love the city, but that doesn’t equate to me staying. Once I let go of the attachment to the physical aspect of this place and resisting the urge to leave, I took the leap and blossomed as a result.

bridge the gap.

There’s an opportunity for you to expand and evolve into something greater than what is right now. Seeing what’s missing (in your life, your community, your job) and even that feeling that you know you can do more, is the core of what you need to uncover and dig up.

What can you improve on? How can you make what you do best, better? This really is about you – and what you can unfold and share with the world. The only way to do so is to do the inner work. Navigate what’s holding you back, why certain things you see or people you interact with trigger a particular emotion.

A few weeks ago, I went to hear Brandon Stanton (the “Humans of New York” guy) speak at Johns Hopkins. He’s not the greatest speaker, nor is he the greatest photographer. My intention wasn’t to hear about how he takes pictures. My intention was to learn and take away one thing that is different about him as a photographer, that no one else has really mastered yet.

He’s mastered the art of talking to strangers, and more importantly, getting over the fear of rejection and approaching them. To some, he may be at the peak of his “career,” but he’s just getting started. He acknowledged that he has accomplished fame or success rather quickly, but that was never his goal. With each picture, story and caption he’s captured, he’s always looking to make his art better. Not for us, for the media or for the fame – but for himself.

Whatever it is you do, keep building, brick by brick for you. Only you know what’s keeping you from success, from being the best version of you – which in essence, is the greatest art you can share with the world.

project update.

After Ruckusmakers, I had about 20 different ideas that following Monday. All of these ideas were related to fitness, to kids and specifically female middle school aged minorities in the Baltimore community. They were just grand ideas, with no business plan or concept on how this could generate money, or more importantly how this could impact change in the way that I’d like it to.

30 days later, my B.H.A.G. (big hairy audacious goal) hasn’t changed; however, what has was what I focused on immediately. After speaking and sharing my ideas to a few Ruckusmakers and very close friends of mine, one in particular mentioned for me to take a step back and focus on me for a second.

With all of my grand ideas, none of which focused on what would make an impact (monetary) immediately, and even if it didn’t, there was still something within me that has been blocking or preventing me from taking the bold steps to initiate said project.

So it started with a memoir or manifesto of sorts. After having a breakthrough (or breakdown) and feeling a bit emotionally overwhelmed one evening in front of my friend, the highlight of our conversation was when I was directed to write a 5-page manifesto of my life. This was my project. There needs to be an immense amount of time, focusing on myself and digging up any blocks or situations that happened in my life that would come to the surface to shed some light on why or what I’ve been hiding for so long.

So, I wrote and shipped this memoir one week later on April 2nd

From my initial post declaring what my project will be, I’ve declared that there’s no rush, and I can still incorporate my memoir to discover how to navigate to connect the dots to create this yoga movement/festival in Baltimore by August 2016.

Now, I’m focusing on creating and writing a set of e-books based on the common themes that kept coming up while writing this manifesto.

Fitness.

Commitments.

Identity.

My intention is to publish my first e-book on at least one of these themes by June 30th, 2015.

 

owning your future.

This morning I had the privilege of being one of the judges for Roland Park Middle School’s elevator pitch competition.

About 40 seventh grade students are enrolled in an entrepreneurship course, designed by N.F.T.E., a non-profit organization that I proudly volunteer for. More info on them can be found here.

Each student presented their 30 to 60 second business idea in front of a panel of judges, some nervously speaking in front of a classroom, conveniently forgetting to mention the name of their company.  But mostly, there were others speaking proudly & enthusiastically about their idea.

Creative in their own way, “B-more Bubbly” is a natural & locally sourced bath products company founded by two girls with the exact personality that fits the name. “The Kleb” featured two boys who are artists who want to create a space & platform for other artists to share their work.  And “Getting Through This Together” is a non-profit founded by two girls, focusing on creating a safe space for young kids with mental health disorders to bond.

The beauty behind each presentation was that they were each inspired by their own ideas, some of whom partnered with friends who have a strength that could amplify the business if they join together.

These kids believe 1000000% in their idea. They are in this prime time of their lives where they have no fear and anything and everything is available to them. Which made me think of the bazillion ideas I why I’ve been hesitant to express them. When did I lose this enthusiasm?!

I left with about 5 new business cards. From seventh graders. They were more prepared than I was as I quickly remembered that I need to order my own business cards. #fail

Times have changed, and I’m excited for their our future. What’s important now, is that we continue to nurture these kids and give them feedback and the tools to help them cultivate their craft.

In the span of just under 2 hours, I was reminded of how important it is to voice your idea. Even if it sucks. There’s no use of keeping it to yourself when there are people to support and encourage you to follow your dreams, or at  the very least, encourage you to think & dream bigger.

removing the blocks.

I’ve been given the task to write a memoir or manifesto of sorts about my life.  From the very beginning to present day – with a deadline attached.  I know my friend who “pushed” me to do this means well, but I’m currently not thrilled of said friend.  Tough love, I guess.

At this moment and time of this post*, I’m not sure if I love or hate what I’m finding about myself and my encounters with black Americans. It’s getting deep, y’all.

Even in this initial phase of beginning to write and outline and trying making sense of everything, I’m digging up certain periods and people in my life that I’ve magically hidden or tried to block out for so long.

The wheels are spinning at the pace that feels at lightning speed, as layers of what I thought I identified myself with are being peeled away.

My intentions are to publish the finished product, which may surprise many, but that’s not the point.

The purpose of writing this manifesto is to pinpoint specific areas or situations in my life are blocking me from moving forward with my ideas.

Stay tuned.

*This post was brought to you by red wine, Phillip Glass and chocolate croissants.

when was the last time you cried?

Three years ago I met one of the most fearless humans I know.  A friend of mine had a group of friends in town visiting Miami for the weekend, and we all decided to hang out together.  I instantly connected with one of them, and we started talking about each other’s lives and sharing our stories. He was spinning off of a massive injury (broken rib cages) from a motorcycle accident (trying stunts mixed with going too fast), something that he was so proud to share, in addition to the time he got electrocuted while at work.  In my mind I kept thinking that this guy is absolutely insane!  It turns out he lives and breathes for this adrenaline rush.  He was intense and bold and not afraid of anything. I was completely at a loss for words on how this man is still alive today, but what attracted to me to him were our conversations and the fact that he was fearless.

[Side note: That same weekend happened to be the weekend I met Ishita who’s premise at the time was about getting over the fear of fear which I subtly wrote about here.]

He and I spent the weekend together just touring Miami and getting to know each other by way of me picking his brain and sharing with him my ambition for taking a leap/moving out of Florida/quitting my job. He stopped me in my tracks and asked me this question: when was the last time you cried? In that moment, I couldn’t think of a time so I responded with something generic, “probably 3 years ago”as I literally could not pin point a moment or time. [In hindsight, this is an incredibly long time to shed tears considering now I feel I cry at least once a month :)].

The point he was getting across was that I hadn’t done anything worth testing my limits or getting out my own box – things that compliment growth & expansion.  All the signs that weekend led me on this hunt to do things that scare me, that evoke an emotion that I’ve been hiding without even realizing it.

There was a moment where we were just sitting on my couch in silence, listening to Christian Scott’s album and I remember the song that I kept on repeat long after this weekend passed was Litany Against Fear.

“I must not fear.Fear is the mind-killer.Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.I will face my fear.I will permit it to pass over me and through me.And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune

Three months later is when I resigned and moved away.

What I’ve found over the course of the years is that whenever I feel that I’m on the verge of flipping to the next chapter of my life, I cry. Not because I’m sad or afraid, but because I know that it’s in these exact moments where I’m facing my fears….and it’s okay.