Stopping the Madness

How can parents send their children to school knowing that school is a harsh and negative environment – where learning is impossible because they are more concerned with getting through the day without being picked on in some way? We believe that the bullying policies that are in place should make our children feel safe and that they shouldn’t have any problems other than homework and paying attention in class. Sadly, this isn’t true for the majority of children in our educational system today. The percentage of children that get bullied increases everyday, and what is this saying about us as parents? Do we view our children as weak and unable to fight their own battles? Or do we ignore their cries for help until they scream when they’ve had enough with a suicide attempt? Is our trust in the school system so inured with confidence that we expect no human error? With social media posting and cell phone usage at it’s peak, do we really expect that when our children hop out of the car, and we wave and say, “have a good day!” that they really will. Lots of questions, now let’s break it down from my point of view.

Anxiety is the body’s chemical reaction to stress in our environment. (I should know, this is the second time in a month that I have had to take stress leave from my insane day job) Anxiety can do many things to your body from panic attacks, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, and more. As adults, we have learned to recognize it and calm ourselves, but what about children? They don’t have the knowledge of their bodies yet to know when they’re experiencing these symptoms in the middle of stressful situations like bullying. They just tell their parents and we rush them to the doctor expecting the worst. We become confused because there’s nothing to panic about and angry for missing work. But that, people, is the first cry for help. It is when this pattern of unexpected and unexplained illness creates an issue when we should sit down with our children and ask the hard questions. “When do you feel this symptoms the most?” “Is there a problem at school?” “I love you, and I want you to feel better. Please tell me if there’s something else bothering you.”

These are questions that I had to ask my son, Andrew, all last month as he missed almost a month of school due to “stomach pain”. When all the expensive tests and procedures had been done, there was nothing there. My own GERD has taken a turn for the worse with my work situation and his pain, but I felt that there was more to Andrew’s condition. Upon questioning Andrew, I found that there were instances of bullying that continued past my last report. There was even some bullying from his teachers that were not sympathetic to his condition. I thought to myself, “Am I enabling my son to be bullied? Is my son so weak that he can’t fight for himself? Why am I allowing my child to be browbeaten to the point where his grades have fallen and he can barely pay attention at school?” Feeling anger at my own reflections and the school fill my veins, I had to stop, breathe, and calm myself before I picked up the phone. Denial, blame shifting, dismissive attitude, is what I got from my call. My so-called trust in the school district’s rules and regulations was crushed. School policies? Yes, well, bullies and teachers are finding a way around those, and I’m tired of being a sideline witness to my son’s persecution by his peers and some educators.

So, my old experience on school days was to drop my kids off and go about my own stress-filled day at my day job without thought until I received the “I’m home, Mom.” text – well, that experience is gone. Thanks to my son’s new acid reflux and IBS, I have begun the crusade of anti bullying. I will not have it affect more children if I can help it. 

So, my new experience on school days is to drop my kids off, promote my books and anti-bullying foundation, STOPPING THE MADNESS, and ensure that no more children or parents are hurt by the unspoken epidemic of bullying. 

The Last Word

Recently, I have been extremely busy with Book 3, Victoria’s Joy, media interviews, charities, signings, and the creation of my radio show, Break the Line w/A’Mera and Alisha on the Fishbowl Radio Network(www.fbrn.us). I praise God that he has kept me busy with my dream and goals because my day job is literally beginning to bring my migraines back. These past few weeks, I have been excited to lead my two co-hosts, but something was off about the situation. I began to contemplate if the show was relevant and beneficial to the platform that I set forth when I established Break the Line Enterprises (www.breakthelinedfw.com). I logged into my Facebook account to promote a post and saw that my younger co-host was running away from the mutually agreed platform to promote herself and the segment that I had created for her. I shrugged it off as the folly of youth and went ahead with the first show. Due to technical difficulties, several fans were unable to hear the entire show, but what they did hear was enough for them to question if the extra segment was necessary. It was as we were leaving that I heard the young co-host demanding changes that were not hers to even request and requesting the MP3 of the show from the studio staff. Tired and hungry, I nodded and assured both of my co-hosts that I would be making changes and to have patience as I smiled and left the after show powwow. Over the weekend, I went out of town for two personal appearances and a short book signing, but I reflected on the insistent attitude and precipitous social media posts of my young cohost.

The next week was a trying one for me at my day job which had me wondering why I stayed there with everything starting to happen with my books, Victoria’s Beginning and Victoria’s Choice(www.breakingthelinebooks.com) becoming more popular and selling well. I received a persistent communication from the younger co-host requesting that I provide her with the information from the show and that it was basically my fault that her friends and family couldn’t listen to the show. She stated that she had booked guests for the show to which I was struck dumbfounded. What? Why? and on whose authority? Those questions ran through my mind and I vocalized them in a quick phone call. Guests were not to be booked without research and a formal request from the Break the Line show, not the segment host’s verbal commitment. I took a deep breath before addressing her and patiently explained the issue. I ultimately allowed the guest idea since I didn’t want the show to look bad. My answer must have placated and scared her because her following feeble attempt at humor fell far past the mark. I began to question if I had jumped the gun in creating the segment before the show was established. My day job called and my headache began to build.

A few days later as I logged into Facebook again to post, I see this elaborate commercial pop up in my news feed from the segment host’s page. It was an over the top commercial promo for her “show” without mention of the actual show or a tag for me or Alisha. I was so shocked that I called Alisha and spoke with her at length about the matter. We agreed that I’d speak with the younger cohost and have her take the commercial down and tag us in all of her social media. Well, suffice to say, it did not go well. There was some back and forth heated conversations and text messages to the point the I decided to cut the segment and the young cohost from the show.

I know, I know, it seems like I didn’t give her a chance to correct her mistakes, but my dear mother always used to say, “Start how you will finish. If you start well, all will be well. If you start badly, everything will explode in your face.” I didn’t want to be at odds starting out, so I made an executive decision that was beneficial to Break the Line w/A’Mera and Alisha.

In reflection, I realize that I gave an opportunity to someone who pushed my agenda to the side for their own. The sad part is that all three of us are black females, and my personal experience should have sent up flags as I extended the offer. Alisha and I have a past history of working well together while the former cohost was an acquaintance that I met at an industry meet and greet who had expressed a different side of herself than what was actually brought to the table. My hope in providing the opportunity to her was to gather another black woman of beauty and intelligence to create a radio show that could transition into a Black version of The View. Instead, the desire to do more for self and not the group was a crabism move. For those of you who don’t know what crabism is, it is the way that Black people pull each other down to advance their own selfish goals and aspirations. Why? I don’t know, and there is a lot of research floating around out there about it. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. I had nothing against the young woman, and we parted on mild terms. Do I expect her to jump for joy at any of my successes? No, I expect that eventual pull on my skirt, trying to pull me down from my spot. Why can’t we share successes because there’s enough to go around? Another question for the academic ether. Any thoughts?

Customer Service

Most of you know that I am an author, motivational speaker, race relations advocate, and radio host. What most of you don’t know is that I spent several years as a telemarketer, grocery store cashier, home health aide, tutor, pastry caterer, and cashier manager. In all of those professions/jobs, I strived to give the best customer service possible because I lived by the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.” My experiences, both good and bad, made me realize how important customer service is to businesses and corporations. A company could lose a valued and long-time customer because of one bad experience or establish a life-long family of customers for providing excellent service to just one family member. In reflection, I know that I never deviated from providing excellent customer service no matter what race, gender, religion, etc. whether it was in person or by phone. Why is she blogging about customer service, you may ask. Let’s break it down…

Last Saturday, my husband, daughter, and I went to a CrackerBarrel restaurant in Grapevine after one of my Breaking the Line book signings. We are frequent customers of the restaurant chain and always receive good service. It was early afternoon, and we decided to sit down and have a quick bite before heading to another appearance. We entered in behind a friendly white couple who greeted us and were immediately greeted by the store manager. They asked her a question to which she responded with a laugh. We passed right by her and all she did was nod to my husband. Now, usually, I would turn back around and greet her myself, but food called my name. The hostess greeted us warmly and showed us to a table in the uncrowded restaurant area. This was the service that I expected and was accustomed to receiving. Since I like to observe other people before I sit down, (bad habit from watching too many crime shows) I noticed a few people at the ethnically diverse table behind us didn’t look very happy. Again, I figured that it had nothing to do with me, and the food whispered in my ear. I turned around and picked up the menu. We discussed what would be good to eat for about five minutes. A waiter and waitress had passed by with no greeting. I noticed an older white waitress wiping tables and glancing our way, but still no greeting. Annoyance started to creep into my skin as I looked around and saw empty tables in our section.

Finally, the same waitress approached our table with barely a greeting. She took my drink order and proceeded to rudely ask me what I wanted to eat. Taken aback by her attitude, I ordered and filed away her attitude in my mind to address with her manager later. My daughter was still looking at the menu when she asked her for her order. Seeing that my daughter was undecided, the waitress rudely turned away with a huff to take my husband’s order in a more pleasant voice and demeanor. By this time, I had silenced the voice of food and was ready to leave; however, my husband expressed his desire to stay with a nudge under the table because he saw my rising annoyance. The waitress took my daughter’s order, snatched the menus, and walked away with an attitude. Suffice to say, the rest of the meal was unsatisfactory with cold coffee and mac’n cheese, length of time between refills, no dessert offered when the ticket was dropped to the table, and dirty dishes remaining on the table throughout the meal cluttering the table. What amazed me the most was that the waitress had an entirely different attitude with the group of white women that sat at the table across from us. For those of you who know me, you know that my husband and I are an interracial couple which the waitress didn’t know until I called him “honey” in front of her. From that point, his level of service plummeted.

As we left, I saw that even my husband’s patience had worn thin, and he stood ready to speak to the manager. The manager heard our concerns; however, he still tried to defend some of the waitress’s actions which appalled me. I explained to him that we were frequent customers of the chain and that this was the first time that we had received such bad service. He apologized and offered my husband a voucher for a couple of free meals and wanted take care of the ticket. I refused his generosity with the understanding that our complaint was for him to fix the problem whether it was racially motivated or just a bad day for the waitress. The manager explained that if he let frequent customers leave dissatisfied with the service in the restaurant, it would be bad business. If people heard that we received bad service and we are faithful customers, then they would not even consider to visit. He wanted to give us something to renew our faith in the restaurant. With that explanation, I allowed the compensation and thanked him. Hopefully, he will be able to fix the situation because even if it wasn’t racially motivated, it felt and looked like it.

As I finished the week, I reflected on my experiences with customer service both good and bad. I thought that the start of my weekend was going downhill after a mix up at the bank Friday morning that would have left me bereft of funds to take care of my daughter’s drill team fees and purchase my husband’s Valentine’s Day gift today instead of tomorrow (I know, I know, it’s a bad habit that I’m a last minute shopper). A call to the phone customer service left me ready to spit bullets, but as a customer service specialist, I relaxed and took it the man in charge of the branch that I had visited. It just so happens that the negativity was completely eradicated by a very positive and productive conversation with Branch Manager, Chris Binion at the Casa Linda Wells Fargo in Dallas.

The whole experience was not only enlightening but lighthearted. The branch that I usually visit is in Garland, but I have begun to visit Mr. Binion’s location more and more due to the convenience of the location and the level of service that I receive from the staff. When I contacted the Casa Linda branch, a nice young man answered the phone and asked me if he could assist me. He wasn’t pushy and annoyed when I asked to speak to the branch manager. He proceeded to ask me nicely to hold while he located Mr. Binion. I wasn’t on hold ten seconds before Mr. Binion’s pleasant Southern accent came back introducing himself and asking me how he could help me. He listened without interrupting and gave me very good information to use for the future. He also assisted me with fixing my account himself. I was so shocked and amazed because I had never had a branch manager offer to fix anything when I banked at another bank – which shall remain nameless. Mr. Binion took the time from his busy Friday to help a customer by phone when he could have sent me back to customer service or denied me assistance at all. Appreciation for this superior level of service does not say enough for Mr. Binion’s assistance. I can honestly say that I have offered others excellent service as a customer service manager in my past employment, but today Mr. Binion went above even that. That’s probably why I like going there more than my own branch with the excuse that it’s more convenient (shh, don’t tell my usual branch because they’re good too)

When I expressed my appreciation and joy on his job well done, Mr. Binion schooled me that he sought employment with Wells Fargo because of their excellent company values and business ethics. “Product is our service, value added is financial products and services, but our competitive advantage is our people.” In so many words, Mr. Binion had just reaffirmed the level of customer service that any business is supposed to provide. (well, not the financial products and services part; it is a bank) It is the Wells Fargo mission statement. Businesses should take heed that excellent customer service is a huge part of repeat business. If you want my business/money, it’s a number one priority.

All in all, Mr. Binion didn’t know me from Eve. He just heard my voice on the phone. He didn’t care what race, religion, gender(well, that’s kind of a given), but because I was a customer, he provided me with superior customer service…and that’s how it should always be done. Excellent job, Mr. Binion; you saved my weekend and gave me an excellent example of customer service to strive for with my own customers. 

Is a stereotype worth taking a life?

I have been disturbed recently regarding the Michael Dunn trial. For those of you who don’t know, Michael Dunn is on trial for the murder of Jordan Davis and attempted murder of three other teens because they allegedly wouldn’t turn down their loud rap music. The word, wow, comes to mind when I watch CNN or read the case information. How could this happen? What drove Mr. Dunn to commit such a heinous crime? Was it because he felt disrespected by the teens’ refusal to turn down the music, or was it because he felt immersed in a stereotype that violence would immediate follow the derogatory exchange of words between a white man and black teens? Let’s open the door…

It is the current society norm to associate black teens to disrespect, bad attitude, cursing, rap music, saggy pants, violence…the negative list could go on and on. Sadly, it is a list that describes young men and young ladies in every race, however, it is a list that is associated with black youth more often than not. When I query members of an audience when I speak to see which stereotype is associated with which ethnic group, most admit that they were raised thinking the negative list that I previously mentioned is associated with all black people. As a race relations advocate, it is my job to knock down and erase the stereotypes that cause division between American ethnicities. When I breakdown the stereotypes with those misguided individuals, they feel ashamed to have lived their lives by stereotypes. I have had many approach me or email my website, http://www.breakingthelinebooks.com, to tell me how their mind has been opened and of their continued effort to bring that same way of thinking to their family and friends. I or my staff dutifully send them a “pat on the back” so to speak, to motivate their decision to bring racial change to their personal world. After all, one rock is all that is needed to create ripples.

Now, in saying all that I do not condone the actions of Mr. Dunn, nor do I seek to give him justification for his crime. What I do as a race relations advocate is look at a negative or positive racial situation to see what can be done to bring awareness to it or motivate a change. Could the situation have gone differently had Mr. Dunn not felt the white privilege of telling a black person what to do and having his orders taken immediately or adhering to the negative stereotype of black teen = violence? In my humble opinion, yes, the situation could have been resolved by each party turning and walking away. Whatever went down before Mr. Dunn pulled a gun was not worth taking a life.

A couple of years ago, I sat at a liquor store in South Dallas waiting on a friend to exit the store. A truck playing loud rock music pulled up next to me with a group of white men in it. I can remember thinking that the music was loud and obnoxious, but I also remember raising my windows and turning up my own music. I glanced their way to see the men in the back licking their tongues in a gross manner at me. I turned away and, suddenly, their music seemed to get louder. I glanced back at them to see them all smiling, laughing, and shooting me the middle finger or making obscene gestures. My friend exited the store at that time to see their actions; she cursed at them and made her own obscene gesture to which the white men laughed. I drove away and never gave that situation another thought until today. In reflection, I wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t been raised with racial tolerance and acceptance. Would I have felt disrespected or intimidated enough to take violent action? Knowing myself, I probably would have chalked the white men’s behavior up to ignorance and kept ignoring them. Ah, if only everyone had my colorblind vision.

Oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter now because Jordan Davis’ young life was ended, and we cannot live in the should have, could have, or would have. I can only pray that at some point–whether it is now or in the future–all cultures become intelligent enough to see past the stereotypes and experience a world without color before more lives are lost to senseless killing. After all, we are not born with the knowledge of stereotypes, it is learned. 

Are race relations an issue as intra-racial more than interracial?

Yesterday, I had the privilege to be interviewed by Nick Taliaferro from WURD, 900AM about race relations and my hope for a colorblind society. However, from the tone of a few callers, it seems that the topic produced a negative reaction rather than a positive outlook for future race relations. I look back on the questions and comments to find that race relations may be more intra-racial than interracial.

The second female caller of the show approached the subject of the color of my skin compared to her own. She pronounced to the greater Philadelphia area she had looked me up and found that because of my skin color, I didn’t look multiracial at all. She went on to question whether the bullying and harassment of my childhood was for something other than my skin, my speech, or my heritage to which I promptly interrupted with a no. It stands to mention that a fellow Black American woman had just judged me by the color of my skin…hmm. Of course, she went on to state her opinion of my stance of a colorblind world, and I respect that because it’s her opinion. I do have to say that her tone changed from inquiry to belligerence when I disagreed with her. However, she wasn’t the only caller who disagreed or had a negative statement to make regarding my personal life or the work that I do as a race relations advocate, and that’s okay. I knew that when I started pushing the envelope, it might not be another culture that attacked my opinion of moving forward as one nation of people instead of a color-coded society. It would be individuals within my own Black American culture that would want to remain embroiled in the past tragedies of our African ancestors. They are totally disregarding Native Americans, Jews, Japanese, Irish, and Hispanic who have also suffered travesties because of their race on American soil.

Don’t get me wrong, there were several callers who agreed in some way that we have to move forward past all of the stereotypes, prejudice, and attacking each other. I was pleasantly surprised when a biracial caller stated that there should be acceptance and solidarity because of the majority of Americans like himself.

Tonight, I will join Dr. Donnamaria Culbreth, Founder and CEO of the Colorism Project, http://www.colorismproject.com, to discuss the interview and how intra-racial relations affects not only Black Americans but the entire American society. Hopefully, we can shed light on why intra-racial relations is harder to work on than interracial relations.

Why does it have to be about color?

Recently, I saw part of the interview with TV twins, Tia and Tamera on the OWN channel about the negative reactions to Tamera’s interracial marriage. To say the least, I was appalled that there is still an issue with interracial dating/marriage, but having that sort of marriage myself, I can relate to Tamera. The question is, why is it such a big deal? What is the difference, and why does color matter? Let’s break it down.

My former husband was from Mexico, and I can honestly say that there was hardly any negativity about our marriage. Whenever it was brought up, it was his black male friends. They would joke with him about my figure or looks, but it wasn’t a narrow eyed stare down. I barely noticed because my mother was a multiracial woman who taught us to be colorblind, and he never paid it any attention because he told me that Mexicans come in all colors. Hmm..

My current husband is white, and I can tell you that I have heard some of the same things that Tamera has heard and probably worse. The sad thing is that most of the insults or negative comments have come from some black people. “Why you have to go to the white side?” “He ain’t go nothing for you” “All that a** wasted on that white man” “Girl, you came up on a lick” “Why couldn’t you find a black man to marry” “What’s wrong with you?” “Sell out” “Wanna be white girl” “I bet you let him call you a n***a in private” These are just some of the comments that have been thrown at me over the five years that my husband and I have been together. The sad part is that some of them have come from so-called friends. Suffice to say, they are no longer friends. Every once in a while though, an older white person will stare and shake their head, but nothing is said. I chalk this up to an old, lingering prejudice and laugh it away.

I have seen studies and surveys that give the rising percentages of interracial marriages. I have also seen studies where America is one of the only countries that stress the separation of black and white or put black on a birth certificate if only one parent is black. Why is it so hard to accept that America is no longer a white or black America but a brown America? We are a mixed up stew of cultures and identities because that was the original intention of our forefathers, so in my opinion, get over the color issue and move on. There’s nothing that can be done about it, so just accept it.

In the end, it is not about the color of one’s skin, it is about the feelings and emotions that someone has for another person. Color just doesn’t matter as much anymore. I know it doesn’t for my happy marriage.

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Racial bullying in schools

I just posted a picture of my son, Andrew. As y’all can see, he has a light complexion and shows our ethnic heritage, i.e. Jewish and Black American. The picture was taken at his 5th grade graduation in May 2012 before he left the comfort of elementary school for a semi-diverse middle school in Garland. He told me that he was very excited to be growing up and moving on the 6th grade. He chose to play the clarinet like his mother and had graduated to a magnet program for science at the middle school. Of course, I, being the proud mom and oblivious to the fact that my son had a difficult road ahead, nodded my absentminded encouragement and snapped more pictures.

The first month of school, Andrew came home excited to be attending middle school but a little overwhelmed at the transition from two classes a day to eight. My background as a tutor helped with his schoolwork, and he was doing well until the monster of racism reared its ugly head in the form of bullying. His grades fell, and his teachers started calling because they felt he was bright and too smart to fail. Andrew went from being outgoing and smiling to withdrawn and angry. I asked several time what was wrong, but he shrugged me off and retreated to his room.

As I prepared dinner one evening in November, Andrew came to me with tears in his eyes and asked would I miss him very much if he weren’t here anymore. Something in his voice made me immediately turned around and tell him that my heart would have a giant hole that would never heal where I kept my love for him. I’m not the hugging kind, but I walked over and gave my twelve year old son a hug. He broke down and told me that some Hispanic and Black children had been bullying him. Their acts included pushing him down, kicking him in the butt, yelling at him when he picked up my daughter from her nearby elementary school, cowering him during class, and calling him names such “half-breed, gross, outsider, that other kid, stupid, yellow skinned, retarded Oreo”. Those are just a few of the names that send my blood boiling, however, it wasn’t until the following Monday when my son sobbed his heartache that I knew how deep his pain really was. I became angry that parents are still teaching their children to mock, ridicule, and bully children because of their racial background. When will it stop?

I have since met with the administration at his school to address the problem. I have even offered my services as a race relations advocate to speak on behalf of “those other kids”. The school seems to have addressed the issue with Andrew’s bullies, but what about other children like him? I am teaching my son how I dealt with racial bullying and profiling, but how many other parents are doing the same? We need to teach our children tolerance and respect, and that is my goal for 2014. What do y’all think?