Legacy

“I heard you die twice, once when they buried you in the grave, And the second time is the last time that somebody mentions your name.”

— Macklemore Glorious

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my father’s passing. There were years when the grief didn’t get easier; pictures, favorite foods, and simple memories all brought me to tears and deep sadness. Perhaps, around the 6-year mark, the grief lessened and shifted slowly to comfort. I still get sad some days, but most days I am comforted because I realize I am finally carrying out his wishes (at least those he asked of me). 

The manner in which my father passed was heartbreaking. He died of a stroke, caused by ongoing drug addiction. He also struggled with depression and was sad particularly about his role as a father. My parents divorced when I was 4 or 5 years old, and my dad felt he was an absentee father because he didn't see us daily. During my adult years, I tried to convince him he was a good father hoping that my displays of love and admiration would be evidence enough. Yet, he struggled with his disappointment at not being around as much as he'd hoped. 

The day he was admitted into the hospital, I stood frozen and powerless in his living room as he vented with the last bit of consciousness about the disappointments in his life. I didn’t realize his health was deteriorating until I noticed his eyes roll into the back of his head. 

So why am I sharing this with you? Why am I sharing sad bits about my father? Because my father felt that he could have done more with his life. However, over these 10 years, I think a portion of my father’s legacy is being lived through the opportunities I’ve had to share his insights. For example, in April 2017 I gave a keynote presentation at Springfield College in Massachusetts where I discussed how my father questioned me about my plans to use my education for community work. In March 2018, I gave a talk in London titled, “Never Settle", discussing gender advocacy in sport. The focus of the talk came from a conversation I had with my father about my career (see post 2 – Never Settle). After both, attendees spoke to me about how they found the talks moving and inspirational which made me emotional as well as feel a sense of pride. I firmly believe this was a portion of the meaning and purpose of his life.

I think a lot about that movie Signs when in the mother’s last moments she provides instructions that ultimately save her husband and children’s lives. Her legacy was the message she gave in her dying moments. Last year to commemorate the 9 year anniversary of my father’s death, I tattooed my father’s dying words on my wrist and posted the following caption on my Facebook page: 

When he was admitted to the hospital he couldn't speak very many words, but he was determined to tell me the following: 

"you know too much, love too much." 

There was a point as he repeated this to me when he said, "I'm trying to tell you something…" and I replied, "I get it." Two days later he slipped into a coma. The truth is I didn't get ‘it', and at the age of 24, I thought I had life figured out. Life was about to show me I didn't.

The message my father gave me in his dying moments transformed how I interact with the world and myself. Love has become the foundation of my feminism and social justice orientation. It is the way in which I ground myself in this world: love for self, love for others, and recognizing that only through love can we dismantle unjust and oppressive systems. We then rebuild through mindful, caring, and community-focused work. It’s being gentle through practicing compassion and care on others and myself. My father’s words have been the glue for understanding how to engage feminist practice: bell hooks says, “love is justice” and my father says, “Love too much.” I think it’s pretty clear. That final piece was recognizing that there's not much I know. We can get caught in what we know (or don’t) which can limit how we love others and ourselves. I’m not talking about intimate partner relationships (while this is certainly relatable) but more so in doing really good community-based work. Loving practice means recognizing that knowledge is created among people and it’s not until we communicate with others in caring, open, and understanding ways that we are informed of social truths. 

I miss my father tremendously and I wonder about what our conversations would be like today. But I am comforted in knowing that my words and work are his lessons and legacy. 

There’s No Book On Finding Your Feminism

“How did you become a feminist," a white woman asked me over coffee. She leaned in (across the table) anxiously awaiting my answer.

It felt like an interrogation because her expression read: "why did you think you could become one of us?” As though feminism is reserved for white women. 

I went on to tell her “my feminism” and that where I am today was a process that included understanding sisterhood, womanhood, and sexuality. I sensed my answer just confused her especially because I hadn't mentioned any feminist literature. My answer was all about my personal experiences. 

Looking back I realize that because I didn’t study her feminism, I wasn’t really a feminist. 

About nine months later, during a focus group interview with Black women addressing their experiences embodying ‘strong' Black womanhood, a participant shared that she "takes care of everything: the family, herself, work, everything. I’m feminist because I have to be." Her statement perfectly summed up my feminism and what I was trying to tell this White woman a year ago. I am a feminist because I survived, thrived, learned, and am supporting other women through their surviving and thriving: and now I have a name for it.

It’s fascinating how some people think: That to speak on an issue you (or maybe just me as a Black woman) must have received training. That you must have purchased a textbook, sat in a classroom, completed assignments, or performed research to talk about real issues. Nonetheless, whenever I am asked this question, my reaction is a series of snapshots from my life, but mostly I think about The Day Rider and her process of becoming. A portion of my blog will share my journey of finding my feminism through what initially started out as a book titled, The Day Rider. After considerable thought and reflection, I've decided to share portions of the book through this blog because I find my experiences are relevant today and I hope they assist readers in understanding and framing their cultural experiences.  

My feminism is intimately connected to my journey of self-discovery, which has been in process and consistently making progress. Also, my feminism is informed by a variety of thinkers within and outside the realm of feminism.

There is no book on finding your feminism; it just is what you come to do. Several of the reflections I will share explain that being a feminist is not one that I connect to because of the apparent wordage, but because of my self-identities and life experiences shaping the way I explain, understand, and resolve social issues. 

I have realized that feminism is beyond teaching or researching around gender equality but action: I as a woman (and feminism isn’t just for women) have learned that being feminist is living in action. To speak and advocate for equality, I challenge myself to feel, dissect and understand the layers that impact people and myself. Coming to the point of being feminist isn't a short answer and best explained as a journey. 

I've lived in a world against me – a world designed against Black women and all I can do is live through it. So, my feminism is at the intersection of race, gender, and class; and is in the spirit of equality because I know the struggle of inequality. My race and class are intricately interwoven into my gendered experiences and understanding of inequality.

Never Settle

On 'Never Settle' 

It’s always so funny how your parents are right about stuff. I can proudly admit, however, that my father and mother have been right about ways in which I must lean into my career, relationships, and personal growth.

I am looking forward to sharing on March 7th at LSBU's "Can We Break Down Barriers in Sport" event one such piece of advice from my father, in my talk titled: “Never Settle.” I’ve shared a bit of his genius before at a Keynote at Springfield College where I shared how his words have fueled my feminism and advocacy work. My father who was born, raised and died in Chester Pennsylvania challenged me on transferring my education to advocacy and being authentic in my work and personhood.

In that, it was quite interesting when someone asked me a few years ago how I became a feminist. How do you answer a question like that? Feminism is such a process, a journey, and walk of discovery and awareness that can’t be easily summed. I am still on that walk and living in a spirit of curiosity every day as I learn. In any case, I didn’t jump into feminism - and in thinking about it now, perhaps I’ve always been a feminist. For instance: I was the first girl altar server at my Catholic Church. Attending the mass every Sunday I watched the boy altar servers and wondered, “how do I get to do that and why aren’t there any girl altar servers?” Recognizing that altar serving was positioned as a mentoring opportunity and pipeline to leadership in the Catholic Church for young boys, there was not a space for young girls who didn’t want to be nuns, to assist during service.

One day I voiced my interest to my mom, and my mother being my mother, said we're going to speak to the priest. One day after mass we spoke to the priest who said this hadn't been brought up before and he'd talk to others and let us know. I was eventually told I could be an altar server after I complete the training/classes to do so. Needless to say, I completed all the training and became the Church's first altar girl.

Was that being feminist? I suppose. Certainly an early beta version for me. As a young girl, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and had no awareness as to why girls hadn't been welcomed to serve before. However, in my interest and curiosity, the questions arose: "why not me and now?" AND shout out to my mom for walking me up to the priest after church and advocating for her daughter's interest and right to be an altar girl.

So what does this have to do with my father, sport, and sport psychology? Well, it has to do with like everything. Because fast forward to the year before I was accepted into Temple University's Ph.D. in the Psychology of Human Movement program having come from a non-sport psychology and more clinical psychology background and with my interest in Black women's physical and mental health seemingly more health psychology. I was sitting on my father's couch asking his advice on if I should go into health psychology or sport psychology for my doctoral training. Not knowing much about sport psychology, but having a background as a college athlete and completing a thesis on anxiety and motivation among track and field athletes (but in a non-sport psychology program), I still didn't feel confident I could hack a sport psychology doctoral program. 

The kicker was, I met this guy. Gosh, there’s always a guy. LOL. But for real, I met my soon to be mentor, chair of Temple University's doctoral program, and (now) a second father figure, Dr. Michael Sachs who I spoke to about Temple's program. I really liked his energy and honesty. I mentioned him to my father. I told my father that while I hadn't felt extremely confident about knowing everything about sport psychology, I felt that this Dr. Sachs would be able to mentor me into the professional woman I hoped to become. Well at that moment, my father said to me, "well, don't settle. If you think Dr. Sachs can help you, go to Temple."

My father’s advice did not come from a conversation about gender inequality or ways in which society should come to bring equity to structurally oppressive systems. I’ve learned that settling can surely take many forms, for which we can observe, recreate, and even allow ourselves to settle in many ways. For example, my mother's support exemplifies ways in which we can simply lean in. After I became an altar girl, other girls were permitted to serve.

My father’s words resonate with me as we move into an age of social consciousness where the measure of our success for women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights is indicative of how we look to our past for insight and inspiration, stand in our present bravely challenging systems of oppression and our own comfort zones, and look up to the future inspired to create a better world for the next generation.

So on March 7th, 2018 I’m looking forward to sharing a few examples and strategies to continue to #pressforprogress in our pursuit for gender equality. #neversettle 

Hope to see you all there. 

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Welcome to Metanoia

met·a·noi·a
noun

Welcome to Metanoia a blog sharing my daily experiences, travels, and random thoughts. What is metanoia? Metanoia can mean a lot to different people, but to me, it is an awakening that leads to personal transformation. I selected the word metanoia for my blog because my womanism has been a transformational journey; it has included a series of tough moments, wake up calls, awesome achievements, as well as learning to be present and available for myself and others. In recognizing and appreciating this, I feel awake and clear on who I am as a womanist, advocate, and sport professional. 

Regardless of what has brought you to Metanoia, I am excited to share with you my experiences, travels, and insights as they intersect with my womanist and Buddhist orientations.  

Thanks for visiting ☺️
Leeja