Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Why Not Leave?

April 29, 2011

Often when “the dirty little secret” of domestic abuse finally escapes its carefully constructed prison of shame, fear, guilt, and self-blame, especially when its thick seemingly impenetrable walls are felled by murder, out tromps the Greek Chorus to query incredulously,  “Why didn’t she just leave his sorry ass?”

This, strange as it may seem, is easier said than done.

First, domestic abuse is frequently invisible to everyone but the victim(s) especially when it is verbal and emotional. There are no bruises or broken bones to display in exchange for compassion, empathy, or simple sympathy.

The victim becomes mute, surrendering voice to survive, suffocating in mind-jabbering silence, shame, self-recrimination and blame. “If I hadn’t made him mad…” “If we speak it will make her mad and she will beat us.” “If I speak then I expose to the world my ineptitude at being wife/woman/mother/man/husband/father/partner – human.” “If I speak I will shame my family, my church, my community, my workplace.” “If I speak I will lose access to my house, food, clothing, my children, money, my job, societal status, etc. etc. etc.”

Justification saunters uninvited into your taciturnity and proceeds to dance a maniacal two-step on your brain with denial and blame. You question your sanity, your desires, your needs, wants; your basic human rights. Unfailingly, your answers support your position that you are not entitled to any of those. “You are bad.” “You are black.” “You are poor.” “Remember where you came from….” “It’s all in your imagination.” “He took you and your children in.” “It’s not so bad.” “This is what you deserve.” “You are ugly.” “Toughen up, get over it, your mother had it much worse.”

Negative messages bombard you becoming crippling mantras with every laboured breath you take. Peppering your pummeled mind, adding confusion upon confusion. You find yourself questioning whether your left hand is indeed your left hand. “… Maybe it’s the right?” You no longer know anything.

You subsist on a diet of subterfuge, tension, and soul crushing anxiety. You swallow without chewing your festering rage. Tiptoeing around on eggshells you mercifully attend to the children, the family, the house, the garden, the church, the social groups, school, anything to avoid having to face the dire truth of your situation. One foot in front of the other, numb, impervious to feeling or sensation you maintain a state of frantic busyness, so as to not succumb – “to keep your head above water,” as the saying goes. Even though, if allowed one wish, it would be to buckle your knees and fall, surrendering wholly, finally, to Death’s seduction, the incessant whispers lasciviously caressing your every cell, enticing you with promises of sweet release – peace.

But, you do not succumb, you keep going; for the children; for the family; the community; the church; anyone but you. You see, on this long, ever-growing list of obligations and obligees, your name does not appear, for your life has become self-sacrifice, a lingering suicide, your self-esteem so fragmented you no longer exist. So how can it possibly occur to you that you can, (and must,) do for you? You cannot hear “GET UP! YOU ARE ENTITLED TO BETTER! RUN! SAVE YOURSELF! LIVE!” No. No. They cannot be talking to me?

And still, there is within, something, (spirit, an indomitable force, the call of the ancestors perhaps,) buried deep amongst the muck, mayhem, disappointment and duty that hardens your heart; “bellows softly blowing” doggedly pumping to keep the embers of your life-light from extinguishing completely, until such time when you can rise again from the ashes.

Leaving an abusive relationship is one of the hardest things to do. In fact, leaving any relationship is hard, even when uninspiring, the love long departed. It is because it is familiar; it is what you know. We are all too familiar with the adage, ‘Tis better the devil you know! On average it takes a victim of abuse seven tries before being able to permanently leave an abuser. (The most dangerous point in an abusive relationship is the time during and immediately following leaving). However, the task can be easier with planning and preparation:

Contact, or at least know, the contact information of the domestic violence/sexual assault programs in your area.

Build a strong support system if you can. Or at least try to become involved in outside activities so you are not completely isolated.

Make an escape plan which may include:

A place to hide the car keys and other important items.

A hidden emergency fund. Begin stashing away a little cash from any allowances
and/or grocery money. If your finances are entwined consider secretly opening a separate bank account in your name only, preferably with a different financial institution.

A packed suitcase with a couple changes of clothes for yourself and your family. Leave this with a trusted friend or somewhere your partner will not find it. Include copies of birth certificates, passports, evidence documenting the abuse, and any other pertinent personal documents such as financial records.

A safe, secure place, preferably unknown to the abuser, where you can go, Have a plan to get there undetected.

Develop a plan for calling the police in an emergency, or having someone call on your behalf.

Notify few people of your plans. Friends or family can, in an attempt to help, jeopardize your safety by exposing your plans to your abuser.

Be kind to yourself. Take time for yourself. Find ways to affirm your goodness and your worth.

Keep a journal and write out your feelings. Keep your journal in a safe place.

Continuing in my efforts to educate on abuse, I am again organizing, producing and performing in The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica. This time in Treasure Beach, ST. Elizabeth. The Ladies Who Dare! presents a benefit production of “The Vagina Monologues” as part of the V-Day Global campaign to end violence against women and girls.
Highway To Being! copyright Sharon Martini

7 pm, Saturday, April 30, 2011 at Frenchman’s Reef Restaurant and Bar
Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, Jamaica

In addition to “Ladies Who Dare!” from the greater Treasure Beach Community and beyond, the cast includes Dr. Glenda Simms, former Executive Director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Marie Sparkes, founder of Pure Potential (a privately-operated Jamaican Therapy company whose objectives are to give victims a wider range of strategies, skills and knowlege to manage the issues of sexual abuse and exploitation) and five young ladies who dare from Treasure Beach’s A Ganar Youth Leadership Program.

This event is a fundraiser for abused and exploited women in St. Elizabeth. Funds raised will be used to create a Healing Advocacy Fund for “Suzie” of Treasure Beach. Requested donation Ja$500.

To buy tickets online or to make a donation.

For tickets and information call: 876-574-3556
Email: thevaginamonologues@sharonmartini.com

Visit the official V-Day website at: www.vday.org

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A Song For Healing

July 25, 2010

November last year I was awarded one of three McKenzie River Gathering Foundation, Lilla Jewel Fund For Women Artists, Social Justice Awards.

I am in the birds
I am in the bees

My commission was to create an art piece that depicted social justice. My creation entitled, “Mirror, Mirror…There I Am!” was unveiled at MRG’s “Justice Within Reach” Fundraiser, April 10, 2010. (Find it here at www.sharonmartini.com, or www.mrg.org.)

I am in the trees
I am in the seas

When Sheryl Sackman, the Development Director of MRG telephoned to tell me I had won, I am not ashamed to say, my giddy inner, old-fashioned, twelve year-old was unleashed. Grinning, naught but glistening white dentition in pajamas was I on the other end of the line.

I am in the ocean
In the wild
I am in the child

Elated I danced around my house – I had won an award! Then, out of breath, boogied unceremoniously back to reality, I wondered whom I could tell; who could stand to hear my happy news. Later still, I worried that in my exuberance (or delirium,) I had misheard. Maybe Sheryl had not, in fact, told me I was a winner?

I am in the winter
In the wind

Social justice is truth. It is the recognition that we all are human, descended from the dark, melanistic mother. “From out of Africa.”

I am in the summer sun
The soil
I am in your heart

Social justice is the knowledge that we humans exist in tandem, together and entangled with nature in all its incarnations. Social justice is wholeness.

I am in the storm
I am in the breeze
I am in the farm
I am in the field

Social justice begins with me. It starts with my seeking, finding, accepting and loving, unconditionally, the “I am” in me and being able to recognize her reflected back in everyone and everything I see.

I am in the hour
In the dark
I am in the day

Social justice is possible, I would never have entered the contest if I did not believe that. But social justice cannot exist without the human lest it remain a pithy, yet impotent, phrase, large letters on a placard, waving furiously, futile, in the air.

I am in the book
I am in the beast

We are forgetting the human. We are forgetting how to be wholly human sharing space, place, vulnerability and truth. Social justice is elusive.

I am in the famine
In the feast
I am in the fire

I am human (or at least I try.) I know pleasure. I have known pain. I know loneliness and longing. I have known sorrow. I know self-love. I have known betrayal and rejection, yet I know joy. Social justice is joy.

I am in the glory
In the story
I am in the man

Social justice is oneness. We have forgotten the oneness of nature, of us, and our place within it, as parts and pieces of the puzzle.

I am in the winter
I am out of Africa
I am in your soul

Social justice is love. We have forgotten pure love. We are forgetting our source.

I am in the world
I am in the mother
I am in me

Social justice is liberty. It is equality. Social justice is humanity remembered. It is humanity healed. Social justice sings:

I am human
I am home
I am human
I am here
I am human
We are whole

This column was originally published in the July, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

Wake up! There are three snakes in your bed

June 11, 2010

Imagine yourself awaking, stretching as you leisurely unfurl yourself, eyes closed, into a regal recline. You are the mother of two rambunctious, loveable rascals whom have not as yet arisen.

You are luxuriating in the resonance of an audible inner exhale that thrills your every cell as it breathes from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, when, surrendering to the “Ahh,” your Zen is shattered by a helium-high pitched “One. Two. Three.” In stereo!

Welcome to one morning in my world. The boys were up. I opened my eyes to witness them cocksuredly laying out on the other pillow in my bed, their catch of the day, three lithe, not so little, garden snakes. Do you have any idea what freshly captured garden snakes smell like?

There they stood, Moses and Malik, wide-eyed, breathless, proud as peacocks, grinning Cheshire cats; the cats that got the cream. I could conjure another cliché, but you get the picture I am sure.

My gut reaction, the girly-girl in me. Yes, I know this is non politically correct language, but this is the truest way I can describe that particular bit of the many bits that make up the whole of me. Do you want to know what the woman/hag/crone/angel/witch/goddess/mother in me, wanted to do to my darlings?

Anyway, as I was saying, the girly-girl in me wanted to wretch, scream, hurl – all over Moses and Malik, not the serpents – but then I remembered Gwendoline. Gwendoline, heroine, star, of my little picture book, “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! I Love Bugs!”

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what Gwendoline is made of, but, Gwendoline loves all things squiggly, wiggly, creepy and crawly. Yes! Gwendoline loves bugs! Forgive me but, cheek-to-cheek, in full pillow-patter pose with three ticked off ophidians, there is no distinction between a worm and a snake.

As I thought of Gwendoline, my stomach settled and I found my breath. Did you know you can breathe through your skin? I sat reclining, admittedly at this point more rigid than regal, smiling wanly, somewhat stupefied, and questioned how my life had come to this. No prince charming on my pillow. No knight in shining armor, only three Thamnophis Sirtalis serpents on my bolster, and Moses and Malik, fruit of my womb, standing to attention, positively glowing in exaltation. Had my offspring presented me at that time, with the Hope diamond, or a hundred-million-dollar winning lottery ticket, they could not have been more certain of their worth and entitlement to my deepest gratitude and undying love. I marveled at how I had never, in my wildest dreams (and I am she of the wild reverie,) imagined that this would be my life.

Do you know what? Looking back I am so glad I had never imagined so many of things that have been my life, for had I, I would have run hard and fast the other way (whichever direction that might have been.) Boy would I have missed out on so many weird and wonderful experiences.

I mean, one has not lived unless one can truthfully say, “I have reclined in bed with three snakes simultaneously – the reptile kind!”

This column originally appeared in the May, 2010 edition of The Southwest Community Connection newspaper.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville

May 12, 2010

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, I organized, directed and performed in (alongside twelve other “Vagina Warriors”) Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues.” The show, a “The Ladies Who Dare!” production took place at Bloomfield Great House, Restaurant and Bar. A benefit production for the V-Day movement and the Montego Bay Home For Girls (Melody House,) it was the first-ever performance in Mandeville.

The Vagina Monologues, 2009, Mandeville, Cast

Vagina Warriors Are We!

Vagina Warrior, Dr. Glenda Simms

Doing The Vagina Monologues in Jamaica was for me a personal quest. They say life is a journey and I concur. As I travel this life journey, raising my two sons in a country that is their country but not my country, and liberating myself from an oppressive marriage, I am surprised to find myself discovering my Jamaican roots. Crazy as it may sound, I am being directed, by my ancestors, to my spiritual home. The grandmothers are attempting to remind me as I trundle along in this my turbulent life, of the often forgotten yet most crucial, rest stop on the road to wholeness and home.

My parents are Jamaican. They immigrated to England before Jamaica’s independence, to partake of their “piece of the pie,” and help themselves to some of those golden ingots that paved the streets of London. Leaving behind their secrets, shames, and unresolved grief, to create a new life in a better place and then, as quick as one can say “Abracadabra,” become better people.

Unfortunately, shames, secrets and unresolved grief, all wrapped up as they are, with your spirit and soul, cannot help but follow you wherever you go, wherever you are and if left unattended to, wreak havoc on your life.

Prior to The Vagina Monologues in Mandeville, I had been lucky enough to visit Jamaica a few times over the eighteen or so months prior to the production, however, there were certain things “culturally” that bothered me. I experienced many a moment that had me wondering, both cerebrally and increasingly vociferously, how I could get The Vagina Monologues to Jamaica; how I felt Jamaica needed “The Vagina Monologues.”

More often than not, people would giggle and then rapidly recoil from me. I swear I could hear ladies’ brains questioning “… but, she seemed like such a nice girl?” followed fretfully by, “Where the hell is my husband?” He of “the little brush” on the other hand, had a tendency, once he recovered from the shock of such a word tumbling so nonchalantly from the lips of one who had one (a vagina that is,) would move in closer, pressing, ever-emboldened now, on my personal boundary barrier.

Nevertheless, at times shaken, but ultimately, undeterred, I kept coming back to Jamaica, and, because that is who I am, I continued voicing my opinions with regard to The Vagina Monologues. (What I now realize is that along the way, I was finally fully discovering, exposing and embracing, “the Lady Who Dares” in me, myself and I.)

Abuse, in its myriad forms, has been an uninvited guest on this life journey. My father beat my mother. My mother beat her children. My oldest brother beat me up because, being first-born, con willy, he had license you see, obtained free and clear from mummy dearest, who relegated to third power-position behind my dad and her eldest son, considered me someone who needed to be brought down a peg or two. Then chiseled and chipped a little, and still believing in fairytales, I met and married my very own white knight in shining armor – sparkling, solid, stainless steel, commanding and wholly impervious to emotion it was.  (In truth, I think there was a mix up at the bookstore and I somehow ended up with a white, bearded smiting dude.)

Still, such is life, you live and learn, as the saying goes. And I choose to seek and accept, my lessons, and laugh, and dance, and sing, and love (beginning with myself – warts and all,) and heal.

Abuse, particularly against women and girls, is subtly sanctioned by the mores of society, innocuously mixed in with the adhesive that adheres the, acceptable labels (and accompanying characteristics and expectations) assigned to she; woman, mother, daughter, sister, wife, girlfriend, grandmother and friend.

I am attempting to end the cycle that inflicts my family (me, myself and I, and my two sons.) I am calling it what it is. I am exposing it, and I shall not be claiming it as my shame, something to be hidden, covered up and endured in silence.

Contrary to popular belief, mandates, dogma and doctrine, abuse is not woman’s burden to carry. It is not my burden to carry and pass down to my children packaged in with the bone china and family heirlooms. As I continue to learn about my Jamaican heritage and history, I am beginning to understand more and more the cycle of abuse as it relates to me.

As I commit to the struggle of becoming aware and wholly conscious, of me, who I am, naked of all labels, and step away from those same civilized mores, discarding the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” of life and, as I like to say, “reclaim my vagina,” what I have discovered is that the universe gifts us with opportunities to aid in our quest for enlightenment; for our own truth. The Vagina Monologues was, for me, one of those gifts.

I have performed in The Vagina Monologues in the US several times. In fact my first ever rehearsal was on my 40th birthday. (Dr. Glenda Simms said that women don’t begin to come into their own until their forties… I will admit that I am a late bloomer, although in many respects I was born old.) The effect it has had on my life has been profound, or destructive, dependent upon your perspective. It has empowered me. It clarified abuse in my own personal world and the world at large, and its disguises, as it tore me open, and shamelessly exposed how entwined, how encumbered humanity is in its madness. Especially women.

It showed me how it is all the same thing, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, societal; whether we wear bruises the world can see, or we carry the pain, internally and constipated, its aim is to diminish us, to negate us, to crush our inherent, life-giving, life-bringing, life-bearing, omnipotent power and have us fighting and fearing ourselves and each other.

Quite simply the aim of abuse against women and girls is, at its core, an effort to contain and control our life force, our creativity – our sexuality. It shouted out to me that abuse of any kind, whether directed toward woman, man, flora or beast, is never about love. It is always about control, and the two sides of the same anger coin, insecurity and fear.

It touched me so deeply; it changed my life – opened the door on a little chaos some might say – yet here was a medium for healing, empowerment, enlightenment, education, entertainment, lots of laughter, lots of tears, and liberation. My being a part of it accelerated me into awakening and pushed me gently back to breathing on my own. I was a genie in a bottle (a blue one) I rubbed, I am out and I am never going back. Performing in the Vagina Monologues helped me find my stroke.

I believe that every human – man and woman – needs to see it; needs to be touched by the power of it, so they too can know where and how abuse touches them, where and how they abuse, and begin to work to stop it. “To help us all remember the inherent, life-bearing, omnipotent power of woman; that without She, there cannot be, You, He, She, nor We.” I too believe that every woman, (every Jamaican woman,) needs to be afforded the opportunity to perform in The Vagina Monologues, however small a part, for the participating is, in itself, empowering, imbuing a sense of pride and accomplishment, unlocking the long-buried memory of her inherent, awesome, inner strength.

To see it, or to be in it, can and will assist in opening up much needed dialogue, for oneself and for others, about abuse and its suffocating side-kicks, pain, shame, secrets, rage and fear. I absolutely believe that dialogue, daring to say, to tell, to speak out loud, is the first step toward healing. Putting it out there allows other women to know they are not the only one.

By organizing, directing and performing in The Vagina Monologues on the island of Jamaica, and, serendipitously, in the parish of my parents and my ancestors, as I continue on my personal journey of healing and liberation, I find that I need to be the universe’s messenger and share this power-filled gift with the Jamaican woman.

I am grateful to have been able to meet ladies brave enough to dare to make it happen with me, to share themselves and their voices in order to give voice to the unseen and unheard among us (and those of us who truly don’t know it is abuse, for it is our norm, it is all we know,) whom though invisible and silent are out there, all over our world, ever increasing in numbers, being swept up in the hurricane of abuse against women and girls, then discarded on the outside, disheveled, disorientated feeling powerless and in pain, struggling just to survive and, inevitably in their shame-filled silence, becoming the fuel that keeps the cycle flowing and repeating itself.

The madness of abuse emotionally and physically cripples, not only women and girls, but men and boys too, and humanity is dying spiritually because of it.

I am deeply honored, and humbled, to have played a small part in helping to shine a light to expose this truth, so we can all work individually, yet collectively, to end the madness and begin the process of healing.

See photos from “The Vagina Monologues, Mandeville, 2009” here:
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100009
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100038
http://gallery.me.com/sharonmartini#100024

Communal storytelling fosters a sense of human connection

April 16, 2010

Reminiscing one day with my sister, she reminded me of how I used to keep her awake — snotty with laughter, at bedtime — regaling her with stories about naughty Nabeel, a little boy who had a penchant for riding “bare-back” upon the cat’s ear. She had me chortling, and snorting, as I remembered those times, now well over three decades ago. I was instantly transported to a time in my life of belonging, when I truly felt loved.

Humans since the beginning of time have beguiled each other with stories, personal and communal, fables and sagas. Some of these tales have been, in our sophisticated civilization, pooh-poohed as mere myths, fabrications of the mind and imagination. Yet these stories, like the figments of my own fantasticality, have a tendency to stay with us — to root us, and remind us, of where and what we have come from. And that is the beauty of a story, no matter how odd, fanciful, incredulous it may be, it is still a story, someone’s or, many people’s story. It still has power and meaning and place. Even history, that amalgam of facts and many a fanciful folk tale, at its core, is simply collections of “his” “story” and, of course, “her” “story,” “our story.”

It has been said that what once was old becomes new again, and again. Will Fuller, Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc, Schools Committee Chair has dreamed up a way to bring back the way of our ancestors, for one night, (to start), to the Multnomah Arts Center. On Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m., “Sharing Our Family Stories,” sponsored by The Office of Neighborhood Involvement and Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., Small Grant Program, will debut.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an evening of personal history and storytelling to celebrate the varied lives and experiences of all people in Southwest Portland. Inspired by Robert Gray Middle School’s Project R.E.A.C.H. and Jackson Middle School’s “Peopling The Nation” Family History Project, where eighth-grade students conduct in-depth research into the background (ethnicity, religion, immigration routes and life highlights) of one family relative, or ancestor, and relate their individual stories, orally and visually, to members of their school community. The original intention of these family history projects was, in my opinion, to afford the children opportunities to learn about and from each other, to dispel or at least begin to diminish the power of the myths and stereotypes of “the other.” A way, I like to think, to help them “know,” particularly in this era of multiculturalism, that we are all, no matter color or culture, inherently human, with rich, different, yet equally important stories.

The aim of “Sharing Our Family Stories” is to foster human connection, healing and community in Southwest Portland. Robert Gray and Jackson Middle School eighth-grade students will facilitate the cross-cultural, cross-generational roundtable dialogues with community members. The students will first recount their personal chronicles. All who listen will be invited to share their own tales.

“Sharing Our Family Stories” is an invitation to all to break bread together (light snacks will be provided), to meet, human to human, heart to heart, at the table of unity and take turns at being storyteller. So each person may, like the ancient storytellers, griots, and fabulists of lore — whose role it was to educate, nurture, entertain, and ultimately unite their people in love, play their small but mighty part in uniting, in humanity and love — our neighborhoods, our community. The ancients knew that the need to be heard is inherent in all humans. To be heard is to belong. To belong is to be loved.

Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? Your epos or memoir might star, instead of a mischievous munchkin wildly riding the cat’s ear, an unctuous uncle who sailed in on the big ship Newgate; a chief whose ancestors came with the territory, or a mother Goddess who flew Boeing over the sea. It is your story to tell. Please do.

For additional information and to reserve your place at the community story table e-mail schools@swni.org, or telephone 503-764-5501.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 Edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Little one’s jaw-dropping question reveals similarities, friendship

November 19, 2009

Different. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the word “different” means: not alike, dissimilar, not the same, distinct, unlike most others, unusual, various. All perfectly benign definitions, wouldn’t you say? I mean a daisy is indeed not the same as a daffodil, and it is definitely distinct from a dahlia.

Who among us would be perturbed should one of our offspring, or a child in our charge, question out loud as to why a daisy is so much shorter than a daffodil? Few, I suspect. Why then do we adults have a tendency to become conversationally impotent, embarrassed and even angry when similar enquiry is made about dissimilar characteristics in human beings?

Strolling along Waikiki Beach with my sons Moses and Malik (who at that time were ages 3 and 1, respectively), a little person with a parrot on his shoulder walked toward us. I immediately began to panic – and it was not because of the parrot. I silently prayed that Moses would not notice the little man, (the parrot would have, of course, been fine, but dear Lord, not the man) and surreptitiously quickened my pace.

Alas, ’twas not to be. Sharp-eyed and precocious Moses clocked the man and promptly bellowed: “Mummy, why is that man so short?” As I struggled for composure and tried to convince myself that nobody else had heard his “whisper,” he barreled on: “Does he talk?”

Had the sands, at that moment, parted and Mother Earth swallowed me whole, leaving my children waifs and strays in unfamiliar and potentially hostile territory, I would have thanked her profusely. Unfortunately, salvation via terra was not to be mine. The atmosphere inhaled, the tide froze in ebb, and a million eyeballs assaulted me, boing-ing maniacally in my peripheral vision. There was nowhere to run to, if I could have managed movement. Trapped and struck dumb, peering down I met Moses’ expectant “curiosity colored in innocence” expression. My mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, I ineffectively sucked at the air. Finally, mercifully, the incognito wise woman within me responded: “I don’t know Moses, why don’t you ask him?” All at once a gentle breeze blew, the tide flowed, and eyeballs retreated to sockets. Or maybe, it was simply that, delivered from fear, I was breathing again.

Moses spoke to the little man, discovering that he did indeed talk, even though he remained short, and for the rest of our holiday they were beach buddies on first-name terms. The man (I must confess, I have forgotten his name, but not the lesson learned) thanked me for seeing the human in him, and ultimately giving my child permission to do the same.

Somewhere along the line in our civilization we have learned that “different” when applied to human beings – whether it be difference in skin color, physical ability, attributes, sexual orientation, gender or stature – can be something not nice, something abnormal, something less than, something not to be discussed (or acknowledged for that matter) in polite conversation, and certainly not with the children.

But different is a fact of life. Different is, as the sky is, as the wind is, simple, natural, nature’s gift, and oh so necessary. Variety, as that trite (but true) expression states, is the spice of life.

A dahlia is different from a daisy. I am different from you, as you are different from Moses, as he is different from that little man in Hawaii. It is nothing to be ashamed of – no need for shrouding in secrecy and silence. Ultimately, you and I, and he, and we, are all, magnificently human.

So, let us each commit to honoring our differences, but celebrating our sameness, our oneness in humanity. And the next time a child in your life lustily expresses their curiosity about a fellow human being, don’t shush, or shame (or wish for the ground to eat you). Dare to dialogue out loud and proud. You will learn something potent and, who knows, you might make a new friend.

This article originally appeared in the November, 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Bringing out our inner children, for better or for worse

October 11, 2009

A friend’s son was killed last month in Washington, D.C.

Reading his obituary, navigating the list of his accomplishments, awards and successes, the line that resonated most with me was: “He was a rambunctious toddler, known to run down the street in just a diaper.” It made me smile. I chuckled as I pictured a spirited, independent bundle of life, tearing down the road with mortified adults trundling after him.

The other morning, I dropped my son, Malik, off at the bus stop. A young girl, somebody’s daughter, sat on the sidewalk smoking, surreptitiously, a cigarette.

I enquired rhetorically of my son: “Is that little girl smoking?” I had seen quite clearly the curly, acrid, plume of fume.

“Yep. Bye, mom. Love you.” He dashed from the car, secretly hoping his mother wouldn’t say anything but knowing in his heart I would.

Bidding him farewell I drove forward stopping beside the “little puffing princess,” and enquired: “What grade are you in?”

She lifted her head, turned toward me, hesitated, then, finally lifting her eyes, she replied: “Seventh.”

“Why are you smoking?” I questioned. “It will kill you.”

“I know,” she resolutely replied.

“You need to stop.” I told her.

As I maneuvered my car to return home, something about our brief interaction yanked at my heart. There was a sadness, resignation and futility dancing devilishly in her demeanor and I found myself needing this child to know I cared about her; that my comments, or as she might see it, interference, were not merely to chastise her, but stemmed from love.

Traveling back now, I wound down my window. Malik, seeing this, lowered his head, smirking. “Oh, no, not again, mum!” I imagined him saying. A classmate standing next to him watched me, curiosity spreading across her face.

I pulled up next to the young girl telling her: “I say this because I care.” She stared at me incredulously.

“Smoking is so dangerous for you,” I admonished. “It will kill you.

“You need to stop,” I implored. She replied flatly: “I know.”

Driving away I wondered whether her insipid response referred to the fact that she knew she needed to stop, or that smoking would kill her.

The girl sitting on the sidewalk was obviously a physically mature teenager, but I plainly “saw” a little girl. I saw her inner child locked away in a dungeon. The dungeon that childhood has become in our competitive world, (and being driven ever more so by our crumbling economy), in which children must prematurely shed their childish proclivities so as to be able to compete, to attain worth, acceptance, and recognized success. I saw a little girl begging to be set free, to be seen, listened to, but who instead, in defiance, took up the fine art of smoking – a well-documented death-inducing device, a taker of lungs, liberty and life. All in an attempt to defy the restraints of this, our modern-day, hurry-and-grow-up living, and wrest back some control.

And it made me think of my friend’s son, Salim, running unrestrained down the street. And I remembered that I once knew a fearless girl whom, decades ago, overjoyed with the spirit of Christmas, opened everyone’s presents, then danced in celebration outside in the freezing wee hours, dressed in rubber boots and a nightie, with only the moon and stars for company. And I laughed out loud.

I have always believed we must hang onto our inner child, (those little girls and boys that live within us), for when we do we are more apt to let life lead us everywhere. It is with this inner child – our organic form, the “rough in the diamond” that we all inherently are – where we breathe our deepest, run our fastest and shine our brightest.

So, little puffing princess, (you know who you are), I see you. I see your inner child and I dare you to snuff out your cigarette and reclaim her. What does she love to do? Bring her back to life, liberation and love. I hope to see you there. I’ll be the one dancing in the dark in rubber boots.

This article originally appeared in the October, 2009 edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

What did you love to do as a child? What would you dare to do today, whatever your age, if your inner child were let loose?

Black Oregon

September 25, 2009

“When times are tough for everyone in Oregon, it is exponentially so for black folks.” This according to Marcus Munday, President of the Urban league of Portland. The Sunday Oregonian newspaper’s July 26th , 2009, headlline screamed: “State of black Oregon: precarious.” The column continued “Unemployment and other miseries troubling the state are multiplied for African Americans and went on to list the litany of ills and misfortunes that continuously befall the black populations in Oregon.

For example, sixty percent of black children in Oregon live in households with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This compared to thirty-three percent of white children in Oregon. The percentage of Oregon students meeting the state’s 10th-grade reading benchmark in 2006-2007, was only thirty-eight for blacks as opposed to sixty-eight percent for whites. Also, the Oregon incarceration rate per 100,000 of the black and white populations is thirty-four percent for black compared to sixty-eight percent for whites.

We are constantly bombarded with negative stories in the media of the failings and shortcomings of the black population of Oregon (and America at large.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, the Metro section headline was “Schools confront racial gap.” Occasionally, of course we do hear success stories, but these tales are oftentimes, tempered by the “exception to the rule” insinuation. There is a latent, and insidious, belief within the general population, of the inferiority of black people. I concede that it would be hard not to believe with negativity channeled, unrelentingly, when it’s black people propaganda, whether current, or historical.

What if there is an ulterior motive with this negative press? Extreme? Paranoid? Perhaps, that is your call, but consider this: They say the winners; the conquerors; the dominant ones, get to write history. I understand that. What if that history contained more truths about the losers; the conquered?

What if it was general knowledge that during the formation of Oregon, blacks were not allowed to be here? They were not allowed to own property here. It was the Law. In 1844, Oregon residents passed laws banning slavery and excluding African Americans. An act passed by the Oregon territorial legislature in 1849, provided that negroes that “it shall not be lawful for any negroe or mulattoe to come into or reside within the limits of this territory.” This was precipitated by a fear among the settlers that  the Indians and free negroes would become allies against them. “Whereas, situated as the people of Oregon are, in the midst of an Indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattoes to reside in the territory or to intermix with the Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.”

In 1859 Oregon became a state. Its original constitution included an article banning African Americans from residence, employment, owning property or voting. Some might say, that was then, this is now, but could that not have created instability in the foundation upon which a person might ultimately build their “home?

Wealth in America is through home ownership (the acquiring of property) and education. Sixty-eight percent of white Oregonians own their own homes. Only thirty-four percent of black Oregonians own their own homes. Twenty-eight percent of all Oregonians hold bachelor’s degrees, only nineteen percent of blacks hold bachelors degrees.

What if the true story was told to all, of how blacks, after World War II, were denied access to the GI Bill and Federal Housing Authority loans, while whites used this privilege to gain, and maintain, their head start to the American dream in all areas?

Predominantly black schools are constantly failing. The disparities in test scores between African American and white students is ever increasing. We read and hear about it all the time in the news media.

Comparing data on Lincoln High, Portlands most white school, and Jefferson High, Portland’s predominantly black high school, these disparaties are glaringly apparent. Statistics from the Portland Public Schools document, “Source 2008-2009, School Profiles and Enrollment Data,” state that Lincoln’s Talented and Gift students number 26.9%, while Jefferson’s numbers 7.4%. Special Education at Jefferson is 21.4%, and Lincoln’s is only 4%. Tenth Grade students meeting or exceeding State standards in reading (2007-2008) are 16.8% at Jefferson against 85.2% at Lincoln. Average graduation rates and drop-out rates for 2007-2008 at Jefferson and Lincoln are 68.7%, 7.52%, and 94.63% and 1.35% respectively.

What if the history we are taught, told, in no uncertain terms, that the “colored” schools, and resources therein, in the former “separate but equal” public education system, were intentionally inferior?
In 1867 in Oregon, though the Black population totaled 128, Portland assigned black and mulatto children to segregated schools.

In the landmark case, “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,” the key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren illuminates:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. … We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

I highlight the sentence “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” What if this knowledge was weapon? Would it not make sense that this “sense of inferiority” could be fueled by the bussing of the colored children to intentionally superior white schools, and the ostracizing melees that resulted? Why didn’t the Government, instead of spending all that money on buses and security, simply improve the tools and resources within the inferior colored public schools? Maybe this is a simplistic question. Maybe everyone’s lives needed to be affected for change to truly be effected. As my father used to say, “If you cannot hear, you must feel.”

Could it be that yesterday, and today, that “sense of inferiority” is the self-loading magic bullet; ammunition that, like the EverReady bunny, keeps going and going and going, and which fills the barrels of the guns that are the various institutions in our society, not least of all the media?

What if it were mandated that everyone know the story of the Code Noir Laws, the Jim Crow Laws, and all the other nameless “Laws” enacted and hiding out within the auspices of “Diversity,” “Multicultural,” and “Tolerance,” programs?

What if, instead of the same old slave stories, the story was told of how the Africans that were brought here, and from whom many black Oregonians (and black Americans) are descended, were Queens, Kings, Princesses and Priests, nobles, regal, revered and innately powerful people? A shaking loose of the inflicted “sense of inferiority” and the gifted “sense of superiority?”

What if the story that the first slaves held in the United States were not black, but white, (and let us not forget the enslavement of the Native American populations) was told. These first slaves were Europeans, mostly British, who died like flies on the slave-ships across, 1,100 out of 1,500 perishing on one voyage and 350 out of 400 on another. Could that suggest at least a superiority of the constitution of the black people?

What if, as an alternative to the stories of the disproportionate incarceration of those criminal blacks, the tale of how there were no prisons in the villages from whence the noble African’s came, the Africans having no need for same? Could that imply that the “statistically proven” criminality of the black population is taint, as opposed to trait?

The state of Black Oregon might still be precarious, but public perceptions might be changed? And what if public perception changes, might that lead to real, physical, spiritual, emotional change? Could it lead to an end to system dependency, claiming your “place” as opposed to learning one’s “place?”

I don’t know, but might it be something to consider?

Love sometimes means letting go

September 11, 2009

I love to watch my sons play soccer. It’s exhilarating observing their finesse on the field as they charge around like wild mustang in focused abandon. Their skillful control of their feet and the ball conjures images of graceful gazelles darting through the African savannah.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was watching my son Moses’ Westside Metro team, called “Revolution,” play. It was a sensational game of fast, intelligent soccer, the boys passing and juggling the ball, dancing, almost, in harmony. Then, Moses went down, hard, and so did my heart – dropped right out of me, taking my breath with it.

I stood frozen in fear as Moses lay writhing on the turf in obvious pain.

The black panther, or mother lion, in me bared teeth and prepared to pounce, wanting desperately to retrieve him, carry him off to the safety of shelter and lick his wounds all better. But, the all-too-human Sharon in me, sensitive to the feelings of a 13-year-old classic soccer-playing youth, squelched the big cat’s roar and stayed put.

I willed steel pins through the soles of my feet pinioning me. I didn’t trust myself to not shape shift and spring free without them. And then I silently begged for divine intervention.

I implored God, Goddess, Universe, any deity who would listen: “Let him be OK. Let him not be badly injured. Please. Please. PLEASE?” I pleaded, chanting in mantra. No response. Moses remained wincing and squirming on the ground.

Fighting desperately to stay put on the sidelines, I dug my conjured steel pins deeper into Mother Earth. Eventually, surrendering, I resigned myself to making bargains with the almighty white, bearded, smiting dude, when Moses rose unsteadily to his feet. My breath returned exultant. But Moses could barely walk. Each belabored step he took trod footprints into my heart.

A soccer field is large but, as I watched Moses limping across the land, a tiny, solitary urchin, it appeared the size of North America. It became increasingly excruciating to watch him shuffle lamely by, pulsing with pride, pain and disappointment. His ambulatory impediment goaded me, daring me to intervene.

Delirious with anxiety, I witnessed a chasm open between my injured offspring and his fellow teammates, and before my eyes, he metamorphosized. It was no longer Moses out there alone in the center of a continent-sized soccer field, it was me. Me, solitary, rejected, ostracized, betrayed, abandoned, an outsider, exposed and vulnerable, all alone in the U. S. of A.

Visually schizophrenic now – one minute it was Moses on the soccer field, the next it was me in America – I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going in to save him. Sod his teenage pride, he’d get over it. He needed me.

Suddenly, an “angel” in chartreuse-colored cleats swooped in, putting his arm around Moses’ shoulder, lifting him off his injured leg, supporting him in his walk off the field. My breath took its leave again. As I struggled to keep my composure, another “angel” swept in supporting Moses from the other side. My heart swelled to bursting. A liberating howl of joy, gratitude, and relief, percolated and boiled over in torrents of tears within me. I exhaled: “Hallelujah!”

Moses’ world was not my world. Moses was part of the team. His teammates cared for him. He was accepted.

Emotionally recalibrated, sensitive again to teenage emotion, I bit down hard on my lower lip. This to prevent creating a noisy, runny-nosed scene that most definitely would have resulted in my being carted off in a straightjacket, thereby terminally embarrassing my son – a crime for which I would never be pardoned. I didn’t try to hide, however, the healing salty tears that trickled from my eyes as I sheepishly confessed to another soccer-mom how the players’ show of unaffected, spontaneous, active love had deeply touched me.

Call me naïve, call me gullible, call me cliché, but I am telling you, standing on the sidelines of a soccer field at the aptly named Powerlines Park, I saw love incarnate.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons and several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

It’s scary, but true! I think that growth, maturity and liberty is achieved when we can recognize when it is time to, and then, let go.

Neighbor’s exclaimation reveals the heirlooms that bind us to our past

September 11, 2009

Aaaarrghhhh!!!

That was the sound of delighted recognition, involuntarily escaping the throat of my neighbor’s cousin, upon spying a strainer in a cupboard.

It was Independence Day. Invited to dinner at a neighbor’s house, we ladies were in the kitchen and the boys were outside practicing legalized pyromania, under the supervision of a responsible adult, of course.

Boisterous chatter and laughter filled the air, mingling melodically with the distant staccato crackle of sparklers and Pop-its. Suddenly, my neighbor ducked beneath the counter to retrieve a utensil, but her access was impeded by uncooperative cabinet mechanism. Her cousin bent down to assist and then, screamed.

My vivid imagination shifted, immediately, into overdrive – unlike my legs or body, which, I will confess, did not even deign to feign activity. Picturing a cache of rodent droppings, or a rodent(s) deep in rigor mortis, I was quite content to be on my side of the counter and was congratulating myself on my good fortune, when comprehensible conversation resumed.

“I have that strainer, but mine is bigger! It’s got to be 60 years old!” Exclaimed my neighbor’s cousin.

“You do? This was my grandmother’s!” Responded my neighbor.

“It might even be 70 years old.” Said her cousin.

“I bet it came from a set.” Declared my neighbor.

Passing the strainer tenderly between themselves, my neighbor and her cousin (whose grandmothers were sisters) bantered excitedly back and forth, delving into their memories, reminiscing. I marveled at how a simple strainer had so effortlessly opened a pathway to their pasts, their present and their familial connections. It was as if magical memory tentacles poured forth from this strainer and bound them, no, hugged them, together.

Their excitement was palpable. I sat utterly enchanted, smiling, my heart filling, honored to be a sentimental observer, allowed to bask in their joy, when out of nowhere an ill-mannered curmudgeon clonked me out of my heart and into my head.

Abruptly, I was no longer in my neighbor’s kitchen. I was inside my own head, and thinking. Thinking how I didn’t have kitchen accoutrements with memory tentacles that had been passed down my family tree, to me. How I had no fancy wedding crockery, not even a chipped mug, with sentimental, scream-inducing value, for my poor, evidently deprived, sons to inherit.

I don’t recall purchasing a ticket, but I had boarded the “Woe Is Me” train, which was hurtling down a track that I was laying. About to sign the papers promoting me from “track layer” to driver of said train, the Universe mercifully intervened, bonking me on my noggin, bringing me back to “Life.” As I “regained consciousness,” I heard my guardian angel, (or was it my inner child?) admonishing: “You don’t even believe in fancy china, Silly Billy!”

Puttering alone around my house the next day, I caught a glimpse of my late father’s red guitar. Halted mid-putter, a silent scream ricocheted and resonated within me. Instantly, I remembered how my siblings and I had loved to sit at my dad’s feet, luxuriating in the sound of his strumming and singing; how my dad had insisted I take the guitar from his house when I had, once again, rushed back to England to visit him in the hospital. (How I couldn’t do it because it would have meant admitting he was going to die.) I recalled how, when I finally received the guitar, (my dad died a year later, peacefully at home), I taught myself to play, beginning triumphantly with the D, G and A7 chords. I chuckled when I thought about how when I play this red guitar, my sons will sometimes, unconsciously, sing along with me. (Don’t tell them I told.)

And I realized that I did, too, have my own scream-inducing family heirloom. Only my “Aaaarrghhhh!!!” is more of an, “Huuummmm!” and definitely in the key of D.

Sharon Martini is an English “mummy.” She lives in the Bridlemile neighborhood with her two sons, several pets. A local singer and actress, she also writes and illustrates little picture books.

This article originally appeared in the July 2009, edition of The Southwest Community Connection Newspaper.

Are there family heirlooms in your life that make you squeal?