Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Memory of Trayvon Martin

One year ago, I became familiar with a story that broke my heart, made me angry, and reopened old wounds for many African-Americans. Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, a vigilante who decided that to be young, black and male was the equivalent of being a thug, a criminal, a menace to society. Zimmerman saw a young black male in a hood (on a rainy night) in a gated community and decided that Trayvon did not belong there. 

Trayvon was seventeen years old. My own son, Justin, was sixteen. 

Trayvon's birthday was February 5th. Justin's birthday is February 4th. 

Trayvon's parents were separated, but doing their best to co-parent him. Justin's father and I are doing the same thing. 

Trayvon was visiting his dad for the weekend in the gated community in which he lives. Justin's dad also lives in a gated community, and he often visits his dad for the weekend as well. 

Trayvon went to the store on that fateful evening to get a pack of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea to enjoy while he watched the NBA All Star Game. Justin, a sports fanatic, enjoys all of those things as well. 

Images of Trayvon in a Hollister T-shirt and in a hoodie surfaced on the Internet. Justin, like many teenagers across the country, has a similar wardrobe. 

In short, Trayvon Martin could have easily been my son. 

To be young, black, and male has always been a challenge in this country. For centuries, black men were lynched, beaten, imprisoned, and otherwise targeted for nothing more than being born black. Many of us thought (or at least hoped) that the worst of that dark history was behind us. We convinced ourselves that at a time when America has elected its first black President, that the ugliness of racism in this country was beginning to fade. But, the Trayvon Martin case has shattered those myths. We are still living in a time when many view blacks as criminals, many still clutch their purses tighter when we approach, many make up their minds about who we are and what we're all about from the second they lay eyes on us. 

Trayvon was an innocent victim. Zimmerman gunned him down in cold blood. And, still, it took a national outcry just to get the authorities to arrest George Zimmerman. Only after marches and protests erupted around the country did the police finally bring charges against him. 

Justin and I joined those marchers in NYC's Union Square last year. We marched along with Trayvon's parents and called out, "I AM TRAYVON MARTIN!" along with thousands of other protesters. Seeing the pain in the eyes of Trayvon's parents still chokes me up. It could have easily been me and Justin's dad. It could have been many of us in their position. 

A year has passed. George Zimmerman has not stood trial yet. And many of us have gone back to living our lives as they were before February 26th, 2012. The case is not the top story on the news anymore. The public outcry has quieted. But, we must not forget what happened to a young, vibrant seventeen-year-old boy with his whole life ahead of him. We must remember that Trayvon's parents need our prayers more than ever. The holidays will never be the same for them without their son. The NBA All Star game has a dark cloud over it for them. Skittles, Arizona Iced Tea, hoodies, and Hollister T-shirts are surely painful reminders of their beloved boy, gunned down for no other reason than being black, male, and walking home in the rain. 

Let's keep the family of Trayvon Martin in our thoughts and prayers, and let's continue to call out for justice in this case. The media hype about this case may have died down. But for those of us who identify with the family's pain, and who know perils of racial profiling, there is so much more to be done. No more parents should have to bury their children because some coward with a gun decided that they were unworthy of being present. 

For those of you in NYC, a candlelight vigil is being held in Union Square tonight, in memory of Trayvon Martin. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

And a Child Shall Lead Them

"Out of the mouths of babes, oft times come gems."

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about his relationship with his daughter. He told me about her ability to check him from time to time. He speaks candidly to her and although she's only eight years old, she has exhibited wisdom far beyond her years. 

I can identify. As a child, my father gave me permission to speak freely to him (within reason). Disrespect was not allowed. But he did allow me to speak my mind, even when my opinions differed completely from his own. He was not afraid to admit when he was wrong and I was right. And he did not belittle my opinions just because I was a child. 

This gave me the freedom to express myself. It taught me how to effectively communicate. It also taught me the importance of being honest about my thoughts and feelings. I've continued this tradition with my own children. They have always been allowed to express themselves freely with me. No topics are off limits. they have learned not to censor themselves with me. Our discussions run the gamut from current events, politics, and religion to sex, friendships, and relationships. I love their honesty, and I value their opinions. 

Often, they will give me a fresh perspective on a situation. They show me things that I may not have noticed, and I am wise enough to listen to the truth in their observations. 

Lately, I've found myself in the hot seat for the thoughts that I express. Even when my intentions are pure, my words come back to haunt me. It's a very puzzling situation for me. Having been taught all of my life to express myself freely, I'm struggling to find the ability to censor myself - particularly when I feel that my thoughts may help someone else dealing with similar issues. But, recently my son gave me some sage advice. Noting that my words - whether written in my blogs or spoken out loud - have caused me trouble lately, he reminded me that every thought doesn't need to be voiced. Just because a realization forms in my mind, it doesn't mean that I need to say it out loud. 

It seems so simple, but the concept is so profound. My mind is constantly going - my imagination, my mental jokes, my musings. I usually have no filter between what I think and what I say (or write). But hearing the advice from my son has reminded me that my thoughts are all my own. I can enjoy the humor and poignant observations in my head and no one has to know the specifics of my thought process. I used to view that as censorship. But maybe it's just having the good sense to keep my mouth shut. 

Children occasionally say remarkable, insightful things. I, for one, am all ears. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reasons & Seasons

In recent months, I've been more perceptive than usual. I notice more than ever the little nuances, the small details, body language, tone of voice, and even the things that people around me have opted not to say. I don't claim to be psychic. But, more than ever I am able to pick up on the slightest hints of hidden agendas, hurt feelings, ulterior motives, unspoken thoughts, and manipulation tactics. Spiritual folks call it a spirit of discernment. Others call it intuition. Whatever term one chooses to use, the bottom line is simple. I'm acutely aware of what motivates the actions of those around me. And, since I don't believe that there is any such thing as coincidence, I know that there is a divine purpose for each of the people who have been placed in my midst. 

This knack that I have for deciphering people's true intentions can feel like both a gift and a curse. It's great to have the ability to know what drives those whom I come into contact with, wonderful to have the wisdom to pinpoint the motives behind the words and deeds of others. After all, I did pray that I would be able to tell the difference between those who love me for me, and those who just want to be close to "Author Tracy Brown". But, it can be downright disheartening to realize that just about everyone around you has a trick up their sleeve. Whether it's a desire to emulate you, or a need to get in your business, or a ploy to ride your coattails to the top, the false motives of others can be enough to force even the most social butterfly into a cocoon of solitude. 

One of the things that I've learned about "church folk" is that if you want to be truly blessed, you have to focus on The Message and not the messenger. Perhaps that TV preacher whose last name is synonymous with "cash" doesn't appear to have the purest motives. I've learned to look past that and receive the truth of The Word he preaches instead of focusing on the Bentley he drives and his pending criminal investigation. I've applied the same tactic to dealing with all of the people God has placed in my life. 

We've all heard that phrase before. But let's dig a little deeper into the wisdom of this saying. 

Sometimes you meet a person who is placed in your life just to teach you a particular lesson. Once the lesson is learned, and their purpose has been fulfilled, they go - often without any explanation. Think about the guy or girl you dated years ago. Looking back on it now, you wonder what the hell you were thinking and why you "wasted your time" with such a loser. In retrospect, you see that they were never good for you. However, at the time that you were involved with them, no one could tell you that the relationship wasn't the perfect fit for your life. Sometimes when you're in a situation, you can't see it clearly (especially when love is involved). You have to go through the turmoil and heartbreak in order to learn a lesson. Once you learn the lesson, the relationship ends and perhaps you never see that person again. He/she was placed in your life for a reason

Others are placed in our lives for a season. When I think about this category of people, I'm reminded of those folks who used to ride shotgun with me all the time - my childhood best friend, my ex-husband, my old drinking/partying/traveling buddy/coworker. At one time, you couldn't see me without seeing them somewhere close by. But these days, we've drifted apart. Not because of any falling out or animosity. But just because their purpose in my life had obviously been fulfilled. My childhood friend was there with me when I was young, and wild, and had guns to hide (It's a long story that I'll tell you about at a later time. LOL). My ex-husband gave me my beautiful children. My ex-co-worker/road dog was there with me when my daughter ran away from home and when my father lay dying in a hospital bed. They were vital to me at various points in my life. Today, our relationships have changed. But it doesn't diminish the importance of each of them in my life story. They were placed in my life for a season

Then, there are those who are with us for a lifetime. Clearly, my children are at the top of that list. But there have also been people who are not related to me by blood who God placed in my life to go the distance with me. My "Mom" who came into my life when I was nineteen years old and nurtured and cared for me in a way that my biological mother had not; my "brother" Lance, who is closer to me than any of my biological siblings, and with whom I've shared many a secret over the years; a classmate who I've known since I was in  the first grade, who grew up to marry my Pastor and is now my church's First Lady.  There are some folks who each of us can trace back to the very beginning, and with whom we've embarked on an incredible lifelong journey. These are the ones who you never have to retell your story to, because they were there from the start and they already know the details. They are the people who are there with you for a lifetime

Looking at the people around me through this lens has made life a lot easier for me. I used to make friends and expect that we would be old ladies together, sitting in our rocking chairs and talking crap about whatever we wanted. But now I don't make assumptions about what purpose people have arrived in my life to serve. An acquaintance once came to hang out with me and told me something that profoundly changed my life. In the months that followed, this person aligned herself with someone who had become my enemy. If I had placed all of my faith in the messenger, I might have lost sight of the fact that this acquaintance was only placed in my life to deliver that message at that particular time. It was not meant for me to become "besties" with her. Instead, God had sent her to tell me something. And once she told me, her role was over. Many of us mistakenly allow people to take up permanent residence in our lives when they were only meant to be temporary guests. 

So, as I pointed out at the beginning of this post, lately I'm more aware than ever before of when a person's time is up in my life. And although it's unfortunate, sometimes we have to recategorize people as our lives progress. This little nugget (Author Unknown) says it best:

Everyone Can't be in your front row

   Life is a theater, so invite your audiences carefully. Not everyone is holy enough and healthy enough to have a FRONT ROW seat in our lives.
There are some people in your life that need to be loved from a distance.
Observe the relationships around you. Pay attention to: Which ones lift and which ones lean?
Which ones encourage and which ones discourage?

When you leave certain people, do you feel better or feel worse?

Everyone Can't be in Your FRONT ROW.

The more you seek God and the things of God, the easier it will become for you to decide who gets to sit in the FRONT ROW and who should be moved to the balcony of your life.

Everyone Can't be in Your FRONT ROW.

So as you journey through this wondrous thing called life, don't be afraid to move folks to the nosebleed seats if necessary. Some may need to be escorted out of the theater altogether. Be aware of the reasons and seasons for those in your midst. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Super Side-Eye

I'm not a fan of the "new" rap music that's popular nowadays. Wacka Flocka, 2 Chainz, Future...these "artists" don't appeal to me, musically or otherwise. I've embraced the fact that this makes me seem "out of touch" or "old" to my kids and their peers. I'm fine with that. I've come to a point where I accept that there is a generation gap between me and the youth of today.

Still, every now and then, I'm completely dumbfounded by the ignorance that comes out of some rappers' mouths disguised as music.  Truthfully, even my kids are ashamed of much of what the newer rap artists say in their songs. But, Lil Wayne has taken it to an all new low.

In the 1950's, a 14 year old young man named Emmett Till was growing up in Chicago. He was sent to Mississippi for the summer to visit his grandparents. He whistled at a white woman, which was a huge no-no in the south in those days (arguably still IS a huge no-no). Some white men came to the family home, took Emmett off into the night, tortured him, beat him, shot him, wrapped him in barbed wire, and ultimately killed him before throwing his body into the Tallahatchie River. His brave and devastated mother held an open casket funeral for her son, who was only identifiable by a ring he wore on is finger, so that the world could see what the racist south had done to her son. An all white jury acquitted Emmett's murderers. No one has ever paid for the crime committed against this innocent 14 year old boy.

Fast forward to 2013. Lil Wayne raps on a Future song, "Pop a lot of pain pills/Bout to put rims on my skateboard wheels/Beat that p&$$y up like Emmett Till."

The outrage has been swift and widespread. Epic Records exec L.A. Reid issued an apology to the family, assuring them that the song was leaked without his knowledge, and promising that the verse would be changed immediately. Stevie Wonder expressed his disgust in an interview on Thursday saying, "You just cannot do that. ... I think you got to have someone around you that – even if they are the same age or older – is wiser to say, `Yo, that's not happening. Don't do that.'"

The Till family has asked for an apology from Lil Wayne. I think that is the very least that he can do. One reader online commented,

"Where is the outrage in the black community? Why is Jesse Jackson not organizing a protest march against Lil Wayne? Why is Al Sharpton not criticizing the hateful speech of Lil Wayne? Where is his National Action Network to rally and have a "day of outrage" against Lil Wayne? Why is he not giving this story endless coverage on his MSNBC show? Why have the other liberal hosts at MSNBC not given this story any traction and expressed their outrage against Lil Wayne? Where is CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC on this story? With this being black history month, why has Newsday not made this their front page story with bold headlines?"

I must agree. Something has got to give. We are quick to express our outrage at the George Zimmerman's of the world. We rally when someone outside of our race attacks us unjustly. We must have that same rage when one of our own does or says something as stupid, ignorant, and insensitive as what Lil Wayne said in that verse.

I recently read a great book titled "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson.  In it, Wilkerson chronicles many stories of America's Great Migration - a period of decades in which blacks fled the Jim Crow south in droves and headed for northern cities like New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. The Emmett Till story is one of those chronicled in this book. But there are many, many other stories - true stories - of unbelievable oppression, discrimination, lynchings, and unspeakable acts of domestic terrorism against blacks.

One of the most poignant parts of the book was when the three main characters of the story find themselves in modern times. They have each literally escaped the south - George escapes Florida and moves to Harlem, NYC; Ida Mae escapes Mississippi and moves to Chicago; Robert escapes Louisiana and moves to California - only to find themselves smack in the midst of the fuckery that their descendants (you and I and our offspring) have created. George in Harlem has to deal with crack addicted neighbors and tenants. Ida Mae has to remain trapped in her home as bullets whiz by her window in gang ravaged Chicago. Robert becomes a doctor and moves to California, only to watch Compton and Crenshaw turn into war zones right before his eyes. All of them watch parents in the street cursing out their kids, hear explicit rap music blaring out of car stereos, see half-dressed young women and sloppily dressed young men walking down the street day and night, and feel the pain of knowing that the better life they headed north for has resulted in a generation of thug wannabes and video hoes in training. 

We owe MORE than what we have given to our ancestors. Those brave men, women, and children who took what few worldly possessions they had and bravely ventured north, east and west in search of a better tomorrow for YOU AND I...they deserve more than the nonsense we say in music and the coonery we display on TV, film, and in literature. I think of what they endured picking cotton, being treated worse than dogs, and then fighting to the death for civil rights - only to have Lil Wayne and others make light of their sacrifices for the sake of a rhyme. 

I think part of the problem is that we don't educate our children about the REAL history of blacks in this country. We allow what they learn in school to be sufficient. But there has to be more done by us in our homes to give our kids knowledge of themselves and of their history. This generation of young people has never had to deal with the kind of blatant hatred that our parents and grandparents found commonplace. Because of that, our kids are desensitized to the pain of what happened. It's why they so freely use the word "nigger" to address one another and themselves; it's why they don't see the importance of Black History Month; it's why they can't be bothered to watch "Roots" or "Betty and Coretta" or read books about the civil rights struggle; it's why they see 2 Chainz as an icon and have no idea who Corey Booker is. If they don't know the truth of what happened, they can't be truly present in this moment and they are ill equipped to aid our race in reaching higher heights. For every future Oprah, Barack, Michelle, or Colin Powell, there are DOZENS of future Lil Waynes, Wacka Flockas, Soulja Boys, and Nicki Minaj's.

If I had my way, "The Warmth of Other Suns" would be required reading for every student in this country! Unfortunately, I don't have the power to do that. All that I can do at this point is continue to educate my children and those who I'm blessed to mentor. And I can give Lil Wayne my worst, most disgusted, utterly outraged and thoroughly disappointed Super Side-Eye.

We have GOT to do better.

Friday, February 8, 2013



That one small word sums up my entire experience at SoulCycle last night. 

If you've read my recent blogs and Facebook posts, then you're aware that I have been on a roll with my new commitment to health and fitness. I love yoga, and recently I signed up for a P90X class as well. I walk a lot, and I've been eating right, making vegetable and fruit smoothies, and taking vitamins...basically doing everything that I can to get mentally, spiritually, physically, (and even financially) fit. 

So, I decided to do something I've wanted to do for a long time. I signed up for my first SoulCycle class. SoulCycle is basically a spin class, where people mount stationary bikes and follow the lead of an instructor. But what separates SoulCycle from the average spin class is that the instructors are more like inspirational coaches. The music is uptempo, and high energy. It is an intense, full-body workout

So here's how my first class went:

I arrived at the studio and was greeted by friendly and helpful staff. They signed me in, gave me my Soul Shoes (special sneakers that clip into the bike pedals so that your feet are secure), handed me a free bottled water (the GOOD water, too! Not the dollar store bottled water, but Smart Water!), and directed me to the lockers. I hung up my coat, headed over to lock up my belongings, and couldn't help noticing how fabulous the facilities were. Clean, bright, upscale surroundings complete with SoulCycle clothes for sale and even a custom SoulCycle nail polish in a cute yellow color! This place was fabulous. I felt right at home. 

I was glad that I had come alone, since it gave me an opportunity to look around and people watch without the distraction of a companion. I must have looked like the new girl in class as I strolled around wide-eyed watching all of the people getting ready for class. Several of the experienced members came over and asked if this was my first class. When I acknowledged that it was, I got high-fives and congratulations. And the class hadn't even started yet! I was told to seek out lockers on the top row because the ones closer to the floor were the ones to avoid. When I asked why, they explained that when class lets out, everyone bum rushes the lockers and you don't want to be caught beneath some sweaty cyclist as he/she retrieves their belongings over your head. I locked up my stuff and looked around at the bodies of the cyclists. I was amazed. One woman who looked to be in her early fifties had the best butt I have ever seen! All of the members had toned arms, legs, and booties and I was amazed. I looked down at my own legs and wondered how much pedaling I would have to do in order to achieve those enviable results. 

I stepped into the bathroom and gave myself a pep talk. I was feeling a combination of nervousness and excitement. I told myself the things that I've heard a hundred times in my yoga classes. "Get out of your own way. Leave yourself alone. You can do this!" Finally, it was time to enter the studio. 

I immediately noticed the motivational words and phrases on the walls. I was even more inspired after reading those. I internalized those words, reminding myself that I can do anything that I set my mind to. I found a bike near the wall in the third row - close enough for me to see the instructor, but far enough from the front that no one would notice if I screwed up. The words on the wall were to my left. I would glance at them constantly throughout the class to push me onward. 

One of the staff members came by to help me adjust my bike to accommodate my small 4'11" frame. She explained what first, second, and third position meant in the class, and helped me clip my feet into the pedals and I secured my water bottle on the side of the bike. I was ready to go! The lights dimmed. It felt serene and atmospheric. I wore a pair of leggings, a sports bra, and a t-shirt and I noticed that the room was comfortably warm. Then the music started. 

I almost couldn't believe my ears as Kanye's "All of the Lights" pumped loudly through the speakers. "Let's go!" the instructor yelled. "First position!" We all began to pedal to the beat. The instructor told us to stand and pedal, to give it all we had. I was off to a great start. My legs pedaled to the rhythm as I sang along with Kanye. I looked around the room and felt like we were all part of a great team as we pedaled feverishly. Next, the instructor directed us to turn our bike nozzles to the right, increasing the resistance. Now my legs were asking me what the hell my problem was! But I kept on going, glancing at the words on the wall for motivation. Rihanna's "Talk that Talk" came on, and I let her put the battery in my back as I pushed myself further. The music did not disappoint. They played everything from Coldplay to Alanis Morrisette to Jay Z. Each time I felt like giving up, they would play "my song" and I had to get back into the rhythm to pedal to my jam. It was literally music to my ears. 

There was choreography, too! The instructor had us dip low over the fronts of our bikes and then bring it back, pulling ourselves upright to the beat. We were killing it! Everyone was dancing and cycling and the energy in the room was high. The instructor urged us on, told us we were on our way to the best physical shape of our lives. People yelled out "YEAH!" as our adrenaline pumped. 

Soon, I became so hot! I peeled off my t-shirt (grateful for the dim lights) and continued the class in only my sports bra and leggings. Sweat poured off of my body, and I was so grateful for the fresh clean towels that they lay across each of the bikes. I sweat just as much as I do in my 105 degree yoga class! At times, I had to be honest with my body and slow down. Thankfully, I was in a row that allowed me to hide a little. I wiped my sweat, sat back and watched in awe as the experienced cyclists gave it their all. After a few moments break, I pushed myself to dive back in and did my best to keep up. 

I couldn't help thinking, 'If my friends could see me now!'  I laughed to myself at that thought and was grateful that I had come alone. I am very flexible thanks to yoga class. And my legs are strong thanks to a lot of walking and a little jogging. But my legs were not ready for the workout they got last night. My butt also killed me as I sat on that hard seat. Some friends had warned me that the bike seats are tough on an ass in spin class. But nothing prepared me for the torture each time we had to get "in the saddle" (which is what the instructor called sitting on the bike seat). I was always relieved when she told us to stand up and ride. (I was even less thrilled whenever she had us raise the resistance of our bikes. My legs were putting in WORK!)

Next, we were told to grab the weights that were attached on the backs of our bikes. We did curls and presses as we cycled to a song with a slower tempo. My arms were now as angry with me as my legs were. But the music, the words on the wall, and the focus of the cyclists around me pushed me onward. After several reps, we got to put the weights away and I sipped some water, breathlessly. 

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, the instructor announced that this was the last song. Having endured 90-minute hot yoga classes, and hour-long P90X and boot camp sessions, I could not believe how quickly the time had flown. (SoulCycle classes are 45 minutes long.) Knowing that we were on the last song gave me more of a desire to finish strong. I got my second wind and pushed through. When the song ended, we unclipped our feet from the pedals and stretched. I felt so exhilarated and proud of myself. After final stretches were done, we all exited the studio and headed for the lockers. Not one person was frowning. We all had smiles on our faces. Several members high-fived me for completing my first class. 

It will not be my last! I think I've found my new love. The classes can be a bit pricey for those who like to exercise on a budget. But it's kind of like splurging on a Michael Kors bag, or a pair of  Louboutin shoes. We work hard for our money. And every now and then it's good to treat yourself to prime rib instead of Hamburger Helper. I have decided to add SoulCycle to my regular fitness routine. 

Be warned! This is not an activity I would recommend to those who are beginning to work out for the first time. I am no athlete, but I do exercise consistently. If not for that, I would have surely died last night (LOL). You want to build yourself up to this little by little. I could tell that many of the best cyclists in that class were avid marathon runners or bike enthusiasts who do this way more than once a month. They didn't slow down for even one second. If you decide to go to a class, pick a bike in the back and give yourself permission to slow down when your body demands it. Don't overexert yourself. 

When class was over, my legs felt a little wobbly. But overall I felt fantastic! I was so proud of myself. I decided to go around the corner to Lush and treat myself to some bath bombs. 

For those who are not familiar with these gems, bath bombs are divine. You drop one of these into a nice hot bath and VOILA! They swirl and fizzle until your bath becomes a fragrant and luxurious spa filled with beautiful scents and colors. They have ones that erupt into confetti, or bubbles, or hearts, or oils. I chose a shea butter one to relieve my dry winter skin. Once I had my goodies, I rushed home and soaked in the tub for as long as I could. (I soaked right through last night's episode of "Scandal" and didn't even mind missing it. That's saying a lot!)

To top it all off, I tweeted about my experience last night. And SoulCycle tweeted me back! 

  1. I survived my first Soul Cycle class! I feel great! Let's see how I feel in the morning. :-)

 Congrats - such an tremendous feeling! If you're sore in the am, just know it's your body getting stronger!

I went to sleep and had a beautiful rest. I woke up this morning with no soreness whatsoever! To top it off, I felt so full of energy and pep that I couldn't believe it. I see why SoulCycle is a way of life for so many people. 

If you live in New York or California, I urge you to sign up for a class as soon as possible. I am exited to get back in there and have another go at it. The music alone is worth every penny. 

Let me know how you like it. Good luck!

Visit http://www.soul-cycle.com for more information. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Working It Out

I've blogged often about my renewed commitment to health and fitness. I'm not only talking physical fitness, but mental and spiritual fitness as well. Mediation and prayer have become huge focal points in my life. But, I'm also committed to getting my body in shape, both inside and out. I've started by eating right, having more of the vegetables that I love, drinking more water, limiting my indulgence in sweets and fatty foods. I've recently started juicing, and making delicious shakes and smoothies from kale, lettuce, beets, and lots and lots of FRUIT. I've also begun working with my friend Sakina (https://www.goherbalife.com/wgwellness/en-US) to add nutritional supplements to my diet. 

All of that is great. But, I haven't stopped there. Our First Lady, Michelle Obama, has spoken about the merits of exercise and staying active. Black women don't have a huge reputation for working out. But seeing Mrs. Obama's toned arms and toned physique is enough to get me moving. She has inspired me to get in shape, and this year I am committed to trying different activities to see which ones I like and what I can incorporate into my new healthier lifestyle. 

By now, you've heard me talk about my love for hot Bikram yoga. 105 degrees of heat, stretching, twisting, and meditation. I try to go at least once a week, although lately the weather has been too cold to do so. After sweating in a hot room for 90 minutes, the last thing you want to do is put a coat on! And, the freezing temperatures in NYC would cause me to get sick if I went from blazing heat to drastic subzero temps. So, until the weather warms a bit, I've started looking for new ways to get my workouts in. 

Today, I attended my first P90X class. WOW! Talk about intense! Along with five other ladies, I jumped, jogged, stretched and sweat it out this morning. We did planks, push-ups, lunges and more. And I loved it. The before and after photos posted online by other P90X users are inspiring.  If I keep doing this workout, I'm sure my body will show results in no time!

This week, I am scheduled to attend my first SoulCycle class! The word 'excited' isn't sufficient to describe how I feel. For months, I've been eager to try a spin class. What better way to test it out than to go to a class with great music, high energy, and fantastic instructors? I can't WAIT to get in there and strap my feet to those bike pedals. This should be fun!


Another activity that I enjoy a great deal is walking. In NYC, this is a great way to exercise for free while taking in all of the sights, sounds, and bustling activity. Often, instead of jumping on the train, I walk at least ten city blocks (sometimes double and triple that) as an easy chance to burn some calories. I turn my music up in my headphones and GO! On weekends when the weather permits, I power walk in my favorite park. Walking is something we all can do no matter how much we hate exercise. Get off of your train or bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way. Or park your car further away from your destination than usual, and take the opportunity to walk more than you typically do. A little bit of cardio goes a long way. 

Also on my list is swimming. I've never learned how to swim (crazy, right?). But this year, I am going to finally conquer my fear of drowning and take some swimming lessons. I was so inspired by the U.S. Olympic swim team that I have got to try it for myself. Wish me luck! :)

What activities do you enjoy? How do you exercise and stay fit? Share your fitness tips and lets encourage each other to make 2013 the year that we stop talking about it and begin DOING it! 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What If?

Recently, I had a conversation with a fan about how I got started writing books. As I retold the story that I've repeated countless times over the years, one detail stood out to me like never before. It was, as Oprah calls it, an "AHA!" moment.

As a kid, I wrote all the time as a hobby. Creating stories, songs, poems, and essays was fun to me. But I didn't know any authors. No writers showed up at my school on career day. So writing professionally wasn't something I ever thought that I could realistically do for a living. As I got older, I learned basic office skills, found employment in a variety of corporate positions, and focused on making enough money to feed my family and stay afloat. Still, writing was a passion of mine, and whenever I had free time I spent it penning poems. My friend Arthur and I started going to poetry slams and listening to local lyricists perform their work. On a dare, one night I got up and read a poem I had written. It was the first time that I shared my poetry in such a public forum. I was so nervous. But, to my surprise, the audience loved it and I got a standing ovation! It was an incredible moment for me. As I stepped down off the stage, members of the audience congratulated me, and patted me on the back offering me encouragement. A woman in the crowd approached me and told me how much she enjoyed my poetry. "No, I'm serious," she said. "You are really good! You should write a book."

It's a moment that I will never forget. It felt like one of those scenes in a movie when all the noise in the background goes silent, the whole crowd seems to move in slow motion and then fades to black, and the words that were just spoken echo dramatically.  Until that moment, I had only vaguely entertained the thought of writing a book. It was on my bucket list, but it wasn't at the top of my list of priorities. In fact, until that night I hadn't even imagined that I could be brave enough to risk negative feedback and share my work with anyone outside of my circle of friends. (In the infamous words of Erykah Badu, "I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my $#!%.") But, all of that changed the moment that woman in the crowd said those words to me. "You should write a book."  Her words resonated in my head. That very night, I went home and began to write the first words of what would become my first novel, "Black". In the year that followed, I finished the novel and sent sample chapters out to four small publishing companies. To my complete surprise, I got three offers in return! And the rest is history.

As I told this story for the umpteenth time to the fan I told you about earlier, it occurred to me that THAT had been my moment of truth. That mystery woman (who I may never get the opportunity to thank for her comment) set something in motion within me that would lead me to embark on an incredible journey. She didn't have to speak up the way that she did. She could have just kept her thoughts to herself. But by standing up, approaching me, and saying what was on her heart, she gave me permission to dream bigger than I ever had.

It caused me to ask myself a question.

What if I had never summoned the courage to read my poetry on that stage on that night? What if that woman had never said what she did? What if each of us has the power to say or do something that will change someone's life forever, but instead we choose to keep quiet or to remain in our comfort zone?

I wonder how often I have second-guessed myself over the years; how many times I have wanted to say something to someone but didn't. I'm sure that many of us are guilty of it. How often do we start to compliment a stranger and decide against it? We tell ourselves that our remarks are insignificant, that our opinion doesn't matter. But, the woman who encouraged me that night as I stepped off that stage shattered that notion. I learned that our words have power, and that the Spirit within us often prompts us to say something. We shouldn't ignore that urge to speak our minds, especially if our words are encouraging and positive. We may utter one simple phrase that can change the course of a person's whole life!

The next time you hear that musician playing in the subway station, let him know that he made your morning brighter. It may encourage him to keep on playing. The next time you see a young person persevering despite  the odds, don't stifle your words of reassurance. Your statement may be just what they need to keep going. If you notice that someone has a special talent or gift, speak up. Let them know that you've taken notice. It may spark a change in their life the way that the mystery woman in the crowd did for me all those years ago. 

Words are powerful! Use yours to inspire someone to greatness.