Umi says: what my mother taught me about overcoming obstacles

I first listened to “Umi Says” by Mos Def when I was 15. My family and I lived in a small apartment on Crenshaw and Arbor Vitae in Inglewood. To go to school, I would take the 210 bus from Crenshaw and Arbor Vitae to 3rd and Rossmore where my high school was. It was my sophomore year, and after three years at Marlborough, I was still uncomfortable living between two worlds: a competitive environment at a high school with mostly white classmates who had a lot more wealth and privilege than me, and living with my family in a one-bedroom apartment in South Central Los Angeles during the late 90s.

By the time I listened to “Umi Says” and the entire Black On Both Sides album, my family and I had been through so much. The five of us moved in the apartment after living in a house up until the middle of my freshman year of high school. It was a rocky adjustment, one that caused much tension. Balancing that tension with a rigorous academic life and the social challenges of Black teenage girlhood often left me feeling hopeless and overwhelmed.

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My mother always taught me that no matter what, I could always hold onto a ray of hope, no matter how small it became. She would catch me crying late at night and would sit with me, letting me express how I felt and why. She never ever let me give up on myself or my future. She would pray with me, and remind me to always shine my light because this too shall pass.

At my mother’s bridal shower when I was her maid of honor.

At my mother’s bridal shower when I was her maid of honor.

One day in late December, two months after the release of the album (since I usually had money around Christmas time to buy all the cds I couldn’t purchase on New Release Tuesday at Wherehouse Music), I finally bought Black On Both Sides and listened close to the lyrics of “Umi Says” during my bus commute to school. Mos singing about what his umi, his mother, taught him reminded me of my own mother’s advice:

Umi says shine your light on the world/shine your light for the world to see.

My momma wanted to get my veil just right before I walked down the aisle.

My momma wanted to get my veil just right before I walked down the aisle.

I still listen to “Umi Says” often as an adult. I am reminded of the lessons my mother taught me about holding up the light in the darkness, about thriving through adversity. About doing the best I can, with what it is I have. About envisioning how it would feel to be free from the things that weigh us down.

My mother and I don’t always agree, and neither of us are perfect, but our bond is ours. I listen to “Umi Says” nearly every Mother’s Day, and I am just so grateful for my mom’s lessons and her example.

So, today, I say thank you, mama. Thank you for teaching me that resilience makes me tough, not hard. Thank you for teaching me to always walk in the light.

I practiced 40 days of mindfulness. Here is what I learned about balancing work, life, and love.
Image from  CreateHERStock

Image from CreateHERStock

Even though I grew up in a Black Pentecostal church that didn’t necessarily observe Lent for the entire Easter season, I was familiar with the practice because of my Nana, who is a devout Catholic. Traditionally, you abstain from some habit or activity in the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

My husband Neal was raised Episcopalian, so he participated in this tradition when he was growing up. A few years ago, we gave up alcohol together. It was a great opportunity to recommit to healthy habits and re-evaluate our individual relationships with social drinking.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. Beginning in January, I had already begun abstaining from things I normally would have given up for Lent: sugar, fast food, and alcohol. I figured, I had given up so much that maybe this time I could use the Lenten season to re-commit to finding a healthier diet, a better balance of my professional and personal life, and more room for joy.

In 2014, my therapist at the time introduced me to mindfulness meditation. At the time, my anxiety was getting the best of me and I found myself becoming overwhelmed and often struggled to cope with challenges professionally and socially. I was planning a wedding while also looking for a job and had moved in with my soon-to-be in-laws to save money, making me feel pulled in several directions. I would take the time to close my eyes and breathe whenever I felt my anxiety creeping up, and I found it helped me to be more proactive than reactive. I kept up with the practice sporadically since then, but by Ash Wednesday of this year, I was curious about what would happen if I committed to a mindfulness practice as close to daily as possible during Lent. And like my mother always tells me, nothing beats a failure but a try.

A couple days before Ash Wednesday, I decided to make my commitment public on Facebook to keep myself accountable.

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For 40 days, I practiced meditation, yoga or a combination of both each morning to center myself while I prepared for the rest of my day. By Easter, I started to notice a change in how I approached my work, my personal life, and my relationships. Here are a few things that started happening when I deepened my commitment to mindfulness.

I walked a bit slower and and took my time getting from place to place instead of rushing around.

I am a fast walker by nature. It’s most likely because I’ve spent most of my life in urban areas and relied on public transportation for most of my adult life until recently. Additionally, I am the kind of person who cannot stand being late. When I think I may be running late, I become anxious at the thought of missing a meeting or an important event because I was late to arrive. My heart rate goes up and I get irritable. And rushing has the opposite effect - I am actually more likely to be late.

As I practiced my breathing exercises and gave myself the permission to take a pause in my day, it was easier for me to slow down and give myself the permission to take my time. In doing that, I put less pressure on myself and gave myself a little be more grace and gentleness as I got ready to go to work in the morning.

I spent my money more carefully instead of carelessly.

Instead of making snap decisions about buying That Thing I Just Gotta Have, I started to pause and rethink my financial priorities. As a result, I spent less money on things that fell outside of our household budget. That gave me more opportunities to save money and pay off debt.

Mindfulness improved the communication between my husband and I.

Practicing mindfulness not only made me less anxious over all which in turn made it easier for my husband and I to reach creative solutions when we disagreed on something. Instead of being reactive and trying to prove I was right about something, I now opt for taking a step back, really listening to my husband’s thoughts, and then together we can come up with a solution that works for both of us.

I felt more confident in my abilities at work by extending grace and compassion to myself.

I recently completed my friend Rebecca Thompson’s Live In Your Light Bootcamp. In the second course, we talked about identifying and removing our armor. Two big pieces of armor I carry especially in my work life are perfectionism and being a people pleaser. Earlier in my career, I felt immense pressure to aim for perfection at any cost. I would stay later than I needed to, bend to anyone else’s needs before my own, and then beat myself up when I made mistakes on the job. Through practicing mindfulness during the Lenten season, I let go of the desire to be “perfect” and instead, extended grace and compassion instead of self-criticism. I would practice affirmations that enforced a new truth: that I am talented, good at what I do, and more than enough. In doing that I felt more confident with comfortable with my talents and skills. I became certain that I was more than qualified for the role I play at work, and that I belonged in any room I was in, Impostor Syndrome be damned.

It’s amazing how setting aside time to just pause and breathe could make such a difference in a relatively short amount of time. I’m glad that I am finally re-committed to a practice of removing the burden from my shoulders and letting go of anxiety and negativity that no longer serve me.

Have you ever adopted a mindfulness practice? How did it work for you? Let me know in the comments.

What the EMILY’s List Conference Taught Me about Smarts, Strength, and Style

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the EMILY’s List Conference and Gala for the first time. I have friends, colleagues, and former coworkers whose work aligns with EMILY’s List’s mission of electing women across the country, and as I’ve gotten further in my career,  I find that my work has intersects with that mission as well.

It felt good to be in the room with not only so many women who I respect and admire as homegirls and colleagues, but also some badass women who won their elections during the 2018 cycle. My favorite panel from the conference was the Rising Star Panel. It was filled with smart, dope women who won their elections for the first time. I was really excited because I was familiar with two of the women featured; Jennifer Carroll Foy’s campaign was supported by a PAC I consulted with in 2017 and California State Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo represented an area of Los Angeles County that I was intimately familiar with as a child since my aunt lived there at the time.

Me with VA State Rep Jennifer Carroll Foy

Me with VA State Rep Jennifer Carroll Foy

Jennifer Carroll Foy is a known badass. She was the only woman in her class at Virginia Military Institute, and ran her campaign while pregnant with twins! Imagine by surprise when she told the audience that people actually discouraged her from running, which is a departure from the idea that you have to ask a woman 7 times to run before she agrees. “They didn’t ask me to run,” Jennifer said. “They asked me not to run.”

She ignored the naysayers, ran anyway, and won. Boss moves.

Remember when I wrote about dreaming crazier? That applies here too.

NY State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou recounted the first time she met Ann Richards, the then-governor of Texas. Yuh-Line was only an elementary school student at the time, but she recounted how amazed and inspired she was that day. It was that day when she realized that women could actually run for office, and that later inspired her to run when she grew up. If that isn’t an example of why representation matters, I don’t know what is.

Yuh-Line’s story also displays the importance of mentorship. She told a great story about the time Washington State Rep Sharon Tomiko Santos helped her get ready for a big interview and even gave her clothes to wear on her big day. I’ve always said that the best mentors are the ones who want you to do good work, to look your best, and who care about your well-being. Yuh-Line’s relationship with Rep. Santos is a good example of that.

Arvina Martin is the first Native woman to serve on the Madison, WI City Council. When asked how she got into politics, she gave an unlikely story: she was suffering from post partum depression and her friend invited her to join a roller derby team. That team is what helped her fight her depress and to thrive - and on the other side, she realized she did have what it took to lead.

I loved this panel so much because it feeds my fascination with origin stories. How do the people we admire become who they are? What challenges did they face? What lessons were learned? From sports to comic books, so politics, origin stories are all around us - and some of us have some our own dope stories to tell, too.

I learned a lot of the conference of course, but I was also very happy to reunite with some great friends and colleagues, many of whom I hadn’t seen in months. One of them was my new homegirl Kelly Macias, who I first met at Power Rising back in February. When I am in places where the attendees are mostly white, I am always so amazed at the ways that Black women find each other. Running into Kelly was one of those times. We both were dressed to impressed, so we just decided to be fly together.

Me with my new homegirl, writer and consultant Kelly Macias

Me with my new homegirl, writer and consultant Kelly Macias

Dress:  Eloquii;  Shoes: Lane Bryant (Old)

Dress: Eloquii; Shoes: Lane Bryant (Old)

Speaking of being fly, I also attended the EMILY’s List Gala for the first time this year. I was so inspired not only by Stacey Abrams speech that night, but also by the ways every woman in that room showed up and out style-wise. These bold women showed up in their best, whether it was a tuxedo or a cocktail dress, and I was here for it! I am a DC Black professional who doesn’t always like to do the “DC Uniform”: pearls, sweater sets, blazers, shift dresses. There is a a time and a places for everything, of course but sometimes I like to break out of my shell, take some risks, wear colors and shades #they claim fat girls can’t wear.

And I loved seeing other women show up however they wanted to show up that night, too.

Dress: Jason Wu X ELoquii (Old - holiday 2019 collection); Shoes:  Asos

Dress: Jason Wu X ELoquii (Old - holiday 2019 collection); Shoes: Asos

With my future posts and other content, I want to explore my evolving style, and the role fashion plays in how I show up in the workplace and in the world - and why. I hope you will join me, and I hope that what I share will be helpful to you.

Loryn Wilson Carter