Life is experienced.
Fashion is expressed.
People are free.
Black is beautiful.
And that ain't changin'.
Freedom isn't truly free.
However, silence costs a lot more.
In winter 2020, I wrote this letter and submitted it to an employee-led newsletter that expressed staff concerns to the organizational leadership of the company that I worked for. Although I respected the organization and its leadership, I needed more. The year 2020 saw many people, including myself, protest the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Many in America learned that their voices, much like Black lives, matter. As one of the few people of color in my job position, I felt that I had a responsibility to speak up, and not shut up, during pivotal moments where the fire of change could be stoked responsibility, yet passionately.
So, I did, and without the convenience of anonymity. I am proud of this letter as it showed that I was, and still am, a leader with a voice that speaks of hope, accountability, empowerment, and social change.
Freedom isn't truly free.
However, silence costs a lot more...and that's a lump sum that I will never again be willing to pay.
I am writing you this letter in response to the All-Staff Town Hall: Matters of Race. I was disappointed to hear that CML employees aren’t permitted to wear clothing in support of Black Lives Matter because of the discomfort it could cause some and BLM’s perceived political affiliation. As an African-American who lives in a state of perpetual pain in this nation, it saddens me to learn that a visual representation of my life draws the ire of some, especially when considering the historical atrocities that this nation. However, I would like to explain why I was most disappointed with CML’s neutrality stance shared during the Matters of Race town hall.
I have worked at CML for nearly ten years, which is almost a quarter of my life. Although I enjoy my job and am proud of the impact that I have made in the community, I can honestly state that I wonder if my Black life matters to this organization most days that I come to work. I know that my ability to do my job matters to the organization. I know that book circulation numbers matter, as does customer service. However, does my Black life matter to this organization? Does this organization understand that many people of color employed at CML don’t have the opportunity to be “neutral” when it comes to race in this country? As it relates to race, discrimination, diversity, and inclusion, neutrality is a privilege given to those mostly unaffected by the systemic bigotry permeated throughout our nation’s history.
An organization that is comfortable having a neutral stance regarding both its internal and public support of Black lives is dangerous for me as an African-American employee. I state that respectfully because I am aware that this organization has made positive gains in dealing with diversity and inclusion matters, which is commendable. However, the very fact that I would say that it is laudable that CML organized an all-staff town hall discussing issues of race shows just how far behind we are as a country and an organization as it relates to race. It seems to be that the acknowledgment of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) is viewed as being progressive when it really should be par for the course. Let me state this very clearly about race matters: A STANCE OF NEUTRALITY HINDERS AND DOES NOT HELP BIPOC. This neutrality stance fortifies the continued dominance of the various systems of oppression that harm different minority groups, including people of color. This country is not neutral in its stance concerning race. The evidence is quite clear whom this country systemically favors as a ruling class. Being neutral does not challenge the systems of oppression that have historically perpetuate white supremacy in America. These systems include but aren’t limited to criminal justice, housing, health care, and education, encompassing the library “system” from which this organization is a part. These are the same systems that believe showing support for people of color is taboo and counterculture and threatening to the majority who have benefited from the system itself. In the year 2020, all systems should be challenged, examined, and reformed. Many of these systems have foundations constructed during a time in which neither Black nor all lives mattered. This organization is not exempt from the demand of reformative change through critical examination.
In the year 2020, being neutral about race in this country is almost as criminal as being silent. During the All-Staff Town Hall: Matters of Race, a member of the Urban Libraries Council was quoted stating, “If you want the library to issue an opinion on literacy, we have that opinion, but we are not venturing into this space as a library.” This statement is tone-deaf because it whitewashes this nation’s history, denying people of color access to library resources just because of their skin color through the 1960s. By encouraging libraries to remain silent on BLM and other issues surrounding race relations in this country, the system of oppression expands. This Urban Libraries Council member’s statement, though I’m sure well-intentioned, is dangerous, problematic, and yet one that has been repeated throughout this nation’s history as the libraries remain neutral instead of pushing toward progression.
In an 1873 dedication speech, Board President John Andrews stated, “Our city council backed by the unanimous vote of the citizens has established and liberally endowed a free library and reading room free to the whole population of the city.” In 1907, Main Library was built with and adopted the phrase ‘Open to All”. While both of these are outstanding achievements in CML’s history, they are also a stark contrast to the social climate. In both 1873 and 1907, Columbus was a city divided along race and class lines. Although I am sure that the library was open to all, it wasn’t inclusive to all due to the social climate. Over 100 years later, BIPOC are still fighting the same oppression system that exists even within our beloved CML. In the year 2020, it’s not enough to be “open for all” when you have the opportunity to be outspoken for all. There is room for neutrality in leadership. However, leadership is also progressive, willing to take a stand, absorb some contact from adversaries, and be a difference-maker instead of making decisions based on the greater good instead of the continued comfort of those historically extended such privilege.
With the school year approaching, I am reminded of an email I sent my colleagues at a previous job discussing the importance of community spaces that promote inclusivity, love, and respect. This email was inspired by three students that grew to love the comforts of a familiar space and the family that existed within it.
With news of our branch transitioning into a new space, many opinions have been shared in the HHC about this next building phase of the Karl Road branch. Many students are excited about the prospects of being a part of something new and vibrant in this community. For them, this branch is an educational resource, cross-cultural meeting place, and yes, a spot where Takis are exchanged just as freely as friendly greetings. Though excitement may ring from the mouths of many kids that come to this branch when thinking about a newer Karl Road library, I was reminded that everyone is not excited about this change.
Last week, I spoke to three Homework Help Center students who wanted to be more excited about moving to a new branch or transitional spot. Their reason was simple: this place is home. They reminded me that this is where they meet up with their friends and laugh at this day's funniest moments. The Homework Help Center is also where they can relax and be kids. The HHC is a place for them to build positive relationships with people they respect, love, and cherish. Their questions were valid: Will things be the same when the HHC moves? Where will everyone go and hang out after-school? Why do things have to change? As someone that loves music, I realized that, in many ways, the HHC is a band of sorts in which the chemistry is as undeniable as the warmth that flows throughout the room when we are all together. There are no lead singers, and somehow, no one sings backup. Songs are written collaboratively, and production credit is shared equally. Singers sing, instrumentalist play, managers manage, and there are always a couple of people in charge of keeping the snacks stocked up. Simply put, if you are in the band, you are a part of the group.
The HHC staff and students are a proud band of others, distinctly different from one another yet sharing the same passion for creating positivity. We are both a band and a family (more Jackson 5 than the Partridge Family vocally, minus the flashy costumes and family calamity). As a family, we compose the songs that supply the soundtrack to our weekly existence in the Homework Help Center. These songs are tunes of happiness, help, inspiration, connection, love, safety, respect, integrity, and hope. We have played at the same venue for years as our version of a sold-out arena is the white walls of the HHC. Though this area may look bland, it's our home, and everyone is a rock star within this space.
These girls wanted the band to stay together so the music still flows and the vibes remain real. As members of this band, these girls understood that they were part of a community that valued each individual as a critical component of the group's success. These kids embody many of the interactions in the HHC in which staff and students have created a mutual existence in which needs are lovingly and respectfully met. Interactions that start with a simple greeting grow into complete relationships in which lives are positively impacted for both students and adults. Having worked in the Homework Help Center, Fatima, Ty, and I agree that these kids have significantly impacted our lives. Their smiles, conversations, hugs, and words of encouragement are invaluable to us, and it speaks the rich quality of culture in the HHC. Our band rocks and the sound we, students and staff, create is revolutionary, world-changing, momentum-shifting, and soul-enriching.
After hearing their displeasure concerning the uncertainty of transitioning to the venue of a new branch, I talked to the girls and reminded them that though the space may change and people may go, as a band, our songs of community, acceptance, love, change, and peace must travel because good music should always be shared. Within the HHC, we often talk about taking what you have learned within the space and applying it to the outside world by creating a diverse, different, accepting, and loving culture—then sharing it with others. The band won't always be together in proximity, but the connection will remain strong enough so that when we are in the same shared space, a jam session could erupt. The songs we have created, much like memories, last and, in some cases, are timeless. As we wrap up this final segment of the school year, I am deeply proud that HHC is still rockin' and that no matter where we go, the music, just like the band, is at real as it gets.
With the school year ending, I am reminded of an email I sent my colleagues at a previous job discussing the importance of being a "piece" in a community space that promotes inclusivity, love, and respect. This email was inspired by the many students that found friends, family, and plenty of food during "Puzzle Fridays".
"Puzzle Friday" is a special part of the HHC because it gives everybody, both staff and students, the opportunity to sit at the table and be a piece of the bigger picture that makes up the HHC family. In addition, the puzzle acts as a bonding agent for the group, in which the common goal of completion is obvious, even if the relationship-building elements are a bit more obscure. While puzzling, life experiences are shared, connections are made, and relationships are built.
For the past year, jigsaw puzzles have been influential in developing a community within the Homework Help Center, where students and staff come together as individual pieces to connect as a family unit. These puzzles, ranging from 500 to 1000 pieces, are challenging to say the very least, as many need pictures to use as a guide toward completion. The participants often bring the skills to complete these puzzles, as we rely on the world-renowned "3 C's" method to finish each puzzle: communication, critical thinking, and cookies. This time of puzzling is significant to the familial structure of the Homework Help Center as Fridays provide us with a time to collectively, as a family unit, take a deep breath and be free of the hustle and bustle that make up most of the week. The setting is simple, a giant puzzle scattered on a table with a community of caring people surrounding it, all looking to solve the big picture piece by piece. In many ways, this symbolizes the center's leadership and overall environment. The staff is responsible for each component inside the HHCA, connecting those that fit while also looking at the big picture. Part of the true beauty of "Puzzle Fridays" is how crowds of kids visiting the HHC each day are gone. Instead, these crowds are replaced by the close-knit family of those that find the HHC to be a second home, surrounding one or two tables, working to solve a puzzle while also finding peace in knowing that they are a piece within the larger picture of the community.
The first puzzle we started was found on the shared table in the break room, left here by a former manager with a penchant for possessing eclectic items. It was a murder-mystery puzzle with a 1980s storyline, Soviet villains, and a cheesy American spy who saves the day. I didn't believe that the kids would gravitate toward this puzzle because it was old, possessing a hint of attic musk, and America's rift with the now non-existent Soviet Union had seemingly thawed thanks to Rocky IV. Nevertheless, Fatima put the puzzle on a table, and I sat back and watched kids gravitate toward the space, some in search of conversation while others were led by their curiosity. The HHC community completed the puzzle over four weeks. The puzzle, which had started as an activity for the few, evolved into a time of family bonding, sharing, and true to form connections.
For many students, the puzzle is symbolic of finding peace within the pieces of life, with the bigger picture being worked out one section at a time, surrounded by an encouraging community that supports you regardless of your age, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, or any other barrier of division. Though most of the week focuses on the academic rigors that exist Monday-Thursday, I would venture to say that "Puzzle Friday" is just as critical to the center's development. It is our time to check up on one another, connect as a community, build as a family, and always leave the week on a high note, using that moment of that day to create the momentum needed for a successful next week. As a team, the HHC staff and students are proud to come together each day to create a safe community that meets the needs of those who call the HHC "home." Whether someone is looking to finish a puzzle or find an answer when life seems puzzling, there is always a spot in HHC for anyone looking to either be a piece or be at peace within our family unit.
Growing up, I watched my father wear brimmed hats to work and church. Like a king wearing a crown, my father would put his hat on as he was leaving the house, confidently stepping into a world that both feared and jeered him. Kings wear crowns, and my father is no different.
He still wears his hats to this very day. Right on, King.
Now it's my turn to wear the coveted crown that so many Black men have donned throughout history. I'm in my late 30s, and I have gray hair on my beard. I provide for my family. My knees hurt, yet I continue to fight for civil rights, walking in the path of the greats. I deserve a crown.
Right on, King.
Today, I am the proud owner of several wide-brimmed hats that don my bald head like a crown fit for a king. Whenever I wear these hats, I think about men like my father, MLK, Malcolm X, or Muhammad Ali, who made moves to better the lives of those they loved the most. I wear these hats to honor them and their sacrifice. I also wear these hats because I look good in them, as you can see for yourself.
Right on, King.
Y'all, this interview just felt right. The conversation was flowing. The laughs were plentiful. The connection was real. Life-changing even. If you haven't listened to the #reallife podcast with Abbie & Daniélle, you are certainly missing an experience that will benefit your life. Seriously. Their collective energy changed the summation of the day that I experienced before our interview. The link below will take you to our interview. I promise you that you will laugh, reflect, and want some more of #reallife. I know I do, and I can't wait to speak with them again.
I don't have office space; I have a creative space. Though many may believe that an office and creative space are one-in-the-same, from my perspective, I would disagree. Maybe it's the word "office" that makes my stomach turn because I instantly think of mundane work, forced labor, and an oppressive environment that snuffs out any form of creativity. However, when I think of a creative space, I sense freedom in mind, body, and spirit, which are three elements that I need to be my best self.
Due to the pandemic, I spend only three days a week in my creative space, working the other two days virtually from home. However, it is vital that my creative space feels like "home," exuding the warmth, love, and acceptance that I have grown accustomed to experiencing in my day-to-day life. Each piece that I include in my creative space brings positive energy, a sense of belief, and purpose. Whether it is a poster of Ali or the Native Tongues Crew on my wall or Grogu, who is one of my many Star Wars collectibles, each piece brings me peace. I am a massive fan of being around something growing, hence the potted plants. Inspiration comes in many forms, and I am thankful that my creative space echoes the eclectic nature of my heart and spirit.
I hate being in pictures. I don't consider myself to be particularly photogenic. I am pretty awkward in front of the camera because of my sheer unwillingness to force a smile. Say Cheese...no thank you.
Lately, I have challenged myself recently to take more selfies. Even saying selfies makes my skin crawl because I often associate that term with the type of narcissism needed to be a social media star. Still, I realize that being in front of the camera can be beautiful, as some moments should be captured. So here are a couple of shots that I have taken over the past couple of months as I randomly stroll through life.
Thank you, Cynthia Loving, known to most of the world as singer & songwriter Lil Mo. Listening to this interview made me feel like I was sitting on the couch talking to my sister about love, life, and learned lessons. Her energy was everything throughout this interview.