Sunday, November 25, 2012

WA's Emerged and Emerging African Americans

Marselas Owens (of Seattle)  and President Obama
Signing the Health Care Bill

Keeping informed and informing others is a key part of who I am and what serves me well. I like connecting people who are on the say path and enjoy seeing new things emerge from these new relationships.

As an Elder in our "Village" I get to meet, know and partner with incredible African Americans. Most are  much younger than I am.  They keep me wanting to get up get dressed and go see what they are accomplishing today. They keep me updated on their ideas, inspire me to come up with new and relevant ideas. I have learned from them the value of new technologies. Dr. Maxine Mimms taught me that this is the key to staying emotionally, and physically healthy and adding more and more years to my life. This is what African Americans have been doing for many centuries, getting up, accomplishing and sharing. She models this well as the Professor for Critical Community Conversations at the Life Enrichment Bookstore and Learning Center in Columbia City, Seattle the third Friday of each month. It is so refreshing to see the number of inspired African Americans of all ages gather around our Elder of Distinction and share with her and each other the many positive aspects of their lives and of being African American.

When here as a surrogate for President Barack Obama, Newark Mayor, Corey Booker gave this instruction: Move from sedentary agitation to unapologetic activism.  There are many emerged and emerging leaders among us in WA State, who are doing just that. They are not waiting for someone to pay them or give them a huge grant, or give them permission. They cover a myriad of skills, and areas needing unapologetic leadership to move our children and families from mediocrity to greatness. It is a formula that keeps African Americans alive and well in America.

Marcelas Owens My hero. He is one of the most familiar young faces associated with Pres. Obama. He stood next to Mr. President when he signed the Health Care bill. His mother,Tiffany, a dynamic advocate for health care, died at the age of 27, and lacked the kind of medical care this bill now guarantees to all. Marcelas,is a First Place alum and now at Madrona K-8 in Seattle was 11 years old, and chose to pick up where she left off.
Khadijah Toms, Danielle Jackson and Mia Franklin are fireball advocates for children and adults living with disabilities, their expertise comes from raising children with very challenging disabilities and I depend on them for their knowledge and activism. Getting more paid and support services for African American families is needed at every level, early services, school, and state Developmental Disabilities. They know the systems.
Cheryl Milton stepped up and into a vacuum that has elevated her life and knowledge and that of homeless children needing a teacher who loves and knows how to teach science and math. 
Norman Alston I can not say enough about him, his Fear No Number Math is making a difference and changing the culture of so many brown, black and poor children. He has grown into his brilliance.
Yalonda Masundire had a vision and no funds, but like all successful did not let that stop her. Go with your inspired self and the resources will find you. She brought to children in Rainier Beach an academic camp with certified teachers that reflected their cultures. 
Delbert Richardson His American Museum because of its content and message may never get the funding it needs. He educates about the sustained part of American history we know as slavery and Jim Crow. How can such a long period of our history get only one chapter in our history lesson. 
Life Enrichment Books and Learning Center TeamWhen the owner threatened to reclaim his property, this team of young folks stepped up to the challenge and held a fund raiser, and put together a strategic plan. While other independent and even corporate bookstores are closing its doors, our young folks decided to expand the bookstore into an African American learning center the only African American bookstore in Pacific Northwest.  Please get on the mailing list and stay informed. and this leads to another young person
Mayor Marilyn Strickland She is the Mayor of Tacoma and makes us all proud whether we live in Tacoma or not. She is guiding this city to a renewal that is making it a gem in Washington's crown. 
Rev. Paul Smoot up in Everett is ever present when it comes to being a voice for African American students. He runs a school where he is producing children who know they are scholars as young as three years old. 
Kamilah Abdul-Alim and Nicole Burns this 2nd and 3rd grade teaching duo are two educators to behold. Watching them teach is like watching a painter paint a lovely picture. They are just naturals and they take pride in each of their children. Their doors are always open to visitors and they helped me to formulate the Elders in Residence Project. Both have retired community members helping them assure that every child can read.  
Bernard Bennett and his brothers The number of black owned media is down to a number we can count using our fingers. With such a small African American population along the I-5 corridor it is a miracle that this family owned media a radio station and newspaper is still on everyday and we can count on news important to African Americans to be printed every week. We know Chris Bennett the Elder, but many do not know his sons have stepped up to keep this business going against all odds. 
Salah Mason When he was so much younger than he is today, I put him with a professor at the UW Business school could he make a businessman out of an artist. The answer after a small amount of time counseling him was "I do not think so."  It is not easy to teach business to African Americans in the ways that it is taught to white students. So I applaud him for his international business Kinfolk Design Studio, Bar, Restaurant, clothing and Bicycle Brooklyn and Tokyo Japan.
Roz Jenkins I have just this year gotten work more closely with Roz. She chairs the African American Education Roundtable and will not stop until education is equitable and excellent and the achievement gap is closed. She fights for our right to have a voice when decisions are made about our children. She will guide us through the education agenda for the upcoming legislative session.
Rita Green and Lina Brown It is refreshing to not have to worry about a problem because someone says "I got this." and means it. Well these two young women have Rainier Beach High School. And they are doing a great job of assuring that it does become a Baccalaureate High School and that African Americans are enrolled. Lina was recently honored at the White House for her volunteerism. 
Erica Newman She has been part of my support system that makes me able function as an Elder in our Village. She has been that for others also as she learns the ways of being a leader. She is willing to volunteer and do the work that is necessary for learning to lead and be heard. She is parenting a young child who will likewise grow to make us proud.
Nafisa Mussa She is the go to person in the Somalian Community. She came to America and grew into her purpose in this foreign place. She is everywhere, and is a great voice for both African born and African Americans. She is clear about the need for inclusion at every level of involvement of black people. 
Darryl Smith, he is our Deputy Mayor. He is a bit quiet but he has a big job and is doing it well. He listens. That is the best you can ask of any who is in politics, listen. And when a person in a leadership role listens to the many voices, it shows up in their accomplishments. 
Akua Kariamu a gifted and exceptional musician and teacher. She plays a violin like no other, and combined with her spoken word that comes from a soul so deep you can get lost in her. I told her that if I spoke a more natural language with the words and phrases that speak to brilliance I could describe her so much better. She smiled.
Sabrena Burr She is a parent and our African American voice for children and parents on the State PTSA Board. She is a legislative policy representative. Understanding education policy, the legislature and how their decisions impact our children's education is important. I partner with her at South Shore K-8 and she a key player in getting the Math Academy established. 
Dawn Bennett - We call her "Little Dawn" she is a dynamo as an organizer, a voice and advocate for the education of African American children. When she enters a room all know that Dawn has arrived. She showcases not only a we will prevail spirit but a head of some of the most beautiful locs in the region.
Dr.Quinton Morris  Is the Founder of the Young Eight String Octet, a professor and  Director of Chamber Music and Fine Arts at Seattle U. This year he performed a violin solo at Carnegie Hall, the ultimate for any musician. His is committed to introducing classical music to our children.
Keisha Scarlett This dynamo of a principal (South Shore K-8 in Seattle) is clearly on a trajectory to one day be Superintendent of one of Washington's School Districts. She is making not a difference but the difference that principals can make for children others say can not be brought to academic excellence. 4th and 5th graders doing Algebra early mornings before school even begins, yes! Math Academy on Saturdays Yes! Parents and community engaged, yes!
Council Member Victoria Woodards Besides being on Tacoma City Council she is dedicated  to reviving the Tacoma Urban League as its CEO. She came up through the ranks both in the military and and under the tutelage of Harold Moss another of our Washington Elders of Distinction. We spent time together on a panel for the AKA National Convention. 
Gary and Deborah Boune - they are transplants from Detroit and a welcome addition as small business owners. They own B2Fine Art Gallery in Tacoma. African Americans they teach that we must learn to purchase fine art as an investment and for the pleasure of owning nice art pieces for their homes.
Erin Jones Now if you have not met this woman, you have missed a treat. She recently left the Supt. of Public Instruction Office where she was Deputy Superintendent, and is now the Director of Diversity and Achievement at Federal Way Schools. I always smile when I think of Erin, her energy and passion for education is contagious. 
Dian Ferguson  I love Dian, smart, organized, focused and one of the best people to know when you want to get something done. She is a strategic advisor to the FAME Community Center.  She is also guiding the CAYA team back into full blown business. Last year she ran for City Council and kept in the debate issues important to African Americans and others like us who are too often overlooked or taken for granted. 
CAYA Team (Joe Stanton, JJ Wilkerson and Michael Ellis) they are the team breathing new life into CAYA. We do not have an organization in Seattle that has in its mission statement that they exist for African American youth. Our children are always sharing mission statement with others or linked in as at risk. Michael Preston, directed CAYA for years as a place known for producing African American scholars and winners.
Dr. Tamara Lewis I just met her but she is surely worthy of being on this list. She is a Naturpathic Physician, a Bastyr U. graduate. She practiced in NYC before returning to Seattle to set up practice. She has recently published a children's book HERBS ABC's it will be available on and Bastyr Book Store. Another must for our children and support for our sister. 

This is not an exhaustive list and I could have doubled it. There is so much great leadership among African Americans along the I-5 Corridor who are brilliant and creative and give so much compensated and uncompensated,  to make life in the Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan area one of the best regions in the nation who are not on this list. Let me know and I will surely make sure you are on the next one. 

I will be writing soon about the upcoming legislative session and encouraging every African American young and old to make it point to email, or testify or call Olympia to let them know that Yes, we are coming to collect on our votes. 

As always I want to hear about what you are doing. Leave a comment or email me. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

November is National Epilepsy Month

Aaje at 13 years old
For Aaje and Qimmah

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and I dedicate this blog entry to my goddaughter Qimmah and her daughter Aaje.  Aaje is 15 years old and lives with epilepsy in Seattle WA.

President Barack Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod is a parent who knows what epilepsy does to the life and family of a child with epilepsy. His wife, Susan,  Chairs  Citizens United for Research into the Causes and Cure for Epilepsy CURE. They asked for personal stories. I read many of those written by parents each with both similar and unique experiences. I thought, parents of children living with with epilepsy are extremely modest in the ways epilepsy impacts a family. So I am writing from my observations as Auntie Dawn, a member of Aaje and her mother Qimmah's support team.

Becoming Auntie Dawn
Being Aaje's "Auntie Dawn" is  complicated but brings with it gifts. It is a relationship like no other it goes beyond usual relationships. I am godmother to Qimmah, which makes me grandgodmom to her children. My best friend Beverly, died of breast cancer in 2004 and a long time pact was that in such an eventuality, we would step in as surrogate mothers. She left me with instructions for each of her children and for Qimmah it was that I must assure she always has the support she needs to take care of Aaje who besides epilepsy, she has Autism and underdeveloped cognition. Aaje will need the daily care of her mother for her entire life.

Becoming Aaje
Aaje was a normal birth her first three years of checkups placed her above average on the growth charts  including language and cognitions. Two weeks after she blew out her three birthday candles, she suffered her first cluster of seizures, they were often and violent. That was 12 years and too many seizure episodes, medications, scans, MRIs, neurological evaluations, assessments, education planning conferences, therapies, hospital stays and tantrums to count. Entering the teenage years have added piled on her the many issues associated with puberty. She struggles with these changes that she does not understand. After having moved with her family to another state, her mother overwhelmed by her needs returned home to Seattle. She is learning to be with her extended family, she can be as rude and non compliant but within the realm of her damaged neurological functioning is a bright and loving child.

Being Mom
Aaje's mom is an incredible and knowlegeable caregiver, in ways that go beyond just being a caring mom. She is an expert on caring for a child with special needs. A child with epilepsy that is complicated by Autism and compromised cognitive skills.  As her sole parent, she is the expert. The professional experts do not know what causes epilepsy nor what can cure it and they are just coming into higher knowledge of Autism.  How epilepsy affects her development is not known.  Each person living with epilepsy has their unique story and parents know the frustrations associated with epilepsy.  There is the never knowing when the next seizure will occur, or how long it will last.  What they do know is the cost of the hundreds of medical consultations, the prescriptions that did not work or did work for awhile and now there are increasing break throughs. Qimmah knows well the fear of those who do not understand epilepsy, she knows that she can count on half a hand the people who she can leave Aaje with. She knows the questions and suspicion when arriving in the  emergency room a child bloodied and bruised from a fall during a seizure when you were busy taking care of her siblings.

I watch with admiration this young mother who presents like a student of neurology, pharmacology, education and psychology? She is an expert in what works and what does not work in our medical care and education systems. She knows what happens when professionals do not hear her, or discount her observations.  How does this  young and now single mom take care of her own natural need for friendships, a social life and career?  Well like most parents, not very well.  When there is a child with a disabling disease in a family, breaks in relationships are  extremely high. So I admire Qimmah as she manages the education of her 8 year old son who is very bright and cares for her 1 year old son who is now walking and into everything. Though she has applied for every service that should be available to her family, they are not readily forthcoming.

Aaje and Qimmah
Becoming Poor
For Aaje's mom there is no compensated and trained respite care available due to government budget cuts and shortfalls.  So she had to give up an enjoyed and lucrative career. When other young people are going to social events, she is sitting in hospital rooms and doctor offices or merely caring for daughter who is totally dependent on her. She and her family had to learn to be poor.  Which means she had to learn the systems associated with being poor. In friendships there is an expected give and take, when so much of who you are is going to a child who needs your constant attention there really is not much to contribute to close relationships.  Time away from the job for unscheduled seizure activity does not coincide well with a workplace project timeline.

Everything is Pre-Existing
Qimmah manages Aaje's multiple appointments associated with the first diagnosis of Epilepsy when she was 3 years old. She was traumatized as she watched  her bright and active child began to show signs of cognitive delays. The diagnosis for Autism the Special Education designation and Individual Education Plans(IEP) and the expectation that it be managed by her, the parent.  Though all of this is extremely complex and difficult,  mom is a proficient and wonderful Chief Advocate and Manager for Aaje's epilepsy and the complexity of her multiple diagnosis. I consider what it was like  being a mother with a husband to teenagers.  Add epilepsy and not knowing when not only a behavioral tantrum is on the horizon but a cluster of seizures just might occur when least expected and they are always least expected. The already difficult teen years for Aaje is exacerbated by increased seizures and behavioral episodes associated with her Autism and marginally her menstrual cycle.  She and all who have epilepsy diagnosis are perfect for knowing the need for Obamacare, everything about Aaje's current medical history is "pre-existing." And mom, despite her college education and having a marketable skill, is poor and might be poor for a very long time.

Families of children with epilepsy or any or multiple special needs need human support systems. They need government systems that do not add to already overwhelmed lives. Siblings need attention and to be cared for. When someone needs to be with Aaje when she is hospitalized. Going with mom to the IEP conferences means she does not have to be alone with a team made up of several education, health and legal professionals. It is someone to hand her a tissue. And as her surrogate mom, me there is is the occasional saying to her what she already knows. "You can do this. You have to do this. Who else will do this better for your daughter?" An then being a shoulder to cry on.

Aaje and Auntie Dawn
I wish I could bring this story to some conclusive end but without a cure for epilepsy there is no end. There will always be conscious and unconscious listening for the "thud."  The counting the seconds, because if the seconds goes into minutes then the next steps of the response goes into play. There is the not knowing if this is one seizure event or the beginning of a cluster of seizures. Epilepsy robs Aaje and her mom and siblings of knowing what a day or week will bring. She will grow beyond her teen years, but epilepsy, her need for care and a dependable support team will be with her for life.

Those who can please make a donation to CURE. And then decide to be on a support team for an adult or child living with epilepsy or any special need. For me, of all of my titles, being "Auntie Dawn" is very satisfying.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

There is Plenty to Say for Expectation

I tutor a 2nd grade boy in the home of his Somalian family of 5 children.  They are Muslims and though I know many Somalian parents and Muslims,  I had never been in their home. I  understand the value of visiting people where they live and allowing them to visit you at your home. It is the best way to form cross cultural understanding, respect and relationships. Culture is important, it supersedes race in human experience. 

Being in their home has helped me be a better tutor to their son. To learn their expectations for him.  During one of the tutoring sessions, their daughters and two other young girls were studying and reciting Quran in Arabic. Arabic is a difficult language, and not the primary language of Somalians, nor the language of their schooling.  It was a privilege to observe 5 girls between the ages 7 - 13 under the instruction of a young woman no older than 20 years. Any who understands how children learn, could observe in the parent and the young teacher that these girls would learn their Arabic and Quran lessons. There was no talk of can't or “special education” or learning disabilities.   

I immediately transferred this expectation to the young son, who has an IEP and learning challenges. I have spent time in Kenyan schools and clearly understand the ability for poor children and all children to learn well beyond what our children learn in the USA.  I know his parents, culturally,  do not and can not accept that their son will not learn to be an excellent reader of English.  It will just take more time on task and patience. 

Knowing this me and my young student are focused on this expectation. he reads, he write, he questions, I challenge him.  When pencil and paper and book learning is done, he gets to practice on the IPad, a great motivator.  The family is not asking me to teach him Arabic, I do not know how to read or speak Arabic but I do know English and if that young woman in the next room can teach 5 girls how to speak and read Arabic, I surely can teach their brother how to read and write English with a high proficiency and I will. 

I will comment on our progress as it occurs.