musings, commentary & stories on politics, culture, identity & community

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Quotables: Accepting Change, Facing Adversity & Moving Forward

Hey Folks,

Every once in a while, I like to read quotes on subjects that intrigue me intellectually or spiritually, or that speak to questions and experiences I have at the moment. I thought I’d share a few that struck me to my core. Enjoy, and feel free to share your favorite quotes, too!

“There is no such thing as a “broken family.” Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. The only time family becomes null is when those ties in the heart are cut. If you cut those ties, those people are not your family. If you make those ties, those people are your family. And if you hate those ties, those people will still be your family because whatever you hate will always be with you.”  -C. Joy Bell C.

“You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the fuck on.”  -Tupac Shakur

“Lots of things can be fixed. Things can be fixed. But many times, relationships between people cannot be fixed, because they should not be fixed. You’re aboard a ship setting sail, and the other person has joined the inland circus, or is boarding a different ship, and you just can’t be with each other anymore. Because you shouldn’t be.”  -C. Joy Bell C.

"The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.”  -Oprah Winfrey

“I think it happens to everyone as they grow up. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do. And so you keep the wonderful memories, but find yourself moving on.”  -Nicholas Sparks

“Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.”  -Steve Maraboli

“As long as I am breathing, in my eyes, I am just beginning.”  -Criss Jami

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Does Russia’s Anti-LGBT Legislation Warrant It Being Stripped of the 2014 Olympics?


I’ve been reflecting on the recent demands to urge the International Olympic Committee to strip Russia of the 2014 Olympics due to its anti-LGBT legislation and social climate, particularly the most recent legislation making it illegal to give information about homosexuality to youth under age 18. Openly gay actor and activist George Takei is a leading figure in the effort to move the 2014 Olympics from Russia to Vancouver.

Although I find Russia’s anti-LGBT laws punitive, mean spirited, and unjust, I must ask how we as U.S. citizens are able to criticize Russia’s policies and declare it a nation undeserving to host the Olympics, considering our domestic and international policies toward minority groups here, namely Indigenous and Black and Brown people, our ever-growing prison industrial complex, police brutality, our global wars and the lives lost because of them, and detrimental economic policies both here and abroad that have worsened living conditions and life outcomes for so many and destabilized and toppled governments over countless generations.

Now, I’m not at all saying that we as American citizens and residents shouldn’t speak out against injustice abroad and stand in solidarity with others until the U.S. is a perfect nation. We know that no country will ever be free of injustice and persecution, so waiting for that day to come would mean inaction and self-censorship to our detriment and others’. But I do wonder where the fine line is. How can I crow loudly of Russia’s transgressions when the U.S. has so many itself? After all, if we are going to be tough on Russia, we Americans should apply that same yard stick to our own nation. And if we were to do that, we might realize that the ugly, giant underbelly of America’s political, social, and economic history would mean that the U.S. has never, ever deserved to host any Olympics. So where were our calls urging the International Olympic Committee to strip Salt Lake City of the 2002 Winter Olympics?

Just sayin’.

Black, American, and Queerly Yours,

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Why I Love The Huxtables


I’ve been a long time fan of The Cosby Show and have fond memories of watching it with my family on Thursday nights. As much as I loved the show as a kid, however, I’ve grown even fonder of it as an adult. Some people think The Cosby Show was too nice and idealistic; others thought it was a completely unrealistic portrayal of a Black American family.

While everyone is entitled to their opinion and their own relationship with the show, I disagree. Although my family- and probably no family- is like the Huxtables or any sitcom family, especially one from the 80s and early 90s; even though The Cosby Show has enough sap at times to fill a million bottles of maple syrup; and even though my family has plenty more dysfunction than the Huxtables would ever know or be able to deal with, this family resonated with me, and still does. I really related to Rudy, as she and I were the same age, were both inquisitive and precocious, and shared the same teethy, wide smile and big eyes. I was captivated by Denise’s edgy, hip style and independent spirit. Seriously, I wanted to be just like her when I became a teenager! Like Vanessa and Sondra, I was studious and bookish when I was a young girl, and appreciated that this was something to be proud of, not apologize for. I saw my mother in Claire Huxtable, her intelligence, ambition, wit, and femininity, the composed way she carried herself, and both the tender and tough love she gave as a mother. Cliff Huxtable’s big heart, simplicity, love of Black music and culture, the wisdom and stories he passed down to his children, and the high expectations he had of his children mirrored my father’s. The Huxtable grandparents- the Griots- the “old school” traditions they passed down to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and the love they had for family remind me of my family, including Grandma and Granddad Robinson, my “adoptive” grandparents.

Claudelle and Bernard Robinson were a couple who lived across the street from us and had never had children of their own. When my parents moved to the neighborhood, Grandma and Granddad took a liking to them right away. My parents adored them and were so appreciative of the roles they played in my and my sister’s lives, especially since my maternal grandparents were dead and my paternal grandparents lived in Louisiana, which means we only visited them once a year during the summer. My parents, my sister Nikki, and Grandma and Granddad Robinson grew very close. In fact, our grandparents’ home was the first stop Mom and Dad made after I was born. I have many wonderful memories of all of us- my parents, Nikki, my three aunts (my mom’s sisters), and Grandma and Granddad eating together at the kitchen table, spending summer nights in the backyards of our homes, running through the sprinkler in the summer to keep cool, taking trips to Rainbow Cone together, listening to music and the stories they shared with us, and just being together as a family.

The Huxtables were neither intended to be a complete portrayal nor the sole portrayal of a Black American family, but they didn’t need to be for me. There were enough similarities I had with the Huxtables that brought a smile to my face, that made me reflect, and that made me appreciate the family I had and still have. They remind me of the treasured moments spent with Grandma and Granddad Robinson, who died in 2000 and 2007, respectively. The Cosby Show now makes me reminisce about precious times with my family and, dare I say, the good ole days, even though they weren’t all good. The Huxtables were realistic and aspirational enough for me. And for all this, I’m truly grateful and will always love them.

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Kelly’s Reading Rainbow Corner, Pt 1


As many of you know, I have two lovers, excluding my partner: reading and writing. Sorry, Honey.  On June 15, the day I graduated from graduate school, I dove into a sea of books and have been swimming ever since. What a delight it’s been to read for pleasure, and not for a class!

From Charles Wheelan’s 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said and Naked Statistics, to Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, to Susan Cain’s book I just finished, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I’ve followed the tide to the different lands these authors have taken me. What’s the next land I’ll get to visit? Who knows? Maybe it’ll be Americanah, by Chimamanda Adichie or Timuel Black’s Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration. Maybe even Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg or The Price of the Ticket, by James Baldwin. One of the most delicious moments during my swim has been the time between finishing a book and deciding what the next one will be.

I thought I’d share with you some insights I take away from each book I read. Sometimes the insights will be in my own words and, at other times, they’ll be quotes or excerpts from the book. Below are a few of the many poignant quotes from the book I finished just moments ago, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Enjoy, and thoughts, questions, and respectful dialogue are welcome.

If Fast and Slow Animals Had Parties…
"If "fast" and "slow" animals had parties, writes the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson, "some of the fasts would bore everyone with their loud conversation, while others would mutter into their beer that they don’t get any respect. Slow animals are best described as shy, sensitive types. They don’t assert themselves, but they are observant and notice things that are invisible to the bullies. They are the writers and artists at the party who have interesting conversations out of earshot of the bullies. They are the inventors who figure out new ways to behave, while the bullies steal their patents by coping their behavior."

Said Einstein…
"It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer."

The Ability to Negotiate…
"The ability to negotiate is not inborn, like blond hair or straight teeth, and it does not belong exclusively to the table-pounders of the world. Anyone can be a great negotiator, I told them, and in fact if often pays to be quiet and gracious, to listen more than talk, and to have an instinct for harmony rather than conflict. With this style, you can take aggressive positions without inflaming your counterpart’s ego. And by listening, you can learn what’s truly motivating the person you’re negotiating with and come up with creative solutions that satisfy both parties."

"Love is essential: gregariousness is optional."

"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers- of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity- to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply."

"Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off."

"If your children are quiet, help them make peace with new situations and new people, but otherwise let them be themselves. Delight in the originality of their minds. Take pride in the strength of their consciences and the loyalty of their friendships. Don’t expect them to follow the gang. Encourage them to follow their passions instead. Throw confetti when they claim the fruits of those passions, whether it’s on the drummer’s throne, on the softball field, or on the page."

"If you’re a teacher, enjoy your gregarious and participatory students. But don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow."

"Remember the dangers of the New Groupthink. If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing ideas…Face-to-face contact is important because it builds trust, but group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking…"

"Don’t mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas."

And one of my favorite take-aways from this book:
"We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn’t choose to go to Wonderland- but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own. Lewis Carroll was an introvert, too, by the way. Without him, there would be no Alice in Wonderland. And by now, this shouldn’t surprise us.”

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Live, Love, Learn & Lean In



On Saturday, June 15, I will walk across the stage with my Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. Sometimes it seems surreal, as the past two years have quickly flown by and been full of triumphs, tribulations, and transitions. About six years ago, I began my climb toward the peak of professional frustration, which came to a head in 2010. No longer challenged by the work I was doing, I grew weary of the lack of upward mobility and professional development opportunities. I was at a dead end and unable to work to my potential, even though I demonstrated that I was capable of doing much more. I felt trapped and was at a crossroads. The former, I embraced, however; the latter, I did not.

I would often come home to my partner and vent about the stress and disappointment of work. She patiently listened and provided words of encouragement and advice. Then one day, after another one of my venting sessions, she said, “I know what you’re going through, and it’s unfortunate, but the situation is not going to change. YOU have to make a change, and once you figure out what to specialize in, you need to go to graduate school.” She said it so matter-of-factly. Although she was right, her words were a big, hard pill to swallow. Her tough love even made me a bit anxious. After all, here I was trapped in an emotionally stressful and unfulfilling job, and although I wanted to attend graduate school eventually, I didn’t know for what. This made my life even more complicated. But challenges and uncertainty in life can mean we’re at a crossroads or on the brink of discovery. Instead of pulling back and having a defeatist attitude, though, we can lean in.

In 2008, I received an invitation to apply to be on the board of directors of Affinity Community Services, a social justice organization on Chicago’s South Side that conducts advocacy and provides programs and services primarily for Black LGBTQ communities, queer youth, and allies. I had been a constituent for several years and volunteered on a few committees, but had never served on a board before. Nevertheless, I was excited about this new opportunity, especially with an organization that provided me a safe space to be a Black lesbian and an outlet to be civically and politically engaged. I was voted on the board in 2008, and it has been an incredible learning opportunity. Due to excellent mentorship from women in the organization and opportunities to learn, lead, and follow, I developed the confidence to step up my leadership role even more and, over the course of the next few years, served as secretary, vice president, and, currently, president.

Between the policy advocacy and community building work I was doing, as well as the public programs on civic engagement and social justice that I co-developed in my previous two jobs, I realized my interest in public policy. This was an exciting “Eureka!” moment, as things seemed to be coming together. So, I started applying to Masters programs for entry in Fall 2011.

My parents were so excited about this next new chapter in my life, and my father rooted for me every step of the way.  He was thrilled when I told him that I had submitted all my graduate school applications. When I received my acceptance letter to the University of Chicago, I was overjoyed and felt such a sense of accomplishment. I wanted so badly to take the letter to his job to show him but could not, as he had died unexpectedly four months prior. I would have given anything to see his eyes widen and that huge smile come across his face upon reading the letter, but that would never happen. My mom and aunt often tell me, "He knew you were headed back to school, Kelly. It was just a matter of where."

My first quarter of graduate school was a killer. The core classes were heavily quantitative, with an emphasis on economics, public economy with game theory, and statistics. There were several nights when I nearly pulled out my dreadlocks over problem sets and shed many tears. In addition to acclimating myself to being back in school after having worked for several years, I had just lost my father and was in mourning. To top it off, I was taking these rigorous courses in subject areas that were not my strength. I began doubting my intelligence and abilities, and was a sleep deprived and emotional mess. I blanked during my stats midterm and had a meltdown. Every single subject, every homework assignment, and every day without my father was hard, long, and painful. I will always be grateful for the love and support of my family and friends, who helped me get through that grueling quarter. Over time, the voice in my head that was telling me I couldn’t do it was replaced by my father’s voice reminding me that I could. And then eventually, I heard my own voice telling me that I would. And I did.

Each quarter got better and better. I was proud of having struggled through that academically and emotionally challenging period. I realized that I learned more than I thought I had, and began enjoying my classes. I focused on learning and stretching myself and on seeing this time in graduate school as an investment in my professional and intellectual development and a deepening of my networks that would pay off in both the short and long term. When I walk across the stage on graduation day, I’ll be holding a framed picture of my father because he was with me every step of the way. When I was growing up, he always told me I could do anything I put my mind to and to never think otherwise. He said that when things get difficult in life, I shouldn’t quit, but push through instead. He would say, "Kelly, don’t walk away from the game before you’ve even played." I’ve never forgotten this. Dad was telling me to lean in.

I’m currently looking for employment opportunities and have some irons in the fire, which include two interviews and three submitted applications for competitive summer fellowships. Although I don’t know what awaits me post graduation, I am not doubtful and timid. Rather, I’m full of excitement and hope about this next leg of my journey, even in this rough economy. I feel strong, ready, and capable. Any and everything I even think I want to pursue that speaks to my professional and personal interests and passion, I’m pursuing. I must also say that I’m fortunate to have a supportive and gainfully employed partner, which makes this period of transition and uncertainty less stressful. It’s a privileged position that I’m aware of and appreciate.

These past several years have been full of hard knocks, successes, and challenges, joy and pain, and births and deaths. In the midst of it all, I was reminded of a valuable lesson that Dad had been teaching me all along: Live, love, learn, and yes, lean in.

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No Worries, Pops. Your Straight Daughter is Safe at Wellesley.

Last Sunday, I attended a prospective students event for my alma mater, Wellesley College. I always look forward to meeting the newly accepted students from the Chicagoland area. I remember what an exciting but anxious time this was for me back in the day, so I’m always happy to answer their questions and share what my experience was like at Wellesley.

Well, I barely walked through the door before a proud, amiable Pops (father) of a prospective student introduced himself to me. He asked if I enjoyed my experience at Wellesley, and I told him that I had very much. He then pointed in the direction of his daughter and proudly said, “That’s my daughter. She’s been accepted to Wellesley. Make sure you speak to her.” I smiled and congratulated him, and said I looked forward to introducing myself to her. Then the conversation took an interesting turn. “Wellesley is a great school, Pops said. “My wife and I are excited about her going there, but I’m concerned about the all-women’s environment, especially with the push for marriage equality and everything. I’m nervous and don’t want her pressured into anything. What do you think?” I politely asked him to clarify what he was truly asking me. He said he was nervous about the push for gay rights and the permissive culture in the country towards gays and lesbians and how this would play out at Wellesley. In other words, he didn’t want his daughter to become a “lesbo,” because you know that’s what happens to all women who attend women’s colleges, right?!

I must admit that I found this conversation amusing for a couple reasons. First, of all the people in the room that Pops could have raised this issue with, it would be me- the only lesbian alumna in the room. Second, this scenario made me chuckle because my mom had the same concern about Wellesley. She thought that something in the Seven Sister water would turn me into a full-fledged, unapologetic feminist Sappho. Uhhhh…well…I suppose she was right in my case. I’ve been in situations like this before with people who made similar comments to those of Pops. There were times when I wasn’t at all bothered by their statements, and even engaged those individuals in dialogue, especially when their comments didn’t appear to be motivated by meanness or disrespect. But I’ve also had moments when diplomacy and being above the fray were not my priority, and I happily and quietly dismissed folks to leave them alone with their thoughts, or lack thereof. In that moment with Proud Pops, however, I gave him a warm smile and told him that, like many colleges, Wellesley has people from different backgrounds and walks of life, including people of different sexual orientations, and that this diversity is one of the things I most cherished about my life and friendships there. “Your daughter will meet lesbian and bisexual women at Wellesley,” I told Pops.” But don’t worry; they’re not recruiting. I think she’ll be just fine.”

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I spent the weekend in NYC and Brooklyn and had a wonderful time. I had great convo with folks I had never met before. Here are a few momentos. Chi-town, I might need permission to cheat on the weekends every once in a while!

I spent the weekend in NYC and Brooklyn and had a wonderful time. I had great convo with folks I had never met before. Here are a few momentos. Chi-town, I might need permission to cheat on the weekends every once in a while!

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Encounter #5: People You Meet on the Street

On Tuesday, I was walking in Hyde Park on my way to a meeting. Walking hastily to get there on time, I passed by this young, tall woman. I looked at her, smiled, and said hello. She greeted me back with a smile and said, “Oooh, I love your tights! They’re so cute. Where did you get them?” Flattered by the compliment- and always happy to talk about patterned tights and fishnets- I told her that I’ve gotten several pair at TJ Max, Nordstroms, and Target.

She asked me if they’re sold in plus sizes, and shared that she has a hard time finding stylish clothes as a full-figured woman. “It’s so difficult. I like to look feminine and stylish, but a lot of the clothing for big women is matronly, boxy, and just plain unattractive. It’s so much easier for petite and small women like you.” I told her that I have several friends who feel the same way, but shared with her my own moments of frustration in the fitting room, since many slacks are not made for women with behinds. I joked and told her not to be fooled by my small waist and petite stature, as I have thick thighs I used to be self-conscious about but have grown to adore. I lifted my dress a tad bit to reveal the evidence, and she chuckled and said, “You sure do have some big legs!!” After sharing a laugh, we introduced ourselves. In that moment, this woman, initially a stranger on the street I was passing by, became Ne’Shell.

Ne’Shell confided that shopping can be a blow to her self-esteem; that she feels self-conscious as a tall, plus size woman. We both agreed that many clothes are not made well for shapely or full-figured women. I gave her the names of a few stores to check out, and encouraged her not to get too down on herself. We also chatted about the importance of exercising, staying active in the winter, and not dissing our bodies as wrongs that need to be righted. Ne’Shell mentioned that she doesn’t have money for a gym membership, so I suggested a few exercise videos she can work out to at home.

Her warm spirit, quiet strength, and vulnerability touched me greatly. Ne’Shell had just met me and, yet, she felt comfortable confiding in me about her struggles with body image, something that I, and many other women, experience in our lives.

After a few minutes, I had to go inside for my meeting. I gave Ne’Shell a big hug, and she thanked me for saying hello and talking with her. She asked me for my name again, and said she hopes our paths cross again soon. I dug out my card from my oversized tote and told her to keep in touch. She smiled, and we parted ways.

We never know who we’ll meet on the street and the stories and struggles people have in their lives. Perhaps Ne’Shell will call or e-mail me. Maybe not. Perhaps we’ll see each other again in Hyde Park. Maybe not. But I’m glad I took the time to smile and say hello.

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Encounter #4: Appreciate Kindness & Pay Attention

While walking in Hyde Park along 60th and Woodlawn after a day of classes last week, I decided to send a quick text message. As I finished, I looked up and caught the eye of a security guard stationed at the corner. He said to me, “Ma’am, please be careful walking around with your cell phone. It’s better if you keep it in your bag. People are stealing them a lot these days.”

I felt slightly embarrassed, as I knew he was right. I also didn’t want him to think I was naive, aloof, or thought myself impervious to my surroundings, especially since some students at the University of Chicago do. So, I thanked the gentleman for his concern and assured him that texting while walking was out of character for me. He nodded and said, “It looks like you’re in a hurry, so let me me walk and talk with you for a few feet. Your phone would be very valuable to folks on the street who would love to steal and sell it. And before you could look up from your text, it would be gone, or even worse. Please be safe, and watch your surroundings. Help me do my job by taking care of yourself, okay?”

At that moment, my embarrassment turned to gratitude. I thanked him again. Had he not seen me walking in his direction, or if I had been on another street- anywhere- on a different day, not only could my phone have been stolen, but something else could have happened. I don’t even remember what I was texting or e-mailing, which further illustrates that it could have waited. I am not trying to conjure up fictitious, paranoid worst-case scenarios, but there could have been a cost to being distracted and taking my safety for granted in that moment.

This gentleman’s genuine concern for my welfare touched me. As a security guard on campus, his job is to keep watch and act, when necessary, but he went above and beyond that. He reached out to me personally and reminded me to unglue myself from my phone and pay attention. He did his job, but I hadn’t done mine.