The Thankful November: Small Business Saturday

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This time of year, it’s important to recognize that the religion of
consumerism is one that should never be. What do I mean by that?
I mean that the overt need to buy, buy, buy and help major businesses
that may not have the entirety of your interests at heart is a huge
problem here. It also harms those businesses that do help out
their communities and those budding businesses on the rise. I
am thankful for those small businesses. Places like La Casa Azul
Bookstore in East Harlem. Places like Peace & Riot in Bed-Stuy,
Brooklyn. And many, many others. For me, even selling my books
via 108 Press has underscored the value of small businesses and
the importance of encouraging entrepreneurship among the
communities of color in all genres. So today, on #SmallBizSaturday,
take some time and spend with these businesses. (And also, don’t
forget to visit my webstore as well!) They need your love and support
to combat the ugliness we see too often with Black Friday and beyond.

The Thankful November: Holiday Time

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As we close in on Thanksgiving(or as I refer to it, Turkey Day),
it becomes a time where one can easily drown underneath all of
the over-zealous consumerism, the frantic mood of people, and
the melancholy that does hover around the holidays. For a lot of
us, the time leading into the end of the year can be rough for many
reasons. In fact, part of the reason why I’ve been absent from
posting on the blog has been due to a tense situation with a family
member. I also lost an uncle around this time years ago. I know
that there are similar stories and those that are more wrought with
sorrow out there. But, I want to talk about why I find this time to be
magical and why I’m thankful for it.

I grew up fully embracing the spirit of the holidays on face value.
Thanksgiving with the pilgrims and Indians, turkey and football
and family. Christmas and the preparations in the kitchen, right
down to the making of black cake and sorrel. The best part of that
being able to put a finger in to the bowl and taste the last remnants
of the cake mix, with Mom’s permission of course. I cherish the
memories of the laughter. The times I spent at home in Queens or
up in the Bronx with Pops’ side of the family. There’s always a
soundtrack that goes with these memories. RUN-DMC’s “Christmas
In Hollis”. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You”.
Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”. The Salsoul Christmas records
Mom spins whenever she cooks. Lord Kitchener’s “Drink A Rum”.
And many more. I zero in on these things because to me, they mean
celebration of all of the parts of my identity with family at the core.

People tend to get hung up on the dumbest things when this time of
year comes around. Some don’t want to say Merry Christmas. Some
don’t want Christmas trees up, or menorahs. Some feel that Muslims,
who don’t celebrate Christmas, should do so or fake it. It’s gotten worse
over the past few years, or maybe it’s just that we have collectively. We
have lost sight of the communal spirit. We’ve ignored history and don’t
take the time to fully educate on why these days exist and offer alternatives or the opportunity to have alternatives if needed or wanted.
The history of both holidays, as sordid and troubled as they are, have
been fully detailed. But I choose to be thankful and not be limited to
doing so because it’s the last two months of the year. That’s why each
year, I make clothing donations. I plan to put together a bag or two with
toiletries and clothes to give to someone on the street, as inspired by the
work of a friend. I give thanks for the ability to give gladly. And I don’t
need the reward of a turkey leg and mac and cheese to spur me into doing
what we all need to be doing more of: spreading love.

The Thankful November: Traveling.

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It took me being still, being engulfed by despair to fully
understand and comprehend why travel and the act of
traveling was and is vital to my existence.

For me, the love of travel began when I was 3 years old.
My parents took me with them to Puerto Rico. I can recall
bits and pieces of that trip, certain sensations. (In a moment
of “coincidence”, I touched upon this in a writing challenge
I’m currently undergoing for the month.) From then on, flying
on an airplane or riding in the back of the car somewhere was
an adventure. Now, I was lucky in a way. Lucky to have folks
who enjoyed traveling. Lucky to have a grandmother who
not only helped to organize trips with her church everywhere
but insisted that I come along with my father’s side of the family.
By the time I was in junior high, I had already seen a good chunk
of the United States, been to Canada and to my family’s native
Jamaica. Far more than my peers at the time. And I didn’t really
brag about it. Didn’t feel right to brag.

As I got older, I managed to take in different adventures. Grandma
Smith used to always say “the world doesn’t end at your block.”
With that in mind, once I got to college I got to check out Europe
more – visited the Czech Republic and England with Mom, and went
back over to London and took the train to Amsterdam, stopping
briefly in France and Belgium along the way. I saw more of Mexico.
And Canada came calling because of love. But as I left one job due
to the stress and turmoil it caused within me, I found my travel options
limited. I began to be more in Washington D.C., Boston and Philadelphia.
Short jaunts that weren’t too costly. It was then that I began to look
back and truly appreciate where travel has taken me. And just how
it made me better. I remember sitting in a hotel lobby with my Uncle
Roy and other older gentlemen talking about history in San Francisco.
I remember the churning of the waves at Peggy’s Cove in Nova
Scotia. The foreboding waters of the great Mississippi River. Walking
quietly in Harvard Square as leaves rustled.

It’s all the more important, these worlds that travel has opened within
me. Being a Black American male, the expectation from some is that
you haven’t BEEN anywhere or won’t be anywhere. And in some respects,
there are those that don’t want you to. Because claiming your right as
a citizen of the world means that you will expand your viewpoint beyond
the limits of your flat screen TV. It means that you’ll have more compassion,
more understanding of what it means to be human. What it means to
think locally and act globally. Hell, a passport these days is a vital thing
to own. Traveling these days is not something I take for granted. Not
when people are dying just to get somewhere to have a semblance of
freedom. I still remember one instance from when I worked as a temp in
an international bank. There was a conversation about travel in Europe.
This intern, a white guy, couldn’t have been more than nineteen gets this
overly shocked look on his face when I mention I’ve been to Amsterdam
and London. He goes, “really?!!” I turned and looked at him and go, “Yes.
That surprises you?” He went blank and realized how he sounded. For the
rest of his time there, he kind of avoided me. It was then that I saw how
valuable my traveling was. I never saw fit to make assumptions anymore.
Here was someone who did, by virtue of skin color and privilege. A combo
that afforded him a certain ignorance that was and is dangerous.

So I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel. I’m grateful for the
many good people I’ve met on these trips, the sights I’ve been blessed to
see. The good times I’ve had. I’m so glad my parents and family instilled
that in me. And I’ll be grateful for the journeys to come.

The Thankful November: Growing Up In Southeast Queens

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I say this often – I’m extremely grateful to have grown up in
a specific part of New York City, and that is the area of
Southeast Queens. I still live in the same neighborhood, and
it has changed over the course of years in some ways but
not a whole lot. And this is a comfort that is priceless, that
will last wherever life takes me. (I know the Unisphere pictured
above is in Flushing, but I needed to grab your attention. Worked
didn’t it? :p)

The area I grew up in is predominately Black, with that population
hailing from either the Southern United States or the Caribbean.
For a while, I was under the impression that the entire world was
Black and Brown even with the last couple of white neighbors
across the street from us. While that is true in a demographic sense
still, for a young Black child growing up surrounded by love, it was
re-affirming. I still hold onto home, those memories of family and
friends, and the wonder found in these blocks. I still walk through
the neighborhood at times and marvel at how picturesque it is. How
it differs from the “city”, Manhattan in looks and the pace. I got the
chance to see other parts of this area of Queens as I got older. I
got to appreciate the rich history that breathes here loud and true.
So many people who left their mark on history came up here in
Southeast Queens or called it home for a time. John Coltrane. Lena
Horne. James Brown. Billie Holiday. Celia Cruz. Jackie Maclean.
Assata Shakur. And many more. Living here, I got to sense just how
larger the world was. That was taught to me by the planes flying low
over my head en route to John F. Kennedy Airport. The crawl of
traffic every summer as the Belmont Stakes drew a crowd nearby.
The hustle and bustle of Jamaica Avenue. The fact that the highway
was literally down the road from me.

Growing up here in Southeast Queens taught me many of the things
that I still cherish to this day. How to be quiet and appreciative of everything.
How to value silence. How to be polite and respectful of others. I’ll
always be one of its proud sons. For that, I’m grateful.

The Thankful November: The Way Books Tend To Smell

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I realize this is a day late, so my apologies to those who were
anticipating the next entry with bated breath 😛

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the smell of books. There’s
a distinct aroma they have that sets something off inside of me.
It has from when I was little. There’s a powerful note to it, the
scent. A new book has a clean scent to it, untarnished. Open.
Crisp, like the air hitting the flesh at the bottom of your ears as
you walk outside in cold weather first thing in the morning. Old
books – they smell like mystery. They smell like they carry the
heft of knowledge dredged up from some seabed. It can become
intoxicating. And it while it may seem a bit too fanciful(okay, for
some downright weird), it is something that can really compel me
to write at times.

To that end, I’ve begun to start looking into the smell of books to
gain further insight. There’s a wonderful article to be found right
here and it comes with a handy downloadable graphic. And the
Smithsonian claims that the smell has a distinct and identifiable
note. Read more here and be the judge! Overall, the smell of books
have given me countless moments of serenity and has helped to
spark some really good writing. And for that I’m thankful.

The Thankful November: “Keep Your Head To The Sky” – Earth, Wind And Fire

For today’s entry, I’m sharing this well-known song by the
famous Earth, Wind and Fire. The reason behind this is because
this is one song I have on tap for when I feel like I’ve hit a
valley of doubt. Over the past couple of years, as those who
have been keeping up with this blog from the beginning know,
I’ve dealt with a lot of hard moments in life. I’ve had to climb out
of some trenches, those that were dug for me by the rigors of
life and others I may have dug for myself. Who knows? But this
song was a part of my journey to reclaim myself. It’s a song that
is a favorite with my mom – I’d often hear her sing along with it
at times growing up as she moved about the house, cleaning
or doing something else. The chorus especially – the chorus
just cries freedom. Freedom and that safe harbor of happiness
in knowing you’ve made it through a tough struggle. Scarred but
safe. And that’s why I’m thankful to still cherish this song as a
part of my arsenal of happiness.

The Thankful November: Walking Meditation

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One thing that I’ve been thankful for over the past
few years, has been the practice of walking meditation.
I first came across the idea while reading and studying
the teachings of the Buddhist monk and teacher Thich
Nhat Hanh. It’s a simple practice – you walk for the
pure enjoyment found in walking, in being present with
every step and taking stock of everything around you.
In doing so, you clear your mind of the debris that the
stressful motions of everyday life leave within you. I picked
up The Long Road Turns To Joy, Hanh’s book on how
to effectively pick up the practice. I live in the same
neighborhood I grew up in, which is a neighborhood on
the border of New York City. It’s an area highly conducive
to walking due to its lengthy blocks and quiet streets. I
try to get in a walk at least three times a week if not daily,
and I’ve been more vigilant about this since a health scare
over a year ago. Practicing walking meditation has been
a great help to me, to sort out my problems and emotions.
It’s helped me gain clarity that much easier. And I’m thankful
for it. I highly recommend The Long Road Turns To Joy,
and the next time you walk, make it a bit of walking meditation.
You may be better for it.

The Thankful November: “Harlem River Drive”, Bobbi Humprhey

I’ve mentioned this song on the blog before. This soulful
jazz tune has been a steady comfort in my life, ever since
I first heard it while driving with my parents up to see my
late aunt, Ms.Eddy, up in Harlem. It’s a song that just fits
the historic neighborhood fully. There’s a neat little synopsis
found right here. I’m thankful to have this song because
it reminds me of those times rolling up the Harlem River Drive
and looking out in wonder at the East River. It reminds me
of Ms.Eddy, and how sweet she always was to me. She
never failed to make sure I had a piece of chocolate the
moment I sat down, and most importantly she never failed
to ask me how I was doing, and other things to make me
feel important. “Harlem River Drive” is a song that always
reminds me that Harlem, for many of us, is home in some
way. And always will be. The song is available for purchase online
as well as the album, Blacks and Blues.