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It Gets Better Project: 2011 NYC Pride
It Gets Better Project: 2011 NYC Pride (Photo credit: Jason Pier in DC)
J. Reuben Clark Law School
J. Reuben Clark Law School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
bullying (Photo credit: annavanna)

I just wrote about and shared the video that Brigham Young University students did for the series It Gets Better. And I realized that an important part of the struggle young people face is bullying and I’m here to say you can overcome bullies because I did. I was bullied in my old mostly African-American neighborhood and in the white community where my family moved. I was a small, skinny dark boy with glasses and acne and I was definitely a target. I didn’t sound or act like anyone else.

Some guys boasted about girls, smoked and wore the right clothes. I preferred going to the library, finding a book and reading. I identified with the character in the book Loneliness of a long distance runner.

So what did I do to survive and how can my experience help anyone else?

  1. I had an involved mother. She recognized that I was having trouble with the kids in my neighborhood and even took  them to court to force them to leave me alone. Eventually she moved us to protect me from them.
  2. I had a younger brother to whom I was a role model. I helped him fight his battles and that meant I had to stay strong.
  3. I recognized that I had talent. Despite the discouraging comments of teachers and other students I discovered that I was smart, a good writer and athletic. Later on I became a listener.  Listening became especially important when it came time t develop a career.
  4. I learned as Gordon Parks said that I had a choice of weapons. I could stand my ground and fight, run away get help from the American Civil Liberties Union or seek out people whose ideas were similar to mine.
  5. I was not always available. We had just one house phone when I was growing up and I didn’t give out my number to a lot of kids.  It’s hard to imagine the days before facebook, twitter and cell phones which keep us connected to friends and may make us vulnerable to enemies. Today I ask people who seem vulnerable why they gave out their phone numbers to so many who mean to harm them.
  6. We had fights where we made our points but we didn’t go out to kill one another. The one time that I was pounding a kid’s head into  the ground surprised and frightened me.
  7. I developed allies. I have written a few times about the importance of my first white friend in school. When you are lonely and small you are more likely to be cornered and beat up. So even if you are “a nerd,” someone who likes to study, read books, write poetry and go for walks, there’s  probably someone else in your school who likes doing those same things. It’s a matter of picking up on the subtle things they may say or do. In my case, I discovered that my friend’s sense of humor resulted from memorizing several Bill Cosby albums.
  8. Start dating. I think that there are some many positives from dating they outweigh almost any negatives. For me, it meant that a girl had found me attractive. Even though I was not good looking to the kids who disliked me, I met a wonderful Irish catholic school student  at a political campaign headquarters not far from where I lived. She played guitar, sang and was a wonderful girl. She liked the features tat my detractors found so repulsive. While some people prefer the small thin lips that a lot of white people have, she enjoyed kissing my dark, full African-American lips. Trust me on this, because it’s part of self acceptance. As you learn to develop who you are and what you believe, you will find romantic opportunities available.

Thanks for listening

Are You Listening? (film)
Are You Listening? (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of of the skills I bring to being a certified peer specialist I believe that the most important is my willingness and ability to listen. I try to blot out whatever distractions may be present including the sounds of others in the room and offer my attention. And sometimes I’ll just keep listening as long as it takes without needing to say much. I always hate it when people impatiently say “hello” after I’ve been listening to them. As if they expected an instant response.

Recently I communicated with several friends concerning my misgivings regarding today’s colonoscopy and was grateful that three of them offered to take me to the veterans administration for the procedure. And some other friends offered reassurance. They “heard” what I was saying although I had not spoke a word. One of my friends is a blogger Jan Wilberg who writes Red’s Wrap and I left a note on her facebook page about how things have been going on her blog.Today her entry is a bittersweet tale of  not being heard. She wrote about experiencing hearing loss and being at an event where her husband was being honored.

Tonight I just told a very nice man whose name tag indicated to me that I ought to talk to him that it was not going to be possible to have a conversation.  I pointed to my hearing aids, waved my arms around the room filled with hundreds of chattering people, I’m sorry.  He looked at me like oh, ok, should I write you a note? But then he eventually wandered off to the next prospect.  It was then I decided to pack it in and come home.

I can just imagine how I would have felt in that  situation because I sometimes find that people I attempt to talk with at those types of gatherings are looking for someone else. They have mentally tuned me out because I’m distracting them from more productive mingling. In addition I sometimes miss parts of conversation and find it very isolating

It takes much more effort to listen and now that I have learned of my friend’s challenge I will seek out more alternative means to communicate. We need to engage everyone, not just those with normal hearing.

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Admitting that you are afraid is half the battle

VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California
VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been encountering the “ick factor” lately regarding my upcoming colonoscopy at the Veterans Administration. If I conducted a poll of my readers I would probably find fewer than 5 who would declare that having a colonoscopy or a pap smear ranked among their most favorite things to do. You know, right behind shopping for spring outfits and swimming. Neither one of these procedures were included in that wonderful song My Favorite Things.

And yet both of them are so vital to our survival. It’s so much better to have a pap smear or a mammogram if you’re a woman. However, after having said that, there is always a risk of a false positive or negative result from early detection. However, with me, all I could think about in terms of a colonoscopy was pain,  violation and ick all accompanied by a loss of control. These thing led me to cancelling a couple of appointments with the VA.

But finally I decided this year would be  different. I called the VA and after some prodding secured an appointment. By this same time on Thursday it will all be over. Today I spent a few nervous moments preparing myself. This included listening to instructions from a medical professional about the preparations I must do tomorrow. I will be filling myself up with a lot of liquid, taking some strange pills and spending a lot of time near the bathroom. They recommended having a driver bring me to and from the hospital

After calling and emailing I found 2 people willing to volunteer. While thanking the helper I did not choose I mentioned how unnerved I felt about going through this in the first place. His response was very comforting. He had one a few years back and was told his colon was in great shape. Moreover he described the procedure as being painless. I also texted back with my significant other and she volunteer to come over after the colonoscopy to offer comfort and perhaps prepare a meal. I was told I will probably be groggy and not a good risk at the stove.

So I have two helpers who understand that I have fear. And I have my conscious mind urging me on. “You can do this, Kenyatta. We’ve got your back.” Indeed, I shall.

People, Let Me tell You About My Best Friend

In recent years I have grown nostalgic over the concept of “best friends.” I think I have had 3 people over my life who would qualify for that distinction. Best friends are people who appear in your life and for some unknown reason, they understand you more than you understand yourself. And they accept you.

My first best friend  Bill was in around 8th grade  and he helped me by becoming my first real white friend. Schools were deeply segregated for much the same reasons as they are today: money, money and mo’ money. He  came from a working class family the same as mine. His mother had a mental illness. I had a hidden weakness of lapsing into depression. We learned about the Vietnam War, becoming teenagers and developing our own identities as young men together.

After college I struggled to develop an identity in the late 70s and there was a young lesbian named Karen who I followed through various twists and turns, moving to the Midwest and becoming a librarian. In the 80s and 90’s she became a bisexual, got married, had a son and lived in the Bronx.

When I came to Wisconsin I was a librarian and then I got into other areas, such as economic development, and now you see I am a social work student. When I was a librarian for the City of Milwaukee a black woman named Faye walked into the library and  somehow I learned she was working with America’s Black Holocaust Museum and it was on. After I got married, she was a friend of my wife and me. We even tried working together, and met Will Allen, a black minister and her children grew up.

One time after I had not seen her in goodness knows how long, I saw her on the bus, I ran up and kissed her. I always wished she was in my family, one of my cousins or something like that. I guess I’m excited because I saw her selling pies over the weekend at Walnut Way and I stopped by to help. We can never over-estimate the value of our best friends.

There’s a part of being a man that  talks about devaluing friendship. they call it “just a friend.” but the times when I didn’t have a best friend a person who i could be real with, those times were pretty sad. It’s hard to find a way to fall in love is you don’t have the strong value of friendship to anchor yourself.

I may never fall in love and re-marry but I hope I will always have a best friend who knows who I am and understands  my values. Hello, friendship. Who knows, love?