Open Secrets

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Prospect Park, Brooklyn. 2016.

Anxiety. It sometimes gets the best of us. Our hearts take off running and jumping, in no particular direction. There are instances when we set ourselves up by setting expectations. No, let’s not do that so much. Let’s live, moment by moment.

Change. It sometimes manipulates what’s best for us. Our hearts stop, and we become nervous, concerned, even fearful. There’s something about what’s happening that appears too unnatural. Then it happens again, almost becoming a cycle. We’d hope to understand that it’s inevitable, only to find ourselves in anticipation.

Aspiration. It sometimes prepares the best in us. Our hearts direct us to search for the passion. There’s a fire that burns, and we calmly seek ways to keep it burning. We understand that the fire serves as light, warmth, and possibility. We need that.

Delight. It sometimes affects our best judgments. Our hearts are satisfied when we listen. There’s a particular attention span we’re supposed to have when it comes to our desires. We’re to be faithful, loyal, and optimistic. We’re to walk the path of satisfaction, with peace and joy as our footprints.

Tranquility. It sometimes encourages our best ideas, especially in times of uncertainty. Our hearts need regular moments of stillness and silence. There are pieces of us that we dive deep for, hoping to be strong enough to bring them to surface. All we’re really looking for is direction, to inspire our next move.

Vibe. It sometimes simply attracts the best energies, for us. Our hearts are in charge. We understand that, so we listen, and we follow. Harmony then exists. Doubt then exits. We’re able to extend ourselves, to experience joy on a level that goes beyond the universe. In those moments, we don’t ask why, or how.

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Trust Me.

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When I wrote Peers, Cheers, and Volunteers – I had no idea I was creating such a timeless story. I didn’t notice the effect it would have on children; the way they’d find themselves relating to it in multiple ways. Malik is the main character. He’s approximately 8 years old and in the third grade. Malik is quiet and standoffish, and is often considered rude. He doesn’t like school, doesn’t like his classmates and doesn’t like people. We all know a “Malik”. He feels he can’t trust anyone since his mother abandoned him, and his father. The result of a missing mother has caused Malik to have trust issues. He can’t fathom the fact that the one human who was supposed to love, protect and guide him most, is the same one who seemed to have left without guilt, or even hesitation. Maybe she hesitated, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Then, you have Ms. August, Malik’s teacher. She’s concerned about him, and that subjects her to be clever in her approach of encouraging him to loosen up, open up and try new things. Her goal is to prove to him that there are people in his life who want to care for him. Her message is that a family is not only the people who brought you into the world, or live in your home. She wants him to know that in her class, they are family; they’re a community, and in their community – everyone shows compassion for one another. Although two of his classmates – Angelica and Ani don’t know the best way to show that they care about him, and find it easier to tease him for his differences – they too, evolve in the story. Ms. August introduces Michael and Val; two volunteers who ended up working in a group with Malik, Angelica and Ani. Once Michael got a chance to observe Malik’s disinterest in school, it made him think of his own childhood – and automatically felt connected to Malik’s persona. Michael then decided it was his duty to act as a “big brother” and give Malik some advice – all the while teaching Angelica and Ani how to be compassionate. Overall, Malik is dealing with trust issues – similar to many of us.

When I find myself reading this realistic fiction to groups of students – I notice even more, the gap that exists in children’s literature. Peers, Cheers, and Volunteers creates a platform for people to identify with life-like characters, and dive into discussions exploring: trust; compassion; the value of volunteering; the value of male mentors; the golden rule; community; misunderstood children, the iceberg effect and more. It amazes me every time! Especially when I ask, “How many of you think you are similar to Malik?” and they actually admit by raising their hands. Then you have the teachers who thank me for reading the story, because they have students who can relate. So many children are angry, confused and resentful toward the adults who try to shield them from the truth. How can we blame them for their outlandish behavior? The truth is, we can’t. We have to acknowledge them, their feelings and their wisdom – because they’ve been through situations that have forced them to grow up quickly. Don’t be frustrated with the children who don’t behave like “children” – it’s not their fault. They’re being raised in environments where situations are brushed under the rug, yet when they go to school, their teachers challenge them to use their brain – find answers, conduct research, ask questions, aim for intelligence, learn, think, grow. When they are home, their parents/guardians shield them from life’s truths. It doesn’t make sense! The only thing children want from adults, is guidance. They yearn for information to help make sense of why things are the way they are. It’s natural to be curious. Why did Malik’s mom leave, and why is his father choosing not to discuss the situation? Maybe if Malik had an explanation, his behavior in school would be different.

All of this to say, I’m finally working on Peers, Cheers, and Volunteers II. We all have more than deeply-rooted trust issues, just take a look at your habits – yes, they stem from childhood.

Human Nature

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Photo: Haiti, 2015

It’s in my nature. I just want to help.

Over the years, I’ve been learning a lot about myself. I know that I enjoy writing, working with youth, and I especially enjoy traveling. It became genius to me when I realized I could fulfill all of my desires by going on mission trips.

I come from a Haitian background, and when the earthquake hit in 2010, I wanted to help. Five years later, I am on a plane with an amazing group of people – heading for Port-Au-Prince, the very place my grandmother was born. We were on a mission to help build homes and empower families. It was such a transformative experience. Haiti is a beautiful country, with beautiful people – and we should never forget that our community far exceeds the street we live on. If you’re a volunteer at heart, then you can truly donate your time anywhere in the world, including the senior center around the corner from you. If you ever forget why you should remain humble, I encourage you to help someone in need of something you take for granted. It’s really as simple as that. Working alongside natives to help advance the development of their communities, goes a great distance. What a beautiful thing to see people of varied backgrounds come together to make a difference. Talk about powerful. That’s what life is all about – everyone helping one another as best they can. This life is not about ourselves – it’s always been about what we can do for others. Think of what other people have done for you – the Dr. Martin Luther King Jrs of the world. More people should step up, and lend a helping hand to someone in need. It’s more fulfilling than any amount of money a job can pay. Donate a coat, assemble a care package, clean up your local park, help build homes, empower youth – schedule some time to be selfless. Think of the profession you’re in – maybe there’s a way you can lend your expertise or mentor someone interested in that field. What truly amazes me when I’m volunteering is the fact that the impact I think I’m making on others, does not compare to the impact they’re making on me. It’s a two way street. It’s priceless for me when I see children smile, because I showed interest in helping them learn to read, or when they witness me carrying cinder blocks being used to build a foundation for their soon-to-be home. There are so many things that come naturally to all of us, for me – it’s showing that I care, by lending a helping hand. It’s only the icing on the cake that the children in the photo have also received donated copies of my children’s book – Peers, Cheers, and Volunteers. It takes a village, to inspire a village