Category Archives: Values

“Randy Moss Ain’t Shit”

“Randy Moss ain’t shit!” That’s what my son’s father said to me when I was six months pregnant.

Actually he said, “Randy Moss, West Virginia ain’t shit.”

How Randy Moss got mixed up in my “baby daddy” drama over the last thirteen years makes about as much sense as West Virginia and Quantum Physics, but somehow Randy Moss, Quantum Physics, West Virginia, babies and  various forms of daddies have all been entangled in my world and in the mental loop of this phrase, “Randy Moss ain’t shit.”

Let me explain. Or, wait…. Let’s go back to 1998.

It didn’t matter where I was in 1998 – when I told people I was from West Virginia, they would say, “West Virginia—Randy Moss!” It was a welcome respite from, “My uncle lives in Virginia.” (Nothing irks a West Virginian more than being called a Virginian) These comments gave me a sense of place while I was away from home.


These comments gave me a sense of place while I was away from home.”


I remember people would pat me on the back and tell me they saw  “my boy on TV” and tell me how I didn’t sound near as “country” as he does.

Randy was ballin’ at Marshall University back in the 90’s- but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t care.

I had missed all of the high school and the college Randy Moss phenomenon.  While everyone was crowding into gyms and fields to see him play, I was boarding planes and earning money modeling on national catalog photo shoots and commercials.

I started modeling at 12 years old in NYC with the IMG agency, then I became an Elite model, a Bethann model  and was represented by various other power house agencies across the country.

My first job was for Calvin Klien and then Ralph Lauren and then I went back to West Virginia to twirl a baton. I took small modeling jobs in nearby Lexington (once as a underage Spuds Mckensie Girl), Charlotte or Cincinnati.  I modeled during  summers and holidays until I graduated high school at 17 and then I  moved to Atlanta to reign as a teen catalog queen, then there was a Seventeen ad, national commercials, editorial spreads and then shazam, by 22, I had been modeling for ten years.

Thats when  I became a young mother with my first child, at age 22.

I came home to  take  a break from the stress of a big city and welp, I got pregnant by high school sweetheart. I was a modeling agents nightmare.  But somehow after the birth of my first son I still managed to book national modeling jobs – from West Virginia. When I look back, I was incredibly fortunate.

At 24 I moved to Dallas with my  baby boy and discovered how hard it was to travel for model jobs with a child and no family.  I saw that Supermodel Nikki Taylor was able to do the young mother- model thing… but I forgot, I wasn’t a supermodel. I was just a working catalog/commercial $1,500 a day model and I  was brown or “other” as I was always cast.

I started doing a bit of a WV to Texas to WV thing, missing my family and support. Then, at the ripe old age of 25, I started gaining weight – and discovered that my weight gain was another baby.

Yep. Preggers.

I knew 2 ½ things.

  1.    Modeling was over

  2.    I was officially going back to WV

2 ½:  My second son would be raised not by his biological father, but by my high school sweetheart, the father of my first child, Archie.

Now stop your judgments right there – there was no hanky panky, cheating on Baby Daddy one for Baby Daddy two.  In fact its way more complicated than that with a cast of scorned characters to add to the drama.

Just like in any life drama — real or on the screen — there is always a hero and a villan, and I certainly had mine- a hero  at least and  his name was (is) Archie.

On most days, Archie is a quiet man, but he spoke loudly on the day I shared I was pregnant.  He gave testimony to the character and class of men that believe in family and have set out to change the course and direction of their own fathers. He told me that if that man  (my new Baby Daddy)  wouldn’t raise the baby, he would, as his own – forever.

He is a man of his word.

Archie and I married later in life (and divorced), but that is not what this story is about this is about, this “Randy Moss ain’t Shit” business.

See, when I was pregnant and transitioning from a Highland Park, Dallas life to “coming back” to West Virginia regret – I was balancing one baby on my hip and another in my belly – I came face to face with the fear of having TWO baby daddies.

I didn’t want to be THAT girl – “a two Baby Daddy girl” from West Virginia.

ONE by a man I could trust.   And another by a man who was an actor in every sense of the word — an actor who was living in Hollywood, a New York City boy who, when I was 18 years old, helped me navigate the city as a young model. He took me under his wing and made sure I crossed the street without getting hit by cars, and could pronounce Diane Von Furstenberg, who often booked me for QVC.

I didn’t want to be THAT girl – “a two Baby Daddy girl” from West Virginia. I was naïve and worried about labels.  I worried what people would think of me if I ever went back to city –  so I didn’t.

At 24, I was pregnant, again. Living in WV, again. Broke, again. And various other “failures” of my 24 year old “agains”.

(I’m getting to the “Randy Moss Ain’t shit” part, hold your horses, this ain’t easy)

I remember trying to make casual conversation with the father of my unborn second child. It was one of those awkward phone conversations before you could hide behind texting or email.

By now, I’m 25, I’m pregnant, I’m feeling completely defeated, I have swollen feet, I spent the day at the WIC office and now listening to the arrogant selfish  tone of his conversation — I’m trying to comprehend the fact that this man, whom I had known since I was 18, (literally: I met him at the NYC Supper Club on my 18th birthday – he was 28 ), the man told me stories of childhood abandonment, the struggles of his mother’s life as single Mom tell me he was NOT going to do anything for me or the baby.

Then, I did the strangest thing.

I had a bright and brilliant three year old, a baby in my belly and I was safe in the womb of my mountains.

Rather than curse or cry I deflected, I shifted. I started to let myself feel the beauty of being home. I had a bright and brilliant three year old, a baby in my belly and I was safe in the womb of my mountains.  Instantly I knew it wasn’t going to be so bad. I had support, I had a ready-made job with all my hometown connections, I had people to check on and my life had slowed down to a pace where I could see the trees and the forest out my window.

I was home- and that was a good thing, a very good thing, for me and my family.

Well, then it gets weird, or I do…. I did what any good West Virginia girl from Kanawha County does when she’s talking on the phone to the man who always introduced her in NYC as being  “from Georgia”.  I always corrected him – “I’m from WV!”

Back to the point…. I did what any good West Virginia girl from Kanawha County does when she’s talking on the phone to the man who was sitting in California, making it clear he would always be thousands of miles away – I made small talk.

I said: “Ya’ know Randy Moss — the West Virginia boy from my county, Kanawha county, is going to the NFL, and he’s going to be freaking amazing!”

The City Boy’s words came back at me LOUD and clear, a bold four words,  “Randy Moss ain’t shit.”

What did he just say?

Did he just say what I thought he just said?

Did he just say, Randy Moss ain’t shit?

I was struck.

I had four cans of West Virginia whoop-ass for his “Randy Moss ain’t shit” New York City living in Hollywood ass.

Next thing I knew that city boy gave me another four words that have been burned into my skin like a stretch mark, never to fade: Your baby. Not mine.

Instantly I knew city boys couldn’t teach my kids to fish; they never had a pocket knife when you needed one; and I hadn’t met one yet who could build a fire that lasted all night long.


I counted my losses right there. RIGHT THERE. I was home in WV, and here I could start licking my wounds and piece a family together.


Is there a difference between coming and going back?  I asked myself. Still do.

I went back to college. l was becoming an Affrilachian ambassador, even though I had yet to learn the word. I was falling in love with West Virginia and being a mother.

That season, with my babies on my hips, I hosted a Minnesota & Mimosa party for the season’s first 1999 Randy Moss Minnesota Vikings game.

Every touchdown, every amazing leap Randy Moss did that game, and that season, was like Tupac saying:

To all the ladies having babies on their own. I knows its kinds rough and your feeling all alone…. Keep your head up.

When the NFL commentators announced “Randy Moss from West Virginia” I knew that Hollywood/ New York City boy couldn’t ignore that West Virginia still existed, that “I” was here, that he had a son here – and that Randy Moss was indeed the shit that season, and for many more. Randy Moss was ballin’ – he was playing defense, for me. (Check out some Moss rookie highlights)

Tupac played on …

You know it makes me unhappy (what’s that)

When brothas make babies, and leave a young mother to be a pappy

And since we all came from a woman

Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman…..

POETRY GAME

In 2000 I started my poetry game with the “Last Tuesday of the Month Poetry Slam” at a small club, The Empty Glass, on the East End of Charleston.  I had no idea how to do a Slam or performance poetry, but I read a book about it.

I was introduced to poetry as a young model in NYC beside that NYC boy who taught me about The Last Poets and For Colored Girls.

He gave me another four words when I decided I wanted to be a poet.

He said: You Are No Poet, followed by another four words: You Don’t Know Craft.

I opened my first poetry show with a poem that ended,
“Randy Moss is the baddest mutha fukkin’ wide receiver in the league”.

I cursed. They clapped.  It was a WV audience; we all celebrated the poem- even the Cleveland Browns fans .

I know. I know “Randy Moss is the baddest muthafukkin’ wide receiver in the league” isn’t exactly poetic, but remember WV had never seen a poetry Slam and my applause wasn’t for the words, but for the spirit and cause behind them.

I started to appreciate where and who I was from on that stage. I gained a deeper sense of connection to my home and my people –and I was challenging others to do the same.

For the first time in my life I looked out into the crowd and saw my own Mom and Dad, together, applauding me.

I was creating a poetic life and it seemed that, regardless of my Love Jones, I was Passing Glory. There was plenty to celebrate.

ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE AND CHILD SUPPORT  

I managed to finish my degree after a ten-year pursuit, put on some business suits, win some awards, get a book review in the Huffington Post and do a Tedx Talk. It’s not much, but I was starting to scratch the surface of my dreams. I was only riding this momentum because Archie and his Mom have helped me raise my children – day to day, hour by hour, it’s been Archie and Granny May.


My second son’s father never made life easy for me, ever.


I remember being 20 years old and visiting him after a week of being wrapped in each other. There were NYC dinners, taxi cabs and loft parties — I opened my heart to him, I wanted to be with him, forever.  This was a big step for me.

He answered with four words: Moving to LA Tomorrow.

He did.

Before I had any children, I kept a relationship with my second son’s grandmother. His mother was always good to me – she never missed my birthday or an opportunity to encourage or inspire me.

After my son — her grandson — was born, she continued to be my friend, a teacher, a confidant and a genuine support system for me. I always had a place to stay in NYC. She attended my first Nuyorican Poetry reading and she always sent Christmas gifts to ALL the children.

I think she saw herself in me. I know she did.  And that is why in part, I never pursued child support from her son– not really. There was and is a $127/mo. order that was established when my second son was born.

This order was established only because, in order to receive a medical card and WIC in WV, you must name the father.

The State paid for the blood test. It came back in four words:  YOUR BABY AND HERS.

The $127/ mo money order came the first year of my son’s life almost every month – and then it stopped. He’s 14 today.

$127/ month  is what most minimum wage workers are required to pay- and my son’s father was being delivered to me on the cover of Essence magazine wearing a tuxedo. I started to question the struggling actor character who could never afford  $127/mo.

Money aside, I managed. We have Archie, and we are always going to eat in West Virginia – I’ve never paid for a haircut, I’ve never  really even set foot in the Barbershop, I’ve never bought a pair of sneakers or paid a little league fee.  Child support with Archie has never been a conversation. We don’t need it — we provide, together — in separate homes, yes – but we do what’s called “co-parenting” and I think we do it well. We have fine boys.

Archie is the kind of man who has worked 6 days a week for 27 years — at the same job. Five years ago he started his own side company so now he works seven days a week and does double duty most days. He takes care of his mother, sister, nieces and raises our three boys and his daughter. He does homework and helps me organize birthday parties and schedules. He’s no Baby Daddy. He is a Father, a Daddy, a Pops, a real Dad.

archie and boys
Archie and Boys

Some may argue my position about not pursuing child support with a vengeance– but my Baby Daddy has two other Baby Mamas. I thought that, if I just laid low about the money, if I only asked on occasion, my “not asking” might encourage him to be a part of his son’s life.

It didn’t.

I never wanted to be the “angry black” baby momma – especially since I was the only milk chocolate in his baby mamma vanilla palate. I didn’t want to be the angry “black” woman holding the “black” man down trying to make his way in Hollywood down. Not me.

I left it alone, the child support, for the most part.

I focused on being a “cool,” don’t-rock-the-boat kind of mom, always encouraging visits and communication. I never wanted the conditions of child support to be debated in court. I never wanted to be a that kinda baby mamma.  My Girlfriends told me I was crazy.

I wrote a poem…

44

He turned 44 after he voted Obama

44th President of the United States—

Read it on his Facebook page.

There along with 4, 044 of his other,

Facebook friends. 44 in common/

I can watch his virtual life unfold.

His interests:  Getting Obama elected

About Him: I love my family deeply.

Notification:  He’s been tagged “NYC Roller Skating King”

- as his son was learning to shoot the duck.

His son/ my son/ is not mentioned. He does not exist

on his Facebook profile, his routine.

His man-dated child support of $144.00

is 44 days late. 44 years the number of

knowledge—said to represent desire/insight/wisdom/reason.

The 44th President and his wife age 44—

said too many fathers are missing. Everyday

Facebook asks the question for me: What’s on your mind?

MODERN MOMMY

We follow each other on Instagram, me and my Baby Daddy — well we did.  He deleted me from Facebook after I posted my 44 poem.  I always wonder if he thinks about me when he posts his pictures – pictures that tell a very different story than a struggling actor.

I was laid off for a few months this year. No income. I was running out of Juice.  I started asking my Baby Daddy, flat out, for some help. Archie had lost both his Grandparents and his Dad and had all the responsibilities associated with family deaths. His car wasn’t running, and it was painful seeing him struggle to provide for his family and the boys. He was doing the best he could. I was, too.

When I asked my Baby Daddy for some help he always said he didn’t have anything to share.  He offered four words: Can’t. I am struggling.

Often, being resourceful has worked against me.  When you’re resourceful, people expect you to figure it all out.

One of my big, resourceful ideas was to get my Baby Daddy to help me sell poetry books by directing a poem video for 44.

I thought: ok, you have no cash, but you have talent and “followers.” Besides, it seemed like a fair modern parent arrangement – he could share his talent to help me sell books while telling his side of the story to the poem 44. Crazy idea, but guess what? He said yes.

He didn’t.

LAST WEEK….  

I took my sons to NYC to visit one of my dearest friends.

Baby Daddy didn’t bother to come see his son, didn’t call or offer any excuse. His mother let me and my son know that “his Dad” was busy – she told me I should have called and given a heads up , she said they didn’t know we were coming.

I wasn’t going to argue with this woman whom I respected – but he knew. I told him a month before, then again when we got on the road, and then again when we arrived.

BURIED CHILD

I should have called “Ilyana Fix My Life”  months ago when she was seeking mothers whose sons have absent fathers. I didn’t.

I stared at the application but thought what will people think of ME? My Baby Daddy will be mad at ME. His mother will be mad at ME.  I will tell a family secret and a few of my own.  Why national TV?

So here we are.

“Randy Moss ain’t shit!”

Those four words still echo – they reverb against the words that my sons NYC family labeled him last summer  –  though what they said may be different than what I heard, what I heard was, “He’s never going to be anything but a West Virginia boy.”

What the hell does that mean? I gave away my all my cans of whoop ass- otherwise, this certainly was an occasion to pop that top.

I have always been more the Greenbrier Resort kinda West Virginia girl, invite you over for Tudor’s sweet tea and let’s talk about it kinda gal – until you piss me off.

Well, I’m pissed. I’m pissed at all these years of hoping and waiting and wishing for something that was never going to be there: consistent support for my Son.

I made excuses for all the comments of others over the years. But I also let them motivate me.

Being resilient doesn’t mean you’re not scared.

Reality is crashing in on me. I know my value as a Mother and my Son’s well-being was — and always had been — pushed up against negative perceptions of who and what we were from  and that we “could make it.” I was resilient to a fault, until I wasn’t… and then I was an excuse.

At 14, my son is becoming “just a West Virginia boy” and, I’m proud.

“Randy Moss ain’t shit” echoed.

Being resilient doesn’t mean you’re not scared. I was always scared to say anything too aggressive to my Baby Daddy, afraid that my son would be pushed away from his family and have no contact  (I knew what that was like – I met my own father as a teenager) and I never wanted that history to repeat itself.

I held on and created a relationship with my son’s grandmother, because I needed her support and I wanted him to know his family, – and she was my friend, but then the shit hit the fan.


ONE THING I DONT NEED IS ANY MORE APOLOGIES – Ntozake Shange


In NYC, last week, I sat with this woman, this woman whom I had admired since I was 18 years old. I watched her make excuses and cast blame; I had felt the coldness from her to me since her son moved from LA to NYC. I was sincerely struck by her delusion, her accusations. She was standing by her son like a good mother should– but where was the outcry for him to take a 15 minute cab ride to see his son?

I thought of Archie and his Mom — and how Granny May would have literally whooped Archie’s grown black ass down, and with a shoe.

I was starting to see the truth– it was glistening like the gold on the WV capitol dome.  She was enabling a man almost 50, a man living in her house. I had been enabling him for years too.

My own denial was over. I did a Randy Moss, “One Clap”

I had four words: Baby Daddy Aint Shit!

NFL

rand picnic 3Randy Moss has created his own league—- the NFL, National Fathers League (Ok, I made that up).  Every Father’s Day he hosts a BBQ. He gathers men of all ages to celebrate being a DAD in  Rand, West Virginia.

My Baby Daddy will never be drafted into this league – he has only been to WV once in 14 years.  On that occasion he stayed one day, gave a speech at West Virginia State University, and then skipped out in the middle of the night. He left a note- four Words: Had To Leave. Sorry.

But if he did choose to come out, to try for the NFL ( National Fathers League)  by taking his son to school, watching his performances, meeting his friends or all the things that NFL Dads do, there is still a chance he can score a touchdown.

I needed to put on a Randy Moss I don’t give a shit what you think 84 jersey.  I needed that bravado to get through some of life’s challenges.  Somehow, in Randy Moss, I always heard Tupac sing…

Thank the Lord for my kids, even if nobody else nobody else wants em.

Cause I think we can make it, in fact I’m sure

And if you fall, stand tall and comeback for more

Cause ain’t nuttin worse than when your son

wants to know why his daddy don’t love him no mo’

That weekend in NYC, I sat in my hotel overlooking Ground Zero, and I cried.  I called Archie and I thanked him from ground zero, literally.

I was looking at my beautiful sons, 10, 14 and 17. I thought about loss and restoration.

I heard Tupac.

While tears is rollin’ down your cheeks

Ya steady hopin’ things don’t fall down this week

Cause if it did, you couldn’t take it, and don’t blame me

I was given this world I didn’t make it

And now my son’s gettin’ older and older and cold

From havin’ the world on his shoulders

JUST A WEST VIRGINIA MAN

In West Virginia, one might say I’m forcing my Baby Daddy to eat some crow, eat some dirt, or a shoe, or a hat. We are full of country idioms.

“Tongue wagging at both ends” is one of my favorites.

I’m not wagging my tongue. I’m telling my story. In fact, I’m owning a bit of my own shit too.

For the record, “Baby Daddy” is a vulgar description —  but it applies and offers a bit more credit than “sperm donor”. To me, Baby Daddy  is as culturally relevant as my use of “shit” or “the shit”. And, you can take the Baby Daddy out of my story and insert Baby Mamma in a lot of Fathers’ stories.

What matters is the presence of caring parents: adults  that children can depend on and trust in.

My story is not about blame – it’s not about a city dad vs. country dad.  I know that a city dad can be just as great as a country dad, or just as bad.  I know that location and region have nothing to do with parenting, and neither does gender.

What matters is the presence of caring parents: adults  that children can depend on and trust in. And yes, it’s about the power of Dads, father figures and stability.

My boys are blessed – they are fine West Virginia boys  (and if you wonder about West Virginia men, just ask Steve Harvey).

My boys are being raised by a fine a West Virginia man surrounded by a fine community of NFL Dads who take this Superbowl of life seriously. They are the shit – to me.

This is a story, its my story about a Mama who is tired of shit — my own excuses included and a Mama who is thankful for the men who keep singing these four words….

Keep your head up

Just Tell ‘Em You’re American

I wrote this four years ago while working at the Covenant House. I just found it while searching for a mailing list on a thumb drive.

Here are my reflections on my childhood friend who passed away, Changa Kidd and his fathers impression on me during the inauguration in 2009. Dr. Kidd passed away in December, 2012 and I share this posting as a memorial to Dr. Kidd and Changa. – Crystal


I was there, on January 20th, 2009 watching history unfold as the first African-American President, Barack Hussein Obama, was sworn in. I shared this historical moment with the Kidd family and millions of others in Washington, DC. It was fitting that I would be with this family on that auspicious day as it was their charismatic son, brother, and father, Changa Kidd, who first challenged racism in my life.

I, like Barak Obama am bi-racial with light skin, born to a White mother and Black father. I too, was raised by my White mother, with Mom’s parents playing significant roles. Both Obama’s and my father were largely absentee, as were African American role models. Indeed, neither the President nor I had Black communities in our schools or hometowns to support us through various bouts of identity questioning.

There are notable differences in our lives however. Rather than embracing diversity and the pursuit of education as Obama’s family did, my mother’s White Appalachian culture often taught me to fear Black people, as well as other “outsiders” and that a high school diploma was sufficient preparation for adult life. With little value placed on multi-cultural understanding, I was left to form my own theories and attitudes about race, in an environment of subtle and not-so-subtle racism. As a result, I developed habits of self-doubt and insecurity, always fearful that my Blackness would be discovered. I refused to eat fried chicken in the elementary school cafeteria, for example, and refrained from drinking chocolate milk, somehow believing that the chocolate would darken my skin.

At the age of 15, during my mother’s divorce from my cruel stepfather, I was sent to live with my maternal grandfather, a native West Virginian who had relocated to Tallahassee, Florida. Among Granddaddy’s various rules was one forbidding my ever saying that I was Black or bi-racial. His excuse was that it could cause discomfort for his wife’s children, “Just tell ‘em you’re American,” he regularly admonished, perhaps with an unsaid wish that his granddaughter would simply blend in.

I was stunned by how different Tallahassee’s LeonHigh School was from St. Albans High. The drastic socio-economic differences were the first surprise. Although Granddaddy was White, drove a Cadillac, and had a swimming pool (which previously had classified him as rich in my book), he was far below the wealth levels of the typical Leon students driving BMWs, Porches, and Range Rovers. Further, my accent and blue collar manners quickly gave me away as less enlightened.

Simultaneously, I was awakened to the cultural diversity of my new community. There were different types of people — Blacks, Latinos, Asians – more than I had ever seen at St. Albans High where there had been fewer than a dozen students of color. Further, these Floridians seemed proud to identify themselves racially. It was among these students that I was told directly, for the first time, “You are NOT a White girl!”

It was during these first days that I met Changa Kidd.

Changa, his friends, and his family embraced me. Their influence changed my perception of what it meant to be Black. In them, I found none of the fearsome stereotypical images and perceptions which I’d been raised to expect.

How my life changed during my time in Florida as Changa and others taught me about American Black history! Study hall was spent discussing Martin Luther King. Passed notes not only included “What are you doing for lunch?” but contained talking points to convince my Grandfather to accept my being bi-racial. Through Changa and his friends I gained entrée to the homes of middle-class and wealthy Black families where, for the first time, I saw art and photographs capturing Black people as regal and grand. Those very images have served as permanent sources of inspiration over the years. They also helped me understand how artistic expression is powerful, educational, and provides solace to the soul. In those living room paintings and framed family photographs, I began to find a new confidence and surety, just as the image of Barak Obama is certain to inspire confidence in African American youth for generations to come.

Changa would drive up and down my street at least twice a day. I always knew it was him by the loud engine and the honk. One day I heard his car coming and waited, anticipating his honk. There was no honk. Instead I heard the door bell.

It was a bold move.

I opened the door with great anxiety to find the dashing Changa on the doorstep. “I was driving by and thought I would go for a swim with you,” he teased, then laughed at my gasp. He was aware I had been taught by White folks to never swim with Black people for fear of getting “greasy”.

“I just wanted to tell you hello,” Changa admitted, smiling as he grabbed my hand to place a copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography in it. He drove off, arm waving out the window and horn blaring.

I stood in the foyer afraid to move, sure I was going to be in serious trouble for having a Black visitor, even if my friend was not invited to cross the threshold. I hid the book in the small of my back while quickly turning to apologize to Granddaddy. He said nothing, shocked perhaps at the audacity of Changa Kidd.

I was often on punishment at my Grandfathers house. In fact, Changa’s surprise visit occurred during one of my weekend groundings – no phone, no television. The remainder of that weekend was spent writing in my journal (in a now undecodable teenage code), secretly reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X by flashlight.

Upon closing that book, I took my own leap of faith deciding to proclaim that I was Black in a school research paper, which I was determined to then share with my grandfather. The assignment was an “I-search” paper in which we were to research, write, and give an oral report on something about ourselves. “It’s simply the truth,” I kept telling myself.

Changa and others diligently edited my writing. They helped me to develop points and led me to understand that this paper was the most important of my 15-year life. They pushed me to solidify my ideas and perfect my grammar. “Good is never good enough, Crystal Good, when you deal with these issues,” they advised.

Following my well-received school presentation and A-minus grade, I felt newly confident and free. Still, it was with trepidation that I shared it with my grandfather and his wife (a former English teacher who read my work with a red pen in hand).

Looking at their stunned faces, I declared, “I am mixed race, but in this American culture that means I am Black.” Granddaddy’s wife started crying. “But you can pass!” she exclaimed – a commentary on my fair skin. They could not conceive of why I would “choose” to be Black..

My Grandfather’s teenage stepsons took a stand for me, stating that my Blackness imposed no inconveniences or hassles for them. It was only then that my grandfather agreed to “let me” be Black.

Naturally, this was not the end of family racial tension. When Granddaddy refused to allow me to attend a lecture by Rosa Parks, I skipped school and went anyway. That night, in further adolescent protest, I snuck out of the house to attend an all-Black dance on the campus of FloridaA & MUniversity — the first such event I ever attended. Changa and I danced to Digital Underground, New Edition, En Vogue and all the now “old school” jams of the 80’s and early 90’s. It was a moment of pure adolescent joy.

The next morning my grandfather, who had found my room empty, yelled that my behavior was unacceptable. I learned I was being sent to live with my father, whom I had never even met, so that I could be “Black”.

Another cultural shift awaited me. My biological father’s neighboorhood was a stark contrast to the Black world of which I’d caught a glimpse in Tallahassee. Crack and poverty abounded. Although finding money for new school clothes and supplies would always be difficult, I found a peace in being racially authentic, something that I had not experienced in life before.

With my dad, I was not forced to be or to say I was anything other than what I was. I could be friends with whomever I wished, openly read whatever I chose, and listen to hip-hop at my pleasure.

Changa had made certain I took plenty of books with me from Tallahassee. He encouraged me to consider college. He gave me books by African American poets, books on African Art, and others on how to successfully debate. Some of the most impressionable books he shared were on the Black Panther Party. I was intrigued by the Panthers for their efforts to develop their own schools and to feed the poor — even poor Appalachian Whites. I read all the books Changa gave to me, once even by flashlight. This time, the flashlight was not necessary to hide my activity, but rather due to Dad’s electricity being shut off. During my adolescence I went from White and blue collar; to “claim you’re White” and middle class; to Black and poor. I decided then that I would rather be poor and authentic, than “rich” and living a lie. Living with my father, in all the complexities of poverty, I understood there is no substitute for living the honest truth.

Sharing the Inauguration with the Kidd family and studying Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was another lesson in the value of education. Watching the Rosa Parks bus lead the Inaugural Parade took me back to myself as the defiant teenager when, like Ms. Parks, I demanded equality and acknowledgement of my equal rights and heritage.

I realized, as the parade passed by, that my actions had been inspired nearly entirely by books and dialogue. This leads me to theorize that American families can start a positive revolution, beginning in our homes, simply by educating ourselves through reading, encouraging our children to read, conversation and art.

The Inauguration was also, for me, like many others, a call to action. It encouraged me to hold fast to my passion for diversity and to continue challenging others to include and think about people of different sexes, sexual orientations, cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.

Dr. Kidd, the patriarch of the Kidd family and a former college president, spoke at an intimate dinner following the Inauguration. He advised close friends and family in attendance that the ongoing challenge is to pursue not simply education—but an education for all that embraces tolerance.

Dr. Kidd’s words gave me a new perspective on the diversity work I do and have done for organizations such as Jackson Kelly PLLC , Charleston Area Alliance, Covenant House, Create West Virginia, Generation West Virginia and many others. Over the years, I had abandoned working toward the concept of “tolerance”, turned off by its connotation to merely “put up with”. That had never been sufficient for me. I was still rebelling, I suppose, at my grandfather’s willingness to tolerate “letting me” call myself Black without allowing me to fully embrace Black culture and society. I am now moving toward tolerating “tolerance”. “Tolerance is our first step,” Dr. Kidd said, assuring me that it’s tolerance that precedes acceptance.

I realize now, healed by years of time, that my Grandaddy actually took that first step in agreeing to provide a home for his biracial granddaughter in my time of need. Then, he took yet a second step by allowing her to proclaim that I was Black. Had I more patience and allowed more time, Granddaddy would have eventually taken another step, allowing me, his granddaughter to wholly explore and celebrate my full self under his watch.

I now pray that those who do not fully accept and embrace the idea of President Obama as an African-American will at least find tolerance enough to “put up with” him. That will probably buy him the time he needs convince them that they should and can support him.

My friend, Changa Kidd, died of cancer at the age of 34. His life changed my life. His constant encouragement of self-education inspired my own quiet revolutionary habit of gifting books to total strangers, friends and sometimes CEOs.

Prior to Changa’s passing I visited Tallahassee to see Granddaddy with my then husband (a Black man) and our three children. Changa was bald from chemo but looking as fit as he did at 16. Together we sat with Granddaddy in his living room, laughing together and reflecting on the joys and challenges of life.

Changa and I would never have believed the day would come that Granddaddy would embrace Black people gathering in his home.

But, on that day, he did.

Likewise at the Inauguration, millions said they never thought the day would come that America would inaugurate a bi-racial or Black President.

But, on this day, we did.

Reflecting on the Inauguration and my experiences, I am reminded of one of my Granddaddy admonishments. I am now, more than ever, willing to recite his mantra to my children: “Just tell ‘em you’re American!”

Crystal Good, 34, lives in Charleston, West Virginia. She is a proud member of the Affrilachian Poets, and works toward “justice for all” as the Assistant Director of the Covenant House.

 

“BOOM BOOM” A READING BY CRYSTAL GOOD

Affrilachian Poet and native West Virginian Crystal Good reads “BOOM BOOM,” a poem reflecting on strip mined mountains and women who take off their clothes for money.

Good says, “I see the mountain as a woman. This poem is about strip mining as much as it is about gender.  A heavy equipment operator working on an above ground mine site is doing what he feels he has to do — sometimes life doesn’t give us many options and sometimes the consequences of few employment options are more than we expected. It’s hard for a stripper to reclaim her reputation — it’s impossible to put back a stream or a mountain top once it’s gone.” (Unedited video: Jeff Getner.)

Crystal serves on the board of directors for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC).  OVEC’s mission is to organize and maintain a diverse grassroots organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the environment through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development and media outreach.

Ending mountain top removal and valley fill strip mining is a major work focus for OVEC.  Visit OVEC’s photo galleries to gain a better visual understanding of the massive destruction of West Virginia’s mountains.

Core Values: Are You Down with OPS (Other People’s Syndrome)?

This article by Crystal Good originally was published on the blog for Mythology Marketing on September 7, 2011.

Sometimes I feel like I have OPS – “Other People Syndrome.”   OPS is that constant feeling of worrying about what other people think of you. This “syndrome” has made me wonder if my values are actually mine, or do they belong to someone else?

It dawned on me that my OPS might be a key factor in my values and priorities when I started the Franklin Covey system. The Franklin Covey system requires you to prioritize your schedule based on your Core Values.  Like many planning or success systems, Franklin Covey teaches (and sometimes preaches) that in order to achieve our goals we must be very clear about our Core Values.

This message triggered many thoughts and some concerns for me.  Gradually, I realized that clarifying my values would make my life flow well, not just my work schedule.  More importantly, it would give everything in my life – and I mean everything – a stronger foundation. I am the mother of three children, active in my community, a marketing professional, a writer/poet, a daughter and sister, etc.  My list of to do’s can range from writing a poem, washing the car, speaking at an event, creating PowerPoint slides and scheduling haircuts.

As I became familiar with Franklin Covey, one point jumped out at me: Planning.

Planning is without a doubt the key to success.  My firm, Mythology, functions as a planning guide for business marketing.  I know the value of planning for clients, and with the Franklin Covey system I am determined to organize my life with my values, my priorities, and  my goals leading the way instead of OPS values.

In my planning process, I wondered: Do other people have “Other People’s Syndrome” too?  I instantly thought of the “rapid testing” tool we use at Mythology. It’s a marketing tag line testing tactic we use to quickly gather information for and about a client. Over the years we’ve learned that what businesses generally think of themselves is not what always what others perceive them to be. I think the same can be said for many people, so I decided to do my own “rapid testing” about core values.

When we do this rapid testing we are selective about the pool of people we use. I thought I should apply this same selectivity to my core values survey.  I looked for people whose lives seemed to be in synch with their values and priorities.  I thought by doing this I might find some common denominators with my own values.

I asked women whose occupations range  from homemakers to CEO’s, married and divorced, various ages and races –What VALUES do you VALUE most?? Integrity, adventure, spirituality, courage, balance?

They had no common denominator other than they are women, have or had some role in my life as a friend, mentor or business associate, and I deeply respect their opinions.

Here is what they reported:

  • Balance
  • Caring
  • Civic engagement
  • Compassion
  • Consideration
  • Courage
  • Courteous (Being Courteous)
  • Creativity
  • Dependability
  • Dignity
  • Equity
  • Excellence
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Forbearance
  • Fortitude
  • Freedom
  • Fun
  • Generosity
  • Grace
  • Growth
  • Honesty
  • Humanity
  • Humility
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Passion
  • Professionalism
  • Progress
  • Respect
  • Sensuality
  • Spirituality
  • Understanding

I discovered that I shared many of the same values as the women I surveyed.  I also found a few of my core values missing in the list:  philanthropy, beauty, humor, and diversity.

Philanthropy, beauty, humor, and diversity are also values that I consistently apply in my work. I am getting closer to a definitive list and taking the next step in the Franklin Covey process, which is to develop a clarifying statement for my values.

Example (taken from the Franklin Covey value/mission worksheet):

Professionalism:

I do excellent work every day.

I am open to ideas of others.

I have a positive attitude.

I am a team player.

Surprisingly the common values I found in my “rapid testing” poll showed me that “other people’s syndrome” isn’t such a bad thing when you’re asking the right people.  That is true in your personal life as well as your business.

Franklin Covey is helping me organize my work/life in the same way Mythology helps your business define its core values and ask the right people about your brand so you can Build Belief in your business.

So what core values are guiding you? I’d love to read some of your comments.

Image credit: Forbes.com