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100% life: irene routté

08/01/12

The idea of “simple living” was first introduced to me when I moved to Seattle four years ago. At the time, straight out of college, the idea only meant living a fulfilling life, using as little as possible. I think that living in this manner appealed to me because it stood in contrast to the hyper competitiveness and highly privileged experience I was a part of as a Princeton student. For all I gained in college, I felt I had lost part of myself  as well. I was so focused on the next best thing, whether that was a social opportunity or a job opportunity, without knowing if that was what I really wanted. So when the chance came around for the experience to “live simply,” I jumped. For two years I lived in cooperative communities while working for a community based organization. The first year I earned six hundred dollars a month; four hundred dollars went to rent, one hundred to communal food shopping, leaving one hundred dollars a month for personal expenses. The following year I earned a bit more, but again gave the majority to communal expenses, leaving a small portion for personal expenses.

Adjusting to this way of living was stressful at times (figuring out how to cover unexpected medical costs), but it did not seem difficult. I was immediately surrounded by other women who were invested in living the same way. We weren’t afraid of the unexpected because we knew that together we could find some solution. It did require me to work concertedly on being inwardly honest and outwardly vulnerable; to be honest with those desires and needs and be vulnerable enough to ask others to help you meet those needs. This is how I see simple living and building community as intertwined. Allowing for honesty and vulnerability allows you to see that you might not need something but someone. This has been a genuine lesson for me as I try to build meaningful relationships, create community and continue to see the world for all its possibility, especially when resources are short.

Those two years really framed the way I want to make my lifestyle choices. Granted the initial framing was done while working with a meager income. But the experience influenced more than just my spending and consumption habits. I began to really define for myself what living simply and genuinely in community meant. Simple living, at its base, may be a view towards consumption; one’s wants versus one’s needs. What it’s not is about accepting poverty or ignoring the benefits of building wealth. Rather it is about defining how wealth, any wealth, influences and impacts your actions and decisions (maybe instead it should be called living deliberately). This deliberateness in my everyday life allowed me to let go of the unnecessary desires that foster jealousy, breed bitterness and create anxiety.

Finally having this intention allows us to be open to the present pleasures and joys we might have become numb to. One of my favorite authors, bell hooks, describes the experience of simplicity in her book All About Love: New Visions:

Living simply is a crucial part of healing. As we begin to simplify, to let the clutter go, whether it is clutter of desire or the actual material clutter and incessant busyness that fills every space, we recover our capacity to be sensual. When the asleep body, numb and deadened to the world of the senses, awakens it is a resurrection that reveals to us that love is stronger than death. (219)

Living simply gives us the power to engage the world, every object, every person, at a whole new level. My original (maybe romanticized) idea of it has developed and will continue to develop I’m sure. Simple living isn’t a lifestyle that you can just automatically create. It’s a perspective from which to view the world.

Sometimes I also think of living simply as a meditation. It is a meditation, a practice perhaps in the joy of sensuality, that I can, when I remember, practice every minute of every day.

I can meditate on what I can let go of today; whether it is a material item or a negative thought.

I can meditate on what I can pay more attention to in this very moment; whether it is my breathing, or the way the light reflects off the glass I am drinking from.

I can meditate on what the most beautiful thing is within my hand’s reach.

I can meditate on that beauty right now and realize the joy I find in its simplicity.

Simply.

In 11th grade Civics class, the teacher called on Irene and asked her if she would rather live in a rational world or a passionate world. Her response was the passionate one. Irene hopes that every day she can bring passion and more importantly, compassion to every single little thing she does.

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100% life: keita rose-atkinson

07/08/12 1 Comment

Why South Africa? Or How to be Responsibly Irresponsible
When people hear that I’m going to South Africa, the usual response is “Oh wow, that’s cool.” It’s usually when they find out I’ll be going for a year that the responses split into two camps. The first category tends to be heartwarming and encouraging as I discuss my deep commitment to educational equity and my desire to explore ways to enhance our current framework after seeing the many roadblocks to equal opportunity while serving as a legal fellow in a litigation oriented civil rights organization. Not one to run from a fight, I tell them, perhaps the push that our current system, marred by racial indifference, needs is a multi-layered view of change informed by a government and a society committed to human rights for all its citizens. I tell them excitedly about the organization that I’ll be working for, Imagine Scholar, and the tasks in which I’ll be involved: teaching, outreach, and fundraising, all while putting my law degree to good use as their legal advisor. Maybe getting out of an office and off the beaten path will allow me to see the situation with fresh eyes, I say aloud, speaking partly to myself. In these conversations, I speak freely about my fears and anxiety; after all, I am traveling to the other side of the world, away from family and friends. But still, whoever I am speaking to helps me to remember that change is scary and fear is normal. Their excitement invigorates me to resist the urge to be comfortable and safe.

The second set of folks is decidedly less enthused about my decision to pick up and leave all that is familiar to live in the “bush,” as my mother says ( Kamhlushwa, the township where our base of operations lay, is indeed an agricultural area that could safely be described as semi-rural). “Ohhhh. Umm, so why South Africa?” they say, barely hiding confusion and sometimes worry at what seems like an out of left field decision for the public interest law graduate who seemed on her way to a career committed to eradicating racial, gender, and social injustice…in the United States. With these individuals, I talk about the universal themes I see in the oppression of marginalized peoples across the world, particularly women and children from minority backgrounds (for a completely off topic but definitely related detour, look into the work of Jack Greenberg, former Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, in school desegregation efforts concerning the Romani population in Eastern Europe). Despite all the strides accomplished in advancing opportunity for young children in this country, particularly boys and girls of color, we have faced an alarming retrenchment (some would call it a backlash) of legal avenues to improving educational outcomes for students across the United States. What would it look like, I ask them, to have laws that rightly describe education as a human right? This is what I hope to find out in South Africa. Although the content of my conversations are no different between the first and second group of people, I usually feel a bit tired after talking with someone who is more critical of my decision, almost as if I had been in a mental sparring match. Whether their intention or not, I spend much of these conversations attempting to justify myself and my unconventional decision after what has been a lifetime of measured and rational decision-making.

I wouldn’t call the second category of responses ‘naysayers’ as much as cautious realists. South Africa, despite its austere history of overthrowing apartheid, has some real issues concerning health, crime, and safety, particularly for a black woman who could be a target if judged correctly as a foreigner or mistaken for a local. They’re certainly not ‘haters’ either. Many people who ask me “Why South Africa?” are family members and friends who have been my unwavering support system. I wouldn’t want these individuals to be silent in their concern for me either. Unlike the emperor in a well-known children’s tale, I have no desire to walk around naked for the sake of my ego. And really, it may not be with these people that my frustration lies. Maybe the problem is that I don’t know how to be irresponsible.

At one point in my life, I had my next steps planned five years in advance; no seriously, at the age of 22, I had no doubt where I would be at 27. And at 27, I was where I expected I would be at 22. I was pretty proud of myself. I had a plan, I had goals, and I accomplished them despite the obstacles. But midway into 27, I began to get restless and wonder ‘what next?’ You can go pretty much on autopilot when you have a gameplan, no matter how rocky the road. If you have ever been called an overachiever, I think you can relate to the notion that the thing to do after you’ve accomplished a goal is not to rest or be content but to make another goal! The problem was, as I was going through my plan and accomplishing my goals, the target shifted and the path to my ideal job became more complicated. Whether the economy or my own changing understanding of how we can improve the responses of systems and structures to historically oppressed groups is to blame, I knew I wanted something different from the goal I first had in mind. I wanted to be keyed into the struggles of young people who yearned to get a quality education and I was tired of the government being an impediment with its laws and general indifference. I also wanted to do something different. After seven years in a classroom, notwithstanding a two-year break in between college and law school, I wanted to learn more than theory, beyond four safe walls with a chalkboard up front. I also wanted some practical skills in adding value to an organization—for all the mind expanding exercise of school, there is an amazing dearth of rubber to road knowledge that you take away at the end.

So in the end, I looked for something that made my spidey senses tingle and my heart race. Like seeing your first crush across a room, I knew that I’d “know it when I saw it.” And I did. Imagine Scholar is the right place for me right now. Maybe it’ll be the right place from me in a year or maybe the right place will be a little closer to the zip code I called home as a little girl. Either way, I am relishing in my deliciously irresponsible responsible decision. Because even if this is the worst idea I have ever had (although I find that hard to believe because, trust me, I’ve had some baaaad ideas), it feels right. I could be taking myself off the expected path of a civil rights lawyer and do serious harm to my career as a result. I could be putting myself into a less than safe situation far away from the only support system I have known. Those are pretty irresponsible things to do just on a whim. However, all my fancy talk of human rights, direct action, and upending the status quo with new frameworks notwithstanding, this feels right. And sometimes, listening to what your heart says is the most responsible thing you can do.

A South Florida native by way of Jamaica, Keita Rose-Atkinson seeks to live her professional and personal life by two prolific quotes:

“A lawyer’s either a social engineer or he’s a parasite on society.” ~ Charles Hamilton Houston, noted Civil Rights Lawyer, known as ‘The Man who Killed Jim Crow.’

“Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund

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© Keita Rose-Atkinson and atolemdro, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Keita Rose-Atkinson and atolemdro with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

100% life: kay ashaolu

06/19/12

The Itch

So what does it mean when you have “the itch?” “The itch” has several meanings, but the one that resonates with me the most is a feeling that continually drives one to figure out how to do things better: to dream of a better world. Sometimes a person with the itch decides that the fastest way to make their dreams a reality is to start a business and do it themselves. I found that I had this itch during the start of my career.

After I graduated from college I eventually started a web development firm. During that two-year period I came in contact with solo entrepreneurs, small business owners, and non-profit managers that had a passion to make their dreams real.  I remember creating an internet presence for a Christian international ministry in midtown Manhattan. They wanted to create a place where international students that haven’t been into the United States long could go and get the information they need. To go through the process to create the internet analog of their organization was a great experience. These and other experiences made me wonder if there were ways where I could help even more people at the same time. That’s when I got the itch.

So what am I doing right now?

I moved from New York City to the San Francisco Bay Area to experience the quintessential place for people with the itch in tech: Silicon Valley. I am currently studying for a Masters in Information Management Systems at the School of Information at UC Berkeley. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry: most don’t (and I find it hard to explain haha). However, what drew me to this program is its inherent multidisciplinary nature that highlights different aspects of a product or service that needs to be considered at the same time. From studying information organization and computer science, to learning how to design applications that not only enables people to do what they want to do (without getting sued…) but is also a pleasure to use. I am now writing this post from an iPad and a wireless Bluetooth keyboard in the middle of Starbucks: need I say more?

I attend UC Berkeley because I have always had dreams that I wanted to make real that would help people’s daily lives. As far as I can remember I was always asking the questions that sometimes annoy even the most patient of people. Why doesn’t Microsoft Vista work? Why is watching football online such an intricate process? Why can’t I find the right person to help me lose weight?

That last question is something I’m actually tackling right now with a website I started, p2ptrainer.com. P2PTrainer gives people direct access to personal trainers for their fitness questions, advice, and training sessions. The site aims to be a resource where you can learn more about personal trainers before you actually hire them. With P2PTrainer, I hope to take away the pain and worry of hiring a personal trainer and get people connected to the right one for them. I have seen and experienced what a personal trainer can do in the lives of people that need their services. However, I’ve also seen how hard it is for the general public to know about their skills, especially since national gyms generally do not easily provide this information. P2PTrainer is my first stab at solving a problem I have gotten an itch for and I’m excited.

In short, after my undergraduate schooling and my industry experience I realized that a significant number of issues do not lie with what’s possible with technology, but rather an inability of companies to intimately understand the plights of the consumer and a lack of willingness to do something about it. They may know your age, birth date, where you live, and what soda you like, but they don’t understand that maybe you do want your cellphone to work in your house without going outside of your home.

I have found that people with the ability to create a product and the ability to empathize with the consumer are needed for true innovation. And I am developing those skills so that I can make my dreams come true.

Kay Ashaolu is just a guy that’s trying to figure out why things are the way they are. Oh, and he’s also try to make those things better.

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100% life: leslie-bernard joseph

05/30/12

I Didn’t Play the Hand I Was Dealt, I Changed Cards

I didn’t expect to see my mom picking me up from school. Not just because she’s supposed to be at work, but more so because I’m an eighth grader: I’ve been commuting and riding the “city bus” for years – Q85 and Q30 to be exact. Still, I’m eager to get the comfortable ride home rather than straphang for the one-hour, two bus odyssey through rush hour and Jamaica Avenue. We stop at the best West Indian bakery in Queens (Huie’s) and pick up patties and cocoa bread, making this an exceptional November afternoon.

When we pulled within a few blocks of home, my mom turned to me and said “Now, when we get home I don’t want you to be scared….” As she parked the car in front of our two-family home, I could faintly see it. Our front door – which had to be three inches thick and made out of solid wood – looked like something out of a horror movie. I immediately thought “axe,” but it turns out a baseball bat was responsible for the damage – splintering the front door to where I lived with my mom and two aunts. Our old landlord had sold the house while we were living in the upstairs apartment, and apparently, our new landlords had decided they did not want us living there anymore. This was our eviction notice.

We didn’t have anywhere to go.

My mom is one of nine children so the thought was that we would lean on family for support. Twenty minutes away on Long Island lived one of my mom’s older sisters, in a three-story, 6 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom, two kitchen, three living room, gated-community home – and two of the children were already away at college.

For reasons, that I still don’t understand and that still anger me today – we were never welcomed. Instead, the closest family who would take us in was my Uncle Johnny in Newark, New Jersey. The four of us – my mom, my aunt Rosie, my aunt Joelle and me – shared two small bedrooms in my uncle’s three bedroom townhouse.

It was the fall of my eighth grade year and I was applying to boarding school. I needed the grades and recommendations from teachers at my Queens middle school. I couldn’t leave. So every morning I was in the car with my mom by 5:30, driving back to New York, where she would drop me off at some random bus stop in Queens while she headed back to work in Brooklyn. From there, I’d ride a few city buses to school and arrive by 8am. In the afternoons, I would ride to a local public library and wait until she could pick me up around 8pm and we would travel back to Newark to do it all over again. Our car got broken into twice over the course of 6 months. Most of those winter mornings, we drove back to the city with a trash bag covering a backseat window, flapping in the wind.

I always fully understood our situation. In our big family, all of my cousins grew up with a lot more money than me. I knew we were the “poor ones.” And though I could never stomach the words when I was thirteen – “homeless” would not have been completely inaccurate.

I was angry, but I never really let it show. I immersed myself in school (both my public school and Saturday Prep for Prep classes that got me ready for boarding school) and soldiered through.

I knew my choices at the time were to be angry, to feel sorry for myself, to transfer to a different school, to quit Prep for Prep, to complain to my mom, and do anything other than make the mornings easier. But I also knew that my family’s biggest problem at the time was that we didn’t have money. More than anything, that was my motivation to go to boarding school and eventually end up at Princeton. I felt like education was my only way out.

Fourteen years later (damn, that’s a long time), I teach because I want to make sure my students (and adults alike) never give excuses for why they “can’t” – especially when it comes to black boys in the city.

Leslie-Bernard Joseph is a habitual line stepper, both literally (routinely trespassing lines of race and privilege), and figuratively (in the ignorant-as-hell sense). Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, Leslie is the founding Dean of Students of Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School and will be pursuing a J.D. at Stanford Law School. He likes Sportscenter, movies, good clothes, good food, fast bikes, and you.

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100% life: carolyn ureña

05/28/12

Every writer needs a reader.

Over the years this simple phrase has become one of my mantras, reminding me who I am and who I want to be.

When I was growing up in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican neighborhood in Manhattan, I never dreamed I would go to Princeton, let alone graduate school. In fact, I didn’t even know what Princeton was until I was in ninth or tenth grade. All I knew was that I loved to write and that it was something I felt I was good at.

Early on being “good at” something seemed to be the end goal, and like other bookish kids, I learned how to compose for my teachers. One might be a stickler for grammar; another, a fan of flowery language. So I did what I thought would make them happy – I wrote as if they were the only person who would ever read my work.

At some point, though, I realized that I had ideas I wanted to share, words that welled up inside me and were eager to bubble up to the surface. I began to write for myself, whether in private journals, class assignments, or long emails to friends. Once I began to see myself as a writer, an experimenter, as just a girl playing in a sandbox, a whole new world of thought opened up for me. This is the kind of writing I both do and teach.

I cultivated my passion for helping others uncover the power of their own voices as an undergraduate writing tutor at Princeton’s Writing Center, where I first encountered “Every writer needs a reader” as the group’s motto. In the context of working with students, it served to let them know that there I was, eager to read whatever they brought in to work on regardless of where they were in the writing process. Later, as a graduate student and instructor of Academic Writing at the University of Maryland, I made a conscious effort to show my students that I was not just a reader (as I thought my teachers were) but a writer, too. It was no small coincidence that I frequently found myself grading their papers even as I was working on my own. Although a majority of them were pre-med science majors who claimed “writing is not my thing,” I encouraged them to remember all of the texting, emailing, and “To Do” list scribbling they had done. They, too, were writers. And so are you.

As a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at Rutgers, I’m working to see myself as the shape-shifter I really am, to make the movement from reader to writer and back again as natural as breathing. Writing, like so many other endeavors, is really about establishing a relationship with another, the best of which are constantly changing and transforming. In my current research, I’m interested in narratives of illness, in the ways that patients write about their experiences with disease and how the doctors who treat them understand their roles in the doctor-patient relationship. As a reader of these intimate texts, I work to remain attuned to the difficulties of expressing pain and suffering, and to the choices these storytellers make in sharing themselves with their audience. As a writer, I try to imagine a generous reader of my own, one who is waiting for me on the other side of the page or screen, eager to enter a conversation that has no preconceived outcome.

Every writer needs a reader. Thank you for being mine.

Carolyn Ureña is a writer and a reader. Her current project explores how the Web has changed the way patients and doctors are becoming storytellers. When she isn’t reading, writing, or watching movies, you’ll find her in the kitchen cooking and baking to stay sane.

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100% life: karen bailey

05/15/12 3 Comments

I study wildlife ecology and conservation. Two weeks ago I was riding an airboat catching alligators by hand. Two weeks before that I sat in on the autopsy of a Florida black bear and a Florida panther and I extracted brain tissue from white tailed deer to study chronic wasting disease. I’ve learned how to catch a jaguar with a foot snare and how to properly handle diamondback rattlesnakes (Protip: you don’t). A year ago I saw my first echidna in the wild and made krill sausages for research on Antarctic leopard seals. Not long before that I was greeted by a sting ray in a sea of jellyfish right after studying dolphin-sized tuna. Before that, I hopped in a helicopter and tracked orchid bees across an island before climbing rainforest trees to catch three-toed sloths.

And it all started with a trip to Wyoming and a revelation in a grove of aspen trees.

About 10 years ago I took a summer trip with my high school’s eco club. Allow me to paint you a picture. The location is Jackson Hole, in the Teton Mountain range of Wyoming. The season, a picturesque summer complete with cooling breezes, aspen groves, geysers, and bald eagle sightings. An eager group of tenth graders treks through the forest, examining bison scat and searching for paw prints. Awed eyes absorb sunsets above the Tetons, excited ears listen for coyote howls beyond the crickets, and naïve noses find the sulfuric scent of millennia old hot springs. Can you imagine it?

What you might not be able to imagine is the little girl who discovered her purpose in life during that trip. A little girl, who’s now (mostly) an adult, getting a PhD, all because she took a trip to Wyoming when she was 15. It’s always weird when I tell people I’m studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I often get one of two responses, general interest in learning exactly what that means, or something akin to disbelief. I often get the disbelief from black people. But then they glimpse my bike helmet hanging off my arm or my Nalgene clipped to my jeans and they decide that it’s believable, that someone like me might devote her life to nature.

And devote my life I have. I’ve now had the chance to learn and research in my field in four different countries (the U.S., Panama, Australia, and New Zealand) and I’ll soon add a fifth to the list for my PhD research, Swaziland. I moved to Gainesville from Los Angeles last fall to study at the University of Florida. Every day I spend around 12 hours between classes and my office/lab. The amount of reading I’ve done in the last 8 months eclipses that which I’ve done in the last 4 years. My life revolves around my research and my classes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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My main research interests are in understanding wildlife conservation within economic and social frameworks and learning how changing land use practices in Sub-Saharan Africa impact animal survival, behavior, and ecosystem health. I’m also interested in the impacts of conservation efforts on both animal populations and local human survival. My goal is to better inform policies and programs designed to conserve and protect biodiversity and the ecosystems that maintain it. I seek to gain a deeper understanding of what influences animal behavior, conservation success, and improvement and sustainability of human livelihoods

Aside from my actual research, I am getting involved in efforts to improve minority representation in the natural resource fields. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I never truly had the convenience of nearby rivers and lakes, local forests and fields, or many species that weren’t dogs, cats, opossums, or sparrows. Nonetheless, I always had an appreciation for palm trees and squirrels, and an inherent love of nature. Today, having graduated from a university with excellent research opportunities, and met researchers from all over the world, I have only recently had my first chance to learn from an African American doing research in in this field. So now I am encouraged to serve as a role model and help kids get opportunities to have experiences like the ones that led me down this path.

I recently had the chance to talk to high school and middle school students (many of them minorities) about the awesomeness of wildlife ecology. We talked about the research we do and the classes we take and I watched as a few eyes lit up. Then we let them pet baby alligators and the whole room lit up. There’s a good chance that had I not traveled to Wyoming as a tenth grader, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Providing similar outdoor, natural, scientific experiences to inner city and minority youth is very important to me. Our underrepresentation in these fields is not the result of aptitude or ability, it’s primarily due to lack of exposure.

Ultimately, I aim to combine my commitments to education, improved representation of minorities in the sciences, academic research, and conservation. My ideal career is one where I serve as a mentor and teacher to students from elementary to graduate school and conduct research locally and globally that provides opportunities for researchers and aspiring researchers from diverse backgrounds to understand and address complex conservation issues. I think I’m on a path to accomplish that. And wherever I end up, I know it’ll be a wild ride.

Karen Bailey is a simple, hopeless optimist and a committed learner. She fancies herself an ecologist, writer, dancer, and activist. She never stops smiling and is incredibly grateful she’s accomplished and experienced all that she has in life. 

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100% life: dwight draughon jr.

05/08/12 1 Comment

An Ivy Leaguer from the Ghetto

I was fortunate to grow up in the Bronx of New York City, and more fortunate to go to boarding school and college (and graduate school…and law school) afterwards. Being able to do so has had its countless blessings and opportunities, but it has also exposed me to a pet peeve: the use of the word “ghetto.”

I often hear the term from Blacks who grew up in more fortunate areas as they light-heartedly chastise each other for inappropriate behavior, interests or possessions. Although it can be applied to a plethora of things, I hear it most in reference to dress, dialect, loud voices, arguing/fighting and conspicuous consumption. Is there any truth to these stereotypes? Sure. You’d be hard pressed to find a stereotype that didn’t come from some truth, however minute. But the truth has nothing to do with its use.

While E. Franklin Frazier may be able to explain it better, I suspect that by pegging what they consider to be deplorable actions as ghetto, the Black bourgeoisie attempts to separate themselves from the stigmatized Black identity that has permeated American media since The Birth of a Nation. Blacks of all backgrounds (Caribbean, African, American), actually, have tried to distinguish themselves from the stereotypes. But instead of challenging the stereotypes, the Black community has accepted the stereotypes and convinced themselves that they don’t apply to them.

So, let’s back up.

What’s a ghetto? Well, unlike its common connotation, the ghetto is simply a section of a city that is predominantly occupied by a group of people ostracized for social (think racism; religious intolerance; etc.) or economic reasons. Consider checking out Theater of Acculturation. The Ghetto has been around for centuries and is not reserved for Blacks. Ghetto is not loud. Ghetto is not poor. Ghetto is not uncivilized. Sure, there may be loud, poor, and less civilized people in the ghetto. But, are there not poor people throughout America and the world? Do college kids not get rowdy?[1]

What about the Black ghetto? While the Black ghetto of America has its vices like any other place, the Black ghetto has been responsible for culture changing music, dance, food, fashion and people.[2] When you say that’s ghetto, do you mean Justice Sonia Sotomayor? General Colin Powell? Do you mean me?

Since growing up in the South Bronx of New York, I have been quiet, respectful, caring, hard-working, ambitious and eloquent (I also don’t drink or smoke…ever). I’m ghetto, but not the way it’s falsely used.

Yesterday, I heard two Black girls from well to do backgrounds loudly joke about a party—that  they planned on going to—being ghetto, and I thought to myself as I studied for my exam, “maybe it’s just bourgeoisie…”

No, I would never try to attribute a set of behaviors to a particular demographic or geographic region. I just charge that you, despite the contemporary minstrelsy disguised as music and other media influences, resist the urge to do so.

Always,

Dwight

Postscript:

The greatest rapper ever and one of the best American musicians ever is Jay-Z (more number #1 albums than any individual with no number #1 songs).

After him, it’s Dylan, Dylan, Dylan and Dylan.

Much respect to Tupac, Nas, Eminem, Joe Budden, Busta Rhymes, TI, Kanye, LL Cool J, Scarface, Ghostface and all the other great rappers of my time. Don’t want to imply that minstrelsy line applies to them.

Dwight Draughon is a ghetto boy with a BA from Princeton, MA from American and anticipated JD from Howard. He’s a dude that lives his life with a bunch of rules headlined by one: “I will NOT lose!” 


1. I won’t touch civility so as to not offend anyone, but you get the point Back

2. Here’s a list of accomplished people from the Bronx Back

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100% life: muoyo okome

04/16/12 5 Comments

“Rather die enormous than
live dormant…that’s how
we on it…” boasts modern-
day philosopher Shawn
Carter (better known as entertainment mogul Jay-Z)
on his 1996 classic
“Can I Live”.

While it would be easy to dismiss this statement as
the same superficial treatment of riches, excess, and gangster bravado that one has come
to expect from today’s rap
music, we need to look
deeper:

Rather, the protagonist wants us to know that his big risks were worth it no matter the outcome. Whether he succeeded, failed, or even died trying, the risks allowed him a precious CHANCE to achieve his dreams rather than accepting stagnation.

While I am no advocate of criminal activity or premature death, I strongly agree with the concept of striving for greatness…and along with it, embracing the possibility of failure. What is the point of treading water? I’d rather die enormous.

During my first year in the Wharton MBA program, I took an Entrepreneurship course in which we frequently had guest speakers talk to the class about their entrepreneurial career path. During one such presentation, a gentleman (whose name currently escapes me) talked through a PowerPoint slide I will never forget. The slide listed all 18 of his failed companies from all sorts of arenas, running the gamut from practical, to nonsensical, to before their time. The only common thread tying these companies together was their status as failures that had failed absolutely. After walking us through the failures in sufficient detail, exposing all the hidden warts and hilarious anecdotes, he moved on to discuss his next two companies, which sold for $750 million and $200 million respectively. I think you smell what I’m cooking here.

I don’t want to belabor the point, but then again, I really do. However, I am now tired of writing AND as the late, great Steve Jobs would tell you, “Great Artists STEAL” :-). So rather than original thought, I am going to share the thoughts of some pretty smart people who I find compelling on this issue…pretty much a barrage of good ideas:

– An inspiring TED Talk on “Why you will fail to have a great career”:

– An insightful HBR blog which asks us to consider the true risk of entrepreneurship (I am almost convinced that taking no risk may be the riskiest move of all):  Just How Risky is Entrepreneurship, Really? – Harvard Business Review

– Michael Jordan’s classic commercial on failure:

While Jordan is widely known as one of the greatest & most successful to play the game of basketball, he has certainly failed on more than one occasion.  Rather than downplaying these failures, he cites them as being responsible for his ability to succeed.

Just for kicks, and because I like to disobey the rules of writing, I would like to pause here to quote my mother…who often likes to quote her mother in asking the classic Yoruba parenting question “so that man…does he have two heads?” as a way of pointing out that one is just as equipped as any other human being to achieve any great success. It turns out he (or she) actually does not have two heads…but still managed to make it happen.

Almost 5 centuries ago, the great Michelangelo told us, “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

500 years later the message still applies. Aim for the stars and do not fear failure…embrace him as a wise, gray-bearded teacher. Dream big. Take action. Experience. Fail. Learn. See the world through a positive lens. Ask questions. Persevere.

Maybe you are already chasing or living your dreams, in which case I applaud you. If not, I think you should consider doing so. We are only here for a limited time.

Addendum: Caine’s Arcade & the value of persistence

Why choose dormant when you can achieve 100% life?

Just my thoughts ladies & gentlemen…right or wrong, it’s what I was thinking at the time! 🙂

A gentle blend of Brooklyn, New York (via birth) & Lagos, Nigeria (via family), Muoyo Okome is a technologist, entrepreneur, “hacker”, and lover of life. He holds a BSE from Princeton University, an MBA from the Wharton School, a sense of humor from his family, and a strong desire to make it happen.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/muoyo
Twitter: www.twitter.com/MrOkome
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/muoyo

click here for more 100% life.

100% life: dominique reese

02/01/12

Millionaire status. It’s what I claim. By the time I am 30, I WILL be a millionaire! There is no reason why I shouldn’t be a millionaire by 30! 2012 is finally here and like so many others, “This is my year!” I am tired of sharing financial struggles with those I know, love and care for, whether literally or figuratively. I said enough is enough. Being “broke,” “living paycheck to paycheck,” “robbing Peter to pay Paul”…these are the ways of the foolish and the damned. Yet, I am Chosen and destined to be wealthy because I am already wealthy. I just have to manifest my wealth, because it’s already there. Just do right by it. Thus, Choose Wealth was born.

Choose Wealth is a financial goal-setting and asset development campaign presented by my company, CommuniTree LLC. As the President of CommuniTree LLC, I teach middle school students in Brooklyn and female youth (ages 8-17) in Harlem about money, budgeting, business entrepreneurship. I also counsel my clients once a month, between Los Angeles, New York, Baton Rouge and Cleveland, about money management practices, wealth and legacy building. Specifically, I help them establish and secure a financial foundation from which they can build. Clients receive a spending analysis, debt analysis, debt reduction strategy, emergency fund strategy and budget, on-going counseling, an insurance and retirement analysis and instructions to pull all three credit reports. They also have access to other financial protection services such as credit restoration, wills, trusts, power of attorneys and identity theft protection.  There is no sense in building wealth and not protecting it so there always has to be a strategy for protection.

Now you may wonder, “How is she going to become a millionaire by 30?” Well, I will share this with you: After being  self-employed for a few years, I understand that I need to become a business owner and business owners own systems or buy one. I am buying into a few systems, but am also developing one of my own, through CommuniTree LLC. Further, I intend to exploit every asset class available to me, from royalties (selling my content), interest (bonds), dividends (stocks & mutual funds), rental income (owning rental property) and owning a business. With multiple streams of income, savings and investments, I will become a millionaire. With my money working for me and me working less for it, I am confident that I will be pleased with my results, to say the least ;).

I am young, ambitious and eager to build my wealth and legacy, have my kids (although I need a man and marriage first!!!) and start the wealth cycle all over again. My awesomeness is only worthy if I can leave it for my great-great-great-grands and beyond. I want them to know my name. What about you? Will your great-great-great-grandkids know your name?

In my spare time, lol, I actually do “like long walks on the beach”…I’m a California girl! I lead a few organizations and sit on the boards of a few more. I volunteer throughout the year, teaching about money, doing motivational speaking, career days and school visits. I write for a few sites and do guest appearances on online and radio shows. Yes, a mogul in the making. I admit it ;). Learn more about the orgs that I am affiliated with here!

I am the oldest of three girls, no brothers, and am my father’s only child ;). Now, you may understand this drive and hunger for legacy and wealth. I am THE one to change my family’s history and legacy. I am THE one to be the example, be the tried and true so those who come after me, do better than me, be better than me and leave better than I did.

As I continue living and building my wealth as a solopreneur at the young tender age of 27, I am sure there will be many more experiences to deem “memorable” at the least. However, right now, I am totally happy to be my own boss, change financial lives one budget at a time and empower my communities along the way. Literacy and legacy are hallmarks of life and I want to help my clients achieve both.

Choose Wealth and reach me if you need me! I’d love to be a resource:

Dominique@yourcommunitree.com
CommuniTree LLC
394 Broadway, 5th Floor
NY, NY 10013
1-347-746-TREE (8733)

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

Dominique’ Reese is chic with a mission but to relax she likes to read, play volleyball, lay out at the beach (and play volleyball), cook and wine and dine, dance and watch reality tv and movies! She will be first generational wealth in her family and the leader of the “Millionaire by Thirty” club.

click here for more 100% life.

100% life: mickheila jasmin

01/04/12 1 Comment

I moved to California from NYC nearly 2 years ago and the drastic decline in the Haitian presence was absolutely depressing. People are not kidding when they say NYC, Miami and Boston are the enclaves of Haitians in America. I managed to go from being surrounded by Haitians in NYC, to not having 1 Haitian friend in Los Angeles! This changed a few months ago. I was deep in my math calculations of which cereal deal was cheapest in Costco when I heard a couple speaking Haitian-Creole behind me. I was so excited that I just ran over and befriended them. They graciously insisted on having me visit their church so that I can see that there actually were Haitians in Los Angeles. As we became closer, they confided in me about their increasing apprehension about raising their son and daughter in America. The boy does not speak as much Haitian-Creole as they would like, he talks back, and his teacher has informed them that they can not beat their children in the U.S. So my friends have decided to do what all Haitian parents threaten their children with: send the boy to Haiti! After all this, my friends asked me HOW did I manage to be born and raised in NYC but speak Haitian-Creole and not turn out to be a vacabon.[1] My explanation: I was not raised as an American, but as a Haitian.

The beauty of being raised with strong Haitian family values is that I can see distinct difference between myself and my peers in our views of the world, our interactions with others, and the principles we hold close. The Haitian family values I want to highlight in particular are the importance of saving, strong work-ethic, communal childrearing, and self-presentation.

The word is “frugal”

Now there are many misunderstandings about Haitians. Some call us “cheap” and others label us “penny-inchers.” But a more appropriate term is “frugal.” It is not that Haitians don’t want to spend money, but moreso that we cannot afford to waste! One winter, my brother tried to change the thermostat in our house because he thought it was too cold. Somehow my father sensed that there was an influx of heat and he was not pleased to see our thermostat at 80 degrees. When we woke up the next day, my dad had returned the thermostat to its normal position and duct taped it so that we could not change it again. The Haitian custom of conservation is not only limited to bills and money. Haitians value any possessions we have. Many still have the plastic on the dining room or living room chairs!

But besides teaching me how to stretch a dollar, that frugal upbringing taught me how to survive when my finances are low. I am currently a graduate student and my income is solely what UCLA allots each semester. I must budget money distributed in September until I receive my spring semester loans in January. And UCLA only gives you enough money to pay rent and utilities WHILE SCHOOL IS IN SESSION so I must find money to get through each summer. But I don’t worry about maneuvering such a tight budget because I was raised to persevere. I don’t waste water with long showers because of my uncle. When all of us would gather at his house for holidays, he gave us 8 minutes in the shower. If you were still in there, he would cut off the hot water! To this day, I still wash my face at the sink when I brush my teeth because a faucet uses a lot less water than a showerhead. When I drive my car, I make sure I take care of at least 2 errands along the way so I don’t waste gas. I turn off all the lights that are not in use and I can fix almost anything with Krazy Glue. I can’t seem to remember what I wore 2 days ago, but I can compare the 16 chicken breasts I saw in Costco for $17.82 to any other supermarket sale to make sure I get the best deal. All in all, I mirror everything from my frugal Haitian upbringing because it made me a survivor, especially during this recession where every penny counts.

Discipline

Secondly, I’d like to address the Haitian family values behind discipline. You know I couldn’t talk about the being raised Haitian without discussing the baton![2] The blessing of being raised with strong Haitian family values is the communal upbringing. Haitians KNOW how to bring that lakou[3] system from back home to the U.S. As a child, I did not only have my parents raising me, but also my godparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and family friends. And they ALL disciplined me too! Of course I didn’t see being put a genou[4] as a blessing when it happened, but the discipline was a crucial aspect of my upbringing. It taught me respect and showed me there were consequences for every action.

The creativity of Haitian discipline never ceases to amaze me either! Haitian parents don’t just beat their children, but carefully tailor each child’s punishments to efficiently put the fear of God in them. A universal tell-tale sign of good discipline is “the look of death.” Haitians don’t need to put leashes on their children because they can remind us who is boss with just one look. We all know the chill that goes to your bones even when the look isn’t directed at you! The beauty of growing up with that look is that I feel it ANYtime I’m thinking of veering off of the path of my Haitian upbringing. My aunt will be miles away but I still feel that chill in my bones when I’m even THINKING of doing wrong. That discipline within the Haitian upbringing transcends space and time and keeps me from doing what I should not when I KNOW better.

This communal upbringing and strong discipline also indoctrinated a respect for granmoun[5] that transcends age. Even as adults, we can’t think of doing anything to disrespect our elders. Just last week I gathered the courage to ask my dad WHY I wasn’t allowed to soufflé[6] in front of granmoun. 15 years later, I just had to know WHY. I never understood the rule, but I also never dared to question what I was told.

Self-Presentation

Besides discipline that rivals the military, Haitian family values instills a sense of self-pride that I carry everywhere I go. When I go out, I know I must present myself respectfully. I mind my manners and can look refined without an issue. One joke that captures this well is: “Haitians go to work as though they are dressed for church, go to church as if they are dressed for a wedding and go to weddings as if they are dressed to meet Queen Elizabeth.” And this has rung true my entire life: I’ve never been underdressed for an occasion! No one has to remind me what is appropriate business attire for job interviews or business functions. This is because whenever I leave my house, I don’t only represent Mickheila Nèrèe Jasmin. I represent my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and any Haitian involved in my rearing. I am the embodiment of their principles and I recognize that everything I do and say is a reflection on them.

The importance of self-presentation is also reflected in how we care for our Haitian homes. When I was a child, there were entire rooms of the house I wasn’t allowed to enter because it is meant for company. I loved Thanksgiving Day because that was the closest I ever got to being company! I got to sit at the nice table and use my Aunt’s good china!! With my uncle, his pride is in his lawn. Uncle never let anyone walk on his grass. One day, I forgot this rule and decided to take a shortcut across the lawn instead of walking to the pathway. My uncle promptly reminded me with a shot from his high-pressure hose that no one steps on his grass. No matter what Haitians have, even if it is not much, we will present ourselves with our best foot forward.

Perseverance

The last Haitian family value I would like to address is perseverance. One of the best things my parents did was send me to Haiti during my summer vacations. Nothing says “you have it good in America” like seeing an 8 year old walk several miles to carry clean water on their head. Or the joy on a barefoot child’s face when I gave them sneakers I was bored with. I know there are people in my life who made great sacrifices to ensure I was even born in this country. Haitian parents juggle several jobs so they can afford to send us to private schools, buy us Christmas gifts they can’t afford, and give us the life they never had. A Haitian’s life in America is a life of sacrifice.

For me, growing up with the Haitian family value of perseverance also made up for the fact that I was not born with all my desires within my reach. Knowing all that my parents did for me inspires me to reach my potential because I know they did not emigrate here for me to settle for mediocrity. In order to attend high school, I chose to wake up at 5 AM each morning and commute 2.5 hours to Bronx High School of Science instead of my zone school: Far Rockaway High School. While attending Princeton University, I worked 3 jobs along with my full course load to help pay school expenses. I knew that with that Bachelor’s degree, I would be fulfilling my dreams along with all those who invested time, money, and love in me. I remember when my dad told me he can die a happy man after he sees me graduate from law school. My Haitian family values have taught me to give my daddy that and more by any means necessary.

I know I would not be where I am without those lessons and principles and I plan on passing the same onto my children… EXCEPT for the plastic couches!

Mickheila Jasmin is currently attending UCLA School of Law. She is a pitbull-fanatic and aspires to fill an entire passport.


1. bad boy; rascal back

2. beatings back

3. clusters of families working cooperatively and providing for each other through financial and other forms of support back

4. a popular punishment where a child is forced to kneel upright back

5. a person who is a member of an older generation back

6. whistle back

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