Friday, July 31, 2009

What a Week!

For the most part I really like my job, but the last few weeks, it seems I’ve been mired in administrative muck and I’m struggling to get stuff off my to-do list. Monday thru Friday I walk into the office with every intention of handling my business and after checking my email (let’s be honest, both my work and personal accounts), I jump headfirst into the endless tasks that need my attention---- final reports, finding a new marketing director, supervising the production of our fall calendar, etc. But.. without fail, some curveball comes out of nowhere and diverts my attention.

This week alone, I had to deal with a pole dance instructor who’s been renting our rehearsal space for weekly pole dancing lessons. To prepare our space for the lessons, this woman asked if she could have mirrors installed and store her portable poles in our space. We agreed with the understanding that the mirrors and poles would go with her at the termination of her rental agreement. Black & white…plain & simple, or so I thought until yesterday when I got a letter from a debt collector claiming our organization owed Terra Firma Construction $2,200 for the installation of mirrors. This broad fraudulently billed the mirrors and their installation to us. Can you believe this? I spent two hours attempting to unravel this mess and still haven’t got confirmation from the debt collector that our name will be taken off the account. Miss Pole Dancer assures me it’s a simple misunderstanding, but when I checked this broad’s website, she’s listed our organization’s address as her business address. I tried not to blow a gasket, but she’s obviously crazy and dealing with consumed most of my afternoon.

On top of the scamming pole dancer, I’m in the midst of interviewing for a new marketing director. We’ve received hundreds of resumes and I’m doing my best to wade through them and schedule about three interviews a week. I usually call the candidate and if I have to leave a voicemail message, I follow-up with an email. So was the case with Faith Davidson (not her real name), when she responded to my email two days after I left her a request to arrange an interview date. Faith provided a few date options for early next week and when I followed up with a confirmed date, she thanked me and asked why did I want to meet with her? I couldn’t believe this and got the sinking feeling that interviewing this woman would be a huge waste of time and with all I’ve got on my plate, I don’t feel like going through the motions. I crafted a response to Faith, wishing her well, and as graciously as possible I explained that I thought this wasn’t a good time to consider her for our full-time position. Faith rebounded with another email saying despite my last email, she still wanted to meet on Tuesday. I couldn’t believe this woman! She was trying my patience. I collected my thoughts, wrote a more direct, yet still gracious email and declined her offer. I acknowledged how awkward this situation is since I’m the one who reached out to her to schedule the interview, but she turned me off when she asked why I wanted to meet with her. She submitted her resume directly to me--- is she so busy or scattered that she didn’t remember? Whatever’s going on with this lady doesn’t bode well with wanting to bring her in to our organization. This afternoon I received a terse email from Miss Faith chiding me for thinking she didn’t know why I was contacting her (maybe because I have the email to prove it) and detailing how much she’s in need of a full-time gig. She finished by saying how qualified she is for the position and I’m doing the organization a disservice by not making time to meet with her. After reading this email, I noticed she copied my boss, like she’s tattling on me! OK… out with the gracious and in with the raw, direct truth, also copied to my boss…


I mentioned in my last email how extremely busy we are at the Painted Bride this summer and although I do appreciate your tenacity, I will not be scheduling an interview with you for our Marketing Director’s position. As it stands, I’ve expended too much time drafting gracious email responses to our exchanges this week and I simply want to close the door on this issue. Take good care and all the best as you seek full-time employment.

Sincerest regards, Mango Mama

Faith hadn’t responded to this last email by the time I left the office this afternoon and I do hope she got the message.


Monday, July 27, 2009

A Teachable Moment

We had a “teachable moment” in the Mango household on Friday. The back-story is that the kids’ summer camp hosted a talent show on Friday, which culminated its annual “Spirit Week” activities. Both Olivia and Yannick partnered with a couple of kids in their respective groups, worked out some original choreography and auditioned and won a spot in the talent show.

True to form, Olivia worked her butt off. The two other girls in her group live close to us and they got together at least four times in the evenings leading up to the show. This is in addition to their daily rehearsals during their lunch break at camp. They pulled together a great dance routine to the clean version of the Black Eye Peas’ Boom Boom Pow. They decided on black leotard and tights, with denim shorts and black and white bandanas for their costumes.

I can’t really tell you about Yannick’s preparation for the talent show. He’d vaguely mention whom he was working with when asked and on the day of the show he threw a pair of black running pants and black t-shirt into his backpack, explaining he needed the close for his costume.

Olivia’s group opened the talent show and they put it DOWN! They had terrific energy, smooth moves, they hit all their marks. The crowd went wild. The three girls exited that stage knowing they did an awesome job.

Yannick and his crew didn’t hit the stage until well after intermission. By the time to host called them to the stage, I’d had my fill of well intentioned Mariah and Keshia knock-offs. The four boys came on stage with a confident swagger and not in the black-on-black costume Yannick left the house with in the morning. They wore white, sleeveless t-shirts they’d decorated with their names, birthdates and other info, and black workout shorts with a grey stripe down the side. Their fellow campers screamed their names like they were rock stars and when another Black Eye Peas’ song, Showdown, started they surprisingly looked like a real group with “real” choreography. This lasted for about two minutes, and then the piece devolved into a free styling frenzy until the high-energy Showdown breaks into a slow countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-, at which three of the four boys would drop to the floor in a tight ball and the fourth boy would stride around the stage in slow motion. Once the countdown was over, the four boys would return to their chaotic freestyle. The crowd went wild every time the countdown hit and each of the four truly enjoyed their moment in the sun. When the boys were finished they got a standing ovation and as the youngest participants in the talent show, these cats left the stage feeling like kings.

As the talent show came to a close, we were surprised to learn the kids were competing against each other and awards would be given. None of the info sent home mentioned the talent show being a competition. First a few honorable mentions were acknowledged, and then the hosts went on to announce the 3rd place winners and guess what… it was Yannick and his boys! Olivia and I screamed our heads off as the little guys made their way to the stage to accept their prize. We then held our breath to see if Olivia would place. Unfortunately, she didn’t and she wasn’t happy.

Following the announcement of the awardees, the camp director went on and announced the winners for the Spirit Week activities and Yannick went on and was awarded an honorable mention for his Capt. Underpants costume. The charge was to dress as a unique superhero and Yannick wore his jock underwear (sans the protector) over his leotard and we pinned a pair of his boxers on the back of his Spider Man cape. Loverman wasn’t happy with his choice, but it wasn’t a battle I was willing to fight. I figured if he could sell, than good for him. Well… I guess he sold it because it was a big hit and once again the boy was making his way to the stage for more accolades.

It was a great day for Yannick and I was so happy for him, but my dear girl couldn’t understand Yannick’s good fortune. For her, it was as simple as she and her girls put in the hard work and should have at least placed. I tried to explain it isn’t always about hard work and even hard work doesn't always guarantee "a win." More often than not, there are other factors to be considered that are sometimes out of our control. Olivia and her partners in the talent show were at an immediate disadvantage as the opening act, and although they did a great job, they couldn’t trump the younger boys high energy and complete abandonment on stage. Yannick and his boys were the youngest performers in the show and the audience connected with their confidence and passion. There were only 3 or 4 acts following the boys and by the time the show came to a close, they crowd was still hyped by the little guys.

Although Yannick reveled in his glory, I’m happy to report he didn’t rub it in his sister’s face. In fact, he readily told her what a good job she did. He even offered to share his portion of his group’s $10 winnings… a whopping $2.50!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Totally Unacceptable

Yannick came home today and mentioned that his assistant camp counselor encouraged his camp group to be “gangsta” in delivering a mini-performance. Before my head exploded, I attempted to calmly ask Yannick to clarify and as his 7 year-old radar promptly noted the edge in my tone, he hastily assured me she meant “cool gangsta,” not “ghetto gangsta.” Whatever!

I dismissed his protests as he feebly tried to clean-up this young lady’s rallying call to her young, impressionable charges and let him know that in no uncertain terms was he to aspire to be “gangsta” and sat him down for a two minute monologue detailing the negative attributes associated with the “gangsta” stereotypes. I told him being “gangsta” wasn’t cool… cute… or acceptable.

I’m confident he got my message, but just in case, I followed up my discussion with Yannick with a telephone call to the camp’s director. Fortunately, she answered her phone immediately and after identifying myself, I relayed my “gangsta” exchange with Yannick and explained how I found the young lady’s comment unacceptable. The camp director asked for more details and wanted to know the context in which the comment was made. I told her exactly what Yannick said, but stressed that whatever the context, I wasn’t sending my kids to their program to have “gangsta” lauded as a plausible attribute. She promised to look into it further and would speak to her counselors.

O.K.. let’s see where this goes but her measured response has me a bit concerned. Sure, I can’t shield my kids from everything, and yes, I know that during their time at Freedom Theatre, they’re interacting with a very diverse group of people (this is partly what attracted me to the program), and while I expect to spend some amount of time deprogramming my kids from what they’re exposed to by their fellow campers, I didn’t expect to have to be so vigilant when it comes to the camp counselors.

Let’s do better people!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Bless the Child

Earlier this week the details surrounding The Creative Steps Day Care’s raggedy experience at the privately owned Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County came to light. According to news reports, Creative Steps negotiated a seasonal membership of $1900 with the club’s management that would have allowed the campers weekly group swimming sessions. The campers at Creative Steps are predominately African-American and Hispanic and once they arrived for their first visit to the club on June 29, they were met with cold stares and a less than welcoming vibe. A few of the campers even heard at least three of the club members make disparaging comments about the campers’ presence at the pool. Following this initial visit, the swim club suspended Creative Steps membership and offered to refund all of their money.

The camp doesn’t want a refund, but to offer their campers a weekly opportunity to play in an outdoor pool in a safe and clean environment. The president of the swim club has apologized but insists that his mostly-white membership are not racists, but has been told by some of the members that the campers presence at the pool will change the “complexion” of the pool. WTF?

This story has gone viral on the internet and received worldwide media attention. Although it’s apparent to me that the club’s reaction smacks of racism, I do think it’s important to offer a slightly broader perspective. As a board member of the nation’s oldest privately-owned African-American swim club, the Nile Swim Club, I know first-hand that allowing access to the pool’s facilities and amenities can sometimes cause tension between our membership and seasonal guests/rentals. But, the Nile has a robust camp program and we welcome over 200 campers to our pool daily, Monday through Friday. The camp program is a vital earned-income stream for our facility and we often find ourselves having to explain to our members the importance of our camp program in offering financial stability to the institution. Communication between our board and membership is key.

The Nile was founded 50 years ago because the Yeadon Swim Club refused membership to African-American residents of Yeadon, PA. My grandparents, Walter and Veronica Nelson, were a part of the founding group in 1959. These members decided to pool their resources together and build a club where they could come with their friends and family and feel welcome, instead of spending their money in legal action demanding that the Yeadon Swim Club become integrated. Now, 50 years later, the Yeadon Swim Club no longer exists and the Nile is still offering a respite for families and campers in the surrounding area.

It’s a sad moment for parents when they witness their children experience a real/ perceived racist act for the very first time. We all know it’s coming eventually, but when it finally hits, it’s like a punch in the gut and wears you out. You have to take a deep breath and do your best not to let the incident become a defining moment, but preparation and ongoing conversations are required because it’s still a fact of life for children of color. I faced a similar moment like the parents of the Creative Step campers earlier this year with an incident between Miss Olivia and a parent of a soccer team of an opposing team in a neighboring league, which included the parent referring to Olivia as that little colored girl with those dreaded things in her hair.

There was a call for folks to gather today in front of the Valley Swim Club and march in protest of their treatment of Creative Steps. Me, I’m not down for marching in this instance… no, I’m taking a page from my family’s history book and I reached out to Creative Step and invited them to join our program at the Nile. To be honest, I could care less about the Valley Swim Club and their raggedy, lily-white club… they can keep it. I’m confident their exclusive policies will lead them to the same demise of the Yeadon Swim Club. God bless the child that got his own.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mama Needs a Break!

Day 3 at the New Freedom Theatre’s Performing Arts Camp has come and gone and I’m happy to report… so far, so good, both Olivia and Yannick seem to be really enjoying themselves. Each day when I pick them up at 4pm they’re both hyped with plenty to share about what they learned in their various classes.

I’m happy for them, once again grateful for how seamlessly they embrace new experiences. I’m also surprised by how little seems to have changed since I attended the camp. Some of the same teachers are still teaching the acting and dance classes; latecomers still have to do 200 jumping jacks before joining their group in the morning; and the older campers are still allowed to head out at lunchtime to grab a bite at one of the fast-food joints along Broad Street.

One aspect I don’t remember is the daily homework assignments. It doesn’t seem mandatory for all of the counselors to assign homework because thankfully Olivia’s teachers have yet to request anything, but Yannick’s teacher, Mr. Kareem, has given them written tasks to complete the last three days and to be quite honest it’s working my nerves. I don’t think this cat understands what completion of these assignments entails and to be honest, Loverman and I haven't been able to identify the relevance of what's been requested. During the school year, we take homework really seriously and there’s no TV, video games or going out to play until all homework is done. Both Loverman and I work with the kids to make sure they get it done correctly and have a handle on what’s going on. As a soon-to-be 5th grader, Olivia doesn’t need much assistance, but it’s a different story with Yannick. He likes one of us to sit down and work with him and by the end of the school year I was readily looking forward to a break in the daily homework grind. But no…it’s only been 2.5 weeks since the school year ended and here I am again, helping the little guy with his spelling and penmanship. Damn!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Being Mindful

So, we’re back at the Nile Swim Club this summer and this year it seems like we’re spending a lot more time at the pool because I’ve been appointed to the board and have been handling the coordination of the summer camps and facility rentals. Olivia picked right back up where she left off last summer and is swimming like a fish. Yannick is doing pretty good too and has been working on treading in 5 feet.

Most of the same lifeguards we had last year have returned and even though I remember them being playful with my two kids last year, this year I notice something a little different. I think my 10 year-old little girl may be flirting just a bit and enjoying the playful attention a tad more than I’m comfortable with. I’m not only one who noticed it either, my mom commented on it while she was hanging out with us at the pool the other day.

I’m not sure how I feel about this and I'm trying not to overreact because she isn’t acting inappropriately or anything, but I do want to make her aware that she’s growing up and mindful of what’s she’s projecting. I'm getting the sense that the hard work of raising my girl is really about to begin.

Monday, July 6, 2009

BET's Balancing Act

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I caught the 2009 BET Awards. I, like most of my friends, wanted to see what BET would do in regards to honoring Michael Jackson.

The show started out o.k. with New Edition hitting all the right moves in their attempt to pay homage to the Jackson 5, even if they couldn’t keep up vocally. Jamie Fox opened with a funny parody of Jackson’s Beat It video, but after that, the show went down hill for me.

What struck me the most throughout the evening were the endless promos for BET’s summer line-up, or more specifically, two of their new reality shows… Tina & Toya and premiering later this month, Frankie & Neffe, a spin-off of the Keysia Cole’s: The Way It Is.

No, I have never been a fan of BET and yes, I’m sure the network wouldn’t make the investment to produce these programs if they weren’t confident they’d find an audience to support the programming, but damn, why does BET continuously pander to what I’d like to refer to the lowest common denominator?

Could it be that BET is attempting to provide a little balance as Black folks have ascended to some of the highest offices in the land, i.e. the President of the United States, Michelle Obama as our First Lady, U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice and White House Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett? Wouldn't it be revolutionary for BET to produce a reality show that follows the strenuous training of Scarlett Knights, Rutgers University, or follow Chris Rock's wife, Maalak, as she mentors a group of underserved Brooklyn teens through her Journey for Change program.

While so many of us are striving to put our best foot forward in our daily lives, in our communities and even beyond on the world’s stage, it seems as if BET does its best to remind us that even though you can take the girl out of the hood, it’s often very difficult to get the hood out of the girl.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Days of Freedom

Tomorrow, Olivia and Yannick begin the same six-week summer camp program at Philadelphia’s Freedom Theatre, the same summer camp that I attended through my preteen and teen years. I’m both excited and apprehensive for them because this program ain’t no joke, but I know when it’s all over they’re going to be all the more sharper.

Freedom Theater will always have a special place in my heart because my experiences at Freedom and the life-lessons I learned during my time at Freedom inform so much of who I am today, but Freedom’s bold, uncompromising methods will be a wake-call for both Olivia and Yannick. I wish I could be a fly on the wall the first time Miss Pat walks in and demands 200 jumping jacks. Hell, until two weeks ago, my kids couldn’t even do 10 jumping jacks without bouncing and bobbing all over the room. And, I don’t think it’s because they’re uncoordinated, it’s just because instead of having a traditional gym class at their school, they have a movement class. I’m happy for even that, given the state of many of our school systems that have eliminated gym or physical activity all together.

But, all that ends tomorrow because Freedom’s rigorous program will immerse the two of them in theater, movement and vocal arts and I’m sure after 7 hours at Freedom, they’ll discover muscles they never knew they had. Shoot, I wish I could join them over the next six weeks, because during my days at Freedom, I didn’t have any weight issues and physically, I felt invincible.

In spite of Freedom’s stellar reputation as a premier Black theater in the country and training program, it has had a tumultuous time financially, but through all of their crisis’ they have maintained their performing arts school and summer program, and because of the organization’s fortitude, I am now able to watch the magic they're sure to work on my two children.

Freedom’s summer program seems to have changed very little since when I attended almost 29 years ago. At the camp orientation, both Olivia and Yannick were assigned a monologue they have to deliver for their camp placement tomorrow. I vividly remember the anxiety I felt each year preparing for these placement auditions….butterflies in the pit of my stomach, my voice shaking as I begin the monologue in front of three instructors seated behind a long wooden table in the front of the room… and finally, having to sing a song after I completed the monologue, because although I can do lots of things, I absolutely cannot sing! Despite all of this, I cherish my time at Freedom because I know it prepared me for life, because it was not really about preparing me to be a performer, but to perform at my best at whatever I’m doing, and that’s exactly what Loverman and I want for the both our babies.