Archive | August, 2017

Before Age Twelve: Reflecting on My Socialization around Race, Part 1

Race Pride Socialization around Race

Today an article came across my desk about raising race conscious children. I clicked on it because my six-year-old grandson is sitting across from me playing video games. As a grandmother, I am committed to him being equipped to live in a diverse and complex world. As I read through tips and stories, advice and commentaries, I paused to think about my own socialization around race. It influences who I am today.

“No one is better than you.” Those words were branded on my young mind as one of my earliest memories about race. My parents never said White people will try to make you feel they are superior, but it was what they meant. Around the dinner table or while ease dropping, I heard adults talk about Dr. King with sheer adoration mixed with sadness, always fearing for his life. My conversations with my father stand out vividly because he always seemed like it was urgent for me to get certain lessons from him. From the age of seven to eleven, I worked with him to earn extra spending money above my allowance. He cleaned an office building on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles. While I emptied ash trays and dusted the desks, he vacuumed the floors and emptied the trash cans, always exhorting over his shoulder some lesson for that day.

He drilled me on what ifs. “What if someone stole your wallet, what would you have left? “My education” was the proper answer. He cherished education and migrated his small family to Los Angeles so that I would avoid a Jim Crow life in Montgomery. Later in life I learned I was one of 3.5 million African Americans who left the South between WWII and 1970. It was 1957 and I was almost five when we settled in our new land of opportunity—the place where education was free.

He would tell me that most people were good, including White people but he quickly followed up that there were “some mighty bad White people, too.” He urged me to treat people well and to become a citizen of the world. He told me White people respected education and I needed to get all I could.

He sought out opportunities for me to be with White people because there were none in our neighborhood around Central Avenue (the Black Hollywood of LA) and 23rd Street. The only differences I saw were the Mexicans who sold buckets of oranges from door to door for fifty cents a bucket. My mother was always ready to accept a bucket and hand over a fifty-cent piece. There was little eye contact from either party, just genuine politeness. The Japanese people did not live in our neighborhood but were there every day trimming hedges and manicuring lawns. As kids, we thought that’s what they do. I did not know all had lost homes and businesses during WWII, during the internment period. Eddie and Tony, the Koreans, owned the small grocery store on 25th Street where I bought comic books and the magazines with all of the pop song lyrics. They called me “Little Girl.” Frank drove the Helm’s Bakery truck a few days a week and he was the only White man I would see regularly in person other than on television and in stores.

Television was a trip. If a Black person appeared on television the phones blew up with: “Hurry! There’s a colored person on channel 2.” You knew to call all friends and neighbors. It showed how invisible we were and how powerful the medium was. To see ourselves on television was nothing short of a miracle. It dominated the playground news for the next day.
I first came face to face with differences when my father sent me to the Hollywoodland Camp for Girls. There was a sea of blonde hair, freckles, and braces. I don’t remember feeling different until it was time for bed and all the girls where brushing their flowing hair and I as putting mine up in pink sponge rollers. They asked if it hurt and I said no. I asked if the braces hurt, and they said sometimes. Many had acne and pimples and spent a ritualistic evening with Noxzema and Clearasil. I had clear smooth skin that they seemed to admire. I made some friends for just the week we were there. Once we came back to the real world, I never heard from them or thought of them again. I think we instinctively knew we were in an artificial land at camp.

Hair was an issue, though. I wanted to swim every day and was good at it. Back home the summer was not complete without a daily trip to Twenty Second Street Playground where there was a nice size pool. When I left for camp, my mother’s parting words were probably: “You better not get your hair wet.” Once coarse black hair was wet, nothing could tame it but a hot straightening comb. I was not of the age to use one and was totally dependent on my mother to tame my wooly and unruly hair once it was wet. I often wondered what it would feel like to a Breck Girl who could get her hair wet and shake it off.

I am grateful I grew up with race pride that did not have to demean another group for me to feel worthy. My parents dreamed of a world where my friends would represent the real world. If only they could see me now.

~~~
*Years later when my husband and I bought our first home from a Korean family, we discovered a covenant in the documents: illegal to sell to Negroes and Indians.

To be continued…

Stand in the Middle of Your Own Miracle

Tamara Hamilton Accredited Speaker award stageIn just over a week, I will stand in the middle of my own miracle. I will stand before fifteen hundred international members and guests at the Toastmasters Convention in Vancouver, Canada and vie to become an Accredited Speaker. It is the highest distinction Toastmasters International bestows upon a professional speaker. For years, I have dreamed of being an Accredited Speaker with Toastmasters International. But, I never took the first step. Year after year, I gazed upon the requirements and told myself a false story. The story was that I was not good enough, not polished enough, not ready to be considered as an Accredited Speaker. After all, there are only sixty-nine in the world as of today.

I got caught up in my own story of inadequacy that I never took that critical first step. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us that “We don’t to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Never mind that I had been a professional speaker in my world of work for thirty years as a leadership trainer and executive coach. This just seemed to be at another level of competence that was beyond my grasp.

toastmasters international logoIn some ways, I was right. My style of speaking in the world of leadership and organization development was one of giving presentations with a professorial style. I had been a professor for over fifteen years. It was a hard habit to break. Being a Toastmaster over nine years has helped me to gain “platform skills,” the precision of using the stage as performance and engaging audiences to be of service to them. It was not about how much I knew and displaying my knowledge and expertise for all to marvel.

It was now about connection and transformation. It was also about inspiration, motivation, and influence. It was about mastery of the spoken word. I begin to ask first, as recommended by my mentor and Accredited Speaker, Dr. Dilip Abayasekara, “What does the audience need from me?” This journey has changed how I prepare and deliver a speech. I have reached a new level of discipline and practice that defines expertise.

accredited speaker logo toastmasters internationalIf you have ever had a dream without a plan, it is no wonder you might feel stuck, like me. Once I decided to pursue this big, audacious goal, I mapped a strategy. But, first, I had to see the vision. I had to see me on the big stage. So, I took a picture last year of me in front of the big jumbotron screen with the Accredited Speaker logo in the background. This picture anchored my vision. I would be on a journey like any (s)hero in a story. I needed help and I reached out. I found many hands reaching back to me to support my journey. When I received less than great reviews on my practice speeches, each critique made the speech stronger, made me more resilient.

I am now almost there: ready to stand in the middle of my own miracle.

Note: The Accredited Speaker finals will have a live feed around the world on August 26, 2017 at 8:30 am Pacific Time.

Speaker on Conflict Analysis Takes a Journey as a White-Haired Graduate Student in the Age of Blackboard

speaker on conflict analysis basks in learning

When I began the out-of-body experience of returning to “school” in January of this year to study conflict and race at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, I had no idea of the wonderment of the journey. At 65, I was filled with the fear of the unknown: what would it be like to be in class with my grandchildren??? Would I remember how to read academically? Could I still write a research paper? What if I am just too slow? In our senior years, the brain cells are not what they used to be.

I remember the first day of the Conflict 600 class and hearing students talk about the reading assignment. I had arrived early for a seat in the front—the old-school way. I had a new spiral notebook and colored pens. Most had laptops and iPADS. They chattered about the syllabus.

“Excuse me.” I summoned the courage to intervene in lightning fast conversation.
“Uh…you already have the syllabus?” Gulp.
“There was an assignment already??” I must have sounded incredulously out of touch. That’s when I realized Blackboard had to become my best friend. Everyone had logged in, downloaded the syllabus, prepared the first assignment, and entered ready to go. I sat in silence as the discussion swirled around me. The invisible dunce cap was a perfect fit.

One student, all of twenty-four years old, sensed my dread and whispered: “Don’t worry. I will help you with Blackboard.” She emailed me articles that escaped me no matter how I searched.

When I missed a class, another shared her notes. For a final group project, my partner was twenty-one and had graduated from my children’s high school. But, our team work was genuine and the result pleased the professor.

The Happy Report after a few short weeks:

The “kids” were amazing! My white hair was an instant magnet. One day I was late, a classmate approached me after class and said: “We get nervous when you are late. You drop such pearls of wisdom every time you speak.” I just melted. All of my fear and angst floated away—even my fear of Blackboard!

As the weeks rolled by, I adapted to the pace of learning. I always felt behind in the reading until I relearned how to read research articles again after forty years. My questions got better and the angst subsided. I went from drowning to floating to swimming through the material by the last week of classes.

The professors treated me like living history. Rich Rubenstein, who wrote books on urban unrest, saw me as a valuable oral historian as I described the nights I watched Watts burn from my back porch. Many times, he would say: “You guys won’t remember this because you weren’t born, but Tamara does!” We would then go into an enchanting dialogue about James Baldwin, the Black Panthers in Los Angeles, and the gentrification occurring in Watts and Crenshaw. The class sat in wide eyed wonder.

Tehema Lopez Bunyasi gave me the honorable title of “The Forest Gump of the Class.” I wear it proudly as someone who has lived a full and adventurous life: teaching poetry in a minimum men’s prison, living in a German village for seven years (no military), traveling with female ex-gang members as they taught courses in nontraditional careers for displaced and battered women, to teaching public speaking skills for the Obama White House.

The icing on the cake:

I was humbled when my name was called to receive the James H. Laue Scholarship Endowment. Dr. Laue was a founder of the field of conflict analysis. He stood on the balcony with Dr. King that awful day in April 1968. The recognition fueled my passion to contribute to the field and continue being a speaker on conflict analysis and resolution.

This whole experience remains magical. I am not wondering what I will do when I grow up and graduate. I am basking in the joy of learning and being without the pressure of what’s next?

As the new school year approaches, I look forward to empowering experiences with Blackboard.