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Rites of Passage: What I learned 15 years after my high school graduation…

Rites of Passage: What I learned 15 years after my high school graduation…

Early morning calls and late night text messages would sum up my last week.

It’s been fifteen years since I walked across the football field at Benton Harbor High School.  I was honored to witness the class of 2017 enter the ramp to participate in the graduation festivities.  Embarking upon an unforgettable experience.

It was a beautiful day, and the bleachers were packed with loved ones waiting to celebrate the annual event.  I stood on the bridge looking over greeting the seniors and some that I had the privilege of working with over the last six months.  They were entering the ramp for the last time as seniors, and would return to the ramp after commencement as alumni.  What a feeling, right?

I watched the students march down the ramp, and thought to myself they will never experience this moment again.  I hope they embrace everything that this moment has to offer.  For many of them they didn’t believe that this moment would ever come, or if they would live to see this day.  They will now make the decisions of pursuing a collegiate experience, military, or entering the workforce.

I had many takeaways, but I’ll list a few:

  1. Embrace every special moment.  Some times it takes years to prepare for one day.  A day that you will never forget.
  2. Take risks.  Pray about it first,  because sometimes the risk is worth the reward.
  3. Don’t apologize for your journey.  It’s yours, and no one else’s.

To my 2k17 babies and all the graduates of 2017, YOU GOT THIS! Greatness is ahead, go and get it!

XOXO,

RJ

Sit back, Give back, and Observe: <3

Sit back, Give back, and Observe: <3

The past week I forced myself to chill, and observe everything around me.  I spent most of my time preparing for my current class, and the events that were going on at the work place.

On Friday I had the chance to pour into a few of our seniors that will be graduating from high school in less than two weeks.  Their minds have changed about life after high school, and at times I can relate.  We don’t want to admit it but we can be terrified of the next phase of our lives.

It’s normal.

The seniors ventured from the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center to spend the evening with the 6-8 year olds at the Youth Campus.  They played board games, read books, colored, and I was able to sit back and observe the magic happen.

I listened to the conversations that the seniors had amongst themselves saying, “we were once their size.”  I chuckled to myself and said we all have a starting point, and a place to end.

 

As the teens will transition on to life after high school, and conclude our season together they have taught me a few things.  The feeling of letting some things ride, the power of giving back, and the knowledge that comes with observation.  I’m going to miss my 2k17, but I’m believing that they will all soar to the next level.

 

XOXO,

RJ

 

What #MOOD are you displaying on a daily?

What #MOOD are you displaying on a daily?

Nothing turns my world upside like hearing a student say to me, “Ms. RJ, why are you always happy?”

It’s seems like a no brainer right?  My first thought is what are my students observing on a regular basis for them to even ask me that?  This is not my first time receiving this question, and I’m sure this will not be the last. I will tell you this was my first time hearing that question from a young lady, and it disturbed me.

I was always taught that you never bring your personal life to the work place.  Even though it’s hard to do sometimes, you have to revert back to your original teachings.  Your problems are your problems, don’t try to burden everyone else with your issues.

I told the young lady that I begin every day with listing what I am thankful for, and if she didn’t have a journal to state the three reasons she should start  on social media, and see how the movement grows from there.  More of a reason to be #SteeleThankful 😉

In that moment, I was reminded again that people pay close attention to your aura.  We must always be mindful of the environment that we decide to reside in.

It was a rough week with all the controversy in the community, but I knew I had to keep a positive attitude.  The children in our community are watching everything that we do.  My peace this week was knowing that I had a busy weekend ahead with the Author’s Spotlight at the local library, and the Stock Da Bar fundraiser on Saturday night.

Don’t allow your personal life to affect those around you.  They didn’t ask for your drama, and aren’t allowed to pay the tax on your misguided emotions.

Spread <3

XOXO,

RJ

Where are “WE” going? (BHM 2017)

Where are “WE” going? (BHM 2017)

I am exhausted!

WHY?!

It’s been quite a few sleepless nights this month.  I’m not complaining though.  This year’s black history month has been LIT.  I can go on and on about the accomplishments of celebrities this month with the Oscars and Grammys but I want to focus on where we’re going.

How can we incorporate black history within the schools, and outside of the school systems.  It’s evident especially with the movies such as Hidden Figures, there is so much we still need to accomplish.  Our children are suffering with a lack of knowledge in a culture/history that is being wiped away.

One of the reasons I insisted on starting a children’s book series is to highlight or bring awareness to the stories that are often untold.  There is one thing that I noticed that we need to continue to do outside of social media.  We need to have more discussions about black history, and what we can do to form unity within our communities.  On Sunday, I had the privilege of hearing one of my friends speak about where we are going in our community.  Our community is 97% black with the neighboring town being the complete opposite.  How can we work together to strengthen our communities?

 

Citadel
Benton Harbor, MI

 

The discussions were raw, uncut, and above all timely.  We discussed everything from the Middle Passage, Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the present with our state of education and healthcare not only in our community but the nation.

I left the discussion feeling empowered, and decided to take a stroll around downtown.

I began to reflect on the values, and even the movement of my grandparents, and great grandparents.  The sacrifices that were made in order for us to have a better life, and didn’t allow a “NO” to keep us from where we needed or wanted to be.  I realized the potential that was within me, and the importance of acting now instead of later.  The time is now to reclaim what is ours, and not allow one NO to keep us from where we are destined to be.

My wheels are in motion, and striving for nothing but greatness for the second quarter of 2017.

Above all I know that I am #SteeleThankful for the passion to serve the community that raised me.

XOXO,

RJ

Take care of home…don’t neglect your dreams!

Take care of home…don’t neglect your dreams!

I struggled with the post for today.  It’s not that I didn’t have anything to talk about.  I had a very busy week so I honestly have lots to share.  I won’t keep this post long though.  Highlights and lessons learned over the last 7 days.

Let’s Go!

  1.  GO HARD FOR YOU:  If you can go hard for someone else, you better believe you can go hard for yourself.  I realized that after marketing for an event that we had on Saturday.  People noticed both near and far.  It was a brilliant marketing strategy that engaged the community for FREE!  You can do the same for yourself.  Promote yourself daily because people are watching!
  2. DON’T SUBSCRIBE TO NEGATIVE ENERGY:  You don’t have to entertain those that are constantly negative.  They have their own issues.  You continue to spread the good vibes with them, but you don’t have to receive their toxic behavior.  Guard your spirit.
  3. EXPLORE YOUR COMMUNITY:  There are some amazing things going on in your own backyard.  Someone is using their skill to enrich your community that you may be unaware of.  I discovered that my local airport is housing one of the fighter planes from World War II.  We took about 25 students to view the “Red Tails” plane that is 1 of 7 left of the model used by the Tuskegee Airmen.
  4. WRITE THE VISION:  Make it plain.  Going back to the basics of writing down all of my dreams, and what I want to happen within the next six months to a year.  Post reminders around my house, so I am constantly reminded of what I want and pray that it’s aligned with God’s will for my life.
  5. TAKE ACTION:  Pretty self explanatory right? Do what you have to do to make things happen.  Take the leap of faith, and do what’s best for your future.  You owe it to yourself, your community, and the world to be the best person you can be.  Just Do It!

Don’t forget to take care of home.  Your dreams are just as important as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah, Denzel Washington, or Taraji P. Henson visions.  They took risks, and didn’t neglect their dreams.  So much is in store for you and I.  Let’s get out there and make it happen!

XOXO,

RJ

Red Tails (P-51C Mustang) – Tuskegee Airmen
Benton Harbor, MI
Dear Benton Harbor, You will always be my secret place…

Dear Benton Harbor, You will always be my secret place…

Population of over 10,000.  Predominately black in population.  Some would say that most are living at the poverty level.  It’s home to the Whirlpool world headquarters.  Right on the shores of Lake Michigan.  I’ve taken you for granted before.  I must admit.  I love you.

I’ve lived and worked in many cities across the country.  I’ve traveled.    At the end of the day, there’s no place like home.

We all need a secret place.  A place to regroup.  It’s always been my secret place.

I can remember living in Raleigh, NC, and I would be itching to go home when things became absolutely unbearable at work, or in my personal life.  My friends would joke about my retreat back home would leave me recharged.

But sometimes home changes.

After my father died I knew that home would change.  I just didn’t know how it would change.

I often ride by the old family home, and think about what could have been.  What should have been? What was?

Home isn’t the same, but it’s up to me to make new memories.

This week I will embark on a journey that will absolutely blow my mind.  I will be traveling to the World Burns Congress.

Being a burn survivor has become a part of my life now, and so I’m traveling to a secret place to regroup.  I didn’t intend to make this a long post today, but thought that I should prepare you for the what is to come.

I will be looking forward to sharing all of the upcoming events that will come out of this week excursion.

I’m leaving my secret place in order to bring more love and inspiration to you.

We shall chat soon.

Benton Harbor, I love you.  That will never change.  It’s time for change, and a remix to my secret place.

 

Xoxo,

R.J.

Disconnect: Communication Breakdown, What now?!

Disconnect: Communication Breakdown, What now?!

Communication is important right?

The bridge you are currently looking at is the bridge that connects my hometown (Benton Harbor) to the neighboring town of St. Joseph both cities in Michigan.

Benton Harbor, MI
Benton Harbor, MI

I can remember being a little girl and being excited when the light would turn red, which symbolized all traffic must stop in order for the bridge to rise. Why was the bridge rising?

The view from the car all you could see is one side of the bridge. It wasn’t until the bridge was back to its original position that you were able to view the sailboat that needed to pass from one side of the bridge to the other. Sometimes the boat was big but often times the boat was small with a huge sail pole. Either way it goes, the bridge has to go up to let it pass.

Now, that I’m in my 30s I can admit that this occurrence still fascinates me. I also thought what if there was a communication breakdown and the bridge did not raise by the time the sailboat made it to the bridge. What happens then?

Will the boat turn around and try another way?

I found myself in the scenario of the sailboat that was not communicating with the operator of the bridge. Last week it felt as though I was arriving to the bridge but no entry. “Are my lights on, is the horn working, what’s going on?” Well, not literally but that’s how I was feeling. Everything I was trying was not bringing forth results, or it was leading me down a dead end.

Maybe this isn’t the path I’m supposed to take? Should I give up? I thought I was living my life on purpose.

When it comes to living this life on purpose there will be moments when you feel like the little sailboat that is denied entry. What should you do?

Keep trying until you do.

I received an email from an amazing Queen named Chakayla Taylor and I felt as though she knew exactly what I was going through. Anything is possible with God. I mean anything. When I feel no one is watching, oh best believe someone is. You must stay consistent, and pressing forward.

Don’t worry about the likes, shares, or follows. Continue to provide your audience with beneficial content to make their world a little bit better. I’m believing for great things to come for Steele Lens, Adventures of Alleykats, and Final 48 Project. I can’t give up now. This little sailboat that’s carrying “the girl behind the lens,” has a date to make it to the other side of the bridge.

How Long? Frustration…Confusion…Intimidation…Distraction…

How Long? Frustration…Confusion…Intimidation…Distraction…

How long Lord?

How long do I have to wait for the right opportunity?
How long do I have to wait for “the one?”
How long before you bless my kids to do better or want better?
How long before you deliver my family member from their addiction?
How long do I have to wait before I can pay off this debt?
How long before this flight leaves? (Lol my life in 2015 😩)
How long do I have to pray before I see a breakthrough?

Well…

I think the answer to all of these questions is in God’s timing. We have to be aligned within His will, or there’s really no way this thing called life will work.

At times I can become distracted.  That feeling usually leads me down a path that is hard to recover from.  We can become distracted by window shopping, and enter a store front that we had no business entering.  The intimidation of investing in that new shirt or skirt.  Receiving the credit card statement, or looking at your bank account the next day/month is a level of confusion.  A month later when you’re unable to make a payment on a bill, you become FRUSTRATED.  Do you get my drift?

It leads me back to the first question.  How long?

How long do you want this cycle to continue?  How long before I am delivered from the terrible decision making in my life?

Do you want to be delivered from the situation that you’re currently in.

YES, R.J. YES!

Shoot, I do too. Lol.  I can go through all of the above emotions within one day, and I find myself saying, How long, Lord?  When will that windfall that I really need happen?

Are you ready?
Are you ready? Where are you going?

 

You aren’t ready!

Ouch.

What changes do you (we) need to make in order to choose the path that is right, and stop expecting God to do EVERYTHING.  We have to roll up our sleeves, and get dirty.

So, How long before the breakthrough?

No one knows the answer to that.  You have to keep believing, keep plugging away, and don’t get defeated.  It is TOUGH, but I know it will be worth it.

XOXO,

R.J.

 

Ride the wave 🏄🏾, with a flashlight! 🔦

Ride the wave 🏄🏾, with a flashlight! 🔦

Last week was jam packed with goodies, so let me get straight to it!

Tuesday:

I attended my weekly “Discipleship Class” at One Church Empowerment Center in Grand Rapids, MI.  The four week class has enlightened and encouraged me through this journey of my life.  Learning to embrace abandoning MY PRIDE in order to do the work of the Kingdom.  I arrived home to complete the story for The Final 48 Project #GriefTalkTuesday photo campaign.  Be sure to check it out on Facebook and join the conversation.  AH-MAY-ZING testimony that you don’t want to miss.

Wednesday:

Answering Emails, and ironically I went to sleep feeling quite blah.  I was overwhelmed with the supplies I need to purchase, and truly holding on to faith.

Thursday Morning:

Early morning I began gathering my things for a freelance assignment that I was doing in the evening.  I received a text message from one of my friends.  I’m not sure if I was still sleep because I misunderstood what he was saying in the first two texts.  Until I checked my email.

North Carolina Central University, SLIS Alumni Newsletter
North Carolina Central University, SLIS Alumni Newsletter

My book was highlighted in our ALUMNI NEWSLETTER!!! **tootsie roll, running man, and mc hammer typewriter dances**

What an honor, and I honestly have to give all the glory to God.  Only He could turn my morning around, and produce that type of joy in my heart.  My new hashtag is the #ReviewsDontLie see for yourself on Amazon and our social media sites under @alleykatsbooks

Thursday Evening:

I was working with the Boys and Girls Club Teen Center in Benton Harbor, MI for their annual summer b-ball program.  It was their Night Court – Draft Day.  It was really cool to see so many young men in the community off the streets, and engaging in activities that encourages teamwork and discipline.  The special guest this year was NBA Star from the Denver Nuggets, Wilson Chandler.  Chandler is also a native of Benton Harbor, MI, and was in the area to give back and to remind us all that dreams really do come true.  You have to believe and keep working towards every goal that you have set for yourself.  We were able to take this photo,

Wilson and I
Wilson and I

along with a copy of my book for his children.  Welcome to the Alleykats Club!!! I told you everyone is apart of the Club.  Are you rocking with us, yet?  Grab your copy here!

I ended the week with friends and family, celebrating upcoming weddings, open houses, a BBQ, and Sunday morning church service.

The road may seem uncertain, and you may feel like you’re drowning at times.  I encourage you to jump on that surfboard, pull out your flashlight, and be sure to ride the WAVE!

From me to you, with love.

R.J.

 

 

 

I AM THE GREATEST! 💪🏾🏆

I AM THE GREATEST! 💪🏾🏆

It’s important to affirm yourself daily.  Stand in the mirror; say to yourself, “I AM THE GREATEST!”

On Friday, I viewed the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali live on ESPN.  Ali spent the last decade planning his funeral, and I must say it was everything that he represented.  His final ride through his hometown, and finally resting at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky left everyone in awe.

The pride and love from residents and fans left me speechless.  There is one memory that was expressed by Ali’s daughter Hana that I will never forget:

“My father would have a recurring dream years ago. He dreamed that he was running down Broadway Ave in Louisville. He said people were waving and cheering. He waved back. Then it just stopped. He began to fly.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.41.44 AM

Storytelling is great because I believe they are our way to keep those special moments/memories alive.  It seems as though the best stories are always told once a person has transitioned from mortal to immortal.  Over the past week on social media, and through various interviews the world was able to express their special memories of Muhammad Ali.  Especially the classic line from one of my favorite movies, “His mama named him Clay, umma call him Clay.”   Can you guess the movie? Lol.

I was able to meet Ali when he resided in a neighboring town when I was a little girl. My memory was when he singled my sister and I out to come and greet him at the Berrien County Youth Fair. One of those, “who me?” moments.  Out of all the people walking around at the fair he wanted to greet us.  It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  To so many people he was a legend, I mean seriously he was the greatest to ever do it, but he was truly a gentle giant.

Ali was unafraid and unapologetic.  He believed in equality and justice, both in and out of the boxing ring.  He didn’t care about your religious background, color, or any other preference.  He just wanted everyone to be treated fairly.

After the tragic event that occurred in Orlando over the weekend I think it’s time that we ALL take a long look in the mirror.  Love on ourselves and each other.  Remind ourselves that we are the greatest.  You are the best possible you that only YOU CAN BE!  In this moment, you are striving to live a better life and don’t apologize for being you.  Daily we strive to be more Christ like, and we also fail in many areas but the main thing is that we keep trying.  We can never be the GREATEST person that ever walked this earth, but we can sure try to be the greatest version of ourselves.

Xoxo,

R.J.