If I Were Something That I Am Not…

Earlier this month, Gene Marks, over at Forbes.com, wrote a “provocative” (read that as “deliberately controversial to garner page views”) piece entitled “If I Were a Poor Black Kid” and set off an internet firestorm of heated responses. In it he notes he is a privileged middle aged white man with none of the hindrances he seeks to help this unknown “kid” overcome.  You can read it yourself here..

I responded on Facebook and light years later, here’s my blog response:

This piece is well-intentioned AND incredibly condescending and insulting. It appeals to the dream of meritocracy that says people are where they are because of “hard work”.

Let me tell you why I’ve had a pretty successful life:

a) I was born to Nigerians for whom education is the Holy Grail,

b) I was a smart and pleasant kid,

c) My public school teachers adored me,

d) Because they loved me, those teachers looked out for me like I was their own child,

e) When they found out about Prep for Prep, they made sure my mom knew about it and I applied,

f) That’s where the challenging work started–during the rigorous admissions process,

g) I got into Prep and completed their tough academic program,

h) I entered an all-girls private school in the 7th grade upon completion, thanks to Prep,

i) School was easy as pie compared to Prep and I did well there (mind you, this school is quite academically challenging but school has NEVER been hard for me–get the picture?),

j) I gained acceptance into an Ivy League college and so forth and so on.

I could go on about what happened in my life but I’d like to point out the following: I got to where I got because of luck and circumstance.  I’m bright, great.  I worked hard at times, but I didn’t do any of the things this individual suggested a child do.  I had the good fortune of strategic opportunities and a supportive community.

I’m not arguing about what it takes to be successful.  I’m interested in why this individual overlooked the classism that rules the fate of so many people in this country regardless of race.  Also, why does he look past the glare of his own privilege that would allow him to write such a thing?

People aren’t poor because they don’t work hard.  Poor people work harder than any set of people I know.  There are a multitude of factors and lost opportunities that leave people stuck in poverty.

The construct of classism is dynamic in its ability to keep people working hard and getting nowhere to the point where some people don’t bother.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It is only by the Grace of God that I have the parents I have.  I’m Nigerian.  Messing around in school is not an option.  I have the best friends in the world.  I have always been surrounded by people who support me.  THAT is the difference.

No amount of condescension from an out of touch beneficiary of the very skewed system that deprives “Poor Black Kids” of resources and opportunities will galvanize generations of disenfranchised youth of any race.  Instead, I call for the ones that “made it” to reach back to those that making their way.  A conversation and compassion go a long way.  I wonder if Mr. Marks can find that at the library.

As we come to the close of 2011, let us commit to being grateful for who and where we are in life and giving back to those who aren’t quite there.  Happy New Year!

Halfway Mark

So today marked 15 days into my 30 day workout challenge. I’d love to write that it’s been marvelous and I’m a new woman. In reality, the more I workout on my own, the more I know that I’m someone who needs to be around people while I sweat.

Doing my Bikram yoga sessions have become boring and I don’t look forward to them. That’s odd for someone who’s a Bikram junkie. The missing element isn’t just a humid, 105 degree room. It’s the people. I underestimated the power of being in a room with others who are pushing like I am.

That’s odd considering that I work hard to go into my “yoga zone” in class where only I and my reflection in the mirror are all that exist. With no one to tune out, I’m left with just me and no one to stop me if I want to sit out a posture for anything less than exhaustion.

Something’s gotta give. I will continue my challenge of course regardless but I’m committed to breakthroughs. Actually, in spite of the boredom, there have been breakthroughs. I’m able to go deeper in certain asanas and I have a better idea how to improve each and every pose.

The challenge here is that I’m responsible for the energy of this challenge. The breakthroughs come from within. I kindly gave myself a break today which means a double tomorrow, upping the challenge ante–a welcome change. I have 15 more days to improve my practice. That is more than enough to keep me going.

Sometimes You’re the Bug

In life, sometimes you’re the bug and sometimes you’re the windshield. In the 9 days of my 30-day fitness challenge I’ve been bug and windshield interchangeably.

I’ve powered through workouts often but there are some days when I can barely raise my arms to do half moon during my Bikram session. It’s been difficult maintaining integrity during a yoga session where I could just nap and no one would be the wiser. I hang on a weak thread of accountability knowing that I will come here and report to you. I can’t stomach lying so I do the yoga when I really, really don’t want to. Thanks for being my partner in this challenge.

My brother has accompanied me on my hour-long walks and pushup journey. He does not like crunches and can barely make it through the first 2 postures in the Bikram series. I’m looking forward to his first proper Bikram yoga class when we get back to New York.

He’s been supportive and stayed in the room as I finish my sessions every once in a while. His being there pushes me that extra mile to improve and endure.

His presence leads me to difference between being the squashed bug or unshaken windshield: community. I can’t do this without support. Very little would exist in my world without my community of family, friends and unexpected cheerleaders. Again, thank you.

Secret’s Out

So the big open secret of Tessism.com is that I’m a bit addicted to 30-day challenges. It is in that spirit that I’m committing to a 30-day challenge every month or every other month!

I reviewed last year’s November challenge with flashbacks at Random Tessism and came to the realization (again) that reserving challenges to once a year in November is not sufficient. Squeezing personal growth challenges into one month does not do them justice. Many of last year’s daily challenges deserve an entire month, if not lifetime, for their honing.

I have always done 30-day Bikram yoga challenges, taking 30 classes in 30 days. It’s time to apply those challenges to other areas of my life and see if I can incorporate them into my lifestyle.

This month’s challenge is to do 30 days of Bikram yoga, walk an hour every day and complete 100 pushups and crunches a day. I took a break from the flurry of gratitude blogging that was 30 days of Tessism and now I’m off to another challenge.

So far the crunches have been great, the yoga challenging, the walks reflective and the pushups just plain hateful!

My walks have been magical especially when I take them under moonlight. I’ve been listening to music and sermons and they make the hour fly by.

I’m listening to audio of Bikram himself for my daily class and that’s been difficult since I cannot reproduce the same high temperature of the studio. I’m really focusing on improving my discipline and the postures little by little. I see some improvement already!

The crunches are a no-brainer. They are a challenge but I can power my through them…Now the pushups, I despise. The following articled helped me ensure I’m doing the pushups in proper form: Doing Perfect Pushups and Proper Push Up Form: How to do a Push Up. Thanks to them, I’ve made modifications that make the daily hundred manageable.

I started December 2 and will see what December 31 brings. It’s a nice way to power in the new year. I’ll let you know how it goes!