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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Flying to Montgomery

I am flying to Montgomery, AL tomorrow. I am a bit frazzled because I am not the world's greatest packer. I am not even in the top 2 billion. I keep throwing things in my bag. Since I am flying that needs to stop because I am not checking a bag. I am taking one carryon. So I need to pack smart which is not something I do well. And my mom is not here to help me. And yes, I was in the Army and no, I did not learn how to pack then either.

Aside from my packing woes, I am getting excited. I am going to run from Selma to Montgomery with my Charleston crew. The ladies I ran at 4am with. And truth be told, I really miss those days and those runs. I struggle now getting up to be at the pool or the gym at 6am. Times have changed along with my location.

This relay is important because it was my dream to do this. It is important because we must remember that those before us paved the way for us. We do not have to run this relay in the footsteps of those who marched the 54 mile trek. We choose to because we honor them and we honor our right to vote without poll taxes, being beaten, or any obstacles in our path. (Yes, there are new obstacles such as voter ID and reduced early voting, but we will tackle those another time.) This race is in commemoration, celebration, and honor.

I am running the first leg which goes across the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was here that voting rights marchers were violently confronted by law enforcement personnel on March 7, 1965. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. This weekend the law enforcement will be on our side protecting us from traffic.

I will not pretend that this relay will accomplish or achieve the same impact of the march in 1965. I only hope that it gently mimics the road paved for us and gently reminds us that there is still many more miles to cover-literally and figuratively.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Flying called something else

Samantha Sophia
The other day someone said to me (via Facebook) that she apologized for sending me a long email to send to all my friends. I asked to stop sending her rantings. She apologized because she thought I was a Christian. So she did not apologize the convoluted message. She did not apologize for sending me a chain message. She apologized because she thought I was a Christian.

That stopped me cold. My faith has never been questioned. And it should not have been questioned by someone who does not know me. But that is what happens. People we do not know see/hear something and immediately they launch into all sorts of judgments.

This woman jumped to her incorrect conclusion because I refused to forward her email asking for prayer because (I am paraphrasing here) same sex marriages, abortions, and a host of other things are the cause for our decaying society. I refused to forward it and told her to stop sending me private messages like that. So that is what makes me (in her eyes) not a Christian.

Of course I do not care what she thinks of me. She is not someone in my real life. But the lesson I learned is that I also need to be cognizant of the judgments I am making about people I do not even know based on one something that I saw/heard. Not that I am equating my refusal to perpetuate her venom a reason to believe that I am not a Christian. I just need to be careful. I need to attempt to get the full picture of a person before I decide anything about that person. It's only fair. I also need to watch the flinging of labels  because people have been called many things and some of them dangerously wrong.

I guess Christianity has many flavors. I guess mine just did not gibe with hers. I have not looked, but I doubt I will find anywhere in the Bible where it says that we should judge a group of people because their beliefs are different than ours. No where does it say (I am just guessing) that it is our duty to perpetuate lies and hatefulness about others.

I am quite sure about that, but I will dust my Bible off and read it just to make sure.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Flying back to the origin-thanks Cookie

In honor of women's history month I dedicate this blog post to Torreah 'Cookie' Washington who is the inspiration for this blog. I am stealing her post from Facebook.

This is a picture of her next to the awesome quilt she made for the "Quilts for Obama: An Exhibit Celebration of our 44th President" at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. So she flew pretty freaking high that day!

Happy Women's History Month.

Believe YOU can Fly Too!

 Dear Sisters, I thought it was time to write about why I believe we need to rediscover that we can fly.

 My name is Cookie Washington, I was an Air Force brat growing up. I grew up on and around Air Force Bases in the US and abroad.
I have a an old black and white photo of me about age 3 standing on the wing of a C-5 with my father and older sister... I love that photo...
I love and have always loved airplanes and flying... I love the noise, I love the smell of jet fuel, I like the flight suits....

 When I was 12 and we lived in Clovis, NM, home of Cannon AFB, I would sneak out to the fence that ran along side the flight line and lay in the grass as close to the fence as I dared because I could feel the rumble of the airplanes on the earth before they became airborne. It thrilled me! It was my secret, I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up, I wanted to fly the F-16 for ten years, then I wanted to go into the space program and become an "astro-nett" (ok so I was not liberated enough to think "female astronaut..." I wanted a pretty pink flight suit and matching helmet... But I wanted to fly, and FAST... I loved, in the way that some women love a man, I loved the F-16 Flying Falcon from the moment I saw it... The F-16 is a single engine, multi-mission, tactical aircraft.

 I loved that it was sleek, shiny, had great maneuverability and was fast... It did not occur to me in the Vietnam era that the "F" in "F- 16" was for fighter, and somewhere outside of my romantic image the USAF had plans for this plane I would later be protesting big time....
I wanted to fly, I have never been a follow the crowd kind of girl, this is probably because I was a sickly, loner, bookish girl who lived inside my head way too much, none of my gal pals seemed to want to fly, but they did not want to do a lot of the things I did.
My beloved stepfather, now of blessed memory, took me to every airshow and anything that was going on where planes were involved.

 He never told me, "You can't fly." He told me I would be a very pretty astro-nett and I better do better in math because I would need to know it to get thru pilot school.
My mother never said, "You can't fly."

 There are things the adults in my life told me I could not do, but thank GOD/Goddess, nobody ever said to me, "Cookie, you can't fly." Or, "little black girls do not become pilots."
They encouraged me to go for it, even though they or I had never seen a black woman pilot. I never even noticed. I was so focused on becoming an Air Force pilot.
Well fast forward, to high school. I kept my dream alive and Pops, had retired from the USAF at Kirkland AFB home of the F-16's! I was sure this was a sign.
I took the Military Service entrance exam, I scored really high.
I was redesigned that pink flight suit in my head daily.
Went to take the physical...
Dr Simmons is the one who finally told me, "Honey, you will never fly..."
I was too short to get into flight school, and really not quite tall enough to get into the Air Force.
I was fat, more that 50 pounds over my "ideal" weight.
I had asthma.
And I wore and still wear glasses.
I was never going to be an Air force F-16 Flying Falcon pilot, I was never going to be a Thunderbird, and I was never going to be an astronaut...
I was grounded...
How does one deal with a dream deferred?
You cry. I cried a lot. And I cried a lot more.
Then I got over it and lived the rest of my life.
And I learned to FLY!

Fly in other ways... I went to college, I had 2 amazing children, I inherited another amazing child. I started my own business from scratch with almost no money. I am an artist, a mother, a good friend and everybody's cheerleader, a passionate political activist.
In 2002, I flew to Houston from Charleston, SC. I got on the plane, and I always look in the cockpit, I have this thing about not wanting to fly on a plane with a pilot that looks younger than me. There in the cockpit was a beautiful African American woman pilot.
I asked her if she was the Captain? She said no she was the First Officer.
Tears sprang to my eyes. I was holding up the line of passengers trying to board the plane.
I am usually very polite, but this was BIG, I needed to ask questions and those folks would have to wait...

 She was kind and charming and I was so impressed. I realized, with all the flying I have done in my life, I had never been on a flight with a Black woman pilot. Have you?
Surely, she was not the only Sister flying?
The flight attendant forced me to my seat. I sat there sobbing, with joy and wonder and questions.

Why had I never seen a Black woman pilot before, and why had I not noticed?
In 2003 I discovered thru the Women in Aviation Organization, something that grounded me again.
I asked for statistics on the number of Black Women pilots, commercially.
The answer came back; "14."
"OK," I said, "Now is that the number flying for American or Delta?" thinking I was getting the information by airline.
"No." was my answer. "There are only 14 (fourteen) Black women pilots."
"In America?" I asked?
"No. That is worldwide."
"Uhm, wait a minute, excuse me... does this include Fed Ex and UPS pilots too?"
"Yes, I am afraid it does."
Holy shit! This did not make sense.
"Are you sure, you don't mean 114 pilots?"
She did not mean 114 pilots.
I put the phone down in shock.
"Shit" I said again... I will never forget that phone call.
"Why are there only 14 black women pilots in the world?"
The answer came to me almost immediately...
"Because nobody told us we COULD fly."

 I spent the next week being the most annoying woman in Charleston, and on the internet. I must have asked over 200 people, on the phone, in the store, on line, and in church, "Hey, do you know who Willa Brown is? Do you know who Bessie Coleman is?"
Out of those 200 or so responses I got less than 5 yeses and Bessie Coleman had her own US Postal stamp!

So it is my personal mission to spread the news about these two brave trail blazing sisters from the dawn of aviation.
Here is the way I see this problem.
If you went to public schools in America and did not do any outside reading of African America history, you learned if you were lucky, about Phyllis Wheatley, first African American poetess and a slave sold into slavery in 1761.
If not then you learned about Harriet Tubman, "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, and escaped slave. 1860's.

 Then you read about Sojourner Truth, abolitionist, women's rights activist and slave. Her "Ain't I a Woman speech was given in 1851.
Then according to most popular textbooks in America when I was growing up, the next Black woman we learned about was Rosa Parks.
Finally! An African American woman who was not a slave!
However she was "speaking truth to power" while being oppressed by the white majority.
As proud as I am of these women, I feel there are huge holes in our leaning about our "sister-mothers."

I have included short bios on Bessie Coleman and Willa Brown.

Sisters I challenge you, to tell anyone who will listen about these great women.
We, you and I are descendents, yes of slaves, but also of these women who fought like Hell and won their own piece of Sky...

I am telling YOU, You can FLY! I can Fly, and we can help other sisters, especially the young ones learn that they can FLY... Someone has opened the heavens for us and we can find our wings. Up we go into the wild blue yonder....
You do not have to be a pilot to fly, to SOAR, but know that we can...
Thank you for reading this too long rant.
Cookie Washington
3:15 AM May 26th, 2008

Still Aiming High....
Bessie Coleman (January 26, 1892 – April 30, 1926) was a pioneering African American aviatrix and was the first American of any race or gender to hold an international pilot's license
But Bessie Coleman, had to receive her pilot's license in France, because no U.S. pilots' program would accept her. She attained her certification in 1921 after only seven months, becoming the very first African American woman in the world to be licensed to fly an aircraft.
Bessie Coleman would not live long enough to fulfill her greatest dream—establishing a school for young, black aviators—but her pioneering achievements served as an inspiration for a generation of African American men and women. "Because of Bessie Coleman," wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.

 Dr. Mae Jemison physician and former NASA astronaut, wrote in the book, Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator (1993): "I point to Bessie Coleman and say without hesitation that here is a woman, a being, who exemplifies and serves as a model to all humanity: the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity, and beauty. It looks like a good day for flying."

The first African American woman to achieve her pilot's license on U.S. soil was Willa Beatrice Brown. Brown enrolled in the Aeronautical University in Chicago, earning a Master Mechanic certificate in 1935. Under the tutelage of certified flight instructor and aviation mechanic Cornelius Coffey, she earned her private pilot's license in 1938, passing her exam with a near perfect score of 96 percent. When Willa earned her pilot's license, it made her the first African American woman to be licensed in the United States. Two years later she married Cornelius Coffey, who would become one of the Tuskegee Airmen. She was also a founding member of the National Airmen Association of America, the sole purpose of which was to lobby Congress for the racial integration of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

 In 1941, with her flying service and aviation credentials, the U.S. government named Willa as the federal coordinator of the Chicago unit of the Civil Air Patrol civilian pilot training program. She was ranked an officer in this first integrated unit. Her efforts were directly responsible for the creation of the renowned Tuskegee Airmen, which led to the integration of the U.S. military services in 1948. She was instrumental in training more than 200 students who went on to become Tuskegee pilots.

 Her interests didn't end at aviation, though. Brown became the first African American woman to run for Congress in 1946. She campaigned again in 1948 and 1950 before pursuing other interests. She married a minister in 1955 and taught aeronautics at Westinghouse High School until the 1970s. Willa Beatrice Brown Chappell died in July 1992. She was 86 years old.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Flying unsteady

Last weekend I found myself in a position relatively unknown to me- in a public bathroom crying so hard that my body shook. Yes, that happened. I consider myself a strong woman. I stand up for others, but for that moment in time I could not stand up for myself. Even as I play the narrative over and over in my head it comes out the same. I was vulnerable and I was weak. I was vulnerable and I weak in a space where those things are allowed. I was vulnerable and weak in a place where I was not expected to be strong. We all need those places and spaces. We should not have to battle the world 24/7. And yet, in those moments when we relax our force fields sometimes stuff happens. And not the good stuff.

Of course I told myself that I could have, should have, and would have done x, y, and z or all of them. But honestly, I could not. And more importantly I should not have been made to feel less than myself. I should not have been called 'damaged' or any part of my body labeled as such. I was mortified, humiliated, and just hurt. My body is what my body is: imperfectly beautifully mine. Not yours, not his, not hers, and not theirs.

Up until this point in my life and I am 56, I had never been called 'damaged'. We were not in a medical setting and even my doctor never calls me that. I have osteoarthritis in my right knee. I am not damaged. Less than perfect, of course, but not now and not ever 'damaged'.

I did not jump to my own defense during the altercation because I just could not. I did not approach the offender away from the group because I could not. When asked if I would consider a conversation with that person, my reply was "not at this time." And honestly, there may not be a time. I was also told that if I spoke to the offender there would probably be a sincere apology because the message was surely not received the way it was intended. That may be true. I do not feel that I was singled out. I honestly think this is normal behavior.

I am not willing to knowingly put myself in a position where I do not feel safe. I am not willing to ask for forgiveness for feeling the way I feel. (No one has directly asked me to do that, but telling me that it was not taken the right way, or that I there will always be people who do not say the right things, be the bigger person, and so on equate to the same thing to me.)

It is all about me. My feelings. My body. My everything. And right now do not ask me to think about the other person. It is not going to happen. I am not going to.

There is a lesson is all of this. Choose your words carefully. And in a place of non-judgment, don't judge. And do not expect strong people to rise up with clenched fists each and every time something happens. It is not that we consent. It may be that we are just tired. Remember, no matter how freaking awesome we are we are still human.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Flying unattached

I am flying unattached. Unattached because I am not in a relationship and unattached from outcomes. Yesterday was Valentine's Day and when I got to the office flowers were on my desk. Not from a secret admirer like last year (yes this is the second year in a row that I got unexpected flowers on Valentine's Day), but from a person that I have just been friendly. I speak to him every day at work and listen to him tell me about his life. The things that I do normally with no expectation of a reward. There is no romance there. Just genuine friendship. 

I also applied for a job that feels way out of my comfort zone. I have the qualifications. I was not going to apply but really did not have a reason not to. So I did. I am not consumed with apprehension over the selection process or even if I make the final round. I may get the job and I may not. I put my best foot forward that the rest is not up to me. 

Then a potential opportunity came my way.  I tried to play it down when a friend told me that it was time for me to fully appreciate my worth and ask for what I truly deserve. This required me to do some research and actually ask for fair market value for my services instead of allowing others to determine and decide that for me. At first, I was very uncomfortable in the process. I found plenty of reasons NOT to give myself a fair assessment. Then I realized that I would be incredibly angry if someone else did that to me. So I asked for what I am worth. I may not get the gig, but I have set the precedence for myself. I am unattached from the outcome. I did my best. And it is interesting how many others in the same position do not ask for what they are worth out of fear of rejection. I get it, I am just not in that space anymore. 

So, my friends ask fair market value for your services regardless of what others say. Always do your best and do not sweat the outcome. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Flying, a little bit

henri meilhac from unsplash
I define flying as succeeding so I am probably flying. It just does not feel like it so much today. Actually it hasn't for a few days now. I could blame it on the weather, the moon, the fact that my knee hurts, or a host of other things. I could, but I won't. I need to own this. I need to unapologetically own this. I do, only I am not exactly sure what I am owning. I guess I just simply call it 'my stuff'. Okay, I am owning my stuff.

I do not feel compelled to dive deeper so that I can provide you with an explanation of my stuff. And that alone is empowering. Over the weekend during my 200 hour yoga teacher training (I am more than halfway done, thank goodness) we did an exercise. We had to lie on our mats with our eyes closed and our partner lifted one of our legs. The partner was supposed to notice any sensations while lifting and we were supposed to explain what those sensations could be. For instance a few people said those sensations were memories, thoughts, and things like that.

When it was my turn to have my leg lifted, I would not allow my partner to lift it. I think I tried, but I would not relinquish control. The issue was that I did not feel safe. I acknowledged that. I did not feel the need to explore why I did not feel safe. I was just fine not feeling safe with my eyes closed on a mat in a vulnerable position having someone who normally does not touch me and vice versa lifting my leg. I refused to answer the probing questions about what was going on in my mind. Why? Because it wasn't anyone's business. Because that was a brief exercise conducted by untrained persons (myself included) who were not equipped to move further or deeper.

It was empowering knowing that I felt unsafe. I own that. I guess that was progress. Defending my choices is progress. Removing toxicity from my life is progress. Being unapologetic is progress. And progress is success no matter how tiny or how slow. And success is flying. So I am flying even if I do not feel the wind in my hair and I can still see the ground. I am flying even when I do not get it all done and find myself gasping for air.

Flying is not just the act of succeeding, it is the feeling. The feeling of being lifted while my feet are firmly planted on the ground. I get that. It's all part of owning my stuff.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Flying in the power of change

I was honored to sit on a panel titled: She the People: Women of Color Leading the Way in Savannah. Every time I think about this my heart swells. I honestly did not think I was making that big of an impact in Savannah. And I had no idea that people were actually paying attention. I remember reading something somewhere that said to be careful what you do because you never know who is watching. I feel amazing.

What was more amazing is that I shared the space with greatness. There were women who have been moving things in Savannah and other plans for years. I met a 91 year old woman who just got engaged! So, perhaps there is hope for me. Maybe, but I have stopped holding my breath long ago.

There were younger women who were thirsty to drink up our knowledge and experience in hopes to make this world a better place for all of us. We talked about change. We talked about how we are living in the change-good, bad, or indifferent. We talked about what it feels like to be agents of change, because we all are in one form or another.  We talked about next steps. Sitting and talking is a start, but it is not nearly enough. We need action. We also honored the voices not in the room whether through death, incarceration, distance, or other reasons.

We talked about coalitions. We talked about legislation, due process, voting rights, education, discrimination, work-life-balance, self-care, books to read, books to write, family, gender, inclusiveness, exclusiveness, majority, minority, reproductive rights, and so many other things that it made my head swim. And it made me so proud to be amongst women who are not about toeing the party line. I was with women who hunger to take the lead, support the lead, follow the lead, and do whatever it takes to get things done.

I learned the power of the ask. Ask for what you need. There is no shame in that. There is plenty to go around if we share or not take what we do not need. And if we give freely.