Gap Year: NCRM’s 2017 Freedom Awards

This year marks 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in Memphis. Every year the National Civil Rights Museum hosts a Freedom Award Show Gala to acknowledge the hard work of other leaders and performers. About a week ago, I was invited to be apart of the crew backstage and my answer was “what time do I need to be there and what should I wear?”

This post will highlight 5 wow moments that I experienced during the preparation and run of the event.

First, The Orpheum Theatre:

The current structure was originally built in the late 1920s on the corner of Main and Beale Street. Over the years, it has become known as one of the hot spots in the mid-south for the performing arts. It has hosted numerous broad way shows, performers/ entertainer, concerts, and local events here in Memphis. It is huge and the aesthetic is fit for royalty.

Although I had been to a couple of plays and acts there, I’d never been close enough to touch the stage, let alone check out the signatures along the bricks toward the back. The combination of the grand interior design, the clout of how many talented artist graced its stage, and the history of this place was enough to have me fan girl (from the inside of course).

Second, Red Carpet Gala:

Something I had never seen before, which was really cute, the crew had blocked of main street and built a red carpet! Even though it usually gets really chilly in October, that night was warm, clear skies, and great lighting for the glamourous outfits swarming main street. Side Note- I’d also like to mention how much melanin was poppin’ on that red carpet. There was a great mix on people whether of color or non-color, but it was awesome seeing African American men and women in clean suits and breathe taking gowns.

I’ll be honest, while I’m not the best at picking out famous faces, everyone looked like celebrities to me. Right next to the Orpheum, we watched these beautiful people crowd the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education for live music, tasty reception food, and social house drinks. The personal touches really brought out that classic, ageless soul of Memphis that we all know too well in the Bluff City.

Third, A plus list:

So in addition to the talented dance number from New Ballet Ensemble, harmonicist Frederic Yonnet, spoken word artist Ed Mabrey, and the house band directed by Garry Goin, the presenters and honorees added more sparkle to the stage and food for thought to the listeners. The three individuals presented with awards during this event were Reverend Dr. Bernice King, Morris Dees, and Hugh Masekela.

Watching the videos, listening to the speeches, and being in such close proximity to movers and shakers in the civil rights movement left me speechless. It was like being in a room with people who were too cool for school, like I definitely didn’t think that I was awesome enough to be on a first name bases with these people.

My worst moment of word vomit was awkwardly standing next to five Sanitation Workers from the 1968 “I am a Man” rally. Like how do you express in less than 60 seconds how appreciative you are for their sacrifice, bravery, and vulnerability. Many of which would say, don’t thank me because it was the right thing to do. I walk around talking about being about “the cause” and I’m interacting with the people who put “the cause” into words, images, and ideas that (at that time) were dangerous to share. There were many other motivational and influential people backstage-which I regret to say that I was too nervous and not confident enough to ask questions- whom I did not mention here. Some of these people were even familiar with Berea College (my alma mater). It was a great night.

Fourth, Rev. Dr. Bernice King’s Speech:

So you all knew this was coming. You may have listened to recordings or read quotes from her speech, but I’m just going to expand on a point she made that resonated with me. While I did not have time or free hands to write the words down, I repeated it in my head until I could recount it in my own words. Rev. Dr. Bernice King said (and I’m totally paraphrasing) that our responsibility as human beings in this current society is to not leave others in darkness, hate, and ignorance. One of her goals, which she believes is our responsibility, is to be the light in that darkness, love in that hatred, and impart knowledge in ignorance. It is to choose to not leave the table without planting a seed within them.

Regardless of your background or spirituality, this directly complements the Golden Rule: threat others the way you want to be treated. So instead of fighting with fire, tears, sweat, and blood, try laughter, empathy, respect, and love. I think that in the Trump era, some people see current events as brand new; however, none of this has been hidden. People often forget to consider context and assume that those strange occurrences “came out of the blue.” I repeat: This year marks only 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years since minorities in the United States of America were desperately and tirelessly demanding for what was right. Those words aren’t even strong enough to communicate the fact that these people were striving for what I think is common sense and humanism…but if college taught me nothing else, it is that common sense just ain’t so common. We see black and white photos and imagine that 50 years ago is so removed from today.

We have allowed ourselves to take those traumatic, tense, and violent events out of context. 50 years ago isn’t old enough to retire. 50 years ago is an aunt, uncle, mother, father, or grandparent. 50 years ago may be half a century, but it is still alive and well in most households today. 50 years ago, in context, is no more than 2 generations from me writing this blog post. These people who are living and breathing within our homes and communities saw those black and white photos in color and experienced that which we have removed ourselves from. So when you see white sheets, mobs, delayed relief efforts, dehumanization of people of color, lack of interest in communities which still do not have clean sources of water, hear the whispers in the wind, feel the chill of an unwelcome place you wandered into, and see something surprising in the news…just remember that it was only 50 years. Just remember that it started well before that. Just remember that our past, present, and future will always be occurring at the same time and nothing just “comes out of the blue.” Ask for the context and none of this will have come as a surprise to you.

Finally, The 1968 Sanitation Workers:

I held the medals presented to the men who said enough was enough. I held the hands of men who wanted better working conditions, higher wages, and union recognition. I saw men who simply wanted better for themselves, their co-workers, and their families. I saw men who were engaged within their communities, fighting for economic and social justice. I met men who probably didn’t think that the medals were necessary because they had added light to darkness and thoughts to a much larger conversation.

Overall, it was a great night. I made some good friends and great networks. I learned that I need to learn more about our history and that there are meaningful conversations happening all around you. I learned this when I was struggling to match faces with names and being invited to this event. This learning matters because I like to think that I know everything sometimes, but now I know another growth area for myself. In light of this learning, I have been sharing this experience with younger students in Memphis through my work at BRIDGES USA, Inc.

Best,

Cayla Jae

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Gap Year: 10 Reasons Why I Swipe Left

My last few posts have been kinda serious and I plan to go deeper during the next few weeks. Next week, I’ll let you know how if felt to sit back stage for the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Awards. For now, let’s have of bit of fun and talk about how horribly confusing life is on online dating apps.

Below, I have listed my top ten reasons for swiping left on any person within my set radius. After graduation, I moved back home, but I lost touch with high school friends. For this reason, I’ve become an expert in the world of online dating apps, in an attempt to find new friends to rediscover my hometown with me.

10 Reasons Why I Swipe Left

  1. I am a woman.

Due to the fact that I’m in the 21 and above club, I prefer a person with a legal ID which allows them to join me for a drink. I also need some who’s mature, respectful, and who will add to the conversation. I want a man. So if your only images highlight some car, that you’re 420 friendly, or something remotely sketchy… Can’t do it. This also includes a stack of money as your first image which leads me to think you are into drug dealing or “hustling”. People with real money don’t have stacks in their profile pictures. Side note: watch out for people who have screen ages 23, look 15, and claim 19.

  1. You use every word but “woman”.

Y’all don’t know how often I see people referring to women as garden tools, females, girls, female dogs, and other degrading nicknames or parts to the female anatomy. If you’re crass enough to hypothetically attack me in your bio… I don’t think you could handle my feminist clap backs. Side note: some people actually request that feminist not swipe right for them lol like no problem, Steve.

  1. I am greeted by your bare chest.

I don’t care to see how built your chest is (or how much you think it is). I’m just hear to see a clear picture of your face and maybe hobbies that interest you, not your birthday suit. Plus, your skin signals to me that that’s the only thing you’re concerned with. Our texts will literally be about you going to and leaving the gym and maybe even dietary stuff. Side note: If anything else, guys that are looking for women, be sure to get some professional or super nice quality photos of your face. Also, try to avoid using mostly group photos because we don’t want to search guessing who you might be. And so the snap chat filters… Like why? We grown people.

  1. Your bio is empty.

I get this part. Most people say that no one looks at your bio anymore and others will note how awkward it is writing one. First of all, bios help me craft my opening message. They also let me know what things we have in common to discuss. Your bio can literally be ” world traveler, art, Latin music, lizards ” and I’d be like cool, “I paint.” Secondly, if I’m on the border of swiping left or right, a good bio will win me over. Whether you spent time on it or not, if it makes me smile, we might match up. Lastly, if a bio is awkward to write, what’s more awkward than putting yourself online asking for friends or friends with benefits or life partners??? Like none of this is traditionally normal, so don’t take yourself seriously, Karen.

  1. Speaking of… you’re ready for marriage.

Now I’ve had a hand full of family members meet their current spouses online and are content and happy. However, I’m not in the head space for marriage. I just want someone to dance with at Spectrum or the Rumba Room. I want to go walking in the park on a pretty day. I want to socialize away from the altar. This is not a negative because lots of people are looking for that happy ending. It’s just not me, love. I feel like marriage for me would come from meeting someone in person, leading to friendship, and then romantic stuff.

  1. You’re never on the app and want me to follow you on another platform.

Like… WHAT?! This ain’t some free advertisement site for you to get more snap followers! What I look like copying and pasting your username, opening my other app, pasting you in the search bar and waiting to see if we should talk… While I’m swiping on the dating app!? What is this madness? Look, if you ain’t using the dating app, hide ya profile and save us all time. Come on, meet me half way… “LEFT!”

  1. My finger slipped, just being honest.

There’s not much to add here. Although most apps are free, undoing a swipe ain’t free. Sometimes I’m in such a groove swiping left that I accidentally go left on someone great and they’re lost to the universe. So you could honestly have been the perfect fit, swiped right on me, and then nothing… Because your photo was surrounded by selfies of ab/ stomachs. And I’m not sure you’re worth the $9.99 commitment to a month free of back swiping… Just saying.

  1. I don’t know that I could be in the same photo with you.

This sounds crazy but I actually do think about whether we’d look abnormal in a picture together. I’m also thinking about where your photos are taken. Like could I see myself hiking with him, do I even like mudding, or would I join him in a tattoo parlor? I also think about if you’re physically “my type” because if we clique as friends I want to know if I have to friendzone you or not. I just don’t want to be awkward and loose a foodie buddy. But honestly, I’m always awkward so I want to be prepared if that conversation comes up.

  1. You say your an introvert and a homebody, but expect me to solve your hermit lifestyle.

Dude/ dudette, whyyyyy? I get it, I’m introverted and love a good night in, but I’m also on the site cause I want to do more than watch Netflix, sit on the couch, play video games, or take naps. Like I want to do stuff and make memories. And I can’t come into this friendship knowing that you’re awkward in conversations, would rather spend 25/8 playing video games, and you don’t like my energy. Like no. Well you know maybe there are apps for pen pals, but this ain’t it.

  1. Your dog wasn’t that cute.

I know that secretly most people post pictures of their pets because most of us on these sites likes animals more than humans… I mean come on. So you gotta make sure that your pup, doggo, kitten, or baby lama is the cutest living thing ever. If not, I gotta swipe left. Real talk, guys, I’ve literally swipe right on people just for the chance to meet there pets and it works. Animals never let you down.

Long story short, online dating is not the fix to find love, but it makes for some interesting stories and unforgettable adventures. I hide my profile often because it’s so distracting, but it’s so cool realizing how many strangers exist that we never cross paths with. My advice go get involved in something outside your house and try your luck by meeting some cutie in real life.

I would love to hear about what makes you swipe left. Leave a comment below of one of your pep peeves.

Best,

Cayla Jae

Gap Year: Time Travel

This past weekend, I traveled back to my undergraduate campus. My original intention was to comfort a friend in their struggle to get to the finish line. However, as I lie in a mega bunk bed of my alma mater, I realized that I was judging them for acknowledging that they were struggling.

Often, it is easy to see negativity and hear problems from others and attempt to create solutions, rather than truly listening. Although I had heard what was causing their pain, I had not listened to its effects until I was left in the dark to the sound of their sleep. College can be tough for many of us, especially if you went to my school where there is constant pressure from all sides at all the time. It truly does take a strong individual to pause and say, “I need help. This is not working.” That level of honesty and vulnerability, luckily has kept my friend with me. Others going through similar challenges might have adopted unhealthy habits or self harmed themselves or simply stayed in that dark place like I once did.

I often hear people speak about trigger words; however, as I reflected on my travel and my conversations with my friend, I realized that my alma mater was a trigger location for this dark place that resided inside of me. I drove through campus not thinking about graduation, group sleep overs, or dancing through the night and into the next morning. I was thinking about my hike to the nearest Walmart at 6 am on Saturdays, because I was afraid of being raped or being attacked for walking alone as a black woman. I was thinking about the time when I dropped to my knees in the middle of the quad near midnight and cried until my soul was dry. And then afterward, like a robot, I dried my eyes, stood up, grabbed my things, and continued finishing my art project against my body’s will. I remembered the day that I skipped classes, turned off my phone, and went for a long drive on some back roads. On that day, I had no destination and as I sped through the mountains of eastern Kentucky, I thought to myself, “What if I just veer too far to the right? What if I go fast enough that I won’t feel the moment when my heart stops?” And those are just a few moments in which I was proud of my friend for saying enough was enough. I thanked the heavens that I could hold them between my arms and near my heart. It was memories like that that reminded me how great friends are just as important, if not more important than, blood relatives.

On my way back home, I focused on detoxing those negative feelings and ghosts of my campus from my body. I listened to music that allowed my mind to process the experience. I spoke of all the positive experiences from seeing my friends. I meditated and held my great grandmother’s necklace close to me. I had six hours of a drive to cleanse my body of those points in time in which I was scared, alone, exhausted, broken, and empty. Most people would say that this is all an exaggeration and that college is the best part of your life. Yet these are moments in my past that I have never even whispered.

Before this trip, I hadn’t realized how much time manifests itslf within our reality. I had never imagined that my first trip back since leaving the stage as a graduate would transform my energy so much. Because of this, I will be more mindful of what I allow into my space, but more importantly, who I allow into my space. This experience reminded me of my strengths and talents as a fixer, artist, and friend. It also showed me areas of growth. Overall, I think this trip made me reassess all of my toxic relationships and thoughts.

I know that as a Taurus (ya, I’m into Zodiacs…y’all the energy of this universe is real) I do not like change. For me personally, it is super tough to get rid of people who I once considered to be friends and support systems. But I learned that as I grow, my support systems can also adjust with me. It’s not necessarily that they are bad people, but they are no longer needed to get me to the next level and vice versa. Again, by dating myself and putting myself first, I have to think about what is in my best interest and what will help me grow. This does not include those who are social media followers (yet ghosts IRL), people who make me feel inadequate, people who don’t communicate directly with me, and those are not honest with me.

So while my intention was to go and solve my friend’s problem, I ended up putting myself in check and reevaluating what I know about my emotions and friends. All it took was one night with my face buried into my friend’s batman body pillow as inspiration. This trip was an important turning point for me, because it made me think about my priorities again. In light of this learning, I have reexamine my small circle of awesome friends who support my growth.

Best,

Cayla Jae

Gap Year: Making the Decision

In May, I made a commitment to myself to be stronger and more focused. I decided to take a Gap Year after my undergraduate studies and I have yet to regret it.

The hardest part so far on this journey was making the commitment while most of my friends and family members told me how big my “mistake” was. I personally felt a lot of pressure from my family to “just get [my education] out the way.” As a minority, I feel that adversity is so present in our everyday lives that many adults (well more adulty adults) believe that furthering your education is the only way to overcome those barriers in the U.S.A. You may have heard of the phrase “You must work twice as hard to get half of what they have.” However, I believe that the model of “education is the only way to ensure your success in life” is out of date. While I do believe that education is important and I am one of the biggest nerds, I know that I will need more to survive in this ever-changing world.

In the process of making my decision, I noticed that the possible thoughts and opinions of others (family, friends, mentees, and strangers) were the only thing holding me back. I did not want to be labelled as a failure and I wanted to be extraordinary in their eyes. The problem here was that I didn’t know what kind of career I wanted or what I was passionate about. So like all bright college students, I consulted Google. Unfortunately, all of these searches led to the same answer: You are the only person who can answer these questions about your life. And I absolutely HATED this dead end, because I felt as if I didn’t know myself well enough and I did not trust my own judgement to make the “right” call.

I had gotten use to making decisions based on what would look good for my image, rather than what I truly cared for. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that no one is a better expert on me or my experience than I. During my senior year in undergrad, I conducted research on the self-definition of young African American women, in an attempt to answer some of these questions for myself. This research led to a cathartic phase in which I made a decision to start over. I began removing toxic people and external influences from my life. I became more selfish with my time and wishes. I started dating myself and getting to know what womanhood looks like for myself. I would sit with myself in silence to reflect on my thoughts, actions, and plans. Although tough and really awkward in the beginning, it became easier and forced me to be more honest with myself. Before this reformation stage, I had to break all preconceived notions of who I was and could be which was vital in my decision to pursue my Gap Year.

I had begun this journey to self love and actualization. During this process, I challenged myself to be vulnerable and realized that my strength lied in the fact that I acknowledged I was not strong enough to go directly into graduate school. For me, I needed me time AND LOTS OF IT. I deserved it, because I had given too much of myself to the world for the first twenty years of my life and left little to nothing for myself.

The rebuilding period and most of this Gap Year experience has taught me the importance of prioritizing things in life. At the time, my happiness was at the top of the list. The idea of transitioning into a graduate program and maybe even a doctoral program at this time in my life made me physically sick and emotionally exhausted. Which is why it is also important to listen to your instincts when making tough decisions. This moment of pause made me realize that my holistic health was more important to me than what my family, friends, and total strangers would think of my decision. I never questioned my ability to be a rock star in graduate school. I worried that I did not have the right mindset, focus, or reasons for enrolling myself. My thoughts about myself, my direction, and my majors changed so drastically over the past four years, that I knew I needed more time to make sure my mind, body, and soul were ready for more academic torture. I also wanted this time to be the first time I wanted the study and achieve things that were not for others or motivated by others.

I watched a TED Talk from Sarah Knight a while back and she spoke about “Fuck Buck” currency. I think of this speech almost everyday by asking myself how much I personally care for someone or something. Basically, how many fucks am I willing to give to this thing? How much is it worth to me and my happiness? And as I prioritize or make these day to day decisions, I have to keep my “why” in mind. What do I value? What is my mission statement? So the question of how many fucks I give also has to align with my passions. However, I doubt that I would have been able to answer any of these questions if I had not begun dating myself.

Although I did not receive much support for taking my year of me time, I have yet to regret my decision. People will say that “it is not a good idea”, “you will never go back to school”, “you are wasting your time”, and “you are trying to find yourself, when all you need to do is find it another degree.” Every now and then you will have one person who sees potential in you and finds value in this process. The trick is to not let negative opinions bother you because they are subjective to that person’s experience. As I said before, I am the only one who can make this decision for myself. It is my life and hell, I get to write it without a co-author in pencil, rather than pen. I know myself well enough now to know that eventually I will go back but it will be with the right program to project me to the right place. Also, there isn’t a rush! These universities will be here and continue making money from other students. I think that some people don’t see the value in getting to know themselves and they think that if you are not making your six figures or binging coffee while crying in the corner of a library that you are wasting time.  I have been on my gap year journey now for about five months and I do not feel that any time has been wasted. I have learned about dating men instead of boys, how to adult, and so much more about what career choices might be better for me. I actually spend time doing things that excite me and that help me learn more about myself and others.

One professor told me “Do your part and let God do the rest.” No matter your religion, this was the best advice I could have received in the moment of deciding whether or not to apply to jobs or schools or traveling positions. The truth is the things you want must be welcomed in and if it is meant for you, then it will come in.

In making my decision to start this Gap Year Journey, I have learned that I am stronger than I could have ever imagined. I have learned that I truly am an old soul who is the biggest hippie. I also learned that now matter what happens I have enough grit to stay on my grind and because of that I will be fine. I learned these things when landing amazing paid internships and jobs that allowed me to wear joggers and hoodies in the office place. This learning matters because I have gained more confidence in myself and learned more about myself. This learning matters because I am beginning to love myself and love my freedom. This learning matters because I can finally be vulnerable, open, and honest and have no regrets. In light of this learning, I will be sharing my insights on more topics related to this journey every Thursday night. I will also continue to push myself to grow and laugh at those who think they can co-write my life.

Best,

Cayla Jae