The Magic of Authenticity

Do you have a hero? If so, what is it about them that has earned your admiration?

Like most kids, my heroes were big and flashy. They wore capes, they could sing, they could act, and they had the love of millions of fans. I never questioned why I seemed to only look at celebrities and superheroes as the best of us, because their fame spoke for itself. If you’re popular, then you must be perfect. But is that true?

As I began to take better care of myself, a key piece of the journey was coming to terms with my identity, with who I wanted  to be. I had a long list of heroes I wanted to emulate, however as celebrities with carefully crafted images, superheroes, and film characters, they represented a type of unattainable perfection that made me feel stuck. So, I began to look at things another way: rather than trying to become a copy of someone with status, power, and control, I decided to explore who I am already, in order to discover my authentic self.

By definition, “authentic” means “of undisputed origin;genuine”.

Distilled down for a regular person like myself, I believe authenticity means existing as you are without regard for the molds others want you to fit in. For example: I’m a survivor. I’m a Black woman, a Kansan, a right-handed singer with allergies. These are all facts, but in between those societal molds are the details and experiences that make me LaKase. I might not be exactly like Brandy (one of my earliest heroes), nor do I have the power she wields, but my authentic self is important and good in its own right.

Nowadays, my admiration is rooted in more abstract concepts: kindness, bravery, and authenticity. There are many ways to define each, whether it be through a cultural lens, a personal preference, or how I might be feeling in the moment.  But what remains constant is the work we have to put in to live our lives well. I broadcast who I am to others in the way I dress, how I speak, and in what I value in this world.

When I think about the people I admire now, it rarely has anything to do with the number of friends they have, how much money they make, or how beautiful they are but what they put into the world. The folks who continue to inspire me, and unwittingly push me to better myself, have been decidedly, radically themselves. Being yourself can be difficult, even dangerous depending on where you live or what you look like, but living your truth gives others permission to be who they are as well. That’s the magic of it all.

The videos below feature two women who make me so happy and encouraged about walking my path on my own terms. I hope you enjoy their words as much as I do.

 

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Unknown

Inspired By: Shirley Chisholm

Yesterday,  a huge number of Americans took to the polls for the Midterm Elections. The lines were long and in many cases the machines were down, or not working correctly. Add to the scenario the emotional weight of the event, and you’ve certainly created the perfect storm for an anxiety attack. And yet, we still showed up. We defied voter suppression and all kinds of insane obstacles to be heard. In a few cases, the outcomes weren’t great, but in many we saw change take hold.

As I kept track of the results throughout the evening my mind kept going back to a name: Shirley Chisholm. I learned about this remarkable woman at a fairly young age, but the gravity of her story didn’t hit me until I was an adult. Shirley Chisholm was a barrier smasher, a truth-speaker, a force of righteous forward movement that should inspire us all to stand up to insurmountable odds. In short? Shirley was a badass.

Shirley Chisholm

Born in 1924 to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, Shirley quickly grew into a bright and talented young woman. She competed on her college debate team and graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1946. In 1951 she earned her master’s degree  in early childhood education from Columbia University. Shirley then became active in the NAACP, the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, and the Democratic Party. She joined the State Legislature in 1964, then became the first Black woman in Congress in 1968. She was a fierce politician who fought for gender and racial equality, opposed and sought to end the Vietnam War, and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.  Shirley became the first Black woman and second woman to serve on the House Rules Committee.

In 1972 Shirley Chisholm did what no one thought possible for a Black woman: she decided to run for the Democratic nomination for president. Using the motto “Unbossed and Unbought”, Shirley was determined to be a voice for the ever-marginalized. She didn’t get the nomination, due to rampant racism and misogyny, but Shirley remained a fighter until her retirement from Congress in 1983.

I’m forever inspired by Shirley, because she refused to be pushed aside. She didn’t win the big battle in the end, but she used her voice and her will to triumph in as many skirmishes as possible. As I wrestle with the concepts of success and defeat, I find solace in the story of Shirley. She soldiered on when it might have been wise to sit back. She demanded her due in a world that would rather see her starved out. I remember her in the little skirmishes of my own path, when the end floats undefined on the horizon, and I remember that it is all worth the fight.

A Word with Caroline Luther

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

You can learn so much about someone if you pay attention to the way they fly. Undeniable truths flash bright when we think we blend into the crowds, if you look up from your tablet long enough to spy them. Revelations are present in which seats we favor, who we clumsily ask to sit by and how we hold onto comfort miles away from the peace of the ground. Millions of us bustle through the tailwinds of each other, but how often do we stop to discover the familiarity of strangers? I’m guilty of this more often than I’d like to admit, after years of wrapping myself into a cocoon of downloaded movies I don’t want to watch and music I’ve listened to far too often in the face of unpredictable conversation.

My habit of shutting down during flights was put on pause during a recent flight home. I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline on that trip back to Kansas from New Orleans, after she hit it off with my mother in line waiting to board. I knew I liked her before we had a chance to introduce ourselves, thanks to those flashing truths. She and I spent the entire time laughing and sharing just enough of ourselves for me to realize she is one of those people everyone should get to know. Thankfully, she agreed to take part in this feature. Her interview is below, which I think you’ll truly love. Next time you fly, when you want to retreat, think twice. You might just miss out on a remarkable human.

 

What is your profession?

After some twists and turns through a graduate program in history (thought I wanted to be a professor) and several jobs in communications (grant-writing, writing-writing, graphic design, etc.), I’m going into my sixth year teaching high school history. And I love it.

 

As a child, what future did you see for yourself?

In early elementary school, I thought I’d be a teacher (both my parents were). I’m pretty sure I thought I’d stick close to my New Jersey home and most likely have kids. I’ve since moved to North Carolina and my husband and I have decided not to have children. I finally started teaching 13 years after graduating from college. Those are the right choices.

 

If you could change your life now, what would you do instead? Why?

Ooh, good question. Maybe I’d be a therapist (an LCSW rather than a Ph.D., though) or own a boutique selling women’s clothing. I need to care for people and nudge them to take care of and feel good about themselves. I’m usually right, so that helps me own my bossiness. Plus I like pretty things and have really enjoyed my stints in retail.

 

(Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably say that I want to be a backup singer!)

 

Can you share a time or event you didn’t think you could survive?

When I realized that my 53 year-old mother was going to die from colon cancer sooner rather than (years) later and couldn’t bring it up with anyone in my family. It was a bleak, lonely time. I just wanted to no longer exist.

 

What/Who pulled you through it?

Prozac. It took a while, though. And I credit my boyfriend at the time for making me make an appointment with the campus psychiatry department to get the prescription. He helped me get my life back and I’m forever in his debt.

 

How did the event/time shape the way you live now?

I’m very aware of my mental health. I try to be honest about what scares me and tell the right people about it. I also make sure to go to the doctors I need to see and keep track of the things that are most likely to kill me prematurely.

 

What are some ways you take care of yourself?

Loving on my cat. Getting enough sleep. Solitary exercise: running by myself at whatever pace works that day, yoga (mostly with an app but more and more just whatever feels right) and sporadic work with free weights. Sitting in an armchair in my living room listening to records. Giving my brain interesting things to do. Making sure to get the nagging things crossed off my to-do list and set my future self up for success.

What was the best/ funniest/ most memorable piece of advice you’ve received?

I read this in an article somewhere a long time ago. Former secretary of education Margaret Spellings talked about needing to put on one’s big-girl panties and get shit done. She might have even had a sign on her desk to that effect. I need that sign.

 

When do you feel the most free?

On summer breaks when my husband (who teaches English in an adjoining classroom) and I have 10 weeks of not going into work every day. We still work, but it’s nice to do that on our own schedules and have small adventures, whether it’s traveling, floating in a lake, going to Durham Bulls games, drinking local beers at local breweries or taking our books somewhere. Having a time-limited time when our time is our own is heavenly.

 

What do you want to be remembered for?

Making people laugh. Being a good teacher. Being good, period.

Mama Tammye Hicks is Personal Growth Goals

Each week we will feature the kind of everyday heroes you can look up to. They come from all walks of life, age groups and beliefs. We hope you’ll learn as much from them as we have!

** Spoilers for Queer Eye Season 2 Episode 1

Do you want to feel encouraged to go out and live your life as you see fit, but also kind of need to cry your eyes out? Good! The brand new iteration of Queer Eye just launched season two on Netflix, and so far they guys are delivering on inspiration and emotion. They kicked the new season off with their first woman client, Tammy Hicks, an individual guaranteed to warm your heart.

On the surface this episode should have been a disaster: Tammye is a Christian, Southern, traditional woman who struggled with her own son coming out as gay. The town she lives in might be named Gay, Georgia (for real!), but that didn’t mean the gang would be welcomed with open arms. Yet, they’re greeted by the kind of person we should all strive to be. Tammye encourages them all to call her “Mama”, to treat her home like a safe place, and shares her world with the group in a loving and surprising way. She was still in the process of reconciling with her son Myles, and spoke openly with the Fab Five about how to build him up and support him as a gay man.

Watching Tammye – a loving mother and active member of the community – welcome the Fab 5 into her life without the ugly judgement they described encountering in their private lives was a revelation, but what truly shakes the episode is her willingness to admit that she was wrong to judge her son for who he is. She details the moment she came to her son and asked for his forgiveness for not loving him unconditionally, which very few people would have the courage to do. In the end, Tammye speaks to each member of the Fab Five and thanks them for being who they are and doing what they do in a moment of pure earnestness that nearly put me in the grave.

It is so easy to get caught up in what we’ve been taught, who we surround ourselves with, and antiquated ways of thinking, because those familiar methods afford comfort in a scary world. Yet, the bravest of us can truly begin to grow when we step outside the echo chamber. Tammye is a great reminder that love, honesty, and courage can change the world, no matter how small the shift appears.

Below you can watch an extra episode of the series released to YouTube that features the crew traveling to Australia to help a rancher at the behest of his (kinda fine) son. If you’ve got Netflix we highly recommend you check out Tammye and the rest of the series! Don’t forget to invest in an economy pack of tissues.

Friday Media Prep: My Dad is Still the Greatest Hero

Happy Friday, kids! Today’s post is in honor of the person who was my first hero and the baddest guy on the block, my father. This weekend we’re supposed to be exalting his name, buying expensive and shiny cards, and eating whatever he wants, because Sunday is Father’s Day, but I wouldn’t have a problem bragging about my Pop any day of the week.

My father was 26-years-old when I was born – a kid himself – yet, I think he was born ready to raise babies into halfway decent people. We spent our days together while my mother completed nursing school, playing with Barbies, going to the park, and exploring the world. In fact, most of my traits are mirrors of the behaviors I picked up from him in those early imprinting years; from the way I walk, to how I look, his DNA is ever-present.

My dad’s – and most heroes – greatest strength is his capacity for caring and the bravery to do what is difficult yet right. Over the years I have watched my dad inspire children in his classroom to be whomever the want to be. I’ve seen them return after graduation to hug him, thank him for his ability to make school fun, then go off and achieve their dreams. He’s coached athletes (including my brother) to championships. He’s made young people without an ally feel seen. Then, at the end of his long days, he goes home to be a regular guy and cook for the family he loves.

There’s surely no greater hero than my dad, but I’ve prepared a list of some characters who come mighty close to his standard. Below you’ll find my weekend media recommendations if you’re feeling like you need to get a heroic boost for the upcoming week. Enjoy!

 

Incredibles 2

Image via the Hollywood Reporter

It’s an exciting time to be alive, because the stars aligned for us to (finally) get the sequel I’ve personally been dying for – Incredibles 2. Since we might have to accept that a third one won’t be on the horizon for another 300 years, I highly recommend clearing time on your schedule to go see it. We went as a family of adults last night, and it was quite the event. I can safely say 90% of the audience was over 21, yet no one was too caught up in adulthood to sit silently at the best moments. The sequel begins where The Incredibles left us with the family battling the Underminer. From there on it’s a family adventure that the world needs right now. I couldn’t help but laugh at Mr. Incredible’s struggle to maintain the home while his wife, Elastigirl, moves to the fore to fight crime. My dad never let on that being the daytime caregiver was difficult, beyond how much he hated cutting the crust off all my sandwiches. (Honestly? I still hate the crust.) However, in Mr. Incredible’s devotion to be above all things a good father I saw my own. Rest assured that both succeeded.

 

Origin (Wolverine)

 

Via Marvel

When my dad was a kid he collected comics like candy. He only had to pay 25 cents to read about Spider-Man’s exploits, or to imagine he was one of the X-Men. Growing up in small town Western Kansas only offers so much entertainment, but with his comicbooks he could imagine he was anywhere else. Sadly, after college he gave away or threw out most of his originals. However, by the time my brother and I came along he’d amassed quite the impressive collection. Let me put it like this: Kevin Smith was able to finance his first film with the proceeds of his comic collection. My dad calculated that he has more. His is a treasure trove of tales that formed many of my favorite childhood memories. I’m quite certain my brother and I can thank the afternoons of reading with my dad for our love of storytelling and adventure. The above comic is Origin, the tale of Wolverine’s life that was unknown to his comrades in the X-Men. I remember when this 6-part series came out, because we were dying to know more about our favorite member of the team. Wolverine was gruff around the edges, yet always seemed loving and misunderstood to me. I got a little of that tough love in my younger years. I highly recommend checking up on this story in your free time.

 

Castelvania

Image result for castlevania

Last, but certainly not least, is the Netflix show Castlevania! We all just discovered this series on the streaming service, and I had no idea it was a video game back in the day. My brother and husband played it when they were kids, but I was too busy being cool and having friends. Luckily, it’s been revived in the form of an animated powerhouse that seriously delivers on the fights and gore. My brother and I were early lovers of anime and East Asian cinema, thanks to my Dad. We regularly snatched up Studio Ghibli films from Blockbuster, tried to imitate Bruce Lee, and desperately waned to be like the Samurai of Kurosawa’s films. Watching Castlevania takes me back to those days of my youth in a delightfully ridiculous way. The show is all about the fight to stop Dracula from destroying Wallachia through his horde of demons. Enter a drunken badass named Trevor, and you’ve got yourself the kind of show anyone could eat up. Season 1 of Castlevania is available to watch in its entirety and it’s only 4 episodes long. You have no excuse to avoid it!

 

There you have it! I wish I could list more, but then you would be here all day, instead of celebrating the heroes in your life. One of the many things I love about my dad is how he tried to show my brother and I that heroes aren’t one thing. It’s not about your size, gender, sexuality, race, or ability, but about calling on the strength to be good in the face of hardship. My dad isn’t the kind of man who will gravitate naturally to the limelight, but he’s exactly the kind of person who deserves it. Above all things, I hope my dad knows I’ve survived this wild life with a smile due to being imbued with the confidence of his love.

Stay strong out there. Be the hero of your story today.