Michelle Obama's Becoming Book

Protecting Our Boundaries: Thoughts from Becoming

“Fences needed to go up; boundaries required protecting. Bin Laden was not invited to dinner, nor was the humanitarian crisis in Libya, nor were the Tea Party Republicans…Our family time was when big worries and urgent concerns got abruptly and mercilessly shrunk to nothing so that the small could rightly take over.”

– Excerpt from Becoming by Michelle Obama

Credit: Michelle Obama via AP Images

The end of 2018 gave us a gift, the release of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She has been touring and filling arenas based on this book. People have been flocking from all over to get a copy and to hear her speak, and rightfully so! My book club even decided to stop our current read and shift gears to gain a glimpse into the life and times of our Forever First Lady. (FYI: I do not intend to spoil the book for you if you have not read it yet. However, if you have not already done so, you need to find the nearest version and jump into this book!)

While Becoming was filled with many gems, notes of honesty, and wisdom, the above quote stood out to me as profound among the rest. Here was the first Black woman to occupy the White House as a tenant rather than a servant, who dealt with various world leaders, daily criticism, her own platforms of health initiatives, kids, the weight of being married to the President, finding time to remember herself and who knows what else, saying that she had boundaries. Saying that each thing had a stopping point for her to be able to maintain a semblance of herself and to keep perspective on the little parts of her day that made her feel whole, which at the time was her family and 2 little girls. This statement seemed so self-empowering and assuring. 

Michelle Obama for Elle

I don’t know about you, but the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 have been low key kicking my butt. Between crazy work hours, a long commute, organizational commitments, trying to be present for the people in my life, showing up for myself, fitting in some time to eat and sleep, and starting my own blog, some days I barely find myself functioning by the end. If not these things for you, I am sure that you know what it feels like to try to maintain balance in your own seeming chaos. I felt all of my lines starting to blur together as I started to push everything into overdrive to make the most of the end of last year and capitalize on the start of this new one, staying late at work, staying up later to write, trying to wake up to do it all again. 

I feel like Black women are always expected to be 100% with all things at all times, which was the model to which I was trying to ascribe. Yet, here was Michelle saying 100% in one thing at one time is okay. Everything has its place. It was like a breath of fresh air. Permission to take a step back and to build the boundaries for myself to maintain the things that bring me joy. If Michelle Obama can listen to what her daughter did in kindergarten instead of worrying about a humanitarian crisis, I can take advantage of the time when I get home from work to finish reading that book that I have been enjoying instead of worrying about and responding to that work email. It’ll still be there once I have given myself the time that I need for whatever I need.

Michelle Obama's Becoming Book

Michelle Obama’s Becoming

With Michelle’s words in my mind, I am moving forward into this year resetting and protecting some boundaries for myself. If you find yourself also in a boat with the gears shifted into overdrive, I hope that you’ll join me in doing so as well. In seeking to do so, I find myself thinking on a new set of questions:

What are the moments in your life that you need to place a fence around for yourself?

What are the areas taking up more space than necessary?

How can you protect the boundaries you want to establish?  

As you think on your own boundaries, share your thoughts below!

Pictures belong to their respective photographers/ printers*

HPV: There’s a Vaccine For That

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. It is linked to cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, anus (anal), throat, tongue, and tonsils. These cancers can take years develop but begin when someone becomes infected with the virus. There is only a routine screening for cervical cancer.

The Science Behind HPV

HPV has a genome made of double stranded DNA. Like other DNA viruses it has the ability to incorporate itself into the genes of its host, in this case humans. Once it is incorporated into the hosts DNA, its genes get replicated whenever the cell replicates. Depending on where the virus incorporates itself into the hosts DNA, it can turn cell growth genes permanently. This results in abnormal cell growth that leads to cancer. When you go to the gynecologist for Pap smear (Pap for Papilloma), this is what the doctors are looking for: abnormal cervical cells.

HPV

Every year, an estimated 17,600 women and 9,300 men are diagnosed with cancer resulting from HPV infection. When broken down into communities, statistics show Hispanic women have the highest rates of cervical cancer, but African American women have the highest rate of death as a result of HPV infection since 1975 due to decreased likelihood of early disease detection. AA women also have the highest rates of vaginal cancer as a result of HPV infection. AA men have higher rates of anal cancer when compared to white men and Hispanic men have higher rates of penile cancer than non-Hispanic men.

The good news is that the HPV strains that are most likely to cause cancer are preventable and have been since the advent of the HPV vaccine in 2006. The bad news is that women of color, particularly Black women, are less likely to have their children (or themselves) vaccinated. The advisory committee on immunization practices recommends males age 13-21 and females age 13-26 be vaccinated. The vaccines are administered in 3 doses at timed intervals: 0, 1-2, and 6 months.

Vaccination rates from 2015 indicated that coverage for females age 13-17 was at 60% for the first dose of the vaccines and 39.7% for the third dose as of 2014. African Americans have the lowest series completion rate at 61.6%. Studies have shown that 48% of AA have never heard of the vaccination and those who were aware were female, employed, had some years of college education an annual income of $40,000, a regular doctor, had fewer children and were younger than 41 years of age. Awareness of HPV and the vaccine was also associated with cervical cancer diagnosis (i.e. they or someone they knew had a diagnosis).

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Lets Talk About Vaccination

Among AA parents, the most common vaccination barriers were concerns about safety, concerns that the vaccination would encourage promiscuity or pre-marital sex, lack of information, and lack of recommendation by doctor or perceived hesitance of a recommendation by a doctor. Additional barriers included perceived low risk of children acquiring HPV, mistrust in pharmaceutical companies, mistrust of medical providers, religious denomination and frequency of religious service attendance, concern about daughters being too young, and creating a false sense of protection against all HPV strains.

After wading through all of the facts, what it boils down to is that Black women have the highest rate of cervical cancer deaths, yet we are least likely to have our daughters vaccinated. The reasons why people are vaccinating their daughter boils down to either distrust in doctors and pharmaceutical companies or the fear that having our children vaccinated against an STD will somehow encourage them to start having sex or have more sex. Does anyone see the faulty logic in this? This falls into the same line of reasoning that talking to your kids about sex promotes sexual activity.

MERCK - Merck's HPV Vaccine, GARDASIL®9, now available in Canada

As a mother, a Black Christian women, and a scientist, I do not understand this logic. Even if your child does wait to have sex until they are married, chances are that their spouse did not. If protecting your child is the goal, denying them a vaccination in the name of purity culture does not serve them well. Perhaps reframing the discussion as that of your preparing a child to be a successful adult might encourage parents and caretakers to reconsider how helpful a vaccination can be in helping the current child avoid contracting a preventable virus from a future sexual partner. This vaccine can prevents cervical cancer. That is nothing short of a miracle that I embraced with all of my identities and encourage others to do the same.

Black communities in the United States have legitimate reasons for not trusting the scientific and medical industries (Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, the origins of US gynecology, etc). As a member of both the science and Black communities, I encourage us to consider that we can be both healthily skeptical of practices and intentions within the science industry/community AND recognize the ways that scientific and medical advances can support our health and well-being. How can Black communities build trust with medical and scientific communities? I genuinely want to know because as a Black scientist, I chose this field because I wanted to help my community through my research. I want to break down the walls of communication so that we can be free to live long and healthy/healthier lives.

Moving Forward

The biggest take home message for me with these data is that we need to get the word out to the parts of the community that are older, less likely to be college educated and more likely to be skeptical of the medical and scientific community. I think the best way for us to get vaccination rates up is by reaching out to the people in our communities who fit this description. I know that I do my fair share of communicating these things to my friends and family and I can only hope that they are passing these things along. This may also require leading by example. If you are reading this and you aren’t vaccinated and you are 45* and under, GET VACCINATED! If you have a child (of any sex and/or gender) within the recommended vaccination age, GET THEM VACCINATED!

I am challenging the #CiteASista community to share this post among friends and family and begin/continue a conversation about sexual health. Do your own research and share that too. We have to be able to uplift our community so that we can be more informed and healthier. If you have any ideas on how to improve communication between doctors and scientists to our communities, please leave them in the comments.

*Point of emphasis: The vaccine has been recently been cleared for people up to age 45!!!! This is GREAT NEWS.*

8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

cas- gif- we did it- graduation

*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

We Are One

Christmas Eve is my great grandmother’s birthday. She had five children and would make breakfast for her children in the morning. Her kids and family would be busy during the day. Quite often, they did not get a chance to eat the breakfast until the evening (at least that’s the story that was told to me). All my life, the tradition has been that my family would get together on the evening of Christmas Eve and eat breakfast. People are assigned foods to bring/cook and we just enjoy fellowship with one another. Over time, however, the family tradition has changed…

My name is Bridgette. My name is a tribute to my grandmother’s maiden name “Bridges”. She was one of five, and all but one of them have passed on. Those people were the heads of our family units and when my great aunt passed during the holiday season in 2016, we as a family had to rethink a lot.

What happened to us?

Why don’t we spend enough time?

Why aren’t we coming out to the events we traditionally have?

My cousin Carlton (or Cowboy or Orrustus or insert other family nicknames we have for him) put a stop to the “what ifs'” and “why’s'” over the summer and coordinated a family reunion for us during Mother’s Day weekend. The picture you see above is the family shot. It felt really good to see us together– laughing and dancing and playing cards. Things started to feel better. I remember telling Cowboy that I can’t wait to visit him in Miami since I have never been before. He told me anytime I wanted to visit, his place was open. I never took up the offer.

October 2018, my cousin, Cowboy, transitioned.

The questions. The “why’s”. The “what if’s”. The “I should haves came to play”. Cowboy was older than me and we didn’t have the closest relationship, but the impact he had on our family was so strong and deep. Our family continues to mourn heavily his physical absence. We are still trying to figure it out.  I know I am trying to be more intentional about communicating with my cousins. We are calling more. We are making time to try and seeing one another more frequently. We are trying to celebrate each other in small and big ways. I recognize it, and I am praying we continue it.

Christmas Eve came and brought some laughter into our lives and love in our spirits. My aunt texted everyone and instead of just eating, we also made our annual breakfast a game night as well. We danced and laughed. I introduced the family to For the Culture (the black version of Heads Up). We had such a good night of fellowship.

So, basically the story goes my great grandmother decided to change up her birthday just so that she can be around her family. I often wonder if she knew that the tradition would continue years after she passed. Did she think of how much her grandchildren and great grandchildren would cherish this day because of the feeling it gives them?

As the night settled, we agreed that we need to make game nights happen more. We need to schedule bowling outings. I plan to keep my word and take them up on that offer.

We are One.

#FlyHighCowboy

Top 5 Podcasts by Sistas

So, I may be the last person on earth that’s finally gotten into podcasts but I’m so glad I did!  Morning commutes are so much better by starting the day with a hearty chuckle or the feeling like you can do whatever you set your mind to. So, as we find our groove in 2019, I thought it would be fitting to list my Top Five Podcasts by Sistas!

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Jesus & Jollof

This is the newest podcast but it doesn’t hold back when it comes to making their mark.  Luvvie Ajayi and Yvonne Orji are the friends you hangout with at a kickback and laugh all night. These proud Nigerian women give us insight on what life is like growing up for them in America but never losing their roots. The started off their first episode letting us know that they named their Podcast Jesus & Jollof because those are two things they can’t live with out. Topics range from Nigerian love languages, From bottom to breakthrough and more. But don’t let the laughs fool you, they are also dropping knowledge geared towards success in all aspects of your life, with a reminder that Jesus is the foundation of their life.

 

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Hey Aunty!

Self-described as “fireside chats with black women who’ve been there”.  Hey Aunty! is taped in Australia and has a global reach dedicated to honor and love our Blackness. I’ve been listening for the past few months, and I love that black folks share experiences and similarities no matter what part of the world we reside in. Shared experiences, positive and otherwise, like figuring out if you still be code switching or asking why we are like this, will have you nodding your head and waving your hand in agreement, all while getting insight from our sistas from down under.

 

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Side Hustle Pro

I grew up being told that it’s important to have multiple streams of income.  When I got to college, my side hustle was doing hair. So, this podcast was right up my alley.  Known as the “first and only podcast to spotlight bold, black women entrepreneurs who have scaled from side hustle to profitable business”.  Side Hustle Pro has the best to ever do it  share their secrets like how to kick imposter syndrome to the curb or what it’s like to launch a chocolate factory in Harlem.  Do you have a side hustle and you’re looking for motivation on how to have it grow? This podcast is for you and anyone who’s simply looking for motivation.

 

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Small Doses Amanda Seales

According to my best friend, Amanda Seals is my kindred spirit and insisted that I check out her podcast. Known as “your favorite truth teller” Amanda gives insight on how to navigate life with real, raw, and relevant information. From the side effects of not having kids, to toxic masculinity and being outspoken, her episodes are engaging and entertaining.

 

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Rants & Randomness with Luvvie Ajayi

If you’re looking for consistent motivation/gem dropping from people who’ve been there mixed with society and pop culture, this is your podcast.  I tune in to my fellow Chicagoan with my notepad ready to receive all the information her show gives out.  Luvvie discusses trusting your gut, loving radically, and even saving edges! This podcast is where you see just how magical our people truly are.

 

Now I want to hear from you. Have you listened to any of the Podcasts in my top five? If so what are your thoughts?  What Podcasts are you currently listening to?

Share in the comments below and help a Sista grow her Library!