More Than a Hike

For most of my life I’ve read books and been exposed to a variety of media about the Underground Railroad and Harriet Tubman, also known as Black Moses. However, never would I have imagined walking in the footsteps of this fierce warrior woman and the many men, women, and children she helped escape a life of slavery, as they traveled northward, in search of freedom that was not available to them in the south. At a minimum, for me, it was a surreal experience.  The trail was eerily quiet with only the sound of birds chirping and crickets singing in the backdrop of a heavily canopied forest, located in Sandy Springs, Maryland, about 18 miles northeast of Washington, DC.

Upon our arrival, my family and I were greeted by a park ranger who gave us the lay of the the trail and sent us on our way to tackle the two mile hike. As we made our way towards the trail, we first encountered the Stone Barn, located at Woodlawn Manor, now a cultural park. The Stone Barn was built in the 1700s for William Palmer, a Quaker, who created controversy after going against his religion when he decided to keep his slaves rather than free them.  His defiance of his faith put him at odds with other Quaker Christians, because Quakers did not believe in slavery. For his betrayal, he was excluded or as I would like to describe, given the middle finger by his fellow Quakers.

We did not visit the Stone Barn, but if it’s something you’re interested in, be prepared to pay a nominal fee. We, however, were more interested in the trail, which is free – unless you want a guided tour.

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The Stone Barn, part of the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Center, Photo by Andrea Speaks

The entrance to the trail is near a horse stable. While on the trail, you might encounter horses.  There are even a few signs that warn against feeding the horses.  On our trek, we did not encounter horses, only a family and a couple making the same trek as us. The trail itself is a walk in the park for those who engage in a frequent exercise routine.   There are no large boulders to climb or navigate – just a couple small boulders to walk around.   The trail itself has only a few slightly elevated areas that might cause the unfit to breathe a little deeper than normal.  At about the halfway point, there are two foot bridges that cross what appeared to be a shallow creek or pond.  Be sure to watch your step as you move about, and you should be fine.

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Near entrance to the Underground Railroad Trail, Photo by Andrea Speaks

Regarding wildlife, I didn’t see any.  The only danger I spied along the trail was poison oak and ivy. As I stated earlier, it was eerily quiet, which helped me to get a sense of what it must have been like to make the trek back then. Making even the slightest of sound could be the difference between being caught or freedom. Not only that, as I hiked the trail, I thought about how the chirping birds could sound the alarm that a human being was invading its space.  Thereby, tipping off the slave catchers that someone was on the move.  I imagined dogs running through the forest, barking loudly as they picked up human scents.  I could see my brothers and sisters running wildly for their lives, ducking and hiding, not giving one care about the poison ivy, I shrieked at. Posion ivy was the least of their worries.

My family and I hiked the trail during the late morning hours and while doing so I could not help but wonder what it must have been like to be on the trail during the dark of night, but then I put my thoughts in complete check.  The dark of night is nothing in comparison to the darkness and evilness of slavery. Nothing in comparison to the threat of being hung; of losing a limb.

For me, one of the most striking objects on the trail was the Hollow Tree.  The Hollow tree was just that – hollow.  Hollow enough to hide slaves from their would be captor, to allow them a rest, to provide them cover from bad weather, and/or for Harriet Tubman and her assistants to store food for slaves on the run.

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Hollow Tree, Photo by Andrea Speaks

The above picture doesn’t really portray how hollow the tree is. The cavernous like opening in the tree was large enough for me to sit in.

Perspective. That’s what hiking the trail provided me.  I was able to casually enjoy the trail on a beautful summer morning with my family without the threat of being captured and sentenced to a life of slavery. I live without this threat today, because of those who blaze the trail long before I set foot on this sacred ground hundreds of years later.

Harriet Tubman died in 1913, fifty years before I was born and five years before my paternal grandmother was born. I am reminded that freedom is young, and in today’s atmosphere, it is fragile.  Whenever life gets hard, we should remember the fragility of our liberties and the hardships those who came before us endured, to secure it, for you and I.


Posted in America, freedom, harriet tubman, hike, maryland, sandy springs, maryland, Slavery, travel, Uncategorized, underground railroad | Leave a comment

The Year of No

I understand there is a book out there by Shonda Rhimes titled the Year of Yes. In it, she shares her journey of NO being her default response to actually saying YES to more life experiences. Apparently, Ms. Rhimes rarely said YES to dates, speaking engagements, and according to an Oprah interview, play date requests from her daughter may have been met with a NO, NOT NOW, and/or a LATER ON. Well, I don’t have Ms. Rhimes’ problem. My problem is I don’t know how to say NO, and this is the year where it’s coming to an end. From here on, I will not say YES to anything that I don’t want to do. It may sound selfish, but this is the year that I have to start listening to my own inner voice. I’ve said YES too many times, while ignoring my subconscious thoughts and instincts. And, most of the time it has caused me nothing but regret, even sadness and anxiety. In some cases, I regretted my decision the moment after I made it. However, me being the type of person who likes to keep her word; her commitment- it’s always been hard for me to renege. I’m strong believer in the saying “Your word is your bond.”

This year, I’m not going to say maybe, let me think about it, let me get back to you, let me check, I’m just going to say NO, I’m sorry. I can’t. And, I’m going to challenge myself to leave off the word because. Because, why can’t it just be NO, I can’t? Period. Why do I feel it’s necessary to always explain, rationalize, or describe why I can’t… or won’t? For me, as much as I would like to think I’m not a people pleaser, I’m realizing that that’s exactly who I am. And, I realize it’s not a healthy place to be. I can’t continue going through life pleasing everyone while ignoring my own soul. It’s a betrayal of the deepest and worst kind, because oftentimes saying YES to others mostly like means saying NO to yourself.

So, here’s to saying NO to the things that no longer serve me and to the people who I always say YES to but they rarely show up for me. Screw those things that are disguised as opportunities but are really just time-sucks. And, goodbye to people who are some-timing and who do not know how to reciprocate in a relationship, rather it be one at work, family, and/or friendship.

I’m reclaiming my time.

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Thank you, Serena.

In addition to showing the world that she is a dominating, badass tennis player, Serena also brought the issues of working moms to light on Center Court at Wimbledon. She has shown the world what most working moms already know.  Being a mom is one of the best jobs in the world, but it’s also one of the toughest if you’re a working mom (and that includes stay at home moms too).  It’s a balancing act and when the scales seem to be tipping to one side rather maintaining a state of equilibrium, we women either have to put something on one scale or take something off the other scale to achieve balance.  Sounds familiar?

In the HBO documentary series Being Serena, after losing a tennis tournament, Serena’s coach blatantly tells her that although the times that she shares with her daughter are very important, she can’t have everything.  In other words, she can’t be the best mom and the number one tennis player in the world at the same time. Her coach goes on to say that Serena needs to pack up her family and head to Europe where his training facility is in order for her to focus on being the best tennis player she can be. He says to Serena that she and her husband must decide the best course of action that results in her “family adapting to tennis rather than tennis adapting to her family.”

As I sat in front of the television watching and listening, I could see Serena struggling with the idea of packing up; taking her daughter thousands of miles away from her husband – even if it was just for a short period of time.  I have to admit, I was all up in my feelings, and not in a good way about the coach’s remarks to Serena. Tears rolled down my cheeks. “How dare he? What an asshole.” I thought.  Who was he to tell her to adapt her family to tennis instead of the other way around? The fact is we women are always adapting, and that’s especially true if you are a working mom.

Watching this documentary got me reflecting about my own struggles as a working mom. For example, like the time I was trying to finish graduate school with two very young, energetic boys while pregnant with my third child.  Back then revising and editing my thesis felt like an impossible task.  The stress of trying to finish up that paper coupled with the thought that I could go into labor any day felt like more than I could bare. If I went into labor, when would I have time to finish with three kids? This was the thought that circled my brain over and over like a merry-go-round. I was an emotional mess.  Looking back, the stress along was probably enough to cause me to go into labor.

Every time I sat at my computer to work on my paper, I felt a flood of emotions.  As close as I was to graduating, I felt like quitting. It was an overwhelming feeling of defeat. It felt like it was just too much for me to handle at that time.

I started graduate school before my second child was born, and fast forward three years, I could finally see the finish line.  However, I was unsure if I could actually cross it. Thankfully, I did graduate.  I walked across that stage to get my degree one week after having a C-section in spite of doctor’s orders. Nothing and no one could stop me from walking across that stage to get my degree!  The entire ordeal was tough and definitely a balancing act between working (albeit part-time), being in graduate school, and being a mom (and a wife).

Then there was the time when I had to wean my daughter off of breastfeeding, so I could go back to work full-time. Back then, it wasn’t widely acceptable to breastfeed your baby in public, let alone bring your breast pump to work to pump milk. The reality was that my daughter wasn’t ready to stop breastfeeding, and I wasn’t ready to stop nursing her. Still, I had to get back to work, because the bills were piling up. My husband and I had built a lifestyle that required two incomes. I felt so incredibly guilty. I remember thinking that I had put money before my children.  I don’t ever remember hearing my husband voicing such concerns.  If he did, he kept them to himself.

Back to Serena. Not only did she pack up her baby and move to Europe for a month to train, she was also told by her coach to stop breastfeeding in order to get rid of extra pounds that he felt was preventing her from being in top playing condition.  This resonated with me, because although I wasn’t Serena, who was working towards recapturing her throne, I had other goals besides paying the bills. I went to graduate school for a reason.  I wanted to be a school administrator.  However, life happened and I adjusted. Like many women, I put my career on hold for my children.

As women, we place our goals, career, and all that we have achieved in our career on a shelf with the hopes that when we’re ready; when our family is ready, the opportunity to progress, to achieve at the highest level will be waiting.  For us working moms, sadly this is not always the case.  The workplace environment, and especially in the United States, is not very friendly towards working moms.

The difference between Serena and myself, and probably many women is that she never doubted her ability to return to tennis and come back stronger than ever.  Also, as I was watching the documentary, I thought, “Well, it’s easy for her to get back to tennis.”  She has all the support that money can buy, i.e. the cook, the maid, nanny, and the personal assistant.

Even though I don’t have all of the resources that Serena has, her grit and determination has inspired me to not give up on my own dreams and goals. She has showed me and other women that, “Women can be strong.  We can do what we want, and we can dream big.”  As working moms, we can rise above adversity, doubt, naysayers, and even a life-threatening illness to achieve our goals.  We can achieve anything that we are we willing to work hard for.

“These past 2 weeks was amazing. It also was a sound for all moms stay home and working you can do it you really can! I’m not any better or diff than any of you all. Your support has ment so much to me. Let’s keep making noise everyday in everything we do. I’ll be back (and soon too)  Road to the Us Open is next! Stay strong no matter what. Oh and this is just the beginning. Love you.” – Serena Williams

Thank you, Serena.


Posted in career, dreams, goals, life, Parenting, purpose, self-improvement, Serena Williams, tennis, Uncategorized, women, working moms | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Rush?

Have you ever said or did anything while you were upset and almost immediately afterwards wished you could take it all back or perhaps respond differently?  Of course, you have, and I have too. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I was so upset that I could not contain my emotions, let alone the words that flowed from my mouth like lava from a volcano or that were haphazardly composed in an email. Some might say my words, whether uttered or written represented my true thoughts and feelings. I don’t presume to speak for all emotionally high-strung folks like me, but my experience leads me to believe that when my emotions are running high they are usually not in alignment with any logical or rational response my brain is able to process. Instead, what happens is that my judgement becomes impaired which causes me to make poor decisions resulting in consequences that I did not foresee occurring. Simply because I did not take or have the time to process what was upsetting me or for that matter why I was upset.   The end result is usually misunderstandings, twisted interpretations, inflamed rhetoric, cuss words flying every which way, and of course strained relationships.  Even a pint of ice cream (preferably Haagen-Dazs’ Dulce de Leche or Pralines and Cream)! All. To. Myself.

Waiting 24 hours might be the difference between me providing someone a theatrical cussing out or a more subdued cussing out (laughing out loud as I type this)!!  All jokes aside though.  Even after giving yourself a cooling off period; a time out of sorts to process what the hell happened, you might still have to give that person a piece of your mind. And that’s okay.  But, there is nothing like giving someone a piece of your calm, cool, collected, and intelligent mind. Letting them know you’ve thought it through and like my momma used to say, “I mean what I say, and I say what I mean.”  Mic dropped. Maintaining your cool will keep you from being perceived as some crazed person shooting from the hip, lunatic style. Unless of course, you want them to think you’re a little bit of cray-cray. If that’s not how you want things to go down, then maybe you want to think it through, so you can avoid having to revise or recant your response or action.  Again, that’s if you care at all.

Honestly, though.  There have been times when I didn’t maintain my cool. Almost immediately after pressing the send button, I would go back and reread my email and I’d wish I could revise it.  Say something in a different way or say something totally different altogether; just because I didn’t take the time to process what it would mean for me. Someone once told me that whenever you’re asked to do something or go somewhere, and you know for certain that you are not sure about it, always say “Let me get back to you on that.” “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”  Responding in this way will give you 24 hours to process their request and to determine what it means for you.

There is no rush, and if they are in a rush, and need your answer on the spot, then you can say, “If I have to give you an answer today, then the answer is no – but if I can get back to you in a day, then my answer might be different.” This will give you that time you need to process.

Once upon a time I needed to make a decision about whether or not I was going to take my talents elsewhere.  I had three interview requests; one of which I had committed to accepting. The others I had not responded to at all.  I remember the thoughts I had streaming through my brain regarding my place of employment and why I wanted to leave.  How toxic it had been for me. How anxious I felt being there. How I felt like I was spinning my wheels, and not moving people and things forward. I really felt hopeless. Helpless too. So, I said yes to all three interviews.

A few hours (not even 24 hours) later, I began to process my feelings even more, and as I did, I realized that I had not really thought through my decision.  I know…  A toxic work environment. What’s to think about? Get the hell out, right?  Not so fast.

After reflecting on the situation, the next day I decided that I wanted to be the change I wished to see.  I wanted to be a change agent.  I had not accomplished all that I wanted to accomplish.  My commute was only a few minutes from my home. I had teenagers in high school.  Do you know the things that teenagers can get themselves into?! After weighing the pros and the cons, I decided that I was going to stay. Once I made the decision, I was comfortable and at peace.  I just needed to be still and listen to what my heart and my God was telling me. Whatever would come from this decision, I knew it was the right thing for me to do and that I was where I was supposed to be at that time.

We live in a complex world where information can be obtained through the click of a mouse.  We want everything delivered to us at lightning speed through our cellphones, laptops/tablets, cable TV, and WIFI service.  You want information? Google it. Sadly, some people expect us to make decisions in this same manner.  I say RESIST. Give it twenty-four hours, at least.  Whatever your decision, make sure it makes you happy. And remember indecison is a decision.


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Damn Shattered Mirrors (and the ones that hold them up)

All too often how we women feel about ourselves depends on how others view us, their opinions of us, and/or the labels they place upon us. You know those labels.  You’re not skinny enough. You can’t do this or that. You’re not smart enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not… enough.  I’m of the mindset that how you feel about yourself has less to do about how others feel about you and more to do with how you feel about yourself. There will always be folks who feel you don’t meet their standards.  The mirror in which they view you will always be shattered.  Always. So, why bother?

We bother, because being liked, included, and valued are natural feelings to have.  As human beings, regardless of how confident we are, being accepted is important to our mental well-being.  I get it. The majority of us don’t live on an island by ourselves.  Even if we did, to say the least, it would not be a healthy disposition to find ourselves in.

Sadly, living on any island alone would not help anyone who is lacking a positive view of themselves.  That old adage of “You can’t run away from your problems.” is true. Further, you can’t run away from yourself if you don’t like you. Until we feel good about ourselves, there is nowhere to run or hide.

Back to the shattered mirror. So, how can you fix that mirror?  You can’t.  But, what you can do is get yourself a new damn mirror.  And every day, stare into that mirror and tell yourself “I am beautiful.  I love me. Every curve. Every inch from the top of your head to the soles of your feet.”  Recognize that you are unique.  There is no other woman like you!

One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t trade your authenticity for approval.” This quote speaks to the acts of betrayal that we women commit against ourselves every time we try to fit in. Every time we try to be someone that we are not.  Every time we put more value on what others think of us than what we think of ourselves. Every time we said yes, but what we really wanted to say was no. What we don’t realize is each and every time we do this, we are putting more and more cracks in that mirror, and by doing so, it becomes increasingly difficult to see our true selves.  Our own authenticity. How can we?  Have you ever tried to look in a bathroom mirror immediately after taking a hot shower? It is almost impossible to see the fullness of yourself in the mirror without wiping away the condensation with your hand or a towel. Without doing so, we can only catch a glimmer of ourselves until the steam dissipates.

Besides getting yourself a new mirror, consider surrounding yourself with a new tribe of folk that are willing to support and build you up, instead of tearing you down. If you are already not feeling great about yourself (for whatever reason), surrounding yourself with a bunch of naysayers who constantly point out your flaws is like pouring alcohol on an open wound. If you’re like me, you already know your faults.  You don’t need or want anyone to continually highlight or harp on them. Quite the opposite, you want to be around people who are attracted to your light; your authenticity.  Now, let’s be frank. If you’re an asshole then you probably need someone, preferably someone you trust, to tell you about yourself.

This is the real deal right here. We all have something that we don’t like about ourselves. If you don’t like it and you can’t live with it, then make a change. Do the work. I don’t like my nose, but it’s the nose that I was born with, and I have decided that I can live with it for the rest of my life. Getting a nose job is not on my list. I used to have a gap in between my two front teeth.  Ever since I could remember I hated to smile, because I thought the gap was unattractive. I’ve had so many people tell me they thought the gap was sexy. But, the gap did not meet MY standards, so eventually I got braces, because it was something that I wanted for ME, not for anyone else.

Perhaps, the things you want to change are not physical, but are much deeper. Again, do the work to make the change you are committed to making.

Any self-improvement should start with some healthy self-reflection. I like to write, so I tend to lean towards starting with the pros and cons of anything that I want to improve or achieve.  If the pros of making a change outweigh the cons, I will proceed to develop an action plan to help me achieve my goals.  My action plan will include all the actions and resources I will need to achieve my goals. Getting my thoughts and ideas on paper helps me to reflect on the personal strengths I can bring to bear to achieve my goals, as well as the obstacles that I need to overcome. For me, it is important that I establish a timeline with milestones (checkpoints) to help me monitor my progress towards achieving my goals.  Having milestones allows me to celebrate the small wins that add up to success.  This motivates me to keep going and it can do the same for you too.

On any journey of self-improvement, it is important to accept that there will be slip ups and slow-downs.  A setback is not a sign of defeat. Defeat can only happen if you stop, so keep going. You will be farther along in reaching your goals than you were yesterday if you start.

Most importantly do it for you.  If you’re not doing it for you, then don’t do it.  Be authentically you. Damn that shatter mirror and live your best life.

Posted in authentic life, goals, Health, Mental Health, self-care, self-improvement, Uncategorized, well-being, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Note to Self: Shithole Leaders Are a Danger to Humanity

I saw so many parallels between the thinking of the Germans in the 1920s and the thinking/rationale of many of the white nationalists who voted for president shithole in 2016. Germans blamed Jews for the deteriorating economic conditions they faced. Similarly, many people in the rust belt and in other parts of America blame black and brown people and of course immigrants of all races for the same thing.  

Economics was the impetus to religious and ethnic cleansing conducted by the Nazi/Aryan supremacists. Racial superiority and pure evil caused Nazi Germans led by Adolph Hitler to commit mass genocide of Jewish people. 

If you have not visited the  National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,  I highly recommend it. The exhibits were highly engaging, jaw-dropping, educational, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t say quite depressing. There were times when I felt I needed a mental break. There were moments when I felt I had processed enough information. One such exhibit that caused me to tear up was the replica of the gassing of Jewish men, women, and children. Prior to being led to a holding area they were forced to remove their clothing before going into a gas chamber where lethal gas flowed into vents killing hundreds at a time. Afterwards, the murderers took the bodies to a room to search for gold in the mouths of the dead. Afterwards, bodies were cremated in masses.

For me, there was also a connection between the Holocaust and the immigrant/DACA debate that is currently playing out in America. Many Jews were taken from their communities and forced to live in interment camps. Jews also fled to neighboring countries becoming refugees. Nations all over the world including America debated the impact of allowing Jewish refugees to enter their country. They discussed and drafted policies that would allow them to screen for “more desirable Jews.” Sound familiar?

There were so many eerie similarities. It made me realize how fragile democracy really is, especially the one we all reside in.

Like the National African American Museum in Washington, D.C., you’ll need more than a day to absorb all of the information and exhibits. It’s a beautiful, large museum made up four floors of exhibits including artwork from the youngest Holocaust victims, the children.  

There’s no admission fee, within walking distance of other museums and monuments, and worth every minute of your time.

Posted in America, DACA, History, Immigrants, Politics, race, Shitholes, Uncategorized, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Disturbing the Peace

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Besides getting a workout, the gym has become a place where I can go to find peace and escape from the everyday hassles of life. On yesterday, however, my peace was greatly disturb by the ignorant and racist remarks of one man. And, yes he was a white man.

Feeling like I needed a little energy boost, I thought I’d pour myself a cup of coffee before starting my workout.  Not more than a couple feet from the coffee machine sat three white men.  I’ve sat at that same table at least a hundred times since joining this gym. It’s a great place to sit, enjoy a cup of coffee, chat, read, or just catch your breath after working out.  So seeing them sitting there did not raise any red flags for me. However, that would quickly change. Not only would I see red flags.  Those  flags would be damn near hitting me in my face causing my blood to boil.

By the time I finished pouring my coffee, I overheard one man say “Why would anyone eat a snicker and coke for lunch? I mean that’s toxic. Who eats that stuff?”  He then proceeds to explain to the other men that the students shared with that sometimes they can win coupons from the principal to get McDonald’s for lunch.  As an educator of twenty-six years, the flags are starting to wave ever so gently. I’m all ears, because I’m sensing some foolishness going here.

Now, this next remark is the kicker. The man goes on to say “These are intelligent students. Their black, but they are intelligent.  Mind you, at this point, I’m stirring the cream in my coffee ever so slowly while at the same not believing, but BELIEVING what I’m hearing. I’m not naieve.  I know there is a toxic mindset out there about black and brown students. I’ve been in education a long time. I’m also a mom too. However to hear someone so blantantly spew such garbage (in my presense) was emotionally and physically overwhelming. I literally stood there stirring and stirring my coffee, trying to decide whether or not to say something to this man. My sneakers felt glued to the floor. I just couldn’t bring myself to move.

After what seemed like two to three minutes, I noticed there were a couple of people waiting behind me to get coffee, so I left and made my way to the stretching room. There I laid on the mat staring blankly at the ceiling, beating myself up for not speaking up.  I was angry. I was hurt.  I was disappointed. In. Myself.

There was so much wrong with this man’s comments.  First, the obvious. Most black people are not intelligent, at least according to him we’re not. Second, only black kids eat snickers, drink cokes, and eat McDonald’s.  Now, you know that’s BS.

Mr., all kids like junk food. – Black kids, White kids, Asian Kids, Latina kids. Most kids given the opportunity to eat junk food will jump at the chance. That’s what kids do. This is not a club to which black kids exclusively belong.

Now, I don’t know what this man’s relationship was to the black kids he was discussing. I hope to God that he’s not their teacher. This is just the kind of person that does not need to be working with kids, because he has already made up his mind that not all black kids are intelligent. It’s this sort of racist, deficit thinking about black and brown students that contribute to the racial and socioeconomic divide in this country. It’s why we find America to be as fragile as it is today.

Grow your mindset. Change the world.






Posted in achievement gap, children, expectations, race, schools, Uncategorized | Leave a comment