Understand the Risks, Avoid Incarceration, & Change the Negative Narrative for Men of Color

By PHAME-US.COM

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

In many metropolitan areas across the country, if you watch the local news, you will often see stories painting a very negative storyline of men of color. It is almost as the local news vans and their local stations do not miss an opportunity to show the adverse challenges within urban communities or communities inhabited by people of color. This trend is very concerning, as representations of crime in the media shape public opinion, particularly through the frequency in which crime is reported and the characterizations of criminal participants and victims (Bjornstrom, Kaufman, Peterson, & Slater, 2010). Similarly, previous studies suggests that when overrepresented in the media as perpetuators, racial and gender stereotypes may be reinforced within society and raise public hostility toward groups like men of color (Dixon, Azocar, & Casas, 2003; Dixon & Linz, 2000).

Unfortunately, older research from 1997 does suggest the lifetime risk of African-American men going to state or federal prison from birth is 28.5%.  A special report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997) estimated 1 of every 20 persons (5%) can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime. The lifetime chances of a person going to prison are higher for men (9%) than for women (1%) and higher for blacks (16%) and Hispanics (9%) than for whites (2%) (Bonczar & Beck, 1997).  Thusly, at the time of the report, if incarceration rates were to stay the same, newborn black males in this country have a greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes, while Hispanic males have a 1 in 6 chance, and white males have a 1 in 23 chance of serving time (Bonczar & Beck, 1997).  WE CAN CHANGE THE NEGATIVE NARRATIVE!

If men of color are being targeted by the criminal justice system, that is even more reason to be intentional about avoid criminal circumstances…even when we are enticed by others who we know. Let’s be clear, in many communities, being a man of color within the United States of America means there is a need to act with extraordinary caution and sensitivity in these manners. Collectively, we must work to avoid committing felonies, the most serious of crimes such as intent to commit heinous crimes, causing grievous injury, or destroying property. We must put down the guns and reduce incarceration due to drugs. Although less serious, misdemeanor crimes are punishable by jail time of one year or less per misdemeanor, a fine, or alternative sentencing like probation, rehabilitation, or community service. Infractions and violations are minor offenses like jaywalking and motor vehicle offenses that result in a simple traffic ticket. Still, any of these offenses can be more serious trouble for men of color.

Proverbial wisdom suggests men of color, all persons really, should refrain from criminal activity…PERIOD. Among many reasons, one rationale to avoid criminal activity is because ultimately criminal actions will lead to state or federal prison…or worse. So, let’s focus our efforts on living with honor and integrity. Work to be honest in words and deeds and advocate for the less fortunate. And let’s vote to support those who experiencing targeting by the criminal justice system, while helping us all to KEEP OUT of jail and prison.

Readers, offer your comments here. What do you believe is the risk for young men, specifically men of color, for going to jail or prison? What are ways young men can avoid committing criminal offenses? Specifically, what young men (& women) do to prevent criminal activity when it may be all around them (i.e., in their homes, neighborhoods, family, friends)? Leave encouraging comments here.

References
Bjornstrom, E. E., Kaufman, R. L., Peterson, R. D., & Slater, M. D. (2010). RACE AND ETHNIC REPRESENTATIONS OF LAWBREAKERS AND VICTIMS IN CRIME NEWS: A NATIONAL STUDY OF TELEVISION COVERAGE. Social problems57(2), 269–293. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2010.57.2.269

Bonczar, T.P. & Beck, A.J. (1997). Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison. Bureau of Justice Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice.

Dixon Travis L., Azocar Christina L., Casas Michael. The Portrayal of Race and Crime on Television Network News. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 2003; 47:498–523.

Dixon Travis L., Linz Daniel. Race and the Misrepresentation of Victimization on Local Television News. Communication Research. 2000a; 27:547–573.

Gardening Is My Mental Health Therapy

By Reginia Dodson | UAB Community Health and Human Services Intern

Photo by Alexander Grey on Pexels.com

I planted a vegetable garden. At the time, I had no idea that it would prove to be therapeutic for me. It is only a small, raised bed garden that I somehow have planted to an overflowing capacity. This makes for a battle to keep my squash, zucchini, and eggplant from taking over the entire little box. Along with these aggressive space invaders, I planted tomatoes, okra, and cabbage as well. I even think that it is quite possible that I created an entirely new vegetable due to the overcrowding and plants mixing together. OK, I am joking, but still…there is joy in planting this garden.

When I began gardening, I did not realize that it would become my place and time to disengage from all the stressors in my life. Each day as I tackle the invaders growing and the natural intruders, I find myself relaxing and calming my anxieties. It is something to feel the cool soil as I dig around with my bare hands. I feel a connection with nature each day that I am in my garden.

I am not the only one who feels this way. Rooftop gardening, yes…on the roof, has been associated with better personal development and suggested enhanced physical and emotional well-being, sense of purpose, social inclusion, interpersonal relations, and quality of life (Triguero-Mas et al, 2020). What happens on the roof, happens on ground as well. I am always in my garden early in the morning before the world around me awakens. It is so serene and peaceful. I find even my breathing is more relaxed and the time helps to prepare me for the stressors I will encounter during the day. Furthermore, there are times that my family and friends get to enjoy the garden as we come together, supporting my happy pursuits with some good work and fun. Not to mention, good food afterwards.

It is also delightful to find what has grown seemingly overnight. I see it as a life metaphor, patiently waiting to see the work of my hands and nature come together to bring life into the world. I laugh at times because I never saw myself gardening. Especially, using my bare hands while doing so…oh the dirt and grime. So what about you? Do you have a garden? Are you good with plants? Do you find peace and delight working with nature? Leave your comments below.

References

Suggested citation for this article: Triguero-Mas M, Anguelovski I, Cirac-Claveras J, Connolly J, Vazquez A, Urgell-Plaza F, et al. Quality of Life Benefits of Urban Rooftop Gardening for People With Intellectual Disabilities or Mental Health Disorders. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:200087. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200087external icon

The Power of Healthy Friendships

By Tan Walker | UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Sometimes being with friends is all the therapy we need! Making connections is a primary human impulse. Researchers have found that people that have healthy friendships are deemed healthier and happier than those who are friendless (CDC, 2022).

Friends are essential to our well-being and are some of the most powerful bonds people have. They can also keep us grounded and help us manage the craziness that life throws at us, and provide an abundance of social support which is vital for our mental health. Having healthy friendships is powerful and has many benefits. It can help reduce stress, loneliness, and anxiety (Serene Health, 2022).

True friends will listen to our problems and support us through hard times, but it is important that we do the same for them. Here are four tips that will help us maintain healthy friendships:

1. Make time for friends – making an effort to see friends regularly is extremely important for maintaining a friendship

2. Communicate openly and honestly – try to share any thoughts and feelings with friends, and be open to hearing theirs.

3. Respect each other’s differences – It is important to value each other’s opinions and perspectives, even if we don’t always agree with each other.

4. Be supportive – Good friends are there through the good, the bad, and the ugly. If our friends are going through something, be there to listen and to provide the support that they need.

Whenever we are down, or battling with our mental health,  it is comforting to know we have people in our lives that will be there to support us always. 

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). Talking to Your Love Ones. Cancer Survivors. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/survivors/healthy-living-guides/emotional-health/talking-to-loved-ones.htm

Serene Health. (2022, August 16). Friendships are essential for mental health and Wellbeing. https://serenehealth.com/mental-health-and-friendships/

Journaling Can Benefit Your Mental Health

By Tan Walker | UAB Community Health & Human Services Intern

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

When you think of “journaling”, it is easy to picture a young girl locked away in her room writing about her high-school crush in a diary with a lock on it. Although this is an easy perception to have, it likely matches with the overall consensus for adults: journaling is for young people still trying to figure out their purpose in life and gossiping about the latest high school drama.

Believe it or not, many adults own a journal of some sort. Whether it’s a diary, a 3 subject notebook, notes taken on a smartphone, or just a plain sheet of paper and a pen: journaling has no required format. Journaling only requires that you share your thoughts openly. Effective journaling can help you meet your goals or improve your quality of life (Ackerman, 2022; Purcell, 2006). Although personal goals vary from person to person, they are almost always positive and journaling can be a process that support goal accomplishment.

Effective journaling can help you clear your head, reduce anxiety, and it can also help you connect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. But how exactly does dumping words on a page have an impact on your mental health?

Well, journaling has been proven to help people struggling with a mental illness or people who want to improve their mental health (Ackerman, 2022; Purcell, 2006). More specifically, effective journaling has been found to:

Boost your mood
Enhance your sense of well-being
Reduce symptoms of depression
Reduce symptoms of trauma and PTSD
Improve your work memory

Here are some following tips to ensure your journaling is effective:

Write in a space free of distractions
Journal at least once a day
Keep your journal private -“my eyes only”
Be in control of the topic and structure of your writing

Try journaling today! The process may take some time, but the benefits can support your health and quality of life. It can be fun! Whether you choose to write about how your day went or your current thoughts and emotions, the fun part is that you get to choose what your narrative will be!

Courtney E. Ackerman, M. A. (2022, September 8). 83 benefits of journaling for depression, anxiety, and stress. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved September 8, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/

Purcell, M. (2006). The Health Benefits of Journaling. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10, 2022, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721

Working to Be Heavenly Minded & Earthly Good…

By Larrell L. Wilkinson

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Many have heard the Bible verse, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV). So being real for a moment, many of us do become distracted and/or challenged in the action of first seeking His kingdom and righteousness. We are challenged in making Him the priority over things of the world. So often our troubles in and of the world take precedent in our daily lives. Whether personal or social, a person may wake up thinking about their troubles or literally “yell angry expressions through typing” on Twitter to express their opinion about a particular topic that irks them. Let’s not forget our instinctive reaction to people who cut us off on the freeway! These first thoughts, instinctive reactions and/or expressions on social media may occur before we have once prayed to God about the problem or meditated on the “trouble” given God’s instruction to us from His Word.

Let me be clear, there are many serious trials and tribulations that we may encounter in life. For James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, NIV). Consider it “pure joy…”, REALLY? It tough dealing with challenges like hate through racism. Lord, I really rather not have to deal with the stresses of racism or concern myself with how racism may impact my children. And what about other hardships? What if a couple is going through a rough patch in their marriage; a person is battling with serious illness; and/or coping with other inequities within society…I mean who really desires to be faced with these other difficult life circumstances.

Still, I want to encourage us to press into God (& His kingdom) more! Practicing patience, finding joy in hope, and being consistent in prayer (Romans 12:12) may help us to resolve our personal troubles. The book of Isaiah suggest that we do right; seek (require or demand) justice; defend the oppressed; take up the cause of the fatherless; and plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17) within society. This is how we can work to address some major issues impacting our local communities. For the last part of Matthew 6:33 says, “…and all these things will be given to you as well.” Thus, God is telling us that racial reconciliation, health and recovery, a flourishing society, a better marriage, overcoming our personal challenges…can occur when we seek His kingdom and His righteousness.

No one is saying it will be easy, at least I’m not. As a matter of fact, or my opinion, I believe it may be extremely difficult to address challenging areas in our personal lives and socially. Plus, we must consider God’s timing and that His ideas may be different than our expectations. Still, working to seek God and His kingdom FIRST, is our FIRST step to addressing problems in our lives. Second, I believe it is important to change our own attitudes positively about the challenges that we experience. This is why James says, “consider it pure joy” and I am sharing with you that I am a “work in progress.” To help me, I am intentional about keeping positive and healthy family/friends/mentors around me from whom I can seek good advice and social-emotional-mental-physical-financial support. A church can be helpful in this endeavor as well. Finally, I also work to accomplish small tasks around me, challenging myself to take on bigger issues as I build momentum (confidence) with smaller successes.

So what about you? How do you address challenges in your life? What concerns can PHAME-US Life help to encourage you through from the “test” to the “testimony” for others to see? Feel free to share in the comments section or join us on social media. May God Bless You and Yours.

This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let it Shine: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021

I can remember hot Sundays and weekdays sitting in the pews of hot Mississippi churches listening to my grandmothers sing:

“This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine, (Ohhh!)

I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…”

If you have never heard a deep, southern gospel group of adults or even children sing this song, well, run to YouTube quickly and find some videos or download the music at Apple, Amazon, Google, etc. The song can be an uplift, whenever you need it most. I can still hear both of my grandmother’s voices in my inner ear, singing this song among the other church choir members. At one of my home churches in Mississippi, I can hear the choir singing under the direction of my aunt playing the piano and keying up the verses. I am telling you; the church was hot with the bright sun beams coming down on both of my family churches (in different parts of the State of Mississippi), but the song was “SANG” the same. I can still hear the passion in the voices of the choir, most of them older women: mothers, grandmothers, aunties, cousins, sisters, family…instructing us in the audience to let our light shine.

Most of the church was much older than me. My grandparents’ generation lived through World War II, Jim Crow Laws of the South, and the Civil Rights struggle and gains of the 20th Century. They combatted the ugliness of racism: burned down African American owned stores, fire bombed churches, challenges to perform the guaranteed civic duty of voting, discrimination, and racial bias in the Armed Services while fighting for the United States of America, inability to get farm loans, etc. because of the color of their skin. But through it all, they “let their light shine.” By law, it was determined that they would live as second-class citizens in the South, segregated as “separate and unequal” and through it all they “let their light shine.”

It didn’t matter if you were an older adult, adult, teenager, or child…in the church, listeners were told:

“Everywhere I go

I’m gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go

I’m gonna let it shine

Everywhere I go

I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

And why? Why did (do) we have to shine the light? It is true that the Bible reads, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NIV). But I tell you more practically, my grandmothers and the leaders of their generation were singing more practically. They were teaching and encouraging, saying to combat White Citizen’s Council policies, redlining, Jim Crow Laws, lynching, unlawful arrests, racial profiling, and other violations of African Americans (& People of Color) civil rights, we must let our light shine. They did GOOD when faced with EVIL, demonstrated LOVE when given HATE, and offered FORGIVENESS (not forgetfulness) when presented MEANNESS, OPPRESSION, and OFFENSE. The choir knew what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Let’s choose to love today and every day, loving our neighbor (others) as we do ourselves (Mark 12:31, NIV). Love to all of you and thank you for your leadership Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. May we continue to let our light shine!

A Note of Love to My Wife Khalia: Thank You Sweetheart

My dearest Khalia,

Thank you for your love.

Thank you for being patient with me. Sometimes my ways are not your ways and your ways are not mine, but you choose to love me through the tension.

Thank you for being kind to me. I realize there are times I am unpleasant to be around, but you choose to love me with your gentleness.

Thank you for being generous with me. I realize there are times between us that inspire resentment, but you choose to pursue goodwill in our relationship.

Thank you for diminishing my faults, remaining down-to-earth, and being civil and polite. I realize there are times I come off rude or high-and-mighty, but you choose to not be irritable with me and forgive my wrongs.

Thank you for being fair with me. I realize there are times where your sacrifice or compromise is not celebrated, but you choose to exercise truth in a respectful manner.

Thank you for not giving up on me, not losing faith in me, remaining hopeful with me, and enduring life’s circumstances with me! Thank you for being a loving wife to me!

Your Husband,

Larrell L. Wilkinson

A Prayer for Our Country on January 6, 2021

Father God,

As we watch the turmoil in Washington, D.C. right now, we turn to you and pray for our nation. We pray for peace, calm, & demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ. We pray for the safety of the Capitol Police protecting Congress; the safety of Senators and Representatives; and the safety of peaceful protestors. We pray protection from those who divide, sow discord, & perform acts of violence. We pray the leaders of our government, leaders of the United States of America do the serious work to form a more perfect Union…working toward Justice, Tranquility, the Common Defense, promoting the general Welfare, and continuing to secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and Posterity. Amen. #capitolhill#democracy#StrongerTogether

Reflecting on 2020: The @Home Haircut while in Quarantine


No doubt, 2020 was a hard year! There were many tragic circumstances (I won’t list them in this lighthearted post) that transpired through the year. Life changed for many of us. As I type this reflection, it is hard for me to remain cheerful because the year was filled with many challenges for the nation, there were many struggles in local communities, and many hardships for individuals close to me (myself included). Still, in this posting, I will choose to reflect on a lighter side of life. So here it goes, among the many reflections I have about 2020, at least one of those is the Quarantine Haircut. Now, it may not be what you think…I don’t have a horror story. I am bald, so I am good! And, I know that we are to “not worry…about your body, what you will wear…is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV). So, we shouldn’t worry about haircuts? Right? Well, I do want my son to look good, but…$15 – $20 per haircut. I mean real talk; he is 3 years old. He doesn’t like to sit still and sometimes he cries when I cut his hair, especially when he was younger. Plus, that is low end $180 to high end $480 a year. We’re on a budget, so yes, I have and will continue to cut his hair (at least in the short term)!

The reason why I can appreciate 2020 is because so many other parents did the same thing. Many parents (& adults) got their haircut at home, imperfections or haircut fails and all! I won’t comment about the stress that the women in my family experienced. That is another post for another day…or never! For me, I didn’t feel that fatherly guilt knowing my son didn’t have the “tightest fade” or the coolest new design! Everybody did what they had to do, and the world kept on spinning! So, parents, are you going back to taking your son to the barbershop? Or, are you pocketing the haircut money and putting the money away in savings account, using the money to invest, or placing the money for your vacation fund?

At least for the time being, there will be no strong tape ups (fades) for my son [although I will start to practice] and sometimes his hair line is a little crooked (I know, but it grows out). But there is also, no 20 – 30-minute drive to the “shop” and then another 20 – 30 minutes back home; no appointments or wait times for the “chair” (the wait can be so long); and we continue to place the cost savings into other budget areas for the family. Plus, we still aren’t going much of anywhere…anyways! And although we aren’t supposed to worry about how we look so much , my son is still very handsome!

Working to Reduce Our Racial Biases in 2021


But the Lord said to Samuel, “…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).” A recent incident going viral through social media portrays a European American woman accusing an African American teenager of being in possession of her iPhone in a hotel lobby. The story has gone viral due to the unfortunate escalation of this situation, eventually involving the Arlo Hotel staff and local police. According to video posted online, the European American woman works to tackle the young man who she believes is in possession of her phone. Soon after this ill-fated incident, an Uber driver return the woman’s iPhone to her at the hotel.

Certainly, an apology is in order and it is likely that civil and probably even criminal charges will be pursued. Although there are many sides to a story and more will come to light related to this situation; many African Americans specifically, and “people of color” generally are physically weary, emotionally drained, and socially tired of living with and pushing through these circumstances caused by bias. All kinds of biases exist regarding sex, age, race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, height, etc. Focusing on race, this unnecessary circumstance experienced by this young man due to his African American ethnicity (there are millions of iPhones made and distributed annually and he has one) is the result of a woman acting on her biases (how many other iPhones might there have been in the hotel lobby).

After a year like 2020, let’s work to be kinder to one another. Let’s work to be intentional in reducing our racial biases. We can all become aware of racial biases (implicit or otherwise) that we may have. If you are a parent, and if you can imagine a stranger accosting your child, then we can all be concerned about the consequences of acting on our biases without just cause. Even if you are not a parent, you have family, friends, and others in your network that can be made to experience unfortunate moments, penalized for no other reason than due to their race/ethnicity. But most importantly, I encourage all of us to work to substitute our biased reactions to racial situations with non-biased reactions related to our Christian values. Let us work to identify people as God would, looking at the heart! Even if we believe that someone has our phone, I am sure that there are dozens of different ways that this circumstance could have ended better.