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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What is Ash Wednesday? Why do we commemorate Lent with sacrifice?

"What's Ash Wednesday even about?" Why do we give up stuff for Lent?" You may have been asked these questions by your children over the last couple of days. While talking with my kids about the Easter season and it's accompanying traditions, I realized I was unclear about some of the history and religious symbolism myself. This video by is a quick and easy to use teaching tool!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hip Hop Classics That Can Revive Black History Month: 11 Songs of Freedom, Revolution, Power and Pride

In 1926 Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, announced their plan to designate the second week of February "Negro History Week." Blacks living in America, having survived the horrors of slavery and endured inhumane treatment post-emancipation, had no roots to their African homelands. Woodson contended that if Black history was not properly acknowledged America's future generations would be in tremendous jeopardy. 

"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization."

The annual month long celebration of African American history informally began in the 1960s at the urging of Kent State University's Black United Student organization and was eventually recognized by the U.S. government in 1976.  As a child I was apart of the 1980's and 90s enthusiasm that swept through elementary and high schools everywhere. African kente cloth prints inspired fashion. 
The lives of King, Parks, X, Tubman, Douglass informed special assemblies, poetry, HBCU apparel and cultural anthems. Communities celebrated pride in blackness year-round, but with extra vigor in February. But, as time has passed, the reverent regard surrounding Black History Month has diminished so drastically it calls into question it's relevance.

The need to separate African American historic achievements from that of the larger population is becoming more frequently debated. We've elected our first biracial President, a globally popular figure of African and Irish descent. The masses complain about the redundancy of slave narratives, no matter how poignantly they are told. Due to the glaring disparity in accounts of African American contributions to the construction of our nation and it's economy, I personally believe the commemoration is still very necessary. General knowledge of African American history barely skims the surface and recent events have sorely reminded us that the lives of black people, especially young men, are often valued less than their Caucasian counterparts. I am not yet convinced that we are not living in a post racial society.

What can be done to make black history month less mundane? Ideally we can use this time not only to remember our ancestry, but also to evaluate our present position and establish priorities for our collective future as African Americans. But how do you engage individuals who might not understand the gravity of connecting the here and now with days gone by? Music is always a great place to start.  

Hip hop culture has flooded mainstream America. But, with commercial appeal a sense of consciousness has been lost. There was a time when an emcee could move the crowd and inspire a movement. As a parent who enjoys rap music, I am constantly looking for opportunities to introduce kids to a side of hip hop culture that is less misogynistic and more motivational. When wordsmiths use their craft to make hip hop the poetry of our people, they can ignite our sense of personal and communal power. Using your discretion, consider the lyrical content and age of your audience, then share these songs and videos below with a new audience. Remind them that knowing where they come from and what those before them came through, can help them navigate their own journey to greatness. 

You Must Learn - KRS One and Boogie Down Productions

Teach the student what needs to be taught / 'Cause Black and White kids both take shorts

When one doesn't know about the other ones' culture / Ignorance swoops down like a vulture
KRS, an acronym for “Knowledge Reigning Supreme”, aka Teacha is the preeminent conscience emcee. From BDP’s 1989 album Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop, KRS-One tries to instill in his listeners a love of African American history.

U.N.I.T.Y - Queen Latifah
U.N.I.T.Y., Love a black woman from infinity to infinity.Before becoming a Hollywood powerhouse Queen Latifah reigned supreme as a hip hop female force to be reckoned with. The single, released on January 6, 1994, spoke out against the disrespect of women in society, addressing issues of street harassment, domestic violence, and slurs against women in hip hop culture. 

I Can - Nas 
Before we came to this country / We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys
There was empires in Africa called Kush / Timbuktu, where every race came to get books
To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans
Asian, Arabs and gave them gold 
When gold was converted to money it all changed / Money then became empowerment for Europeans
One of Nas' highest charting singles to date, this ditty is definitely for the kids. Nas taps into his paternal side and drops so historical gems along the way. He encourages children to follow your dreams and recognize that they can do anything they set their minds to. 

Free - Goodie Mob
Many are blind and cannot find the truth / 'Cause no one seems to really know
But I won't accept that this is how it's gon' be / Devil, you gotta let me and my people go

Goodie Mob is a hip-hop group from Atlanta, Georgia that consisted of breakout star Cee-Lo Green and his Organized Noize brothers Khujo, T-Mo, and Big Gipp. This intro set the tone for their debut album Soul Food in 1995.

Proud To Be Black - Run DMC 
God bless the next baby that comes in this world / The world's full of hate discrimination and sin
People judgin other people by the color of skin / I'll attack this matter, in my own way

The Hollis, Queens New York trio is possibly the most influential act in the history of hip hop culture. From the 1986 Raising Hell Album, Proud To Be Black was a militant black history lesson for their legion of fans across cultures. 

Keep Your Head Up - Tupac
I remember Marvin Gaye, used to sing ta me / He had me feelin like black was tha thing to be
And suddenly tha ghetto didn't seem so tough / And though we had it rough, we always had enough

Tupac's legacy lives on in his lyrics laced with outspoken social commentary. There was a lot more to this "rose that grew from concrete" than the thug life motto he's become known for. As he recounts his childhood and affirms black women, Pac is both critical and grateful to his mother, former Black Panther Afeni Shakur. Despite her shortcomings it's clear that activism helped shaped his incendiary passion. 

Fight The Power - Public Enemy
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death / We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say / Fight the power
This anthem, originally from the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s classic movie Do the Right Thing and later on PE’s seminal album Fear of a Black Planet, Chuck Dee doesn't worry about the push toward political correctness and puts his point of view front and center in this classic composition.   

Freedom (Theme from Panther)
Slung from the belly of the beast / Used to speak African tongue
So I showed her next one bolder / Slung the devil over my shoulder
I'm getting over 'cause I'm bolder than the next / I'm enlightened 'cause I speak the real truth from the text
"Freedom" was a 1995 song released on Mercury Records featuring a chorus of over 60 African-American female artists and groups of note in hip-hop, pop and R&B music including AaliyahVanessa L. WilliamsMary J. BligeMC LyteCokoEn VogueSWVTLCLisa Lopes, and Monica

Umi Says - Mos Def
My Umi said shine your light on the world / Shine your light for the world to see
My Abi said shine your light on the world / Shine your light for the world to see
I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free
Brooklyn Muslim Dante Terrell Smith is better known by the stage names Mos Def and Yasiin Bey. The recording artist and actor performed with the groups Thermo Dynamics and Black Star before establishing his solo career with the Black on Both Sides. "Umi Says" was a spirit-filled, radio friendly hit that reminded listeners of their luminescence.

Liberation - Outkast
If your ass don't move, and the rain don't fall
And the ground just dry
But the roots are strong, so some survive
Outkast teamed up with Erykah Badu, Big Rube, Cee-Lo in 1998 to combine a variety of musical styles, including gospel,jazz, blues, and world music on a song that included rapped vocals, while also featuring soul singing and spoken word styles.  Lyrically, the track utilizes images of slavery to symbolize freedom from hatred, inequality, and all the obstacles people face in their community (and music industry) that can distract from their goals and true objectives.

Yes We Can - Will.I.Am
Yes we can to justice and equality / Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity
Yes we can heal this nation / Yes we can repair this world
Produced by Black Eyed Peas member Wil.I.Am, Yes We Can was created to mobilize youth voter registration and turnout for Barack Obama's first presidential campaign. Will.I.Am sampled sound bytes from Obama's concession speech in the 2008 New Hampshire primary.

**After your hip hop black history lesson make sure your kids know the words to We Shall Overcome and The Black National Anthem!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Combat Christmas Consumerism - 3 Ways To Remember The Reason For The Season

The holiday season is here, whether you're ready or not. Less than one month ago friends and family gathered around tables, shared delicious meals and gave thanks for all the good in our lives. Exactly 24 hours later gratitude gave way to "getititude" as scores of shoppers swarmed and scrambled to grab bargains on Black Friday. The season of comfort and joy has become more about flat screen televisions and hard to find toys.

Last year I blogged about my own child's sense of Christmas entitlement. 

This year our family has worked hard to counteract consumerism and instead teach virtues of true holiday spirit. While I want my little ones to enjoy the thrill of receiving gifts from their wish list; it's equally important for them to learn the magic of giving, creating traditions and being spiritually grounded. It's easy to get caught up in the commercial hoopla! Use these tips to add meaning to the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Celebrate The Joy Of Giving
We all look forward to the smiles that follow unwrapping beautiful boxes on Christmas morning (Hanukkah and Kwanzaa too)! We save, shop, sneak and stress to get our loved ones what they desire most. Hopefully as adults we've learned the joy of giving, as well as receiving. Plan activities that teach your little ones that sentiment. It's important for them to realize that other boys and girls may be going without. Find a local toy drive, group home, or church collecting items for the less fortunate. Donate toys, books and clothing that can be a blessing to those who desperately need a bit of holiday cheer. If finances are tight give your time. Join a group that sings carols at nursing homes or spend an afternoon volunteering at a local shelter. Be the gift!

2. Create Family Traditions Together
Fellowship, family, laughter and love - these are life's most special gifts. Make the season mean so much more by creating traditions with your children. Craft homemade ornaments or cards, bake cookies for your neighbors, attend a performance of the Nutcracker, see a holiday concert, go ice skating, host a Christmas Eve potluck, etc. Give your family something to look forward to each year that's invaluable, immaterial and doesn't require batteries.

3. Teach The Reason For The Season
Focus on your faith. Why and what do you believe? As busy adults we sometimes take for granted the spiritual lessons imparted by our elders. Teach your children the essence of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Make it fun! Take part of special activities in your place of worship. Pick out a couple of new books. Put on a play or puppet show to perform for loved ones visiting from out of state. Although Santa has become a prominent figure, remind your children the star atop your tree does not shine in celebration of dear old St. Nick.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Rest Well Father Freedom ~ Remembering Nelson Mandela's Legacy as the Regal Revolutionary

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 95 year old statesman, Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid revolutionary, died leaving behind the love of his family, nation and the world. The son of a Tembu chief, he was named Rolihlahla, meaning “troublemaker,” until his first day at school where his teacher dubbed "Nelson" to conform to the British bias in education. Drawn to politics in his teens, his civil rights era fight to end apartheid (a system of racial segregation enforced through Dutch colonial legislation) resulted in Mandela serving almost three decades in prison. After his hard earned release in 1990, Mandela led negotiations that abolished apartheid and established a multiracial election in 1994. Subsequently he went on to become the first black South African to hold the office of President. In the same year Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom was published profiling his early life, maturation, education and 27 years of incarceration. 

An international political and social icon, Mandela lived for nearly a century wholly dedicated to freedom, justice, education, combating poverty, HIV/AIDS prevention and inspiring all people to live their dreams and create their legacies. 

Coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s I was aware of Mandela's mission for equality, the impact of his life story and how his words and ideas influenced a new generation of world 

In the wake of his transition from this Earth, please share the lessons of this luminary with our youth so that they too might shine their lights and lead the less fortunate out of the shadows of injustice. 

1. "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

2. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

3. "It always seems impossible until it's done." 

4. "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

5. “There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” 

6. "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

7. "Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."

8. “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

9. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” 

10. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” 

11. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

12. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” 

13. “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” 

14. "Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front."

15. “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” 

16. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” 

17. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” 

18. “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” 

19. “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

20. “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” 

Friday, November 1, 2013

7 Super Sized Life Lessons From Our Favorite Superheroes!

As a little girl I spent most of my time playing with Cabbage Patch dolls or with my nose pressed between the pages of a Babysitter's Club book. Sure, He-Man and She-Ra were on my radar, but I was nowhere near the superhero aficionado that my 1st grader is. When your child develops a healthy interest in something its only natural that you dig in too. Comic book buffs aren't the only ones getting caught up in fantastic feats and fearless heroics. The cinematic success of classic characters have taken Marvel and DC Comics mainstream. Now larger than life superheroes are everyone's latest obsession. Not only is my six year old son fascinated with the super human icons, but my baby girl and the whole family have been sucked in by the brave men and women who save the day with style and sass!
We catch summer blockbusters, add trilogies to our DVD collection, order life size wall stickers for Nigel's room and plan fun hero themed Halloween costumes and birthday parties. I've found this superhero stuff has a little more to it than custom capes, evil villains and impressive gadgets. Beyond their incredible strength, speed and epic awesomeness are lessons that can build your child's character and confidence. Some of our family's favorite superheroes teach the young and young at heart about courage, commitment, justice and more.

Spider Man aka Peter Parker 

By day Peter is an unassuming, geeky tween with a penchant for photography and Mary Jane, but thanks to a radioactive spider bite he's a web slinging, wall scaling, local crime fighter.

The Lesson: Say it with me ... With great power comes great responsibility. Peter has learned the hard way that when power goes to his head, he loses sight of what's most important. He's lost loved ones along the way and though it hasn't been easy, he understands that he can be a benefit to his community. Through hardships and grief we must always press on and and remember that our gifts are to be used to make the world a better place.

The X-Men
Led by the omniscient Professor Xavier, this motley crew of mutants use awe inspiring abilities to protect the world from evil doers in and outside of their ranks.

The Lesson: Being unique is incredible - not awkward. If you're struggling find a mentor that nurtures your talents and helps you realize that despite how much people misunderstand you - you are perfectly made. Storm, Wolverine, Magneto, Rogue, and scores of teenage X-Men outcasts have personal pains and individual journies. The storylines explore alienation and prejudice, and they show their audience the devastation of fear mongering. Most importantly, X-Men teach fans that being different is to be celebrated.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

What's old is new again and now my children can enjoy these characters that I thought were pretty cool back in the day. I'm not the only one who still knows the theme song by heart, right? "They're the world's most fearsome fighting team; they're heroes in a half shell and they're green!" Evil Shredder is still around and so is the support of their adoptive dad, Splinter. Who'd have thought a human sized rat could be so lovable!? These turtle brothers use their martial art skills to mix it up with bad guys.

The Lesson: Family sticks together no matter our differences. Each of the teenage brothers have unique strengths and weaknesses. They never go about things the same way, but when in a pinch they always look out for one another. TMNT have each other's back and the support of their doting Dad. Ultimately, their best chance to defeat vicious enemies is with teamwork

*The Incredibles also teach a similar lesson.

Thor aka Thor Odinson, Prince of Asgar 

The God of Thunder and Lightning, Thor, is hunky in a Nordic Viking kind of way. He wields one of the greatest weapons ever made, the enchanted hammer Mjolnir. The Asgardian warrior is trained in the arts of battle, has immense fighting ability, super strength and scant vulnerabilities. In fact, Thor' s greatest weakness is his arrogance, part of the reason he was exiled to Earth to learn lessons in humility.

The Lesson: While on Earth, Thor is stripped of many of his powers. He is served a hefty piece of humble pie, but gains an appreciation for humanity and the simple sentiments we hold dear. The value in his story is the reminder that even the mightiest among us have room for development,  and the strongest have a duty to defend the weak. Before you can lead others, you must first learn how to lead yourself.

Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince
Possibly the most famous superheroine, Wonder Woman is a warrior princess who put unconventional fierce, savvy women on the comic book map.
She's a champion for gender equality. Plus, no one could tell me that the Lasso of Truth isn't one of the coolest superhero weapons ever created.

The Lesson: All you need is love.  She's as powerful as they come, but she has a special weapon for helping villains reform: compassion. "With it's great gift, I can change human character; I can make bad men good and weak women strong."

Iron Man aka Tony Stark 
We meet Tony Stark as a brilliant businessman known
as much for his playboy lifestyle and non existent moral compass as his technological innovations. After a near death experience with a weapon he designed he quite literally has a change of heart. Tony begins to see that he can contribute more to the world if he keeps his flair, but abandons some of his selfish ideologies.

The Lesson: Once Tony Stark becomes Iron Man we witness him evolve from a self consumed egomaniac into a philanthropist ready to champion for justice. Talk about letting that light inside of you shine!  We can be redeemed. It's never too late to become a person who cares more about others than he does himself. As an added bonus we see that scientists can be as cool as rockstars and lead pretty exciting lives!

The Green Lantern aka Hal Jordan 
Bad boy fighter pilot Hal Jordan always pushes the envelope. He abhors authority and lives on the edge, but still can't shake the bit of fear that holds him back from his true potential and sours his relationships. Once the power ring selects him as the first human in history to join Green Lantern Corps, our reluctant hero goes on to do great things for the good of the universe.

The Lesson: Whatever Green Lantern creates with his mind's eye, becomes reality. As a person who believes strongly in New Thought faith principles, I can relate to the theme that our thoughts give us ultimate power. Hal begins to visualize the solutions to his problems, internalize his capabilities and believe that he can turn figments of his imagination into fruition. The larger lesson is that our divine will is always strong enough to defeat our fears.

Superheroes are an inspiration to transcend our mortal limitations and become exceptional. Their adventures are sensational stories with more to teach than what's on the surface. Enjoy the thrills and have fun on the road to becoming a super YOU! Nigel and I wrote a little poem about it. Wanna hear it? Here it go!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Update: Nigel's reaction to his Naughty or Nice 90 notice - Classic!

A couple of weeks back I blogged about using a 90 Day Naughty or Nice Notice to help tighten up my son's behavior as the holiday season approaches. You can catch up here:

On September 25th I snuck the envelope in our mailbox and had him grab the daily mail. Apparently nothing rocks a kid's world like a threat from the North Pole!  A mom's got to get her laughs somewhere, so of course I videotaped his reaction. I gotta admit I enjoyed having a little fun at my son's expense. It wouldn't be fair to not share the twisted comedy with my MommyMorphosis readers! Check out the clips below.

Once inside he reads the letter amidst lots of baby sister distraction.

No worries, I'm already working on Nikke's letter for next year. But, as you can see she's a tough crowd - her notice may have to come straight from the big bellied benefactor.

This parental prank is all in good fun, but not a substitute for everyday boundary setting and discipline. Still, it's been very, very effective :-) Many of you have tried this with your own kids, please feel free share your stories in the comment section.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nigel's Naughty or Nice 90 Day Notice from North Pole Behavior Bureau

My son is a pretty sweet kid. Never gives us any major trouble, an angel at school, etc. But from time to time, especially since his sixth birthday, he struggles with a bit of Know It All Syndrome. His smart brain can lead to a smart mouth. We've been trying a couple discipline techniques, and seeing some improvement, but not a ton. Last week after a scolding I heard him grumble to himself, "Now, I'm never going to make Santa's nice list!" Light bulb moment! I decided to have a little fun with him and use the approaching holiday season as an incentive. I wrote the following letter and addressed it to him from the North Pole Behavior Bureau. It should arrive in the mail today. I'll share an update this weekend!


September 25, 2013                                           North Pole Behavior Bureau
Naughty or Nice List Status
90 Day Notice

Dear Nigel Ayodeji Shoyoye:

This letter is written as a reminder that Christmas is just three short months away. It has come to the attention of the Chief Elf in Charge that your behavior has been mostly nice, but just a little naughty. 
This news is quite a shock for Santa and his crew.
Since your first Christmas in December 2007 you have been one of the best behaved boys in North America! We have always been very impressed by how hard you work to be kind, well mannered and a good friend. I am sure that you will make the proper adjustments to guarantee that you will have a very Merry Christmas full of peace, love, joy and lots of cool toys.

May we suggest:
  • Playing nicely with your little sister.
  • Working hard to have excellent behavior at school everyday.
  • Using a respectful tone and polite language when speaking to people – especially parents, grandparents and elders.
  • It is very important to follow your parents instructions the first time, maybe the second, but definitely not on “Nigel Time.”  (Yes, we've been talking with your Mom)
  • Please do not shout, whine or stomp your feet when asked to take a bath or go to bed.
  • Keep your room tidy and ask what you can do to help with house chores.

Santa believes in you and he knows that you are a very good boy. Smart too! Remember he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake; he knows if you've been bad or good – SO BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE!

Benjamin Lee Elf, Chief Elf in Charge

North Pole Behavior Bureau