Ramadan Real

kulture, opinion, travel

My thoughts about experiencing Ramadan abroad via Essence online 

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“I don’t know if u care or not…”

opinion

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I recently had a former student of mine send me a message that started with “Hey ms. gray dont know if u care or not but I got my g.e.d. today and I don’t know if you remember [student] but he got killed”

My initial thought was CONGRATULATIONS! And how great of an accomplishment it is to reverse a decision that you made at an earlier part of your young life. Then of course, the overwhelming sadness of the loss of a former student.

My “babies” [as I like to call them] are from Baltimore City. The odds are stacked against some of them in ways that would be considered inhumane, if they lived one county or even a street over in some cases. Not only do they have to face these unfair realities but, they also are black. In a society where the color of your skin STILL determines your life’s trajectory, they are the true definition of roses that grew from concrete. They faced each day with an [oftentimes moody] teenage curiosity and optimism that a teacher’s eye easily picks up.

So as I congratulated him and reflected about our class experiences, I felt the impending gloom and sadness about my other student’s senseless death and an even greater sadness that his friend’s great accomplishment of getting his GED will always be connected with the sudden loss of his friend.

Now, almost 5 years since they’ve had me as a teacher, when they send me messages on Facebook or text me that they remembered something funny that happened in our 9th grade class, or that they got an A on one of their college exams, or that they’re thinking of getting a new car, I still feel a great responsibility to engage with and care about them.

No matter how many times they talked too much, fell asleep at their desks, made mistakes while writing or talking, laughed when they should’ve listened, or just were typical high school students, I never stopped caring about them. To all of my former students who read this, I’m proud to have been your teacher and proud of you. To my student who received his GED, continue to do your best for yourself and your classmate who senselessly lost his life. Living 20 years is an accomplishment I’m sick of having for our people. Despite the odds, the real feat is that roses continue to grow from Baltimore City concrete.

“F*** Teachers!” — Says Most Rappers 

music, opinion

  So, allow me to reintroduce myself [Hov voice] 

In all seriousness, it feels good to write again. Unfortunately my 9-5 takes major brain energy and critical thinking powers so now that things have started to slow down in preparation for summer break, I can explore and become penspired. 

Recently, I took some time to listen to a new album, Meek Mill’s x Dreams Worth More Than Money. The new album has lots of features from viral notables like Drake, Future, The Weeknd and of course the object of his affection, Nicki Minaj. Though I enjoyed the album, I’m not here to give it a review. I want to get into a common theme in a lot of rapper’s songs, which I would like to scholastically name the “F*** My Teacher theme.  

Let’s get into this. Full disclosure, I’m a teacher and any time I hear rappers say “teacher” my ears perk up like they’re my students, especially because I respect the artist’s craft. Unfortunately, that sentiment isn’t always mutual. I’m sure everyone has had “good” and “bad” teachers. I’ve had a few that I didn’t care for and I had many that I really enjoyed and respected. Rappers are no different from you and in this experience. However, they have a means to express themselves for millions to hear and they also have a huge influence on society’s moldable minds, which leads to the following observation. 

I can trace the “F*** My Teacher” theme back to Notorious BIG on “Juicy,” when he clearly states in the intro “…to all my teachers who said I wouldn’t amount to nothing… It’s all good baby babaayy.”

  • Other examples this theme appear in Jay-Z’s “So Ambitious”

I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,// Said I’d either be dead or be a reefer head,// Not sure if thats how adults should speak ta kids,// Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class. I teach his ass.

  • On his new release, Meek says in his song “Cold Hearted” 

My teacher told me I would never go far//Seen him last week, he was my chauffeur…

  • And on another track,” R.I.C.O.,” 

For my teachers that said I wouldn’t make it here I spend a day what you make a year

  • Rick Ross alludes to his teacher driving a “piece of shit” in “Holy Ghost” 

My teacher told me that I was a piece of shit//Seen her the other day, driving a piece of shit”

How did teachers get such a bad rap in the lives of some of the rap game’s most prevalent? Personally, I can only speak to 3 major factors that could have diminished the student/teacher relationship. First, teachers are expected to simultaneously operate in the present and future. We are expected to push your little boo boo to do their best on their homework, quizzes and tests, while also nurturing their dreams of becoming rappers, professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, basically any and everything. In reality, all students aren’t capable of meeting those harder to reach goals and unfortunately we use the present as a monitor of ambition for students. Therefore at the expense of being realistic, some teachers limit their students ideas about their futures. Secondly, teachers battle numerous distractions each day. Disruptive students, the media, cell phones in classrooms, mountains of paperwork, standardized testing and objectives, the list goes on and on. There are some days that the psychologist and mediator hats took precedence over the encourager and  career counseling hats. And depending on your school situation, students may not see their teacher’s nurturing side as often as they would like. Lastly, teachers have personal lives as well. They’re not superhuman. No elaboration necessary.

What does all this mean, 10, almost 20 years after any of these entertainers have been students? Primarily, it means that teachers have a deep and lasting impact on their students, no matter if the student was the class clown or the class president. I’m sure that many of these teachers probably don’t remember these moments or even listen to the lyrics close enough to r ealize that they’re about them, but look at what the future held. Everybody can’t have a dope teacher like Bun B or myself [chuckle]. Some of the most successful people in the music industry are still discussing the negative turned positive impact their teachers had on them.

Lastly, I hope entertainers are cognizant about the message they send to youth. Students respect these artists and hang onto their every word. When convenient [i.e. press conferences, interviews] they encourage youth to do well, stay in school blah blah blah, but then also negatively rap about their teachers. We need these influencers to spread positivity about education, especially since everyone does not share the same educational experience and school can be a positive outlet for numerous black and brown youths. Like your teacher always said “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” 

Style Spotlight: Candace Jackson

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A dope article about a person I just happen to be closely related to! Kudos to dizzyspangle xx

Dizzy Spangle

What I love most about Vegas (aside from all the food and shopping) is the people and art culture. Most people think that Las Vegas is just the strip and that’s it. However, this is a city thriving on people and their artistic passions. Here, you’ll find events that show off people’s skills like dancing, singing, cooking, painting, drawing, designing, and photography. It may be a small community of artists, but there’s a lot of art just waiting to pop out at you if you really look.

One awesome artist I’ve met while living here is named Candace Jackson. Candace and I met about two years ago while attending class at the Art Institute. It wasn’t until just a few months ago that we talked and I realized her passion about art, especially painting customized sneakers. I’ve always felt lost when it came to sneakers, but Candace’s knowledge and love…

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“//trips to Venice get they winters replaced with”

travel
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Flowers at a Christmas Market in Rome, Italy

“Trips to Venice get they winters replaced with…” | Jay- Z x Allure

First, belated Happy New Year wishes! Everyone is probably well on their way to achieving their new resolutions, some successes may be farther than others, but best wishes for a successful 2015.

I replaced my winter [including NYE] with not only Venice, but Rome and Florence, Italy as well. The sights, food, people and of course wine, definitely created a holiday to remember! I would definitely like to return during the warmer months. Here are some of my travel takeways from a first timers point of view.

Navigating

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Side street in Rome, Italy

Visiting three Italian cities as tourists presented minor challenges, such as not knowing the stops on the bus or not knowing the times the metro train stopped running. Other than that, Rome was very easy to navigate with the help of maps, one of the easiest I’ve come across in my travels. I also, suggest purchasing a Roma Pass so that you can have unlimited travel between metro trains and buses. To travel from FCO (Rome’s airport) and to major cities like Venice and Florence, the Italian train system is also easy to use. Once you arrive to your respective cities most tourists and locals alike, travel by foot. Taxi stands are also available to indicate where to catch legal taxis. Venice also has water taxis and bus stops clearly marked. The wait for public transportation was also very reasonable, although I imagine during peak months it can be more hectic.

Climate

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A very wet St. Marco’s Square in Venice, Italy

Visiting Italy in the winter months has its advantages and disadvantages. As with visiting any country as a tourist, you always want to make sure you have comfortable layers and shoes for walking. In Rome, the weather was consistent at about 45 degrees in the morning, then getting up to the low 50s by lunch time. On the other hand, Venice and Florence were COLD. It actually snow/rained in Venice, which was misery! I had to buy an ugly umbrella. Florence had more of a dry cold. Unfortunately, temps never rose above low to mid 40s.

Attractions

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Leaning Tower of Pisa

What can I say about the attractions? It is Italy after all so really what I say won’t do any justice! Everything I experienced was definitely worth viewing in person. As cliche as it may sound, the architecture and historical sights in each city were breathtaking. I do recommend using sites with personal reviews like TripAdvisor to sign up for tours in advance, especially if you are a first time visitor. Also, I thought I would never say this but bring/buy a selfie stick. If you don’t have one believe me, there is someone within 15 steps waiting to bombard you with “SELFIE! SELFIE!” encouraging you to purchase one. They look really cheesy, but it’s a good way to make sure you take pics without asking for help from others. I also recommend asking for advice from locals or others who have visited to determine what’s worth seeing depending on the length of your stay.

In addition to attractions, of course there are also tons of boutiques and shops showcasing local goods like Tuscan leather and Murano glass, wines and Limoncello, but there’s also many high end fashion houses featured including Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Furla, Missonni and Moschino to name a few. If high end designers don’t catch your eye, there are also shops like H&M and Zara dotting most high traffic streets, especially throughout Rome and Florence.

Food & Beverage

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Cards from Restaurants and Cafes in Rome, Venice and Florence

Honestly, this could be it’s own separate post. You realize the simplicity of Italian food after eating authentic Italian. Each pizza, plate of truffle pasta, cone of gelato, glass of wine was delicious. Of course after almost 2 weeks, I had a few favorites, but overall my tastebuds were shocked [in a good way]. I highly recommend experiencing Italian wine tasting tours. Vinicultural tours was my absolute fave! I felt like I was getting the local experience with a very knowledgeable and down to earth tour guide. Visiting in the winter also means you can drink hot beverages including mulled wine and hot chocolate. Both were nothing short of luxurious. My favorite hot chocolate even had a chocolate rum truffle at the bottom. YUM! I will also add, although I love Margherita pizza, the best I had was a slice — Naples style in Venice, across from the 1 euro store.

Locals

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Street Artist in Florence, Italy

Italians have lots of love and patriotism for their country and their respective cities. They don’t mind suggesting places to eat or see and were very helpful in navigating, even when using limited English. There are also a lot of similarities between Italian and Spanish, so if you are familiar with conversational Spanish, simple words and phrases could be easier to grasp. Overall, brushing up on simple conversational phrases would incite smiles from locals, but not 100% necessary to enjoy your experience.

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Ciao from Piazza Farnese in Rome

So after spending about 10 days in Italy, I am adding it to my travel list again. I feel like there is still so much I would like to see and experience. Until next time Italy, Ciao Bella!

Lone Ranger

opinion, travel

index

Earphones. 2014 FHD. Starbucks. Wi-Fi. Laptop. I’m writing this from the airport in Istanbul, Turkey in transit to Rome for the Christmas holiday. In the last few hours I witnessed a passenger in front of me faint in the aisle of the plane while the lights were out with 90 minutes left in the flight [she was fine thank God], almost got knocked over by people running to catch a connecting flight, and a few moments ago received a really dirty look from two ladies because I saved my seat at this packed Starbucks with my backpack while I made my order [oh well…moving forward].

Needless to say, I have become increasingly more irritated with airport travel. Airports are daunting for some, especially if you are traveling alone, and especially if you are a brown girl traveling alone [we are a rarity in the world’s airports]. I typically have long layovers of 2 hours or more, so I’m always faced with the challenge of what to do to occupy my time and that usually includes a scavenger hunt for the least crowded power outlet and the best place to sit and have a bite to eat without feeling obligated to talk to strangers.

Just to clarify, I’ve never actually traveled alone. I’ve traveled through airports alone from DC and Abu Dhabi/Dubai, Paris, Istanbul, London, Doha, New Delhi, Bahrain, the list goes on, but someone or “home” is always waiting for me once I’ve arrived. Along my airport travels, I’ve garnered some tips to help with transitioning through some of the world’s largest and busiest airports, especially if you are traveling alone.

Tip #1 | Speak Up

Case and point — these ladies at Starbucks really thought they were going to take my bistro table even with my backpack there, listen, NO. Now of course you want to be tactful and courteous when approaching others regardless of language barrier, but definitely assert yourself. The response might not be what you expected, but at least you made your intentions known and I’ll take a few dirty looks for a nice corner bistro table at Starbucks.

Tip #2 | Establish Personal Space

This tip goes hand and hand with Tip #1. Clearly make your boundaries known. There’s been plenty of times where someone has gotten too close to me in the customs line or cozies up to me as I try to enjoy my quiet, chill spot. Make your presence known in a polite but assertive way. I usually use my personal items like a bag, to put a little space between me and the other person. Also, earphones are the universal symbol for “please leave me alone” so when you encounter someone who is violating your peace, pop in some earbuds, even if you aren’t listening to anything they’ll get the hint.

Tip #3 | Use Manners

First, SMILE! Don’t do the awkward walking while smiling thing, but be friendly and say please and thank you. Manners go a loooong way when you are interacting with different types of people, especially if they are helping you. Remember you are representing yourself, your family and your country. You might be the first [insert ethnicity/background here] that a stranger has encountered. People of all backgrounds can easily perceive kindness, so hold doors, say please and thank you.

Hopefully these tips will help to make your airport travels, whether alone or with others, a little easier.