On kindness and hurricanes, 10 years later

10 years ago today, my friends and I hunkered down for what SHOULD have been a routine hurricane. We were prepared. We were stocked. We were ready.

For most of us, this wasn’t our first rodeo. People would hop on I-10 as they always do and evacuate to Baton Rouge. People would complain contraflow wouldn’t be enough to move people quickly and safely out of Orleans Parish. We would do what we always do. You see, this wasn’t our first rodeo.

As dawn broke on August 29, 2005, this wasn’t the same.

Nothing was the same.

We weren’t prepared for when the levees broke. We didn’t understand the gravity of the crashing waves as they descended upon the community we had all grown to love. We didn’t understand we were saying goodbye to what we knew.

Days and weeks and months passed. Seeing Blackhawk helicopters and tanks on the road became normal. It became normal to volunteer for 16 hours straight, only to collapse for a few hours only to head back to triage/emergency room/shelter.

It was normal to see empty shelves at WalMart. People grasped onto rumors of grocery store deliveries as eagerly as they grasped onto rumors of when gas stations would be refilled with gasoline. Seeing the vast emptiness became normal.

We tiptoed on the heels of panic. Our nerves balanced on the finest needle. Our daily movements were punctuated by unease. Being uncomfortable had become normal.

There were nights we would leave the PMAC (the ER/morgue) or the Track and Field House (the triage unit) and we would collapse on the sidewalk, mustering the last bit of energy to give a hug to another friend who had seen things no one should ever see.

There were days where we felt all was lost. When helping someone who had lost everything, we found hope. There were days where we walked into destroyed houses, where we would hold photos covered in black mold before we took a sledgehammer to whatever memories lingered in the damaged drywall.

Hurricane Katrina brought out the best and worst in humanity. These were our darkest days and brightest nights. They’re the moments I’m most proud of and the most afraid to think about again.

As we reflect on what happened 10 years ago, I ask you reflect on the simple concepts of kindness and compassion. I ask you reflect on communities that need kindness and compassion. I ask you reflect on people who deserve kindness and compassion. I ask we treat people better than we have.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last ten years, it’s we need each other.

On kindness and hurricanes, 10 years later

On Bystander Intervention, Community Standards and Yik Yak

I have a blog, so I’m required by law to say something about the YikYak controversy swirling around the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) National Convention.

We teach our students to model bystander intervention. It’s a key component of Title IX training and paramount to student leadership and conflict management. We teach bystander intervention may cause you to lose friends. It’s hard to speak out. You’ll be called out for being sanctimonious and holier than thou. Others won’t understand why you ratted them out. You may find yourself shunned by certain circles of “friends.”



When comments like this were seen on yik yak, other administrators modeled the way and called out the behavior.They shared what they felt were community norms and shared community values. Administrators monitored their own community. They are and were demonstrating they very bystander intervention behaviors we claim to teach.

Sure, there are plenty of people who are screaming “moral high horse” and accusing people of being “sanctimonious.” But isn’t this what we’ve trained our students for? Isn’t this exactly what we said would happen?

Isn’t this exactly what we want?

On Bystander Intervention, Community Standards and Yik Yak

On the topic of loneliness

I’ve spent the better part of the last six months by myself.

Separation is a hard transition. There were nights when I couldn’t comprehend what it meant to lie in a bed alone. There were days when I would start to cook for two, realizing it was just me needing to eat. I was alone.

There were days sitting on the couch when I thought I couldn’t be any more alone – but as the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months I’ve found I crave that time by myself.

And as I look back, I was never more alone than when I was in a relationship.

The scary part about being in a relationship with an alcoholic is the effect is has on the people who care about the alcoholic. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was even more alone with someone than without someone. Now that it’s over, there’s so much clarity in the silence.

I’ve gone from being alone and scared to simply being alone. It was a mixed bag at the time – relief and sadness, clarity and longing.

But something clicked in the last two months… I control when I’m alone. This isn’t loneliness, but rather a sense of understanding what I control and what I don’t control.

And if there’s anything I can share from this it’s you have to understand what you have the ability to control. You’ll never be able to change someone. The only thing you can control is your reactions to things that happen around you.


I just wanted you to know I’ve never been less alone than I am right now.


“How could I have thought that I needed to cure myself in order to fit into the ‘real’ world? I didn’t need curing, and the world didn’t, either; the only thing that did need curing was my understanding of my place in it. Without that understanding – without a sense of belonging to the real world – it was impossible to thrive in an imagined one.”
Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
On the topic of loneliness

Of Post-It Notes and Positivity

A year ago today, I covered my office window with blank post-it notes. Many of you followed this activity via an earlier blog post – Post-It Project 2014.

My hope was students and staff would stop by, share a note of positivity and inspiration and then anyone could take a note as needed. One year later, it’s time to look at some of my favorites notes that went unclaimed this year.






I’m not certain I expected a drastic change in myself over the course of the year, but I spent a year looking at notes like this. I spent a year of students and staff members silently walking into my office, taking a post-it note and leaving. I spent a year of students and staff walking into my office laughing, writing a note of positivity and leaving. I spent a year of students talking about why sharing positive news was important. I spent a year thinking about happiness, light and laughter.

It wasn’t an easy year – but whenever I needed it most, there was light coming from my window.

I haven’t put any post-it notes on my window yet… and I might not. For once, I like seeing actual light come through my window. As another work year comes to a close, I wish you and your loved ones nothing but light.

Of Post-It Notes and Positivity

Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

I’m damn lucky.
I’m financially stable, secure in my facts, able to convey opinions and comfortable in the loss that comes with advocacy.

But as the holidays approach, I realize this places me in a seat of privilege that our students do not have but so desperately need.

For the last four months, college students across the country have done a deep dive into serious issues of violence, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol, race, police brutality and the right to basic civil liberties. As administrators, we have encouraged the dialogue and ability to have this conversation. We have championed opinions and told students they have ideas worth sharing.

Suddenly, students face a very real decision – share these stories and risk so much loss.
-What will your student say when their aunt claims “I don’t see anyone protesting black on black crimes. Besides, it should be #AllLivesMatter, not #BlackLivesMatter.”
-What will your student say when their dad claims “Well, of course she got raped. She shouldn’t have been so drunk or wearing a short skirt.”
-What will your student say when their grandfather claims “No one in my family is a faggot.”
-What will your student say when their brother claims “Of course the US is justified in the use of torture. Don’t you remember 9/11?”
-What will your student say when their best friend from high school claims “You’ve changed. You were more fun before you left for you college.”

Being true and authentic to one’s self has many real life consequences.
-Students face the very real situation of losing support from their family or friends.
-Students face the very real situation of being cut off financially from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of being disowned from their family.
-Students face the very real situation of becoming homeless during any break – winter/holiday break, spring break, summer, Thanksgiving.

I’m damn lucky. I can get a hotel room, rent a car and go back to my home in Boston. For my students, the conversation is more difficult.

Advocacy is hard. There is real risk and real loss associated with advocacy.

When a student tells you that they’re anxious about going home for the holidays, think about why. They may be facing significant loss.

Of advocacy, risk, loss and holiday anxiety

Of mourning and gratitude

A simple view of my Facebook newsfeed tells me I should be mourning.

I should be mourning the loss of my grandmother, Ernestine. Ernestine was more than the matriarch of my family, she was a subtle force of nature. Never one to complain, she kept her head down and did what she felt was needed. My entire family is hurt.

I should be mourning the loss of jobs at my former place of employment, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. As we speak, students, faculty and staff are fighting to keep their campus intact. With jobs and scholarships on the line, what’s happening at UAB will forever negatively impact people’s lives. And trust me when I say that this is much more than about a simple football program.

I should be mourning my fellow brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS. Every year on World AIDS Day, we reflect on the past, how far science has come and how much further we have to go.

I should be mourning the stories of black men and women throughout the country – men and women who are being stopped by cops in Michigan for walking with their hands in their pockets, being gunned down in playgrounds and not finding closure to what happened last week in Ferguson.

So, I took a walk in the rain this afternoon to try to make sense of it all. I had just gotten home from a whirlwind trip to Iceland. My heart was full of joy and memory. Why should I be mourning? Instead, it dawned on me. I am grateful.

I am grateful to have had Ernestine in my life. I’m grateful to have learned to play cards with her. I’m grateful to have spent hours playing marbles with her. I’m grateful that she died as she lived, surrounded by family.

I am grateful to have worked at UAB. I’m grateful to have spent almost four years with some of the brightest, most engaged students, faculty and staff I’ve ever met. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help stroke the sparks which are creating flames at UAB today.

I am grateful for those on the forefront of HIV and AIDS research. I’m grateful that we are able to discuss HIV in an open and honest way, a way that is slowly chipping away the stigma of a disease that has ravaged the LGBT community.

I am grateful for my friends who have rallied in response to the tragedy that is Ferguson. I’m grateful that stories are being told and shared in response. I’m grateful to have such prolific and brave friends who are able to stand up for what is right.

Today, I make the decision not to mourn, but rather to be grateful. I make the decision to recognize perspective and privilege. Today, I make the decision to move forward instead of dwelling.

Of mourning and gratitude

An open letter to the men of Boston

Dear Men of Boston –
For the most part, I don’ t have a problem with you. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life we pass by each other on the streets, smile, nod our heads in acknowledgment and move on.

That isn’t the case for everyone. I’m lucky. This is my only interaction on the streets. For my female friends, this isn’t the case at all.

At least once a week, a female friend of mine takes to Facebook with a similar situation – being cat called, gawked and/or physically touched by random men on the streets.

Let me run down a list of things to never do when you see a woman walking down the street –

  1. Call her Baby, Sweetie or Doll.
  2. Talk about her body.
  3. Stare at her body.
  4. Call her body hot or phat or anything, actually.
  5. Touch her, grab her or put your arm around her.
  6. Whistle at her.
  7. Mention her clothing.
  8. Ask her where she’s going.
  9. Ask her her name.

It doesn’t matter what they’re wearing, how they’re smiling or how attractive you think they are. It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk or sober, just joking or being serious. There is no look, no expression, no eye contact, no mini-skirt from anyone that warrants you harassing them.

If you are so unlucky to be near me when you do this to another person, you can expect all 6’3 of my awkward self is going to come down on you like a ton of awkward, angry bricks. I may not be physically imposing, but you can bet I’m going to be in your face like a ridiculous and angry honey badger.

It’s time we start calling this behavior out. Let men know it’s not okay to demean and harrass women. Tell perpetrators it’s wrong and why it’s wrong.

And if you don’t think this is a problem in our city, I suggest asking your female friends, co-workers and family members if they’ve ever felt victimized while walking down city streets. The stories of street harassment are as disgusting as they are eye-opening.

If you want to know how you can help, I suggest visiting Hollaback!, an organization devoted to stopping street harassment. And when you’re done doing that, I suggest you saying something when you see and hear it on the street.

It’s time to be an active voice. I hope you join me.


An open letter to the men of Boston