Gearing Up for 2017

Season’s greetings, everyone. 

However you choose to celebrate this time of year, or not, I wish you a moment of renewal, reflection, and recentering. This year has certainly brought its challenges, and it looks like the next will bring many more. But I feel confident in our collective ability to fight, fight, fight injustice with everything we’ve got to the very end. 

In the meantime, may you continually remember your self-care and find moments of solace in  the midst of the struggle. 

For me during the next couple of weeks, I’ll be enjoying time with family, time of laughter and joy and peace, time of quiet reflection and meditation, time of marveling at the miracle of radical, justice-bringing, oppression-fighting love peeping out from a dirty stable. 

And I’ll be sending good thoughts with lots of love to all of you. 

See you in 2017. 

Me, lucking out with a beautiful hat that perfectly matches my sweater, at a white elephant gift exchange

Write FL Legislators!

Looking for something to do in the wake of the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando? Please take a moment to send letters to the state legislators responsible for that part of the state. Orlando is my hometown, and I just can’t sit back and watch this kind of hate and violence flourish.

Here are the contacts:

Florida House of Representatives for Orlando

Florida Senators for Orlando

And here’s a sample letter you can use:

Dear Florida Legislator:

The tragedy that occurred on June 12, 2016 at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando was a devastating blow to the city, state, and our entire country. It is now time for long-needed action to protect the community from gun violence and preserve the rights of the LGBTQ community. Orlando is one of the country’s top tourism spots, but it cannot claim that honor for long when this type of hate and violence is allowed to flourish. Act now to increase gun control and provide meaningful protections for the rights of LGBTQ residents and visitors to the state.

Let Labor Be Labor

I’ve been thinking a lot about labor lately.

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“Work in Progress” by Gleb Khorunzhiy via                  The Noun Project, CC BY 3.0

Maybe it has to do with Mother’s Day (see what I did there?), but mostly it has to do with the fact that I’ve been really busy and doing a lot of extra stuff. It’s all stuff I enjoy—some directly connected to my job, some only tangentially so—all of it requiring my time and effort.

And all, I’m finally fully realizing, deserving of payment.

I really struggle with this. I struggle with demanding that I get fair credit for the work I do. Like many other non-male, non-white people, I tend to sell myself short and allow others to do likewise. I’m fortunate to have parents who get really vocally frustrated with me about this and who lovingly push me to demand fair recompense for my work. And while I don’t always get it right, I do try to push beyond my discomfort to get what’s rightfully mine.

One of the challenges that gets wrapped up in this struggle, though, is the insistence in many circles on qualifying what is meant by “labor.” Too often, work gets placed in categories based on its importance, value, emotional versus physical or intellectual requirements, etc. We talk a lot about “emotional labor” and “invisible labor” and “feminized or gendered labor.” And what we’re getting at is that work that gets done, often behind the scenes, and often without recompense. That extra stuff that certain people—often non-male, often non-white—get expected to do. The work that gets relegated to “the help.”

The fact is, though, that all this labor is really just labor. And all labor should be paid/credited/recognized. Period.

It makes no sense to create false dichotomies for our labor, particularly in a service-based profession like librarianship. Everything we do has emotional and physical and intellectual components. All of it is labor. All of it requires our time, effort, and talents. Even when we love what we’re doing.

One thing that has helped me shift my thinking about this is to go back to my roots as a corporate attorney. When I worked at a high-powered law firm, we had to account for everything we did in 6-minute increments. Paid client work got counted and billed, of course, but even work we did for pro bono clients and internal firm work got counted, as well. The thinking was that all our labor involved valuable time and effort that should be accounted for.

I’m by no means suggesting that high-powered law firms have it totally right. There was certainly “invisible” labor going on at the firm. And having to bill every minute of your time in a day is stressful and tiring (hence the fact I’m no longer doing it). But some of that, shall I say, mercenary thinking that powers law firm billing could be of great use to us in the library profession. Yes, we love to talk about how we’re called to the profession and how we love to help and we love to serve. But our help and service also involve labor. And that labor should be recompensed and credited accordingly. Being called and being credited are not mutually exclusive.

So, for example, as I get invited to speak with groups about diversity issues in libraries (which I thoroughly enjoy doing), I realize that I’m doing work and that work should be recognized. I should get paid for it; I should get credit for it as outreach and scholarship at my job; I should get recognized for having shared my time, effort, and thoughts.

Even when people reach out to “pick my brain” about something, before agreeing, I take time to think about how much labor I’m willing to put in and how much that labor should cost. In the end, I may agree to speak with that person for free, but it will always be with the understanding that I’m giving them free labor that should otherwise come with a cost. I make sure I’m clear on this to myself and I even go so far as to make it clear to them. I’m also very careful about how much labor I give away. When I reach my limit, I stop. No exceptions. Again, my legal training comes into play here. I imagine that the work I’m doing amounts to offering free legal advice and I determine how much of that free advice I’m willing to fork over before the billing clock should start to run.

It’s the same with time you may spend consoling a student who came to get reference help but ended up needing to vent about exam stress. Or the time you spend listening to a patron battling homelessness describe how difficult things have been lately. Or the time you spend sitting with a new colleague going over unspoken office politics so they can avoid the pitfalls of interpersonal interaction on the job. Or the time you spend serving on the diversity committee for your organization. You may love doing it, but it’s still work. Your work. And it’s worth something.

 

I say we stop qualifying our labor and just start sweeping it into our reports/CVs/stats/etc. I started doing this at my former job. There were times when some of the very few students of color would stop by the ref desk during my shift to chat about life. They did so because I was the only librarian of color there and they felt comfortable chatting with me. And even if we never discussed anything remotely related to library services per se, I always logged those interactions into my reference stats, under “general reference consultation.” Because as much as I loved being there for those students, my time with them involved important labor and that labor was worthy of credit.

I know we can’t all make this kind of change in our places of work. You may not be able to sweep all your labor into the same pot for payment or credit. But to the extent that you can, I challenge you to do so. And either way, be on the lookout for ways in which you can get credit/payment/recognition for all your labor.

Let’s stop bothering with false divisions of emotionality or invisibility. Let’s stop “other”-ing the important work we do. Let’s instead try to get credit for all aspects of our very valuable labor.

 

Open Letter to Baby Bro on His Graduation

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My sweet Baby Bro,

Congratulations! We’re all gathering together this week to celebrate you and your achievements. Getting your Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Going on to rock the world with your knowledge. I’m so proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

It seems only yesterday that Mom and Dad told us you were going to be you. Dr. Sis and I were expecting a tiny person who would be named Amy Melissa, another A. M. H. for our collection. When the possibility of a male child came up, we requested a puppy instead. But thankfully, God gives us what we need rather than what we think we want. You came into our lives and completed a little trio beyond what we could have imagined.

Now, you’re graduating from college and moving off into the “real world,” whatever that means. (And yes, grad school is the “real world.”) I wish I could say that this world is better than it used to be, but sometimes I wonder

This is still a world that seeks to discourage, denigrate, and destroy people like you, black men full of life and love and talent. This world will take one look at your powerful frame and chocolate skin and label you a “thug” or “monster,” little suspecting the brilliant, intuitive, and sensitive soul who lives inside.

I know we’ve taught you many ways to stay safe in this world, to protect your treasure. We laugh about it sometimes, when Dr. Sis and I pretend to be annoyed with you and you throw up your hands in surrender, crying with a smile, “Okay, okay. I got it. Don’t attack me!” We joke to cope because it’s better than the alternative—dealing with the full force of the realization, frustration, and fear that we live in a world full of Michael Browns, Tamir Rices, and Trayvon Martins, young black men much like you. Indeed, we shudder even more because we know it could happen anywhere; Trayvon was gunned down in a neighborhood less than 30 minutes from our parents’ home.

It’s okay to laugh, Baby Bro, to maintain your sanity as you maintain your survival. It’s okay to laugh as you rely on God’s protective grace to keep you safe and help you thrive in this nasty world. It’s okay to laugh because you know you are here to make it a better place.

As you go off to do your thing and live your dream, designing video games that tackle social justice issues, remember your worth. You are a treasure, Baby Bro. You’re a man in tech, which is an advantage for you, but you are black man in tech, so people will try to sell you short. Know your worth and be ready to demand what you deserve. Mom and Dad tell us this all the time, and I still struggle with it a lot, but do as I say, not as I do. You know the drill.

And wherever you go, whatever you do, know that Dr. Sis and I are here for you, proud of you, fiercely loving you. Cradle to the grave, Baby Bro.

Love always,

April

My Radicalism, My Faith

Heal my heart and make it clean

Open up my eyes to the things unseen

Show me how to love like you have loved me

“Hosanna,” Hillsong United

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Image of cross by Reb2008 via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Easter is always such a special time for me, as it not only marks the holiest if the Christian holy days but it also usually lands near my birthday in early April. (And no, that’s not why. I was supposed to be born in March and was going to be named April anyway.)

For me, as a nondenominational Christian, Easter is a time of new birth and renewal and blessing. It’s a time of struggle giving way to hope. It’s a time of peace even in the midst of the last remnants of winter bleak.

This time of renewal is vital to me, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically. It’s vital to the work I do as a whole person.

I’m never just a radical; I’m a radical of faith. I love Jesus; and all the work I do, I do out of my Jesus-love. My Jesus demands I fight for justice. My Jesus calls me to look out for the marginalized, to listen carefully and signal-boost for those at the fringes. My Jesus is infuriated by oppression and hypocrisy and welcomes my fury, as well. At the same time, my Jesus also fills me with hope that what little I do can and does make some difference.

My faith feeds my work, and I am thankful for this. I know it’s not for everyone and that’s okay. My Jesus teaches me to DO THE WORK with my allies regardless of our differing experiences and motivations.

So on this Easter Sunday, I give thanks for the light and life that gives me strength and motivation for the work I do.

Love and peace to you all.