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It’s Valentine’s Day! It’s a day when some are blinded by Cupid’s arrow and professions of love and ignore red flags. Red flags like finding out a fiancé’s credit is in the toilet because he signed for a car for someone which was later repossessed, and this impacts the couple’s ability to buy a home. Then there’s the mate whose debt ratio is so high because of back child support that they will only marry with the condition of keeping their name, so they aren’t financially liable, or the gambler who falls for pyramid schemes and other get rich ventures who marries someone to give them financial stability, and their partner thinks they will instill financial discipline in them. Sometimes there is not a big red bull with a matador waving a flag for someone to catch these bad behaviors because the other person hides them well. At 20 or 21, both might be walking red flags, fumbling through financial darkness; however, when one is over 30, both sides of the brain are developed, and falling into financial quagmires becomes a habitual way to look good, to feel good, and to say they are enough to be loved and not in a healthy way. 

One of SOAR’s first workshop modules asked participants to excavate their earliest memories which are emotional triggers that impact their behavior. This same strategy can be used to find out how others respond to money. To see if this strategy worked, I called my cousin, Terrence. Terrence recalled how Granddaddy would load us up every Sunday with papers to deliver. Afterward, Grandaddy asked us if we wanted to go out to breakfast. We always answered yes, expecting him to treat us instead of making us use the money we earned delivering papers for him. Do you remember how Lucy held the football for Charlie Brown to kick only to pull it away leaving poor Charlie Brown on the ground? Well, we were Charlie Brown, and Grandaddy was Lucy because we fell for it. After breakfast, our stomachs were full, but our hard-earned funds were depleted. 

If one is told “money doesn’t grow on trees” but is never shown how money is manifested and managed, then that line means nothing. Growing up, I was in a fantasy land thinking my family was rich, and we only lived in the ghetto, so I would remain grounded. Unlike most of the kids in the neighborhood, my cousin and I both went to private schools, summer camps, and family vacations out of the city. We had no way to know how our mothers sacrificed or denied themselves. Looking back, my cousin realizes he didn’t know money was a resource until he overheard his parents’ discussions about tuition. They talked about how it was being wasted because of his poor grades, which his childhood mind interpreted as him not being good enough—not that there were money issues. No one explained the sacrifices made. We shook the money tree every Sunday and the change left over from Sunday breakfast was more than what most kids had. To this day, both of us hate to ask for money because it makes us feel less than. Grandaddy taught us there are always conditions to the ask. I had to get over this for SOAR and the participants who need our financial assistance.

Money became a tool to look good and to give us freedom; however, to not be taught about money and not financial management is not freedom. When asked about their relationship to money, some folks respond: “I ain’t got none, it’s fleeting, or I’m a broke ass look good.” The need to “look good” to others is what has some people uptight about their $70,000 car; their $600 car note, and $600 car insurance payment because they can’t pay their $700 rent. They use money to validate their hard work, sense of being, and ability to look good. It’s okay to look the part but at what cost to financial freedom? They are hustling backward without knowing it.

Understanding finance which includes management, creation and study of money means self-worth is gained from a source other than money. Terrence thinks, “if the dinosaurs have a reset, then maybe we’ll catch up with the wealth masters who deal in future markets and stocks. Think about the one percent who purchased in the fuel industry at a locked price years ago for .50 cents a gallon and are still getting it at that same price while we pay $5.00 a gallon.” He is correct about a reset. It is possible to change behaviors that are disruptive even for those of us who fear the window to fix financial errors is closing. At this juncture, it is more important to understand how I am relating to money and not being used by it than it is to be hit by cupid’s bent arrow. If I look at the basics, my God has always provided for me. This provision is not always in the form of financial favor but also by way of a SOAR-hosted two-part online financial workshop facilitated by financial coach Tony Jackson who is ordained with a talent to heal the financial health of others. Like any good coach, he will ask how long have I had the pain and where does it hurt? It’s up to me to do the work to root out the answers.

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When saying Happy Birthday, I also include Happy New Year whether the person is born in January or not. I believe each person’s new year begins with their individual birthday. I look at the new year just like a new day –another opportunity to get it right. Whatever “it” may be.

My new year began in September when I celebrated a milestone birthday. Instead of making resolutions that would later send me on a guilt trip, I took a page out of a dear friends’ book and asked the creator: “How shall I serve?” I heard my answer not from a loud booming voice from the heavens, but from the work I already had in action.

While on vacation, swimming in a small pool of water, off the beaten track and away from the tourist beaches, a woman and her children drove up to me, and asked if this was a place she could swim. I told her yes. Her kids impatiently watched as their mother climbed down a small hill to join me.

Stretching out, letting her head rest in the water’s waves, and ignoring her children’s glares, she said,: “I needed this.” Our spirits clicked. She shared some of her concerns and her need to destress. I told her about a gratitude jar I started, but let lag, and how I need to get back to it because it’s a reminder of how much good there is when negativity wants to claim space. Before she left, she said a prayer over me and thanked me for being a blessing to her. I could not figure out how I blessed her. Perhaps the why and how were none of my business. All I was supposed to know is that I served as a blessing.

In truth, the way she prayed over me, I thought I was the one who was blessed. Perhaps that’s how blessings work-; they are reciprocal. At the close of 2023, SOAR was blessed with over $1000 worth of donations from our GoFundMe campaign as well as from a fundraiser given by Melaine Ausbrooks, a SOAR Board member. Although we have not reached our target of $10,000, I feel blessed by those who are joining our effort to bless a new cohort of young women who will come through SOAR’s My Daughter’s Power Circle to attend the annual retreat. At the fundraiser, a video message from Anaya, who is a member of the first “My Daughter Power Circle,” was played. She too used the word “blessing” when speaking about the circle and SOAR’s work. 

The opportunity to serve as a blessing to other young women by introducing them to writing as a path to heal and then linking them to mother mentors who serve as guides for them at pivotal moments in their lives creates an inter-generational legacy of sisterhood that will live beyond me. I’m grateful that I asked how I am to serve when coming into my new decade and new year and that the Universe answered. 

Ask not what the New Year will bring you, but rather what will you bring to it?  How will you serve?

Woman silhouette in green and yellow over the images of Gold Christmas blubs with the year 2023 in read and the words December Wednesday Wisdom centered in white.

  I woke up scared. I’m not sure where the root of the fear was born; it pounced on my chest like a cat looking in my face daring me to move. I lay there thinking about all the things I was scared to do and the different ways that I might fail and what that failure looks like. I shut my eyes and prayed to go back to sleep; sleep didn’t come. Instead, I heard a voice saying: “you can’t erase the day.”

Hiding under covers did not make the day go away. To ease myself into the day, I decided to write myself into it, but before I could pick up my pen, I began another battle: how not to give my fears life on the page. Writing my fears down made them real. I didn’t want to relive old wounds to wake up old stories that were doing a tap dance in my head—the stories that replayed like a bad old movie that questioned my competence and worth. 

As a diversion, I scrolled through a friend’s Facebook page and stopped at an interview with Sheila Johnson, a self-made woman who has reached phenomenal heights and written a book, Through the Fire, that details her journey. Listening to the interview, I was inspired not because she made history as America’s first black female billionaire but because of two things: she said, “wounds build wisdom” and the writing of her book was part of her healing. This made my skin tingle. Her words reminded me of how words can conquer wounds to lose their power once the words are put down on paper. I found this out almost 30 years ago when I created SOAR’s Writing for Healing Workshops to teach others to put clothes on their words to take back their power. 

 In my fear state, I neglected to think about how far SOAR has come. I was licking wounds instead of charting SOAR’s wins. Over the years, SOAR has lifted the voices of teen mothers, recovering addicts, domestic violence survivors, incarcerated youth, and a plethora of adolescent and grown women who were in relationships that did not serve them. This past month, with the help of Nikita Easley the Deputy Committee Director, Committee on Facilities & Family Services in the office of Ward 4 Council member Janeese Lewis-George, SOAR has secured its first memorandum of agreement with Child and Family Services to work with young women aging out of foster care. 

To work with young women aging out of foster care has been a personal mission of mine for a very long time. I was inspired first by a young man I met waiting for a bus. He was agitated and began talking to me about his experience in foster care and being abandoned. He went on to tell me how he was now in and out of mental health facilities. My second encounter was with a young woman, who was a promising writer who was accepted into Spelman, but she was unable to combat her wounds of mental and physical abuse she experienced within the foster care system to take advantage of the opportunity. The last young woman was a student at Morgan who spoke to me about being dumped by a foster mother who she thought loved her until the woman stopped receiving checks from the state. 

What I realized I woke up to do was to write down my wins. When I do that, I don’t have time to think about what can’t be done. Is this the day you need to write down your wins?

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