Sunday, June 18, 2006

Spreading some Father's Day Love

Of all the observation holidays (Valentine's, Mothers Day, etc.), Father's Day has always been one of my favorites. At this point in the year, the sun is shining, vacations are abundant, school years are coming to a close, and people are graduating from school and transitioning into their future plans. What a perfect backdrop to officially honor the men in our lives responsible for raising us into the people we are today. Yes, today is Father's Day, a day where I have an excuse to love on my dad and let the world know how much I honor, appreciate, and am indebted to my father.

When it comes to parents, I lucked out. This is especially true when it comes to my Dad. One thing I love about my father is that he made the choice to be a FATHER and not a baby's daddy. You see, before my mother and father met, my Dad led a turbulent life. Drug addiction, alcohol abuse, a failed marriage and custody battle, and a penchant for violent behavior ruled my father's life. When my mother came into the picture and they became comfortable, she gave him an ultimatum...change your ways and commit to me, or take a walk. My Dad dropped ALL of his destructive ways to be with my mom and build a family.

Not only did he take on the task of being a honorable husband, he also filled the shoes of fatherhood for my brother, Darnell. Darnell was born during my mother's first marriage. She was left high and dry by Darnell's father when he found out she was pregnant. Darnell was 5 years old when my mom and dad became an item, and he gave my Dad HELL. This lil' boy was filled with so much hurt and anger from being abandoned that he took all of it out on my Dad. And how did my Dad handle my brother's abuse? Like a man! He refused to take any shit off a little boy and did his best to be a father figure to Darnell. Of course Darnell wasn't having it and acted accordingly, but my Dad didn't care. He made a commitment, and stuck to it. Throughout the years the relationship between Darnell and Dad has been rocky, but recently they have reconciled. Darnell is now married to a woman who had a young son when they met, so he now understands how much hell it is to raise somebody else's kid. Isn't karma a bitch? So yeah, they are on good terms now. Instead of blaming my Dad for his issues, Darnell now thanks him for doing what was damn near impossible...raising a young man mad at the world and looking for a victim. Gangster, i tell you. Pure gangster.

Now when it came to raising us, this man deserves the Medal of Honor. Shortly after giving birth to me (the last child), my mother decided that she was DONE with being a stay at home mom. So, when I was all of 3 months old, my brother Shaun just shy of 1 year old, and my next brother in age (Darren) was 6 years old, my mom went back to work full time and left the child rearing up to Pops. From the crack of dawn until 4pm, my father was Mr. Mom with 2 infants and a kindergartner. He did what most guys his age and generation would have run like hell from....he sucked it up, man-ed up, and raised the hell out of us. We'd be traveling on the bus every day, 2 babies in a double stroller, baby bag, and all. He would cook us breakfast and lunch every day until we started going to school. I remember hitting up parks, going to visit his crazy ass friends in the "Jungle" projects of Los Angeles, and making trips to the beach and other cool places as a youngster with my Dad.

When I was enrolled in a Christian pre-school and was suspected of giving all the other (white) kids head lice, my dad was the one who said "AWW HELL TO THE NAW" and paid his own money to place me in the newly formed Head Start Program at our local elementary school.

When Darren began having problems at school with bullies and Darnell started rollin with the local gang members, my dad spearheaded the decision to get our family the hell out of the Crenshaw District of L.A. and into to a much nicer and safer community.

In many ways, my dad has served a very untraditional role in my life. Although he is very much a man's man and a provider, he has always been a nurturer. Whenever I would fall and bust my head, felt scared, or got into a fight, Dad was the first person I'd call for. If I needed advice or a stiff kick in the ass, my dad was more than willing to give it. Much of the emotional health and maturity I have now is due to my father's example. My father always told us, his sons, to never be afraid to show our emotions. I've seen my dad enraged, upset, sad, depressed, in mourning, happy, afraid, excited, and not once has he ever apologized for any open expression of those feelings. I don't know of many other guys that have seen their dad cry his eyes out and still believe that he is the biggest man in the world. That's how I feel about my Dad.

Although all of my brothers and sister have a solid relationship with my father, my Dad and I share a very strong bond. With him, I can talk freely about anything without fear of reprimand or judging (well, as long as I don't disrespect him...then I'd risk an ass-whoopin :)). He's always been my #1 fan, with mom following behind in a very close second. My dad was never gifted in the academic sense, but he never was intimidated or put off by my academic excellence. In fact, he has supported me 100% in all of my endeavors. All I've had to do was tell him i was serious about doing something, and he was there every step of the way. Sure, he was probably trying to live vicariously through me, but i didn't care. It was (and still is) an honor to know that I am making my father proud.

Oh man, I could go on and on about how much my Dad has reflected my life, but I'll keep it somewhat short. My dad is by no means perfect (and in some ways is a HOT ASS MESS), but I couldn't imagine having a better father. I praise God every chance I get for blessing me with a mother and father dedicated to the success of their children. My father and I still have one big issue to discuss (my sexuality), but I am confident that I will not lose him over it. In many ways, I feel he already knows and is just waiting for me to talk to him about it. In any case, i'm faithful that our relationship will remain intact and I will still honor him as much as I do now.

To my Dad, Mr. Mack Quinn Hopkins, Jr......




Sunday, June 11, 2006


I'm tellin you, i wish I could extend the fortune I've been receiving in my educational pursuits to other parts of my life. This past week, I received notice that I was chosen as a California Pre-Doctoral Scholar, AND I won the California Graduate Student Equity Fellowship Award!! I damn near fainted when both of those bad boys ended up in the mail on the same day. U KNOW!

The Pre-Doctoral Award includes a $5000 fund for pre-doctoral development (paying for conferences, visits to prospective doctorate programs, organizational memberships, technology, etc.), a free GRE prep course (which I will be using the hell out of considering my first crack at the GRE was BOO-HISS!), and "generous" funding for a summer internship of my choice on one of the University of California campuses. How tight is that?

The Student Equity Fellowship is basically a $3000 award that I can apply to my financial aid. So $3000 less dollars I'll owe Uncle Sam's greedy ass :).

So yeah, if I wasn't motivated before to do big things in the future, i'm definitely motivated now! All you undergrad and grad students out there that are reading....KNOW YOUR RESOURCES!!! The only reason I knew about these scholarships is because I dug for information, and made friends with the right people. The money and support is out there, it's just up to YOU to find it and hustle for it! Make good friends in financial aid and the career center. HOUND your academic departments about scholarships notices. And if you happen to be a 'minority student', your ass BETTER be involved in McNair's Scholars, MESA, Upward Bound, and/ or EOP...these programs are fighting to stay ahead of budget cuts to provide YOU with free money and resources. RECOGNIZE PLEASE!

...sorry if i got on my soapbox a lil' bit. I'm just so passionate about people taking advanatage of free resources, be it scholarships, summer research programs, internships, mentoring, tutoring, even job placement. I suffered tremendously throughout my undergraduate years because I either didn't know this free stuff existed, or I got lazy and didn't apply. Life would have been a WHOLE lot easier if I had been up on game and got my hustle on.

In addition to that mess on my part, as a member and officer of National Society of Black Engineers (who's house??????SIX HOUSE!!!), we had to fight for years just to maintain funding for our umbrella organization, Minority Engineering Program (MEP). A program that, on our campus, was responsible for providing direct support and resources to about 87% of the minority engineering, physical science, and biological science students, producing over 50 minority Ph.D. earners, a couple of Fulbright scholars, and one Black Engineer of the Year winner (GO 'HEAD CHADWICK!!!). After several rallies, too many petitions, and a mass stand-in at the Dean of Engineering's office, the university got hella shady and axed the funding for our program director and support staff, effectively killing MEP and leaving our Black and Latino students to fend for themselves on a unwelcoming campus of 33,000 students. Without a program like MEP, the GPA's and performance of minority students dropped so dramatically that the university reestablished funding for MEP in an effort to save face and negative statistics.

So, long story short, use what you have in front you my people. It's absolutely ridiculous to work so hard when you don't have to, and you never know how long a resource may be available to you.

****stepping off my soapbox****

I'll keep posting about my scholarship decisions as they come in the mail. Here's the tally so far.....

Show me the money! (YES): 4
Hell to the naw! (NO): 7
Still awaiting response: 6

I'm gonna toss up a few thank ya Jesus'es because I sure as hell don't want to run up another $17,000 in loans next year. And that's my word.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Things are looking up

After the drama of Monday, I've been eager for some good news. Well, I got some. Mom is home from the hospital. Usually, she is very weak after a stay in the hell-hole, but this time she seems to have some pep in her step. Her oncologist gave us some comforting news...the cancer cells they have been monitoring have not grown since she was rediagnosed back in March. It seems the chemotherapy is stabilizing the cancer, which is good news. She is still dealing with some nasty side effects from the therapy, along with the fluid buildup, but we'll take any good news we can get. She's gained 5 lbs, and the doctors have lowered her morphine dosage. That says a lot, considering how DRUG-HAPPY Kaiser Permanente has become lately (I'll save my rant on Kaiser for another's deep y'all). All the medical stuff aside, i'm just glad to have my momma back home. Although she can work my last nerve at the drop of a hat, I'd rather have her here in her own house than in some impersonal hospital room hooked up to machines. So YAY, mom is back home!

To add to the good news, I think I've stumbled across a cool lil' social group for gay/bi black men and straight allies in LA. It's called "In the Meantime". On Tuesday I attended one of their weekly discussion groups at Catch One, a popular black gay joint here in La La Land. The topic of the night was "The Impact of the Ballroom Scene on the Black Community".

The organizers of this week's discussion flew in an old school member of the New York ballroom scene. I walked away from his colorful account on ballrooms with an sense of appreciation for all the creativity, strength, and love that goes into this ballroom culture. The old school head had his protege up there speaking, and whooeee he was FIRE. He did more than rile up my social consciousness, lemme tell ya :) Anyways, it was very nice to spend an evening meeting other brothas in the life without the shade and bullshit of being in a clubbing environment. I had the pleasure of meeting Herndon Davis, TV Host and author of "Black, Gay, and Christian", along with other upwardly mobile, culturally aware brothers. "In the Meantime" is definitely my scene, and I'll be attending another meeting.

So yeah, things are looking up. Tonight I got to see two of my nephews and my baby niece. I swear, my brother and his estranged wife are both crazy as hell and so not good for each other, but they produced some BEAUTIFUL children. I usually don't get all gushy over children, but my nephs and nieces are so TIGHT! Little Vincent is starting to hit puberty, which is ridiculously amusing...Junior is five and has just learned how to krump dance...such a HAM...and the little one, Miss Jaleya aka. Lay-Lay, just turned 1 yr and is already a DIVA. So funny, the antics of this lil' girl. Ahhhhh, family.

Ok, time for bed and prayers. HOLLA!


Monday, June 05, 2006

What a mindfuck.

Today was for lack of a better term...a mindfuck. I spent most of the day at the hospital being strong for my dad and spending quality time with my mom while she is in that medical hellhole. You see, my mother has cancer. First diagnosed as a breast cancer in 1994, it has grown and festered in her body despite two mastectomies and several rounds of chemotherapy. As much as I cry and pray that her doctors will say 'remission' again, I have a feeling in my soul that this is the final round of a 12 year battle.

At this point, it has spread to several vital organs and is being a stubborn little bitch...not responding to any of the therapy they throw at it. After having to take my mother to the emergency room for the 3rd time in a month, she has been readmitted. While preparing to clear the fluid from her lungs (once again), they discovered one of her lungs had collapsed. After a mini-emergency, stability was restored. This all happened while I was on my way to the hospital to visit.

As I walked into her cramped hospital room, the shit hit the fan and the other shoe dropped. After seeing the IV Bags, the morphine drip, and the not one but two drains placed in her back to remove lung fluid, it hit me. My mother, the ridiculously stubborn, California raised but Southern bred, will cut a bitch in a quick minute for messing with one of her babies, sometimes harsh but always loving, survivor of raising 4 hard-headed sons, is going to die. Most likely before the age of fifty-five.

When she opened her eyes and motioned me to her side, I almost didn't want to go. I knew what was coming. My father, mother, and I had been tiptoeing over the topic ever since I got accepted to college.

Mom: Come here son.

Me: I'm here mom.

Mom: You know this isn't looking good for me, right?

Me: Mom, now is not the time to be thinking like that. You've gotta fight.

Mom: I am baby, but I'm getting tired of this shit. I don't know how much more I can take.

Me: What are you saying?

Mom: I'm saying that I'm about ready to go. You know it, and I know it.

Me: Shit.....

Mom: I know me and your daddy are always telling you this, but now it's getting serious. We want you to be the leader in this family. We have known since you were a little boy that you were gonna be the one. I want you to be ready once the time comes...hell, it's already here.


Mom: Yeah, yeah, I're the youngest, blah blah blah. But let's keep it real. Of all your brothers and sisters, you have your shit the most together. We trust your judgment. We know that you will conduct matters in our best interest and not get greedy. And we know that you're not afraid to beat the hell out of anyone who tries to act a fool when we're out of the picture, even if it's family.

Me: *chuckling*. Yeah, Ma. You know how I do it.

Mom: You damn right, baby. We already put your name on all the papers and policies, but I want to know if you're ok with this. We've never wanted to force anything on you, but you saw what happened when your Momma Doonie passed. We don't want the same thing happening with our babies.

Me: Yes, I know. And I've been expecting this. I've thought about it, and I've prayed on it. God has told me there's a reason why he's given me the strength to deal with all the crazy ass people in this is my job to keep the family afloat. I'm ok with it. I'll be here.

Mom: Thank you son. I knew you wouldn't let me down.

Dad: We are so proud of the man you have become.

Me: Don't get it twisted though....i'm not doing all this crap alone.

Mom: You'd be a damn fool if you did *cackling*. Of course your brothers and Tamy will have to do their parts, but you gotta be the one to stay on them.

Me: Oh joy...this is going to be fun...

Mom: Yeah, really. Ok i'm done talking about this. I'm hungry.

So yeah, that was the first mindfuck. The second one happened when my Dad and I got back home. He pulled me to the side and said:

"I don't want to scare you any more than you already are, but I'm not taking this very well. I can't sleep, i'm hardly eating, and my anxiety pills ain't working. I honestly don't know what's going to happen to me when your mother passes away. That woman means everything to me, and I don't see myself living very well without her here. I'm not going to do something stupid or anything. I'm just saying that I'm gonna be real fucked up when this all happens. I'm really going to need to you be strong for me and help me out, because I'm not going to be worth much."

At this point, I'm in tears. I'm so touched by how much love is there between the two of them, but I'm also really scared. My dad is a very emotional man, and he doesn't take death of loved ones very well. He lost his best friend and his father within 2 months, and he was a mess. I take his words to heart because I know he wouldn't be telling me this unless he knew it was going to be BAD for him. As much as I love my dad for being so open and honest with his emotions, I kinda wish he could control them just a little bit. But hey, that's probably why he had so many damn children...he raised the hell outta us, and now when he is weak we are to pick him up.

And for the icing on the cake...any form of mindfuck would not be complete without a little bit of irony. I got a message from my internship coordinator today, detailing my internship assignment. Half of my internship will focus on worksite fitness promotion, and the other half with be assisting in a Cancer screening, prevention, and awareness intervention for African American women. Ain't that about a bitch??? I tell ya, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Here I am preparing to work on a study that will potentially save the lives of hundreds of Black women, while my own mother is losing a battle to cancer. Messy, I tell you. Just plain messy.

But what can you do? I'll tell you one thing. After having to deal with all the health related problems and drama that have plagued so many people close to me, I am SOOO motivated to work the hell outta of this internship and do all I can to get folks educated and active so they will not have to one day endure the hell that my family and I have gone through. That's what up.

If any of you are reading this, pray for a brotha. Even with all that is going on, my head is still high and my mood is positive. But I know at some point, all of this will get to me and I will have to take a break and be a hot emotional mess for a while. I just hope that somebody will be there to pick me up.