The Desire for Freedom and Opportunity Lies Within All

By Samantha McKenzie

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this on immigration: “It’s as if we expect border control agents to do what a century of communism could not: defeat the natural market forces of supply and demand… and defeat the natural human desire for freedom and opportunity. You might as well as sit in your beach chair and tell the tide not to come in…

I am an immigrant. My parents and two siblings are immigrants. All of my aunts, uncles and first cousins that are living here are immigrants too. One by one, my family migrated from Guyana, South America, seeking a life that afforded them more opportunities. Some went to England, while the rest scattered in Canada and America. Lucky for us, we ended up in New York City, in a land that accepted our version of English!

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I think it’s worthy to note that my family loved their country.  They missed the many relatives left behind, their traditional foods, music and beautiful tropical weather. While they came to build a more prosperous life for us all, they were proud of their roots. In my younger years, we lived with relatives, (all five of us packed in a bedroom) until we got a place of our own. My parents started off working menial jobs, making do with what was available. They didn’t complain out loud. I recall my mom’s first job was a housekeeper for a rich Manhattan family. She cleaned the house and helped care for their only child. It wasn’t until the family she worked for moved to Westchester County did our world get uneasy. I remember walking my mother to the train stations on Sunday evenings and picking her back up on Fridays. For five days, she became someone else’s mother. My dad once worked at a furniture factory. This job only sticks out in my memory because he would jokingly tell us that he could get away with any crime he wanted to. When we’d ask him why, he’d let us feel his fingertips. The chemicals from the factory had burned off his fingerprints.

My memories, however, don’t compare to the millions of people who flee there war-torn countries seeking political asylum or religious freedom. This is my plea to the masses: to view the life of a fellow human being with a bit more compassion. Because, in the end, nothing is worth more than how we treat each other.

I am proud to say that my immediate and extended family’s investment in us paid off. Collectively, we became educated, earned college degrees, opened businesses, served in every branch of the military, worked as civil servants, became police officers, bought houses, built investment portfolios, took care of our neighbors, sent money back home to help others, joined churches, raised children, contributed countless hours of community service and paid back student, business and personal loans. We did all of that.

Nowadays, immigration only becomes a topic of mass discussion during election seasons. It has been and will always be a hot button issue during campaigns because it taps into people’s fears, similar to the debates on social security (fear of running out of money in old age), unemployment (fear of not earning a livable wage) and most recently, terrorism (fear of being attacked by the enemy).

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America’s immigration policy, in its most watered down form, is designed to accommodate a need. This means, if the country is in need of a certain type of worker, then it will open its doors to accept this form of laborer. When we were going through the industrial age, we accepted immigrants who were willing to build bridges, tunnels, coal mines and railroads. As the nation grew, we leaned on immigrants to work in our factories, in our hotels and in our homes. Americans were proud to be “moving on up” and as we became more educated, we enjoyed the comforts of not having to the laborious jobs once held by our elders. Even today, as we talk about building walls and banning Muslims from select countries, the finer streets of metropolitan cities are lined with foreign nannies pushing baby strollers, picking up other people’s children from private schools so parents can live their own version of the American dream.

We all benefit from the service we receive from immigrants. We’re not at all bothered by immigrant farmers, as long as our local supermarket and restaurants stay stocked. We never question who picked the coffee beans when we’re standing in long lines at Starbucks. We’re super thankful when the foreign cab driver miraculously gets us through traffic and to the airport just in the nick of time.

We live with, and receive services from immigrants every day and yet we never think about the extreme sacrifices they’ve made to be here. We don’t think about how scary it is to leave everything behind and start over in a new country. We never think about their loved ones or ask them how they manage the loneliness. We never ask them what it was like to obtain a Visa or to go through customs. Do we know how many times they were turned down before they’re request for entry was finally approved? Or how hard was it to learn a new language or find a place to live? Was it worth it?

I never did ask my parents these questions, but I do wonder what my life would have been like if they had made another choice. Because of them, I truly believe, that I am a better American.

“…As long as America remains a nation dedicated to the proposition that ‘all Men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, people from near and far will continue to seek entry into our country.” (Michael Bloomberg)

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Feeling Depressed at the State of Our Country, but Choosing to Fight Back

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By Dawn Onley

Lately, it’s been taking me a long time to do simple tasks. My mind is restless, darting from one thought to the next. I’m more impatient than usual and I can’t seem to get enough sleep. I’m researching organizations to learn ways I can give of my time and resources in ways that supersede what I’ve done before. I’m jumpy and moody, up in the morning, but by nightfall, down. I’m struggling to focus and keep the momentum.

I’m depressed at the state of our country. And appalled. And utterly fatigued and weary. I read a lot of different points of view, always have, but I truly don’t understand how people who grew up together, in some instances right down the street from one another or in the same household, can have such drastically different views. I don’t understand how we got here, as family, as neighbors, as citizens and as Americans.

Well that’s not exactly true. I know how we got here. Any person who studies American history knows that there has always been two different Americas – one of boundless opportunity and another of hopeless decay. There have always been people who sympathize with the North or the South. America has always been the land of big business, whether that business was cotton or tobacco or Wall Street or Walmart. There has always been a Big Business versus Big Government fight, with people deeply entrenched on both sides. I’m not naïve. I know that factions exist within our country, and they have always existed. Democracies are built on the foundation that citizens get to choose, and in America, people have exercised that right by choosing their faith/religion, choosing the role of government and who will represent us, women choosing what works best for us in matters of our reproductive systems, and same sex couples choosing whether they will legally get married. I get all of that.

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Yet in spite of these two Americas, what I loved about growing up in a small town a short drive south of the Mason-Dixon Line was the pride we felt as residents. We could make fun of our town, but we’d defend it if outsiders tried to make fun of us. For the most part we were united and we were proud of our home. Despite the class issues and race issues that we had, just like any other city or town in America, we also knew that when it came down to it, we were in this together. We all wanted the same things for our families and for our community. I’ve had friends visit my hometown from big cities, who today marvel at the number of interracial couples they see. On the surface it may even seem post-racial, particularly when one considers my hometown in the 1970s and even 1980s, a rural swath of Northwest Maryland where the Ku Klux Klan would occasionally hold rallies.

Looks can be deceiving.

Over the years progress has been made, no doubt, but at times like these when a controversial president is elected who immediately enacts controversial and (in my opinion) unjust measures, it’s clearer than ever to see the line that has been drawn and what side of it we stand. Politics is a lot like religion in that it may not be apparent initially what one person believes over another, but open the doors of the sanctuary and you’ll learn quickly what religious doctrine one subscribes to, or take part in a presidential election, and you’ll see a person’s core beliefs rise to the surface every time. Politics and religion are also similar in that many adopt the beliefs of their parents and grandparents, content to never analyze what lies in their own hearts.

This past week has caused me to question how well we really know one another and how much it matters. It has left me reeling at what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.” It has left me stunned and angry and more committed than ever to fight for the “least of these,” which today is the mistreatment of refugees and Muslims, but who knows what fight tomorrow has in store.

This is not sour grapes. I can take a loss. This is un-American. This is for the soul of our nation and speaks to what lies in our heart and in the world’s eyes. This is for our collective conscience. This is against bigotry and oppression. This is for the freedoms that are now threatened. This is against living in a state of angst. This is against the dangerous game our president is playing through his hasty actions. This is for the ideals that we should never cease trying to reach.

Yesterday, Senator John McCain denounced the most recent executive order signed by Trump which bans Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States for 90 days. “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security,” McCain said.

So even though I’m tired, frustrated and sad at what our great country is being reduced to, I will force myself to keep my energy high and to stay educated on the issues. There’s no time to waste. There’s too much on the line.

Being Young and Dumb, Brave and Foolish – All in the Same Day

By Samantha McKenzie

When I was young my fear of God topped the list, but since my mother was such a formidable force, she came in a close second place. Other than that, I was bold and daring,  and innocent enough to push plenty of envelopes. I wouldn’t describe myself as spoiled. I didn’t have any of the latest toys, no name brand clothing nor did I get an allowance like so many others. I did, however, have an inkling, a strong conviction of my natural ability to warm a heart and I carried with me a small measure of confidence that took up the unused space in my childish mind.

As many fans watched “The New Edition Story” this week, it reminded me of the time I met Bobby Brown, one of the original boy band members who had recently left the group. As a die-hard fan, I must say, we all saw it coming. Towards the months leading up to his departure, he started missing performances and always seemed disengaged when they appeared on nightly shows. Having already earned the reputation as the “bad” boy in the group, his solo career announcement came as no surprise to super fans.

When my girlfriends and I found out that Bobby was in New York City, we jokingly decided to find out the hotel he was staying at. It was the weekend and we were 15 years old. The mission began with us flipping through the yellow pages, desperately trying to figure out which hotel to call first. The Waldorf, we thought, was too high class for this guy, so it was scratched off our list. I think we dwindled our search down to five hotels and the phone calls kicked off.Related image

I can’t recall who made which phone call or the number of hotel receptionists who told us there was no one with that name registered at the hotel. Finally, when it was my turn, the call went like this:

“Can you put me through to Bobby Brown’s room please?”

“Can you hold please?”

“Yes. Sure.”

“Hold on. I’m connecting you now…”

I almost choked. I was being put through to Bobby Brown’s room and I had no idea what I was going to say. Everything that happened after this was surreal. When the person on the other end answered the phone, I introduced myself.

“Hi Samantha. How are you? How’s your aunt,” the stranger said.

“Hiiiiiiiii. She’s doing just fine. My friends and I wanted to come to hotel to meet Bobby Brown,” I quickly responded. First of all, I knew I was not speaking to Bobby. I also knew that this man thought I was someone else and I was certain that he did not know any of my aunts.

newedHe gave me instructions to call him when we arrived in the lobby and he would meet us. I quickly agreed and hung up the phone. Like typical teenage groupies, we somehow figured out how to get out of my best friend’s house and made our way to the train station. We were in Brooklyn and estimated that if we hurried, we could get there and back before my mother started looking for my whereabouts. Why I thought this would work, I don’t know.

When we arrived in the lobby and the bodyguard met us in the lobby, I could tell he realized he had been tricked.

“You’re not the Samantha I thought I was talking to.”

“I know, but, please. We’re already here and we just…”

One after the other, we all chimed in, rambling, pleading, begging, until we convincingly won him over. The red flags that were going off in my head would have to settle down. I was about to meet Bobby Brown and nothing else mattered at the time.

The room we entered was filled with two teenage girls (dressed to impress), two other guys (one who would later become a short-lived rapper) and the identical twin brother of the bodyguard who we had just met. Bobby was nowhere to be found.

We watched the clock: 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock came and went. As we sat on the edges of the double beds, basking in the light chatter of our new-found friends, I saw something that looked like drugs on the dresser. Red flags were waving furiously in my head at this point. Finally, Bobby entered the room. In bad boy fashion, he zipped passed all of us as if we were invisible, made his way to the ringing telephone and commenced to calling the person on the other line a bitch. Red flags still just flapping away.

Finally, as the clock approached midnight, we were introduced to Mr. Brown. He asked us our names and then re-asked us how to spell our names. S-a-m-a…(this guy cannot spell). When it was over, we thanked him, said our goodbyes and walked out the room with our autographs. (I think we tossed those papers shortly after).  We headed home, less confidently than we came.

After my long explanation and pleading, my mother simply turned to me and said, “I’m so disappointed in you.” It felt like a knife. I wanted her to yell at me, beat my behind for pulling off a stupid stunt like that or put me on punishment for a month, you know, my usual forms of discipline. I think that night she was so mad, that all she could do is stare at me with that lingering look of disappointment. It was the first time I believe I really understood her point and reflected on how unsafe it was to do what I had done.

I was young and dumb, brave and foolish, all in the same night. I ended up logging that day under “big lessons” learned.

It was dangerous on so many levels, and the sad truth is, none of us really liked Bobby Brown anyway. Yet it was daring and adventurous and it taught me to take risks at an early age. It was also foolish and it took me years to admit that it wasn’t really worth it. But I still cannot deny how rewarding it felt to hallmark the phrase “you only live once.”

This story ended well. We survived another shenanigan and my mother came to her senses and did end up punishing me. Someone once said, “youth is wasted on the youth.” I am thankful for the experience, the growth, and the ability to see what I was made of and…to see another day.

Today I am thankful for the statement I used to hear the elders say, God protects babies and fools.

How to Apply the High Intensity Training Mindset to Work, Goals, Life

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By Dawn Onley

A lot has been written about the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which mixes bursts of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity exercise and rest. The short of it is interval training takes less time than traditional cardio, increases metabolism while building up oxygen capacity, and causes our bodies to burn calories, even after we’re done exercising.

The more we do interval training, the better we get at it and the more effective it works. Before long, we’re back in those sexy jeans and fitted tops from a decade ago and looking and feeling great. And really, isn’t that what it’s about, looking and feeling great?

Yesterday, I took advantage of the nice weather and ran up a hill at my fastest speed. While running, I had an epiphany: Interval workouts could also be a great way to approach other areas in life. We need periods when we go all out, tackling things at full force. We need time to slow things down, still getting stuff done, but at a more relaxed, leisurely pace. And our bodies and minds need time to rest.

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When we break it up, we get more done.

In essence, interval training works like residual income. After we put in the exercise “investment,” we start reaping the benefits even after the workout is through. We continue to burn calories even while we watch TV. With residual income, we collect checks, even after we stop working.

We can also apply this to daily tasks and to our goals. We can break up our day so that we apply varying degrees of intensity to our tasks. Here’s how:

  • High Intensity: Setting a time – like an hour – and working at lightning speed to get as much done in that time period as possible. Shutting off social media, turning off our phones if need be and cranking it out – getting stuff done on the job or checking off weekly or monthly, non-work-related goals.
  • Low Intensity: After completing the high-intensity period, we can slow it down to handle routine tasks, like reading and responding to work emails, setting up appointments via phone call, organizing the desk or filing items away.
  • Rest: We can use the rest periods to check our social media accounts or grab a quick snack or cup of coffee.

Even after the work day is over, we can apply the HIIT principal to our daily and weekly chores, play time with our kids, and settling down with a glass of wine and a book before bed.

It’s a great way to balance our time. It’s a great way to discipline ourselves. Interval training keeps it interesting and keeps us motivated without causing us to feel drained, stressed or overworked. Ultimately doing it in spurts is more effective and less daunting.

In the future, I’ll be employing HIIT in areas outside of exercise. I’ve seen how well it works with fitness. It’s now time to direct it to other areas for optimal results at work, at home, and to conquer my dreams.

A Life Without Labels

By Samantha McKenzie

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We spend a lot of time defining who we are.

I’m a Christian. I’m Jewish. I’m a Muslim. I’m a Republican. I’m a Democrat. I’m with Bernie.

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We separate ourselves by race, by sex, and by organizations. We define ourselves by status quo, by zip codes and district lines. We get so bogged down with trying to carve out our place in this world that we begin to fit neatly into a box we spent our whole lives constructing.

Then we sit there. For years. Comfortably. Caged. And for what?

We’re a nation of label hoarders. A bunch of labels that dull our sensibilities and stops us from learning about new people and new things. But who are we really? And better yet, who do we want to be? What if we abandoned the labels, discarded the veils, and walked proudly into the light of self? What if we shifted our thinking and entertained a new way of being?

Who would we be then?

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I’m thinking I could just be me.

I could shed all of the definitions and the predispositions that come along with them. I wouldn’t have to be another single mother or a typical divorcee. You wouldn’t have to presume that a college degree makes any one of us more intelligent or that a six-figure income now means that we can live comfortably.

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Although we are shaped by our experiences and guided by personal trials and errors, we don’t have to limit how we live and how we view our world.

We can, if we try, seek new understandings.

We can, if we want to, rethink perceptions and dabble in the unknown.

We can, if we choose to, reintroduce ourselves as humans and that’s all.

We can.

Keeping the Faith While We Wait

“Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.” – Paulo Coelho

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By Dawn Onley

Have you ever prayed for something and then waited for your prayer to be answered?

Days and weeks pass by and still no answer, no resolution, nothing.

You begin to lose hope, and maybe even question God. You feel helpless. You don’t know where to turn. Your faith is questioned.

One of the toughest things in all the world to do is to wait. When we pray, we are hoping for immediate resolution. We are trusting in divine intervention in our earthly matters and we want God to fix it, now. We are anticipating direction and guidance, believing in insight and clarity.

When we receive no answer, it tests our resolve. But it is at these times when we must not lose the faith.

I’ve been there. It can be frustrating. It can cause us to lose faith when there is no answer after we’ve prayed and cried, prayed and cried. When God is silent, we can lose hope when we don’t hear His voice.

I once heard a preacher say that it is very critical what we do in the waiting rooms of life.

We must remain expectant. We need to be cautious about how we speak during these times. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. It is good to speak as if the prayer is already answered and then to act as if it is so.

The preacher directed the church to read Habakkuk 2:3, which talks about waiting on God for answers. “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

The sermon was basically about our dreams for our lives, and if they are inspired by God, according to the pastor, they will come to pass at the appointed time.

Just because there’s no movement doesn’t mean God’s not moving, the preacher reminded us.

After you’ve done all that you can do. When it’s out of your hands. When you need a supernatural blessing. When you need a healing. Wait with expectancy. Believe in the promise. Keep praying.

There’s a tree in that acorn. It may take time to bloom; we may not see it yet, but it’s there. Never give up.

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We Are Sisters, With No Borders

By Samantha McKenzie

(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau 2013-15; The World Bank Data)

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There are 3.5 billion women in the world.

657 million live in China. Another 600 million live in India.

162 million women live in the United States.

Our nation’s capital has the largest female population than any other state. The top five states are Delaware, Rhode Island, Alabama, Maryland and New York.

In 39 states, women outnumber men.Related image

In America, 75.6 million women are in the work force.

1.6 million women are veterans.

There are 9.9 million women-owned businesses in America, with annual earnings of $1.4 trillion.

Women make up 43% of U.S voters.

43.5 million women in America are mothers. 5.2 million are stay-at-home moms.

67.1 million women are married.

12.7 million women are currently enrolled in college.

30.2% of women in the U.S. have college degrees.

500,000 women participated in the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.

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Those who couldn’t make the trek to Washington, D.C., joined together in solidarity in their respective cities. Experts say, more than 1 million rallied in the U.S. and around the world.

As I watched from a distance, I was inspired and could only think –

Girl power is real. The sisterhood is on fire. Unity is amazing. Love is contagious. The magic is real. We’ve got the juice!

The world’s not ready for these ladies, but it doesn’t matter, we’re coming anyway. Women who hope are just getting started.

If you attended the march or know someone who did, post their pictures here. Let’s show the world just how powerful we are.