Everyone Deserves A Chance To Trap In This Life 

“In 2010, my uncle passed from AIDS related complications. Our family didn’t really know that he had the illness and I’m not really sure that he knew until his health declined. It’s interesting because if someone has cancer, you cry, and you feel sad. With him, I saw different types of emotions from people.”

Seeing a relative in hospice is a tragic experience. Young Kim felt powerless watching someone she loved suffer at the hands of a disease that, at the time, she didn’t understand anything about. Watching her uncle’s health decline so quickly scarred Kim, but she did not simply allow the wound to fade, she came into adulthood with fresh skin and a passion to advocate for others like her uncle. Kim says, “I have found comfort in knowing that I am dedicating a chunk of my life to fighting this disease. Yes, it has an impact on your health, but you can live long and healthy. You can still have a family and children. You can live just like everyone else. I just wish my uncle knew that.”

Despite the progress our society has made, HIV/AIDS is still seen as a tragedy that diagnosed individuals bring on themselves. It is assumed that the one with the disease was reckless in how they lived their life, and because of that contracted something that will inevitably kill them. We do our fellow humans a disservice with such a mentality. HIV/AIDS is a disease of a behavior; not one that impacts one particular type of person. Kim understands the difficulty that people living with HIV/AIDS face with their health.

“I am becoming the professional that people living with HIV come to. No one should face HIV or AIDS alone, so I am happy I can be that person. There are a lot of struggles people with HIV deal with. Healthcare in this country is challenging for everyone, but its a greater challenge for those with the disease. Part of my job as a medical case manager is helping people living with HIV/AIDS navigate the healthcare system, but a big part of it is helping them realize that they are still a whole person.”

While advocating for people living with HIV/AIDS, Kim, whose full name is Kimberly Huggins, is also receiving her Master’s in Social Work and PhD in Human Sexuality from Widener University. It’s only natural to wonder how she manages everything on her plate.

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Kim received her Masters degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Public Health

“I call myself a trap scholar, because essentially, I’m trapping too.”

For those unfamiliar, trap is a verb, it means selling dope to support oneself and/or family. Check-out Future, Trap Nigga and Fetty Wap, Trap Queen for further study. Kim, much like those who spend their time hustling, is setting shop in grad school, moving books, grinding with papers, and knows that her degrees are her big payout.

“It’s a grind trying to get good grades, make the right connections and soak in all the information. It’s not easy. Being in grad school, I feel like I have way less time to sit back and kick up my feet. In my previous graduate program, I worked full-time, went to school, but I was still able to be ‘turnt up on a Tuesday’. Now that I am in the last phase of a my academic schooling, there’s a lot more pressure. Whatever steps I take now will have an impact on my career moving forward. I aspire to be a sex therapist, professor and public advocate in the public health realm, but I know I need to be strategic because there is no blueprint for success.”

Although Kim feels pressure to be great, she does not go without support. She speaks highly of her parents, a group of really good friends, her boyfriend, and God. They are the ones there with her when doubt sets in.

“When you’re in grad school, you realize you are becoming the next expert. It’s a lot of pressure to realize that you are the one becoming the next expert in the field.”

I know what you’re thinking—wow, this Kim person is a rockstar. She is in fact a rockstar! Not only is Kim pursuing higher education while counseling people living with HIV/AIDS, but she has also co-founded, Kimbritive.

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Kim pictured with her business partner, Brittany Brathwaite, who is pursuing her Master of Social Work and Public Health at Columbia University.

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, outside of her mother who Kim speaks fondly of, she did not have many women to look to.

“It’s sad that we don’t have enough women who look like us. You go to a predominantly white institution; you can count on one hand the number of black professors. There is something powerful about seeing someone from the same community as you being successful. I didn’t have many role models growing up and it motivated me to be better.”

Kimbritive, a vision that began in a Starbucks with Kim’s business partner, Brittany Brathwaite, has taken off. The women just held a workshop for young African American girls in New York City called, “How to Be A F.L.Y. Girl: First, Love Yourself.” Kimbritive sailed to California, Virginia, and Atlanta, and plan to visit Syracuse in March as they continue to empower young women through their life’s journey with knowledge about “sexual health, reproductive justice and everything else in between.”

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The work Kim does in the classroom, on the streets, and at the office is inspiring. She speaks proudly of her peers who she describes as role models, but she herself has set an incredible bar, and many are watching.

“My goddaughter wants an American Doll for Christmas, with natural hair that looks like mine, and it doesn’t exist. She asked for an American doll that looks like me and it doesn’t exist. Her request touched me, you have to live a life of purpose because you don’t know who is watching.”

It’s safe to say that many are watching Kim as she grows in her journey. She hopes to plant seeds in people, to create change that benefits society, and I have no doubt that she will in fact do it.

ABOUT KIMBRITIVE: 

We are two dynamic, passionate and energetic agents of change from Brooklyn, NY who unapologetically believe in the importance of having real conversations with the goal of educating and empowering communities about sexual health, reproductive justice and everything in between! With backgrounds in Public Health and Social Work, we merge our experiences and schools of thought into interactive skill-building workshops to service the emerging needs of young people, youth service providers and adults.

FIND KIMBRITIVE

http://www.kimberlyhuggins.com/kimbritive/
Twitter: @kimbritive_
Instagram: kimbritive
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kim.britive

Ineye: Her Afro is a Crown of Knowledge and Unity

Ineye Komonibo & Friends

There she is, Ineye Komonibo (pronounces in-NAY-yay), a gorgeous carefree woman. She is standing on the far right in this image with two of her college roommates. All three women wear their hair out in huge afros, are dressed beautifully, and wear accomplishment on their shoulders with the same strength that they carry their black skin.

This image is floating in the virtual Twitter world with over 11 thousand likes and eight thousand retweets. Under it, the caption “the carefree black longhorn grads who ‘stole’ your admission #StayMadAbby.”

Thieves. How could these three women be thieves.

“I posted the picture [with that caption] because it was amazing to hear someone say that black students—not Latino, Asian, White—but that black students are not capable”

That someone, Abigail Fisher, the young woman who does not want race to be considered in college admissions, because her sub-par academics didn’t get her into the University of Texas over black students.

“It’s a form of psychological terrorism to tell black students that they are not enough.”

Terrorism. That’s a big word. Ineye is not shy to use it, because the way she sees it, the American education system is “fundamentally anti-black and black people constantly have to prove themselves.” Every single day when a person of color wakes up, they walk the streets in a society that “does damage to their psychy.”

Abigail Fisher is not an anomoly, she is a small part of a larger system that Ineye believes in anti-black.

Unfortunately, Ineye isn’t dreaming up an anti-black world, even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia partakes in psychological terrorism. Justice Scalia speaks the same language as Abigail Fisher. In his eyes, black students are not ready for university education at a place like the University of Texas, which is where Ineye received her undergraduate degree in Public Relations with a minor in African American Studies, they belong in “lesser universities.” You’d think this U.S. Supreme Court Justice has enough knowledge to know that America has a pretty bitter history of giving black people lesser treatment, but here he is quoted in The Guardian backsliding.

Ineye doesn’t just have a say about the serious stuff going on in American news, like Affirmative Action, she also dabbles in social media sensations. Before we get into that, I’d like y’all to get to know Ms. Ineye Komonibo some more!

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The recent University of Texas at Austin graduate is 23 years old and from Houston. Ineye describes Houston as an international community with a strong Nigerian population. She herself is Nigerian, but in the last couple of years has adopted a black radical identity.

“I’m at a very interesting place in my life where my perspective about a lot of things turned out to be wrong. Anyone familiar with Nigerian culture knows that it is patriarchal. We are socialized from a young age to see the world in a specific way,” she goes to describe her upbringing as very conservative. However, a couple of years ago, Ineye experienced a shift.

“I realized that I was black. That as a woman, my gender is something that can hinder me in society. I realized that a lot of people are oppressed.”

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Ineye describes herself as the kind of person people get tired of, not because she’s always hyped up on sugar, but because she’s very conscious of oppression and her mind is constantly at work—she’s the kind of person who is “super aware.”

“I’m Nigerian, but I am a black feminist. I’m a Christian, but I believe everyone deserves rights. My parents, sometimes, I think they get tired of hearing me talk about race and sexism.”

Earlier, I mentioned that Ineye partakes in what some would call social media hype.

About two weeks ago, Ayesha Curry sent out this tweet:

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Since then, the social media world has been afire. Some women support her modesty, while others feel that she is shaming other women for choosing to show more skin. Men, for the most part, have praised Ayesha though their reason for uplifting her may indicate more implicit thoughts about a woman’s body, sexuality, and the male gaze than we think.

What does Ineye think. Well, here’s what she shared on Twitter.

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“I’m cool with Ayesha Curry. I think she’s awesome,” she goes on to discuss that Tia Mowry is among the list of woman who have shared sentiments about modesty being sexy. What struck a chord about Mrs. Curry’s popular tweet is how she phrased it. “There was a tone like ‘I like to do this for MY man and y’all other HOES could do whatever,’ That’s fine, you have a husband. But, as a woman, it is your job to support all women.”

Those comparing Ayesha Curry and the Kardashians aren’t on the same team as Ineye, because she’s about supporting all women in the skin and life that makes them happy. Really, Ineye feels that we all should be able to live freely.

“When I think of an ideal world, I think of a place where people are allowed to be different. A world where people are encouraged to exist in the way that they are. A situation where people can exist happily. Imagine a world where everybody acknowledges that we are all different, but decides to worry about other stuff, we would become a giant machine ready to change the world.”

Keep up with Ineye on Twitter as she works for change @eyekomology.

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Men become what we socialize boys to be…

“When I was eight I made a pie from scratch, with fruit from our backyard, for my grandfather, my father’s father, and we took it to my granddad, my dad drove me there. My grandfather he took it, and was very quiet for a second, smelled it, said it smelled really good but he said ‘thank you sweetie.’ He was trying to be supportive but that was never language he used with my male cousins, that’s how he spoke to my female cousins… it was very indirect, but that’s when I began to understand there were male and female roles.

–Mark Freeman—

Seven months ago, I moved into a new space. This space came with a gorgeous black lab and two men in their thirties. Upon discussing my new living arrangements with people, they often had a head-tilt reaction. What could a 23-year old woman possibly be doing living with two men.

In a world where parents have to hear stories about their daughters being cat-called on the street and are left having to compare a woman’s virginity to some treasure chest that needs to be buried deep, I understand the rationalization behind the concerned head movements.

However, I can’t help but wonder why men think certain behaviors are okay and why is it that when a young woman outlines her non-traditional living situation she is met with concern for safety, thoughts about whether sex will become an issue, and that infamous head-tilt that begs for answers to questions that might be rude to ask.

My take is that men are not born men. Like everyone else, they were once little infants ready to absorb ideals, morals, lessons, and whatever else life has to offer. As they grow into manhood, boys receive messages, and before we know it they become versions of what society (family, friends, classmates, media) tells them they should be.

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Meet Tony Morales, Sally, and Mark Freeman, my roommates. They aren’t normally this geeked out, we recently had a Back to the Future themed party to celebrate Tony’s birthday (actually, that is pretty geeky). Let’s take a look at what kind of men they were socialized to be as boys…

Being a man 

Tony: Being a man is an extension of a being a good person. I was always taught that as a man you have to be the head of the family, respect your partner, be a provider, and a good example for those around you. 

Mark: To me, it’s very individual, but there are some social pressures and social values on what it is to be a man. The social pressures of what are considered typical male traits, values, abilities–it’s still socialized that men win the resources, men go out and get the better paying jobs, men support their family. 

It seems that though Tony grew up in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, where family values are more traditional, and Mark in South East Portland, Oregon, where his parents followed a hybrid family model, they both have grown up to understand that men should be the primary bread-winner and head of the family.

Tony’s boyhood shoes 

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Unlike Mark, who grew up with both his mother and father present in the home, Tony did not.

Tony: My mom and my sisters were great examples, my dad passed when I was 12. I grew up with my three sisters, mom, and grandma in Nicaragua which is a family oriented society. I think all of that is a unique way to grow up. 

However, Tony did not spend his entire childhood in Nicaragua. His family emigrated to the United States early in his life because of the revolution. Before Tony’s father passed, he spent a lot of time at work. Although he was away from his wife and children, Mr. Morales always made sure they knew how much he loved them.

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Tony: Last time I was in Nicaragua for Christmas, my mom pulled out some letters. When my dad was traveling outside for work, he took the time to write to her and tell her how much he missed her and the kids. He had to make the sacrifice to be away from us, but he took the time to let us know he wished he could be with us. 

Mr. Morales had a masters in chemical engineering, but in times of war and economic hardship, those things cease to matter. Despite the sacrifices he had to make to keep his family safe, he left a lasting impression on young Tony. Mr. Morales showed Tony what it means to be a man, to love one’s family, and how to be a good person. What is most striking about the relationship Tony had with his father is how young he was when Mr. Morales was killed in their home during an invasion, but also how much of him Tony still holds on to. Although, Mr. Morales wasn’t there to have father-son conversations with Tony when he began to wonder about the opposite sex, Tony’s memories of his father were a reference and remain so.

Tony: My parents had the philosophy to not go to bed angry, to always communicate if they were fighting and try to end up laughing instead.

When I continued to probe about where else he looked for inspiration when he felt an attraction to the opposite sex, Tony referenced media.

Tony: That was tough, I mostly kept it all internal. I tried talking to my friends but found that they were a bit more macho. My best friend between the ages of 12 and 18, who most people would confide these things in, was female. I also relied on the example of my mom and dad, and romantic comedies. 

He laughed, commenting on how sad it was that he turned to romantic comedies for love advice, but that virtual realm affirmed Tony’s respect for women.

Tony: When I was in that stage of development and thinking of women [as potential partners], my example was my mom who was pretty much a single mother raising four kids, going to work full-time, taking care of the house, taking care of us, putting my family through college and school and everything. I always saw a great amount of strength in her, so growing up, I was always attracted to strong women. 

Tony never saw a women as something to be conquered.

Tony: I wouldn’t say conquer though I like strong women, so I like a challenge. I like the chase, it’s not a conquering–it’s more like this person is worth the effort.

Mark’s boyhood shoes 

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Mark: I grew up in a household where both of my parents were working and contributing in very equal but also very different ways. The household chores were still primarily done by my mother, but my dad would cook and that was a rarity amongst our friends. 

In his Oregon town it was not uncommon for Mark to be around other young boys who engaged in fights, hunting, and playing in the mud.

Unlike Tony, Mark was fortunate to have his father around. Mark describes Mr. Freeman as a masculine man who hunts, got into fights in his prime, and was the main breadwinner, although his mother also worked. Mark also remembers his father cooking delicious meals in the kitchen and lending a hand when he could. However, Mark learned a pivotal lesson about masculinity from his grandfather.

Mark: When I was eight I made a pie from scratch, with fruit from our backyard, for my grandfather, my father’s father, and we took it to my granddad, my dad drove me there. My grandfather he took it, and was very quiet for a second, smelled it, said it smelled really good but he said ‘thank you sweetie.’ He was trying to be supportive but that was never language he used with my male cousins, that’s how he spoke to my female cousins… it was very indirect, but that’s when I began to understand there were male and female roles.

That exchange with his grandfather has stayed with Mark, because it was the point in his formative years when he learned that there were things that boys do and things that girls do. Fortunately, Mark excelled at what he was supposed to do as a boy; “playing sports and doing all those gross things like playing in mud,” so he didn’t remain too occupied with the thought. However, there is one formative experience that Mark held onto for many years. At age 14, a girl asked him out…

Mark: My response to her in that exact moment was ‘maybe, let me talk to my mom,’ that’s not a classic male response.  

When Mark went on to ask his mother, she said that he was not ready to date. There was no further discussion or talk. Mark struggled with that for awhile especially because his friends were exploring with dating.

Mark: I was a really emotional kid and it was good for my mom to at that point say, ‘I don’t think you’re ready,’ but it really hurt to hear that even though I understood. 

Who were Mark and Tony socialized to be

From the stories shared, it’s understood that Mark and Tony were both socialized to be the kind of man who knows his role in the home, provides for his family, listens, sees more in a woman than a sexual body, and is open to respectfully exploring the boundaries of normalcy.

It is important to point out that both Mark and Tony had strong women who contributed to their growth as men. Their model of what a man is supposed to be was influenced by their fathers, but when it came to getting answers to questions about how to treat a woman, the women in their lives held the chalk to the board.

As I rounded up my conversations with both men, I asked them what came to mind when they thought of the phrase, Men become what we socialize boys to be, and this is what they shared…

Tony: I do agree, not just boys or men, but people in general absorb a lot of what society puts in front of them when they’re growing up. You absorb so much information and that’s why good role models, I think, are very important… It’s sad to see that there are not many good role models and that kinda also inspired me to join the Big Brother Big Sister Club so I can be there for anyone who doesn’t have someone to look up to as a male figure.

Mark: That’s heavy man, I like that. I have thought a lot about part of this. That is, I recognized in my dad a conflict where he very much is masculine in those traditional senses and very much can be macho and very patriarchal in some negative ways, but also in some positive ways. He always seemed to be frustrated that he had to take on certain roles. I was always aware of his disappointment in having to make certain decisions, quote-on-quote as a man should, versus being able to allow his partner be able to handle certain responsibilities and still maintain his manhood.

As I grew up and became whatever a man is, I started to say ‘hey, you know what, there is more fluidity to this than people think there is,’ and my dad was confused and frustrated about the lack of power he felt to flex whatever his manhood was. Maybe I have the freedom to explore what being a man means for me, and I am bumping to a lot of men this way and a lot of women this way.

Tony: The fact that I grew up surrounded by women, I understand that I might be on the edges of what is normal. There has to be a balance, I’m a little bit toward the sensitive side.

Living with Mark and Tony these last seven months, I have learned a great deal about being kind, listening, and living in community with men. It is important that I point out that they are two pretty awesome human beings, and represent a small sample size. I do believe that they have both grown to be respectful men because of how they were brought up, so that proves my reflection to be correct in this scenario. However, I have not spoken to enough men from varied backgrounds about their boyhood experiences to draw a conclusion that it is correct that all Men become what we socialize boys to be.

It would also be unfair to say that those who do the head-tilt have unfounded concerns. After all, we do live in a society where women are sexualized and abused, but it is important to recognize that all men weren’t socialized the same way as boys.

As a woman with men in her life who I admire and love, I hope to socialize them to understand that it is normal to be sensitive and kind, and that it is normal to have a woman walk into your life and want to offer her a relationship or connection that doesn’t include sex though it may. The fact that I feel the need to write that sentence shows that our society is speaking loud messages to young boys and men that lead them to believe otherwise. If someday, I am blessed with young boys, I hope to raise them with the same level of respect and fluidity that I have found in Tony and Mark.

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Author’s Note: This post raises a lot of complex questions that I could not possibly answer in one blog. It honors two men who respect women and understand that we have more to offer than our bodies. There are still important questions left to answer about why men over-step their bounds and cat-call or do far worse. 

Choose the God of love

I’ve only been on this Earth, in my present form, for 23 years. There’s a lot that I am figuring out. Today, I attended mass at one of the churches I work with and the Deacon there preached on why our young people are moving away from the church. He touched on the usual things, sex, homosexuality, weed, alcohol… He did so in a manner that I found polarizing, so while he preached, I pulled out my pen and paper and allowed my mind to respond, to reflect.

In truth, if we have sex we won’t automatically get AIDS and die. It’s also likely that we won’t get pregnant. Our churches are preaching an irrational message. Youth know there are 75 different ways to prevent an STI and/or pregnancy. Our churches need to preach with a foot rooted in reality. Meet our youth where they are. There are many dangers to unsafe/irresponsible sex, including STI’s, but openly discuss the emotional consequences, speak honestly about how sex can be an intimately beautiful experience. To draw young people to God, to assist them in their spiritual growth, we must meet them where they are and we must debrief the messages that they are receiving from the world while introducing them to a God of love.

In our world of “knowledge,” “rhetoric,” and “theory,” we may get caught up in proving a point using the messages of the “market god” while neglecting the messages that our “God of love” has placed in all of us. Our growth with God and our spiritually can only be fed if we remain open and willing. Willing to neglect our desires of the flesh. Willing to look passed polarizations that turn God into an angry-cheek-slapping-hypocritical-bastard while the world is an ever-forgiving place.

Whether we recognize it or not, we are feeding our soul. Every single day advertisers sit in board rooms and compete for human attention, for human purchasing power–they compete to feed our souls. Many times they win.

God uses one avenue, he uses his love.

I believe that it is without a doubt there are many containers, religious paths, that we can use to get to God. Choose one. It doesn’t matter whether your path is meditation on the Word through the Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist texts… choose a path that leads you to God through his love. Choose to grow spiritually, in God.

Choose the God of love, and when you do his message will glow through you and attract all those around you.