I’m Lawana Porter, a Black woman thinker and writer in Dallas, Texas. Why blog? It’s a good question, one I’ve pondered a while.

There's much to think about in this time in the U.S. As a Black woman, I crave to be part of the conversation. I want to share thoughts that matter and hopefully spark conversations that can shape who we are as a people and who we aspire to become.  2021 was an incredible year with so much change and heartbreak. In some ways, it was the epitome of the best of times and the worst of times. I'm desperately hoping for a better year in 2022--for my own people and those everywhere. I think we deserve better and I want to be part of the solution. 

If you’re a curious thinker, I invite you to seek me out and share your own views.

Telling your story about mental illness can help improve treatment and services

Sometimes a heartfelt personal story has the power to touch minds and hearts even more than costly ads and lavishly produced commercials. That’s why NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is training members of the community to share stories about how they and their families are affected by mental illness.

On Sat., Feb. 26, NAMI invites the public to a free virtual training session to learn how to tell personal stories about mental illness. The goal is to empower the community to serve as advocates to influence policy makers and legislators to improve treatment options. With 1 in 5 Americans living with a mental illness, the need for better understanding of mental disorders is great, a view echoed by Texas State Rep. Toni Rose.

“To have a healthy and balanced life, and to ensure community resiliency, it is critical to destigmatize mental illness and promote open and honest discussions around mental wellness.”

Toni Rose, Texas State Rep., District 110

Led by NAMI Dallas Southern Sector, the free session will be conducted via Zoom. Registration is available at https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpc-GvqTwjHNTu75iL_n5Y5qfMsI3LudoJ.

See How Toastmasters is preparing next-gen communicators at FREE Feb. 26 Youth Summit

Learning to speak clearly, confidently and to the point are just three benefits of being a Toastmaster. Toastmasters International is a leader at teaching individuals to become better communicators and leaders. It’s never too late (and never too early) to learn these skills, which is why I believe we need to get our young people involved early.

Toastmasters offers youth in elementary through high school their own version of communications and leadership training through gavel clubs. These clubs feature the same time-tested learn-by-doing lessons as adult Toastmasters clubs. Experience in gavel clubs prepares young people to express their ideas in ways that make an impact. Learning these soft skills can help students earn better grades in school, win scholarships and internships, and position them for higher professional compensation later in life.

I hope I’ve convinced you of the benefits of early participation in Toastmasters. You can witness the benefits for yourself at a FREE Youth Summit hosted by District 50 Toastmasters on Sat., Feb. 26, at UTD in Richardson. To register, go here.

This event will shine a light on area gavel clubs and allow families to see young Toastmasters in action. Students in elementary through high school will compete in speech, evaluation, and impromptu speaking contests, share their experiences as young Toastmasters, and attend workshops aimed at sharpening their communications skills. Regardless of previous experience with Toastmasters, students of all ages are invited to attend with their parents.

Oh, and parents, you just might pick up a few tips on the benefits of Toastmasters for yourself.

Dr. King must be crying today

It’s the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. It’s also the day our congressional representatives are debating the future of voting rights. That the two days are less than 24 hours apart is worth noting. Yesterday, the media was full of plaudits and praise for Dr. King and all he worked for during his lifetime. Today, when the U.S. Senate seems hellbent on turning its back on voting rights, one wonders what that public display of reverence and regard for Dr. King was really all about.

Last evening I listened to a historical podcast titled King’s Last March. It detailed the final days of Dr. King’s life in which he was viciously attacked and undermined by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, lost favor with President Johnson and began to see a decline of public faith in his beloved philosophy of nonviolent resistance.

The narrative of the podcast painted Dr. King in a fading light as he battled multiple forces. As I listened to some of his final sermons, I was saddened to witness how a giant of Dr. King’s stature was forced to face some unsettling realities. The zeitgeist of the ’60s was moving away from his philosophy. The curtain was falling on Dr. King’s influence shaping one of the most significant periods in U.S. history. Peace seemed to be on the decline as militancy and violence represented by the war in Vietnam and uprisings in America’s inner cities ascended. While thousands thronged his appearances, Black people were losing their patience with the slow progress of economic and social justice.

Even so, in the final speech before his assassination, Dr. King remained faithful to his belief in love, hope, and nonviolence. Some have said his proclamation that he would not get to witness Black people moving into his vision of the promised land was a premonition that he knew his days were short. As I heard him say those words it seemed he was saying farewell to a world that had painted him as a wild-eyed dreamer and an enemy of the state when all he preached was justice, fairness and love.

Given Dr. King’s last painful days and his assassination, it’s both ironic and sad that 50 years later, our society still pays major lip service to his greatness while we’ve turned away from his dream of an America that would treat all of its people justly and finally grant Black people the rights we have toiled so long to achieve. But given where we are today, I guess that America, Dr. King’s hoped-for shining city on a hill, is as much of a dream today as it was during his lifetime.

And for that I’m very sad as I believe Dr. King would be also.

I’m worried about the direction of our beloved state of Texas

We need to talk about the direction of our beloved state of Texas. I mean, we really, really need to talk about the far-right takeover of Texas. Is it just me or is anyone else worried that we’re falling off the political deep end? 

EXAMPLE 1: During the last legislative session, at the behest of the governor, a cohort of mostly white Republicans passed an anti-abortion bill that incentivizes citizen vigilantes to go after anyone who helps a woman end an unplanned pregnancy–early in the first trimester before most women even realize they are pregnant. The legislature pushed this unpopular bill through to passage despite widespread public condemnation from voters.

The mean-spirited abortion bill is just the beginning. There’s the push to resurrect the former president’s border wall; the fraudulent and financially wasteful audit of the 2020 election; new laws repressing voter participation, which were allegedly passed to combat the non-existent problem of voter fraud; a ban on schools imposing mask mandates to safeguard the lives of children and educators; a law barring educators from teaching students the facts of Black history and racism; and God help us, even a bill blocking transgender kids from showing up as who they really are to play school sports. 

These repressive laws and the negative impact on the lives of the broad population of Texans are painful and dangerously authoritarian. I’ve lived here all my life, and yes, I realize Texas has a long history as a right-leaning (dare I say repressive) state, but it’s my feeling that the state’s current political direction reflects a serious and frightening turn for the worse. 

Why is this happening? I doubt the majority of the state’s electorate took a sudden drastic turn to the right. Some pundits blame this out-of-control rightward tilt on Gov. Abbott’s future political ambitions. Given such aspirations, he might keep in mind that the Texas electorate and that of the country at large is becoming more racially and politically diverse. And fortunately, under our current democracy, the entire body politic has a say in general elections. If he does make his party’s ticket in 2024, I predict there are lots of voters like me who won’t forget Abbott’s authoritarian and repressive track record of governing. 

Meanwhile, I believe the governor is doing Texas–and possibly the entire nation–- a great disservice by shaping his entire political agenda to reflect solely the views of those who share his far-right political views.

How The Word is Passed: a grim lesson in the cruelty of slavery

Clint Smith’s How The Word is Passed features important information about the places and personalities that fed the slave trade, including how cities like New Orleans played major roles in the growth and maintenance of the slave trade.

Smith takes readers to New Orleans, the Whitney plantation and other southern locales and explains how these places and their leaders contributed to the horror and how some of the vestiges of that sad time can still be seen and visited today.

“The rape of defenseless women represented physical power against them, but also the power of the state, the power of patriarchy and the power of a society and resulted from uncontrolled and vicious power.”

author Clint Smith

For example, in his retelling of his visit to the Whitney Plantation, Smith introduces readers to Yvonne, one of the plantation’s tour guides. Yvonne’s family has roots in the Mississippi Delta where the Whitney is located. She left a career in Chicago to return to Mississippi and join the staff of the Whitney to “do something more meaningful and attached to the community.” Smith and Yvonne walk readers through the horror that was plantation life and the remnants of the Mississippi plantation featuring a Wall of Honor memorial documenting some 354 people trafficked to the Whitney in the 1800s. Some were brought directly to the plantation in the transatlantic slave trade while others were born into slavery in the U.S.

In his book, we learn about the plantation’s church where two dozen lifesize clay sculptures represent children who once lived at Whitney. The Children of Whitney was designed by artist Woodrow Nash as a reminder of the impact of slavery on children who, after the formal end of the transatlantic slave trade in 1808, bore the weight of the institution.

Reading how women were designated as plantation breeders and impregnated solely by white men to renew and grow the labor supply is heartbreaking. To say the system of breeding was inhumane is an understatement, but it’s hard to disagree with Smith that the rape of defenseless women represented “physical power against them, but also the power of the state, the power of patriarchy and the power of a society” and resulted from uncontrolled and vicious power.

A 1851 quote from an enslaved woman, Julia Woodrich, recorded on the wall at Whitney gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. “My ma had fifteen children and none of them had the same pa. Every time she was sold she would get another man.” Slavery was cruel to men, women and children alike, but for women, who had absolutely no agency over their bodies, it was beyond heartless. When I think of this kind of maltreatment of women to supply black bodies to power the economic engine of capitalism, I’m more persuaded than ever that reparations are the minimum America owes the descendants of those who routinely suffered such inhuman treatment. I also have to say that recent laws outlawing a woman’s right to choose are reminescent of the cruelty dealt to enslaved women.

Smith’s exploration of slavery and its legacy is painful to read but it certainly deserves to be reviewed by all Americans, most of whom, like me, will realize how gaping a hole exists in their knowledge of the subject.

The patter of little feet: the magic and joy of babes

Throughout time, parents, grandparents and those who aspired to become such have waxed eloquent about the pitter-patter of little feet in the house. Those of us who never had children (like me) have probably wondered what all the chatter is really about.

I’m a great aunt now, and spending time with my young niece has taught me the sense of the joy young children can bring to your life (along with lots of tears and drama).

My great-niece is named for my mother, Forest, and her maternal grandmother, Alberta. She is as unique as her old-fashioned name. When the family gathered a few months ago to celebrate my retirement, she was in the number. And, boy, did she make her presence felt. She moved with grace among the adults gracing us with her kisses, hugs, and smiles as she liked, pausing to take a bite from your plate if she saw something inviting.

Without question, she made the gathering more joyous just by her presence and innocence. I took it as a lesson that you can always learn something new about the things that can contribute to the joy of life–which I count a true blessing at any age.

Children need our help to learn to value and respect others

I recently read a news report about a 10-year-old girl in Utah who died by suicide. Her mother said the young girl, who family members and friends called Izzy, was tormented in school by peers who made fun of her autism.

The family blames bullying and lack of response on the part of Izzy’s teacher and school leaders for Izzy’s deadly despair. It’s heartbreaking to read news of children dying by suicide for any reason, let alone bullying because it’s so senseless. Let’s be honest. Bullying is a common problem in schools. It damages children’s self-esteem and the ability to respect and get along with other children. It’s especially harmful when directed at those who are different in terms of physical or emotional differences. So who’s to blame for this problem? Where are children learning this dangerous and ugly behavior?

Bullying is real. Most adults know it. As someone who worked in schools for a decade, I admit it’s difficult to eradicate or control for lots of reasons. Not the least of these reasons is that kids see so much of it in their environment. TV show characters that belittle and make fun of others is daily fare. Often in our homes, we speak of others in ways that are clearly unkind using the excuse that we’re “only kidding.”

It’s past time for all responsible adults to see that behavior as inappropriate and to turn down the volume on teasing and unkind references to others. Let’s remember that our kids are looking at and learning from us and that the life we save by controlling our behavior could be our own child’s.