Welcome!

My name is Alexzandria Kaylan Churchill (yes there’s a ‘z’), but most just know me as Lexi. This is the only spot in cyberspace that you will see my full name. Unless I’m in trouble with my mother, you probably won’t hear it either. It’s safe to say that not too many get so close to even know my real name, nonetheless the family connections behind it.

Here is where I’d like to explore those connections, what’s “after the Z” so to speak.

I will explore unknown personal narratives, identity struggles and transformative conflicts starting with those closest to me. As a multimedia journalist, I’ve grown accustomed to telling the tales of sources, but looking at those around me through a writing perspective? Now that will be a challenge.

In addition, I’ve always believed I learn the most about myself through others and creative writing, of course. Thus, I will be doing a great deal of self-reflection on my own tales. Through writing them down I hope to better understand them myself.

With that, see and read about these amazing humans that inspire me to explore, teach me the lessons they’ve learned and help me love my life even more. Through them and our relationships, I will know myself.

To learn see more about the journalistic work I do, hop over to my website.


 

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The Trifecta of Love

To the three female figures in my life, thank you for instilling the greatest form of acceptance within me – one that is inherent and all-inclusive.


I​ ​have​ ​three​ ​moms.

It​ ​wasn’t​ ​your​ ​typical​ ​wedding.​ ​Instead​ ​of​ ​a​ ​floral​ ​dress,​ ​the​ ​rustling​ ​of​ ​my​ ​bedazzled​ ​jeans drowned​ ​out​ ​the​ ​piano​ ​as​ ​I​ ​scampered​ ​down​ ​the​ ​aisle.​ ​Once​ ​I​ ​joined​ ​my​ ​brother​ ​in​ ​the​ ​front pew,​ ​my​ ​procession​ ​concluded​ ​and​ ​the​ ​real​ ​one​ ​began.​ ​My​ ​mother​ ​entered,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​wasn’t​ ​my dad​ ​by​ ​her​ ​side.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​Carla.

Carla​ ​was​ ​always​ ​“my​ ​mom’s​ ​friend.”​ ​That​ ​label​ ​usually​ ​sufficed.​ ​However,​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​quite differently,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​world​ ​around​ ​me​ ​wasn’t​ ​ready​ ​to​ ​embrace​ ​their​ ​lesbian​ ​relationship.

​Several​ ​years​ ​before​ ​the​ ​wedding,​ ​we​ ​moved​ ​into​ ​Carla’s​ ​house,​ ​unexplained​ ​and unquestioned.​ ​I​ ​remember​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​them​ ​kiss​ ​within​ ​those​ ​creaky​ ​walls.​ ​The​ ​sound echoed.​ ​It​ ​was​ ​simple,​ ​yet​ ​felt​ ​like​ ​a​ ​secret​ ​I​ ​wasn’t​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​know.​ ​My​ ​mom​ ​never​ ​exactly explained​ ​it.

Since​ ​my​ ​parents​ ​divorce,​ ​Jordan​ ​and​ ​I​ ​hadn’t​ ​kept​ ​track​ ​of​ ​our​ ​father’s​ ​dating​ ​life.​ ​That​ ​is, until​ ​Cheryl​ ​came​ ​along.​ ​When​ ​she​ ​tiptoed​ ​through​ ​the​ ​yellow​ ​grass​ ​by​ ​his​ ​side,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​not​ ​her curvaceous​ ​body​ ​or​ ​wide​ ​smile​ ​which​ ​stood​ ​out​ ​most,​ ​but​ ​her​ ​chocolate​ ​skin.​ ​For​ ​some​ ​reason, this​ ​widened​ ​my​ ​own​ ​smile.​ ​Though​ ​my​ ​middle​ ​school​ ​exuded​ ​diversity,​ ​interracial​ ​couples​ ​were a​ ​rare​ ​sight​ ​to​ ​my​ ​nine​ ​year-old​ ​eyes.​ ​She​ ​sealed​ ​our​ ​friendship​ ​with​ ​a​ ​handshake​ ​and​ ​a​ ​simple question:

“So,​ ​I​ ​hear​ ​you’re​ ​a​ ​chocoholic​ ​too?”

​As​ ​a​ ​child,​ ​I​ ​took​ ​everything​ ​personally.​ ​So,​ ​when​ ​the​ ​sixth​ ​grade​ ​boys​ ​began​ ​interchanging the​ ​word​ ​“gay”​ ​for​ ​“bad,”​ ​I​ ​was​ ​left​ ​speechless.​ ​When​ ​I​ ​consulted​ ​my​ ​mom​ ​about​ ​their commentary,​ ​her​ ​explanation​ ​left​ ​me​ ​without​ ​any​ ​real​ ​answers.

“Some​ ​people’s​ ​views​ ​are​ ​just​ ​different​ ​than​ ​ours,”​ ​she​ ​said.

“But​ ​why​ ​would​ ​they​ ​think​ ​something​ ​like​ ​that?”

“I​ ​don’t​ ​know,​ ​baby​ ​doll.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know,”​ ​she​ ​responded,​ ​shaking​ ​her​ ​head.

Despite​ ​how​ ​much​ ​I​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​fight​ ​back,​ ​my​ ​puny,​ ​“you​ ​shouldn’t​ ​say​ ​that”​ ​comments​ ​only went​ ​so​ ​far.​ ​However,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​I​ ​argued,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​my​ ​mom​ ​never​ ​did.​ ​She​ ​and​ ​Carla never​ ​protested.​ ​They​ ​never​ ​seemed​ ​to​ ​care​ ​about​ ​the​ ​prevalent​ ​gay​ ​marriage​ ​rejection surrounding​ ​them​ ​in​ ​good​ ​old​ ​conservative​ ​Missouri.

However,​ ​when​ ​I​ ​entered​ ​my​ ​Catholic​ ​high​ ​school,​ ​the​ ​internal​ ​battle​ ​continued​ ​with​ ​each mention​ ​of​ ​the​ ​church’s​ ​rejection.​ ​During​ ​my​ ​Catholic​ ​social​ ​justice​ ​class,​ ​sophomore​ ​year,​ ​I finally​ ​snapped.​ ​The​ ​topic​ ​arose​ ​and​ ​so​ ​did​ ​my​ ​hand.​ ​Out​ ​spilled​ ​every​ ​bullet​ ​point​ ​I unconsciously​ ​compiled​ ​over​ ​the​ ​years​ ​for​ ​my​ ​pro-gay​ ​marriage​ ​argument.​ ​​ ​My​ ​views​ ​were obvious,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​care.​ ​What​ ​I​ ​did​ ​care​ ​about​ ​was​ ​acceptance.​ ​Even​ ​then,​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​know​ ​I​ ​was fighting​ ​for​ ​it.​ ​Only​ ​later​ ​did​ ​I​ ​realize,​ ​all​ ​the​ ​arguing​ ​was​ ​for​ ​my​ ​mom.​ ​I​ ​fought​ ​because​ ​she wasn’t​ ​different​ ​from​ ​other​ ​parents​ ​at​ ​my​ ​volleyball​ ​games,​ ​not​ ​even​ ​when​ ​Carla​ ​watched​ ​beside her.​ ​​ ​I​ ​fought​ ​because​ ​“different”​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​better​ ​or​ ​worse.​ ​I​ ​fought​ ​because​ ​not​ ​even​ ​my mother,​ ​the​ ​strongest​ ​person​ ​I​ ​know,​ ​could​ ​be​ ​honest​ ​with​ ​her​ ​conservative​ ​Egyptian​ ​father.​ ​He died​ ​without​ ​knowing​ ​her​ ​true​ ​sexuality.​ ​That​ ​was​ ​difficult​ ​enough,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​fought​ ​for​ ​her.

After​ ​years​ ​of​ ​debating,​ ​I​ ​know​ ​now​ ​acceptance​ ​isn’t​ ​gained​ ​like​ ​respect.​ ​For​ ​the​ ​most​ ​part, you​ ​receive​ ​it,​ ​or​ ​you​ ​don’t.​ ​However,​ ​the​ ​issue​ ​isn’t​ ​outside​ ​approval.​ ​Fortunately,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​not only​ ​experienced,​ ​but​ ​lived​ ​with​ ​the​ ​type​ ​of​ ​acceptance​ ​that​ ​truly​ ​matters.

On my​ ​graduation​ day ​I​ ​scanned​ ​the​ ​sea​ ​of​ ​proud​ ​parents and three​ ​women​ ​rose ​for me,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​had ​for​ ​them.​ ​​ ​Diploma​ ​in​ ​hand,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​smile​d ​back​ ​knowing​ ​each​ ​awarded​ ​me​ ​more​ ​than a​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​paper​ ​ever​ ​could.

 

The ‘P’ Word

The 2015 Concerned Student 1950 protests lit a fire in my stomach.

Covering them, solidified my urge toward documenting social injustice as a specialty.

But experiencing them, made me look inward honestly and outward (at the community I was surrounded by) critically.

This conversation will always be uncomfortable, but as long as inequality exists, it’s one we need to discuss. So let’s talk privilege.


Privilege comes in small packages with big tags.

It come with the inherent lightness of skin and step.

It comes with a dependence on police rather than a fear.

It comes with a warm house and running car.

It comes love for the opposite sex.

It comes with the worship of the unofficial official religion of this “secular” country.

It comes with male parts.

But for me, I see privilege through glass. These are the lenses and camera bodies I was lucky enough to buy myself. Having them as my own has given my an advantage in my craft.

I see my privilege through my private education. Not only did I graduate high school forever stamped with a prestigious network of successful women, but I gained unlimited opportunities over four years.

I gained over 30 hours of college credit through a slew of dual credit and AP classes.

I climbed the journalism hierarchy early. By senior year I was the editor-in-chief of my award winning yearbook. Because of my early exposure I was able to to build a book that received the top publication award in the nation.

Of course I worked tirelessly for all these things. I saved up. I studied hard. I rewrote countless articles and shot thousands and thousands of photos.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t easier for me than others. I arrived to this school with the opportunities in place. I didn’t have to make them myself. I didn’t have a significant family or financial stress that would keep me from fulfilling my school work and extracurriculars.

In college its been very much a continuation of the same.

I’m part of a majority-white greek sorority.

Those college credits put me far enough ahead that I have flexibility within my schedule. A space that gives me time to explore various facets of my journalistic interests. 

My mother pays what she can for my education. The rest I’m able to take out in loans.

This is simply the surface. There are dozens more privileges that I’m not truly aware of. Although I cannot change them, I plan to use them to my advantage. My journalistic work will allow me bring awareness to not only the issue of privilege itself, but to the problems of those who don’t benefit from it. 

The Road Less Traveled

IMG_9396To my Granda, who’s shown me nothing but the greatest resilience. 


They’d moved away from everything they grew up knowing in Egypt. Fayez and Fawzia Hanna packed their bags for what would end up being a much longer journey than intended. They bundled up their belongings and left both of their families.

Although they’d come for Fayez’ new job, it ended up being home for their new family. Susie was born first, then came Magda a few years later. Her birth arrived just in time for the new family’s next journey.

Fayez was perfectly happy with his medical job in Ghana, but an irresistible offer came along. A prestigious American journal released an alert about the doctor shortage in the United States. The organization was working to recruit from all over the world.

The opportunity was appealing. After All, this was America the free and the home the brave, we’re talking. And in the 60s, it indeed felt more like the land of opportunity in comparison to today’s cemented hierarchal reality.

So the family applied, receiving quick approval. They could’ve moved to any state on the map. Only, they didn’t know California from North Dakota at that point.

They picked the middle, the very middle. That’s how my family of immigrants ended up in Missouri.

The state has always been politically conservative given the history of its role in the civil war. Nonetheless, Fayez and Fawzia did not receive the same discrimination many immigrants see today.

They were welcomed with open arms. They did need Fayez’ skillset, anyways. The organization set them up in a new furnished home.

Of course, not everything came so easily. Fawzia had taken english as a second language in high school, but rarely had reason to practice when living in Egypt. Luckily in Ghana the range of people she interacted with were so diverse, their default language was english.

Small things took adjustment. You did your own shopping at the grocery store rather than asking a worker for what you’d like as was routine in Egypt. People usually took out loans to pay for large expenses like cars rather than using cash. The freedom of speech was easily the most surprising.

But the adjustments all proved worthy. Once Fayez was approved to practice, the family stayed in Fulton for six months before moving to St. Charles where he would soon start his own practice.

The couple would have three kids total. They would all go on to attend university, one even following in the medical footsteps of his father.

Visits to Egypt were much less frequent than visits from relatives who decided to follow the couple’s lead.

Life was by no means perfect, but the move always proved to be the best decision.

Connected Chaos

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To Allie, who’s brilliant mind is a gift to us all. 


In second grade Allie Pecorin’s mind refused to allow her to fall asleep as it battled the intrusive thoughts about the next day’s lesson. It feared her homeroom teacher and the rigor that came with her class. It would keep her from success, she thought.

She did a lot of thinking in these late and early hours. She thought of how her anxiety would build as she walked through those second grade doors and when she sat in the class and when she may not know the answers.

She developed anxiety about her future anxiety. That built and built and built.

Not many second graders suffer from general anxiety disorder. Luckily Allie had parents who knew what this looked like from personal experience in one facet or another.

They began scheduling her appointments with the school guidance counselor who helped her talk through her reactions. But she hated revisiting anxiety attacks once they were through. She feared them because she didn’t quite understand them yet.

However, she’d take that step in middle school when her mental health reached an all time low. Allie was in the phase of in and out group selection. As she tried to understand herself, she continued to fear identity issues__ or painful tendencies – neither of which existed. Yet she feared they may grow.

So her parents encourage her to schedule her own appointments. It was the slight shift of control that made all the difference. At least now, she could discuss the problem when it was happening rather than ruefully reflecting on it.

With this routine, allie began building a repertoire for immediately overcoming the anxiety once it hit. Her counselor had her write down whatever she was anxious about as soon as the feeling began then fold the paper and never look at it again.

Practices like these proved temporarily effective for the short term attacks she’d been experiencing. It wasn’t until high school that the feeling stretched – for months.

This wasn’t the usual moment or panic or week of dulled living.

“Have you ever seen one of those old fashioned movies where at the very beginning  there’s that sound of the color coming on and the audio booting up like ‘vwoooop’. That’s what it feels like to wake up during an anxiety attack. I wake up every morning and i see the anxiety reanimate inside of me during these periods of time.”

At some points, she thought it wouldn’t stop, that her mental state would remain in this static state forever. Her anxiety about the her anxiety built more anxiety.

Finally she met with someone who cut past the cookie cutter explanations and exercises. Allie’s counselor broke down the cycle her brain undergoes when experiencing these intrusive thoughts. Once she gained awareness of these steps and she could better stop the cycle.

And that is exactly what Allie’s analytical mind needed. At last, she had context to explain the frightful feelings that dominated her mind for a over a decade.

After this realization, her mindset completely shifted. Reviewing an anxiety attack after the fact no longer retriggered her. Instead, she embraced it, creating a map of connections, tracing the escalation of her thoughts. It began with a rational fear and jumped to an unlikely conclusion. Those thoughts continued to jump until her mind created an irrational web of unrealistic scenarios.

Once she understood this, it fascinated her. After an overwhelming afternoon Allie would sit down and map out where these thoughts started and where they finished, understanding how one connection led to an even more anxiety-provoking conclusion.

“In a way I think having anxiety attacks for 15 years was really good practice for telling stories.”  

These maps proved as practice for her greatest journalism talent. During convergence reporting she understood just how understood interwoven this dissecting skill benefited her.

Allie lead the class in mapping, drawing connections between concepts in only the way her mind could. Her expo scribbles stained the board. Then she did the same for her students as a teacher’s assistant.

She was able to see how unrelated parts tied together a story to become whole. She saw how her students were affected by anxiety. She served as the special person who told them that how they felt was absolutely normal.

She realized what had crippled her mental health for so long was not a true disadvantage. It allowed her to see storytelling in an intricate way. It allowed her to connect with others with a level of intimacy only those with anxiety could relate to. It gave her an edge.

Allie once believed this mental disease would disappear one day, like kids that grow out of asthma. She has come to terms with this. It will never fully exit her life. But she now recognizes that she Can’t separate anxiety from journalism and i can’t imagine my life without journalism. So it’s part of who she is.

“While my desires were always to live a life without anxiety, they were never to not live a life with it.”  

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Born Again

“So when were you born again, Lexi?” My interviewee asked after a rambly half an hour discussing her own religious journey over the past few decades.

My agnostic mind searched for the true meaning of this phrase. I’d gone to Catholic school for over a decade, for Christ’s sake (as you can see it instilled much of my lingo). I went to church on a consistent weekly basis through elementary school. My grandma, who had lived with us for the past six years, watched her church programs every sunday. Yet, the most my mind could settle on was that word “birth.”

“When I was pretty young, I think. Yeah.”

She asked for details. Now, details I simply couldn’t do. I was baptised when I was a toddler which in my religiously-ignorant mind, meant about the same thing. But I feared my own lack of faith would leave my interviewee to believe I couldn’t write about hers.

I frantically put the spotlight on my grandma, a heavily catholic, who did have as much of an influence as she could. Eventually, I turned the conversation around, back to her.

Now, in the few years of reporting I had under my belt, I’d experienced plenty of instances when me and my interviewee did not share similar points of view, whether it be politically or morally. Just within writing for this magazine I’d come across this in about half of my features, where subjects brought up reliance or resilience connected to their religion. But it’s safe to say I’d never been asked about these contrasting points.

Although this particular situation put my in a sticky situation, it reaffirmed an important lesson I hadn’t yet quite realized I was striving for.

My ultimate goal is as a journalist, is to strengthen and apply my sense of empathy and understanding to every subject I speak with, especially those who are fundamentally different from me in some way. Not only will this allow me to tell both sides of a story with better accuracy reporter, but more importantly, with fairness one.

I don’t need to share the same faith, skin tone or socioeconomic status to accurately understand one’s story. Would it help to understand the full picture? Of course, shared experiences create connections and context that no parachute journalist can compete with.  

Unfortunately, I can not be agonistic and richly catholic or muslim or buddhist or atheist all at the same time. I cannot be both my middle eastern-american identity and african-american or asian and peruvian. I can not maintain my middle class status while also being in the top one percent and the bottom 10.

As wonderful as this complexity of identities would be for the sake of reporting, its simply not possible. I cannot change my background with the snap of a finger.

Thus, I’ve learned that not all understanding is built on similarities. Instead, I must reach this level of knowledge through human connection which starts with curious mind and a judgeless heart.

With these tools, I use my interviews to dissect in a way that best helps me understand.


                                                       Let me know how I did…

A Message beyond the Media

Tina Marie Griffin

Within the walls of the Oasis Church, a group of teenage girls gushed over Madonna’s newest video and Eminem’s latest lyrics. They connected with artists. They idolized them. They believed each word to be true.

Tina Marie Griffin knew this wasn’t the reality. Afterall, that was the world she worked in. She saw a different reality – one where those artists rewrote lyrics for their own kids, one where they didn’t believe in the practices their videos glamorized.

Griffin went from acting in Hollywood productions by day to mentoring this group of girls on Friday nights. Their reactions to the latest in pop culture never ceased to astound her.

“If anything I knew I was watching a movie that was real life,” Griffin said. “When I moved to LA I was shocked to see the kids take this entertainment as real life. They believed it, they wanted to do it.”

In the wake of this realization, she focused her mentorship on enlightenment. Each week she brought them the latest news behind the latest releases. Because she worked within the industry, she always seemed to have the first look.

But soon the contrast was too much. The entertainment aspect she loved became outweighed by the images the industry wanted her to put forth. So she carried on this mentorship in a new way – away from the stars.  

A Farmer’s Daughter gone Hollywood

Before she was mentoring teens within the hills of hollywood, Griffin was instructing her younger siblings within the corn fields of her family’s farm. The dairy farm stood in Pulaski, Wisconsin where the phone book was all of ten names long and the school bus route took up  50 minutes.

Intertwined with reading under apple trees, tractor driving and a slew of slumber parties, was the family’s faith. Though Griffin regularly went to church and felt as if she knew who God was, she didn’t fully commit herself to a Christian life until she was 16. It was Sept 14th, 1994.

“I was in church and the pastor shared a message that really spoke to me and that’s when it moved me to go to the front…” Griffin said. “I physically and emotionally felt different when I walked out of church that day.”

From then on, she was committed to Christ and his mission. She carried one phrase particularly close to her heart. It was Ephesians 5:11 that reads  “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”  It was a saying she would take into college.

Her higher education journey began at the University of Wisconsin. There, she indulged in communications classes and sports reporting for the school paper. Griffin fell in love with the script writing and camera production sides of journalism. She also saw event planning as a catalyst for opportunity.

She served as the head of the good times programming board where Griffin and her team organized campus events with a $70,000 budget. Once the entertainers stepped on campus, she had the chance to meet and speak with them throughout their stay. The entire industry was oh-so exciting to her. She wanted to be a part of it.

“I always was a big dreamer, even when I was a kid,” Griffin said. “I always have the expectation that I have one life to life and I never let small town mindset get in the way…I know somehow someway God gave me these dreams and he won’t allow door to open until I’m fully prepared for it.”

That door opened at the end of her sophomore year. Griffin found a two-year exchange program that allowed her to study at numerous other universities. Without flinching, she knew where her sights were set.

She signed the paperwork to solidify a two-year stay in Los Angeles. Little did she know, she’d be there for ten.

Exposure and Experience in her admired Industry

Griffin scheduled her time at Cal State strategically – part time for school, full time for entertainment experience. That meant her Tuesdays and Thursdays were filled to the brim with courses and the rest of the week was open for business.

She began working on movie sets as a means to pay her way and connect what her classroom lessons to real life.  When it came to acting, Griffin grew tough skin quickly. She became used to competing against girls that looked like her twin and understood that rejection was part of the process. It made parts she did earn, that much more rewarding.

Each day was different, but they all started before the sun. Luckily,  her previous early morning farming helped with that.

Griffin skipped around from the sets of Days of Our Lives to Roswell to 90210, editing, scripting and taking on small roles. She even put the final touch on a world record.

After auditioning with thousands of people for the behind the scenes role, Griffin was chosen as one of five to build a set design that would break the dominoes world record. ABC flew her and her partners to Holland where they constructed project. After countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dotted plastic rectangles, Griffin set down the final one.

A few weeks later, she was recruited to Malcolm in the Middle to do an entire display all over.  

As her time progressed in Hollywood, the glitz and the glam began to fade. The more stars Griffin met, the more she found they didn’t exactly believe in what they were doing. The fear of falling behind pushed them into behaviors on screen that they don’t do in their own life.

Yet, those Oasis church kids ate up every bit of their songs and videos.

“The message going to our kids is you should drink, drive, do drugs,” Griffin said. “Not seeing the consequences is the media really bothered me because I saw the consequences in the kids I was mentoring, then saw these celebrities sheltering their own kids.”

With her favorite verse in mind, she challenged the teens’ admiration and the celebrity’s’ actions. Then she modeled it with her own roles.

Griffin wasn’t against drinking or using drugs in a part. However, she wouldn’t accept a job if it didn’t show the negative effects of her actions. She began wagering with directors. To take these roles, consequences needed to be included, otherwise it was unrealistic in her eyes.

Not all directors accepted her suggestions. Soon the ones who did became few and far between. The shortage made leaving easier.

The Move Fueled by her Mission

They always say the best way to get over one love is to find another – the same reigned true for Griffin. Surprisingly enough, she discovered her love for new speaking through pageantry.

The Miss America system prompted her to nail down a platform and speak to it. She found comfort in a campaign countering the negative effects of the media.

Griffin fell so in love with speaking that she nearly left acting behind completely while still living in Los Angeles. It came to a point that she was passing up every offer due to content or conflict in scheduling that she gave herself a deadline. If she didn’t receive any major offers by the end of 2005, she was going to leave acting behind.

A few days before she left to pursue speaking in Nashville, she received an offer from Freedom Writers that she couldn’t pass up. Though she accepted the role, she continued with her move right after.

From then on she was developing her brand, her mission to raise awareness about the falsehoods the media produces about drugs, alcohol and other practices Griffin deems unsafe. She started as “Tina Marie Live,” but has renamed herself “Counterculture Mom.”

Griffin knows her message doesn’t affect everyone the way she wishes. She’s receives enough comments and cards to solidify that. But those aren’t the notes she keeps.

Tucked away in her office is a stack of momentos with words that make her mission worth it. Her earliest instance of affirmation dates back to the beginning.

A mother came to her asking for advice about her son who was solely listening to violent, negative music. Griffin urged her to talk to him, assuring her there was likely personal reasons behind his behavior. After three hours of questioning, the son opened up.

He had a suicide note written for the next day. Now, he is ten years older than he would’ve be had he not been consoled.

“That’s why I can’t shut up about because I know if I don’t go – there could be someone who’s literally, possibly not be alive tomorrow.”

The Missionary becomes a Mother

Griffin’s husband, Luke, came into her life at a peculiar time. She was transitioning to Nashville when they were first introduced by his brother, one of Griffin’s friends. They spoke on the phone.

His path was different from hers, the opposite you could say. He’d lived in the reality of sins she’d been fighting against. But he’d reached rock bottom and sought help. Now he was in recovery.

They spoke on the phone every day for sixth months. During their fourth time seeing each other in person, Luke asked for her hand in marriage.

After that, Griffin continued invited him to speak with her. The couple skipped all around the country until they landed in Missouri where they participated in a four-year bible school in Roach, Missouri. They decided to call it home.

Four more years brought four new gifts. Their names were Jacob, Levi, Eden And Stella. Griffin raised them just like her father raised her –  to be close knit and close to God.

The parents decided early on to homeschool and Griffin still does to this day. Although it takes time away from her career opportunities, Griffin says the bond it’s grown between her and her kids is irreplaceable.

“I don’t want to look back and regret bonding with my kids because when I homeschool, I have a really good relationship with the kids.” Griffin said. “…I don’t want that to change if I don’t homeschool them.”

That connection keeps her going. She invests in them and their future in hopes they’ll carry on the way she taught them – just like her youth group on those Friday nights in Los Angeles.

 

Amplified Whispers

For Sierra, may you always encourage the inclusion you did not receive yourself. 

“What did you say?” Sierra commanded sternly with one eyebrow raised. “I need you to repeat it so you hear how ignorant you sound.”
With sheepish hesitance the blonde freshman said, “You’re sassy because you’re black.”
“You realize you’re making a generalized statement, right?”
“My other black friend is okay with it.”
“Well I’m not your black friend from home. I’m Sierra Danielle Morris and I don’t appreciate that comment. I’m sassy because I’m me. I’m sassy because i’m having a bad day today, but I’m not sassy because I’m black.”
Sierra let her statement fill the silence of the study room for a few more moments. She’d owned the room. She’d made her statement.
But Sierra did not always have the voice to stand up. Before she spoke in whispers.
. . .
Mizzou was divided, socially, geographically – not in total, but sometimes it felt that way.
Sierra never wanted to limit herself to a specific group either way – she hadn’t in her diverse high school. Why should she have to now? However, it didn’t take long for Sierra to realize that wouldn’t be so easy.
At first Sierra didn’t want to be part of “Black Mizzou.” She worried if she embraced that group, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else. Ever since her fourth grade
Things changed after a few semesters. The fall of her sophomore year Michael Brown was shot, not two hours from campus. The fall of her sophomore year, black mizzou students experienced the same discrimination. And the fall of her sophomore year, those students decided to do something about it. Sierra became one of those activists.
She strolled past Carnahan Quad the first day the tents were pitched up. She looked at the students with same complexion as her own and thought to herself what most mizzou students seemed to think – they’re crazy. Crazy, not because they were retaliating racism on campus and the lack of action against it, but because of these far out demands. And of course the hunger strike.
The second day she stopped. Sierra asked a few protesters about the specifics. They invited her to a meeting that night. She accepted.
One thing led to another and before she knew it, she was headed to Kansas City –  a fellow protester. They’d come to speak with Tim Wolfe, the UM System President who’d ignored opportunity after opportunity to handle racial injustice incidents at Mizzou.
The group made its way into a UM System black tie Gala tennis shoe step by tennis shoe step. It wasn’t their sneakers that made them stand out the most.
Standing near the — event, the students linked arms, pressing each other with the color that bonded them most. And they chanted. And they did not let go, not until Wolfe heard their words.

“I stood there and we started chanting. The idea that the people beside me weren’t going to unlink their arms, they weren’t going to move and no matter what they had me and I had them, it dissipates all your fear. At that point, you’re not scared anymore. At that point, you’re empowered. At that point, you know that you can do anything. And no matter what they say to you, you are not leaving. You have a purpose there.”

As much as Sierra felt empowered, she was angry – angry that she had to be there, angry that it’d gone this far.
However, the racial situation only seemed to grow worse. Not soon after, several black members of the homecoming court were called the ‘n’ word. And another protest ensued. This time Sierra had no hesitation in joining in.
 Black Mizzou was no longer limiting, but the most empowering experience to be had.
Sierra still strove for inclusivity. That was something her exclusive fourth grade year pushed her to always remember.
She puts forth black representation on tour team. She enourages encourages volunteering as one as a service ambassador. She befriends the rainbow.

On Her Shoulders

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To Humera, I know you will realize your absolute greatness one day soon. 

The islamophobia that spewed from his mouth struck a chord. Humera had, of course, heard it all before from one racist or another, but this was different, much different.
Those previous remarks came from mouths of the irrelevant on the street. It’s not as easy to shake off the words of your president.
Out of two discriminatory decades, it was perhaps the first real time she was scared to be a muslim in america. Her headscarf put a target on her back.
But that headscarf was her first true choice within her faith – to where it or not and when to start. Her hijab symbolized everything good in her life – past and present. That inkling of fear would not overcome the faith that had strengthened her so.
       . . .
Humera’s mother thought her headscarf eagerness was misguided. She was only in first grade after all. She did not understand the weight that would come with the cloth.
But in Humera’s youthful eyes, hijabs were everywhere, as were strong muslim women. Despite living in the middle of Missouri, the Lohdi family had found their niche in the muslim community.
Although stereotypes surrounded her community, her parents did their best to divert the attention of those false descriptions. They redirected Humera’s thoughts to the good and that’s what she grew to associate her faith with. Kindness, service, inclusion – it all took her back to Islam.
Her role models embodied this and they, of course, wore the headscarf. It became a symbol of what Humera was striving for.
So she continued to ask, year after year. And after three, her mother finally said yes. She knew Humera still wasn’t ready, but Humera’s parents had always been the type to encourage freedom of thought.
Her mother handed her a book on history of Hijab and muslim women. Humera needed to educate herself and form her own voice thereafter.
That task didn’t come easily.
It wasn’t that Humera didn’t think on her own – she had a world of opinions when it came to her faith. But her voice was silenced by shyness.
Peers would often ask about her headscarf, her faith, her henna. She struggled to find the words to encompass this enormously impactful aspect of her life. The goodness was overwhelming in sorts.
However, the more questions that came, the more Humera found her footing. The more she learned, the more she spoke up. With small strides, she became the go to for anything islam-esk.
Come college, that status brought a mountain on her shoulders to her shoulders.
Humera felt as though she was carrying the Columbia muslim community on her back as she charged into the unknown territory of the journalism world.
She had to be represent them well. She had to be successful. She had to be perfect – at least, that’s what she convinced herself.
That weight worked worked up her shyness. Her shyness submerged the confident voice she’d built up.
During an interviewing exercise in her convergence reporting class one day, they were charged with the task of the ever-important follow up question. The class was interviewing their teacher, a long-esteemed photojournalist with an open secret none knew prior to the question right before Humera’s.
It felt like he dropped a bomb when he told the class about his cancer. His words floated through the room with such causality, yet carried the implications of death underneath.
That mountain came back. His words had muted hers.
The silence fell as heavy as the weight she’d placed on her own back.
After a minute or so with a few prompts of help, she changed the subject.
That was early on in the semester. She was still proving her abilities to herself then. It took practice and perseverance to find her footing. Little did she realize, that’s how everyone was.
Before long, she’d entered an even more daunting task – a technology competition. Looking around she saw only white men.
Although she wrote best about her identity, she never wanted to be limited to it.

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In-Between Intersections

For those in-between, may you find peace and beauty within your own intersection. 

There was something so exquisitely beautiful – something so inherently undeniable that day when they bowed their heads and raised their fists.
When they said “We have nothing to lose but our chains,” my heartbeat tripled.
I put my camera down when to witness take in the celebration of resignation.
But when they said  “Ashe” then “Power,” I could not hold back my tears.
I could not stay away.
I could not stay away from the Concerned Student 1950 protests in the fall of my freshman year. And I could not stay away from any other protests thereafter.
I never denied the attraction, but I never questioned it either. I would not understand it until a few years later, a few weeks ago truly, when those same chants and those same motions elicited the same response once again.
I sat paralyzed on a tattered black leather couch when those words of simultaneous strength and struggle filled the tiny rag tag theater. They erupted from the film “Whose Streets,” a documentary tracing the events and effects surrounding the shooting of  Michael Brown.
Scene after scene of protesting and personal narratives jerked at my eyes. My heart felt so heavy.
My emotional reaction reaffirmed the path that I’ve been on since the CS1950 protests – that I want nothing more than to cover social justice issues. But why? That was a questioned I had never truly unpacked.
For the past few years I’d attributed it to my upbringing. I grew up in a unique situation. My mother, who immigrated from Egypt before she could recite her ABCs, remarried to Carla – a long time female friend. My dad remarried to a woman named Cheryl, whose complexion is as dark as the sweet treats that bonded us.
My mother gave me my olive skin and features that made me look “exotic” and my father gave me a last name that couldn’t get whiter.
Between sexual orientation, race and immigration, I was raised within households of inherent intersectionality – and not the kind you’re used to.
I’ve always been grateful for my diverse upbringing – at least since I’ve realized it was diverse. My young naivety and inclusive middle school environment led me to think all of these identities were “normal. Afterall, between my three best friends, I was surrounded by black, mixed and peruvian identities
But there was still something missing.
When it was time for college applications, my mother and I began talking about what these intersectionalities meant for me. She assured me I was middle eastern, yes, but under government codes I was white. And that’s what I was forced to put down on the FAFSA, SATs, etc.
Meanwhile, my friends, as they still do, tried to convince me I’m African – black. They say Egypt is in Africa so why would you not put anything else down besides African-American?
It tore me up, still does. I wanted to claim the diverse parts of me.
Even still college friends question why I do not identify as african. The way they say it, leads them to think I’m ashamed. But it’s quite the opposite.
Despite my intersectionality, I do not feel worthy to claim that identity. I’ve put it on a pedestal.
I look up and see a community of strength, passion and perseverance; an identity that has been inherently criminalized and disadvantaged in every way for its entire existence in the states, yet they continue to fight with everything they have to achieve equality. I see a culture so rich and meaningful – something I do not find in my other half.
I see people who take enormous pride their innate identity that for so long been torn apart.
I have not faced the discrimination that comes with being brown. My mom did not sit me down before I reached double digits and explain what to do when a cop rolls up. I will never know the feeling of being watched a little too closely while skimming through clothing racks.
And I never will. But I can that does not keep me from being part of the community I wish to support. 
And that is why I have never missed another protest.

The Perfect Storm

 

 

Isolation Inclining

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To Zach, you have always been stronger than you know. I’m so happy you’ve found that power in words. Never stop speaking your truths, especially the uncomfortable ones.

 He looked down and saw red clouding the bowl. Second later, he saw nothing.
His eyes rolled back and his body lost control as he stumbled from the bathroom through the hallways, barely catching himself before his father did. And that was the hail mary catch finally let him know there was truly something wrong.
The drive to the hospital was painful. Not only was it long, but Zach, for one knew it was overdue. That irritation filled his lower body and mind, knowing his deadly fever that had kept him from sleeping and internal pain indicated something, and soon he found out what it was.
He went through the alphabet soup of procedures that didn’t seem to form solid conclusions.  
He had clusters of tubes running through him because he couldn’t keep anything down himself. A few ice chips an hour was all he had to quench his cottonmouth.
The tall and wide linesman couldn’t care for himself in the simplest of ways. It brought his self-perception down even further.
He was not invincible.
There was always a guest in the room but recovery was lonely. He was used to the isolation with a 7-3 work schedule followed by dinner in the basement and entertainment alone.
He came out of the hospital with needles of medication and the diagnosis of septic shock syndrome, something he didn’t take lightly.
A return to the football fields of hypermasculinity and the shallow high school halls only furthered the insecurities that his two week hospital stay had magnified. Classmates called him “Sepsis,” a painful label that would send him back into isolation.
And for the rest of high school, that is where he found the most comfort.
In college, his space was shared and not by someone who knew how. He struggled with his place of belonging once again. Once he’d found some ground, his lowest point came around and all he craved was the isolation he’d grown so accustomed to.  
But there was no where on campus that truly gave him that alone time. Instead, he relied on long morning showers to let out the tears of anxiety and depression.
Come second semester, he got busy. His mental health and self-image was far from perfect, but at least he was distracted. Business kept the intrusive thoughts out.
Greek life brought more connections and involvement opportunities, including one that change the course of his mental health thinking.
Though he’d always been a mental health ambassador for others, he continued to struggle with his own. Sophomore year he finally found relief in counseling. There was still something missing, something more consistent and readily available.
At summer welcome, he was surrounded by plenty of leaders with similar struggles. They shared their experience with medicine, something he’d readily avoided out of uncertainty. He wanted to remain in charge of his emotions.
But from his fellow trustees experiences, he grew more open to the idea. It took a week of adjustment, but his hormones soon balanced out.
And at last, he found control in what he feared would control him.

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“Everything will be so good so soon. Just hang in there & don’t worry about it to much.” 

Shadows and Sunshine

For all those who struggle with anxiety in your heart that rattles your mind, may we learn to tame the internal chaos with words. 

My journey with mental health is like any walk on a sunny day. It looks bright, happy, warm – and for the most part, it is. 
But the sun casts shadows. That is where my anxiety hides. 
Most of the time it stays hidden, suppressed in the shadows. Its ever-present, yet non-effective when the rays hit my skin. 
But the moment I step in the shadows, it creeps up on me like a rattlesnake – slowly it slithers, quickly it pounces. The venom hits even quicker. 
It poisons my mind, latching on to fading doubts and subtle insecurities. Suddenly they’re all-consuming in the very being of my brain. It erases other thoughts and paralyzes my lips. 
I am so sorry I could not speak with you today, the poison is tightening my heart.  My lungs are trying to catch breaths in-between the cardiac twists. 
I am physically transformed into a lowly-looking, mute creature. You can’t see how my the venom has taken over. 
There is simply nothing I can do. I try to breath, deeply. I try to wait it out without fidgeting or ripping my hair out or smashing something against the nearest wall. 
Instead I must sit, dreaming of those magic circles a handful of friends have. I hear they suck the venom right out, at least temporarily. All I want is a quick fix, an easy solution because right now I cannot smile at a familiar face passing by without tears streaming.
That grin would be too painfully fake. 
Despite my tight heart and battling brain, I find my sense of reason. I remind myself, my pain is temporary and not as severe as those who surround me. 
As you may guess, comparing doesn’t do me too well, yet I always come back to it. I think of my close companions who’s shadows date back to a previous darkness, memories they can’t make go away. Without a tablet, they limit themselves to rainy days, maybe overcast at best. 
I do not have this deep-seated darkness that I can attribute my mental state to. And the frequency is not nearly as great. 
So I push my feelings to the back, to deal with myself. Their battles are more intense, immediate, important. 
At the same time, I want to prove that I can heal myself in hopes of develop relieving mechanisms as a lasting skill. 
Wouldn’t that make me strong? I like to think so.
So I continue to teeter between the decision of curing through self love or reaching out for help. 
Which is why I continue to walk down bumpy lines on sunny days – between the shadows and the sunshine.