Who is Qualified to Run for President of the United States?

gbush_dukakis-p1When I was in five-year old kindergarten, our teacher had us participate in a mock poll for the upcoming ’88 election. She set up a private voting area to simulate what the actual polls were like. All we had to do was cast our vote on the ballot provided to us by our Scholastic News Weekly Reader and place it into a desk.

Having no prior knowledge of the issues or who George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis were, I took a long hard look at the ballot, which had photos of both candidates, and tried to determine who looked more presidential. Ultimately, I decided that George H.W. Bush looked more presidential than Michael Dukakis, so I wrote an X next to his photo and placed my ballot into the desk. I remember feeling a sense of satisfaction after hearing Bush had won; I must’ve had an innate knack for determining outcomes of presidential elections.

Back then, as a five-year old, I had no idea what made someone qualified to be the president of the United States, so I based it on looks. If you look at the two men side-by-side, you’ll notice that Dukakis has darker features than Bush. By this time, I was already socialized to instinctively believe that a well-coiffed, Anglo-Saxon man made the best leader and would naturally fill the role of president. Unfortunately, too many of us still hold this same archaic belief–whether consciously or unconsciously–that to truly be qualified to be president, one must still be a white male.

93339875_obamalaughingDon’t believe me? Remember President Obama? How many times was he criticized for being under-qualified to be president despite the fact he held a law degree from Harvard? I don’t know about you, but I certainly want someone with a deep understanding of the law to be involved in the law-making process. Another criticism was that he wasn’t in the Senate long enough to run for president. Or how about the incessant requests for him to prove that he was born in the United States? Did anyone ask to see George Bush’s birth certificate? Or Bill Clinton?

So, people weren’t satisfied with a Harvard Law degree or a short stint in the US Senate. Then, what actually makes someone qualified to be the president?

Take Oprah. Oprah delivers an impassioned, intelligent speech at the Golden Globes and suddenly everyone is declaring that she is not qualified to run for the presidency of the United States despite the fact she has not even announced her candidacy.

A successful, intelligent, well-connected, empathetic, charismatic black businesswoman is not qualified to run for president? I’m not concerned about whether or not she’d make a good president; I’m deeply concerned at how quick people were to discredit her qualifications. The only true qualifications required to be a candidate for the presidency are you have to be 35 years of age, a natural born citizen, and a resident of the US for 14 years. Yet, we’re holding on to this false idea that to be president of the United States you have to somehow meet a magical set of rigorous requirements that never actually existed in the first place.

Just look at Hillary Clinton. Given her experience in foreign policy and tenure in the Senate, Hillary Clinton was extremely qualified to run for the presidency. However, people questioned her qualifications, too. Some couldn’t even see beyond her gender and believed that people were only voting for her simply because she was a woman and not her wealth of experience. Others didn’t want just another career politician in the White House especially not another Clinton. Some of these same naysayers are now urging the public to embrace Rep. Joe Kennedy III as a viable candidate for president. A Kennedy Democrat in politics? That is something I have never heard of before!

So, I suppose to be truly qualified to run for president, you should have experience in politics, but not too much, and you shouldn’t be related or married to someone who’s already held the office unless he was a charismatic, attractive white male, and you are too. I think I’m starting to get the idea of what truly qualifies someone to run for president.

As we set our sights on Decision 2020, I urge us all to take a deep look at the unconscious biases that cloud our judgments of what makes someone qualified enough to run for the presidency of the United States. It’s time to rewrite the narrative so that someday, in the classrooms of tomorrow, when kindergartners are holding another mock election and some five year-old girl is looking at the pictures of the candidates on her ballot—what she deems to  “look presidential” does not resemble a well-coiffed, Anglo-Saxon male.


4 Things I’m Focusing on in 2018

hot yogaI’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. In fact, a couple of years ago when I noticed that many of my sentences about my life began with “if only…” and “when X happens, I’ll be happier,” I made a life-changing decision to stop wishing my life away and live in the present. Instead of waiting for the “perfect conditions” or hoping I would find the “perfect job,” I made sure to appreciate what I had and make more time for the things I loved. Gradually, I adopted a more regular work-out routine; I  read more books on a regular basis; I cooked more at home; I prioritized getting together with friends (sometimes at the expense of sleep) & visiting family regularly; I bought more tickets for cultural events like the ballet, Broadway shows, and friends’ comedy shows. As a result, I’ve found that my life feels more balanced even amidst a hectic schedule.

While I don’t make specific resolutions for the new year like participate in Dry January, or eliminate carbohydrates from my diet, I like to re-center myself at the beginning of each new year. Last night, I took a hot yoga class for the first time in a long time. I used to do yoga regularly, but when I switched gyms a long time ago,  I never got back into the routine. There are a lot of yoga-esque moves incorporated into the barre classes I often take, so thankfully I wasn’t as rusty as I thought I would be!

During last night’s practice, our teacher had us participate in a mala, which is much different than the traditional vinyasa yoga classes I’ve taken. A mala commemorates the changing seasons and is usually done in conjunction with the solstice. In a full mala, participants do 108 sun salutations in 4 rounds with each round dedicated to a different purpose. Last night, we did about a half mala or close to 56 sun salutations.

After the practice, while lying sweaty in corpse pose, I thought about the four rounds of dedications we’d done and how I would like to focus more on these things in the coming year. So, here are the four things I’m focusing on in 2018:

  1. Myself–It’s weird to think about one’s self especially when so often we feel selfish if we celebrate our selves. Have you ever taken the time to thank yourself? Or congratulate yourself on overcoming adversity. This year, I will focus on remaining kind to myself mentally and physically (more sleep!).
  2. My loved ones- My loved ones are often at the forefront of my mind, but in 2018, I would like to focusing on showing my gratitude through acts of service (my love language).
  3. My challenges/challengers- This dedication came at the most challenging part of the practice and I found it empowering to think about my adversaries while doing more chaturangas (aka the yoga push-up/low plank) than I’d ever done in my life and sweating profusely onto the mat and floor (sorry, yoga studio). I love a good physical challenge, but this year I focus on being more grateful for the other challenges I face in life instead of wishing they would disappear. Challenges help me solidify my beliefs and motivate me to fight for the change I wish to see.
  4. All beings- I make it a point to be polite and kind to those I encounter in my every day life and since I live in New York City, I encounter a lot of people on a daily basis. However, in 2018, I would like to focus on being a stronger advocate for marginalized voices and actively work to amplify those voices.

These things certainly aren’t new and are already on my mind, but this year, I’d like to deepen my commitment to them. What are you focusing on in the coming year?

2017 In Review: My Year In Books

CaptureIn a year marked by tragedy—both personal and political—I turned to books, as usual, for solace, answers, escape, and laughter. I had set out to read 20 books in 2017 (I’d forgotten about this goal until I recently logged into my Goodreads account) and ended up reading only eight books. Better luck next year! Despite the many challenges of 2017, I found lots of pleasure in the books I read this year, and so I present to you (in hopes that you might enjoy a few, too) my year in books, in chronological order:

1. South and West: From A Notebook by Joan Didion

Only Joan Didion can publish excerpts from her notes and captivate an audience. As a fan of Joan Didion, I greatly appreciated this book. Written in 1970 after a month trip to the South without a specific story in mind, Didion’s notes offer a unique outsider’s perspective on life in the South and the reader can see through her observations how the mostly unchanged South has influenced our current political climate.

2. No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Naht Hahn

I purchased this book shortly after my mom’s passing in order to start to grapple with grief (which as many of you know is a lifelong journey). Many of the ideas in this book resonated with me–particularly the idea that one shouldn’t try to push away suffering in order to find happiness; both have to peacefully coexist. Hahn also talked about the idea that we often let “les petites miseres” of life cause us more suffering than its worth. I’m pretty new to meditating (as in, I’ve done it a handful of times), but the mantras at the end of the book providing helpful centering exercises.

3. A Farm Dies Once A Year: A Memoir by Arlo Crawford

I’d come across this title on a list of promising nonfiction to read in 2014. I’d picked up the book in 2014 at a time when I relate to the narrator-a young 30-something who was questioning his purpose in life and searching for meaning. Also like the narrator, I fantasized about simplifying my life and moving to a farm to live and work of the land (instead I opted to return to the field of teaching). I finally read this book it in its entirety this year when I decided I was going to rotate fiction and nonfiction. I found that by now, I no longer could relate to the narrator and the story felt a little trite, the narrator a little whiny, and the idea of showing up to one’s parents’ farm to live and work for a year and then move a little too classic millennial for my tastes.

4. Moonglow by Michael Chabon

This book was given to me last Christmas by my mom and it turned out to be the last book she would ever give me, so this book has a lot of sentimental value to me in addition to it being a beautifully-written and intriguing story. We’d first heard of the book a couple summers ago while watching a segment on PBS Newshour where Michael Chabon spoke about his process for writing Moonglow, which is billed as a “faux-memoir novel,” and we were intrigued. The story takes place in 1989 while the narrator’s grandfather is on his deathbed. While on medication, he tells the narrator stories about his life, which is also interspersed with the narrator’s memories of his childhood. The novel plays with the conventions of fiction and memoir and I was pleased to hear Michael Chabon read from Moonglow and talk about his process this past fall at the 92 Street Y. I even waited in line and had the copy of the book my mom had given me autographed.


5-8 The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

     5. My Brilliant Friend

     6. The Story of a New Name 

     7. Those Who Leave, and Those Who Stay 

    8. The Story of the Lost Child 

I ended the year by reading the Neapolitan Novels. This was a delightful adventure that I recommend to anyone who loves coming-of-age tales that last over four thick novels. The story chronicles the life of Elena Greco and her lifelong friendship with Lila from elementary school until the present. The first novel is set against the backdrop of 1950s Naples, in a poor neighborhood where few residents go to school beyond elementary school, and the novels that follow trace Elena’s life through the decades amidst varying political changes and struggles of the time and relationships with family, friends, lovers, neighbors. One of the blurbs on the front cover of the first novel summarizes these novels best, “Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.”

There is also some mystery surrounding the actual identity of Elena Ferrante,  the author’s pen name, which adds an even more exciting buzz to these already intriguing novels.

That’s all for 2017! I’m looking forward to reading more in 2018 (hoping to hit 20) and of course I’m looking for your suggestions! Here’s to another great year in books!

#shatterthetaboo: Time to Talk About Mental Health & Opioid Addiction

The following is a guest post written by my dear friend & colleague Morgan. We’ve shared a lot this year: a classroom, ideas for several creative projects, and the grief of losing a family member.

Morgan lost her brother in February from a Fentanyl overdose. In an effort to #shatterthetaboo around mental health and opioid addiction, here are the words Morgan penned about her family’s experience as well as a video of the eulogy she delivered at her brother’s memorial:

On February 9th, 2017, my 27-year old brother Jamie died from a Fentanyl overdose.

Jamie struggled with mental health for the last 10 years of his life and he was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

At some point, he became an opioid user. Opioid addiction is often deadly because you need more and more to feel high each time. Eventually, he started to use heroin.

We assume that when he died, he thought he was using heroin, but he was in fact using Fentanyl. It is 100x more potent than morphine, and 50x more potent than heroin. When you die from Fentanyl, there is very little chance of resuscitation. You die almost immediately. It looks almost identical to heroin.

Jamie was an advocate for his mental health struggles for a long time. He wanted to champion his diseases; he did not shy away from telling people about them. However, he never divulged to us his battle with addiction. Being that addiction is a family disease, we were in complete denial and couldn’t see the truth right in front of our faces.

Perhaps if the stigma didn’t exist so heavily around addiction, he would have come to us. Maybe he would still be alive.

After his death, many friends have come to us with similar stories of mental health and addiction struggles. In the light of the opioid crisis, it has never been more important to shatter the taboo. To see just how bad the crisis is, take a look at these graphs: https://goo.gl/SgsfMo

As I said in my eulogy, “If you are struggling, if your family member or your friend is struggling, tell someone. Reach out. Ask how can I help. Suggest resources, share experiences. Just show up. If you know someone who is clearly an addict, speak up. Tell their mother or their siblings. Tell their friends. Tell someone.”

I miss my brother with every breath that I take.

We can not let this continue to happen. We have to #shatterthetaboo and build a community of people who help each other through this crisis.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, the resources below may be of some help to you:


You can also reach out to local health providers, as laws are changing daily in regards to opioid treatment, prescriptions for suboxone, and safe injection sites.

You don’t have to go through this alone.

Click below to see Morgan’s powerful eulogy:


The Spirit of Mr. Rogers

Photo credit: Salon.com

The other day, during indoor recess, I felt cold in my classroom, so I decided to put on a zip-up sweater. I happened to be standing over a table of students who were playing a card game of which I had never heard. Intrigued, but also cold, I put on my sweater while monitoring the game. I pulled the zipper all the way up to my chin and then artfully zipped it down in the style of Mr. Rogers, my favorite television neighbor.

“I’m Mr. Rogers,” I declared. This declaration was met by blank stares and it quickly dawned on me that none of them knew about Mr. Rogers. They’d of course heard of his popular puppet Daniel Striped Tiger because of the cartoon show, but Mr. Rogers was out of their frame of reference.

When I gushed about this realization to my colleague, who was also in the room, she responded, “To be fair, I never really watched that show either.” Even twenty-somethings aren’t as familiar with Mr. Rogers as I thought they were.

Of course, taking a step back, I realize that it’s not all that surprising that today’s generation of kids doesn’t know about Mr. Rogers. He died before they were born and most PBS stations stopped airing the show regularly. While it’s understandable that most kids today don’t know anything about the beloved TV man, it’s a shame.

Yes, there were and still are many children’s TV shows with positive messages, but few shared their messages the way Mr. Rogers did—by looking children directly in the eye and telling them they mattered and were loved just the way they were.

I’ve written before about all of the important life lessons imparted by Mr. Rogers and I want to know who is doing this today? Where does the spirit of Mr. Rogers live on?

According to the Atlantic, it’s in advice columns because that’s “where adult problems are considered with dignity, and where feelings are taken seriously.” A Reddit user believes  that it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson who cares the torch of Mr. Rogers’ spirit because he’s brilliant and kind and talks about living to make other’s lives better each day.

Just the other day, I came across an article in the Huffington Post about a Massachusetts teacher who created a music video called “Black Is Beautiful” for her female students who often expressed their dismay about their appearances. We need more of this kind of positivity for our children and ourselves.

Who else is encouraging children to be curious on a day-to-day basis? Who else continually reaffirms to them that they are great just the way you are? I believe that is the responsibility of all of us to carry on the spirit of Mr. Rogers.


[And now, because I couldn’t help myself, a video of my favorite Mr. Rogers Remix.]


A Year End Reflection

Goal setting, 1994-style.

The end of a year inevitably brings reflections, varying top 10 lists of the year’s best and worst in every category imaginable, pop culture trivia games, and the ritual taking stock in your life followed by setting goals for the new year that beg to be broken by February.

Instead of coming up with some deep end-of-the-year reflection, I thought I’d share a different kind of end-of-the year reflection; one I wrote in the sixth grade. I came across this recently in a box of my things that I’ve haven’t sifted through in over a decade. I found this piece in a composition book that was passed from grade to grade that was meant to be an exemplar of the work we had done that year. Though I was only twelve when I wrote this it resonates for some reason at the close of another year. (Author’s note: the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Sixth Grade-The Final Year In Elementary School 

The year has been good to me. I entered sixth grade on August 29th, 1994. It was hot and I sat down in a group with Tara, Andrea, and Ellen. I remember thinking that the room was unfamiliar. I stared at the walls, seeing what was on them.

I had trouble making friends because people had changed. I then began to hang out with Leidy, Rachel, and Anna in about October.

By November, Andrea started to hang out with us. We all did a play in December for a wonderful party (Christmas) our class had. It was the beginning of our wonderful friendships that we have kept this year.

We got first grade buddies who are wonderful. My first grade buddy is Amelia and she is a wonderful little girl. She is kind and very cute. She has character.

Andrea and I had become closer friends throughout the year. Best friends in fact. We’ve had our share of hardships, but we’re still best friends.

Now the year is coming to an end (or close) and there is nothing left to learn. Our teacher keeps on saying that the class will never be together anymore. I used to just not listen to that but now I’m sad. Very sad. I could even cry. I might later, but not now. I say I want to leave Atwater, but the truth is, I don’t want to. I’m finally going to close the doors on Atwater, on my elementary years.

The assignment, which never made sense to me until I became a teacher.

We Are What We’ve Been Waiting For

img_0997As I went to bed late Tuesday evening, realizing that Donald Trump would actually become the next president of the United States and no, this wasn’t some horrendous nightmare from which I would magically wake in the morning, I thought to myself, how on Earth am I going to get up and explain this to the children I teach? My students, who are mainly low-income minorities (many of the Muslim faith), have expressed their deep concerns and fear about a Trump presidency throughout the last year. While they expressed the fear of being targeted on the street and the fear of having family members deported, I continually reassured them that they had nothing to worry about. There is no way anyone who talks like that would ever be elected president, I had said to them, sometimes while wiping up their actual tears.

There is, in fact, a way that someone who talks like that could be elected president and that way is white privilege. My own white privilege blinded my ability to see that a Trump presidency was not only plausible, but also highly likely. In hindsight, I see how I should’ve taken his campaign much more seriously and actively spoken out much earlier.

img_1004So, when I woke up on Wednesday morning with deep dread in my heart, I asked myself: what kind of person would I want to see today, on this day after the election? Someone who’s trying to fight back tears or someone who is optimistic and unafraid to face the brutal reality of what’s to come? I opted for the latter option.

I didn’t want my students to feel any worse than they already did and as kids absorb the feelings of their environments, I wanted to them to absorb feelings of hope. As they entered the classroom, I played uplifting music including my favorite Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds.” I did this not to trivialize their feelings, but to provide the hope that some how, some way every little thing would be all right.

We had our students write in their journals and their responses moved us to tears. Why do people hate me, one child asked? I guess slavery never really ended, another one wrote. We talked about how the biggest demographic that supported Trump was white people without a college degree. Several of them laughed out loud as if I just given the punch line of a joke. Good thing we’re in school and going to college, they said.

As the day progressed, our kids said they were starting to feel a little better. After much discussion, one girl mentioned that she simply wasn’t going to let someone like Donald Trump get her down. Another found solace in the knowledge that checks and balances will make it challenging for some of Trump’s proposed policies to become law.

img_1003I guess you could say this day was like any other day at school; we were just teachers guiding our students through the world’s uncertainties. Except on that first day post-election and all the days going forward, our work together feels  more immediate because we are on the brink of a presidency that legitimizes hatred. Who’s going to speak out against this hatred if not us? No one. Who’s going to teach our children how to stand up against the injustices they will absolutely face if not us? No one. Who’s going to help our children navigate through these times so that they can do better when they’re grown if not us? No one. As President Obama said when he was a senator campaigning for office, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” and I’ve never felt that more than now.

The evidence that a Trump presidency will legitimize hatred already surrounds us. As outgoing Senate Minorty Leader Harry Reid stated, “The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.” Already the media have cited examples of Trump supporters harassing women and minorities in the days following the election. On Wednesday, two Babson College fraternity brothers drove to Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater and all-women’s college, and waved a Trump flag around campus while allegedly harassing and yelling racial slurs at students. On Friday, a Baylor University student said a student walked into her while she was walking on campus and then called her the n-word all in the name of making America great again. England has seen a similar backlash since Brexit with a reported increase in racial crimes.

Or how about the fact that Vice-President Elect Mike Pence has a bigoted track record? Our future Vice-President signed a bill in Indiana that said businesses could refuse service to gays and lesbians based on religious reasons, required that all aborted fetuses have burials or be cremated, advocated for the teaching of creationism in schools, and also advocated for the use of public funds for conversion-therapy, which is an anti-gay therapy that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. This man, who also thinks smoking doesn’t kill, will be governing our country.

Is this real life?

The sad truth is that this is real life and it has been for quite some time. But now, I will no longer stay silent.

I’m reminded of the poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller , “First they came…” in regards to the Nazis rise to power in Germany and the lack of a response from German intellectuals. It feels applicable in these times:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

img_0999Going forward, I urge you to show up and speak up. Yesterday, I attended a love rally in Washington Square Park and marched with hundreds of others to Union Square in support of Black Lives Matter, the planet, gay marriage, Muslims, a woman’s right to choose what’s right for her body, and refugees. Walking up 6th Avenue, my heart raced several times when I saw cheers from onlookers and honks from supporters in their cars. I was reminded that there are still so many people in this world who believe that diversity is what truly makes America great.

If there’s a silver lining to be found in this election, it’s that now I feel a camaraderie amongst strangers where I haven’t before. I’ve seen and engaged in conversation with strangers at the bodega and in the subway when before we would’ve simply kept to ourselves.

As we embrace the inevitable Trump presidency, I hope all of us, regardless of our political affiliations, will be the ones we’ve been waiting for and boldly speak out against bigotry and social policies that unfairly target already marginalized groups.

I know I will.