Brown Girl Dreaming.

Book Recommendation: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Song Recommendation: Freedom by Ester Dean

Freedom by Ester Dean

As we walked through and looked at each piece, committing the memory to heart, their eyes searching mine for understanding.

“He looks just like my cousin.”

The young student said it quietly to himself, almost like a whisper. We had just walked out of the Emmett Till memorial. His body language and demeanor struck me almost as much as the words.

That day in the African American history musuem in Washington DC they asked me so many questions.

“What does it mean to jump the broom?”

“Slaves were separated from their children?”

“Why were people not really free after the Emancipation Proclamation?”

Wanting to give them hope but watching as my truthful answers landed with hurt. Hurt of the raw history. The bitter pill many of us have simply swallowed.

That pill is a little hard to swallow when you listen to what happened to a 14 year old kid, away from his parents–lynched over the lie of a white woman and hate of her husband. It’s a little hard to swallow when another 14 year old kid sees himself and family in him.

The story of Emmett Till makes as much sense to me as the stories of Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. I cannot wrap my mind around them and while I want days to process, it is been made evident that we don’t have days. We have fleeting moments and a time right now to speak on this.

I am recommending Jacqueline Woodson’s story told in verse, “Brown Girl Dreaming” because I have never experienced a single day in this country as black or brown, but Jacqueline has. Her words strike a chord and connect the thread from the end of slavery, to civil rights, to today. The nod that MLK’s march might of well has been last week instead of 60 years ago.

If these past few weeks have taught us anything it is that fear and anxiety for African Americans is not a thing of the past. It is here. We have to talk about it, learn from these events, and fight for justice. There is not an ounce of space for neutrality or idle acceptance.

Where my words fall short, Ester’s lyrics are clear. As are the words of Jacqueline-

For the 14 year olds who do not want to bury another classmate, another sister, cousin, aunt, neighbor, friend. Let it start and end with us.

Becoming.

Book of the Week:

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Have you heard of her??

Song of The Week:

“Girls Like Me” by H A L I E

My roommate and I have gotten into the show “Songland”. If you have not seen it, you absolutely need to. It’s spectacular.

Two weeks ago a 19-year-old girl took the Songland stage and she expressed with tears building up, “I want it so bad. I don’t have a plan B.”

Ryan Tedder (One Republic) looked at her and said, “Well that’s the magic quote right there. I don’t have a plan B. This is such a crazy career path if you have a plan B, your plan A will not work. Because the second it gets too hard, you will run for that plan B.”

We also watched Michelle Obama’s documentary, “Becoming” on Netflix. In it she tells the story of a counselor who told her she was not Princeton material. Anyone could assume that the comment did not go over well with the future first lady. She proved her wrong and graduated from both Princeton and Harvard in the pursuit of her dreams.

It reminded me of a teacher who laughed when I told her I wanted to be the next Oprah. She told me I would change my mind. I did change my mind, but not because of her. My dreams and aspirations simply changed.

Sometimes I do this with my own students prompting questions as to say, what is your plan B? “Ok, so you want to be Youtube star, what else interests you?” Or, “You want to play for the NBA but did not play basketball this year. Sure.” We get cynical as adults and focus on the statistics over the person.

“That’s why I tell people we focus too much on stats and not story. Stats are like, ‘What college are you from?’ but your story is like ‘What was your grandfather like?’ ‘Who was your favorite relative and why?'”-Michelle Obama

Young people are not statistics, they are comprised of highs and lows, pain, and joy. They are beautiful, well-rounded, multifaceted individuals.

Kids need at least one person to believe in their dreams. To look at them and say, “You’ve got something special in you. I don’t know how you will use it, but I so hope that you do.” They need adults who speak into their lives through raised standards and an endless amount of faith in them. Regardless of where they grew up, how well they did on that last math test, or who their parents are. They mean something and they are becoming someone.

Dear Teens In My Life,

I might ask you questions about your dreams.

I might tell you stories of others I know and what they did to succeed.

I might share with you that my dream changed and that it’s okay if yours does too.

I might ask much of you at times as you fiercely pursue your plan A.

But I will believe in the power of you.

I will ask you to hold on to hope and to acknowledge you are the change in this world.

I will ask you all about your story and look forward to the day you decide to share it.

You are God’s plan A for the world. He did not have a backup in mind for you. You with your bright eyes, dreams, and wishes made on dandelions. You are His first plan. So let’s invest in our plan A like there is no plan B for our lives. Let’s live like we are becoming the people all our stories will one day be about. I for one cannot wait to meet those people.

Watching 8th graders become amazing humans.
Here’s to the class of 2024.

How To Support Local Right Now

*Post updated on 3/17

Hey Central Ohio! Here are some ways you can practically support small businesses during this season.

Quick Tips to Support During This Time:

-Get a gift card from the store to use for later

-Online shopping specifically at local shops near you

-Support Etsy accounts

-Donations to companies you value!

-Get back in there once re-opened 🙂

1. Antonio’s Pizzeria-The Best Pizza In the Universe. (Westerville, OH)

Have to start off with my family’s place (sorry I am biased). I’m struggling to imagine this place that started with my sweet Nonna and Nonno will not have customers gathered around the tables. In the meantime, they are still offering carryout and delivery services.

Current special of make your own pizzas at home!

Website: http://www.antonios-pizzeria.com/

Carryout: Available!

2. Vernacular-A dream boat experience! (Grandview, OH)

One time they were an hour to closing and I was the only one in the store and two of their workers HYPED ME UP. And directed me to sweater options that were right for me. So yeah, I heart these people.

Website: https://shopvernacular.com/

Online Shopping: Available!

Current Hours:

Tues, Wed + Thurs 12p-7p
Fri + Sat 11p-7p

3. Cub Shrub-The Cutest Kids Shop in America (Grandview, OH)

All of the sweetest gifts I’ve purchased for children in my life come from this store. And their toys are organic and locally sourced. I adore them. 

Website: https://cubshrub.com/

Online Shopping: Available!

4. Cherbourg Bakery-Dietary Restrictions? What Are Those. (Bexley, OH)

Gluten-free options that are actually good and nut-free choices! Such a gift. Truly, it is a bakery as cute as the town it sits in.

Website: https://cherbourgbakery.com/shop/

Online options: Available!

5. Prologue Bookstore-Our City’s Brightest Bookstore! (Columbus, OH)

This is the kind of bookstore that allows for good conversation and cozy spots to curl up and read! Such a warm and friendly environment. They are closed through the 16th but do offer online.

Website:https://store.prologuebookshop.com/

Online shopping: Available!

6. Scotty’s Cafe-Hidden Gem of This City! (Bexley, OH)

So near and dear to us is our family friend’s place, Scotty’s Cafe. The people who own this place are salt of the earth kind of folks and they make you feel instantly loved every time you see them.

Photo credit: Scotty’s Cafe and Catering

Website: https://www.cafecolumbusoh.com/

Carryout Option: Available!

7. Soothing Sloth Soap Co.-For Skin Smooth Like Butter. (Cleveland, OH)

Not local to me, but two of my most favorite humans run this business and they are worth supporting! Sean and Zach are local to CLE and angels on earth. I bought a lotion from them a few months ago and save it for only special occasions because I am that obsessed.

Copyright: Soothing Sloth Soap Co.

Website:https://soothingsloth.com/

Online Shopping: Available! (*praise hands emoji*)

8. Stauf’s Coffee-Hot Coffee, Even Hotter People. (Columbus, OH)

Ok, I don’t know about the hot people, but I’m running out of taglines here. Great coffee and service & they are committed to Central Ohio!

Website: https://www.staufs.com/

Online orders: FREE SHIPPING + available!

Current Hours-6:30-6 pm

Carryout option: Available! 

I’ll add on as I learn about more and friends share more with me! Also, I will try to update if these businesses change status. 

Please additionally consider donating to theatres, dance studios, galleries, etc. that are the heart and soul of our city! Musicians and artists depend on concert venues and audiences to make an income. 

Love to you all! Stay safe. 

xoxo,

Justina

Resembling Gumption.

My roommate and I were watching “The Holiday” last night and I can never get enough of this movie. There are a few movies in life where no matter how many times you watch them, they just stick with you. 

One of my favorite lines comes from this movie. Kate Winslet’s character is out to dinner with the cutest old man on this side of the Mississippi, and she says, “You are supposed to be the leading lady of your own life!” It’s revelatory for her and her identity. 

Emily turned to me and asked, “Do you feel like you are the leading lady of your life?”

To which I replied, “Yes! I really feel like I am.”

I couldn’t believe the confidence that came out of me and the power I felt. 

I am the leading lady of my own life.

Naturally, I had to add self-deprecation of, “Well, I do think the world revolves around me…” I don’t think that is necessarily true of me. Sure I am selfish at times, but I think the real truth is that I have changed. I have grown. 

A few years ago I would not have said this, in love with the idea of people who were not in love with me, living at home, uninspired and tired. Watching from the sidelines as my friends lived their lives.

Then, I moved out, started dating more, and taking life up on all the lovely opportunities presented. 

When Kate Winslet’s character ends it with the Royal King of Scum, she proclaims that she has gumption-she finally has that gumption! Just like all those classic Hollywood actresses seem to have.

What is gumption, you ask? 


Gumption is sending your child to school when you are undocumented.

Gumption is jumping off the high dive.

Gumption is communicating “no” with your eyes.

Gumption is taking care of a sick relative. 

Gumption is giving that cute guy your number.

Gumption is going to the movies alone.

Sharing poetry that was written in the sacred spaces of your house.

It’s holding her hand on the first date.

Asking if they are “okay” when you know they are not.

Going to counseling.

Being vulnerable. 

Gumption is bravery. 

“Maybe making something of yourself is as simple as having the gumption to do something bigger than you could have ever imagined, of walking, no marching straight into the center of fear all while playing a horn, blowing your worries into sweet, bold, triumphant music.”-Tanya Lee Stone

Gumption is my older friend giving me a necklace that had been gifted to her during a difficult time. I had to have a conversation I did not want to have, one that would summon strength I wasn’t sure I possessed. The necklace reads, “With brave wings, she flies.” It’s one of my most treasured items that I will get to pass on to a younger woman who needs it one day.

Therefore, I’m declaring today a new holiday. The holiday will be called,” National Gumption Day.” or maybe “Forest Gumption Day,” the title is a work in progress, people! It falls between Christmas and New Years and it’s the time to be brave, face the fear, and living as leading ladies and gentlemen.

Gumption and courage look oh-so good on you. 😉

Our Platform

I’ll never forget the day it happened.

I was maybe 500 feet from the education bldg. at Bowling Green State University.

And I remember the nudge, the calling, the pull. God. Not in the audible sense, but as a thought.

“I want you to help others. I want you in a field that is not about you.”

My whole life I longed to be seen and known. I wanted notoriety. I dreamed of studying Broadcast Journalism, working at a local news station, and grinding all the way up to my big dream of being a talk show host. Hadn’t I been the girl in high school who knew exactly what my plan was? Why else was I putting myself through hours of editing b-roll in the newsroom at school if not for this very moment? Why change now?

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WKHS News Anchors

God knew better. He just did. He changed the platform. He changed the narrative.

Today, thanks to our librarian at school, I was reminded of this very moment. How I stopped dead in my tracks and altered my course forever. And the new dream was to love and lead as a middle school teacher and coach in an urban setting.

My students are my new dream. They are the most valued people in my life next to the cherished family and friends.

Sometimes we think we need a “platform”. A space online or in the real world to influence others. I hear celebrities and runway models speak on their platform, and what a gift it is to share their heart on the platform they were given. How they were given a platform as such a time as this. And it so is-it can be such a beautiful thing in the right hands. Platforms can be used for tremendous good in the world. There is no doubt about it. 71879410_1501962093278325_7980288139228872704_n.jpg

As teachers, nurses, firefighters, doctors, parents, police officers, accountants, store managers, we have a platform.

Your platform is bringing lunch to their school when they forgot.

Your platform is cheering them on from the sidelines.

Your platform is holding their hand when they get a shot.

Your platform is adding stickers and stamps to well-done papers. 

Your platform is keeping us all safe. 

Your platform is reading books aloud to children young and old.

Our platform is to do our jobs every single day. To love each person that comes in our path with the best of our ability. To give without holding back. For our families, our spouses, and our vibrant community.

How much better each of those platforms are because of you. You have a platform. It does not look the same as theirs, but your platform, even if it changes one-does something their platform could never do.

Your platform changed that one.

Maybe that one will stop 500 feet short from their new dream. Maybe that one will find a cure. Maybe that one will fight for social justice. That one will move mountains. And that one will have done it because of you. Wonderful, brave, bold, and fiercely loving you.

Never forget your works matters.

Never forget, our platform and our people matter more.

 

 

Fiber You Were Made Of.

Tell me the fiber you are made of-

Fiber stitched with strength

Blue cardigans made of copper

Yarn fashioned with iron rod

The faith of the last thread holding,

Tying together the divisive parts-

What kind of fiber can face this?

Is the cap on your head knit with courage,

Are the small hairs welded with fire-

Decade of soldering you faced.

Only this maternal cloth can bond the broken

The faith of the last thread holding,

Fighting for fusion wired between

Sewn for seventy-eight short breaths here.

Last thread connecting you to eternal

What kind of fiber does he hold?

9 years old as he tenderly stroked

Tears running along the hem of his face

Fighting for fusion against sharp breaths-

I now know the fiber she was made of.

A fiber that buttons the mouth of the enemy

Stitched with streets of gold-

Woven in the malleable fabric forever.

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To the women in this photo, what strength and courage of conviction you each hold. To Nonna, your fiber was stronger than gold. 1935-2013

 

Golden Buzzer Moment

Have you ever watched America’s Got Talent and found yourself getting weirdly emotional? More importantly, have you ever watched Golden Buzzer moments on Youtube and found yourself uncontrollably sobbing?

If so, then I am right there with you.

There is something about these videos, you guys! They target emotional people like me. And apparently my roommate. We cry every time. It’s worse than those Budweiser puppy commercials that will break a grown man down in 30 seconds. You know the ones.

Each Golden Buzzer moment goes something like this-

The contestant is seen with feel-good music, and occasionally a story that moves you from the start. Next, you see their family and watch as they bravely walk on stage.

The unexpected contestant, the beauty out of despair or a bold voice from a small body happens and blows away the judges.

A standing ovation. Judges began to share what they are thinking and critiquing the performance. Then comes the GBM. The Golden Buzzer Moment.

Slow motion.

Change in music.

Hand of a judge smacking The Golden Buzzer.

Gold confetti explodes from the sky.

& a reaction that will make your heart burst from the pure, unadulterated joy. 

It. Is. Magic.

It’s a moment we should all get to experience once and every day all at the same time. To live that sort of loved and to love others with that kind of celebration. Finding ways to highlight the gifts of our people like we smacked a golden buzzer just for them.

What if we championed the ones around us like this? Where our friends saw what their talent does for the world. Their gift that brought everyone to their feet. Their gift that made heaven and earth slow down. Their gift that changes the tune, shifts the atmosphere, brings unending cheer.

What if we exploded gold confetti on others in the way we lift them up? The way we speak and act towards one another.

“I want to live every day like it’s my golden buzzer moment.”-Emily Fetterman, 2019

I want to live every day knowing I am fully loved and cherished by a God who intricately designed me with purpose and passion.  And even more, to live life cheering one another with gold confetti, tears, and the roar of a crowd going wild.

How God cheers wildly for us when we live as we have been created to live. Created to live life to the absolute full. How heaven cheers, too.

Live each day like it’s your Golden Buzzer moment.

 

What are 14 Year Olds?

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, no reactions are funnier to me than when I say I teach 14-year-olds.

“That is the WORST age.”

“WHY?!”

“That must be a challenge.”

*Looks at their own adult child* “I hated you in middle school!” (You know who you are.)

“Kids today are so _______________.”

Fill in the blank with what you’ve surely heard kids today are and are not. It’s May. Kids are a lot of things to me right now, and about 15% of those are positive. Ask me again in September and I will like them all again.

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Oh so sweet!

 

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That’s real. 

So what are 14-year-olds?

 

14-year-olds are ridiculous.

14-year-olds are insecure.

14-year-olds are scared.

14-year-olds are putting on a front.

14-year-olds are addicted to their phones.

14-year-olds are tired of being lumped into one category. (hehe)

14-year-olds are in their feelings.

14-year-olds are anxious.

14-year-olds are hopeful.

14-year-olds are intense.

14-year-olds are trendsetters.

14-year-olds are inspiring.

14-year-olds are craving attention.

14-year-olds are the next big thing.

14-year-olds are no-nonsense, thankyouverymuch.

14-year-olds are hilarious.

14-year-olds are protective. 

14-year-olds are empathetic.

14-year-olds are talented.

14-year-olds are our future.

14-year-olds are wise beyond their years.

14-year-olds are dreamers.

14-year-olds are lovely,

They are loving,

And they are worthy of love. 

 

& to mine, who have shaped me and challenged me and changed me, you are 14-year-olds who are loved.  

baby-quote-children

 

 

 

 

Shhhh, self-doubt. Confidence is speaking.

Does anyone else hate being shushed?!

Ughhhhhhh. It irritates my soul.

I loathe shushing. I know hate is a strong word. Mrs. Dale, my 3rd-grade teacher taught me to say “dislike strongly” instead of hate, and I work really hard to not hate anyone or anything.

But I HATE being shushed. I have zero regrets about saying that.

My mom’s family is super Italian and if we lost our voices, our loud hand signals will still silence the biggest crowd.

We are loudexpressive people. We are not silenced or shushed for nothing. It’s one of the main reasons I used to get easily embarrassed while going to the movies with my mom and her also Italian, also loud friends. (And ironically, would often shush them.)

I’ve asked myself, “Self, why do you hate being shushed so much?” And I think it has to do with the belief that when they are shushing me, they are suppressing me. That I am being told I am too much and I take up too much. Too much energy. Too much noise. Too much space. When people shushed me in college, it felt like they were telling me that my existence was too much.

And for a while, I suppressed me. I became quieter. I became self-conscious. And I did everything in my power to become less instead of more.

Long walks. Reading. Journaling. Sitting at the park by myself. Dieting. Exercise. Silence in conversations.

Plenty of things that are, of course,  good for me but all in the hopes to lose the unique essence of me. That somehow I would find freedom in becoming less.

Here’s what it really is, shushing is not the problem. There are times when it is necessary to be silent. Be still. Just simply be. Our world is too noisy and chaotic for us to have to add to it or feel the need to add to it. Silence really can be golden. I’m so thankful for the ways I’ve experienced beauty in the silent and in the still.

However, loud laughs, big smiles, outrageous dance moves, and true curvacious-ness have their beauty, too.

My friend, Gelly recently wrote a book on this idea of squeezing, fitting in, molding, and just all around shrinking we do in our lives to make ourselves less. Essentially out of a place of fears and doubts.

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Preach.

I’m excited for you all to read it. I’ve included the link because it is a book everyone should read, especially if you’ve ever tried to shrink yourself or squeeze into what you think others want you to be. I’m even more thankful for how she has encouraged me in my own dreams, in my own beauty. Shaking her pom poms for women everywhere, as a reminder of the type of woman I so hope to be.

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From Gelly’s #gvootd (girlish vigor outfit of the day) challenge!

Maybe certain people do want you to be less. Less loud. Less positive. Less smiley. Less shy. Less awkward. Less talkative. However, the “less” people were never really your people to begin with, were they?

Surround yourself with the “more” people. Who cheer you on as you are more vivacious, more full of life, walking in more freedom, and more the exact person you were created to be.

They may shush you, but they will never shrink you. They may ignore you, but they will never deplete you. They may dismiss you, but then they will never get to know the power of you.

 

So instead, dear kings and queens, be all you.

All the wonderfully made parts of you.

You are charisma, you are pizzaz-

You are a dream being lived out, and hopes held on.

You, you in the fullness of you are altogether too good

(Not too much), too good to be true.

 

Link to Girlish Vigor:Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 4.09.21 PM

[PRE-ORDER] Girlish Vigor: Stripping Off What Shrinks and Stepping Into Strength

 

 

Flat Tires & Dear Friends.

I’m currently sitting in the “lobby” of Goodyear while the employees take a look at my very flat tire, so I could use some positivity in my life right now. And prayers. All of them.

They have FoxNews playing which just makes me think of my Nonno, and the many times I wanted to watch cartoons growing up and was forced to watch the news instead. Here we are.

Anyways, most of you know 8th graders are the people I choose to hang with. And typically I am a major fan of them. They are weird, quirky, smart, and goofy in all the best ways.

1200They are also goofy in the worst ways and they get *spring fever* where all logic is thrown out the car window and hormones take over the wheel. I use phrases like “leave the dirty jokes at the door” and “hit the pits twice” meaning make sure to put deodorant on your smelly selves.

It’s a glorious time.

In that strife, there are nuggets of goodness.

I walked into lunch and a group of boys were having a very serious conversation that I absolutely could not get over. The one boy kept asking his friend what was going on this week and why he was acting differently. He asked him, “What’s going on this week? You are getting in trouble at home and I think it’s my fault. Ever since you have been friends with us and this week. I’m a bad influence on you.”

It was just pure. The genuine concern and really wanting to know what was going on his friend’s life while also having the self-reflection to see if it was him. This kid is not a bad influence, he’s a good friend and person, but to see how much he was worried absolutely moved me.

Then, while working on projects I sat with two girls and a boy. The girl was telling the other two how boring life was and she needed something exciting to happen.

They replied, “Maybe you need mint chocolate frappucino from Starbucks!” “Go with me!” And offering at least ten more solutions to the pressing problem of boredom. I said to her, “What good friends you have to care about you so much?” She agreed.

I asked a student if he was going to the track invitational and he said, “No, I am not going. I don’t run, I throw because I’m fat and lazy.”

His friend without hesitation said, “No, you are a thrower and that’s what you’re good at. That has nothing to do with you.”

He just looked up, they did a small handshake, and he thanked his friend. It was simple yet so profound.

All today. On an ordinary day like today while there are tough conversations, bad attitudes, frustrations (on my end)–there are these gems.

The beautiful spoken into broken spaces.

Every middle schooler needs a friend like these. Every middle schooler needs a champion. Every single day they need a hero in the form of knocking down lies, real concern, and an offer for minty chocolatey drinks.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that what we need to?

Also, my tire is now fixed and I’m out of Goodyear. God is good, y’all.