His Name Was Draylen Mason

His name was Draylen Mason and he was:

• 17 years old
• a bass player who was proficient in playing other instruments as well
• preparing to graduate from East Austin College Prep
• on his way to the University of Texas’ Butler School of Music
• an Austin Youth Orchestra member
• “Remarkably talented”
• “An outstanding son, friend, student and global citizen.”
• “Talented to the max.”

“He could have accomplished anything he wanted to,” said his mentor, William Dick, Symphony Conductor with the Austin Youth Orchestra, who described Draylen as having a “spark” and being “incandescent.”

Too much has been written and said about the alleged Austin bomber whose evil deeds took Draylen’s short and promising life. I would rather focus on and honor the young man taken from us. This tired and troubled world has lost yet another bright light. How very sad for us.

Watch Draylen Mason perform here:

Sharing My Perspective on Mentoring

I recently appeared on a local program on Bronxnet TV, “Perspectives”, hosted by Daren C. Jaime, to discuss homelessness, workforce development, and mentoring. The program first aired this past Tuesday, January 2nd . The broadcast is quite timely, as January is National Mentoring Month. In my initial remarks, I pay tribute to my late mentor and friend, Fred Scaglione.

Watch here

Mindfulness for Job Seekers Part Three: Let’s Go Out and Clear Some Obstacles

In my December 1st, post, I wrote about the fifth session of a six-week workshop, “Mindfulness for Job Seekers,” that was recently offered by the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library’s (SIBL) Job Search Central Department. The workshop instructor was Laura Jackson, a UCLA-trained mindfulness facilitator who has been practicing Zen meditation for over 12 years. The workshop description read:

“Learn mindfulness techniques that bring relaxation and effortless focus to challenging situations and relationships. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing full, nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. The struggle of searching for a job can be overwhelming at times. See if the practice of mindfulness meditation and some easy to use on-the-spot techniques can help you during these challenging times.”

The sixth and final session of the “Mindfulness for Job Seekers” workshop drew nearly 30 attendees, many there for the first time. One new job seeker said that she started meditating to feel more peaceful about changing her career.

After the group engaged in some quiet meditation, Laura talked about the importance of being present. She said that as job seekers, the skill of being present and in the moment is enormous. Laura reminded the job seekers that the person conducting the interview is also a person, and that they should interview the interviewer! Job seekers should be certain they are going to an organization where they want to work. Laura stated that there is a place in the world of work where they belonged.

I observed that there were quite a number of mature job seekers attending the workshop. Having suffered through two bouts of unemployment myself, I know how soul killing it feels to be unemployed. And when you are a mature job seeker fearful of age discrimination, it can be so overwhelming. But Laura stated without hesitation that everyone in that room, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, disability, whatever the background, had a place in the workforce.

Crying was a much discussed topic. Laura said that too many people have grown up being taught that it was not okay to cry. One job seeker stated that she has been experiencing some difficulty in her life and was told by others not to cry about it, even though she was so overwhelmed and wanted to. Laura called crying “an energy flow.” She mentioned a woman who attended the last mindfulness group who reported that she cried in an interview and still got the job!

Since it was the final session, more job seekers spoke up and shared their experiences and concerns. One job seeker talked about recently receiving three job rejections. He said he was at peace with the situation and is learning to accept the uncomfortable. This man stated that he is confident that there is something for him.

A job seeker reported that he had a job interview on the following Friday and was feeling nervous. Laura talked with him about learning acceptance, which is also part of mindfulness. She suggested that he think of the worst possible outcome of the interview, that he would not get the job, and accept that. Laura said that if he was right for the job, he would get it. She told the man to “keep meeting and acknowledging the nervousness, but do not defend it.” Another job seeker recommended to the man that instead of saying “I’m nervous”, say “I’m excited.” I really liked that, because it encourages one to focus upon a positive statement. For example, I am appearing on a local television program soon, and though I feel nervous, I am focusing more upon the excitement of talking about something for which I have tremendous passion—mentoring.

One of the most important themes from Laura’s final workshop session is that job seekers have to believe that an employer will truly benefit from their working for them. Job seekers should not be acting like the employer is doing them a favor by hiring them! As an acquaintance of mine says repeatedly, “you have to know your worth.”

Laura talked movingly about our difficult times and healing our sick world. In addition to meditating, and finding peace within oneself, however, she said that it was important for people to stand up for what they believe. She talked about how she had been arrested last year at a Standing Rock protest. Laura said that it was uncomfortable, but that she was at peace with her decision to make her voice heard and be arrested.

Of course, there was a feeling of sadness that the workshop was ending. The attendees agreed that the workshop needed to be offered again, and we completed evaluations for the library, urging them to keep offering Laura’s workshop.
Laura’s parting words to the job seekers were: “Let’s go out and clear some obstacles.” The job seekers who attended the workshop now have a few simple mindfulness techniques to use to help them do just that as they seek meaningful employment opportunities.

Mindfulness for Job Seekers Part Two: Let Go and Trust

In my last post, I wrote about a six-week workshop, “Mindfulness for Job Seekers,” that was recently offered by the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library’s (SIBL) Job Search Central Department. The workshop instructor was Laura Jackson, a UCLA-trained mindfulness facilitator who has been practicing Zen meditation for over 12 years. The workshop description read:

“Learn mindfulness techniques that bring relaxation and effortless focus to challenging situations and relationships. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing full, nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. The struggle of searching for a job can be overwhelming at times. See if the practice of mindfulness meditation and some easy to use on-the-spot techniques can help you during these challenging times.”

As stated in my last post, my reason for attending the workshop was to network with the instructor Laura to discuss doing a similar workshop for my job seeking clients. But I definitely benefited from attending! It was wonderful for me personally to have such a profound spiritual boost in the middle of my workweek. Laura did more than talk about job seeking—she talked about the importance of humanity, relationships, and self-love, all so important in this broken world.

The fifth session opened with silent meditation. When I meditate, my mind tends to wander. I then try to focus upon things in my life for which I am grateful. I appreciate the moment of silence and stillness. It is vital to be silent and still at times.

After some group conversation, we did more meditation. Laura played a powerful Ganesh Mantra, “Om Gum Ganapataye Nahama” by Deva Premal. It is a mantra for precarious times like ours. The mantra is a salutation to Ganesh who is “the clearer of obstacles.”

When the meditation ended, Laura talked about how we are sometimes too harsh on ourselves, too judgmental. She referenced Don Miguel Ruiz’ book “The Four Agreements,” which outlines four guiding life principles:
• Be impeccable with your word
• Don’t take anything personally
• Don’t make assumptions
• Always do your best

One job seeker talked about how he started meditating before two recent interviews and not only felt relaxed, but found that he was able to answer the interview questions effortlessly. Another job seeker said that within the past week, he decided to stop worrying and “let things go.” He meditated more often and reported that he was recently offered several phone interviews. Laura talked briefly about the power of releasing worry and letting things go, stating “let go and trust.”

Laura lamented the unsustainable pace of our lives, saying that New Yorkers spend so much time running around, buried in their mobile devices. We don’t seem happy. A hilarious 1955 radio program by comedian Jack Benny titled “Ed and the Vault” drove home this point. Jack Benny had a vault in his home to keep his money stored. A guard named Ed lived in isolation in the vault. Jack goes to retrieve some money and after chatting with Ed, decides to bring Ed out of the vault to spend time out in the world. After a few experiences, Ed is eager to return to the vault. He says of the world “Everybody up here is in such a hurry, rushing around all excited, noise and confusion. Nobody seems to be really happy.” Unfortunately, we can say the same thing 62 years later.

The most poignant, yet inspiring part of the workshop was when Laura revealed to us that she was in physical pain. Laura reported that she had been ill the entire month of October, but conducted the workshop as if nothing were amiss in her body. Laura said that she was letting go of her pain in a sense, and said that she would not fear death when it came because she felt she had lived a wonderful life. I want to have the same attitude, not fearing death and knowing that I have lived the best life possible.

Laura urged the job seekers to walk in love and turn away from fear, especially during these difficult times. I really took that message to heart. And I decided to follow Laura’s practice by refraining from listening to and reading so much bad news. I stay informed but I do not wallow in the headlines. I used to read so many newspapers and listen to a number of talk shows but that has stopped. I also do not use social media as much anymore. It feels good to have more tools to use to take better care of myself emotionally. Each day now, I spend time meditating with the Ganesh Mantra that Laura introduced to us. Even on bad days, I am pressing on and encouraging myself.

I am letting go and trusting.

My next blog post will feature a summary of the final “Mindfulness for Job Seekers” workshop.

Mindfulness for Job Seekers

“Mindfulness for Job Seekers” was the name of a six-week workshop recently offered at the Science, Industry, and Business Library (SIBL) of the New York Public Library in New York City. The workshop was described as follows:

“Learn mindfulness techniques that bring relaxation and effortless focus to challenging situations and relationships. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing full, nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. The struggle of searching for a job can be overwhelming at times. See if the practice of mindfulness meditation and some easy to use on-the-spot techniques can help you during these challenging times.”

The Instructor, Laura Jackson, is a UCLA-trained mindfulness facilitator and has been practicing Zen meditation for over 12 years.

I learned about the workshop a little late so was only able to attend sessions 4, 5, and 6. The workshop concluded on November 15th. I was interested in the workshop because I thought my program could provide a similar workshop for the women we serve. The workshop was so impactful for me, that I knew it would be of benefit to others.

In this post, I will briefly share some of the takeaways from the fourth session. My next blog posts will cover the fifth week and the final, sixth week of the workshop.

During the fourth session, Laura shared an insightful You Tube video called “Trust in Life and You Will See,” by Mooji, a spiritual teacher from Jamaica.
“Trust in Life” is the story of a king and his wise counselor. The theme of the video is that we cannot rush to judgment about any situation because we do not know how things will turn out. I was personally moved by the video because I thought about times in my career when I was not selected for a certain job and then later felt thankful.

Last year, I interviewed for a position that I was sure would be offered to me. Imagine my surprise when I received a rejection letter instead! That turned out to be a good thing, because it paved the way for me to accept my current position as a Career Mentor Program Coordinator, which I absolutely love! I later learned that the position I was turned down for was a revolving door position no one really wanted. Had it been offered to me, I might have taken the job and been very miserable!

Our instructor Laura also talked about the importance of job seekers trusting and believing in themselves. She said that when engaging in networking or being interviewed for a job, the job seeker should breathe and trust that the right words for the situation will come. Laura emphasized that the human connection involved in job seeking is what matters most. She told the job seekers to remember that during these uncertain times, the interviewer is just as vulnerable as they are, as that person could suddenly lose his or her job.

After attending this workshop session, I knew I had to come back. In my next post, I will discuss session 5 of the “Mindfulness for Job Seekers” workshop.

There Are Too Many Men Like Juan

Blogger’s Note: The following post first appeared in the NY Nonprofit Press E-Newsletter in 2014. It has been reposted in observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

My relative Melinda and I ran out of a Bronx, New York Family courtroom laughing uncontrollably. I was nearly stumbling, clutching my stomach, tears filling my eyes. People were looking at me quizzically.

Melinda was brought to two family courts in New York City three times by a man, Juan, who insisted that he was the father of her daughter Lila. He is not. Melinda and Juan dated for about six months and were never sexually active. While dating Melinda, Juan was verbally abusive, controlling, and he even stalked her. Juan later misused our legal system in an attempt to achieve his twisted end of forcing Melinda and her daughter Lila into his life.

Melinda met Juan while attending community college back in early 2000. He asked for her phone number, but she initially refused. He persisted until Melinda finally agreed.

After dating for two months, Juan wanted to have a baby with Melinda. “He wanted me to drop out of school and have a kid with him. I told him“that’s ridiculous. I didn’t come here to start a family.” Juan kept up the pressure on Melinda to have a baby, but she refused to have sex with him.

Melinda broke up with Juan in late 2000. She met someone else with whom she had a daughter Lila in 2003.

Juan learned about Melinda’s daughter in 2006. He called and asked Melinda on a date and she declined. Juan’s harassment continued and things got bizarre. In 2009, Juan commenced court action, claiming paternity of Melinda’s daughter.
During the first court appearance, the judge asked if there were any objections to a DNA test. Melinda had none. But as Juan spun his tale of being Lila’s father, the judge was having none of it. This is an excerpt from the transcript:

The Court: It’s impossible for you to be the father. You had sex with her in Octo—let’s even say October. It’s impossible that you’re the father. Even—even early December, even November let’s say. It—it—you’re not the father of this child. It’s too many months. To do the math, the child was born in September of ’03.
Juan: All right.
The Court: Well—so I am dismissing your petition.
Juan: Okay. Cool.

A DNA test was done in 2010. The results: “Combined paternity Index=0. Probability of Paternity=0.00% Conclusion: The alleged father, Juan, cannot be the biological father of Lila, since he and the child do not share necessary paternal markers in multiple genetic systems.” The second court appearance was in Queens Family Court to review the DNA results. Case dismissed.

Juan did not give up.

“Dear Melinda: I am writing you this letter to inform you that the DNA test we took 6/9/2010 is null and void. The reason the test is null and void is because I was eating during the test and the DNA test center/DNA company was supposed to wait for up to 30 minutes to an hour before issuing the DNA test….Melinda the DNA test will not hold up in court do to what has happen.”

Summoned to court for a third time, Melinda showed up at Bronx Family Court, armed with her paperwork including the DNA test result, petitions, letters, court transcript. I came for support and tried not to eye Juan too much though I was seething.

The judge asked Melinda and Juan about their dating relationship. Melinda answered all of the questions calmly. She denied that Juan was Lila’s father, and named the father during the hearing. Juan was unswayed. The judge asked if the parties would agree to take a DNA test. Melinda responded that one had been done. She presented the judge with a copy of the report. The judge read it and asked Juan about it. Juan claimed that he was told by someone in another court that the DNA test was null and void because he ate before the test.

“This is silly!” said the judge in disgust. I began to tear up while simultaneously breaking into a smile. Melinda kept her composure.
“I’m just repeating what I was told,” said Juan, responding like a petulant child.

The judge called Juan’s case frivolous and openly expressed his contempt for Juan’s actions. “This is low,” said the judge. Of the DNA results, the judge told Juan “You could eat a steak with onions and drink a whole bottle of Hennessy and that would not alter the results of the DNA exam!” The judge continued to refer to Juan’s actions as “low.”

Trying to sound like a victim, Juan insisted that he was only repeating what he was told about the DNA results.

The judge was fuming. He repeatedly threatened to fine Juan and garnish his wages, issuing a stern warning to him to leave Melinda alone. “If you come back into this courtroom with this, I will sort you out!” Juan had nothing more to say.

The judge apologized to Melinda that he hadn’t gotten the previous court reports. The judge told Melinda that if Juan ever contacts her again, he will hear her case personally. He told Melinda he doesn’t care if she is in Timbuktu, he will hear the case! The case was dismissed and I ran out of the courtroom in stitches, Melinda laughing right behind me. Juan practically ran down the hallway to get away from us.

“I felt great, like a big burden lifting off me,” said Melinda of her court victory. “Inside I was jumping up and down.”

But Juan does not give up.

Melinda had to go to court with him in the Bronx again, but his case was shut down. He has not been in touch since. Melinda has been traumatized by her experience with Juan and gets upset whenever she think about it. Juan could probably care less about the chaos he has caused. He is not well and I hope women stay far away from him.

Situations like Melinda’s are why I get furious when I hear of men who cannot accept “no”, and then go on to destroy some woman’s life. Some of us women say “no” and we end up being stalked, slashed, stabbed, or shot. There are just too many men like Juan who do not respect women’s boundaries and choices, even if a judge tells them to do so.


Peaceful, Respectful and Safe

Years ago, the Sunday newspapers and the local radio stations in New York City reported on a man who brutally killed his wife the previous Saturday evening. He and his wife had been separated. She was fearful of him because he had committed violence against her in the past.

Learning of the killing devastated me. I did not know this woman, but still grieved heavily for her. My anger over her slaying was so fierce that I wished someone would kill her killer. I was so overwhelmed by this incident that I lay on my bed feeling depressed for days.

I knew the man who killed this woman. He had been a boyfriend of mine a few years prior to that tragedy. I almost married this man.

My former boyfriend was a troubled man. He was verbally, emotionally, and occasionally physically abusive to me, manipulative and threatening. There were incidents in which he twisted my neck, pushed me out of a door, yelled at me in the street. He criticized my appearance and made me feel like garbage.

His demeanor changed at the snap of your fingers. One minute he would be affectionate. The next minute he would be raging over something slight. Once we were having lunch at a restaurant. Everything was pleasant. Then suddenly, he started complaining about the food service for no reason. He got up and was about to leave the restaurant before our waitress stopped him. I was still sitting there eating, puzzled by his behavior. He took out some money, threw it down on the table, and left.

He would get angry at me for no reason and break up with me. Then I would get a call from him, apologizing and asking to reconcile. Because of my own feelings of low self-worth, I took him back each time. Since then, I have not tolerated any abuse from any man I dated. I love myself too much.

I was relieved when my former boyfriend moved out of the city and broke up with me. I moved on with my life. He would call once in a while but I did not care about him, so would not talk to him much. When he called me and told me he was married and had children, the news was surprising. But when he called me later on some time and told me that things were not going well in his life, I became concerned for myself. I wanted him to leave me alone and keep me out of his drama. He kept calling though, and I kept hanging up on him. The last time I spoke to him, we got into a screaming match because I told him that I did not want him to call me anymore. That night, he killed his wife.

I struggled with survivor’s guilt. His wife and I had both been involved with this man at different times, had both seen the signs that he was troubled. We both got away from him. Yet, he found and killed her. And I always wondered why he did not try to kill me. He knew where I lived. He could have gotten to me. I asked myself over and over, why her? They had children together. Why kill the mother of your children? Why kill anyone? What in the world was he so angry about?

I learned to stop blaming myself. My former boyfriend committed the murder; I did not. There was absolutely no justification for what he did. He may have been angry at her for leaving him. He may have been upset because I refused to speak with him. It does not matter. There was no excuse for what he did. He took the life of a woman, the mother of his children. She had dreams for a better life and he destroyed their family. He even tried to take his own life after he took hers.

I did not follow his case. I cannot tell you where he is today. I just hope he is being held accountable for his crime.

His wife deserved a loving relationship. I hurt knowing about all of the pain she endured at his hands while they were married.

All of us truly deserve relationships that are loving, peaceful, respectful-—and safe.

May it be so.

In memory of P.E.