What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

“The Gathering of the Oppressed”

I have successfully settled in Washington, D.C., and while I have one million “ah-ha” moments already brewing, I am going to pause and explore one which has been weighing more heavy on my heart than others.

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Specifically, I am struggling with this idea of a, “Church Catch-All.”

Allow me to explain…

I decided it is time to go back to church. “New city, new life,” and all of that. Though I was never able to make time to have that cup of coffee with my friend’s husband (and will obviously try harder next time I am in Oklahoma City), I have decided I am ready to reconnect to a piece of my life that was, for a very long time, the most salient part of my identity. Now that I am permanently in Washington, D.C., I am actively looking to find a community where I can learn and grow, and within whatever spiritual development that comes with this exploration.

So, what does an inquiring mind do to jump-start this process? I took to Google, and eagerly typed, “gay friendly churches in D.C.”

Before I could get too far, I paused on the concept of, “gay-friendly.” Something didn’t sit right with me. Was I looking for, “friendly,” or for, “accepting?”

Accepting.

Yes, I was looking for accepting.

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Around the same time as I was having my, what-does-this-mean-and-is-accepting-real-or-is-friendly-all-I’ll-get, moment, I had lunch with one of my dearest friends from high school. She has lived in D.C. for a few years now, and very much exists as a beacon of optimism and positivity. We are cut from a similar cloth and with very parallel upbringings, thus making this specific topic something she would be perfect to aid in processing. And so, we processed.

What I discovered from my friend is that there are a ton of LGBTQ+-accepting churches in D.C., and it was up to me to find the one that matched most of my values.

Easy enough, right?

It’s actually not at all easy, but it is doable. And I’m leaning into that. So far, I have found many churches with gay and lesbian pastors, and churches with a very strong LGBTQ+ presence in the leadership of the church. This is inclusion to me. And this was one of my biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments in a long time. Inclusion is not just having a diversity position or representative in an organization (or school, institution, company, etc.). Inclusion, real and authentic equity and inclusion, exists when you weave diversity and acceptance through the entire operation. And for the first time in a long time, I am seeing religious organizations hold this same value.

I will add for the good of the order, my only experience related to this was a brief visit to a church when I lived in Bloomington, Indiana. This specific church was recommended to me by many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, and I ventured over one Sunday morning to check it out. When I looked around the congregation, I noticed loads of queer people, blended families, interracial couples, hippies, and a mix of other, often ostracized, identities. I loved it, at first glance and interaction, and felt more safe in that church than I had in years.

Now, please note, this is all not to say that people haven’t found a welcoming place in other churches in that town. It’s just that this specific church had a reputation for being a “catch-all.” One friend called it, “The Gathering of the Oppressed.” This stressed me out.

You feel different in your place of worship?

Join us.

You feel oppressed from the scripture or how you’re being discussed as a conundrum?

Join us.

You need safety?

Join us.

Again, catch-all.

And this certainly did not take away from the spiritual opportunity provided that Sunday morning. It was mostly just an observation that helped me understand the difference between a gay-inclusive space and a gay-friendly operation. I continue to think about that space, and the space I will soon call my church-home as I reconnect in the coming months. And, overall, this impacts my charge today.

Find religious spaces that honor acceptance and authentic inclusion. Celebrate these spaces, appreciate these spaces. Challenge your church and church community to lean toward inclusion, and be cautious of how easy it is to dismiss marginalized groups. Think of the language you use. Calling a population, “homosexuals,” is not going to bring gay people running through the doors of your church. There are ways to address a queer population without making individuals feel like a piece of science. The rigidity of, “homosexual,” often creates this feeling.

To pause and close, I also want to add that Jonathan D. Lovitz’s piece, “Op-ed: It’s Time for Successful Gays to Raise Up the Next Generation,” via The Advocate, is also super relevant here. When I met one of my role models (and LGBTQ icon), Doug Bauder, I was meeting the first person who identified as an out and proud gay pastor. I was so confused. I asked a lot of questions, and he spent a lot of time answering them in an intentional and thoughtful manner. He mentored me, taught me, and guided me. This was huge. And is still huge for me today, especially in how I view and treat the younger generation of gay men out there.

It is time to connect the pieces. Connect to something, and connect others to something. More. Go all in, and be bold. Be proud, but be bold.

Processing,

Michael

*In my, “Coffee with a Christian” post, I received many beautiful messages of support. However, I also received many prayer-filled exclamations. I ask you this, if praying, please pray for clarity and safely within a great church, specifically one which is inclusive and accepting of all. Praying for my sexual orientation, though “thoughtful” of you, is very much missing the mark. I highly encourage you to redirect. 

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*photos all taken from various places on the web; thanks, Google image search

Sure, being a social justice warrior is easy… that is, until you go “home.”

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Let’s face it, for the most part, our parents, family members, family-friends, and/or raised-guardians don’t all have the same beliefs as us. And, in the grand scheme of life and healthy dissonance, this makes for great validation regarding why it is that we believe what we believe when we believe. Values change. And this is certainly the case in my situation. As I’ve grown older, I have found some nice solidarity with friends and loved ones who share a similar pause when going “home” for the holidays (this is the same pause one might experience when a family member starts debating an article or thought on any form of social media). It’s not easy. And there will be times when topics, incidents, and issues are brought up, and all you want to do is remove your human rights cap and keep your mouth shut. Hell, sometimes I don’t even pack the metaphorical hat.

But my fellow social justice warriors, there’s something you must know… even though the holidays are fast approaching, it is now more essential than ever that we have these difficult conversations. You see, when you (we) remove that social justice cap, we push pause on any progress or dissonance which might be lurking somewhere within the almost-conversation (or debate, dialogue, argument, etc.). And I will be the first to admit that this is terrifying, frustrating, and altogether annoying.

I know the feeling of cringing while hoping your cousins or siblings don’t use, “that’s gay,” or, “fag.” More so, I am always conscious of how I’ll be perceived when/if I have to correct them when they do use this language. And, of course, it’s not always a selfish moment. For some, it’s that moment when the family refuses to acknowledge that Aunt Whitney’s “roommate” is actually her partner. Because Aunt Whitney is a lesbian. And Aunt Whitney deserves to live open and free. But, Aunt Whitney is the whispered about family member, and at times it’s easier for you to just let Aunt Whitney fly solo – after all, you have your own battles to fight, right?

Perhaps it’s Ferguson. And perhaps your entire family is walking around on eggshells anytime, “Black Lives Matter,” and, “I can’t breathe,” appears on television or news. Black lives do matter. Talk about it. Be open to challenging privilege and oppression. Be open to educating and empowering. Most likely, you’re not alone. And while I could go on with fifty more examples, religion and the ever-changing belief systems of young adults can also be a point of contention for many. Believe whatever you want. Be ever-changing. Stand up for yourself and articulate your growth. Your growth matters.

Let’s pause here for a moment (and if you have an Aunt Whitney or Aunt Whitney-adjacent, text her now…she – whoever “she” is for you – needs that support, and she needs the affirmation that someone out there accepts she and her partner as family…this validation is essential).

Outside of being a general warrior of all things just, the holidays can also be a compromising moment for all those electing to use the season as an opportunity to come out to family and friends (and, “come out,” as, whatever, whoever, whyever). Whereas it’s easy to weep with joy over hidden cameras revealing phenomenal reactions of parents on the receiving end of their child’s coming out, not all processes are hugs and happy tears. In fact, many are the exact opposite. And furthermore, many leave open wounds and heartache many years following one’s actual coming out.

Each year before the November & December holidays, I try send a tweet reading something along the lines of the following:

“The holidays are often a time where individuals come out to their family and friends. If someone comes out to you, thank them and love them.”

And I believe this with my entire being. You may be one of many or you may be the only person someone comes out to. Receiving this information is a compliment, and more times than not, you are being told because someone believes you to be someone who cares about them and supports their authenticity. They see you as a warrior, and someone who will fight for and with them. And the truth is, my friends – a warrior is a warrior, is a warrior… regardless of context. It’s not easy. And let’s be honest, unless you have the rare ability to let things roll off your back, there will be times where you need some sense of reprieve this holiday season. And that’s absolutely okay.

Also note, believing in and fighting for social justice and human rights is exhausting. And draining. And frustrating. And while the anxiety certainly goes up for many of us this time of year, please equally remember that this type of work and passion is also rewarding. Huge wins can come out of the dialogues you are gearing up for this next few weeks. Some will take time, and others will seem completely hopeless. But if I learned anything this past year, it’s that dissonance is learning, and the learning will occur as long as you are courageous enough to take the first step.

Will you continue to advance social, human, and societal rights and justness? Do you have the courage to speak up, step in, and intervene when you know something is not right? And finally, can you keep your ‘cool’ when you’re standing isolated, solo, and/or alone?

Press on, march on, and more importantly, fight on.

Planting seeds,

Michael

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No surprise here: Street-harassment still feels like shit.

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Today I celebrate my one-month anniversary in China. It’s an exciting feeling, and I am slowly but surely learning how to navigate my way around the rural town I am living in for the next several weeks. This specific area is a beach town, and filled with many locals who are most often surprised or intrigued to see me walking down the street. The toddler-response is the best: confusion, intrigue, excitement.

Over the past week or so, I have started to focus on what this attention means and how it actually plays out in the bigger context of human interaction. In an interesting twist of fate, I have gone from a confident traveler to a self-conscious visitor in just a matter of days. Don’t get me wrong, I was prepared for this reality. Before taking flight, many warned me that being a foreigner in China would attract bewildered stares and unprovoked attention (add being 6’2” to that equation and you have me, a bearded white man, trolling through the town). But this past week, I experienced several incidents where I would pass someone, and following stoic eye-contact, be aggressively examined up and down. Was it my shoes? My large torso? My receding hairline? What was attracting the negative attention? Even my experience with cab drivers has been a bit unsettling. In America, it takes an act of God (or Uber) to hail a cab, however here, cabbies will honk at me, roll up to me on the street, and often yell something out the window to catch my attention. I’m rarely looking for a ride, however in their minds, it seems that being foreign also means I am in constant need of a lift somewhere. This happens over and over again. Rinse, wash, repeat, each time I venture into the city. Bearded. White guy. Let’s pause here for a moment.

Aside from being a huge, bearded white guy in Asia, I could also probably share a few dozen North-American stories of being called, “FAGGOT,” by passersby, or having truck loads of dudes (yes, 99.9% of the time it is another guy) yell something really homophobic or heteronormative at me. To save you hours of reading, the experience which resonates most with me is a time when I was working an event with a few colleagues while in graduate school. Said-colleagues and I were standing on the corner of a busy campus intersection, and our task was to greet busloads of students as they were dropped off and headed to another event on campus. Easy task, and this was my second year in this same post, so I was basically a professional bus-greeter. Before we knew it, an SUV-load of ass holes drove by and, “FAGGOTS,” was yelled from the window. I share more of this story in a previous post inspired by street-harassment, however the end-moment here is that one of my friends was horrified, while a lesbian-friend and I just shrugged it off with an, it-happens-all-the-time, resolution. With each reference of this story, I am reminded of the harm words can do in action and also in reflection. And though not as aggressive as someone slinging hate speech out of a window, the constant attention I have received from being white in China has certainly been something to pause on.

I consider myself a strong yet sensitive person, and since arriving in China, I am easily reminded of the reality of feeling different and constantly self-aware. As I continue to reflect on this revisited reality, I am also strikingly more conscious of the same discomfort that continues to resonate for many of my peers back in the States. This type of frustration is not solely reserved for large, bearded white guys in Asia – in fact, this frustration is also nothing new. We can all probably agree this is a constant struggle for many populations (race demographics, LGB individuals, transgendered individuals, religious misunderstandings around paraphernalia, etc., and of course, women), and at times even turns quite ugly in its resolve. I recently came across a powerful piece of writing, which highlighted some of the very feelings I have related to street harassment (and also street crime, hate crimes, hate speech, etc.). This piece was written by Zachary Wilcha, and the following sentiments best capture some of my feelings as they relate to the incident which recently occurred in Pennsylvania:

“While people are shocked by the white gang of hooligans simply for being the color they are, you’re not shocked. You know something they don’t. You know that the last group of people you’d want to run into at the end of the night is a group of drunk, straight, white men full of equal parts insecurity and liquid confidence.”

“You’ll continue to look over your shoulder because you have to. Sometimes you’ll see people walking toward you and wonder if today is your day… You push all these thoughts away as you try to fall asleep. You have to. You’re exhausted.”

I feel in complete solidarity with these ideas, and if not verbatim, have said some variation of these statements multiple times to myself over the past several years. Wilcha’s writing takes me back to some dark places, and I encourage all those to read his piece with an open mind and an open heart. These are real experiences. Real life experiences. People’s lives. And, although the stares and whistles I get on the street are not ideal, they certainly do not compare to the unjust treatment we are seeing played out with various other identity groups.

In this new month, can we please commit to creating a safer space for people to walk freely without objectification? In this new month, can we please commit to confronting our communities on their bias? In this new month, can we please lose the buzzy lingo and fun campaigns and just get real and honest about some of the unjust treatment existing in the world today? Finally, can we please remember that even though new issues and hot topics arise, they are not a scapegoat to forget about previous and still-grieving injustices (Philadelphia, Ferguson, ISIS, etc., and any other group I am marginalizing by using, “etc.”)?

Sure, I started off talking about my experience as a white guy in China, and to be honest, I’m barely shaken by these moments. But the reality I am seeing back home is oddly parallel to my experience being a foreigner in another country (please put that thought together, if you get what I’m saying). Difference is continually approached with hostility, negativity, and unjust action. Let’s find peace, let’s find conversation, let’s find resolve.

Freely-walking,

Michael

*More than my own experience, it is probably most important to confirm that I will never understand what it feels like to be a woman, nor will I truly understand what it feels like to be harassed because of my gender or gender identity. Though I do know what it feels like to be harassed because I’m different, this piece is not intended to be a comparison of which identity has it harder (oppression competition, if you will). This piece is an attempt at processing my own racial identity development while in another country, and also while grappling with the incidents occurring back home. 

Pi Beta Phi, for the win…and other, see-someone-to-be-someone, moments of success and failure.

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In graduate school, I had this friend who, every time we passed a black student, staff member, or community member, would say hello with a wave or head nod. After a few months of knowing her, I finally asked her to share the scoop on her constant greeting of strangers. Her response was simple, yet powerful, “I may be the only black person they see today, and I feel like it’s important that they see someone supporting them.” At the time, the university was horridly underrepresented, and the percentage of black students was that which we could count in single digits. This friend’s perspective was alarmingly raw to me, and was always something I kept in the back of my mind when working with students.

“We need to see someone to be someone.”

This old saying was something I took very serious as an out-professional, and one which allowed me to truly be my most authentic self. Tom Nelson Laird asserts, “The best thing you can do as a[n education] professional is show people who you are.” In fact, for the past three years I have had this very quote hanging from my computer monitor, living as a constant reminder to bring my whole self to every table in which I’m invited. Perhaps, like my friend shared, someone would see me and think they, too, were valuable, valued, and validated.

Now, fast-forward to my first week in China. Upon arriving in Beijing, I slowly started to realize that I was no longer the majority, and that my white skin stood out as a sign and marker, reading, “OBLIVIOUS WESTERNER HERE.” To find some sense of solidarity, I decided that, similar to my previously-mentioned cohort friend (for obvious reasons, I’ve refrained from saying, “…my black friend,” and so should you, if ever given the chance), I would nod at all the white folk, in hope of forcing some type of introduction or affirmation (an, “I see you, and I’m here too,” if you will). And so, I nodded.

Three days in, and probably twenty nods later, I had yet to gain a single nod in return, and definitely not even a smile. This was particularly frustrating to me, as that first week I felt more alone than I had felt in my entire life (which is ironic for being in a city of 22+ million people). This frustration boiled up until yesterday afternoon, when I spent some time walking around the supermarket, looking for a chocolate snack for my new coworkers (after all, nothing says, “Help me, I’m foreign,” like a sweet treat). Just as I was walking into the market, my eyes caught another white person coming down the escalator – we’re not hard to miss in this city. I guessed she was from the states, as plastered across her light blue t-shirt were the words, “PI BETA PHI.” I gasped!

My first attempt at contact was a quiet, “Hi,” as we were both looking at fruit. She was unresponsive, and I could hear the music coming through her earbuds. She wandered off, leaving me to lurk around the supermarket and devise a new plan of approach. And that’s when it happened: she took out one of her earbuds while examining different milk options, leaving me to swoop in for potential conversation. I immediately scurried over, casually stood next to her, and said, “Pi Beta Phi, eh?”

“Yep,” she responded. “People always approach me when I’m wearing this shirt.” We both laughed, and then had a nice 5-10 minute conversation about the why and how long we had been in China, the neat and often-global connections forged by an experience in fraternities and sororities, and then even discovered we knew a mutual friend (another Pi Beta Phi who I worked with many years ago, whose little sister was in the same chapter as this new friend – talk about a small world!).

We shared our WeChat (a messaging application) information, and went on our way. That brief moment of interaction gave me a ton of energy, and in a lot of ways, affirmed and validated my very existence in that specific place and time (and in China, if you want to look at the gigantic picture). Just like my friend validating students, even individuals she didn’t know, in this moment more than ever, I understood the idea of, “see someone to be someone,” and how it truly can impact a person’s (or student’s) experience (life, routine, future, etc.).

So, reach out. Look up. Nod.

See this post as one huge thank you to all those who have supported someone along their journey (whichever journey seems fitting). Additionally, please see this post as an opportunity to be a light to someone else – let them see you as an individual, an environment, or an accomplishment which they, too, can achieve. Reach out, be available to someone’s nod, and provide validation even if it violates the day-to-day norms you’ve allowed yourself to replay. Look up, and don’t be afraid to tell people who you are by inviting them to be their true self too.

Two nods for you, Glen Coco,

Michael

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Be proud. Give many damns.

As I was walking into work this morning, I parked across from a man who had a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) equality sticker on the bumper of his car. When he got out of the vehicle, I noticed this gentleman was around 70-years old, and was also wearing an HRC equality hat. Very cool, I thought, I love the old gays. Although it took years for me to actually put the sticker on my car (mental block, Southern Indiana, fear, military kid, shame, pride), moments like this made me feel a sense of camaraderie within the community. Amity. Connect. Support.

We walked into the building together, and as we shared the same sidewalk he said to me, “Nice sticker on your car.”

I responded with, “You too, sir. And the hat is a nice touch. Happy PRIDE.”

He smiled, and responded, “My wife and I have found it to be important that we show pride and support for all those around us.”

Let’s pause there for a moment. Remember, I live in Bloomington, Indiana. This man was 70+ years old. A rush of appreciation came over me, and it hit me that this moment was one to let soak in. Cue word vomit. I stopped walking, and asked, “If you can get it, and have complete understanding, and while coupled with your wife, why can’t everyone else share this same understanding?” My question to him was noted with a bit of a voice crack, to which we both chuckled. My new friend then went on to share the story of a former co-worker of his wife who sparked this belief and hope, and also provoked them to march for many years in the Chicago PRIDE parade. All I could say was, “thank you.” We separated with name-introductions, and I muttered, “Thanks for making my day, Steve,” as we parted ways down the hallway. Thanks for making my month, was possibly more appropriate.

I have a student who frequently comes into my office, and we sit for quite some time, sharing stories of equality, right’s-issues, and “ah-ha” moments. I like to say we bring out the passion in one other, and it is daily that we share an article or link to something inspiring, frustrating, challenging, and/or eye-opening. This student isn’t gay, but they care about the LGBT community. In fact, this student cares about all marginalized communities. Like Steve. I have previously shared the story of a former student who called me out of the blue, and said, “Michael, I’m an ally,” after an ‘ah-ha’ moment of support for the LGBT community. We need more ah-ha moments. We need more, “I’m an ally” (of whatever), moments. We need more learning, growing, challenging, and supporting. We need more.

I was talking with a friend recently and we shared similar sentiments around the idea of being “pro-LGBT,” as either an ally or community member. At times, it feels being pro-LGBT has become so drenched in pop-culture that we have lost some of the actual active advocacy it requires to truly make change (“Legalize Gay,” “Jesus is My Homeboy,” etc., as anecdotal examples of beliefs impacted by satire). The reverse could also be part of the problem. Are we easy to become complacent in our quest for equal rights that we just assume others will be the advocates or ambassadors for that voice? Or, are we creating arrangements for ourselves that we forget the issue still exists, no matter how we’ve navigated the struggle (whatever issue, whatever struggle)?

June is here, which means, “PRIDE,” for many individuals around the world. Consequently, summer and “PRIDE” can also mean disconnect, resentment, struggle, confusion, and frustration. I have previously posted about my desire for others to live more, “out.” Though I won’t go much deeper into revisiting this challenge, I will encourage you to read the post. Be out. Be out with whatever you see needs support. Favorite a tweet, share a video, challenge ignorance. Hell, ask people about their bumper sticker. Appreciate bumper stickers. Appreciate dissonance, but stand for what you know is just. Volunteer. Don’t just participate in the party-element, the satire, or the parody – get out there and make an active change by using an active voice. Step up.

In this new week and new month, I commit to living more prideful – prideful of who I am and where I come from, who I’m meant to be. And I ask you to take this same vow. This may mean as an ally (to something, anything) or simply as someone who gives a damn. That’s okay too. Be proud. Give many damns. This world needs more allies, and its constituents need more belief, more hope, more support. Be that support. Believe. Hope. Care.

How will you continue to live in 2014?

Thankful, proud,

Michael

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