A New Adventure: Reflecting on Destiny and Stanley Ann Dunham

It’s a bright and sunny Sunday morning – my favorite time of day.

Despite it being Easter Sunday (which is sacred in itself for spiritual rebirth and family fellowship), this time of day offers my favorite reading material of the week – the Sunday Edition. Today, I was lucky enough to be given today’s New York Times paper with an interesting magazine cover on top of the piling. The cover was a vintage picture of a young white mother with black shorts with her adorable son dressed up as a pirate in brown sandals for Halloween with the title “Why She Went: When Barry Obama was 6 years old, his mother moved him to Indonesia. It was a decision that would define his life and hers.” That adorable pirate and that Barry Obama are one in the same – he would later become our President Barack Obama.

His life story is the stuff of folklore almost – absent father, caring and supportive grandparents and mother raising him, having to figure out where he belongs as a teenager and young adult, finding his footing to go to Columbia for undergrad, law school, working as a community organizer only to ascend even higher and higher as a senator and finally, the President of the United States. If you haven’t read his memoir, it is definitely a requirement for any educated person. But little is known about his mother, the woman who fell in love with and married a charismatic and articulate Kenyan from the University of Hawaii, producing a baby boy that would be “king” so to speak.

After the divorce, she met and married a grad student named Lolo Soetoro from the Indonesian island of Java. She later moved to Indonesia with her young son in tow to begin her international adventure of raising children, working, and travelling the world. It’s kind of incredible to have a mother like that.

All the while, she was instilling in her six-year-old son the manners, morals, and widened, world perspective that would be his signature persona as an adult. The new Mrs. Soetoro had her son reading from workbooks, encouraging him to be “a combination of Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, and Harry Belafonte.” High standards for sure but somehow I think she succeeded in her task.

What internal strength it must have taken to move away from everyone and everything you know to submerge yourself in a completely new culture and country to marry the man you love. Bravery and courage almost seem too simple to use in describing such a feat. It was something steely and powerful inside of this “mild-mannered” Kansas native – almost like Clark Kent with the heart and soul of Superman.

I reflect on this chapter of her life with relief, relief to know that my new adventure has been travelled by one of the most influential people in American history. Okay, this is just MY OPINION but the mother of President Barack Obama was the person that shaped him to be the man, leader, father, husband, brother, and human being that we all have the privilege to know and respect. Therefore, she is a part of American history, one of the many stories from the American Dream.

I’m not going to say that I am not afraid of this new adventure that I am on in a week but I will say that I am more calm and even resolute to this new chapter. I think I have that travelling spirit of Stanley Ann Dunham, ready to meet my destiny no matter where it takes me. I pray that God will lead my heart to that destination and that I will trust in His plan for me.

Happy Easter, everyone!

“It’s Been a Long Time /Shouldn’t Have Left You /Without a Dope Beat to Step To”

Forgive me, blog subscribers! I have been going through a lot of transition on many facets of my life lately – socially, emotionally, fiscally, intellectually, and physically (in less than two weeks).

I realized that it would be a pretty boring blog if I only wrote about all the wonderful things that happen in my life.  Life is not always wonderful! It can be difficult, riddled with hardship and sacrifice, and it wouldn’t be fair to ignore that portion of life in order to maintain the unrealistic facade of perfection.  It would almost be liking dumbing my material down and you all are way too smart for that!

But don’t worry. Sustained amounts of self-pity and negative self-talk is not my style.  A balance must exist, exposing both the ying and yang to make my experiences real and more importantly, give us all a wider and more varied perspective on the good and bad.

With that, here we go!

The move for the new job in my beloved NOLA occurs in less than two weeks and I am making plans for every step of the process.  Luckily, the only “major’ piece of furniture I proudly own is a white nightstand I bought used with crystal-like knobs and picturesque design.  Everything else I classify as “stuff” - toiletry stuff, kitchen stuff, wardrobe stuff, past-time stuff, etc.  All that “stuff” will have to fit in my car or it’s getting tossed.  Talk about SPRING CLEANING!

But life never hands you just one “obstacle” at a time.  I am also ending the semester with my classes, forced to start Final Exam season prematurely because of the move.  I would like to say that all of my students were completely understanding and sympathetic to this change of plans but I can’t.  I’m pretty fragile right now so all the unnecessary criticism and requests (especially coming at the END of the semester, the most stress-ridden time of the semester for every faculty member, staff member, student, and member of administration) are cutting me pretty deeply.  I had to take a mental health day today and have office hours through email just to collect myself.

Dwayne D. Conrad

To keep perspective, I keep reminding myself that no matter how hard it is for me right now, it will be that much more sweet two weeks from now when I moved to New Orleans for the summer in a furnished sublet in walking distance from the Quarter and exciting cafes, bars, and other excursions while I begin my teaching training and start work in the following month.  And then there is the Essence Music Festival that I have always wanted to go but never had the money for.  I will BE THERE this year! It’s kind of amazing how life can turn on a dime. I already have a short tally of colleagues who are coming to visit me this summer.  Maybe I’ll charge a small fee.  What do you think?

It also kind of interesting to know that a year ago, the BP Oil Spill occurred and changed the future of the Gulf Coast drastically.  I have mixed feelings about this.  While I am happy that NOLA and other major cities in the Gulf have made an effort to resurrect themselves from the tragedy as best they can, I think the tragedy is still happening even if the news stops covering it.  People who depend on the healthy life of the Gulf for survival are still being victimized and the powers that be (i.e. BP) STILL have not fixed the problem nor done what is RIGHT and FAIR.  The company KNOWS what needs to be done yet nothing is happening and you know who suffers?  The good people at the bottom of the food chain who only want to work hard and provide for themselves and their families.  It feels like Katrina all over again.

The only solace I can have is that I have an opportunity to make a difference on my working vacation this summer.  I get to work as a teacher through an institution outside the reach of school board bureaucracy and greed to reach my students and their parents in a pragmatic and holistic way that I have never been able to do before. It’s a great honor!  Wish me luck!

Dwayne D. Conrad