It Can Happen in an Instant

grapesMy five-month-old son swallowed a grape whole today. Twelve minutes of restricted breathing felt like a brief lifetime slipping away in my arms. Every tragic scenario imaginable played previews in my mind as I swung him upside down, forcing my finger down his throat and beating him in the back to no avail. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t crying. He wasn’t coughing. I was overcome with terror.

“What if he was suffering? What if there was irreparable damage? What if…..the unthinkable??!! “

Nothing can fully prepare you for all parenthood hurls at you. We waited, planned, put all of our proverbial ducks in a row. I secured infant CPR certification, (which has since relapsed), read & studied, and lent my ear to every parent I knew with a wealth of experience. In the moment that I was holding my son and trying to prevent his young life from slipping from his body, I could remember very little of it.

I shoved my finger so far down his throat that I could feel the mass, but not grasp it. I could only push it to allow air in and a stream of blood out onto the floor.  baby-cryingI will never forget the look of confusion and horror on his tiny plump face as I watched my pecan tan baby boy shift shades to that of a red onion. It was as though he was beseeching me to fix it and horrified that I couldn’t. After many frenzied attempts to help him dislodge the pulpous fruit had failed, I frantically ran out of my front door barefoot and screaming for help from anyone in sight. The first two women, just at my doorstep, gasped and walked quickly in the opposite direction. The next pair, a middle-aged couple, ran onto the elevator; they were pressing the button to close the door over and over as I rushed pass them and out into the communal area of our complex.

There were very few in view as I ran closer to the center. An elder woman lying next to one at least half her age were precisely in front of me on the opposite side of the pool. A father with his young child and possibly his parents were directly to my left. A bare-chested man in trunks was lying and reading on the opposite side at the far end, and a woman in the water was walking the length of the pool.  I surveilled each one for some sign of willingness to assist as I screamed for help with such desperation that I began to choke on my own cries. Both the man and the pair of women across the pool stared, but sat motionless.  I ran towards the family. Surely, they would know what to do and be urgent in assisting me. The matriarch pointed and shook her head in curiosity, while the father grabbed his own child to shield them from my screeches.

h5550978The water-walking woman leapt from the pool and motioned for me to stop running.

“Do you know CPR,” I shrieked with my son dangling in my hands.

She told me, “no” before trying to sit me down to help him anyway. Two other women eventually approached. One dressed in a floral frock motioned for others to help. The other, another mother as she stated, grabbed my son and began performing the same steps I had already done at home.

1. Secure baby in arms and hold face down over one knee with head lower than chest. “Be careful! Don’t drop him!”

2. Begin back thrusts. “Five I think, but I’m certain I did more. Just keep going.”

3. Turn face up with head still lower than chest.

4. Begin chest compressions with fingers. “Not too hard. Don’t break his ribs.”

5. Repeat. “Repeat! Repeat!!”

6. Stick finger in mouth and press into belly to remove object. “Do you feel it? Is it in there?” 

His nose was clogged with mucus; his eyes stiff with tears. A stream of saliva and vomit streamed from his mouth with traces of blood, but there was no grape. No crying. No coughing. No unrestricted breathing. It wasn’t working!!

           What if I lose him? Oh God, what if I lose him?!!! Please save my son! I can’t lose him…not like this. Not over a stupid               grape! He’s too young. I love him so much. Oh God!! I won’t be able to go home. I can’t face {my husband}. He’ll never           forgive me. I’ll never forgive me. I can’t go back home without him. I can’t face my parents. What will I tell my baby girl?

No, he’s going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. He’s going to be fine. 

Repeat. Repeat! Repeat!!

I just began praying. All I could do was pray and beg God to save my sweet little baby boy. I had already done all else. The man across the pool finally stood with his phone to the side of his face. “Call 999,” I screamed to *Catherine, our live-in assistant who’d trampled out for help behind me. The head security officer used his two-way radio to request assistance before suggesting we move into the Function Room of the condo. The fellow mother followed.  A timid, wide-eyed teenage boy stood in the lobby with his cell phone planked in his hands recording the raucous. I covered my baby and glared at him as a lioness would her next kill. This was not entertainment. He lowered the phone as we whisked into a private room.

Two petite women came in shortly; one, Bella, announced herself as a nurse. I immediately thought of my sister, an RN in the states, and a greater calm came over me. She took my prince and did all of the necessary steps.

1. Secure baby in arms and hold face down over one knee with head lower than chest. “He’s going to be fine.” 

2. Begin back thrusts.  “I’m trusting You.” 

3. Turn face up with head still lower than chest. “I’m releasing him to You God.” 

3. Begin chest compressions with fingers. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5. He’s going to be fine.” 

5. Repeat. “He’s going to be fine.” 

6. Stick finger in mouth and press into belly to remove object. “Wait, he’s crying! He’s crying!” 

“He’s crying,” faintly, but it was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.  No grape ever appeared. There was just a gelatinous fluid masking his entire face, but he was crying and breathing; labored as it was. My phone began ringing and I noticed the time was 12:12. It was exactly 12 minutes since the last time I looked at the clock and realized my son was choking.  Bella assured me that he would be fine. She pressed his little wiggling toes and fingers to show the color was returning and blood was flowing through his body. Based on his shortness of breath, she gathered that he must’ve swallowed it completely. He looked at me so longingly and wearily and limply fell into my arms just as the paramedics entered the room.

I didn’t fully rejoice until he began sucking his thumb in the back of the ambulance. He fell asleep on my shoulder, but I kept nudging him. I wanted to see his eyes, the fullness and liveliness of them. I needed to see his bright eyes open…at least until I was completely sure he was fine.black-baby_0

The visit at the hospital seemed shorter than the entire ordeal. I nursed him to sleep and squeezed and stared and kissed and held him like I did the day he crowned from my womb. My husband, calm as he is always, was already trying to add levity to the matter by boasting that it didn’t happen on his watch. Though I needed to smile, It was much too soon for the joke.  Even as I type this, I keep staring back at my baby and placing my hand on his back to feel the breath flow through his little body. My incredibly beautiful baby boy is fine, but I’m not…not yet.

One friend witnessed the uproar from her thirteenth floor condo. Her windows were open; feeling the fresh wind and basking in the silence of midday, until it was interrupted with the screeches of a frantic mother calling for help. When she lifted her pregnant frame to the window and realized it was me, she wept and began praying. That’s all the strength she could find to do in fear of putting her own unborn child at risk with the stress of hurried movement. After all was resolved, another friend reminded me to be kind to myself in the next few days and not to allow myself to be overcome with guilt, (too late), while yet another shared a similar story about her own child as a reminder that I’m not alone and all will be well. My son’s Godmother sent me encouraging words and reminded me that I face no obstacle alone. That’s what I needed; still need.

I can’t predict the throws of parenthood. No one can. The best we can do is use what we know in a moment of crisis, and admit we know nothing when it’s time to release it completely.  Tonight, I’m holding both of my babies a little tighter with the looming reminder that every moment is sacred and life is fleeting. He is fine, laughing with the infectious joy that is not of this world. They are both fine. That’s what I need.

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For more information about infant CPR, please visit: http://www.babycenter.com/0_infant-first-aid-for-choking-and-cpr-an-illustrated-guide_9298.bc

Why All Black Collegiate Athletes Should Transfer and Choose HBCUs by J. Anyabwelé

This post was written by guest blogger, J. Anyabwelé

StoryOU’s antebellum loving fraternity reminded me of one of the greatest epiphanies or lessons I ever received.  Nearly 30 days before I graduated b-school, my Guyanese supply chain professor and I were discussing where and/or what job offer I was planning to take.  During that conversation I mentioned to him I was leaning towards the most unattractive offer (on paper) because of the support system I perceived to be there.  My one-over-one manager was an alumnus of the same business school and had already told me that if I came, he would take me under his wing; my HR manager was black, my direct line manager was black, and the department VP was also black.   My professor, Dr. Benjamin, began to get extremely excited for me and mentioned to me, “Javonte that is a great outlook on this situation because you have no idea how amazing a feeling it will be to go to a workplace where race is not an issue.  It is the most amazing feeling to know that if you are horrible at your job, it is only because you suck and no other reason!”

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Dr. Benjamin was a gregariously proud, tall, and commanding presence of a black man who grew up in Guyana, a small country that was obviously his biggest source of pride.  Throughout my time under his tutelage I learned that Guyana (a black country where the first president was a proud black man as well, a fact I also learned from him) sported the world’s greatest literacy rate and other cool tidbits of black excellence that I would have not been readily privy to in a place where race would be an issue.  Dr. Benjamin lived a full life on three continents prior to his untimely passing.  He knew South America, Europe, and North America very well.  He knew the dichotomy in feelings of being in a country or corporation or classroom where race was and was not an issue.  He valued the latter more.  He was happy that I could continue to experience the type of cultivation I received at my HBCU in my corporate career as well.

That cultural cultivation is the greatest single reason for my success in all aspects of my life.  It is also why I implore all involved in deciding if an HBCU is the answer for their college experience, to GO!!! Don’t even think about it, just simply go!!! Specifically to the ball players, I beseech you!! Take up your own bucket and cast it down where you ought to be, as Booker Taliaferro Washington once proselytized.  After all, do you really have a better college experience if you deal with the constant cloud of unconsciousness around race and social constructs that are so prevalent at white universities?  Do you face the same oft-times felonious accusations that can range from rape to theft to race baiting at HBCUs as you do at PWIs?  How about feeling inadequate? Or feeling that you aren’t from the majority population yet left to feel down right wrong and bad and almost villainous for choosing to be a part of your black student union?  These things just don’t happen at HBCUs. band-FAMU What does happen at HBCUs is an extreme source of pride that is taught through text and trials in cultural participation and, well, partying!  Yes, the parties are worth noting.  One of the mandatory stops on the African American Cultural Express will most undoubtedly include an HBCU homecoming!

Culture is not supplemental, it’s elemental.  It guides our value systems and ethos; it allows us to reach up to heights unseen for those of us who couldn’t see.  It provides us with the refreshing water that Booker T. anecdotally described in his famed aforementioned speech.  Kellen Winslow, Sr. was well aware of this and decided to ensure his son, Kellen Winslow Jr., was aware of this too.  In 2001, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel ran a segment oklahoma-fraternity-racist-videoon Sr.’s involvement with what his highly recruited, blue chip, Southern California bred son’s school choice would be.  “I told him to take a look around,” Kellen Sr. said. “Thumb through the media guides and see how far you have to turn before you get to a person of color. And if you don’t see people  that look like you, there’s a problem. There has to be some reason behind it.”  The problem can often morph into pent up frustration, anger, and resentment because one can feel out of place, and sometimes, as in the case at OU, not welcomed.

Throughout the year’s this HOF TE’s assessment stuck with me.  While steering his teenage black son’s choice in which university to play football, HBCU football programs were not at all a part of the conversation.  In the third year of my matriculation through my beloved HBCU, I couldn’t understand why there was no push for this.  If you wanted to fix the problem of representation in the coaching staff, the faculty, the students, hell even the beautiful women (which was by far the most important thing to me outside of the academics as a college junior), all HBCUs could solve that problem.  If the problem was potentially feeling inept, inadequate, in a minority, unwelcome, distraught, frustrated, angry, resentful, or in any way less than during your coming-of-age years, there is a cure for all of these ailments.

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One day we will wake up and realize that our own is not only good enough for us, but most times, downloadthe best for us.  It was the best for all of those who had to go prior to integration.  The list of names is long and ranges from heads of state to hall of famers.  The idea that you cannot have an environment that will truly love the athlete and get them exposure is just not true.  The entire point of me writing this is to strongly suggest to the athlete and parent of these athletes, that a HBCU is also right and best for you!  Wouldn’t it be great to thrive in an environment where you know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that race is not an issue, where your cultural growth and understanding is not supplemented but an important part of your natural environment, where you will be embraced with a pride much greater than in how well you jump or shoot or pitch or dribble??? It’s time to come home.


-Javonté Anyabwelé

The Signs, The Symptoms, The Sinking Ship

The Signs, The Symptoms, The Sinking Ship

sinking_ship_by_q80designer-d5h56d9My aunt had recently commemorated her fiftieth birthday by getting a tattoo, something contrary to her prudish and inhibited nature. It was to symbolize her belated rebellion against what was deemed normal and appropriate. She called me, excited to share the news, and I thought for a moment I was speaking with one of my adolescent students. Her voice was full of vigor and exuberance. She was ready, she said, to really begin living and to release herself from the bondage of fear and restrictions. I was elated to hear this zeal and life in her voice. Our conversations usually consisted of her expressing feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and disgust with herself and me trying to share the beautiful image of her that I saw, that I’ve always seen.  It often felt awkward and uncomfortable to be the cheerleader and encourager for someone who’d had much more experience in living. But, the further I stretched into adulthood and its archetypal matriculations, the more I played this role of niece, confidante, and counselor.

Some time later, after a few missed calls, failed attempts to reach her, and random exchanges of text messages, she called me to tell me she was on the way to Tampa, and wanted to see me and meet her first and only (at the time) great-niece.  It was a sporadic trip with some of our distant cousins to go to an amusement park. She was simply tagging along for the sole purpose of seeing my father, her older brother, and her nieces and nephew. They would only be there for the day apparently and would be driving back to Atlanta very early the following morning.

In this same conversation, she reminded me that she was engaged again (this would be her third marriage), and that she wanted to talk to me about the wedding when we met. These type of offhand plans were common, so I was neither surprised or expectant. Something usually happened to deter the scheduled program. I informed her that I was attending an event, and even invited her to come along, and that I would call her as soon as it was over to meet if she chose not to attend.

She never came or answered my call, and I had missed several of hers during the event.Hall_Grad_Pics 017 I kept calling that evening and well into the morning, but there was never a response. Months went by without an exchange until news of my brother’s graduation from Morehouse became all the buzz. Despite any inconsistencies, she was extremely supportive of my siblings and I, and had traveled near and far to attend most of our major life events, excluding my wedding. I know now that her absence there was an indication of far greater problems than financial. I fully expected her to join us as we watched my brother cross the stage and join the ranks as “Morehouse Man.” We’d connect as though a day hadn’t passed between conversations as usual I thought.

We spoke a few weeks before I traveled to Atlanta and once again, she was rhapsodic. But, as the date neared, she became less and less so and infrequently accessible. Conversations had always been full of highs and lows.  This was a season of lows. She had lost her job, her car had been repossessed, her mother (my Big Mama) had fallen ill and she had no way of visiting her regularly. All she had was this fiancé that I hadn’t met. I thought that by seeing us, she would feel and be better, like every other time.

She didn’t make it to graduation. I constantly looked over my shoulder and called and sent text messages to no avail.  I was worried, but I put the absence in the file of inconsistencies, as did everyone else. We chose to be happily distracted by the occasion. depression

It was about a month later when I got the call. She had been rushed to the hospital and placed on a respirator, where she stayed for about a week, while my father pleaded with God and physicians to prevent the eminent.  The next time I saw her, her face had been colored with cosmetics, which she never wore. After a vicious battle with depression that used alcohol as a weapon, she succumbed. Her fiancé, whom I finally met at her funeral, admitted to supplying her with a full bottle of whatever she requested every single day for months. “I couldn’t tell her ‘no’,” he mumbled, “I loved her.”

i-cant-keep-calm-cause-i-love-my-auntie-I stared idly at her bloated, lifeless body that failed to look like the woman I knew and loved, and more like a mannequin used in crime dramas. I looked for a semblance of the woman, who’d equally been my confidante as I’d been hers, in her face but was only greeted with a placid smile that had been forced and sculpted by a stranger’s hands.

I kept trying to remember the last time I saw her. A question still left unanswered. I can only remember the last time I should have, when I chose a meaningless activity over making my way to her. I didn’t fully understand depression then or when I first experienced the devastation of it myself. I can’t say I fully understand it now. But I do know, it’s not a demon to face alone; even though it tries to convince you otherwise. We are all carriers of light and darkness and can be overtaken by either one at any time. Our obligation is to care for our spirits and each other’s.  We are to bask in that light as often as possible, share it with others whether we think they need it or not, and find the courage to SPEAK when our light becomes dim.

Ticking Clock

calendar-numbers-dateThe end is near, and I’m not ready. April 30th marks my husband’s last day working for the company. We have one month afterwards to leave before the police come knocking. Singapore does not allow foreigners to just live here without a commercial purpose that benefits the country in some way. Basically, it’s count down time, but I’m far from prepared.

This should be the time of deciding and finalizing, planning and organizing. Months before our move to Singapore, we had checklists by the week to complete. We were excited about our transition and became mission oriented and strategic as soon as the move was confirmed. Now, we’re <<I’m>> ambivalent and procrastinating the inevitable. Without a mandated location, the plethora of options has become a weight rather than a relief.

imageIf it were just my husband and I….if all of our family members were well and secure….if “ifs” were worth entertaining, we’d probably move to Ghana, or SouthAfrican-schoolroom Africa, or hop from country to country or state to state three months at a time to avoid frigid winters. We’d buy rental properties in each place and use the passive income to build a network of African-centered schools to eradicate the educational inequities that plague the disenfranchised across the globe, especially in the pockets of urban America.

We’d be frivolous and hire a personal nutritionist, chef, and trainer that traveled with us to ensure our longevity and make love in every country code. You know, just to stay in shape. I’d write novels, short stories, and plays while sunning in the sand and stick WritingBeside-theBeach-960x565my toes in the waters of every beach, while he’d find every hut, shack, or family-owned restaurant that served the cultural delectables of the city that hosted whichever jazz, hip hop or soul concert he was attending at the time. We’d perform in backwoods churches and overflowing theaters three or four times a week just to spread the message of hope, resilience, and Coming-to-Americarevolution. We’d truly take our freedom papers, multiply them, and spread the spirit of freedom all over the world. We would get it in!!! IF…..

But alas, it is not just he and I. It’s he, she, he, and me.  We both have aging parents and in the books of failing health, we have one and a possible. We’re already at the stage of caring for our children and our elders simultaneously. Truth is, we only had two years when we didn’t have both. Heeding to the twin bellows of obligation and responsibility, we’ve decided it’s time to go back to the U.S.; a decision I’m torn about daily…..