The duality of human existence: more than just black and white

 

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May 2018

In the event of Kanye West saying “slavery was a choice” and people we looked up to such as Morgan Freeman being accused of sexual harassment, we have to acknowledge the duality of human existence. A person can be a great musician, actor, co-worker etc but still be a less than perfect human. When we revere people to the extent of unrealistic adoration, we are bound to be disappointed because no one can ever live up to such expectations.

In the words of Tupac, “ a role is something people play and a model is something people make. Both of those things are fake.” I think it’s okay to have a role model for a specific facet of their life but not for their entire being. For example, we can admire Michael Jackson for his work ethic but not for his other life choices. We can admire Kevin Hart for his humor but not for his infidelity. When we realize that people are more complex than what we see with our eyes, we allow them to make their choices and have their peace.

I was watching an interview of Keke Palmer on the Breakfast Club radio show. Let me just say Keke is able to dissect being human so well for a person who is just 24 years old. In the interview, she discusses going through depression and growing up in the limelight. Her most interesting discussion for me is when she recalls the first time that her parents fell short of her expectations. She wasn’t trying to throw her parents under the bus. She was simply making the point that everyone is bound to disappoint us at one point or another. However, the greatest disappointment is when our parents first let us down. It’s not until that we are adults that we are realize that our parents are just human and were trying to do their best when raising us.

So to drive the point home, It’s important to recognize the complexity of human nature. It’s important not to harbor hate or judgment towards someone because of his or her life decisions. Everyone is going through life without a road map just like you. Nobody is perfect, including you, so don’t expect perfection (even from yourself). This post feels like a TED talk or therapy session, I’ve been avoiding writing this one for a while but I am glad that it finally came together in my head.

As always, thanks for reading. 🙂  ❤

Why my brother’s graduation means so much to me

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Stephen’s Graduation May 2018

            Words cannot express how grateful I am to God for bringing my family so far through the ups and downs of life. When we achieve such great things as a graduation, we realize even more that the downs of life are worth it. I don’t regard myself as a preacher in any way but sometimes you come to realize that your life is a testimony of grace, patience, perseverance, and blessings. My younger brother graduated yesterday with an engineering degree which did not come easy. Late nights studying, sometimes having to hire tutors, working part time, and consulting other engineering graduates were all part of the hustle. But one thing I admire about my little brother (who looks much older than me) is that he never complains through it all. Whining is a word that is not in his vocabulary.

            The greatest thing I admire about my brother is his ability to network. Put him in a room of people and two things will probably happen: 1. He’ll realize he already knows somebody in the room and 2. He’ll end up making several new connections. His namesake Stephen Juma Mawia (our maternal grandfather) was a politician so I think he got this trait from him. Despite this ability to make new friends, Stephen always keeps his day 1 friends close and knows the difference between a friend vs an acquaintance. Simply stated Stephen is an emotionally intelligent person.

            As much as I am applauded for my intellect especially in terms of achieving a doctor of pharmacy degree, my younger brother is much more emotionally intelligent than I am. Some people are born with a warm soul and I believe Stephen is one of them. I pray that he may maintain his good nature and young spirit through the ups and downs that face him in his life. As I will look to him as my inspiration to be a better person. 🙂 ❤

Graduation jitters: how to remain calm while graduating from college

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PharmD Graduation 2017

As a recent grad of pharmacy school (representing class of 2017), I can definitely sympathize with those who are graduating this season. My younger brother is actually the one who suggested I write on this topic as he is graduating in a few weeks. I instantly jumped on writing this post because I believe that it can help put things in perspective for upcoming graduates. I think the main issues that affect prospective graduates are the following: job search stress, independence stress, and anxiety of what they could have done differently in school. Therefore, I’ll break down this post in those three categories. Let’s begin.

 

Job Search Stress: I think this is one of the greatest stresses that one can experience at any point in their life but especially after graduating. Most of us are taught, if you have good grades you won’t have trouble finding a job. This is not completely true as connections end up being the greatest resource in finding a job. I personally didn’t apply for jobs until I was done with my pharmacy board exams because I didn’t want to be rushed to work while studying. Once I started applying 2 out of the job offers I got were due to having a connection who already worked for said company. I actually didn’t end up working for those two companies because I got a better offer but that’s a story for another time. The main takeaway point is that connections aren’t absolutely necessary but they do help. As such, try to network as much as you can during your final semester and even after you graduate (LinkedIn is a great place to start). The greatest advice is to keep calm and carry on. If you’re stressing, then you won’t be relaxed at your interviews which will lead to you not performing well. Take time to do things that make you happy so you’re not obsessing over finding a job. Eventually you will get one because the law of probability will be in your favor, the more you apply. If you need job interview tips, please refer to my previous post on this topic.

Independence stress: When we’re about to graduate, it is common to dream about making lots of money, having a fabulous apartment, car, clothes, etc. However, the reality is most of us don’t have enough money saved up or might not get a million-dollar salary to live that lifestyle. So it’s okay to stay in your lane until you can work yourself up to that lifestyle. It’s okay to move back in with your parents (not spending more time with family is something a lot of people regret). I currently live with my parents which I enjoy because I lived away from them for 6 years in pharmacy school. This also allows me to save money so that I’ll be more capable to live the lifestyle I want when I eventually move out. Before I got a job, I was depending on my parents for the most part and that is okay to do because starving yourself is not an option. I will say that I do have parents who are strict and would limit your independence significantly so I can totally understand not living with your parents as well. I am pretty fortunate that my parents aren’t the typical iron fist type of African parents.

Anxiety: I definitely had anxiety during my undergraduate graduation. First of all, I started picking apart every move that I made in college. I convinced myself that I didn’t do enough even though I was in a rigorous pharmacy program. I started signing up for almost every event during my last semester in efforts to make up for lost time. I ended up being very worn out because of that and was not in good health emotionally, mentally, and physically (my parents literally kept forcing to me eat when I came home that summer). The take away point is if you live in the past, you’ll become depressed. If you live in the future, you’ll become anxious. So the solution is to live in the present and do the best that you can for yourself now. Your dream life isn’t built in a day let alone in your 4 , 5, 6, or 8 years of college, be patient and build it slowly. And to be very philosophical, if you are always grateful for what you have in the moment then you’ll always be living your dream life.

Congrats class of 2018! May you prosper and take your life by its reins. 🙂 ❤

All the best!

Sincerely,

Mercy Rodah

My thoughts on Black History Month

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Steve Biko- one of the martyrs of South African Apartheid

As someone who had to take an Introduction to African American History course in college to actually learn more than the few paragraphs of black history that we learn in Elementary and High school, I have come to appreciate any opportunity that presents more learning about the history of my race. Of course, in Kenya I did learn Kenyan history and we didn’t have a month devoted to that as we are all Kenyans there. So in comparison, I find Black History Month to not be enough as a significant portion of history has been lost or hidden (I think hidden is more appropriate because if I could learn a lot more in college, a lot more can be taught at all levels of schooling).

My experience with Black History Month, especially in high school, was that we would discuss the same ten people every year (Martin Luther King Jr, Madame CJ Walker, Rosa Parks, and I am sure you can name the rest). I don’t understand why Black History Month needs a poster boy: MLK and poster girl: Rosa Parks. I think each year we should try to highlight more and more African Americans that we have never heard of, such as Robert Smalls who became a sea captain during the civil war which led President Lincoln to accept black soldiers in the war. I had to go to college to learn about Robert Smalls as well as about the black bourgeoisie and the industrial prison complex which constitutes modern day slavery of minorities who are disproportionally imprisoned as compared to whites (if you don’t believe me read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander).

This year I celebrated Black History Month by watching I Am Not Your Negro which highlights James Baldwin’s involvement in the civil rights movement and his relationships with the key figures of that time, namely Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. I also watched Hidden Figures during Christmas which helped me to learn about other black women who contributed to NASA’s advancements (as I already knew about Mae Jemison who was the first black female astronaut and is included in that list of the 10 people we hear about every black history month). Maybe if I had learned about Katherine Johnson, the mathematical genius behind the calculations for the trajectories to the moon, I would have been inspired to choose a career in Math or engineering instead of health sciences. However, the movie was inspiring to me even as a pharmacy major where there are not many black students at my school and it sometimes feel like we have to work twice as hard to get the same acknowledgement. Hidden Figures definitely touched my heart on several levels including the balance of career and family that we women often have to worry about. During moments of wanting to give up, I now tell myself that if these women could achieve what they did in segregation era, I can also find a way.

And that’s exactly why I think learning about other characters in the scheme of black history is so important. We need continuous inspiration and therefore, we must widen the spectrum of black history from the 10 key figures that we always talk about to the infinite number of characters that we can learn about.

I don’t think this is the appropriate time to reveal that I also watched Get Out yesterday and despite the era of a black president, racists do exist and the use of black people as vessels of labor, tools stripped of their humanity, is not new. However, the movie is just so well-written and nuanced that I recommend everyone to watch it. Sure it is a horror film and has nothing to do with black history, except for the fact that similar gruesome things have happened to black people throughout history but I won’t mention which since that might give away the story.

As we are now in March and Black History was quintessentially awarded the shortest month of the year, I do hope that all of you were able to learn something new this year about someone other than the aforementioned 10 figures that we usually reuse and recycle. If not, why not use the rest of the year to do the same as time is in fact relative.

“Stiff necked fools” ft race in America

-originally written July 21, 2010

So this post is sort of dedicated to the teacher I have been helping along with Martin at the Art Museum. By the way, this is not a good dedication. Not that I don’t like the teacher in fact I do, let’s call him Mr.Brown cause he is brown (no offense intended). Anyway it was something that he said that caught my attention( and not in a good way). Ok, so i am just setting up the paint station, Martin- who happens to be white- is out of the room at the moment and he says to me “Mercy, how is it dealing with black kids when you are so smart”. So at that moment i’m like wait a second is that what i just heard from this black person. So i know he was referring to African Americans in general when he mentioned black people since we are in America. So my response was that ever since I had been living here, I have gone to school for smart people (i.e. magnet schools -google for reference). So irregardless of race, we were all there to learn. Sure there was the bullies but mainly those bullies bullied out of jealousy of my intelligence like when I would teach the class a shortcut I had discovered for a Math question. So we went on talking where he stated “all these black children here are just lazy, don’t want to use their brains”. What i wanted to say was “that’s a generalization and i think it’s unfair to make that statement considering there are black children who work hard in school”. But what i said was “true. but I usually don’t surround myself with those people. I usually hang out with foreigners or children of foreigners”. But recently, I have started hanging out with the black kids of my IB college program and these are people who are fully committed to success like me. So anyway, back to Mr.Brown. The conversations transitions  to talking about the diversity in our schools. Martin goes to a private school-primarily white- and says that he wishes that even though he is friends with a Nigerian and Korean, he wishes there was more diversity.

Anyway when I went home, I started thinking about this more especially how one of the black ladies in charge of the black kids at the museum had asked me where I was from because I talk different-“like a white person”. And black people always try to mock me for not talking like them- despite the fact that I am black. So this led me to the revelation that race doesn’t define anything except your race. It doesn’t define how you walk, dress, eat, talk, laugh, drive,..anything. But why do people make it that way. Obviously it’s the environment. Look at Eminem for example he’s a white person but raps and talks like a black person from the inner city while in society he’s not supposed to rap or talk like that. But where  Eminem came from people rapped and talked like that and now so does he. So i am sick and tired of these people who look at you and put you in a box. “OH, you’re black- go into the black box where you behave this way”. But many people don’t fit into those boxes. Like me for example. Like, why would someone expect me to speak like an African American when I AM AFRICAN! It annoys me. I spoke British English before I got here, not ebonics English. And when i started to live here, I didn’t move into the inner city and I didn’t go to a inner city school. So why in the hell do people expect me to speak like I am from the inner city. Because of the color of my skin?! Honestly, those stiff necked fools “can have several seats” (slang for sit down and shut up). So my Kenyan people, if you’re planning to come to America at some point you should be ready to face color based discrimination.  In conclusion, America is a complicated place.
NB: If you have any questions or remarks please feel free to comment or use the “contact me” section.

In Recognition of Winnie Mandela

There is a saying that “behind every great man, is a woman”, yet that woman rarely every gets the credit she deserves. Nowhere is that more true than in the story of Winnie Mandela. You might think that you already know why but trust me, you don’t know have the full details. Don’t feel bad though. I didn’t have the complete story until I did the research myself in order to compete for $1,000 by delivering a speech on the aforementioned topic. I’ll give you a spoiler and let you know that I won. Whether I deserved to win or not can be decided by you. Here’s the speech for you….enjoy (and give me some feedback, please).

-originally presented on March 2014

>>>Good evening Ladies & Gentleman. I hope you got your thinking caps on because I have couple questions for you. With a show of hands, how many of you know who Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela is? Now how many of you know who Winnie Mandela is? I am sorry to have engaged in trickery to prove a point but Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela and Winnie Mandela are the same person. Now why is it that we fail to recognize her maiden name? Perhaps it is best explained by the belief that “behind every great man is a woman”. The key word in that oh so cliché quote is “behind”. That word “behind” belittles the efforts of great women in history who become overshadowed by their male partners. This is best exemplified in the story of Winnie Mandela whose struggles & contributions towards the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa marked her as a leader in her own right.

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Even before she married Nelson Mandela, Winnie’s name was associated with greatness. In 1955, while South Africa was under apartheid, she rejected a scholarship offer to continue her studies in the United States and instead she became the first qualified black social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. Winnie made this remarkable decision due to her dedication to her people and her desire to improve the conditions in South Africa. Winnie also realized that politics was a tool that could be used to enact change and therefore she became involved in the African National Congress or the ANC. At the time Nelson Mandela was heavily involved with the ANC as the president of the Youth League and naturally, Winnie and Nelson became partners, politically and of course romantically. However, their newly wedded marriage was interrupted in 1964 when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Despite having to raise two young daughters on her own, Winnie was devoted to the anti-apartheid movement and continued working with the ANC. As such, the white-supremacist apartheid government considered Winnie a threat to the status quo. In the government’s efforts to restrain her, Winnie was arrested in 1969 under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. After her arrest she was tortured in solitary confinement for 17 months but even that did not break Winnie. She continued her efforts to end apartheid and was arrested several more times. As such, she became known as a leader and the title “Mother of the Nation” was bestowed upon her.

In 1976 when hundreds of students were killed in uprisings in Soweto, Winnie was placed in house arrest in a remote town due to the government’s fear of retaliation when she formed the Black Women’s Federation and the Black Parents’ Association that sought to empower Black South Africans. While under house arrest in the remote township of Brandfort, she founded a birthing center and a clinic with a local doctor in order to help improve the health conditions in the area since Blacks did not have equal access to health care in apartheid South Africa. Despite house arrest, Winnie also persisted in speaking out against apartheid and in 1981 she made a statement to BBC about the economic power of black South Africans and their ability to crush the system.

During this difficult time of isolation and oppression, she kept the ANC alive and more importantly, she kept Mandela’s memory alive. Winnie did not forget Mandela and she did not let South Africa forget either. When she was released from house arrest and returned to the black township of Soweto, she made sure that Mandela’s name was still relevant in the struggle of freedom and that the people of South Africa still looked to him as a leader. As such, the so-called roles of leadership had been reversed; now Winnie was seen as the great woman and Nelson as the man behind her. She was the “Mother of the Nation”.

Twenty -seven years after his detainment, in 1991 Nelson Mandela walked out of prison with Winnie by his side. Even with his release, Winnie never went back to being the woman behind the great man. She supported him to help him gain favor of the people, as she was now a leader in her own right. In 1993 she was elected president of the ANC Women’s League and the following year, during the 1994 elections, when Nelson was elected president of the free republic of South Africa, she was appointed deputy minister of Arts, Culture, and Science and Technology. This appointment recognized her not only as a leader but also as a freedom fighter securing the liberation of South Africa.

I’m sure you are all aware that Winnie’s reputation is not without controversy. But despite these controversies, we must remember that no leader is perfect, they are human just like us, they have flaws just like us & they make mistakes just like us. Therefore, in light of the accusations against her, we must not forget Winnie’s great contributions to the nation of South Africa & to the world. We must remember her as the woman that is not left behind, we must remember her as the “Mother of the Nation”.<<<

In Memory of Alexandra Johnson

This year has been truly rough. I could end this entry with that sentence but it might take a couple more posts to really explain that all to you. To start the story, I should introduce you to Alexandra Johnson (one of the most beautiful human beings) that I have ever met. She was everything that you could ever want in a friend, a co-worker, a student, a girl, a human being, period. She was kind. She was loyal. She was assertive. She was serious. She was funny.  She was a “role model”.  But let me stop with the one-liners. Let me give you the full story.

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I had the pleasure of meeting “Alex” (as most people called her) during the spring of this year when I worked for a non-profit organization called Let’s Get Ready (google for reference, if you’d like). Let’s Get Ready relies on college students who serve the role of “coaches” by tutoring disadvantaged high school students for the SAT test which serves as one of the standardized tests for entry into college. So as the co-site director of one of the high school programs, I had to recruit these coaches. I’ll admit the process was hard as the coaches are not paid for their services. However, we were blessed with a great group of Northeastern students who wanted or needed to give back to the community. Alex met both of those qualifications. As, a student of color she knew the privilege associated with SAT coaching and how that plays into where people go to college. In addition, she also needed community service hours as she was a recipient of service-based scholarships. This combination made Alex one of the favorite coaches of the program. In fact, she was recognized as coach of the week on one occasion. I nominated her for the award due to her dedication to the program and her creativity in interacting with the students. But I don’t want to bore you with the details. Yesterday, I found a clip of one of the raps she helped a student write when she was coaching him on his SAT vocabulary (if you know the SAT, you know the vocabulary is challenging). To show you just how ingenious she was, please watch the video using the link below (sorry I don’t have the premium version of wordpress to embed videos).

Alex Coach Video

If you’re impressed, that’s not even the half of it. I learned a lot about Alex in the short amount that I got to know her. I don’t know if she would have considered me a friend as I was her supervisor but rest assured, she made a great impact on my life. So, Alex, if you’re listening up there in heaven, just know that you have a friend in me. I hope to see you again someday. Continue resting in peace. Northeastern misses you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep helping others as you dutifully tried to do every single day of our interactions.  ❤ ❤

 

NB: I didn’t include pictures of her because I do not have permission from her family. If anyone knows her family and would like to ask for me, please do so.
Permission has now been obtained from her family.

INCEPTION

-originally written on June 2, 2011

So on MAY 17, 2011 I graduated from HIGH SCHOOL which means I am officially college bound. Ironically it was also my father’s 50th birthday but that was unfortunately overshadowed by my milestone. On the upside, he never remembers his birthday anyway and he still looks like he’s 40 which means I am destined to age slowly (crossing my fingers for no wrinkles since gray hairs do not run in my family). That’s right forget the crap about embracing age and the nature that comes with it (poor eyesight, aching bones, foggy memory etc), i want to be youthful or semi-youthful forever!

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Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Anyway, let’s get back on topic and away from my fear of aging, So in 3 months since school here opens in September, I will be an American campus girl ( allusion to savvy’s Kenyan campus girl which inspired me to start this blog). I am excited to move from Alabama which is not a very vibrant place to Boston which is one of the most lively places in the U.S.  I’ll be attending Northeastern University to study Pharmacy and they have an awesome program that will enable me to become a Doctor of Pharmacy in six years. So can you imagine that, me as a 24 yr old girl ehem woman/lady that will be referred to as Dr.Mercy! I am beyond excited, not so much because of the title “DOCTOR”,  but because of the lifestyle and the flexibility that a pharmacy career offers. I want to first assure you that I am not a GOLD DIGGER but alluding to this phrase that i have recently coined “there’s nothing wrong with being a gold digger if you are digging your OWN gold”.

Either way, like everyone else in this world, I have a dream (MLK voice) where I live without the worry of money. I am not saying I want to be Oprah or Donald Trump rich…I just want to be comfortable. In the U.S. as a single person it is possible to live comfortably on 30K considering you have a normal apartment etc. The starting salary of a pharmacist is between 75-79K and the median salary is 100K which means that this dream will essentially be reality if all goes well. Bring a husband and kids in the picture and a picturesque house and Voila!, that’s the so-called American Dream that you have possibly heard of. Of course kids will come later since by my standard 24 is too young to start a family i am leaning on earliest at 26 and latest at 28. That gives me 2-4 years to settle down, “figure myself out”, and most importantly enjoy my dwindling YOUTH. Also, just so you don’t think I am a self-centered selfish person which isn’t 100% wrong, I plan to come to work with the WHO (World Health Organization) or Doctors Without Borders to facilitate medicine in developing nations. Haven’t worked out how i will do it but I do know that in order to do so, I think I should work in some pharmaceutical development company and somehow guilt them into giving out some of their samples to people in need in developing nations whether it be TYLENOL or some Anti-biotics. Anyway don’t be frightened into thinking that, à la “The Gardener ” (google movie for reference), experimental medicine will be distributed to these poor people as a ploy to use them as guinea pigs. I think the transparency will be the key in making a sustainable impact to the disenfranchised communities that I want to help. I’m all about sustainability in terms of outreach as exemplified by philanthropists such as Bill Gates (who I really look up to, like the rest of the world).

Anyway, this is the most challenging part of my dream because it doesn’t rest solely on my abilities.

the American Dream

After starting a family and raising my kids to the best of my abilities, I plan to retire at the age of 50 or 55 despite the fact that the retirement age in the U.S. is 65. Following my retirement, I plan to return to Kenya and live somewhere nice, maybe Westlands or Nyahururu and maybe try to get a position in the Ministry of Health that actively aims to help people or just start a chain of Pharmacy clinics in Kenya.

Either way something inside me tells me I am destined for greatness and to produce great change…so if Kenya’s government has not gotten its crap together by say 2040 then I with the help of the disillusioned Kenyan masses want to start a revolution where we demand honesty and accountability from the government instead of sitting in front of our TVs and taking whatever they throw at us with our 4 o’clock tea. In essence, I just want to be a part of something that gives back to the country that I owe my entire existence to. I love KENYA and I want nothing but the BEST for it.

So my fellow readers and Kenyans, I apologize for indulging you in 5 paragraphs all about ME although i am guessing that’s what I usually do so in that case Thank You for indulging in 5 paragraphs about my hopes and dreams. I wish you all the best in your dreams and future. And in 50 years I hope to come back and tell you all that everything worked out perfectly despite life’s unending surprises. In the meantime, what are your dreams, and have you achieved them? If not, how do you plan to do so?