Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hopes for a Better Year in 2010

For some of us, 2009 was a horrendous year. Most of my friends are making it, but a few have lost their jobs and their sources of income. We help each other out with coffee cards, meals, and get togethers. This sort of help, while not major, lends in maintaining some degree of continuity and hope, I suppose. I recall that in 2004 when I was laid off from the University of Michigan, my greatest pleasure was my morning coffee at the Starbucks on Washtenaw. While this pleasure might have seemed like an indulgence I could ill afford, it did provide me with the reserve needed to continue seeking employment, rearing my child, and remaining hopeful. More important, though, maintaining my routine of my morning coffee helped me to remain in touch with friends and acquaintances who were always willing to help me out. Steve Carpman helped me move my 2,000 or so books out my office and stored them in his barn (heated, cooled, and ventilated--what a barn); Ramsey Jiddou provided me with an opportunity to learn mortgage brokering and with someplace to go in the mornings after I drank my coffee; and Nicole and her four kids gave me all the laughter I needed to mitigate what seemed to be an overwhelming experience. I had been unemployed before, but never with a child to support. Needless to say, I was scared shitless, and I was doubly afraid that my unemployment would prompt my son's father to seek custody. So no matter what, I had to appear to be stable even if I had only child support and unemployment to carry me until I found a job.

I weathered that storm as I see my friends weathering their storms. The most positive aspect of being in metro DC is that work is always available. Unlike in Michigan, you do not have to be chronically unemployed in metro DC, although you can find yourself underemployed and working two or three jobs to meet your living expenses. This is what I have taken to doing to meet the cost of living and pay my child's tuition. I feel that I am lucky though because I could still be in Michigan and the situation could be a lot graver. My goal is that my attitude towards work and my situation will shift. While I cannot control the economy, I can control how I respond to life's challenges. I tell my son this all the time, as my parents told me; so now I have to embrace what I already know. But sometimes it is very hard.

My son and I talked about how the older generation views his generation. He mentioned that far too many of the elders always remind his generation how they are not amounting to anything, yet these same elders do not offer any support or help to the people in his generation. He says that he and his friends discuss this all the time. I must mention that he and his cadre of African American male friends are either at the university or working full time. None of them are slackers, and I marvel at their commitment to their education and work, a level of commitment that I know I did not possess at their age. My son and I discussed possible remedies. He stated that he would like to see more of the elders mentoring young men in his generation and overall lending a helping hand. We also discussed the lack of presence of Howard alumni in the lives of students as a perfect example of the failure to give back to the community. We know that some alumni do give back, but my son concluded that far too many Howard students are left on their own to fend for themselves. That given the historical relevancy of Howard University and the success of so many Howard alumni, he concluded that alumni need to be more assertive in their assistance to and mentoring of Howard students. I suggested that he draft a letter to the board of trustees and alumni association expressing his concerns.

The semester begins on Monday for my son and I: he as a student, me as a professor. For some reason this year, we are both dreading returning to the university. Perhaps it was the snow storm. Perhaps the break was too short. Either way, I am feeling worn out and so is my son. We both want 2010 to be a better year, not because we are wedded to the idea of progress, but we both had our own challenges in 2009 and do not want a repeat performance. Only time will tell as we focus and make our way through another year.