Monday, July 21, 2014

STANDING UP TO UNSCRUPULOUS LANDLORDS


WARNING: HOUSE IS HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
Writing this gives me no pleasure, but it does give me some satisfaction. Some might even say that I am bitter because I lost in court on some key points, but that would not be true at all. In fact, I think I had a tremendous victory over the individuals who own and rent this home as it is finally out just how unscrupulous and ruthless individuals can be when they put property over people; when from the beginning, their goal was make it impossible to live in conditions I didn't see in Third and Fourth World countries (places I have been to) and to keep our deposit. So, here's the letter I'm writing and if you are a landlord and see yourself, STOP and think about your integrity and ethics as the foundation of society (or that it should be) and change what are ... very bad habits.

Dear Former Landlord:
      I live and work in Third Ward Houston. I chose to live in this part of Houston for several reasons, but the most important one is because of the work that I do. I also live with my child who works hard every day in providing most of the sustenance that it takes because my work is with a non-profit and my dollars are shorter than hers (by the way, daughter ... thank you). That said, when we found the house that this blog is about, we were ecstatic because it meant I could be close to work (being able to walk on good days) and that I would have a separate dwelling from the house. It never happened.
      Before agreeing to take the house, my daughter and the realtor went through the house where several things were pointed out, including the fact that the air conditioning was not working and several other problems such as doors needing to be replaced, locks fixed. However, what is most interesting is that the walk-through masked bigger problems that weren't realized until after living in the house. Needless to say, the day we moved in, what was promised to be done ... wasn't. Moving is arduous enough, but finding that the air condition didn't work and having to take time off work to wait on the professional to come and fix it should have been the first clue of what we would be up against, especially after closer inspection, we found a plethora of other problems. The place wasn't cleaned, the mother-in-law space smelled like animals. The locks didn't work, a window was broken and we couldn't secure the house starting on day one.
The walk-through of potential tenants is an important step. There are 10 steps that renters should know and do prior to move in. We did them ALL, but when unscrupulous landlords mask problems and hide their intent, insanity ensues. There are remedies, but all in all, the system is slow and costs money. Documenting everything with pictures and letters, calls to realtor and to the landlord (a mother and daughter duo), we realized after two weeks that we didn't want to live there. We did, however, want to live in Third Ward Houston and with the current gentrification, rents are higher and dwellings harder to come by. After sending our FIRST of several certified letters, we were promised that things would be fixed, but then the nightmare really began.
The fixing was slow, but never truly materialized. April was a cold month and we found we had no heat. One night was so cold that it triggered a Lupus attack. Later my RA went into full flair attack, over and over again. Living out of boxes because we could not live there, but were unable to move, was a nightmare. Working through it all, we tried and tried to get you to bring your property up to standards, but in the end you used every tactic (and I'm learning that these tactics are straight out of the slumlord handbook.
And while I can't give this address as we are still adjudicating, I go on record with declaring that your property should not be rented to anyone else. We are not the first tenants to go through this. I am not even the second tenant to go through this. When one learns that the problems you are having are the SAME problems that former tenants had, then something must be done. When the people who work for the landlords are willing to share that the landlord cannot afford to fix this house, God is trying to telling you something. So, it is some small satisfaction that in today's world of internet, the TRUTH can be told.
       After sitting in the courthouse and listening to the judge declare over and over again, "judgement for the plaintiff" in eviction notices because tenants 1) may not have been properly served, or 2) tenants felt that they had no choice, but to give up the apartment or house and not fight the system, I realized that the system doesn't always work and that it is time to give renters a way to stand up to the tyranny of unscrupulous landlords and shady lawyers. Even after hearing from the judge that yes, I had to pay one month's rent, you could say that I was angry, but I get it. Her hands were tied as most justices of the peace are in small claims court in Houston, Texas. Even though the landlord had unscrupulously served me at a house I didn't live in, I was considered served because I accidentally found out about it before the court date. But, I hand it to the judge. She didn't award attorney's fees and she didn't allow those other costs that they tried to attribute to us. It was cut and dry, so to speak, but it did give me more to stand on than I realized. 
      We are pursuing this with everything at our disposal legally, including writing about it here to educate tenants of their rights. Moreover, the stories from the former tenants need to be shared to substantiate that this is an unscrupulous pattern of doing business. At some point, someone needs to create a more comprehensive way for tenants to fight against this system of greedy landlords and you should know that several members of the community are working to do just that. The major problem is that there does need to be more affordable housing and while I am able to pay a higher rent, many are not. And when rent is a huge chunk of your income and landlords have overpriced the property and then won't bring it up to basic standards, many just cut their losses and move. If I am going to pay premium prices for housing, I am going to live in a house worth that price.      
        You are not the first landlord to seem to get away with bad behavior, but know that BAD BEHAVIOR CANNOT BE REWARDED forever. Karma has a way of evening things out and in the end, JUSTICE MUST BE SERVED. Count on it.

     

Thursday, November 28, 2013

COLOR ME ...


“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks
for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” 

Today, like every Thanksgiving, I stop and acknowledge what I am thankful for … well, because that's what Thanksgiving has been about to me. It is a time of reflection and a day of rest usually with family, but not always my biological one. I have shared this day in different parts of America, with several different faiths, but home is where the heart is. I am grateful that I am home with my children and other family because it is time to bring what I've gathered back to those at home.

When one travels as I have, doing the work that I felt called to do, learning about different cultures and faiths, I realize that Thanksgiving should not be about Turkey or celebrating the Pilgrims when we know that 1) some people don't eat meat, and 2) that the Pilgrims decimated tribes across this land. More, we know that established holidays are sometimes built on lies and challenges. I think of events that say "peace" but offer the challenges that make us uncomfortable. 

I know of holidays across the globe that are very important to me and I'm not being politically correct when I say that I share these holidays with friends of those faiths or cultures. Why? Well, it is because that is what I do. It is what I've learned in my travels. So, today the graphic is a black and white picture of the bounty of food and I'm hoping that you print it out and COLOR IT THANKFUL. From me to you. I am thankful for each and everyone of you today and every day!

Peace.


Monday, November 4, 2013

When Life Stops You ...

or seems to, remember what matters to the heart.


This weekend, I found myself disappointed ... at a critical time in the work I've been doing. I think of myself as a person who "hears" because I "listen"--but I realize now that I have to reevaluate that belief. While I'm sure of my intentions, I don't always convey them. 

In 2002 and 2004, my life turned on its axis. First, I lost my first-born granddaughter. I felt ripped apart and I just knew that it was a pain I would always feel. More than 10 years later, I find that I think of my granddaughter often, especially when her brother is around. I wonder about the what ifs ... if she had survived is the biggest what if, but there are others as well. I got through it (or rather I get through it when I have those pangs of regret). What I do know is that I would not change her being born or the time I had with her. And I know that if I had known I only had 7 days with her - well, I'd take every one of those days, hours, and seconds, too.

Of course 2004 was a little different. My mother had prepared me for her leaving, but I resented it very much. Just because I'm the oldest? Well, that wasn't the reason she did. She KNEW that I had to be the one (although I'm still processing why) and she KNEW that I would go over it in my mind for years to come (we know our children, don't we?). Still, it seemed that it was right. She brought me into the world, her first born. And I was with her when she walked into eternity. What a gift. I have what ifs as well. God knows what they are, but I dream of my mother often and not my granddaughter. My mother visits me in my dreams, but my granddaughter is perpetually a baby and in my heart.

Processing our lives is a life-long adventure. Like this last week. I thought I was giving someone a chance to see it my way, to get on board with the bigger vision. And I failed because it became about "my" vision, "my" wants and not the whole. And maybe that is why after falling into my bed early last night, waking up filled with mucus, head and chest hurting, that I think it was what happened last night that makes me evaluate whether my health is tied to my disappointments, especially when they come on the heal of the other. Am I reading the signs? Am I paying attention? Is what I hear really being said, or what happens?

We started ICDesignSTUDIO in June 2013. I had been working on it since 2011--the idea of teaching marketing, public relations, and graphic design as a skills set for working in community. I've evaluated it, gotten feedback, and it seemed that I have the support--but truly, I don't have it like I thought I did. Which says to me, that I heard it wrong, I got it all mixed up.

When I am sick, I dream. A lot. One dream figures into the other and I know that these dreams are trying to tell me something. And so, I created the design you see above. Disappointments come and go. I have a plethora of them. That's life. Still, I can't let disappointment continue to knock me on my ass. Can't say that it is the disappointment that does it, however. Not really. What happens is that what I am hearing is not what is being said. I'm working towards what I hear and not what is being said, and that means that I've worked harder in vain for what will not be than what will. It's a rare moment in time, but clarity does come when you stop long enough to grasp it.

Tonight, I'm a little stiff, a little woozy, but clear. You can count on it. And with clarity comes a new way of doing things. It is not a warning for anyone, but it is a resolve. I'm resolved to do what matters to my heart and working with young people, giving them the tools that in the end will create a better world is my soul's calling. Like the quote I found in the Swaziland annals: If you say it can't be done, move out of the way of the person who is doing it.

Finding out that there are those who would see me fail or fall doesn't bother me as much as believing that they do. When you find out that they don't ... let them go. Don't let the person who says it can't be done, make you believe it, too. We moving forward. The graphic above was my clarity and it is just the beginning. 

By the way--if you don't want to be run down--move out the way. I'm on the road again. Tomorrow is a brand new day!

Peace

Monday, September 16, 2013

TURN AROUND ...

Might be your last chance.
The news today brought down the rain of terror and bigotry and anger and frustration and we ate it like corn dogs on a stick. Not good for you, but you're hooked on 'em anyway. Did you know that the new Miss America is an Arab?

No, she's not. She's a terrorist.

Wait, that's not right either.

And Mr. Chance shot up people today. Oh, yeah, that horrible man.

What?

He didn't?

He DID NOT. They got that wrong, too.

And does it matter anymore who does the killing these days? Will he or she represent every person that looks like him or her or will they represent the person who believes that it is okay to kill, that guns are cool, and Stand Your Ground means no one else gets to stand theirs?

Today, I remember telling my father that if Bess Myers could be Miss America (because she was tall, not white or black) that I could, too, and my father saying, "Yes, you can," because he wanted me to know I could be anything I wanted to be ... what every parent should do.

Then, while sitting here, trying to put my pennies together for something good to happen in my studio and having someone tell me who I am, wanting me to accept a label they designed and tried to press upon my forehead, I decided to fight for what I know and believe in. If you want to discourage me, then you are shit out of luck.

I could tell you that I'm frustrated. I could tell you I'm hurt. I could tell you that I've had enough and that I will do something about it. But, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and so I say "ENOUGH!" Or as Tayto said today when we're were stomping to the "If you're happy and you know it" song--STOP! I'm saying, STOP. Turn Around, America.

YES. So, turn around America ... we're made up of people galore, the abundance of unplanned creation that we are not just white, black, brown, yellow or red or the colors mixed together that make more Americans of different hues than before. Nothing stays the same and if we'd just turn around we might find that we've finally grown into a Nation we can all call our own--then perhaps I did something good today.

Where are you going, America, America ...
Where are you going, my country, my home?

Turn around from segregation
Turn around from Jim Crow
Turn around, and we're a Nation of People Galore

Turn around, turn around,
Turn around and we're a Nation of All People Galore

Where are you going, America, America ...
Where are you going, my country, my home?

Turn around from hateful speech
Turn around from divisive talk
Turn around and a Strong Nation for all is in reach.

Turn around, Turn around,
Turn around and a Strong Nation for all is in reach!

Peace

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Next Sixty Years

Little Perri Kathryn, Age 3 months
On this day, sixty years ago, I came into the world. I know my mother had these incredible hopes for her firstborn. First, that I be healthy. I was (at a little over 8 pounds). Second, that I grow up morally and with a sound mind. I did. And lastly, I believe, that I do what I was called to do. Well, finally I’m getting that part right.
As the clock turns in my life, I find myself thinking not so much of the past sixty years (although I have thought of them), but the next sixty years. “Why?” you might ask. Am I planning on living another sixty years? In some ways the answer to the second question is yes, but not how you might think. Whether I am able to live another sixty years, I can’t say. I know that in this first six decades, I didn’t always take care of myself and so that might or might not shorten my lifespan. I smoked at one point (although I didn’t smoke much and it was more than twenty years ago). I started gaining weight after age 40 and that has some bearing on my health today. Or, I could be run over by a car. But whether I am here physically or not, I WILL have an impact on the next sixty years because it will be intentional.
My mother and grandmother both talked to me about the call on one’s life. My mother believed that had it not been for Dr. Perry Priest, a man for whom I am named, and who my grandmother took care of as a baby and then later took care of his babies, she would not have been a nurse. Her highest goal was to finish high school and get a job, but she said, “God had different plans for my life.” She believed that God used Dr. Priest to help her to know that she was smart and quite capable of going to and finishing nursing school. My mother was aware that school wasn’t an easy goal for any woman in the 1940s, but for a black woman—almost impossible.
Dr. Priest made it happen, however. My mother did the rest. With a generous stipend along with the money for tuition, my mother was able to finish nursing school. Later, she went on to work as a registered nurse and even pursued more education at age 50. From that one gift in 1947 to my mother, more than sixty years of Walthall-McCary family members have become medical professionals, educators, and engineers. Dr. Priest isn’t here to see it, nor is my mother for that matter. But his gift has been far-reaching. What I am learning today is that we have to expand our thinking when it comes to our choices. When giving my mother the gift of an education, Dr. Priest’s only concern was that by giving my mother this gift, she would be able to always take care of my grandmother, a woman he loved dearly. That was the promise he extracted from my mother, in fact. She did and she also did so much more.
I intend to take a page from my mother’s life and start making decisions that aren’t based on just the now, but the tomorrows—whether I am here or not. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. What I know, however, is it isn’t just about me. It IS about my children and grandchildren. And, it is about those that I come in contact with, whose lives I impact, even when I don’t know it. Imagine, if you will, how what you do today can affect the next 7 generations. Can you see how your life can impact the next 100 or 120 years? I call it the power of 7. Well, my life right now is an extension of 6 generations before me.  It might include ancestors who were once enslaved on an American plantation or not, but as the 7th generation of those before me who made sacrifices and who may have made mistakes, too, I have a duty to take all of that and do more. Their history is coursing through my veins. I will do my best to take all of that and use it for good. I will take all of that and learn from them, and I will take all of their dreams and hopes for a better future and make it so. Starting with me.
But in being able to do what I’m not only called to do, but what I am going to be intentional about, I know that I cannot do it alone. I’m asking for support—road dogs if you will. But I am asking for more. My dear sisters (and brothers, but especially the sisters), if you would take this journey with me, it would make the journey easier and so much more enjoyable. My friends and family currently on my heels as they age and my friends who heels I’m on as I age, I’m taking the best of each of you with me. We’re of a generation (about 5 to 6 years before or after my birthdate) and have a lot to learn from one other. In addition, our generation is responsible to the ones coming after us (the right now generations as well as the not yet generations). Failing is NOT an option if we put our hearts and minds to it.

“I believe there's a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value
and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware.

And awakened. To answer the call.”
~ Oprah Winfrey ~

So, here’s the hope for our individual calling; that we embrace it and gather it unto ourselves, and that the next sixty years will count us successful.
The world awaits our efforts. Peace!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Human Condition

BIRACIAL ... MULTIRACIAL ... ALL HUMAN BEINGS
The Cheerios commercial is trending these days as biracial and multiracial children are speaking out about seeing "themselves" in marketing ads. But in truth, the beauty of the ad wasn't that Cheerios was trying to build a new market ("Hey, did we forget that not every father and mother are from the same ethnicity? We gotta get us some of them!") Instead, it was about a little girl who wanted her father to live a long time, so she put Cheerios around his heart because she loved him. 
     There were several ways to look at this commercial and most of them valid. What age was the little girl? Five or six? Had she heard something that made her think that her "Daddy" needed some extra loving around his heart? To make his heart stronger? She didn't equate Cheerios with "eating." That might be one way of looking at it, but I'd like to think that the marketing company has more than just white people making up ads these days and that as you get older and wiser, you start looking at all the ways "family" looks like. Smart. Period.
       I never thought of myself as multi-racial. We were simply black. And in many ways, people will see that child as black no matter who her mother is. Same with the President of the United States. He's black although you have those who deny it. Still, I'm not going there. Truth is that race is not "color" ... but I'm not going there either. My mother was considered "dark", my father "light", but look at them and you'll see that's not quite true of either of them. And what did they create? They created a rainbow of colors (we ranged from that "light" to "dark") and we were ALL their children, but what people would say to us is what bothers me most in hindsight.
       Remember this:
White-alright
Black-get back
Brown-stick around
We have not evolved enough to see a wonderful commercial about a little girl and the promise of eating Cheerios. Hey, the Cheerios animated bee does as much for me as this commercial, but we aren't making rude and obnoxious comments about the bee commercial. Only this one. "Disgusting," was one post. "Made me sick," another. What was most wonderful is that the response (from my count) was almost 5 to 1 of those who loved the commercial and wrote off the others' use of profane commentary. Hey, it probably did more to boost sales for Cheerios than anything.
      Are we to believe in a world that doesn't look like any one dominant culture over another? Well, we should because the world has always been this way, just lacked acknowledgement of the fact. Finally, I can feel a sense of progress with the ads that show families as they are, rather than just a dominant culture (nee white) being "cute" and "funny" and inspirational. Today the Cheerios ad represents that acknowledgement and for that I say "Kudos, Cheerios. You do make for healthy hearts."
      

Friday, April 12, 2013

Slavery Was No Accident ... A Response to Brad Paisley


A Response to Accidental Racist

"Never judge a book by its cover," that’s true, but some of us have been “reading” the book a long time and discernment is a trait of those who have. I’m not a youngster, not of your generation, and I won’t tell you all the stories of racism in my life because I’m tired of not only telling the stories, but that the stories continue in the 21st century. So, we’ll take your song line by line and I hope that you hear this with a strong heart, a heart willing to change and to be an example of the change we need here in America.
You ask the man at the Starbucks down on Main to understand that the Rebel Flag T-shirt that you wear honors Lynard Skynyrd rather than the South that once enslaved men, women, and children who looked like him, assuming that the man at the Starbucks was black. I guess I would ask if the Starbucks was located in the South because that’s important, too. I’m from Texas and don’t dislike your flag, I abhor it and what it has represented. It is not a flag to be shared by all. Instead it represents as you so aptly put “proud rebel sons with an ol’ can of worms.”
And I so agree with you that you have a lot to learn because the lessons you’ve learned came from other proud rebel sons. And it is true that until we start learning from one another, the lessons will never be learned. They aren’t easy lessons and they certainly aren’t easy conversations, but I do honor your willingness to try with this song and your collaboration with L. L. Cool J.
I’m not judging you, rather I truly am trying to understand. I believe your song was not written to people who look like me, but to those who look like you who are tired of the racist moniker they are often saddled with. No, not everyone is racist, or their intentions, racist, but you fail to understand that systemic racism is what is alive and well in this country. Look at what our President, yours and mine, endures on a daily basis. You will never understand what it is like to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.  
Brad, I actually like your music, but then I like country as did my mother, by the way. You state that you’re proud of where you’re from, but “not everything we’ve done.” I can honor that pride and your consternation of the things done by your ancestors. As a Texan, I, too, am proud of my roots, but filled with sorrow of its history. And while you are caught between your Southern pride and the Southern blame, knowing that reconstruction did not fix everything … for you it’s only 150 years. For me, it is 600 years to overcome.
You say that your generation didn’t start this nation, but now you must understand something that maybe wasn’t understood before; that what you do today affects SEVEN generations, not just the next. You are actually the seventh generation, and so maybe it’s up to you to fix this, but not just by saying let bygones be bygones. Yes, you’re paying for the mistakes, but we’re living with the wounds as if they happened just yesterday.
What have you learned? What do you know? And by getting an African American man to stand with you, I applaud you, but because of systemic racism, you can’t begin to understand that it is not enough. You also need to understand that L L doesn’t speak for us all, only for himself. You’ve only just begun. One man or twenty, people of your generation talking together is a start. Yes, you should.  But have you considered talking to an elder of the Black Community? Would you be interested in putting yourself in the uncomfortable position of knowing the real pain inflicted on an enslaved people? There are not enough gold chains to overcome the chains of slavery, or the horror that came with enslavement—from separation of families to horrific lynchings.
I guess Accidental Racist is a good beginning, but slavery was not an accident. It was intentional. It was wrong. And it will not be healed with one song. Again, I concede that it is a good beginning.
Where do you go from here? You tell me.

P. K. McCary is a writer and peacemaker living in Houston, Texas. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.