Archive for September, 2011

For fans of Mr. Latimer.

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I saw Mr. Latimer for dinner last night, our first visit since the start of the school year. For his loyal fans, I want you to know that Mr. Latimer is doing quite well. He finished his physical therapy for his bum knee and has lost 15 pounds. He told me, “I’ll let you stay pretty until your cousin’s wedding; then I’ll come to judo and beat you up.” He gave me an phenomenal ice pack as a surprise gift, probably to aid in my recovery after he benevolently inflicts me with pain.


I wasn’t expecting this.

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) sends its students about sixteen billion emails a day. It’s hard to focus in on the ones that actually pertain to me. Late this afternoon, I was about to give yet another email the brush off when I realized the message was telling me that I’d been awarded an SP2  endowment.  I did not apply for this scholarship. I thought it must be some kind of joke. One of those “Hi, I’m a Nigerian Prince and I’m going to scam you with the promise of imaginary money” sort of things. The message said that this particular scholarship goes to a full-time MSW student who is in good academic standing and demonstrates involvement and interest  in SP2. Wait, you’re talking about me?

There are a bunch of these scholarships and fellowships divvied out by SP2, so I expect a number of my classmate have received/will received a similar email. Now, I don’t know many students in the other SP2 degree programs, but I do know that my cohort consists of some of the most intelligent, driven, and compassionate individuals I’ve had the privilege to meet. I respect and admire the hell out of them. Many individuals in the program have genuinely inspired me.  When I made the decision to become more involved in school, their good example served as a motivating factor.

Most of the time, I’m feel as though I’m just methodically plugging away, winning and losing little battles that I imagine only matter to me. That’s a part of why I love the  social work field–it forces me to care about something greater than myself. It makes me try identify what I have that is can be useful to humanity as a whole.  I’m really trying hard to become a good practitioner. Sometimes, I have to make little sacrifices that make me question what I’m doing. Last night, for example, I skipped judo even though I knew my old buddy, Kristin, was making a rare appearance. I knew I needed to re-focus my energy on school and stop going to practice four or five times a week.  School is important to me. My career is extremely important to me. I just didn’t realize anyone noticed.

Haikuesday 09.27.11

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

In place of coffee,

I can rely on toddlers

To wake me Tuesdays.

Categories: poetry

“Stop trying to win!”

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I am addicted to achieving. I don’t what triggered this addiction or how I can learn to cope with it, but recently my friend gave me a verbal slap in the face: “Stop trying to win!” It made me pause. Now, her telling me this is completely hypocritical, since she is probably just as, if not more, competitive and addicted to achieving. (See But she has a point. I decided over the summer that I wanted to be more involved at school. So I began volunteering for student panels to answer questions for accepted and incoming students. I volunteered to be a peer mentor for a first year MSW student. I’m trying to work with other students in my program to address racism at Penn. I’m doing my best to get to Penn’s judo club as often as I can.

Recently, I decided to run for a position for our school’s student government. Now that I’ve actually won the position (one of two school reps for Penn’s Graduate and Professional Student Association), I can’t help but hear my friend’s warning ringing in my ears. She knows how my day goes already, which is something like this:

Get up

Work out

Go to field/class

Go to practice/work out

Do course work until a stupid hour at night

Pass out

My weekends are not very different, except sometimes I squeeze in time with buddies or family, maybe do laundry, and probably clean my cave. So why the hell would I try to cram in one more commitment? Well, in short, I do want to win. I mean, how many times do we get to attend an internationally renowned academic institution? For most people, never. While I’m here, I want to take advantage of every opportunity and resource that I can. Maybe I will drink too much coffee and Cherry Coke Zero in the process. Perhaps my doctor will not be happy with the amount of sleep I get each week. But it’s only for this last year. I can sleep after May 2012.

But I won’t stop drinking so much coffee, and I probably won’t stop trying to win.

Categories: competition, Friends, Life, School

What can’t we do? (A love letter to humanity)

September 25, 2011 3 comments

I had to make two trips to South Philly today. The first trip I entirely looked forward to, as it was judo practice and Sunday is my favorite practice day. The second trip was for a class assignment. Although I am on the clinical track, I’m taking a macro elective this semester on community organizing and development. This assignment entails selecting two community events (rally/demonstration, planning meeting, membership meeting, etc.) and then writing a short reflection on the community capacity present and the existing organizing strategies. Tonight, I was going to the Founding Convention for P.O.W.E.R. (Philadelphians Organizing to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild). P.O.W.E.R. is an organization of organizations, primarily of different religious congregations, whose goal is to improve literacy, employment, housing, and safety for all Philadelphians. Now, these are all things that are important to me. Why else would I be in social work school right now? However, I really did not want to go. Laziness. Feeling like I should be doing other work. Laziness compounded with more laziness.  But it was for school, and I like getting A’s, so I went back to South Philly.

Roughly 2.5 seconds of arriving at the church for the convention, I thought, “I’m so dumb. Of course I want to be here.” The church was PACKED. There was singing and smiling and hand-shaking. I was nearly knocked over by this incredible blast of energy from all these people from different spiritual, cultural, racial, and class backgrounds.  They had a mission. That’s all that mattered. Everyone was welcome to join them.

I have been to my fair share of events like this, but every time the dominant feeling was urgency. Walking out of those sort of meetings, I sometimes felt like the world was going to end if the organization’s goals were not accomplished. It was motivating, but maybe not empowering. P.O.W.E.R.’s convention was nothing BUT empowering. Yes, each speaker conveyed the urgency of the state of Philadelphia. Our unemployment rate is 11% and twice that among African Americans and Latinos. Our literacy proficiency and high school graduation rates are shameful. People who are willing and able to work cannot get jobs. But the community leaders tempered the potential for doubt and hopelessness by injecting gentle teasing about liberal and conservative perspectives, playful scolding of local officials to remain accountable to their pledges, and as I mentioned before, lots of singing.

I can’t predict how successful P.O.W.E.R. will be in achieving its goals. I can say that for those two hours, I was in love with humanity. Like head over heels in love. Feeling the enthusiasm, the hope, the determination, and the overwhelming compassion for the people that live in this city generated by each person in that church made me smile, made me tear up, and at one point, actually squeal with delight. Most of the time, working in social services is depressing. I often feel hopeless either about various public systems, my ability to effectively work with clients, and the general sense of apathy surrounding real change, however you may define it.  But little moments like tonight, I think, do have the potential to create some sort of impact. These are also the little moments that make so glad that I’m in social work. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Two types of girls.

September 21, 2011 3 comments

(Please keep in mind that this is merely an observation of mine and that in no way am I hating on my gender.)

With the start of the semester, I have been attending some practices at Penn’s judo club. Penn’s club is working to improve its program recruitment and retention, so most of the students are NEW new, like plucked from the street. Some come in not knowing what judo is at all.

Since Penn’s club has so many new people, I’m considered an “experienced” player although I’m a mere green belt. When it comes time to partner up, I usually grab one of the few girls that have shown up, not just because of the match in size, but because I think it can help them ease into being comfortable on the mat.

In just a few practices, I realized how easy it is to tell whether or not a girl has played sports before. It’s not just from their physical appearance or how coordinated they are; it has to do with their confidence and curiosity. When I work with a girl who has played sports, they’re usually pretty excited to try out the techniques. They seem glad to know that I (mostly) know what I’m doing and can tell the difference in the way the execute a throw and how I do it. They want me to explain how the technique works so they can get the hang of it. They always ask how long I’ve practicing judo, and we end up engaging in other types of friendly chit chat.

Now, the girls who have not had much experience playing sports are sort of repelled by me. When I partner up with them, they look like they’ve been divvied out a punishment. They apologize for not knowing anything yet or if they forget a part of a technique.  I know I like working with more experienced players because they’ll be a safe training partner and I can learn from them. But with these girls, it seems like my experience intimidates them rather than comforts them.

In many ways, judo is an individual practice, but you do train with other people. Your teammates help you improve and motivate you to keep going. I hope that I can figure out how to better relate to the girls at Penn’s club who are less athletically inclined. In the other aspects of their life, these young women are probably capable and confident. I hope they can find further confidence on the mat. If you can handle all the pain and sweat that comes with judo, you’ll probably start to believe that you can handle anything.

Categories: Gender, Judo, Learning, Women

Haikuesday 09.20.11 Part II

September 20, 2011 5 comments

My coffee tastes weird.

Could it be the stevia?

Maybe the machine?

Categories: Uncategorized