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The Baggage I Carried and Had To Check So far, I’ve traveled to Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, La Spezia, Naples, Capri Islands, Zurich (Switzerland), and now I’m in Amsterdam! Here are a few bags I’ve had to check along the way! 1. Dreams: “… Each life unravels differently.” Shane Koycza
  • “Everyone should travel!!!” I shout! Says who, exactly? Who died and told me I get to tell everyone what they “should” do. This is my dream and my road and my path… And for whatever the  reason may be, it may not belong to EVERYONE. I’m responsible for letting my life and light shine and not for requesting that other paths look like mine.Yes, traveling has its perks, e.g the way I’m expanding and getting to know myself and my little quirks, meeting the world and letting the world meet me… But the truth is there are many ways to do this… And everyone doesn’t even have those “lessons” to learn on their journey.” So there! If others dream of doing it, great! 🙂 If not, also great! I challenge us all to honor whatever our path is.
“I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. Not this “In order to love you, I must make you something else”. That’s what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.” Bell Hooks 2. Spiritually: “Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.” C. Joybell C.
  • God is a man.  If you know me, you know that referring to God as “He” makes me cringe. But it’s true! In fact, I couldn’t be more sure that God is a white Italian man who wears grey khaki pants and a short sleeve dress shirt with dark brown loafers. A man of short stature and medium sized frame. An old man of 65 or 70 years with white hair both on head and face. Yes, God is a white man!  He was on the platform in Naples in early September. There were a lot of people on the platform that afternoon, but I was drawn to God who was separate and a part. Near the end of the platform. Pacing. Planning. Waiting. “Hi, excuse me, can you help me?” “Ciao………” Oh no, God didn’t speak English! And I needed help! I was lost! But not to worry, God didn’t let language creat a barrier. I had an address that I showed him…. And he led me to my destination with an overflow of love and delight. He asked for absolutely nothing in return. When we parted ways, I cried. I didnt want God to go… Not sure if it was because I was scared to be by myself or because of the peace and the light and the love that felt like Heaven when he was walking with me. I’ll never again pretend that I don’t know God is a white man…. And on this journey, I met God in the form of a 34 year old Chilean woman, a 20 year old Swiss girl, a 60 year old Italian woman, two 16 year old boys, one Indian and one Swiss, an Asian man, and as flight attendants who came to my rescue during what I now know as a pant attack upon landing in Switzerland. So God is HE.. And She… And That… And It.. And you… And ME…. And ME. And you.
3. Relationships: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • I kept thinking that I did something wrong to my friends that didn’t offer contributions on my journey. Maybe they’re mad at me for something I didn’t support of theirs. Maybe I sent too many “friendly reminder” texts. Maybe I didn’t answer their texts or calls one too many times. Up until this very day, I’ve mulled over this. What could I have done so wrong that some of my closest friends didn’t have my back. And maybe I asked for too much… $16… was the eventual request…Three/four/five months in advance… I can’t pretend I’m not hurt by this. And that it may have something to do with me.. And it may not. But whatever the reason, I get to have my feelings about it.. And then let the feelings pass, as they always do. Three months of “friendly reminders” was humiliating to me. I feel sad and angry. Especially to only get silence or “I will tonight” in return. Now, did they owe me a donation? Hell no! Does it mean they aren’t my friends or don’t love me? Of course not! Does the lack of action send a loud message to me about support and expectations. Absolutely. I can’t help but think if we don’t lift each other… Who will? And this message is vice versa, too. When my community calls, do I answer… Be it a dollar, a share, a listening ear, a resource…. We get to be a stand for each other. And know that there is room at the table for us all, if we’re willing to make space.
4. Race: “You are responsible for the energy you bring -Jill Taylor
  • Friend: “Mia, have you experienced racism in travels? And is the same across the world as it is in America– ?”
  •  Me: “I can’t say that I have, but I’ve been hyper conscious of my difference. And I see people staring. And I know it means they don’t think I belong. They think I’m a lower class citizen.”                                                                                                               Now how in the hell do I know what they’re thinking? I didn’t even speak to them let alone engage them in discourse. I brought that energy to the room not knowing if it was already present. This does not mean it is NOT present, but I brought my assumptions to a space rather than my being and allowing myself to encounter other beings.
5. Emotionally: “Don’t settle. Don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off.” Chris Brogan
  • I am so afraid of admitting that I want to go home… Like NOW! My belief is  that admitting would mean I’m a failure, I’m ungrateful, and that I gave up! “You’re supposed to be happy! And excited to have this much access to life. Stay!” I would say to myself in an attempt to motivate me to get out of that bed on the 4th floor of the Residence Living Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland where I’d laid for two days straight. Screaming (in my pillow), sad, angry, and torn! “This is the time of your life! Don’t miss it. Everyone doesn’t get to have this experience, baby girl! You owe it to the world to complete it.” I wept. I wept because maybe.. Just maybe I wasn’t doing my travel correctly. I wept because I actually felt sad and felt so fu**** guilty for being sad when so many people would love to trade places with me. Then I checked myself, “I don’t owe anyone anything.” I get to honor my life and my body. And if I’ve reached my limit, go home. And if I want to return, do. And if I don’t, don’t. Period.
6. Enough: “…Though she be but small, she is fierce!” Helena of MidSummmer’s Night Dream.
  •  This trip is not luck. I planned. I stepped outside my comfort zone and did things I wouldn’t have done like downsize– I moved in with my partner for three months! Quit my nearly 6 figure career with the best benefits for a “single” woman. I “borrowed” from my personal savings. And when I save, I save from a place of abundance rather than a place of “I can’t buy this, I can’t eat this…” Etc. I THEN reached out to my community for support. I don’t ever as anyone to do for me what I won’t do for myself. What I’m saying is, I’m amazing! I keep acting like traveling the globe is some small feat… But it’s not. And neither am I. As quiet as its kept, I’m A BIG DEAL, a legacy leader, A Force. When I said “I GOT NEXT!” I meant it. I might  as well dance and celebrate! Abd as a celebration, the first six people to comment or share, I want send you a handwritten post card. Let’s continue to hold each other up! Each of our lights  gets to burn!
  • The Audacity to live a life that is our own and in that moment it changes, so can we! There are no mistakes or wrong paths! Let’s rise together… As a nation. As a people!
  • #TheAudacity #ToFly #AYA
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  ||The Power of A Great Teacher|| I grew up in the housing projects of Chicago, on the same side of town and on some of the very streets that’s getting the exposure on violence in the city. While some of the news being shared is propaganda, it’s true that on that side of town things can get bad. And in my home, things were bad. And in my family, things were bad. And in my world, things were bad. But not at my school. Not in the classroom. I had a teacher who saw me. She saw each of her students, but I knew she saw me. She didn’t see a kid from the projects with parents who were functioning drug addicts. She saw me and she taught me. Ms. Straight taught us with conviction and pushed us to our limits... And through that experience I learned, she saw no limits in me. Every program she knew about in the community, she signed us up for, every writing opportunity, every event she deemed worthy of us, she took us to them all. Some of us saw those opportunities and complained. Some of saw those opportunities and shrunk. Some of us took those opportunities and soared. What I can tell you is, Ms. Toni Straight treated us like we mattered and never gave up on us. She was my home room teacher (an all subject teacher) from 5th-8th grade (one year I had a separate social studies teacher). Our schools in Chicago are mostly k-8. I am writing you from Italy now because of her foundational teaching that nothing is too good for me to have. I loved coming to school because even though there was an undercover bully in my class who teased me everyday and even though Ms. Straight was very strict, she was consistent and firm. And that kept me safe. I loved coming to school because Ms. Straight loved teaching me.  I graduated salutatorian in my 8th grade class, went to a selective enrollment high school where no one came from the projects, except me. After graduating in the top 25%, I went to the #1 Historically Black College, Spelman, and graduated with a 3.5 GPA then went to graduate school and soared. Within my second year of teaching, I was promoted to an associate dean of students and remained in the classroom partly because I wanted to carry the torch. And all of this because a teacher didn’t see my circumstance, she didn’t let the school politics overwhelm her, and she didn’t let our behavior make her resent us and quit. In fact, I was deemed the student who “talked toooooooo much in class,” yet she’s still an active part of my life at age 28 and has been to every one of my graduations since 8th grade. All this to say, some students will need a Ms. Straight. And it will be hard to tell who, so my charge to you is to treat each student as if you are their answered prayer. Like you are the champion they didn’t know they needed. Remain firm, loving, and consistent. Communicate with students and families alike, as early as possible. One day, they will write a story like this about you… From an island, from the president’s office, from their teaching desk, from a place where they are living their dreams out loud! Here’s to the phenomenal teachers who will make it happen for students who need “it” to happen! I’m leaving Italy tomorrow and headed to Amsterdam or Germany. I’ve gotten several stories already from families in orphanages and mothers who were former prostitutes. The world is filled with incredible stories. And I want to document them. Yes, it’s scary and yes, it’s sometimes lonely, but I am committed to the journey. Thank you all for praying and sending you LOVE AND LIGHT.   Here’s to the Ms./Mister Straights of the world! (I originally sent this as an email to my former school)****
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I stood there. At the edge. Wondering–what if I jumped? What could happen to me? What if I fell flat on my face? Who would catch me? The walk of shame, would it be too great a burden? Would the jump make a big difference, anyway? Well, I did it. I jumped. I surprised myself with my courage. Right into my daddy’s arms. Although I’ve lived with him throughout my childhood, I had never known the tenderness of my daddy’s love. Either because I did not know how to receive it or because he did not know how to share it, nonetheless, I did not experience it. Until two weeks ago. It was an uncomfortable leap. Felt like I would hurt myself ( or my ego, pride, confidence). I called my dad (randomly) late Sunday night. We speak on the phone every two months or so. Not for any particular reason other than, no one has called the other. This time, I got the urge at 11:00p. When the urge to jump comes, don’t resist. He answered. I stumbled over my words and finally said, “I remember you said you had the flu, I’m calling to see if you’re ok.” “Yeah, I’m much better. That was two weeks, a couple days before Christmas.” “Oh, ok. Didn’t know if you were still down. Glad you’re better. What you up to?… The small talk lasted for two minutes and twelve seconds. I never got the nerve to go deeper during that conversation. I shrunk. Every moment breathing, there’s time to make a different choice. We hung up. I began shaking a bit. I wanted to be held by my dad that night and didn’t know how. Granted, he is in Chicago and I’m in New York, but I wanted to be wrapped in his arms. I was dying to see what it felt like. I got the audacity to send a text. It read, “Dad, what do you love about me?” 11:23p on a Sunday night, I waited for his response. There wasn’t one. I wanted to take my text back, it was stupid. Why would I send that, anyway!? 12:00a I conceded that jumping wasn’t worth it. Next time, I will stay on the platform, where I’m safe from looking (or sounding) crazy. 5:16a Monday morning, I woke up to these words– “What I love about you, Mia, is… Most every one says we’re twins. The fact that we both chew our tongue and the inside of our jaw. I love that you are good at decision making and I can count on you for that. I love your smile and presence. I love that where I failed and made mistakes, you choose to do the right thing for the right reasons. Baby, I can go on all night describing how much and why and what for. But I thank God you were born to me, not only because I have bragging rights, but I can safely say, ‘You did the damn thing.’ Sorry, it took so long to reply, I put my phone down, but as soon as I saw your messages, I responded right away. I love you, Mia.” My fear subsided. It was worth the jump. I was reminded that, my dad, no matter how infrequently we’ve connected, sees me. And by him seeing me have such courage, perhaps, his own courage to jump has been fueled. And my hope is that yours has, too. When I hold myself hostage, I am holding others with me. It was time to free myself. JUMP! Scared? Go Scared. Too Risky? Take the risk. You tried before and it wasn’t worth it? Try again! How have you or will you have the courage to jump this month? Can’t wait to read your comments! “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anais Nin I was held because I took the risk. I can experience love because I am available and open to it. #MiadunlapSpeaks
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(originally written 9/19/13) I was a beautifully blossoming flower for everyone else except my mother. I was mean to her. Very mean. Even as a nine and ten year old, I was hurting her with my words as deeply as she’d hurt me by having me and by being addicted to drugs since I was one. I wanted her to know I didn’t need her. As a result, I became a beggar. And having been raised in the projects, being a beggar was a familiar hustle. I became a slick and manipulative beggar by doing everything “right” so that I could get others’ love and attention. I watched women, I mean really studied them to see how they looked at other girls my age. I noticed what made them smile and beam in pride, I noticed what made them frown in disappointment and what made them scoff in disgust. Then and only then did I make my next move. I would consciously do everything to make them proud. I minded my manners, I listened and learned quickly to all their lessons, even when they weren’t directed towards me whether I was in church, in class, in a grocery store, or in a doctor’s office. I was a beggar. For their love and attention. Whatever they wanted me to do or whatever I thought a noble young lady should be doing, I did. I smiled, I made jokes, I was trustworthy, I stayed away from boys and drugs and fowl language…. And if I made a mistake, I would hide the mistake in shame. In fear that they would stop loving me or stop seeing me as wonderful. Not only was I having a hard time getting my mom to see me as wonderful, but remember I am a darker sister, so there were few boys whose eyes I captivated anyway. So, I sought the approval of loving, trusting, nurturing mothers. They might have given to me freely, but I was much too ashamed to say, “I need your love.” Instead, I unbraided my hair so the first lady of my church (affectionately known as Aunt Barbara) would braid it back when she saw me. I would untuck my shirt, so Ms. Straight, my fifth grade teacher, would notice me and say, “Mia tuck that shirt in.” I would ask if I could help another student so my teachers would be proud of my teamwork. This goal was measurable. I measured it by the number of women who would say to me or someone else, “Wow, your mother must be proud,” “Girl, how I would love to have you as a daughter of mine,” or “She’s such a responsible young lady.” Hearing those statements, even until this day, give me chills. Lord knows I lived for hearing a mother wanting to mother me. Mine didn’t. Not because she didn’t want to, but because her circumstances provided a logical excuse. How could I really faulty her… her or my father. They were stuck. Stuck nurturing a habit, something I could not understand. They invested in it religiously. It was their religion. I expressed my pain by being detached and dismissive in my relationships with them. By running away. At age fourteen, I ran to McDonalds and sat for hours without contacting them, with no money, and no journal. I just sat. I ran to my friend’s homes while she was at school and her mom at work. And I ran into the arms of older men. Older men who smelled my longing, my voids, my naivety. Some took advantage… Some came close but chose not to. For the latter, I am grateful. The runaways represented how I ran away from myself, too. From my emotions. I hated feeling anything but “fine.” I didn’t want to feel sad, it seemed to be a pathetic emotion. I didn’t want to feel angry, didn’t like the stereotypes that came with it. I didn’t want to seem like a victim, so most of my childhood, I was fine. Inside of fine was angry, sad, pained, broken, and lonely. But I wouldn’t even tell myself that. How could I be a poster child and be angry? Mother’s don’t like angry children, right? I excelled in school, earned a Master’s degree, hid behind the mask of humor and strength, worked great jobs, served my community and committed to succeeding. That story. That title, “#PosterChild,” no longer serves me. Today I am committed to honoring myself from the inside out. Including emotions. I am no longer committed to numbing myself for the love or approval of others. Not even for success. My life is truly my own and I get to be beautiful and fabulous, and sad and annoyed and anything else I’m feeling. Why? Because my feelings matter!…And so do I. I get to be my momma’s baby. She is ready to receive me and I am ready to receive her. With love and forgiveness. With care and gentleness. All we have is now. And we get to be with each other in the now. (Can’t believe I’m saying this!!!) 9/25/13 Today I called my mother and said, “For years I’ve been hiding and pretending like I don’t need you. But what I am clear about now, as a result of the coaching from workshop I’m taking, is that I will never stop needing you. And it’s been hard to admit that I need your love. A mother daughter relationship filled with love. I want that. I want you.” Her response was, “Girl what program are you in? I need to take that! They got you really open and seeing things within yourself.” Today and everyday hereafter, I am choosing to live freely in the wings of Love for love’s sake. I am choosing my mother’s love. I am choosing my own approval and my own love. Freedom.
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Post 6/19/13

Originally Written: 6/16/2009

It’s Your 21st Birthday!!

Dear Miss 25 year old Mia Dunlap,

As I’m writing this letter to you I’m led to wonder whether your last name is still even Dunlap! Isn’t that something, I mean you could have very well found the man of your dreams and fallen in love by now and professed those beautiful vows! But if for one reason or another you all are not married I pray… yes I pray (close your eyes and start praying too! Lol) that the time is nearing! I mean, you’re one hell of a catch and somebody with some good sense had better recognized lol ok, enough about that prince, on to other matters.

                So, I can only imagine that you are living comfortably with a Masters under your belt and missing me! Hell even I miss me at 19 and 18. Please tell me you still have your body intact…if not please please make that your next two moth resolution! Lol. Don’t let go of that figure girl and that natural hair. People think I’m going thru a phase… but at 25 they’ll clearly see that I was addicted to self-discovery and I found something so unique, sometime untaming, but very precious in my natural hair! If you don’t sill have it, you mind cutting it off and doing it all over again for me? Please…I mean, you’re young and gorgeous! You can do it!

                Furthermore, don’t lose that flame. You’ve got one awesome personality! I know it’s true for you because it’s truly true for me! When and where I enter people can’t help but to turn and look…and I don’t blame them nor do I dislike them…if I were them I’d definitely look at me and try to figure out why is she so happy and peaceful and radiant and vibrant and sassy and confident. Too bad I don’t have the answer. Do you? Kisses to you Older Mia! I believe you are carrying the torch well. I can’t say it’s been easy, not even at 21, but I hope you’re a witness that it was worth it! Keep up the good work for me and you and Jasmin and Miles all the doubters and supporters and the all of the dreamers. It’s true Mia, To Whom Much is Given, Much is Definitely Required! And we knew for sure the God of your silent tears, the God of your bruises and patches, the God of your internships and achievements, the God of your big giving heart and of your forgiving spirit has invested very much into you my love! Face it, you’re somebody special. I have to admit something; I do not yearn to be you! I want to stay young and in college as long as possible girl!!

And what about those friends? Who are they? Where are they now?

7/3/2009 …. Hmmmm. Anyway, so [any] children yet?  Oh my…I’m excited to meet them I know you’ll be a phenomenal mother, esp. if you have or in the middle of a Masters. Urban Studies and Trauma right? Girl, Kanika told you along time ago that you have a serious calling on your life and you have to protect that. Everyone does not deserve the front seat of your life…you know that but I’m only here to remind you missy. By the way, have you had your heart broken yet? Who was this lucky guy who had the privilege of getting that close to your heart? Whatever you do…I caution you to not give up on love! Don’t! Speaking of love…What’s your relationship like with Perfect Love [I used to call God “Perfect Love”]these days? You may be a youth minister or something ? huh? That’s nice Mia. How’s your mom/dad? Be nice to them…give and speak to them with a very patient/open heart. I know you love them , but be very intentional about showing it. And Miles/Jasmin… Please continue to take them under your wings? Give to them abundance as you see fit and according to your ability. Mike D? What’s up with that guy these days… send him a letter reminding him of just how smart he is and that he must use his intelligence to help change the world. Hope you’re staying connected with everyone. Send thinking of you cards to some family members. I know you still love stationary!

Well lady can’t think of more to say…so I’m signing out…sending abundance of peace your way…I’m talking about that real peace when hell is living inside your mind. You’re one impressive individual and I am anxious and apprehensive meet you! You have a house yet or a condo? Oh, and please tell me you’re not in debt honey…management those funds! Love you much dear!

Take good care of yourself,

21-year-old-me

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