Change The Massachusetts Flag

Today,  I’m home in Quincy, Massachusetts. This state, like the rest of the United States is on land stolen from Native Americans.

4th of July

Like last year on the 4th of July, it feels right to think about the founding of this country. I consider my birthday a personal new year and a time for self-reflection. Likewise, the birthday of this country is a time to think about the history of the United States — how we can do better now and in the future.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it wasn’t until five years later, in 1781, when the Massachusetts state legislature became the first to recognize the 4th as an official state celebration recognizing the anniversary of the country’s independence.

Receiving a link to sign a petition prompted me to write this post today, on the 244th birthday of the United States. The petition seeks to change the North Quincy High School mascot from the Yakoo, an offensive caricature that stereotypes Native American culture. I signed the petition and immediately thought about the Massachusetts flag.

Massachusetts Flag

When I was in my 20s and working for the state, I remember looking closely at the flag. Previously, I had only noticed the figure of a Native American man standing. But that day, I noticed that there is an arm holding a sword over his head.  A sword over his head!

Taking the Indigenous peoples’ land was bad enough. The flag shows the violence of it. Why should this emblem continue representing our state? Should we be proud of this? I am horrified by the symbolism.

The seal, which is on the flag, goes back to circa 1639, when the Massachusetts settlers adopted it. The sword was owned by Myles Standish, known for his violence against Native Americans as a military advisor for the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony in the 1620s.

Many say the the original sin in this country was slavery. As an African-American, I can trace my ancestry back to enslaved African-Americas in Virginia and South Carolina. The exact year enslaved Africans arrived to colonies in the Americas is not clear. Some have said 1619. But that seems to reference English colonies. The European slave trade began in the 1400s and Christopher Columbus may have transported enslaved Africans to the Americas in the late 1490s.

However, looking at the time line, Native Americans were here for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. The theft of their land and the brutality against them was a sin. Slavery was an additional sin and the timelines intertwine.

Further, when people deem the United States a nation of immigrants, that leaves people out. Some of us were already here. Some of us came here unwillingly. We are a nation of immigrants, and Indigenous people and descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the United States. Let’s include us all.

Take Action

Since we’re at a place in time where symbols of white supremacy continue coming down, it’s well past time to change the Massachusetts flag. Especially as the Trump administration targets the Wampanoag tribe’s land. Is the state of Massachusetts in solidarity with Native Americans or not?

Last year, WGBH reported on the issue and a suggestion for the change could be an easy one. Remove the arm and sword and add a tree. A tree flag was one of the ones used during the American Revolution. Ships sailing from Massachusetts also used the tree flag. So adding a tree would be consistent with Massachusetts history.

For 36 years, the MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda has been working on changing the flag and seal, along with other initiatives as well.

Let’s support current legislation (S.1877 & H.2776) and urge the MA Rules Committee to move the Mass Flag and Seal Bill out of committee. Click on the links to send a letter. See a sample letter below.

I am a resident of (city or town), Massachusetts. I am writing in support of (S.1877 / H.2776) the bill to create a special commission, made up of Native leaders of the area now known as Massachusetts and state legislators, to change the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. The time has come to remove the sword that has been hanging over the heads of the Native people of this land for 400 years! This legislation has been stalled for 36 years in the legislature. Even Mississippi is holding bipartisan discussions now to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag – which would leave Massachusetts as the last flag of white supremacy flying in the country. This image is a disgrace to the progressive traditions of our Commonwealth, an offense to Native people, and to everyone who upholds the value of racial justice for all. Thirty nine Massachusetts cities and towns have already voted at town meeting or city council to change the Massachusetts flag and seal, and an equal number of legislators now co-sponsor S.1877 / H.2776). Please vote favorably to move the legislation to change the Massachusetts flag and seal forward now.

*Updated 7/17/2020* Yesterday, there was a rally by Native American groups in front of the state house in support of this legislation and it generated some media attention. Governor Baker was asked about it during a press conference and stated that he is open to discussion.

*Updated 7/29/2020* There is real momentum behind this issue and the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved new legislation (S.2848) to create a special commission. Now it’s up to the House and Governor.

*Updated 8/4/2020* North Quincy High School has changed the image of the Yakoo mascot.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Juneteenth 2020

Flowers and blue sky represent a day in June, Juneteenth

The exact year I cannot remember. But at some point before 2006, I learned about Juneteenth. At a family gathering here in Massachusetts, my cousin told us about the fun Juneteenth celebrations she went to in Texas. We New Englanders had never heard of it. But learning about it made a big impression. The 4th of July didn’t liberate Black people, so it really wasn’t a day of independence for us. Juneteenth was for us.

I started blogging in 2006 and wrote about Juneteenth that year.  After that, I wrote a few more posts about the day. In 2009, my post discussed how the Senate formally apologized to African-Americans for slavery and segregation. Below is part of that post.


The Congress acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.

DISCLAIMER.—Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

As an African-American who is a descendant of slaves, I accept the apology. It’s not all that can be done. The disclaimer is huge. Reparations are still an issue. But it does have meaning. If nothing else than for the history books.

Eleven years later, Black people in this country continue dealing with injustice, cruelty and brutality. My belief is that until the United States truly reckons with the legacy of slavery, beyond a mere apology, but with formal hearings and reparations, this country will never heal.

However, it’s encouraging seeing more white Americans trying to understand the magnitude of wrongs suffered by Black people. Before change takes place, acknowledgment must happen. It’s starting.

For example, Netflix took down their paywall today for viewers to see Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” and “13th.” Hulu placed “The Gullah Way” on YouTube for free. I hope many take advantage and watch these shows.

2020 has exceeded all expectations in shining a light on the truth, so that everyone can see society clearly. And the year is only half over. Let’s hope 2021 brings more justice, compassion and kindness.

A White-Knuckle Moment For Black People

brown hands white-knuckle moment

BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages go all the way back to 1920 and the company has been innovating since.

For example, they introduced clear strip bandages in 1957. Space travel was acknowledged in 1963 and 1969. In 1988, they acknowledged perestroika in Eastern Europe. In 1997, they added antibiotic ointment. Just three years ago, the company improved their bandages to feel like a second skin by expanding and contracting.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States took place during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.  In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first Black president of the United States.

Just a few days ago, on June 10, 2020, in an Instagram post, Band-Aid, now owned by Johnson & Johnson, stated their commitment “to launching a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin.”

Upon learning that bandages would be available in brown and black skin tones, I became livid. I thought, “Really?! Now?! After all this time, they finally acknowledge that Black and Brown people exist!” If you’re looking for an alternative, a Black owned company called Browndages, makes bandages in an assortment of brown shades.

As a child, I wondered why the flesh color bandages were not the color of my skin. I wondered the same about crayons and later about nylons too. Although, I just read that Crayola changed the name of the flesh crayon to peach in 1962.

Whiteness gets the presumption. It feels like a slap in the face for someone with brown skin. It shows the ironic invisibility of Black people, even though we always stand out.

The moment that we’re in right now is a moment of reckoning. Black people want our humanity acknowledged and the current protests are just that.

Certainly it’s a tense and stressful time. White-knuckle is defined as marked by, causing, or experiencing tense nervousness.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? I could be wringing my hands and stressed as can be, but I will never have a white-knuckle moment. I have brown skin. That term is all about the default color as white and does not acknowledge Black people. Just like the flesh color bandages that were never brown.

So many moments in history Band-Aid could have acknowledged Black people. They acknowledged space travel and even perestroika in Eastern Europe. But overlooked the Civil Rights Movement, the first Black Supreme Court justice and the first Black president.

Maybe the change happened now because the leadership is different than what it was over the last decade. In short, I hope that more white people will look at how they have understood the default race. Look at the characteristics of those deemed “real” Americans. Examine how white privilege has benefited them and think about the range of colors of all people before exclaiming a white-knuckle moment.

Black Wellness Matters

The casual way George Floyd was murdered adds to the horror of it. The rawness of it. It was pure bloodlust. The police officer extinguished Floyd’s last breath in a way that seemed so mundane to him. As if he were wringing out a sponge after doing dishes. That’s the coldness of a serial killer. That’s the end result of systemic racism — going back to when Black people were enslaved in this country.

We were considered property, not human beings, so the owners could do whatever they wanted to a Black person’s body with no consequences. Think about all the permutations of what that meant over generations. Our bodies were not our own.

Seeing the video of Floyd’s murder on repeat is such a painful blow to our collective and individual spirits. For Black people especially, it’s been a tough few weeks. It’s been a tough year. It’s been a tough few hundred years.

I’ve felt hurt. Angry. Sad. And have been meditating more than ever, as a way to stop thinking about the current reality for a bit and gather myself.

Recently, I heard the word remember broken down —  “re” and “member.” Meaning to put oneself together again. I found meditation through taking yoga classes and find both perfect ways to center myself and gather strength. To remember myself.

Yoga is such a powerful tool for wellness. The term wellness gets thrown around a lot and seems to have different meanings to some. The World Health Organization glossary defines it as follows.

Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realisation of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfilment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.

Wellness moves beyond physical health to become more holistic and include every aspect of being human. In order to achieve wellness, especially as Black people, we also must heal the wounds of racism. Not just current racism, but intergenerational racism that traumatized our ancestors.

Our ancestors found ways to cope within a racist society and passed down those coping mechanisms to their children. Their children did the same and the cycle repeats. Those of us on journeys of healing are becoming more conscious of the ways that racism has caused us harm.

Meditation allows us to go deep and start reckoning with how to move forward and deal with things differently. Like most Black people, I have dealt with racism in the past and obviously continue dealing with it now.

At the end of last year, I reached a tipping point. I only have so much time and energy and dealing with racism is exhausting. It wears you down. As a Black woman, dealing with sexism on top of it is even more exhausting. In the past, I have let a lot of things go. One particular incident in the past, I regret not having addressed head on.

During law school, I had a co-op at a law firm here in Boston. I loved the work I was doing — ironically enough, researching property and land use. My supervisors were happy with my work too and wanted me to interview for an associate position. I had never intended to take the traditional law firm route, but I was interested.

Very soon after hearing this news, one of the white male attorneys at the firm, not anyone that I had worked with directly, made an off-hand comment to me about how affirmative action hires aren’t qualified. I would have only been the second Black woman attorney at the firm.

I was so shocked – like a deer in headlights. I don’t remember if I said anything back to him. I ended up not working at the firm, which no longer exists, but I didn’t tell any of my supervisors about what happened. Nor did I mention it to anyone in the school administration until much later.

Another incident happened on a different co-op that I also never mentioned to anyone. I was treated to a nice lunch celebrating the end of my co-op. I was the only woman and the only Black person in our small group. One of the men was talking about working in Africa, then casually mentioned all the sex he had while there. They all laughed. I was so uncomfortable. I don’t know that any of them noticed or cared about how the statement might have impacted me. These incidents were back in the mid-90s, but I still remember how I felt.

Late last summer, I was at a small public lecture. During the talk, I was rather dramatically singled out for being the only Black person there. I couldn’t believe it. I was like a deer in headlights — again. I didn’t say anything to anyone while I was there, but kept thinking about it. I only told a few people afterwards and was still upset.

A few months later, I was working on a new project and there was an incident where training for new employees went awry with a racist statement during the presentation. I wasn’t there, but learned of it after an email went out apologizing to everyone for the incident and strongly denouncing it. It was addressed right away and the way things played out, it made me wonder if I should say something about what happened to me at the lecture. Maybe I needed to give them a chance to do better.

I decided to say something. Maybe the organization would make some changes and nothing like this would happen to anyone else. At the very least, I wouldn’t have the ongoing regret that I didn’t say anything.

On a Friday night, I sent a very detailed email to the organization and heard back by early the next  morning. They apologized profusely and I later spoke with leadership about my experience. Training was going to be implemented along with other changes in their organization.

These experiences I’m sharing here are just the tiniest amounts of racism that I’ve dealt with in my life. I’ve been spit on and called the N word. If I reacted to everything all the time, it would take up too much of my life. That’s the same for most Black people. We just want to live our lives like anyone else. We want to rest like Breonna Taylor. We want to go jogging like Ahmaud Arbery. We just want to live and enjoy wellness.

Hopefully, sharing my experiences here might help someone see things from a new perspective. Even if it’s only one person, that’s enough. Black lives matter and I’ve been sharing mine by blogging since 2006. Being a blogger has coincided with finding yoga and meditation. I’ve learned to focus on my breath and how it’s something I can always depend on.

Back in 2009, I first learned about free yoga classes being offered in Boston and wanted to make sure others knew about these wonderful resources. So I founded Free Yoga Boston, where I share information about free yoga classes and more. It’s all a continuing journey for me toward wellness. And Black wellness matters.

Finding Flour: Where & Why

Bread has been vital to human survival for more than 10,000 years. Flour combined with water makes a dough for cooking over a fire or baked in an oven. These simple ingredients have sustained people for a long time. That is to say, flour may subconsciously signal life. Now finding flour has become a national obsession.

Since the pandemic began, people seem to have latched onto the idea that having enough flour is essential. Even for people who never baked at home before, so it’s not particularly logical. But nevertheless, many have latched on so tightly to this idea, that there have been flour shortages in stores for months. People are baking like crazy.

In the age of COVID-19, in many ways we are literally in survival mode and behaving on instinct. There is something primal about flour. Maybe in our subconscious, we as a species know that if we have flour we can survive. Also kneading dough is soothing — like a meditation.

Over the last week especially, as police brutally killed Black people, it felt like an attack on my spirit. I’ve gasped for air and felt pain in my neck. It’s times like this that I need to find ways to stay calm. That familiar combination of flour and water brings me back to myself.

I’ve baked cinnamon bread, scones, cookies and cake. I had a decent amount of flour at home to begin with, but then started to run low and didn’t see all-purpose flour on store shelves for weeks, so I bought cake flour to tide me over.

Because I wasn’t sure how long this flour shortage would last, I decided that sourcing locally and online would be the best option and also help support local business. Thankfully I’m now well-stocked with flour.

Below is a list of New England area mills with freshly milled flour, cornmeal and more ready to ship directly to you!

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One Mighty Mill (Lynn, MA)

Ground Up Grain (Hadley, MA)

Maine Grains (Skowhegan, ME)

Gray’s Grist Mill (Westport, MA)

Plimoth Grist Mill (Plymouth, MA)

Kenyon’s Grist Mill (West Kingston, RI)