A Quick MLK Reminder

On this Martin Luther King Day, most of us are celebrating an extended weekend. More important than the weekend is the reason today is a holiday. Today, we remember a champion of the Civil Rights Movemen, a leader who fought against segregation and bigotry. We’ve come a long way since his time, but the battle is far from over. Let us remember the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the leadership of other champions during the Civil Rights Movement.

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Balancing My Diet

(Personal note: I’m sorry I’ve been away so long. Between work, life changes, and friends getting married, I rarely had a moment to sit down and give you an update. I’m glad to be back on here, and I hope to keep this blog updated on a regular basis.  –D.T.)

In the past few weeks, I made small changes to my daily diet to reflect my renewed insight to health, especially after recovering from a shoulder/chest injury. (How did I end up injuring my shoulder and chest? Well, I learned the hard way not to do hindu pushups and overhead presses on the same day.) In the world of exercise and fitness, everyone is trying to follow one diet trend or another. Either they’re following the Paleo Diet, going vegan, or some other fad like eating 30 bananas a day. To be honest, recovering from an injury taught me something important: balanced nutrition is essential.

During my recovery process, I made a quick hospital trip to get examined. I had my blood pressure taken, and, to my shock, I was at 161/110. Thinking that it was because of my sodium intake (in spite of getting a decent amount of fruit in my diet and drinking water regularly), I made the resolution to go vegan. For 3 days, I kept my diet strictly plant-based, and in 3 days, I dropped from 289 lbs to 280lbs. That may sound good, but I was becoming easily irritable, and developing a case of insomnia on top of that. Also, my lack of protein was making it harder for my body to repair itself. The rapid weight loss wasn’t worth it.

The day I ended my vegan streak, the first thing I ate was a lean beef burger. I could feel the pain in my aching muscles melting away, as if that beef was the missing link from my recovery. Within 3 days, I put on 3 pounds, moving up to 283 lbs. Deciding to balance my plant-based nutrition with a small amount of animal-based protein (mostly chicken or fish), I kept a steady routine of eating at least 2 bananas and a salad (with a small cheat food like oatmeal cookies) during the day, and at night after work, indulging in a salad with a meat of my choice. By the end of one week, I had dropped 1 pound to 282 lbs. Keeping the regimen up, I dropped another pound, and as of today, I weigh 281 lbs, 8 pounds lighter than I was 3 weeks ago, and only 1 pound heavier than when I ended my vegan period. Keep in mind, this is combined with a steady exercise regimen that includes boxing, kickboxing, bodyweight exercises, stretching, and moderate resistance training.

With all the fancy gimmicks out there and people punishing themselves by denying themselves their favorite foods, the best way to eat is just by getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet, not forsaking pizza and burgers completely, but balancing their intake. In fact, the more I got into eating salad and fruits on a daily basis, the less I needed to eat pizza or burgers on a regular basis. And on that occasional cheat day, make sure you eat some fruit to keep your system craving healthy food. My last cheat day before my most recent weighing, I indulged in Taco Bell and Little Caesar’s pizza. I still ate a banana after my indulgence, and it kept me from getting too hooked on junk food. And I still managed to keep my weight going down.

So in the end, you don’t need gimmick diets to lose weight. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables along with a bit of protein, and you’ll be just fine. 😉

(End note: Btw, if you’re wondering why my blood pressure was so high that day, it was an effect of my body recovering from the chest/shoulder injury. Once I recovered, my BP dropped down to a healthier rate. 🙂 )

Going Semi-Vegan

As of today, it’s been 10 days since I’ve gone semi-vegan. It’s rare to hear someone refer themselves as semi-vegan, because in this day and age, either a person is vegan or they’re not. I use the term semi-vegan because while my diet is mostly plant-based, I’ll allow myself some leeway with animal-based proteins. I estimate that my plant-to-animal ratio is about 9 to 1. That way, I can stay committed to eating fruits, vegetables, and legumes without kicking myself when I eat something like fish or eggs on rare occasions.

My primary protein comes mostly from kidney beans, which I’ve developed a great fondness for. Along with being a great source of protein and fiber, they’re able to fill you up without weighing you down. My favorite method of preparing kidney beans is to simmer them in tomato sauce, then mix them with my favorite veggie pasta. The pasta itself is a rotini made from pureed broccoli and zucchini. It hits the spot every time.

I’ve found that since I had drastically decreased my intake of red meat in favor of legumes and vegetables, my health has improved greatly in only over a week. When I weighed myself four days in, my weight had dropped 3 pounds, from 285 to 282. When I weighed myself today, I dropped another 3 pounds, from 282 to 279. I had lost 6 pounds in 10 days. This is because of a combination of my diet changes, combined with my increased frequency of exercising. I went from relying only on strength training to combining strength training, core workouts, and cardio in the form of kickboxing. I’m recovering a lot faster from my workouts, facing less fatigue, and getting more rest at night. I can honestly say it’s a direct result of my increased consumption of plant-based foods.

After this test run, I’m definitely staying the course. This won’t be a seasonal “beach body” thing like most people adopt. This is a lifestyle change. I’ve felt stronger and healthier in one week than I have the past two years. While I doubt I’ll ever be 100% vegan, I’m happy with the diet and lifestyle changes I’ve made so far. After losing 6 pounds in 10 days naturally, I know I’m on the right track.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Do you have someone in your life who’s a constant naysayer? Someone who shoots your dreams down whenever you share them? I’ve had quite a few people like that in my life, especially in my family.  When I had dreams of becoming a radio DJ, they were shot down. When I wanted to be a professional photographer, they shot those dreams down too.  I remember when I first started writing rap lyrics in high school. My mom went through my stuff and found them.  My father crumpled up and threw out the pieces of paper right before my eyes. Lately, my older cousin had been the cause of my self-doubt, shooting down whatever plans I have for myself in the future. Funny, he tells me “don’t sell yourself short”, but that’s all he ever does.

I watched a clip from The Pursuit of Happyness yesterday that made me think of all the people who have tried to crush my dreams or stand in my way. It was the scene where Will and Jaden were talking about Jaden wanting to be a basketball player. Will starts to tell Jaden that it’s a silly dream, but stops short when he realizes that he had been told the same thing all his life. Then he proceeds to tell Jaden not to let anybody crush his dreams, to go for it, no matter what they say. This spoke to me.

It hurts when the people you grew up with, people in your own family, crush your dreams, thinking they know what’s best for you. I’ve gotten more support and encouragement from people who weren’t related to me by blood than I ever did from my own family. Sometimes, you have to be your own motivator, your own cheerleader.  You have to push on when those close to you call you a fool, even though you know what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, even if the rest of the world doesn’t believe in you.

2 Weeks of Pushups = Breaking A Plateau

2 weeks ago, I went on an outing with my younger brother in hopes of buying a new wallet. The T.J. Maxx that we went to had no wallets in stock, but something else had caught my eye: a P90x Pull Up Bar for $25. Now, I’m not the most keen on using a pull up bar at home, but the fact that it could also be used as a pushup bar and a dip station also caught my eye. So, for the mere price of $25 ($27.11 after tax), the bar was mine.

It took about 10-15 minutes to assemble, but once I had put it together, I immediately dropped down, gripping the padded grips of the bar, and churned out 15 wide-grip pushups. After 60 seconds of rest, I pumped out another 15 pushups, and after another minute of rest, I pumped out 15 more. 3 sets of 15 pushups. I kept it up for the week, with a rest day in between, keeping up with my other exercises, and by the time Friday came around, I felt awesome. My chest muscles were in great shape, my biceps and triceps had gotten some solid symmetry, and my lats had gotten huge and thick. The bar was making pushups fun for me, a smooth combination of a wide-spread pushup and a bench press, and I ALWAYS made sure my chest touched the bar with every rep.

As I started my second week, I kept up my regimen, eventually mixing 15-rep and 10-rep sets, which resulted in my muscles not only getting bigger and harder, but earning a nice soreness between workout days that only a good workout could be the cause of. Every other day, I’d notice more shape and development every time I took off my shirt. Then today, I managed to break one of my biggest plateaus: doing diamond pushups.

As long as I could remember, I always had trouble doing diamond pushups. I was always a strong man, but perhaps the specific muscle fibers or what not weren’t capable of sustaining a diamond pushup, no matter how many regular pushups I could churn out. That all changed today. After doing 2 sets of 10 wide grip pushups on the P90x bar, I switched to a narrow grip. Expecting my arms to give way, I started to perform the narrow grip pushups. First one, then two, and before I knew it, I had churned out five narrow grip pushups. Five! To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I pushed the bar aside, putting my hands in the diamond position, and churned out five diamond pushups until my inner chest muscles were as sore as can be. Mind you, I’m a hefty 285 lbs of muscle and some fat, and I managed to do a form of pushups that people half my size have an easier time trying to do. I felt like Captain America.

I’m going to keep up this regimen and enjoy the benefits, slowly crossing one plateau after another. Maybe one day, I’ll find myself doing some of those crazy pull up exercises you see those calisthenics experts do on YouTube. If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s that patience and consistency pays off if you keep at it.

Make A Difference in Someone’s Life

Last Friday marked one year since my grandmother passed away. I should have been sad, but for some reason, an aura of positivity washed over me, as if she were embracing me with goodness. Every time I wanted to feel sad, I not only felt joy, but wanted to motivate others to feel that joy too. Thankfully, when you’re a direct care worker, there’s ample opportunity to spread positivity to your consumers. Little things such as listening to their day, playing darts with them, even doing a corny impersonation of The Swedish Chef from The Muppets was all that was needed to brighten up what could have been a downward day for any of them.

I learned a lot about spreading kindness from my grandmother. She was one of the most welcoming, warm, loving and caring people I knew in my life. From an early age, she instilled in me the value of being kind to others. She was the kind of woman who would be a mother figure to children who weren’t her own. Everyone from neighborhood kids to my cousins’ friends referred to her as “Nana”. Her kindness and guidance was the backbone of so many in her community. When my family held her memorial service days after her passing, it was standing room only. My grandma wasn’t a famous celebrity, but her kindness was the kind of thing that brings people together. Anyone who’s been to her summer barbecues can vouch for that.

I invite you to do something to make a difference in someone’s life. It could be as simple as offering your seat to someone on the bus, inviting an old friend to hang out, or even lending an open ear to someone who’s feeling like they’re had the worst day ever. You can decide how you want to spread positivity in this world, but the most important thing is that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, no matter how big or small. That’s what I learned from my grandma.

Valentine’s Day: At Peace With Being Single

I’ve been single for 3 years. The first two years, when Valentine’s Day would approach, I’d be a complete Grinch. I couldn’t stand all the imagery of happy couples being pushed into the faces of the masses, all in order to get them to fork over their money for chocolates, flowers, and even the shiniest jewelry money could buy. I hated the feelings of longing that these images would invoke, and I’d curse the existence of February 14. Suddenly, that time of year has come around again, and for the first time in a long time, it simply feels like another day.

My parents and relatives always like to bug me and point out that I’m single and not getting any younger, asking me who my next girlfriend will be, or when I’m getting married. Truth be told, I don’t care at this point if I’m destined to stay single or not. Between focusing on improving myself and pushing toward my personal goals, the supposed emptiness of being single has been replaced with a sense of solitude and peace. Being alone with my own thoughts has been a blessing in recent months, allowing me to rediscover myself. Sometimes, solitude can put things in perspective.

Don’t get me wrong. There are those rare days where I would like to wake up next to a wonderful woman. I sometimes miss those long, playful phone calls from my days with my last girlfriend. Still, looking at where I am now compared to three years ago, I don’t regret anything.

If you’re single, and you don’t have a special someone to be your Valentine, don’t worry about it. Focus on building yourself up. Don’t worry about finding somebody on that dating site, and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t bumped into that special someone yet. Take time to do something for yourself. Hit up a bookstore and explore. Hit up a gym and get active. Take time to try something new that you haven’t done before. Be your own Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Heeding Malala’s Wisdom

“I truly believe, that the only way to peace, is through reading, knowledge, and education.”
–Malala Yousafzai
Nobel Prize laureate

In recent times, Malala Yousafzai’s voicing of the importance of education has become a global beacon for progress. When she survived an assasiation attempt on her life by the Taliban, not only did it strengthen her desire to learn more, but it made her voice on the matter stronger. Malala highlighted the importance of literacy and knowledge, striving to encourage young girls in her native Swat Valley in Pakistan to seek out education, as well as helping impoverished children around the world attain the privilege of being able to learn in a classroom setting. Something as simple as reading and learning, something that so many of us take for granted, people overseas are willing to die for. Are reading and education as powerful as tools as Malala makes them out to be? I would say yes.

Less than a year ago, as an act of curiosity, I began visiting the book section of a local thrift shop. Books that had been discarded were avaliable for less than a dollar each. I would buy a new book every Saturday. From that time I first started my thrift shop book trips, three particular purchases stand out in my memory: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Gordon W. Allport’s The Nature of Prejudice, and an anthology of slave narratives, including The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and The Narrative of Olaudah Equiano aka Gustavus Vassa. Those books not only opened my eyes to my potental as a Black man, but gave me insight to the world around me, my own history, and the small ways I can better myself and contribute to the positive energy of this world. (I’ll expand on these ideas in future entries.)

Months after I had purchased those books, I purchased and started reading Russell Simmons’ Do You!, a book on self-improvement and self-empowerment. One wouldn’t expect a business mogul mostly known for contributions in hip-hop and fashion to offer intellectual and spiritual insight, but he did. Between speaking on incorporating meditation as part of a daily routine and speaking on taking initiative in your own life, Simmons’ book was a genuine eye-opener. His pearls of wisdom became embedded into my own life. I started incorporating his advice into my day-to-day with positive results. The more I read these books, among other influential books I would purchase, the more I started to transform my daily grind into a personal journey to better myself and share positivity with the people around me. I give God thanks for my spirit of perseverence. And it all started when I took a chance and began to read and learn, remembering Malala’s words that were quoted above.

Something as simple as reading the right book can open a person’s mind. It’s easy enough to blindly follow whatever is on the television, but to open up a book and process the words printed inside is to allow your mind to be awakened. So many of us who are literate take this gift for granted. We settle with just living our lives day in, day out, without taking a small opportunity to open a book and learn something new. And it isn’t necessarily an expensive thing to do. People find books in the bargain racks on a regular basis and gain a wealth of information. Reading the right book can help gain insight to the unfamiliar, helping you understand perspectives and viewpoints beyond your own. To read, learn, and educate ourselves as well as educating each other is the key to understanding each other.

My advice for you is to go to any place that sells books, find a book that can possibly open your mind, and start reading. It can be a biography, a book on world cultures, maybe a book exploring human nature. Read it and learn from it, and share that information with gratitude. Also, encourage others to read. Sharing productive knowledge and ideas is a great way to encourage each other as people, the key word being “productive”. For anyone who wants to help promote literacy, find ways you can volunteer your time and help. It’s as simple as googling “literacy volunteering”. And keep learning. Don’t limit it to inside a classroom. Education is a blessing.

To learn more about Malala Yousafzai and her activism, please visit:

http://www.malala.org

Skip The Middleman

One of my favorite performances by Denzel Washington is his portrayal of drug lord Frank Lucas in the 2007 film, American Gangster. I’m not keen on idolizing drug lords or glamorizing the drug trade, but a lot of things that the movie version of Frank Lucas said makes absolute sense in a business sense. Everything from dressing respectably to quality assurance is practically a how-to guide on handling your business. The one aspect that stood out the most was cutting out the middleman to get quality product. Like I said, I don’t idolize drug dealers, but anyone who’s anyone knows the hassle of dealing with the middleman, be it a retailer or an A&R at a record label you’re trying to get to sign you. (I have a lot of friends in music who dealt with that last one o a regular basis.) The middleman is the gatekeeper that’s in the way of you and your goals. Thankfully, in this information age, skipping the middleman has become easier to do, in more ways than one, and in more fields than you think.

Retail

My first experience of the benefits of skipping the middleman came in a situation we all can relate to: getting a replacement cellphone.  Less than a year ago, I had a Motorola Rambler. I had bought it in 2010, and that phone lasted me for 4 years. Sadly, one morning, I reached to turn it on, and, in a way that replays in my memory in slow motion, the Rambler fell from my nightstand and…..CRACK! Split into two. I tried re-attaching the QWERTY keypad to the screen, but it was no use. My Rambler was no more.  With a trip out of town coming up, I needed a cell phone QUICK.

That very day, I went to one of those mom-and-pop Boost Mobile stores, insisting on a phone that was under $80. They handed me a Kyocera Hydro, saying it was 80 bucks, but after tax, it was over $90 bucks. Not only that, but I was made to pay an EXTRA $30 bucks for some nonsense network change fee, so the $80 phone became a $120 phone. To make me feel even worse, not even a month after I had bought this slow-but-waterproof smartphone, I find out that the price had dropped to $50, and almost two months AFTER that, the price dropped AGAIN to $30! I felt like an absolute fool for paying what I did for a phone that was slow as molasses. To make matters worse, my Kyocera Hydro only lasted 7 months before the touch screen became non-responsive one day.  When it came time to replace it, I had two options: go to the retailer and beg for a replacement, or….skip the middleman and get what I deserve.

Rather than getting bamboozled by that retailer again, I went to Amazon.com and found not only did they have the Kyocera Hydro for $30 on there, but for five dollars more, I could get myself an LG Realm, a smartphone that was getting a lot more positive feedback than the Hydro. Eager as can be, I not only ordered the LG Realm, but I ordered it with one-day shipping, the total coming out to just over $60 aftter tax. The next day, I got my phone in the mail, and I’ve been as happy as can be wih that phone. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t go back to that store, and I’ve never needed to step into that store ever again.

Retailers can be good for a quick fix, but to get the deal you really need, sometimes you have to skip the middleman.

The Music Industry

Once upon a time, in order for a music artist to make a living, or at least make a name for himself, he needed a record label to sign him. I remember the days when getting signed to a record label was the holy grail of “making it”. Sadly, for most artists, getting signed to a record label either meant getting turned away again and again, or, if you got signed, being at the mercy of the label’s expectations. And there were so many stories of rappers, singers, and bands getting signed to record labels and not even dropping a debut alum.

Back in the early 2000’s, when I worked in sporting goods, I had a co-worker who was getting respect as an underground rapper in the local scene.  One day, out of the blue, he quits his job, bragging that he had just gotten signed to a record label. The next week, he shows up, showing off his fresh new clothes and his Motorola two-way pager. (Yeah, this was back when those were in style, way before everyone had cell phones.) Not even a month later, rumors had it that the label had dropped him, and that he was looking for work. He even had to sell his pager. Stories like his were way too common.

Flash forward to now. Artists can now rely on the internet to gain fame and make money. Everyone from Macklemore to Childish Gambino have been able to use the internet as an outlet to get their music out there, getting millions of YouTube views and SoundCloud plays before radio stations can even blink.  Back in the day, major labels were the only way for an artist to get recognition. Now, artists can take destiny into their own hands if they’re willing to work hard enough.  Thanks to the internet, artists can skip the middleman

I could go on and on with examples both in the day-to-day and in the mainstream of people who skipped the middleman and got more out of it.  Book authors who chose to publish e-books instead of trying to pitch their product to a publisher, independent filmmakers who took their vision and made a cult classic on a shoestring budget rather than begging Hollywood for a job, t-shirt designers  who sold their merchandise out of their garages rather than begging retailers to push their clothing and became household names. Skipping the middleman could be something as small as going online to get a microphone for a decent price instead of bleeding your wallet at a downtown retailer, or something as big as drawing a graphic novel and selling it on your own site rather than begging for a job at a comic book publisher. If you want something bad enough, sometimes you have to skip the middleman and go direct.