Guilty or Innocent, Cosby Has Proved He’s Not “America’s Dad”

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Bill Cosby has entered the courtroom with his head held high nearly every day. But, the truth is Mr. Cosby is the loser no matter what the verdict. 

When allegations began to resurface about Cosby drugging and sexually assaulting women, America was shocked. Why? He’d already publicly battled allegations of infidelity. Yet, I concede that cheating on your wife is far different than raping a woman.

Nearly five dozen women came forward and I still wondered, “Where’s the proof?” I know that there’s not always physical evidence in sexual assault cases. It often comes down to a case of her word versus his. But, in this case, I began to look at the details a group of women revealed that showed a dubious pattern of behavior.

America was expected to believe Cosby because he was “Cliff Huxtable.” And, he was the man who made us laugh for decades, was married for more than 50 years and lectured black America to look in the mirror and take responsibility for their woes.   If we were to believe Cosby did these awful things we’d have to see pass his image to the man. Cosby’s wife Camille urged us not to. She even issued a statement that said in part, “He is the man you thought you knew.”

Of course, I could fathom that “Cliff Huxtable” would cheat on “Claire, let alone drug women in the office in the Huxtable home while his wife slept. Nor could I conceive that the man who sold me pudding in commercials during cartoons in my youth would put Quaaludes in anything I ate or drank. However, I quickly realized that I wasn’t thinking of Cosby. I was focus on the character he played, the personality he displayed in public and not the one that may exist behind closed doors.

The problem is most Americans never knew Cosby because we’d never met the man in private. The women who did claimed he was a predator who used his money, power, influence and reputation to hide his crimes.

I, like everyone else didn’t know what to believe. Then, I read the excerpts from his depositions. He admitted to cheating on his wife for decades, buying Quaaludes for sex with a host of women, and to switching the drug he told Constand he was giving her. He also apologized to Constand’s mother then claims that was a lied because he didn’t want to be thought of a dirty old man. He then told her he’d send her the drug he gave her daughter but never did.  At the end of reading Cosby’s words I knew one thing for sure. He wasn’t my dad or any dad I wanted as an example; he wasn’t “America’s dad” or even a decent man.

Originally published in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/59441cd5e4b0d188d027fdf0

A Love Letter To My M.F.F. (Mother and Friend Forever)

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I’m her first born, her baby girl, her only daughter and I am the sickly one. My twenties and thirties were a disaster. The autoimmune condition that frequently tortures me nearly claimed my life on several occasions. Each time, my mother rushed to my side and nursed me back to health. I felt guilty. I thought I was a burden. But to her, she was simply being a mother to me; a job that would never end. 

Thankfully, over the last year my medical issues have lessened, giving mother and I the ability to just enjoy together. Recently, we chatted as we sat across from each other while eating a lunch after a morning volunteering together. We talked candidly about our relationship woes, difficulty with the children and our medical problems. No topic was off limits. No judgment was passed. We simply exchanged advice, observations and offered support like two girlfriends would do.  

As we walked back towards my car, the lyrics to a song popped into my head:  

“I’ll always love my mama

She’s my favorite girl

You only get one, you only get one, yeah

I’ll always love my mama

She brought me in this world”

I realized the woman beside me taught me how to be a caregiver, to give back, to be a good partner and to pray when all else fails.  She wasn’t just my mother, she was and is my friend. She’s my M. F. F. (Mother and friend forever)

#mothersday #family #love #autoimmunedisease #caregiver #friends 

Open Letter to the President-Elect: My Life Is Worth More than Politics

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9:45 am, I limped over to my desk and began working on coverage of President-Elect Trump for the second day in a row. By 12:30, I had turned two reporter packages and written and edited nearly a half dozen anchor voiceovers. Then, it was time to hop into a cab for one of my nearly weekly doctors’ appointment. This time, the specialist was at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Years of chronic inflammation caused by the autoimmune disease igg4 related systemic disease had taken their toll on my knees, spine and hip, as well as several organs that have either been repaired, required biopsies or rely on some medication to deal with the damage. And, walking had become nearly impossible at one time but innovative treatments like burning the nerves, steroid injections, and knee injections, along with physical therapy and pain meds had just about restored me to my previous form with a cane.

After an hour at the doctor’s office, I was done and it was time to return to work to write about presidential politics and the rest of the news of the day. Chaos kept me from thinking about the policy change the President-Elect vows to make to so-called Obamacare kept me up on Tuesday night. For hours something my grandma Nettie used to say played in my head, “those who do not listen shall feel;” meaning people who don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them will suffer the consequences.

Had I or any other chronically ill person done enough to voice our outrage over plan to scrap so-called Obamacare? I hadn’t. The thought that I’d done nothing to make sure that a plan that preserves my independence is retained haunted me. So, as soon as I completed my last story I hit the keyboard again to draft a letter to my senators Booker and Menendez and Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. to see what can be done to preserve the portions of the Healthcare Act that have made it possible for me to live, work and thrive despite a sometimes debilitating autoimmune disease.

These thoughts played repeatedly in my head: I cannot go back to paying taxes in a society where, because of the ailment God gave me, I cannot buy health insurance. I cannot worry about getting cut off insurance if the treatment I need cost over a million dollars. Nor, can I go back to paying nearly every cent I earn on health care because there’s no cap on out-of-pocket expenses. I refused to be forced onto disability or into subpar health facilities because that’s the only way I’ll be able to survive without some of the terms of so-called Obamacare. And, the truth is that’s no life at all and not a life I want to live.

A flood of questions ran through my mind too like: If more competition, lower premiums and greater coverage is the aim of repealing the law that’s fine but does throwing out what does work make sense? Why not scrap this so-called Obamacare before another is ready to go? Does it make sense to leave millions of citizens in the lurch while you try to come up with something? Why hurt the very people trying to make America great by requiring less government services by standing on their own two feet? Why is the average American entitled to less medical care than senators, congressional leaders or the president and his family? More importantly, I wondered, why deny hardworking Americans the right to life in the name of politics? I deserve better so I will fight for it like I battle for my life every day. I’m not ready to die yet so I won’t let anyone take away my health care options easily. Will you?

Originally published in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5824a5fae4b0edfa13936169?timestamp=1478797289257

An Education In Danger

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The campus was an oasis in middle of the trees in Massachusetts. Its stone buildings, relics of a by gone era, were reassuring reminders of an insulated environment steeped in tradition and religion; it was that connection to faith and virtue that drew me in 1993. I’d yearned for a place where I could safely explore my faith, my freedom and my burgeoning interest in subjects like psychology, criminology and sociology.

My parents, Gloria and Randy, drove me pass the guard booth on main campus. Adjacent to it was St. Mary’s hall where the Jesuit priests lived, a place I thought I could go when or if I needed help. The guard booth was right in the center of the path way leading to the statue of a golden eagle with its wings spread, ready to fly. I smiled, viewing that symbol of the limitless future, thinking how lucky I and my classmates were to be at this place, at this time.

Before we arrived from New York my parents told me the importance of protecting myself. They told me to never going out at night alone, especially when I left campus. They told me to keep money for a cab and change to make an emergency call. Of course, they said I should be leery of guys and never bring them back to my room until I knew them well.

However, they didn’t warn me that I might meet someone capable of evil deeds right inside my own dorm or among my classmates. They didn’t tell me an abusers, a killer, or a rapist could look just like me or Brock Turner. They should have because in four years away at college I encountered all three and, in the process for an education in danger just like many of my other female friends.

My sophomore year I my friend began seeing a guy from who I got a bad vibe. He said sexually suggestive things, always disguised as a joke, but he didn’t lunge at me or violent attack in any way. I now know he is the most dangerous and devious person I’ve ever encountered. I didn’t know it then but I was close to becoming a victim of a man prosecutors would later called a “Green Eyed Casanova. He was convicted of a stabbing a teenage mother to death in front of her infant son and trying to cover it up by blowing up her apartment. The crime took place just six months before he began hanging out with me and my friends at school. Thankfully, I survived my run in with danger unharmed.

Yet, 23 years later, I read the letter by Turner’s victim and was saddened to see life for college aged women is not any safer now than it was when I was in college. I was horrified to learn women are still blamed for the cruel, callous, violating actions of others. I immediately thought back to the nauseous feeling I got when I opened our school newspaper my senior year and read a story of an attack on one of my friends. She remained silent for years until she could not anymore. I wondered why she hadn’t come forward sooner and allowed us, her friends, to help fight for justice. The truth is she probably would’ve faced the same blame hoisted on Turner’s victim; she knew that and wanted to avoid it.

I know my other female friends and often casually discussed men who grabbed us on dance floor at parties and guests in our room who pushed for my physical contact that we didn’t want. We dismissed the incidents as something that just happens to women rather than seeing it as a serious violation. We brushed off the insulting names shouted at us by someone when we refused their advances; thinking that’s just how some men behave. As an adult I know that was wrong and cowardice for us not to stand up for ourselves and other women. Perhaps were responsible for generations of men like tuner’s father thinking we like the abuse so they teach the same behaviors to their sons. The woman who survived Turner’s attack has shown me the only way to truly effect change and regain your self-respect it’s essential to stand up to injustices in every form.

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 6/13/2016: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/an-education-in-danger_us_575ef295e4b0b1a79b2ec4c1

Small Miracles Make My Life Possible

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I couldn’t catch my breath. I’d made it down two flights of stairs to my front door with my wedding dresses on my arm and a bag with the shoes I hope to wear on my big day on my shoulder. I’m not sure how I balanced it all while grasping my cane in the right hand.

I flung the front door open and staggered on top my small porch; that’s when I noticed my next door neighbor and friend, Monica, was outside. Even though mere inches separate our homes, I hadn’t seen her in days. I had been pretty bedridden following another back procedure to alleviate the searing pain when I walk.

With a spring in her step, Monica raced up her stairs, which are adjacent to mine. She reached over the bannister and grabbed the dress bags from my arms and sprinted over to my vehicle.

“Do you need me to carry anything else?”

“No, thank you,” I replied. “That helped me out a lot.”

As soon as I got in the car, I checked the time and noticed I had an hour to get to my appointment.

“That may be just short of the time it takes for my leg to fall asleep because it’s not in use,” I mumbled.

When I got to the helix leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, Ten, fifteen, then twenty minutes passed while I sat in virtually the same spot. I shifted as much as I could, to try to wake up my irritated limb. But, nothing worked. My foot became numb and my thigh and calf tingled.

I distracted myself by dialing the alterations shop to let them know I was running a bit late and texting my mother to tell her about my delay. Afterwards, I turned up the radio and punched on my leg, trying to wake it up.

I got off the west side highway at the 79th street exit fifteen minutes after my dress appointment was supposed to begin. So, I called my mother again to see if she had made it to the shop. As soon as she picked up, I heard her telling the receptionist her daughter was on the way.

Just then, I saw a space open up on 80th and Amsterdam Avenue. I quickly pulled in. Then, I took out my pill case, tossed my medication in my mouth and chugged a sip of water.

“Mom, it’s going to take me a few minutes to walk one long avenue and two blocks to get to you. Please let them know.”

Rather than repeating my message, my mom said, “I’ll be back. My daughter walks with a cane so I have to help her.”

I waited at my car until my mother arrived. She carried the dresses while I took the bag with my shoes. By the time we got to the dress shop, I was a half hour late for my appointment and a burning pain shot down my left leg.

At least half a dozen women, two young girls, one dad and a dog crowded the small shop on Columbus Avenue. The sofa and chairs strewn were filled to capacity.

I saw the familiar glance of curiosity as I limped in the door behind my mother. A few people stared but no one got up to offer me their seat. I had no choice but to stand and keep smiling, hoping I’d convince my mom I wasn’t in any pain.

An hour passed. I knew because the time on my phone went off, signaling it was time to feed my meter. My mother volunteered to hike back and add money.

“You go in and change,” the seamstress shouted.

“Forget it, mom,” I said, stopping her from leaving the shop. “Let’s do my fitting now.”

My mom and I marched into tiny dressing room that was made smaller by dresses left hanging on the wall hooks. There was nowhere to sit down so my mother held me up as I undressed and stepped into my wedding dress. She then stood up my heels and held me steady as I took my first steps in them in more than a year.

A sharp stabbing pain raced up the back of my leg and across my lower back with every step. My mom supported me on the left and used my cane on the right. Slowly, we made it to the pedestal; that’s when the seamstress finally made an effort to help.

“So what’s going on with this dress?” The seamstress asked. “It’s a bit small on the top.”

Slightly embarrassed, I blurted out, “Well when I bought it I was dealing with a Lymphoma scare so I was about 40 pounds lighter. Guess I gained some weight back.”

“Well, then it’s a beautiful dress,” the seamstress said. “You should shorten the dress because it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to wear these heels.”

Stunned, I replied, “No I intend to wear them on my wedding day. I’ll be well enough.”

I thought I’d fall or pass out before the end of the fitting. But, I took a few deep breaths and I made it through. I limped off the pedestal proud that, for at least a few moments, I was like every other bride at her first dress fitting.

My mother and I gradually made our way back to my car. I could feel my heart beating rapidly as I approached. As soon as we got within feet of the vehicle, I saw a ticket on the car behind mine. We were an hour over the metered time so I was all but certain I’d have a ticket too. I was wrong.

I’m surrounded by small miracles every day that make my life as a chronically ill person run smoother. My autoimmune condition makes it hard to eat, to drive or even walk at times. Perhaps it’s because I’m sometimes reliant on others that I see every instance of selflessness, generosity, kindness or support as the rare, merciful gift. So whether I’m getting a helping hand from a neighbor, taking pills to ease the symptoms of my condition, accepting an arm of support from a mother, or receiving a grace period from a meter maid, I believe, all the little acts make each day bearable, brighter, and better than the day before; these are my miracles.

A Sick Woman’s Christmas Gift

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The twinkling lights from the garland strung across the door way to my kitchen left a golden haze over the dining room, which was packed with people; they were friends and relatives I’d invited over for surprise 65th birthday party for my mother. Throwing the bash wasn’t my idea, it was my father’s. I must admit, I hesitated to say yes. The reason: I was recovering from a severe cold that left me bedridden for days. It was the latest blow after spending months learning to walk normally again following procedures to correct problems with my back, possibly caused my autoimmune disorder of connective tissue. Financially, the cost of the party was going to stretch my already limited budget that was strained by medical payments for years of treatment for my chronic condition and surgeries. Also, I was just plain tired. Yet, I relented and sent out the text invited that brought everyone to my town home.

I’d laid out the champagne flutes to toast the woman who’d not only given me life but who took care me throughout my lymphoma scare, stomach surgeries, back procedures, two strokes and countless other debilitated episodes. Once the Prosecco was poured I picked up the birthday cake I purchased for her from Magnolia bakery and lit the candle. A rousing chorus of happy birthday broke out as I walked towards my mother with the cake.

I glanced over at the woman, who less than 24 hours before was at my father’s hospital bedside as he suffered another seizure, and I was grateful I was able to make her smile. As she blew out her candle, my nephew asked if she had a wish. She said, “No I don’t have a wish. I have everything I need.” In that moment, I felt as if I did too; I had joy.

When I turned to put the cake on the table to slice it, my father, who had checked himself out the hospital a few hours earlier, stepped forward with his champagne glass. He said, “Wait, Nika, this party wasn’t for your mother’s birthday at all.” Stunned and confused, I sat down on the edge of the sofa and listened as he said, “this party was for you. Raise a glass to my daughter’s friends. She is blessed to have the love and support of great people.” As his words hung in the air, my friend Kiada emerged from behind him, “there is a card and a gift.”

I peeled opened the card and read notes from nearly everyone in the room. I then extended my hand and took a tiny bag from her. With my brow furrowed, I unwrapped the tissue paper covering a piece of paper. I could barely hear Kiada speaking as I stretched the piece of paper out until it was flat enough for me to see it was a check. Kiada said, “I started a go fund me page, http://gofundme.com/s45tcfj8 and all of your friends chipped in to let you know that we love you.”

“What are talking about?” I exclaimed. “I had no idea. I don’t know what to say. Thank you. You know in the last two years I thought, at times, I might not see another birthday. It’s been long; it been a long road but I’m still here. Thank you all.”

I stared at the figure on the check and wondered how many people decided to help ease my burden and why they would do that for me. I questioned if I was deserving. In my prime, before my illness dictated my every movement, I’d tried to be a good friend, co-worker, sister, cousin and daughter. But, in recent years illness made me more reclusive.

Humbled, I walked back into the kitchen fighting back tears. I thought about how many times I raced down the stairs bright and early on Christmas and was often I’m disappointed because what I wished for wasn’t waiting for me. It wasn’t an item from any store or website. I always hoped for time with those I loved. I wanted phone calls and Christmas cards and letters that let me know that in my darkest and loneliest hours, even on a holiday, I could call any relative or friend and they’d be there. Staring at that check, I knew and now know that’s true. Because of this, I know this Christmas and those that follow will be filled with the peace of knowing I’m not alone on my journey.

Originally published in the Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nika-c-beamon/a-sick-womans-christmas-g_b_8853846.html

When I Blow Out My Candles

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I watch the flicker of the light for a few minutes while everyone sings. It’s so mesmerizing, I can’t hear anything around me other than the sound of my own breath. I stare at the fire as it dances playfully, almost taunting me as it reminds me that another year has passed. I close my eyes for a few seconds before I inhale and blow out my candles. My first thought: how many times I felt like the span of my life was as fleeting as the length of time a candle stays lit. Doctors told me I wouldn’t make it this far. Others reminded me time and again how close and how many times I was near death; it was so frequent, sometimes, I felt like I was on borrowed time.

My second thought is often about how I proved my numerous physicians wrong. I have valiantly faced every obstacle placed before me. I’ve literally learned to walk, talk, see and hear again as an adult thanks to a body ravaged by an autoimmune condition.

Once I clear my mind, I think about what I should wish for. I suppose, my friends, family and even strangers would guess I’d ask for better health but I never do; although I often hope for greater gap between my flare ups and hospital visits. I don’t ask for a longer life either but I do end my wish by thanking God for the time I’ve had. Sure, I should probably ask for more sales for my books so I can pay medical bills, take a vacation or just give myself some relief. But, I don’t do that either. I’m just grateful that I’ve sold enough copies to know someone other than people who know me own my work.

No, actually, when I blow out my candles I make the same wish every year. I’m not superstitious so I can share my real request. My wish is simple; it’s that I am remembered for making a difference.

I’ve long suspected I may not outlive my loved parents, siblings or most of my friends. I’ve only prayed that I live as long as I can, as well as I can and love as deeply as I can. And, I pray that I am the best daughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker, fiancée, and human beings I can. Of course, I do occasionally fall short. Still, I try to continue to better at all roles.

So, in the same spirit in which I live my life, I don’t just hurl my wish into the universe and wait for it to be fulfilled. I work hard to create memories, to volunteer my time, to be there for loved ones and to craft stories that tell my life story. I don’t do it because I think I’m particularly remarkable but I know my journey to being at peace with my mortality, my illness and my faith are all things that may help someone else facing similar circumstances.

On Dec. 17, when I go to blow out my candles again I will again re-examine my master to do list, which contains all the things I want to accomplish in this life before I go. I know I’ll be able to check off a few more things. Then, I’ll stare at the delicate flames, close my eyes, say thank you for all that I have and wish one more time that someone, anyone, will remember I was here and feel my loss because I made a difference.