I grew up in a small town called Prarieville, Louisiana, sandwiched in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. There on the land inherited by my grandmother I had the typical upbringing of a poor black single parent home. We watched the Jeffersons, Good Times and Sandford & Son. We enjoyed the music of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye and the one and only, Luther Vandross. I was a part of the struggle of a single Black American mother raising 7 kids on her own. I saw the privilege of being a white southerner opposed to being a southerner of color. I felt the stereotype that came along with being black. The ideas black culture had on white society seemed to be accurate.
Then I moved to Marietta, Georgia for college. My college years were a crucial time in my life that shaped my worldview. This time played a role in who I was becoming as an adult. I went through this time with predominately White American friends. We studied together, we played together, we ate together and went to church together as well. Together we experienced growing pains. We shared the heartbreak that comes with adulthood. I went home with these friends and truly felt like part of the family. Then there were times I felt like the token black friend or the elephant in the room. They did not understand where I was coming from or what it took for me to get here.
The combination of these experiences have helped me to realize that there are things the white culture has gotten wrong about black culture, there are also things the black culture has gotten wrong about white culture. But, more importantly, these experiences have allowed me to live my life in the grey zone. I believe this zone was formed when people who possessed compassion in the white culture met a group of black people who were seeking the truth. Together they met a group with some intellectual and physical limitations but full of hope. Out of their conversation came the grey zone. In this zone truth is in the air, compassion is in the water, hope grows like fruit on trees. Everybody, in this zone, lives off the land. The best part about living life in the Grey Zone is one doesn’t have to drive a certain car or make a particular income. It’s not about status. It’s about the understanding of yourself and others.
In the zone, classism is choked out. There is no space for a practice which subordinates people due to income, occupation, education and/or their economic condition. A person can not expect another person, who does not have the same privileges, to live up to their standards. It makes no difference whether a person is living life outside of our culture, raised under the same roof, or raised by us if they have not had the exact same privileges directly influencing their lives then they cannot live up to our standards. In the grey zone, no one is expected to live up to someone else’s standards; they are the standard. The potential, resources, experience, and education of an individual sets the standard which they have to live up to. Everyone in this zone encourages others to live up to their own standard.
In this zone, respect trumps privileges. There’s no explanation for it, it’s just ‘the way it is.’ Also, in this zone, there is no way to gain respect other than taking responsibility. A life without privileges does not exclude anyone from their responsibilities. People in this zone do not fall victim to internalized oppression. They are not accepting and living out the inaccurate myth and stereotypes that are placed on their culture. At the end of the day, they take responsibility for their successes and failures in life. The preconceived notions and unfair system set up to drain them only fuels their drive for success.
The grey zone insists on continuing education. Everyone must remain teachable. Moreover, if an individual in this zone is different in any way they are not only to remain teachable but they are also assigned the role of a teacher. Our differences make us rare, therefore; valuable in this zone. We are the key to recruiting and training allies. Anti-oppression starts with the willingness to share our knowledge and experiences so others can learn and grow.
No doubt about it, had I lived my entire life based on the experiences I have had in the black community or the knowledge I gained from the white community, I would not have grown into the person I am today. In the grey zone, my knowledge gelled with my experiences and formed wisdom. I believe, through my faith, there is a place called Paradise every one of us can one day live in it. In that place, there will be no judgment, no hate, no bigotry and no preconceived notions. However, we cannot survive in such an environment. Our mind and hearts are underdeveloped. We must live our lives in an incubator. The grey zone that I speak of is that incubator. Therefore, we all should attempt to create or find a grey zone that we can live and grow in.
No doubt about it, life from the viewpoint of a wheelchair has indeed expanded my worldview, not limited it. My disability has gifted me with a broader perspective on life. Also, keep in mind while reading this article, I have a bachelor degree in communications, a certification in human behavior, a certification in life coaching and Christian beliefs that have fueled my deep passion for all people. To put the icing on the cake, I have traveled the world and worked with many individuals with different backgrounds over the last 18 years. It is fair to say, my opinions are confirmed by my education and refined by my experiences. Confirmed knowledge, mated with refined experiences gives birth to wisdom. I would like to make an appeal to you based on that wisdom. The heterosexuals and the Christian community have to understand some things about the LGBTQ community.
The things that I am about to bring to your comprehension is not to persuade you to any side of the table. It’s simply food for thought. I want to allow you to come to this table with a plate full of understanding. Some may say that they don’t want to understand and that’s okay. But one cannot begin to judge what they refuse to understand. If you are going to weigh in on the LGBTQ conversation there are some basics you must contemplate.
Let’s make it clear when I speak about the LGBTQ community I am talking about consenting adults. Consensual adults are very different from an underage person being taken advantage of by an adult. Somehow in the midst of this LGBTQ conversation, we have thrown in child abusers. A child abuser can be that of any sexual orientation which is totally unacceptable. To reiterate, this conversation that I’m trying to have is about two consenting adults.
Let’s start with something very simple. If we want to come across as educated people we can not continue to refer to someone’s sexuality as a ‘lifestyle.’ A person’s sexuality is defined by the person they are naturally attracted to. Lifestyle is the material things you choose to surround yourself with. One base a person lifestyle by their home, car, clothes, job etc. The term ‘gay lifestyle’ is used by some heterosexuals in reference to how promiscuous they think all members of the LGBTQ community are. If we are going to assume the responsibility of judging others we can at least be fair in our judgment. Regardless of the sexuality of the group every group whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual has promiscuous individuals in their group. Since the beginning of time men and women have been expressing themselves sexually.
It has also been implied that the ‘gay lifestyle’ is the atypical method that a same-sex couple uses to express themselves sexually. For a heterosexual, those methods are not necessary and therefore the act is perceived to be perverse. However, the fact is the human race, by nature, are curious and experimental creatures. We are all looking for various ways to satisfy ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically as well as sexually. Whether homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual, people are not able to live their whole lives off of one sexual act to another, therefore by definition it cannot be a lifestyle. A lifestyle is the combination of the way a person lives physically, spiritually, professionally, financially and mentally.
Now let’s talk about this idea of sexuality being a choice. My parents weren’t the best parents in the world but they tried hard to help me think through my decisions and life. I find it hard to believe that they just forgot about giving me the choice of choosing my sexual identity. No one has ever sat me down and asked me who I would like to be attracted to. I don’t recall taking that test in school where they asked me to check A) if you want to be attracted to black people, B) if you want to be attracted to larger people, or pick C) if you want to be attracted to a female. We just grow and live our lives and we are naturally drawn to our likes and dislikes. Besides that, we don’t live in a society where any individual has enough confidence in themselves to knowingly choose to be different. Our society is deeply rooted in bullying, segregation, discrimination, and hatred towards anything that does not fit into a USA mold. One learns early in life that if you are different, in any capacity, you are automatically subjected to humiliation, ridicule, and possibly outcaste. Who would make a decision to live their lives through such horrible experiences? Why do you think the suicide rate of the LGBTQ teens is so much higher than heterosexual teens? Like I said in the beginning, let’s use some common sense in this conversation.
Now brace yourselves, you are about to read something that may knock you off of your feet, the Bible does not condemn a committed same-sex relationship. One who suggests otherwise is not going back to the Greek and Hebrew interpretation of the scriptures. As a matter of fact, before the 1970’s the word homosexual never appeared in the Bible. In the 70’s significant changes took place in the U.S. People were afraid of what the world was becoming. The fear of change, personal biases, and religious beliefs is an awful combination to interpret the word of God with. It’s not hard to understand why the word ‘sodomite’, was swapped out for the word ‘homosexual’ during that time. In the past, Sodomites were referred to as prostitutes, more specifically male prostitutes. It is true that God would never approve of anyone using their bodies for income, male or female. Back then they weren’t only doing this, but they were doing it in the temple, of course, God wouldn’t approve of that. This is just one instance of the 8 scriptures that have been misinterpreted to pin God against homosexuals.
We cannot use the bible to simply support our own personal views and make it seem like it’s the stance that God takes on homosexuality. I’m not condemning the church because I understand that it is very hard to translate a manuscript that was written thousands and thousands of years ago from a dead language translated into many different current languages around the world. Of course, some verses in each translation are bound to be incorrect. However, I will say that because of this knowledge we cannot use our interpretation of a few scriptures to tell millions of people that they are going to hell because of a natural desire that they didn’t ask for, to begin with. Furthermore, I believe God is a God of priority. I’m sure that He has a long list of issues that need to be addressed and fixed in this world. If someone loving a person of the same sex is on His list, it’s probably the last thing on His list; being that He is love from the very beginning.
Natural is relative. As a young boy growing up with a disability my mom really tried hard to make me fit in with everyone else. She wanted my disability not to be so apparent. She would constantly tell me ‘Chris don’t slur your words like that, don’t hold that that way, don’t sit like that.. ‘ And what she was really doing was forcing my body to appear natural by being unnatural. What she saw as natural body movements for everyone else was unnatural for me. The harder I tried not to allow my body to move the way it naturally wanted to move the more I appeared to be abnormal. She wanted me to naturally do what my body was incapable of doing. The way she wanted me to carry myself was natural for her but unnatural for me. For a person who has natural heterosexual desires to pursue an intimate relationship with a homosexual is unnatural. This is also true for someone who has homosexual natural desires and attempting to pursue a relationship with a heterosexual. What is natural for one, is just not natural for all.
Now that we have gotten through all of that, let’s be totally transparent. The issues that the straight and Christian community has with the LGBTQ community is not their ‘lifestyle,’ religious beliefs, or whether or not it is natural. The truth beneath all that is they are uncomfortable with the LGBTQ community. This fact is the nitty gritty. Their inability to relate to the community puts them on edge and that’s okay. If we want to be honest with ourselves, we are all uncomfortable with people who are different from us. Some can be uncomfortable with a person with a disability, one may be uncomfortable with a person with different ethnic background from theirs. A Christian may be uncomfortable with a person of the Catholic faith. Our comfort level for another person does not justify segregation, discrimination or hatred. A person is not wrong for being who they are because it challenges another person’s comfort level. The reality is, this is a huge world. This world is big enough for all of us to be comfortable with who we are. We are not being crammed into one tiny space.
Finally, the world is big enough to afford all if us the option of going into our corner of the world. You certainly have a right to form a bond with the people you feel comfortable enough to do life with. Just be aware of the possibility of real relationships are very slim there. There will be family, coworkers, church members and good friends in your corner who value your relationship so much that they only reveal the parts of themselves they know you will accept. They are not hiding who they are. They are protecting themselves from the pain of life in your corner. Every one of us does the things we think we must do to protect ourselves. So, don’t expect authentic relationships to come out of your corner of the world. Be prepared to answer the question, “Did I make that person feel they couldn’t be who they really are to be in my circle?” Or really think about the things I mentioned above and open your mind, heart, and world up to authentic relationships.
One thing I hope my life inspires others to do is to use their challenges and adversities for something great. For me, it has always been to tell other people the story of God’s mercy and grace. Lori O’Driscoll used the life and death of her daughter to inspire people not to take life for granted. Lori said her daughter boogie boarded and went zip lining, go-karting, ice-skating, bungee jumping, and horseback riding, despite knowing she could have a seizure at any moment. You can read her story here: http://www.monroecourier.com/48111/inspiring-woman-shares-story-of-hope/.
‘Don’t let the fear of dying prevent you from living.’– Christopher Coleman, America’s Unconfined Motivational Speaker, Author, Life coach, D&I expert.
My guest blogger, Antony Suarez-Smith, wrote the previous blog for us on Bullying. If you read my last book ‘No Longer Confined’ I suggested that society trains bullies and then punishes them for placing that training into action. The following article is what I mean by this…This month, Kristie Auman-Bauer, a writer for Penn State University interviewed Erica Frankenberg in her article ‘School choice policies may impact segregation and diversity of public schools.”
According to Erica Frankenberg, associate professor of education and demography and co-director of the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Penn State, “The current student choice policies do not take race into consideration, but it is unclear whether or not they are creating diverse schools,” Frankenberg explained. “In order to avoid many of the perceived legal risks in adopting policies based on race, many school districts now use socioeconomic status in assigning students, which may not be as effective for racial integration.” CLICK HERE TO READ MORE. Link to Article: http://news.psu.edu/story/469109/2017/05/22/research/school-choice-policies-may-impact-segregation-and-diversity-public
We cannot end bullying while accepting any form of segregation or discrimination. To do so, makes society a hypocrite. Not only that but children mimic the actions of adults. If we want to end bullying, we have to end segregation and discrimination because that is the root of bullying behavior. We all know to truly kill a tree you must destroy it’s roots. Let’s kill discrimination and segregation.
Hello wonderful world,
From the moment I was born, and pronounced dead, my life has been one miraculous breakthrough after another. Doctors thought I would never talk. Today, I am talking to thousands who come to hear my words of inspiration. Some of my speech may be broken, but my spirit is not broken. Few probably thought I’d be able to complete a college degree, move to a major city alone, become a homeowner and successfully jet-set around the country to conduct business, just like everybody else. Now, I am living an unconfined life.
What’s my definition of an unconfined life? Does it mean ability to walk? No, it goes much deeper than that. It means ability to soar … ability to be free. It is the experience of a personal, physical, spiritual, professional or financial breakthrough. Most people are confined in one or more of these areas. An Unconfined Life is a personal movement in which the individual presses beyond boundaries in ALL areas of their lives. Living an unconfined life means tearing down walls in all areas of your life. I believe that you are living an Unconfined Life when circumstances do not prevent you from loving others (despite their possible differences), finding a healthy balance, living out your faith, pursuing your dream, and investing in your future.
My life’s mission is to provide encouragement and teach principles needed to live an Unconfined Life. I know that everyone, at some point, will experience personal, physical, spiritual, professional and financial barriers. Through D&I consulting, motivational speaking, team dynamic consulting, team dynamic coaching, life coaching, published literature, and social media relationships, I am available to guide your organization, your team or you to your personal breakthrough.
How do we begin a movement toward an Unconfined Life? The process varies depending on the area of confinement, how strong the hold is on you, and how long you been confined in that area. There are 7 basic steps that must be applied:
Step 1: Admit To The Areas You Are Confined In
Is it personal, physical, spiritual, professional or financial?
Personally Unconfined – happens when we are daily pursuing a relational and emotional healthy life.
Physically Unconfined – is achieved when our health and mental condition do not dictate our lives.
Spiritually Unconfined – is when your truth and belief are drawn from something greater and deeper than ‘organized religion’.
Professionally Unconfined – is passionately doing work that relies on our contribution, challenges our work ethics and allows us to grow.
Financially Unconfined – is when our resources sustain us and benefit others.
Step 2: Identify The Barriers
Is there a line you will not cross, a box you cannot get out of, or an imaginary wall you believe to be real?
The Line – we draw the line based on a lack of knowledge, unwillingness to change, a degree of pride, or fear of the unknown. Either way it’s a line that you have drawn and confined yourself to.
The Box – the box we find ourselves living in is the results of the thoughts and perspective of others, the fear of being judged, a desire to fit in and the stereotypes you give in to. In this case your environment has confined you.
The Imaginary Wall – the imaginary wall is preconceived outcomes from un-researched information. It is a baseless theory that has power over your life. It cannot even be traced back to a source. You are really confined in theory.
Step 3: Recognize The Influence YOU have on YOUR own Barriers
The Line, Box or Imaginary Wall is influencing four major components of your life. They influence your:
Thoughts – from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep we are thinking about something.
Beliefs – what I often say is, your belief will sustain you or destroy you.
Convictions – your convictions are a combination of what you have a passion for and what you are willing to change.
Reality – your reality is the current condition that you are in.
Step 4: Examine The Line, Box & Imaginary Wall
Why does it have a hold on you?
How can you weaken its grip?
Did anyone play a role in your captivity?
Did you give in without a fight?
Step 5: Defining Your Breakthrough
How will it look to be totally free? (Visualize it, Sense it, See it, Smell it, Feel it)
What do you have to change?
What do you have to accept?
Who and what will your breakthrough affect?
Step 6: Plan Your Escape
What needs to be done?
When is the best time to do it?
Who needs to be involved?
What do you need to empower yourself to a breakthrough?
Step 7: Follow Through With The Plan & PUSH
Cry your last tear.
Let go of the past.
Look at the reality of the present.
Step out on the path to your desired future.
I understand this is a difficult process to go through, alone. I have good news: You do not have to. I can be right there with you; giving you more insight through D&I consulting, motivational speaking, team dynamic consulting, team dynamic coaching, life coaching, published literature, and social media relationships, you can always find me.
Are YOU living an unconfined life?
The MTV Movie & TV Awards celebrates the gifts and talents of the LGBTQ community. Two people of the same sex kissing is no longer viewed as gross, but praiseworthy. Brian McBride wrote: “One of the night’s biggest moments came when Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome won “Best Kiss” for Moonlight. It may not sound like a big deal, but that particular award is entirely voted online by fans, which means that younger viewers voted for the first time for two queer African American characters to take home the win.” “This award is bigger than Jharrell and I, this represents more than a kiss,” Sanders said in his acceptance speech. “This is for those that feel like the others, the misfits — This represents us.”
Like it or not, the world is changing. The younger generation relies on their EQ, emotional intelligence, more than IQ, intellectual quotient. EQ is self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to deal sensitively with other people. It’s clear societies beginning to appreciate the gifts, talents and abilities from a variety of different sources and people. To find out how Emotional Intelligence will play such a crucial role in diversity, inclusion and equality contact me at Christopher@christophercoleman.net or call my assistant, Antony, at 770.294.0860.
Christopher D. Coleman
Diversity & Inclusion Expert- Motivational Speaker- Life Coach- Author