By Melissa Akie Wiley
She looked at my face with disgust. My infant daughter cooed. I had just placed the baby into a shopping cart when the woman first approached. A stranger. She came too close. Staring at my daughter.
“Your baby is perfect,” she said. “She looks like a doll.”
I thanked her and pulled the cart away. Then the woman looked up at me and froze. She was silent and scurried to her car, as if I might run after her. I stood in front of the grocery store with my daughter. The automatic doors opened and closed but I didn’t move. My baby smiled. Too young to know that she is beautiful but her mother is disfigured.
My daughter is 2 years old now. She has round blue eyes and blonde hair. Her face inspires joy. My face is lopsided and scarred. It was a dog attack. I was five. I am not afraid of dogs. People always seem more concerned about my feelings toward dogs than they do about me. I have had over thirty surgeries and they helped. But my face is instantly noticeable. And the world is bothered by asymmetry and imperfection. I am also part Japanese and part white. My skin is too pale and my hair is too dark. People tell me that my daughter is perfect and then they say she looks nothing like me.
I have never looked like anyone. Bi-racial and disfigured is a cocktail of isolation. In childhood, I left my hometown of Boulder, Colorado every summer to visit my Japanese grandma in Tucson, Arizona. One summer I begged her to take me to a crowded shopping mall to buy doll clothes. I was 7 years old.
“Did you see that disgusting girl?” a woman said then.
She was talking to her daughter and looking directly at me.
The girl met my eyes and glared. Her hair twisted in a tight braid. I dreamed of ponytails but didn’t dare wear my hair up. I looked at the girl’s flawless appearance and sank into shame.
“So gross. I can’t believe she even came out of her house. She’s going to give me nightmares. She’s a monster,” the girl said. She was my age and already this callous.
The mother hugged her daughter and shot my grandma a scowl.
Then she said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. People should know better but she’s clearly with some immigrant nanny who probably doesn’t even speak English.”
We stood in silence with our doll clothes. I felt devastation that my grandma should suffer due to my deformity. I tried to wedge myself behind stacks of toys to prevent further commentary. My grandma adjusted her glasses with shaky hands.
“I am sorry I don’t speak good English,” she said.
That day she bought more doll clothes than she could afford. She had worked as a hotel maid and saved tips in the form of crisp dollar bills. She set this carefully preserved money aside for me. When we approached the counter to pay for the items, the cashier said, “what’s wrong with her face?”
“Nothing wrong with my granddaughter,” she said, in broken English.
Once I asked my mom if she was mad at God. We were sitting in my grandma’s backyard in Tucson. Looking at the night sky. It’s easier to talk about God’s failings in the dark.
On the day of the dog attack, she had only looked away for a minute. Long enough to drain noodles from a boiling pan. When she turned around, the yard lay covered in blood and my face was gone.
“No,” she said. “Because you are extraordinary. You have shown me what it is to live next to suffering and become truly beautiful.”
People ask how I survived. The answer is my mom.
I want to tell her that I am not mad at God because he gave me her, and a good mom is worth more than a pretty face. I am thankful I learned this lesson in youth. When I still have more years on the earth with my mom.
Tragedy in childhood is a spiritual offering. Early redemption creates a fast track toward a more meaningful and grounded life. I shed the frivolousness of appearance, money, and status like a butterfly discards a cocoon. Because when the world rejected me, I sheltered only with the tender hearted and my own soul. And if we’re lucky, that is where we all eventually end up anyway.
My daughter will grow up with a disfigured mom.
On my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college, I will take photos of her and children will stare. After I am gone, they will ruin these moments of childhood by asking what’s wrong with her mom. I know this because these moments were taken from me, too.
I will want to stay in the car to spare her. But I will not. Instead I will show up for everything. And when we hear the comments, I will tell her that the Japanese have a word, Kintsugi, which roughly translates to golden repair. It is the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and patching it with gold so that the imperfection is illuminated instead of disguised. I will tell her that my mother’s love was the glue that made my flawed life golden. And my love will hold her together, too.
This pain will make my daughter kind. It will teach her that the world is unduly harsh because we are all more broken than whole. And she will learn that love is restorative and the only thing of true beauty. She will inherit this wisdom in childhood. When we are both still young enough to walk the earth together.
And when people ask, I hope she says, “There is nothing wrong with my mom”.
Melissa Akie Wiley is a public servant and fierce local government leader by day and a mother and writer by heart. She strives to infuse joy into all aspects of service by living with authenticity and resiliance. After overcoming a disfiguring childhood dog attack, Melissa committed to a life of repair and love. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in Denver, Colorado. She is the director of the nationally-recognized, Denver Peak Academy and is currently working on her memoir.
This essay was first published on The Manifestation on February 8, 2021.
This is an excerpt from our latest monthly newsletter.
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While we were horrified by the terrorist event that happened last week in our nation's capital, we were not surprised. Journalists have been asking us for months what we mean when we say "we're scared". This is what Black, Indigenous and People of Color were scared of. This is what people of marginalized identities have been talking about the whole time. This is what the Black Lives Matter movement saw coming. And yet, not enough people believed it to the point of action.
The terrorists you saw on tv storming the capitol building weren't just a few rogue individuals. They are our coworkers. They are our neighbors. They are store owners. They are bakers and teachers and police officers and lawyers and mechanics and doctors and lawmakers. They have been hiding in plain sight this whole time, telling us we are being too sensitive, insisting we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, banning the way we wear our hair, insisting we are too loud and too angry, convincing you we are violent and ungrateful. They suppress our votes, they beat and arrest us for no reason, they let us die first in global pandemics, they hide our accomplishments and deny us our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
On the day of the coup, President-Elect Joe Biden tweeted, "The scenes of chaos at the capitol do not reflect the true America." We disagree. The scenes of chaos at the capitol are EXACTLY who we are in this country, and ignoring that fact is how we got here. We beg that you shed any sense of shock you may be experiencing, any sense of surprise. This is exactly what we have been saying for generations, but while more and more people are starting to listen, there still aren’t enough taking action and providing tangible solutions. The terrorist attack on the capitol was a direct attack on every American, but the interesting thing is, if we focus on finding solutions for the most marginalized, at-risk, and vulnerable groups among us, we are all elevated in turn.
We have been called to work on this platform that helps people of marginalized identities identify safe and welcoming spaces to do business, and if it isn't clear by now that white supremacy is everywhere, we don't know how else to show it.
That is what the platform we are building is designed to do.
We need to know NOW if a place of business, a park, or a restaurant is going to be safe for us. Businesses need the opportunity to see their true impact on the communities they serve NOW, so they can access the resources we have available to be part of the change they might not yet realize is needed.
We can not wait any longer.
The news of the attempted coup came in when we were on the phone with each other. Though fear and anger came as a result of this news, we continue to receive hope and joy through this work. Inclusive Journeys is a release for us. When we face these reckonings, we are able to do something in this moment to help ourselves feel safer tomorrow. The privilege to do this work is afforded to us by generous donations from our allies, like you. Lower down in this newsletter is a list of more actions you can take. You don't have to do them all, but please, do something.
- Crystal & Parker
By: Shalana Gray
We hear it time and time again… All lives matter. Why are you making this about race? If you protested peacefully, more people would listen to you. You are the ones causing a racial divide. White people get killed by police and experience discrimination, too. Segregation ended with the Civil Rights Act. Racism doesn’t exist anymore.
White friends- Please, just stop. Stop saying these things. Stop speaking on things you don’t understand. Stop trying to control the narrative of things that you have never experienced firsthand.
When a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) person tells you that racism has affected their lives, just listen. The phrases above serve to invalidate their experiences, silence them through racial gaslighting, deflect conversations about race, and uphold centuries of systemic racism that benefit white people whether you realize it or not. And to be clear: as a white cisgender woman, I will never fully understand the lived experiences of BIPOC folx. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t believe them.
I digress. If you are on the Inclusive Journeys website and are reading this blog, I assume that you are already working to learn more and be a better ally. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue the conversation.
Let’s talk about allyship.
When yet another series of Black Americans were murdered at the hands of police and vigilantes, did you ask: “How can I help?” When hundreds of years of racism in the United States once again came to the forefront of our conversations and flooded our social media feeds, did you reach out to a Black friend to ask where to donate or how to take action?
These sentiments are great, but let’s talk a little bit more about it. Many Black folx are tired, overtaxed, and traumatized. It is not their job to teach you or to shoulder all of the emotional labor. It is not their job to do the research for you. I’ll be the first to say it- I am guilty of this. After Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in the street while out for an afternoon jog, I texted a Black friend to ask which organizations were the best to donate to. I wanted someone to tell me what to do instead of figuring it out myself. She graciously responded, but I realize now that my good intentions did not supersede the labor I asked her to perform.
But that’s part of being an ally. It’s not a title, but a process. You might make mistakes along the way. You might even be called out for it. Your good intentions might have a negative impact. In the end, an ally should always embrace those opportunities for learning and growth.
(P.S... Check out these resources on moving from an ally to an accomplice.)
The Digital Green Book Project is for allies, too.
Which brings me here… Everything written thus far exemplifies why the Digital Green Book Project is so important. Despite the harmful rhetoric that racism is a thing of the past, both overt and more insidious forms of racism continue to permeate our society. And even as a white woman who rarely faces discrimintation in public places, I will utilize this website.
When an ally asks where they should spend their money, the answers will be right here. Better yet, the answers will be provided voluntarily by users and the website developer will have been compensated for their work. When I want to support businesses owned by people of marginalized identities or businesses that are inclusive of diverse communities, all I need to do is hop on to this website. For lack of a better cliche, I want to put my money where my mouth is. The dollar is a powerful tool, and I want my dollar to reflect my own morals and beliefs (Even though inclusivity should be standard and not just a “belief,” but anyway...). We boycott places that contribute to discrimination and marginalization, so why not support places that are being inclusive? Better yet, by utilizing this website I can be part of a project that is helping businesses reflect and improve… Just like my own journey through allyship.
When a friend tells me that they didn’t feel welcome in a certain place, I believe them. When I am traveling with friends or planning a day out together, I don’t ever want to risk their comfort or safety. If a person is visiting my own community, I want there to be resources to help them have the best experience imaginable. The Digital Green Book is a platform for people to voice their concerns and for others to hear them, and I will use this website to extend a listening ear to those who are often invalidated or silenced.
Allies- This website is for us, too. The next time you find yourself asking, “How can I help?”, stick the Digital Green Book in your pocket as one of the many tools you can use to fight for inclusivity.
We got an email yesterday from a person who identified themselves as a reporter. Not gonna go into those details, as we respect the individual's privacy and would never want to put them on blast-- cancel culture is the worst! However, they did end up writing an article about us so we feel totally free to post something you could easily find on the internet yourselves. There were a couple of typos and a few factual errors, and, as the reporter could not be reached for comment, we took it upon ourselves to do our best to make sure they could find a copy of our edited version by posting it here. Enjoy!
WE DID IT!!!
We reached our first fundraising goal this morning!!!!
In only 2 ½ weeks, our gofundme met our initial $25,000 friends and family fundraising goal. We were overwhelmed by the amount of support demonstrated by our friends, family, and complete strangers. We had people donate money, time, expertise, labor, media connections and cheers. There is no way we could have done this without your support, and yes, I mean YOU.
So we met our goal… what next?
This was our initial fundraising goal where we reached out to friends and family, a vital step to demonstrating that WE CAN DO THIS, and that there is a market and a need for our work. You all showed UP for this part, which is allowing us to transition into Phase 2.
Phase 2 involves the following:
Calls To Action
So many people have been reaching out to us, asking what they can do to help. Here are some things you can choose from, depending on your time and resources:
Instagram: @InclusiveGuide, @kweenwerk, @crystalegli
Facebook: Just search for Inclusive Journeys, and you’ll find our page with our logo!
3. Help us find connections to companies that could be potential donors.
• Right now, businesses and companies large and small are looking for a way to show
they are practicing anti-racism, and not just talking about it. They are YEARNING for
solutions, and we have one! We’re eyeing anyone from REI to VF Corp, Car and Driver
to Google. If you know someone who could help get our foot in the door, please help
us make those connections.
4. Write a personal email to family/friends about what donating to our project means to
• Include links to our gofundme and our website
• Let them know this is a way they can ACT, and support a Black startup that is trying to change the world.
5. Send us an email of support!
• For real, this would mean so much to us. We started to get some hate mail (blog about that coming soon), so we need all the good vibes we can get.
• Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put KUDOS! in the subject line.
Thank you so much for all your support!
Now, let’s change the world.
- Crystal & Parker
“Racism is Not a Game”
By: Crystal Egli
Our startup reached a major milestone today. Not a good one, but an expected one. Today was the day we received our first hate mail.
I found out about the nasty email when I received an early morning text from Parker. We’ve both fallen into the habit of working together (virtually) early in the mornings, before clocking in for our day jobs. We begin our days pumping each other up with positivity and joy, and I’m usually texting or calling her by 6:15am from my back deck with my dog sitting quietly beside me, daring the squirrels to take just one brave step into my vegetable garden. My phone buzzed at me, I glanced at it with anticipation, and then my heart fell. My dog gently nudged me as he sensed the tension grow. Parker was urging me to check our inbox asap, as we’d gotten a nasty submission from our website. Parker was angry. I was stunned. It wasn’t even the kind of hate mail we were expecting and 100% prepared to dismiss. This was something different, and we did not see it coming.
Parker McMullen Bushman and I are raising money via a gofundme to create a digital version of the Green Book, with a twist. We both value having honest and challenging discussions, actively fighting for equality and justice on behalf of (and as) marginalized individuals, and community building through authentic relationships and connections. These values are what defines our work and are the driving force behind designing a website which is, first and foremost, a place where people of marginalized identities can find safe and welcoming spaces to recreate and do business. At the same time it also provides resources and trainings for businesses to grow and improve. We’re not just putting unwelcoming spaces on blast; we fully intend to change the world in a fundamental way.
Parker and I have been anticipating receiving hate mail as we get further and further toward achieving our dream, but honestly, we didn’t expect it to arrive this soon.
Here is what it said:
The subject line was cut off, but I want you to know what it said. The subject line for this message was, “Racism Isn’t A Game.”
Racism isn’t a game. As my therapist would say, let’s sit with that for a minute.
While we’re sitting with it, let’s check out the definition of “game” by our friends over at Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.
Interesting. When I googled that I assumed it would include the word “fun”. But it doesn’t, and neither do we.
No, we do not think of racism as a game, and our mission to provide a database of inclusive and welcoming spaces for people of marginalized identities is certainly not a game to us. It’s comfort vs discomfort. It’s layers of trauma. It’s life or death. There are spoken and unspoken rules, and you can get ahead by playing into the unwritten rules, and it can be game-over if you make up your own. Oh, wait. Now I’m starting to think I might be onto something.
Bill Gates has been receiving plenty of conspiracy-laden hate mail lately, but do you think he and Peter Allen got their first nasty letter after only 3 weeks of letting people know they were tooling around with computer parts in a garage? Probably not, but we did. (Ok maybe the neighbors filed a noise complaint or two…?) This work is not a game in the sense of tag, hide and seek, or gin rummy, but there are still rules.
At Inclusive Journeys, we speak first from the Black lens, specifically, the Black, straight, cisgender, female/feminine, lens. We speak and work with the Black identity centered, because that is what we know, that is what we have lived, and it is what we are experts in by default. We are centering our project around the idea of creating “a digital version of the Green Book” because it is a historical connection that is meaningful to the both of us, and it’s easy to explain and make historical comparisons to. We use the Green Book framework to show that this isn’t a new idea, while bringing back to the forefront the story and work of Victor H. Green, a Black postal worker from Harlem, who society is dangerously close to forgetting. We stand on the shoulders of those who did this work before us, and we run alongside those whose work continues in parallel to ours.
There are a lot of resources out there to help people of marginalized identities find safe spaces, like restaurants, hotels, bathrooms, and parks. There are websites that list businesses owned by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), women, and people from the LGBTQ+ community. There are websites that help people of all abilities to find ADA compliant businesses, restaurants and pathways. At Inclusive Journeys, we plan to not only list businesses with a sense of all-encompassing welcoming atmosphere, but also provide resources for businesses to be able to learn and grow, and give them a chance to be better.
The apps and websites out there are providing incredible services and information to people who use them, but we are taking these ideas and turning the volume up to 11.
Inclusive Journey’s vision includes:
So why are we doing all of this work from a lens of the Black experience but for people of all marginalized identities? Well, honestly, I wouldn’t wish my customer experience on anyone else, and yet I know there are communities out there who potentially face exponentially more danger than I do from living their everyday lives in the comfort of their own bodies. Being a Black woman is one thing- there’s a couple strikes against me. Black and male might either be more or less dangerous, depending on the context. But Black and transgender is a whole other ballgame. The threat of discomfort, discrimiation and danger to a human being is exponentially compounded as you add up the identity labels society has assigned. We’re not out here to protect one group or another. We’re not trying to isolate one experience and say it’s more or less important to solve. What we do see is the intersectionality of the experiences of people of marginalized identities, and we are using the Black lens, our own experiences, and the fact that any Black person might also be part of the LGBTQ community, may need use of adaptive equipment, might have a Tribal affiliation or speak Spanish as their first language, or could possibly be a woman.
What good is it to be treated well by restaurant staff if you can’t get up the stairs to the entrance? (THAT IS STILL A THING BY THE WAY.) What’s the point of bakeries welcoming you in for a wedding cake consult, only to find out they won’t make your cake for another reason? Why visit a museum that proudly exhibits Black-Latinx history if you can’t understand the self-guided audio tour?
What’s the point of playing the game of Life if you’re not allowed to live it?
Crystal Egli is the co-founder of Inclusive Journeys, LLC.
You can find out more about the digital Green Book project at InclusiveJourneys.com.
Thank you for getting us this far!
UPDATES ON THE GREEN BOOK PROJECT
BY CRYSTAL AND PARKER
REIMAGINING THE QUILT CODE
Does the logo with the triangles look vaguely familiar to you? For those fleeing enslavement on the Underground Railroad, this symbol was a Code Pattern called “Flying Geese”. It was used to indicate a safe place for food, water, and shelter on a journey that was inherently dangerous and potentially deadly. This symbol and the places that displayed it were critical to the safety of those traveling away from danger.
Journeys today - to the corner store, or even your own doctor - are often still inherently dangerous and potentially deadly for Black and other marginalized communities. We plan to actively cultivate a database of safe spaces for people of marginalized identities, and allow for businesses, friends and family to proudly display their allyship. At Inclusive Journeys, we feel the need to rebirth a Code Pattern to ensure people from marginalized identities can easily identify safe locations to - well - exist. The reimagined Flying Geese symbol and corresponding inclusive travel guide will identify businesses, restaurants, medical professionals, and other key places that are safe and inclusive spaces for people from marginalized identities.
But it doesn’t stop there. We envision storefronts and restaurants marking their doors with Flying Geese stickers, allies proudly wearing pins to identify themselves, teachers putting the sticker on their classroom door… the opportunities are endless.
(Is our company name and logo starting to make more sense now?)
Making Our Moms Proud.
Updates on Media /Press Coverage.
Making our moms proud…
Last week we sent a press release to the media about our work on creating a digital version of the Green Book. Here are some media updates for the week:
CALL TO ACTION
We would be very grateful for any additional media contacts to send our project to. If you know anyone who works for a blog, newspaper, tv station, talk show, or is an influencer who wants to help uplift Black voices and Black work, please have them email us at email@example.com