Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blog 142: Resiliency – Protective Factors in a Child's Life

By Vernease Herron Miller, M.H.A., JD

     I have a 15-year-old son named Keith.  He is a rising 10th grader who is still learning to employ important life skills, some of which I think he should have mastered by now.  I find myself going through the same admonishments over and over again.  Keith, brush your teeth.  Keith, did you take a shower?  Keith, eat your food.  Keith, do your homework…..ok, check your homework….now it would be helpful if you would turn your homework in.  Keith, clean your room……Keith….”  I sound like a broken record.  In fact, I recorded his lacrosse coach’s closing season comments to him.  Keith, eat your vegetables and drink protein drinks over the summer so you can gain some weight.”  At least I won’t have to keep saying that over and over again. 
     My sister, Leila, in Blog 136: Tributes to my Parents, has already shared her nostalgic memories of our father growing up.  Her sentimental reflections, while accurate, are not exactly how I remember things.   
     What I remember is the unreasonably high, over-the-top expectations to succeed beyond the achievements of the previous generations, in spite of whatever real life barrier we faced.  I remember the absolute intolerance for poor/less that optimal academic performance.   
     I hated report cards because mine were never good enough.  Once I made two A’s, one B and one C.  My father said, “Next time the C needs to a B, the B needs to be an A, and the two A’s need to be double A’s.”  Yes, it was possible to make an AA grade in my high school, and my father thought that I should have AAs or A’s in every class.
     Then there was dinner time.  Nobody ever taught my father that dinnertime should be an enjoyable experience filled with supportive family conversation about non-controversial topics.  Instead of lovely chatter about the weather or an exciting upcoming event, our dinner conversation revolved around…..wait for it…..what happened at school today? Or, what do you think about (insert latest controversial issue)?  Naturally, I was silly enough to try to actually engage Daddy in debate or intellectual conversation.  The result was a lecture on why I had no business listening to, observing or participating in whatever I was dumb enough to tell him happened at school that day.  
      Then, for instance, there was the time I tried to instruct him about the virtues of the Black Panthers and necessary violent political revolution against the neo-colonialist fascist racist government we are forced to live in.  That was a mistake!  I think dinner lasted forever that night.  And God help you if you split a verb or dangled a participle. You could end up reciting grammar rules well into the night.  
      Speaking of rules – he had one for everything; how to act and how not to act; what to say and what not say; where to go and where not go; who to socialize with and who to avoid.  I could write a book about Daddy’s rules.  I tell you, it was a repressive environment.  How I survived to lament to you about it is a mystery and a miracle.
     When I went to college I felt like a prisoner set free.  No one has ever been happier to be away from somewhere as I was when my parents released me to Chatham College.  Footloose and fancy free is a great place to be.  I relished my freedom from the rules.  Woo hoo!    
     I was a political science major and education minor.  As part of my teacher training I taught English to adult students in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, PA.  My job was to prepare students for the GED test.  All those dinner table grammar lessons came in handy.  Twice each week I would take the bus to and from the community center.  Getting back to campus was the hardest part because the buses didn’t run as frequently after rush hour and I had to walk up the long dark hill to campus from the bus stop.  Nevertheless I enjoyed the teaching experience.  I had a small class.  They were eager to learn.  An older gentleman, was my star student.  He sat near the front of the class and answered every question correctly.  I rewarded him with warm smiles and the proverbial, “very good”. 
     The students gave me a wonderful thank you card and a small gift at the end of the semester.  I thought the gesture was really sweet.  When the last class was over, the old man rushed to my side to announce that he had a special gift for me.  I would have to come outside to receive it.  I gathered my things and followed him out of the building.  
      There, parked in front of the community center under the bright street light was a shiny 1968 canary yellow Dodge Charger.  Here are the keys” he said.  It’s my son’s car but he is in Vietnam.  I worry about you riding the bus so late at night.  You can drive it.  All you have to do is go downtown and get it registered in your name.  Here, I already signed the papers over to you.  What?” I said.  You’re giving me a car for nothing?”  Sure.  I just want to see you sometime…you know…we could go out to dinner.  
      I couldn’t believe it.  The old man was trying to pick me up.  I first thanked him for his generosity with his son’s car, and then apologized that I couldn’t accept such a gift.  Why?” he questioned.  Because, my daddy did not send me to college with a car and he knows that I can’t afford a car on my $100/month allowance from home.  He didn’t send me to college with a car and he better not find out that I have one.”   
     “Well don’t tell your daddy,” he advised.   
     “Sir you don’t know my daddy and trust me you don’t want to meet him if you give me this car.  Thanks, but no thanks.”  
      I told this story to my husband and he had this to say.   
     “Vernease, your father’s provision of a strong family life; his high expectations; the availability of opportunities to improve your life skills; the consistent system of rewards and punishments; and the constant monitoring of your activities by your parents, all worked together to create resiliency in your life.  Your father and all his demanding pressures served as protective factors which you should stop resenting and come to appreciate as a blessing in your life.  The repressive upbringing you describe made you resilient against old men with free cars.  You should be grateful.  Much of your success should be credited to your dad.  And, by the way, you are just like him.”  
      “Really?” I wondered.
     “Keith, get off that game and get to your homework…..did you hear me?  I’m not going to say it again.  And you better have that room cleaned up….it’s time to take a bath and get to bed.  You have school in the morning! ”
     Resiliency…. You have it or you don’t.  Thanks to Vernon and Louise Herron, I think I’ve got it.
About Author

     Dr. Vernease Herron Miller was appointed Interim Dean for Health-Related Programs at Pfeiffer University effective August 1, 2012.  She also retains the role of Director for Healthcare Programs while serving as Interim Dean.  Dr. Miller has been employed by the University since 1999 and holds the esteemed rank of full Professor Health Law and Administration.  As an active member of the faculty she teaches several required graduate and undergraduate health administration courses.  Dr. Miller enjoys her role as teacher and is well known as a mentor to students and faculty. 
     In 2005 Dr. Miller was chosen as the first recipient of sabbatical leave in the history of Pfeiffer University.  While on leave she served as a Faculty Fellow with the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University.  A dedicated servant leader, Dr. Miller is passionately committed to community service.  She is Chair of the Board and Managing Director for the Carolinas Association for Community Health Equity; a non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of health disparities throughout the Carolinas.
     Dr. Miller received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Chatham College (now Chatham University); a Master’s in Health Administration from St. Joseph’s University; and her doctorate from The American University, Washington College of Law. She is married to Keith Miller, a CMS high school teacher, and is the proud mother of three adult daughters and one teenage son.  Vernease is the eldest daughter of Vernon and the late Louise Herron. The Millers reside in Charlotte.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Blog 141: Word of the Month

     Each week, members and worshippers at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC are challenged with a “Word of the Month” like “informed,” “committed,” “anticipated,” “engagement,” “ involved,” “hearing,” etc.
     My beloved niece, Earline Dixon is the epitome of one who demonstrates “engagement” or “involvement.” She constantly practices Christian stewardship through church activities.
     In her own words, she says:
     “I have been a member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church since 1997.  There are so many opportunities to be a blessing to so many people, not only in our country but throughout the world.   I am presently serving as a member of the Ladies Choir and volunteer through Crisis Assistance Ministry, Womens Shelter, Womens Prison Ministry,  Greeters Ministry and as a Welcome Desk Receptionist.”
     That’s involvement! Don’t you think so?
     “Word of the Month” suggests that the “gospel” is a force for action. It must be lived. Let me tell you about this “child of God” in her own words to describe this mold.
      “I am a native of the Cherry Community of Charlotte.  I left Charlotte in 1957 to live with my mother, Lizzie McKenzie in New York, following the death of my beloved Grandmother, Frances Oliphant.
     When I reflect on my transition from Charlotte to New York, after my grandmothers death, I thank God for bringing me through that period of my life because it was as if I had lost everything and everyone at the same time.  My grandmother, by example, showed me how to be a wife, a mother and a decent caring person just by being one herself and being an example for me to follow.
     My grandfather did not have an elementary, high school or a college education. What he did have were common sense, a love for God and His word.  He walked over three miles a day to work in the rain, shine, sleet or snow to earn a paycheck to feed his family. 
     The person that I have become today is due partly  to my wonderful mother, Lizzie McKenzie and my grandparents, Walter and Frances Oliphant, from whom I learned the benefits of hard work and perseverance.  I thank God every day for their love, care and positive examples they tried to set for me while they lived.  I have tried my best with God's help to pass those values on to my children, Lisa and Sabrina and four grandchildren, Hashim, Omari, Tarik and Isaiah.  Remembering all of these things, how can I not believe in my Lord and Savior.
     I graduated from Williams Howard Taft High School in 1961, Bronx New York  and married my husband Alexander the same year.  After 52 years of marriage his love and support have always been present in our marriage due to our continuous love of our Lord and Savior and love for each other. 
     After our two daughters, Lisa and Sabrina, were born, I returned to school. I received a B.A. degree,  graduating cum laude from The City University of New York.  I earned my degree while working a full time job and attending school in the evening (so you see it can be done).  I am also a graduate of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff Office Citizen's Academy.
     I retired from the New York City Housing Authority, Staff Relations Dept. and the City of Charlotte Aviation Dept. with an accumulation of over 30 years of service. 
     Lest I forget, let me say how proud I was of my mother, Lizzie McKenzie  who decided to go back to school  at 55 years of age to get her CNA certificate and to get her license to drive! Also my thanks to my Uncle Vernon Herron for being my very first Vacation Bible School facilitator at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in the Cherry Community of  Charlotte. 
     I have described for you the foundation or the mixture for the ‘word of the month’- INVOLVEMENT. You do the same.”