#SWAAYthenarrative

My Journey From Foster Homes To Fostering Peace of Mind

7 Min Read
Self

We all have experiences in our lives that can influence us forever, even though we may not realize it in the moment. One such event for me took place when I was about 11 years old, about my daughter's age. I was a small, scraggly, malnourished kid that had escaped one bad foster home just to get stuck in another. The main difference was that this foster family just happened to live across the street from a park, so I would run across the street to that park every day to untangle myself from the crosshairs of their dysfunction.

I was a small, scraggly, malnourished kid that had escaped one bad foster home just to get stuck in another.

Oftentimes, there would be an old man sitting on a park bench just passing the time. It started with just a "Hi," then turned into longer conversations. Then, one day, out of the blue he said, "I have a surprise for you in my car!" Of course, my spidey senses woke up, but for some reason, I followed him anyway. He had one of those big grandpa type cars with a huge trunk. He pointed to the trunk and said, "Stand right here and close your eyes."

I know. This is the part in a horror movie when you shout "NO!" at the screen. For some reason, I did as he asked. The trunk popped open, I opened my eyes, and I saw an enormous rectangular cake that had "Happy Birthday Lillie!" written across the top in frosting. At that point in my life, my birthday was just a regular day. I had never even tasted birthday cake, much less had one specifically for me. My name may have been spelled wrong, but no biggie. We both ate as much cake as we could and parted ways. I just assumed that I'd see him at the park the next day, but I never saw him again.

That old man could have had an underlying sinister ideas, but at that moment, it didn't materialize.

The many facets of this event generated different emotions within me through various stages of my life.

The excitement of my first cake ever in my child brain.

The kindness of strangers in my teenage brain.

How I may have cheated death in my single lady brain.

Incredulity at the idea of ever letting my daughter go to the park alone in my new mother brain.

And in my researcher's brain, how something as simple as cake can bring relief amidst the chaos of childhood and the correlation with how we try to replicate that same feeling with alcohol, drugs, and food as adults.

For the next few decades after the cake in the park, as I gathered the ingredients of supposed happiness: education, job, marriage, home, exotic vacations, and charitable acts, I also began to gradually suppress who I was and where I was from. I ended up in an environment where assimilation was paramount. An environment that is uncomfortable with showing pain or voicing an opposing opinion. So, I stifled it all inside myself. I was just a concocted version of me that was presentable to the outside world.

Eventually, a rumbling started within. I wasn't exactly sure what it was, but it felt like a combination of dissatisfaction, irritation, and confusion. I'd lash out at whoever was closest to me thinking they were the source. I would push the rumbling down by getting angry at myself for not being grateful for how far I'd come. I tried to guilt myself into feeling content. How could someone who came from nothing and now seems to have everything feel this way?

I was just a concocted version of me that was presentable to the outside world.

After years of escaping scary situations, and even the authorities, I couldn't escape this feeling that I was not living an authentic life. So I blew up my life in the ugliest way. I'll spare the details with respect to others involved. But after I finished victimizing myself and hit rock bottom through my own self-destructive behavior, I developed a curiosity for why I did what I did and how I could have avoided it.

Technically, my life is no different than millions of others. It's a part of the human condition to experience trauma. We have all suffered in our lives. We've been ignored. We've felt insignificant. We've doubted ourselves and our worth. So we spend years experiencing and then building up a tolerance to pain, and then we spend the next few trying to protect ourselves from it. Somewhere along the way, we have to figure out who we really are and do some real work on ourselves. In mechanic's terms, work on the engine instead of the body. Understanding that process allows a person to work on things gradually rather than just self-imploding like I did.

After years of escaping scary situations, and even the authorities, I couldn't escape this feeling that I was not living an authentic life.

Here's the thing, I have more street cred than anyone in my neighborhood and am definitely more gangster than any of my mom-friends, so it's awkward to admit that I needed to work on myself. Where I'm from, people get beat up for talking like that! To get ahead of it all, my research morphed from how to deal with pain to healing from pain by finding the most efficient way to do the most repair in the shortest amount of time and with minimal discomfort. So, we can all get on with our lives. Afterall, we all have somewhere to go, things to do, and money to make.

I went out and tried practically every therapeutic method out there and when I found what worked, I studied it intensely. The methods that were most effective for me involved going deep within myself to make repairs at the source — usually, this was rooted in reflection, meditation, and hypnosis.

This was a confusing process for me; I am a natural skeptic. How could change really happen by just thinking or not thinking? Everything I did usually required some form of blood, sweat, and tears. I went along with it, and then, much to my surprise, I started to see results. Some were immediate and some were gradual. Things didn't bother me as much anymore. I was more focused on my goals. I felt like I was actually standing taller because I wasn't carrying all that extra baggage.

We spend years experiencing and then building up a tolerance to pain, and then we spend the next few trying to protect ourselves from it. Somewhere along the way, we have to figure out who we really are and do some real work on ourselves.

When I focused on the source within me that had been causing my discomfort, I was able to fix it. I didn't have to deal with it again. I used to just blame someone or something else for my problems. Or I would distract myself with alcohol, drugs, shopping, gossip, or even just zoning out and staring at a screen. All that did was push it to the next day. That's why I started Chunkybrain.

I didn't have the bandwidth to focus inward until I was able to get a handle on the daily struggles of my life. But along the way of helping myself, I also began to focus my formal education so I could help others. As a result, I blended meditation and self-hypnosis, which I call focused meditation, to share this new technique with my clients so they can deal with their own daily struggles and get in the right frame of mind to do the long-term repairs they need on themselves.

I call it focused meditation because it can get someone to a relaxed, meditative state while also clearing out their mental blocks and focusing on certain goals as in hypnosis. Throughout this process, the more I embraced all forms of myself, intelligent me, street me, scared me, recovering me, authentic me... the more helpful I was to others.

When I focused on the source within me that had been causing my discomfort, I was able to fix it. I didn't have to deal with it again.

Chunkybrain is a twist on regular meditation, and it's not for the faint of heart. You know what they say, you can take the girl off the street, but you can't take the street out of the girl. In the recordings, I have a little fun with some foul language and slang, but it doesn't take away from the purpose. I feel like this connects better with people more like me. I utilize the science behind working with the subconscious, but I do it while using everyday language. It's a little less "woo-woo," and it helps with feeling less like an imposter.

To me, ChunkyBrain is scientifically sharing the relief I got from that cake all those years ago without the calories or the crash. Namafuckenste. (In the most respectful way possible!)

5 Min Read
People

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top


You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.