Say Somethin’ – What’s happening where you live?

Why It’s Hard to Get Excited About My Child’s Acceptance into a Selective Enrollment School

Tina Fakhrid-Deen

My child got into one of her selective enrollment school choices for fall 2016. I’m happy for her. Really happy. My husband has already posted the great news on Facebook. I haven’t. There’s some anger, sadness and guilt which prevents me from celebrating this accomplishment, and it’s ironic because we’ve been stressed about this day for at least six years. That’s no exaggeration and we are not alone. I know that some of you are rolling your eyes, pulling out your tiny violins to hurl at me and telling me to get over my damned if you do, damned if you don’t middle-class guilt, but I can’t. It’s just not fair for these children. You have to be damn near perfect to get into these high schools, with no “B” grades and great testing abilities (cuz there are no re-takes). There are thousands of brilliant students from all economic backgrounds…

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Enough to reel you in?

I’m working on my novel… still. Writers can understand where I’m coming from. They say, it takes 10 years to complete your first novel. I’m slowly inching up on that timeline.

In the spirit of urging that along a bit, I thought I’d post an excerpt of the opening portion of my novel, “The Naysayers”, to get an idea of whether or not it’s enough to grab the attention of readers and make them want to read more. Of course, it’s a work in progress, and I ADORE constructive criticism. But, in the immortal words of Erykah Badu, “Imma test this out. Nah, keep in mind I’m an artist — and I’m sensitive about my $#!+”.



“All ya have to do is tell us the plans and who’s involved ‘em,” Graycin McConnell promised. “It’s been about six months since the break in at City Hall and we know you know what the M.A.O. is plotting. Just tell us and this will all be over.”

He stared at her menacingly with his good eye. His flaming red hair looked like wildfire in the single light of the warehouse.

Water trickled down Yolande’s shaking body. She hung her head, ignoring the question as she struggled not to cry. The city’s agents didn’t understand how the M.A.O. was set up. Because of that misunderstanding, and because she was an Anomaly, they felt justified in her torture.

Her knees ached from kneeling on the concrete floor. The cold air blowing on her drenched, half-naked form, made her convulse involuntarily. She had been in the same position for the last hour and a half. It was taking its toll on her psyche.

“Yeah, A-fri-caaa. Still don’t want to say nothing, huh, bitch?” McConnell asked, pacing around her like a caged beast.

The men on either side of her picked her up from the floor, dragging her to a wooden, cross-shaped plank on the other side of the room. One end of it was elevated off the floor with bricks. There were ropes that stuck out from underneath its arms. She was laid on the board with her feet on the elevated side. One of the men pulled the ropes tight around her wrists, ankles, torso and shoulders.

Yolande let her mind wander while she was being prepared.  She’d thought she was being smart by working only on the community side of M.A.O. activities. She figured, that way, she could do her part to help without endangering her family more than necessary. She didn’t have the privileged information her torturers wanted.  But, to Graycin McConnell, that did not matter much. He would use any excuse available to him to torture people like her. She wondered how long the torment would last before she was allowed the sweet release of death. She had no answers for them and she wouldn’t give them up even if she did.

A sixty-four ounce jug sat beside her head. It was filled with her next dose of agony. Still, she remained quiet. She thought back to happier days in her home with her family. For seconds, she swam in a sea of peace.

McConnell walked over to her. As he sneered down at her, she looked at the jug in one of his hands and a towel in the other. For a brief moment she considered using her powers to gain her freedom. She’d forgotten, she was surrounded and her abilities had been suppressed.

“I tried to keep this from happenin’ to ya. But you were asking for it,” he said. “You’ll be singing like a choir after this.”

He draped the thick, wet towel over her frightened face and someone grabbed her head. She had a two second respite before the water began to pour. The steady stream crept into her nose and mouth, rushing down the passages, flooding her. She immediately began to struggle, trying in vain to turn her head away from the terror. After about ten seconds, he stopped. Her heart pounded and her head spun from lack of oxygen.

“Well,” she heard him say. “Now that we’ve got that settled. How ‘bout you tell me the plans.”

Hundreds of miles away, sixteen-year-old Sania Richards woke with a start.



Depression stole my friends

Depression comes in a myriad of types with varying symptoms. One symptom that isn’t noted by physicians, but is highly prominent among people who suffer from the disease, is friend loss.

Over the past two, nearly three years, I have lost valuable people in my life while battling depression. When I just couldn’t force a phone call or text to my friends, or just couldn’t bring myself to leave the house to attend a friends’ event — I’m sure I came off as ‘flaky’, ‘unfriendly’, or like I plainly didn’t care about my friends.

Those notions can’t be further from the truth. When you’re suffering from depression, you tend to be completely inside yourself. For me, those moments were about reflecting on why I felt so badly. I focused a lot on my circumstances and how I created them, berating myself for all the negatives in and around my life. I even battled with physical illness, stress induced stomach aches which could be directly connected to the depression.

There were times when I wanted nothing more than to stay in my bed, zoning out to something — anything, that would make me stop freaking thinking! I would see a phone call coming in from a friend and think to myself, “I have absolutely nothing to offer them, not even my full attention,” and I would let that call go to voicemail.

When it comes to our friends, we have expectations. We expect for them to be there when we need to talk. Travel with us on our adventures. Have fun with us when we’re in the mood to party. The one thing we don’t expect from our friends, is for them to suddenly stop doing these things without explanation.

We aren’t prepared to think about our friends’ mental health. When we do, we often mismanage how we can help them. Sometimes, we just want them to ‘pull themselves together’ and ‘be strong’. It’s awkward to deal with a person who cries without prompting, one who is so self-involved in their thoughts that they didn’t even ‘here what that dude said’ to them — even after the story was repeated twice. Partners find it difficult to want to stay with someone with a low sexual libido, someone who is often anxious and who sleeps more often than not.

We need to have a deeper understanding of what depression looks like. Not everyone who is depressed cries all the time, has a therapist, or takes prescription medications. Depression has at least six types ranging from seasonal, when different times of the year induces depression — to atypical, where symptoms aren’t what most people associate with depression.

Because people aren’t equipped with insider knowledge about the disease, its easy to miss the signs. Not everyone who is depressed is suicidal – I personally thought a lot about how much easier it would be to end it, but what stayed my hand was the thought of how a selfish act like that would affect my family.

My war against depression is daily and it takes a lot of energy to win the battles. It’s very difficult to see that many of the folks that I considered to be friends could be pushed away by something like this. At the same time, looking at the results of those lost friendships now that I have resurfaced a bit, is very enlightening.

So, remember, if your friend is suffering from depression — and they are TRULY your friend, try to be there for them in whatever way you can. Even if that means just visiting them and sitting there while they wallow. Understand that they love you, but they’re just having some internal struggles at the time. Make a valiant effort to not belittle their struggle by telling them how much stronger they need to be, or that ‘depression is only for white women’ (yes, I actually had someone say that to me). That only makes them feel more inadequate than they already feel.

Be there for your friend in the ways that are expected, and if you can’t do that — be there for when they come out of the storm. That way, they know what a true friend you really are.

This is one face of depression, can you tell?
This is one face of depression, can you tell?

All the politicians want me… Right?

Imagine going into your inbox in the morning and finding personal messages from politicians in and around your city. Messages that declare that you are “the one who can help change Chicago’s political machine”.

It’s a magnificent honor to be entrusted with such a task. But you wonder just how you can help, when you need time to work and search for more part time jobs — that cuts out any volunteerism. You also need money, so you can’t just pull together funds to contribute to a political candidate’s efforts — it may cost you your lights or next meal.

How do you pull it all together to help a candidate that has truly reached your heart? Well, one action could be to do what I’ve chosen to do… blog about it. Or, you can run mini-campaigns on your social media pages. Whatever you can, right?

Here’s my problem with me having to figure out a solution. Here I am, a citizen of this city, with no time or money to truly participate in the political process that extends beyond ‘just voting’. Despite this being the norm, political candidates never seem to address this issue. They ask for more and more from voters, without ever taking into consideration the fact that it may not be that we don’t want to participate more — but that we can’t.

My morning missive was from candidate Jacob Meister, candidate for Clerk of the City Court. He’s very concerned about the modernization of the Clerk’s Office and he wan’t to meet me at Halsted’s for a $25 meet and greet. Of course, I was curious enough to click on the link to his website.

Upon following the link, I saw that Meister’s email and page were catered to me, specifically. It asks that I, ‘Click here if you are not Janean Watkins’. ‘Awesome’, I thought. ‘Here’s a candidate that knows I exists’. Of course, that thinking is very naive. But that’s the point. They’re hoping to make voters feel like they aren’t invisible. Help them know that when they rock the vote, it will matter.

But, back to reality. Mr. Meister’s office failed to realize one key fact about this voter. My family’s livelihood is much more important to me than spending $25 that I can barely spare on an LGBT Meet and Greet that this candidate has invited me to. My pursuit of financial freedom by way of my entrepreneurship is a much more valuable task than volunteering my stretched time to help get some stranger elected. My need to receive financial contributions far outweighs my need to give contributions to a political candidate.

That being said, candidates, consider your voters’ needs. Separate your email blasts so that the folks with money get the ones with your hand out, and the other 99% of us get information and resources detailing your intentions as a candidate. Have events in the North Shore, or wherever, with the big wigs who can afford to buy a ticket to dine with you and still contribute a hefty amount to your campaign. Then, come down to a park district or library on the South Side to meet your constituents, on their turf, for free.

In other words, candidates, learn your city. You know, the city you’re running for office in. If you can pull off a campaign that shows you’ve thought of ALL  of Chicago’s residents, you might just pull off the win for office.

Jacob Meister displays this on his website to show why the Clerk's Office needs modernization reform.
Candidate Jacob Meister displays this mishandled court document on his website to show why the Clerk’s Office needs modernization reform.

Revisiting the .:Seeds:. Literary Arts Journal Spring 2012 Issue

Just reflecting on past work… Work contained herein is credited to a group of truly phenomenal folks that I had the great fortune of working with. The time it took to pull together a design for this body of work, was well worth it. I can only hope that you have as much joy perusing this journal as I had helping to create it.

.:Seeds:. Literary Arts Journal Spring 2012 Issue.

A Gay in the Life: Carla Therese Bruni

CarlaTBruni-JLWatkins2014Carla Therese Bruni is the type of woman who wants to “make the rest of the world fall completely in love with, and become stewards of, vintage architecture, intangible histories and sustainable places.” She strives diligently towards that goal in everything she does.

Bruni often takes the time to learn about the histories of our local area, gaining a greater understanding of the ways we live today. “I love history,” said Bruni, “understanding where I’m from. It’s a way of understanding the world.”

Bruni was born and raised in the Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the middle of three children. After moving to the city, she became disheartened watching building after building being torn down, materials destroyed. She decided that she wanted to do something about it.

Bruni learned more about how she could do something creative and constructive surrounding the destruction of buildings in Chicago at the School of the Art Institute Chicago ( SAIC ), where she received her masters in historic preservation. Now, she uses those skills to teach, restore and run a community repair clinic in the Edgewater neighborhood.

“Through Community Glue Workshop, we run these clinics where people can fix stuff for free,” said Bruni. By ‘stuff’, Bruni means items ranging from lamps to toasters and clothing. “I work with craftsmen and groups who need a few tools to do some really cool stuff. You can start a deconstruction company with a few hundred dollars in tools,” she said. And, she helps to make that happen.ERW doorknobs photo

Her deconstruction work also creates jobs, like where she works part time with Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse. The salvage warehouse is a place even artists go to repurpose materials for use. “Hands-on work is good for the soul,” said Bruni. Aside from her hands-on approach, she also teaches within organizations like SAIC from time-to-time, Neighborhood Housing Services and the Bungalow Initiative.

Bruni’s work not only satisfies her need to rebuild, teach, learn and explore histories through historic preservation; there’s a job creation component as well. “If you demolish a building, you’re using one guy, the wrecking ball guy,” Bruni said. “Whereas, if you’re deconstructing a building, you employ about six to eight more people, and up to 12 people for historic preservation.”

Bruni is not the sort of lesbian who is all work and no play. She lets her hair down on road trips to the Deep South, poetry writing, listening to jazz and brass bands and through sculpting. Her ideal outing would be learning to swing dance or weld. She could also make herself comfortable in a writing on her blog, or kicking back to watch dramatic thrillers, or old Kung Fu movies.

erw2-Pic-CourtesyBruniWhen she’s not helping with reconstruction efforts in New Orleans or restoration projects in Idaho and Washington, Bruni’s writes about all things sustainable and restorative. Her musings can be found on her blog at .


Age: 37

Neighborhood: Edgewater

Hobbies: Theater, Origami, sculpture, dive bars, biking with friends

Favorite movies: To Kill A Mockingbird, Mommie Dearest, Poltergeist, French and Saunders, The Color Purple and the 1973 version of Jesus Christ, Superstar

Kids with Mental Illness to Get Help

PDF infographic created by the CDC, which details statistics of children with mental health issues across the U.S.
PDF infographic created by the CDC, which details statistics of children with mental health illnesses across the U.S.

Illinois Parents Facing Relinquishment of Kids with Mental Illness to Get Help

My ex-partner and I had to face this tough decision for one of our sons. It’ll be wonderful if parents can get the information on how to access help without having to comb through thousands of websites to reach the buried treasure! Now that our son is 18, we just missed out on this — but please spread the word so other parents can get assistance when they need it. Check out this article by dbaille on TASC Blog which breaks down House Bill 5598.


(Chicago) – A shrunken public safety net in Illinois due to budget cuts has forced numerous parents into an anguished-filled dilemma: whether to relinquish custody of their children with serious mental or emotional problems in order to get them care.

As of January 1, 2015, a new Illinois law will help avert this agonizing choice for parents.

House Bill 5598, sponsored by State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), was signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn on August 1.

The new law addresses scenarios in which parents resort to relinquishing custody, making their children wards of the state, in order to gain access to urgently needed treatment through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Wards of the state are entitled to care for these serious conditions.

“Over the past few years, children with mental illnesses have faced diminishing programs and services…

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The Other Paris…

Parisian break dancer flexes his skills. (Photo by Janean L. Watkins, 2013)
Parisian break dancer flexes his skills. (Photo by Janean L. Watkins, 2013)

Many visitors to the City of Love make time to see such famed sites as Cimetere du Pere Lachaise, Le Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, just to name a few. But rarely, if ever, do everyday tourists visit those gems hidden in the hearts of Parisian  arrondissements.

Le Centquatre (Photo courtesty of

One such place is La Centquatre, in the 19th arrondissement. This spacious, nearly 242,000 sq ft, public cultural center houses visual  artisans, dancers, actors and performance artists for showings, practice or just to hang out.

The space is equipped with a bookstore, galleries, performance studios and practice areas, even a quaint cafe/deli is onsite. One other great location convenience is that it offers close proximity to the Canal de La Villette section of River Seine.

Stepping through the courtyard of this historic monument, you’re submerged in a wave of sights and sounds. Sounds like soul thumping, house music blaring from one set of doors; Vivaldi oozing from behind another. The sights are of small clusters of various types of people littered about the giant space.

Dancers practice out in the open. (Photo by Janean L. Watkins, 2013)

For your best La Centquatre experience, you should check out their offerings ahead of time. You’ll search their programming (translator will help) and happen upon many expositions of notable artists. From artists of the recent past, like Keith Haring, to one of their 200 artists in residence — they display fascinating exhibitions with the help of the French government and notable art houses, like Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Chicago visitor does yoga under the Keith Haring exposition. (Photo by Janean L. Watkins, 2013)

On occasion, you can catch the Hip Hop Dance Expo, sponsored by area resident  Sidy Seye. In this expo, you can watch some of the best break dancers display their craft to onlookers. For over ten years, Seye has taught break dancing, DJing and English to young Parisians. In collaboration with local area businesses, Sidy is able to offer after-school and weekend lessons to area youth for little to no money.

This is just one of the many gems in and around Parisian arrondissements. Be sure to make this community cultural center a mandatory stop on your next trip to Paris.

Family Vacation… In Las Vegas?!

You’ve wanted to visit Vegas all your life, but as a parent of young children, that dream seems a long way off. It doesn’t have to be. Not many people realize how family-friendly Las Vegas can be. That’s why after reading this article, you’ll be more than ready to book your trip and plan your family’s vacation to Sin City.

Las Vegas is well known for its casinos and shows, but did you know that it’s a major city in the Mojave Desert? It’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of for photographers, family campers and star gazers. Who would have thought camping could be a Las Vegas attraction.

Eiffel Tower Ride

You’re not into camping? No problem. Instead of breaking your bank account renting multiple rooms for yourself and your children, stretch your dollar a bit further. One overlooked option for families are vacation rentals.

Many Las Vegas property owners rent homes in communities like Green Valley, which is about ten minutes from the center strip, for as little as $1300 a week for a four bedroom, two bath home. Even cheaper, as low as $299 per week, if you’re going through your travel club membership. Going this route, you win with amenities like swimming pools, hot tubs, BBQ bars and washer/dryers.

You probably know Las Vegas for its age old slogan, ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’. While that may still hold true for some things, other activities are worthy of photos and stories for your friends and family back home. For example, you’ll definitely want to check out the Eiffel Tower Ride, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation and the Hoover Dam. All are inexpensive with pricing under $20 per person.

Families explore the tunnels below Hoover Dam.

While you’re saving money on lodging, you’ll be able to afford a few meals while out on the town. One great place to go is Plaza Buffet where all you can eat ranges from $7-$9 per person, which is a great deal for eating and taking your food away with you.

But, don’t forget that you’re in a vacation rental. Quick family meals are at your fingertips. Popular grocers include Mariana’s Supermarket, Vons, and Trader Joe’s.

So, you see, Las Vegas isn’t just for adults. Save some money and book your trip to Sin City now that you’re equipped to make the trip as enjoyable for your kids, as it is for you.