What’s in a Name?

This piece is dedicated to a December without 31 days, a Major without a squadron, and a Doctor who doesn’t practice medicine. For those of us with different names, these designations are real conversation starters! 

What’s in a name? A question penned long ago for the romantic tale Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare. Throughout my life, whenever I either introduce myself or when I’m introduced by someone else, I’m often met with a raised eyebrow, a groan of surprise, or an “Excuse me?” of disbelief as a response. For me, these reactions are sometimes comical, predictable, and slightly irritating when people hear my name for the first time. Judge Wapner, Judge Dread (an awful film), Judge Judy, and Judge Reinhold (real name Edward Ernest, Jr.) are the usual comparison responses I get. Some of the questions are equally obnoxious. Is that your real name? This is probably the most frequent and least popular question. Did your parents want you to be a Judge? If you were a Judge then you’d be Judge Judge. Ha, ha, ha. Ugh!

Don’t get me wrong. Having a name like mine should warrant attention with regard to its association with our American legal system. As a young kid growing up in Virginia and North Carolina, my family actually called me Junior. That’s because my father is named Judge too. Apparently unique names run in my father’s side of the family. My grandfather’s name was Pleasant. I guess you could say that even on his worst days, he was still…Pleasant! I think within the African American and other minority communities, as a way to honor our ancestors, an official (profession), or friend, a parent would name their child after that person. My friend and colleague, who also is a person of color, had a grandfather with the name of Doctor. I can bet that he too had his share of similar experiences when introductions are made. 

I recently asked my mother about why I was named after my father. She said that there was no historical connection other than the convenience of sharing my father’s name.

I really hated my name when I was in grade school. Some kids tend to gravitate towards others or things that are different. I won’t go as far and say that I was bullied, but in terms of the frequency, it was often. I was called whatever could rhyme with Judge; sludge, drudge, and fudge. Sometimes it was even a combination of all things rhyming at once: Judge, fudge the big fat drudge. First of all, I would consider my skin color more like a spiced cinnamon rather than fudge. Secondly, I wasn’t fat although currently my metabolism isn’t my friend. Lastly, drudge? I never even knew what a drudge was until I was in middle school. It made no sense at all. 

When my mother remarried, I had this idea of having my name changed to pay tribute to the new patriarch in the family. My new name was going to be Christopher Odel Hughes. It had a nice sound to it. I would rehearse calling myself Chris in the mirror and even practiced writing my new name so I could get used to it. I just wasn’t aware of the amount of work needed, on my mother’s end, to make a name change happen. In fact, too many steps and forms were required and my mother wasn’t having it. It really didn’t matter anymore, because my mother ended up divorcing my stepfather not too long after they were married. Any future ideas of having a “normal” name ended when that relationship did.

After the divorce, we moved to California (CA). As a teen, I remember taking a trip with my mother and sisters to Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Buena Park, CA. After spending a day riding the park’s roller coasters and gorging ourselves on golden fried chicken goodness from Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant, it was time to head back to San Diego. But before we reached the parking lot, I popped into one of the many novelty money-sucking souvenir shops to see if they sold those mini license plates or stickers from the revolving display racks. Maybe, just maybe, I would find my name here. Sadly, in all of the options available, the name closest to mine I came across was the name “Jude”.  

Judger (Judge + Jr.), was a nickname given to me in middle school. Somehow, it also ended up on my student ID card in high school. It was like someone inside the administration at the Poway Unified School District in San Diego was deliberately playing a joke on me with my name. It took more than a full school quarter before my name on my scholastic records were corrected and teachers called by my given name. Surprisingly, some of my classmates actually thought the name Judge was pretty cool. This name, and or this title, that was often compared to courtroom shows and a bad movie, finally made me start smiling with pride. It was this pride that gave me the confidence to step on stage and start dancing in high school. After appearing in several successful productions, I won a Sunny Award! A Sunny Award is named after the high school mascot (Mt. Carmel Sundevils), and awarded to actors for quality performances. 

Here comes the Judge! From my fourth birthday on, this was a saying I heard. In 1968, comedy and soul singer Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham released a single with the same title. During the 70s, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In introduced a comic sketch featuring comic entertainers Flip Wilson and later Sammy Davis Jr. as the shuckin’ and jivin’ Judge. Now that I was living in Los Angeles, as an actor, this was my motto. I even made bumper stickers with the slogan that I would include in my actor’s press kit to agencies. I wanted to make an impression one way or another with my name even though my press kit likely landed in the garbage. Everyone says you have to have a gimmick to stick out and the bumper stickers was my attempt at doing that. 

Though the acting never really took off, my name continued and still does, cause a stir. I previously spent five years working at the Oregon State Capitol for the Governor. During this time, I was frequently addressed as Your Honor and even received mail addressed to The Honorable Judge Kemp. At the gym, I was once chastised and called an “asshole” by an ease-dropper on a conversation for having other gym members address me as my supposed title. It was only after confronting this douche-bag, that he embarrassingly apologized when he learned that Judge was actually my name. I articulate my name when I order my venti blonde latte with two pumps of chai at Buckies (not the real name). When the barista called “Jubie” (pronounced joo-bee), all I could really do is to laugh. 

Our names are more than the labels we carry with us to our deathbeds. They carry with them a sense of power, mystery, and whimsy. They can also instill confidence. Either by nurture or nature, I’ve accepted my name and wear it like a badge of honor. It’s bold, unique, and reflects my quirky charm and personality. My name is Judge Kemp (Jr.).

Pulse Check

On March 15th of this year, the country of New Zealand experienced an event that we here in the United States are sadly all too familiar with, a mass shooting.

I work for a small nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. Our staff meets weekly to discuss projects and regular work business. Recently, the topic of ways of improving moral was introduced to the group. This topic produced several odd stares and strange facial expressions. Here’s a bit of background about my office. It is filled with some of the most amazing and diverse colleagues where you often hear gut-busting laughter erupting throughout the day. Hearing this expression of relief is often a blessing when I am rigidly fixated on assembling the pieces for upcoming events. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to smile!

But this shooting, though having occurred more than halfway around the world from the somewhat safe “bubble” here in Portland, sent a violent shockwave through an already troubled continuum. So as we went around the table, each colleague sounding off about the usual and sometimes mundane occurrences, one colleague who is often soft-spoken, shared her current state of mind. As Richa (pronounced Ree-cha) began to speak, she paused as if she was going to change her mind and refrain from saying anything, but she pressed on and began to tear up as she did. We were captivated and seriously concerned as we intensely listened on. Our colleague shared how the shooting made her feel. She professed, though she isn’t Muslim, being of Nepali heritage confuses people and has made her grieve alongside the Muslim community for their, our, global loss. She shared that even if people don’t feel that they are members of a targeted group, we should all be grieving together in solidarity and it often seems that we are too numb to do this.

As a nation, we have become complacent in our reactions, and most certainly our actions when it comes to gun violence. So often do we point a finger at mental illness as the cause for these misdeeds, but in my most global opinion, the true root cause of all of these actions is the fear of difference and of loss. Meaning, we in our American culture are afraid of those who aren’t like us and are afraid that they (People of Color, LGBTQI+, and even Women) have more of what we want than what we actually have. I would also include religion in this category too, but only because worshippers have been victims too; specifically speaking of the Jewish community and the holocaust. In contrast, fear-based radicalism or extremism has been founded by acts of violence; think 9/11 or the bombing of abortion clinics.

Fear has morphed into a grotesquely obscure and violent entity without shape or form yet having one common outcome, the death of the innocent. We have normalized mass shootings and practically all hate- based crimes in this country without real consequences to the perpetrator or groups responsible. Any attempt at corrective action or response is quickly countered by the more conservative folks, and most definitely organizations such as the National Rifle Association, say that it’s a person’s God given right to……(you can fill in the blank). Let’s also not forget the “sacred” doctrines of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, that are quickly thrust in our faces when there is mention of gun control. These documents are, and were, designed for the protection and benefit of white people and by white men to remain in control.

My colleague made a valid point in her observation about how we co-workers are frequently caught up in our own projects and are often unaware of how life and its impacts have an affect on each of us. You may say, that feelings are private matters.There is some truth in that, however, when the feelings cross from private to the public realm of the workplace, it is our responsibility to do a pulse check. A pulse check is a way to check in with a colleague on their wellbeing. As I’ve previously mentioned, my work environment is comprised of a small crew. If there is a kink in the chain, it can force you to get it fixed before things get worse. We all respond and react to tragedy differently. Some people choose to advocate for change by working with local/state officials to enact change, others bring their concerns to the streets in protest, and a few of us use our voices in written form to create dialogue and provide food for thought. When I heard of the attack, I thought of my friends in New Zealand and hoped that they were safe. Since this attack occurred at several mosques and the fact that my friends are not Muslim, I was almost certain they were spared any harm. This was later confirmed through Facebook in a “Marked Safe” post. Once seeing their posts, my attentions quickly shifted to something else and life went on.

In my opinion, having conversations create an environment where we (co-workers) can easily and safely assert ourselves to provide some emotional support to one another by simply checking in. This act of empathy may not be able to stop the feelings of sorrow and remorse in the event of tragic loss, but it does and can establish compassion and kindness for a fellow human being when it appears sometimes that no one else cares. We all should want our working relationships to be healthy where we are able to thrive and grow in synergistic harmony. The consequence for allowing a colleague to suffer emotionally is that their work too will suffer. Leaving other colleagues to pick up extra tasks to keep the workflow moving, and in our office this could only contribute to the problem.

On April 9, the New Zealand parliament voted 119 to 1 banning most assault rifles. This announcement by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern was quickly shared across the globe. In less than a month, the New Zealand government and its people have managed to do something for the collective good of a nation; this action was a befitting honor to the slain members of Muslim community, but also taking additional steps to prevent any future incursions by assault rifles from happening again. Yes, I know that violence can happen in any form when hate is strong enough, but building in barriers to protect all citizens was the right and just thing to do.

So why can’t something like this happen here in the United States of America? I have already alluded to a few reasons. But additionally, policies and self-interest groups also prevent change from happening. I also feel that our greatest hurdle for unity in this country lies in our individuality. We as Americans have been raised with the need to be number “One” in all that we do. So much of our culture has been founded in terms of “I”, rather than the collective “we” so that everything outside the scope of our periphery, is less important to me.

So, the next time a tragedy happens in our world, and it likely will, I promise to take a minute to do a pulse check. Try it. It will mean more than you realize!

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado. Isn’t it time to for US to make a change for our greater good?

Heartache, Heartbreak, and Healing

This is a red drawn heart border in black that is torn 3/4 through the middle and has an adhesive bandage diagonally in the middle.
Assembly definitely required

I hate my heart. Not the physical blood-surging-life-giving muscle we all need to efficiently function, but the symbolic love-giving vessel that connects with our brains.

To my surprise, I have grown into a sensitive flower. When I open my heart to allow people in, they don’t realize how fragile it is. As we age, you would think that our mature hearts would become more rigid and be able to withstand the pain and shock of deception, betrayal, and abandonment. For me, that’s just not the case. In fact as I’ve aged, my heart has made me more emotionally susceptible to the world around me. Those sappy teary-eyed love songs and advertising jingles even pull on my heartstrings. I won’t say that I have a problem, but when a certain television commercial airs that encourages the liberation of Fluffy and Fido from captivity, I quickly change channel to avoid feeling that emotional tug on my heart and financial tug on my wallet.

In our youth, we lack the experience and comprehension to truly understand our emotions. Even in our adulthood, as we learn to love, we truly don’t understand the depth of our feelings. As a young teen living in Hawaii, I didn’t allow anyone to really get to know me because I was afraid of getting hurt. So I played a tough guy on the outside to keep the bullies at bay. Ironically, this is what made me a target. Kids would intentionally do things to prompt me into action. I found myself involved in fights at school for the smallest of offenses. For example, as we cued up for lunch in the cafeteria and if someone pushed me from behind, I would immediately turn around and slug who I believed was the jerk who initiated that pushing; whether the act was one of intention or accident. Luckily, I grew out of that phase and blossomed into the kind-hearted and loving person I am today…provided that I’m well fed!

I am truly a people person. Eric, my partner jokingly and affectionately calls me a social whore! About two years ago I befriended a young man of color who was new to the area. I was excited to have the opportunity of showing him around town. We clicked and became instant friends. I introduced him to Eric and our extended friendship circle (the Posse). Living here in the Great “White” Pacific Northwest can be a challenge when there aren’t a lot of faces that look like your own. Portland, Oregon may be known worldwide for its food scene, but its lack of diversity also gets its share of press. In a 2017 article in the Oregonian, Blacks represented 2.8 percent of 2.4 million people living in the seven-county metro region. Many POC (people of color) arriving to the city have regularly expressed feeling unwelcome and leave shortly after their arrival. I didn’t want this to happen with my new friend. My partner and I opened our home to him for holidays and birthday celebrations. We learned that our friend was also an only child, and that his mother died from a heart attack during his young adulthood; she was the anchor of the home and did everything for him (including cleaning his room). The father, we were told, was often away from home on business leaving mother and son to fill the void with distractions from his absence.

So not so long ago, this friend became distant and wouldn’t respond to invites and text messages. When there was a text exchange, it was usually a random response that never addressed the previous inquiry. I tried to find out what was going on him, but those lips remained tightly shut. At social events where he and I would be present, the avoidance was blatant and intentional, even catching the attention of mutual acquaintances. I had so many questions: Why was I being ghosted? or Was he jealous? Does this explain the “dissed”-connect my partner and I experienced with our friendship? Not likely. My heart ached from the not knowing, but I had to accept that fact that the fun and laughs of this friendship was now over.

I’ve since reached out to this friend but there was no response. I am at peace.

This feeling isn’t unique only to friendships, but family can also contribute and even sustain the effects of a broken heart. You see with family, there is life history; the good, the bad, and the ugly. A history sometimes filled with acts of blame, half-truths, and denial of any personal responsibility that prevents the heart from healing. This leaves all family members feeling exhausted, cautious about moving forward for fear of reopening old wounds. This too causes me heartache. There’s no real cure for this affliction other than a continued effort to move forward. I think it was Rose Kennedy who said that time heals all wounds? It’s hard (for me) to let go when there has been an investment in any relationship.

I blame my mother for my over sensitivity issues.  Not my biological mother, though there may be some connection there too. I really blame Mother Nature. Apparently as men age, we can become more sensitive. I think that it has something to do with men’s bodies producing more estrogen and less testosterone as we get… dare I say it …older (gasp). All I can say is, I pray my pectorals aka “chesticals” remain perky throughout my state of maturity and don’t morph into “moobs” (man boobs). I plan on doing what I can to remain a mantique (older man, slightly banged up but still retains his value and charm)!

Well, for better or worse, through heartache and heartbreak, I will persevere! I just have to think twice about any new friendships and question those existing relationships when they become an emotional vortex! Hating my heart is really a pretty harsh statement, but when compassion and forgiveness are involved, the heart will definitely suffer from its share of bruising.

Reflections of a Year

The end of the year always makes me a tad melancholy. Eric always diligently decorates the Christmas tree. I look at him and smile with adoration because he really gets into decorating the tree. This year we have a one ladder tree. Meaning, the tree is only about 9 feet in comparison to our previous trees which have been as tall as 12 feet and requiring two ladders to coordinate the lights and other embellishments. I’m not sure if the task of decorating or the holiday that prompts the decorating he enjoys more. I was helping out earlier in the process with hanging the colorful and delicate orbs but was quickly directed to do something else. Eric knows that I consider decorating the tree to be more labor than love. I just didn’t get that gay gene which includes the flair for decking the halls this time of year.

As each new year arrives, I’m normally more upbeat and optimistic about what may lie ahead for the future. The potential excitement, the multitude of well wishes for good health, and a time filled with prosperity. Who doesn’t appreciate that? This year however, I find myself thinking more about the past events that have occurred over the course of the 11 and soon to be 12 months, rather than looking forward. I can’t complain about my life. There have been some wonderful adventures with friends, several weddings; including my own, and an amazing honeymoon/vacation in Spain to round out the year. What does make me sad are the continual challenges that to plague my city houselessness (homeless, unsheltered), the never-ending denial of racial inequities, and the ignored pleas of gun control in this country.

These things run in the back of my mind and it’s been increasingly more difficult for me to see the sunnier side of the calendar because of it. In my youth, my mother taught my sisters and me that we can accomplish anything when we put our minds to it. This was really solid advice not just for me and my siblings, but also for anyone who is committed to change and for anyone who aspires to grow. I personally took those words one step further and believed (still do) that we’re supposed to learn from our past missteps in order to move forward in life. If this doesn’t happen, we are destined to continually repeat the same or similar mistakes and there will be no change or growth. This is the cycle I feel we are caught in.

As I look around my community, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one who isn’t so chipper about what lies ahead in the new year. Just now glancing at my Facebook feed, I saw a post from a friend that read, “Just Not Feeling It”. And before any doubt is cast about my “mental” stability, I don’t suffer from seasonal depression or have emotional issues the holidays may trigger. Though I will say, I am very much in tune with my surroundings and always have. I guess I’m an idealist at heart. Not like that’s a bad thing, it allows for insight and an opportunity to typify what could be or should be possible; forward thinking! In my opinion, we possess the tools to repair all that we have miscreated; through intent and by mischance. So why haven’t we used these tools to mend the ills of the people who need it most?

Someone lives here

Here in Portland, it is often asserted that the solution to the houseless problem is affordable housing paired with increased services to treat addictive and other mental health issues. This may be a possible option for solving the problem, but this solution has become slow in engagement as the number of houseless persons continue to grow and the related costs increase. Two weeks ago while at the gym I met a young man with a gorilla tattoo on each of his arms. I cautiously asked about their significance and he explained that he had been caught up with a gang and was incarcerated. He admitted to making bad decisions and was now on the streets. As we chatted, he also acknowledged a drug history but wants to stay clean and change his life. Who will, or should, pay is frequently asked and the answer is we all do, either in tourist dollars or rising property taxes. In my idealist world, a fund set up by pharmaceutical companies and developers would provide the resources for this fund since most houseless have been impacted by addictive opioids and gentrification.  

The idea that “all men are created equal” as it was written into the Constitution really is a ruse. I think Thomas Jefferson had great intentions, but he didn’t denounce slavery, or stop him from siring children with Sally Hemmings. For those who aren’t of a marginalized community it’s time to accept and admit that the founding principles of this country were intentionally created to oppress anyone who is not a white male. The power of the pen has created policy and rule to keep those of a certain pedigree in control. If you do nothing to change this narrative, or you feel that the criminal justice system is fair to all, then you are a racist. If you believe that it’s okay for the police to stop a man of color (profiling) because he fit a certain description, then you are a racist. If you feel that native or indigenous communities should have no voice in American politics, you are a racist. This is a far too familiar story that usually doesn’t have a happy ending.

Send your thoughts and prayers is another phrase that has been stuck in repeat mode. How many more people must die before we can say enough? I’m not a gun owner but I have used the weapons for recreation and education during my young scouting years. I understand people have the right to bear arms, but why do military assault weapons continue to be available to a mostly untrained public. I look at our foreign neighbors and often wonder why can’t we have a civil existence as they do.

I’m not bitter about my own life and know that change doesn’t happen overnight or in 12 months. So many of us in our communities want to move forward but there are governmental forces in place that are preventing this from happening and greed and fear are two powerful enemies to progress.

I look in the mirror and peer deep into my reflection and this is what I see.