It feels good.

“Add. New. Post.” 

Those are 3 words that I haven’t read together in a very, very long time.

“Categories.”

That’s a part of this website that I haven’t looked in a very, very long time.

If you’re a frequent reader and follower of HESONWHEELS, you know that lately I have broken the number one cardinal rule of being a good blogger – I STOPPED BLOGGING!

I have to admit something, though. It was partially intentional.

It’s been a wild year, and things have moved very, very fast. I know we all always look up and wonder where the year went. But I am truly, looking up – right now – and wondering where the heck the year went! Literally,

where has the time gone?

As I pen this blog for you on July 1st, I actually have a couple of big goals over the next couple of weeks. I have about 25 blog posts that are currently half written, that were all started in 2017. I want to complete these blog posts, and public accountability is a great form of motivation in my book. So, in the very near future, you will start to see some new posts pop up. Or maybe you won’t.

The only reason you won’t, though, is because I’ll start to back-date them. I want them to be posted in the, uh, ‘original habitat.’ The reason for that goes back to the very original intent of this blog – was for it to be a sort of journal or a diary of memories for me. Even though I lost my way a little bit, I don’t want to lose that in the future. So I spent much of June, while I was on the road, working on that.

I’m going to provide content updates first. After we knock that out of the park, it is likely we will move into some visual updates yet. The latter part is still just a dream though. :)

Enjoy. And thanks for the warm welcome back. I appreciate it.

Here we go – a renewed journey on HESONWHEELS.

Real talk. It feels great.

This whole motivational speaking thing was never truly planned, you know.

When I was in middle school, and I was just chatting it up with classmates, my teachers would always tell me to quiet down. That was when I learned the term “Justin, your voice carries!” Oh wow, did I really NOT like that.

When I did public speaking in high school, I had a teacher – Ms. Bridges – who would also tell me that I should look into public speaking as a profession. I liked that a lot better. I was all about the positive spin. But at the end of the day, public speaking isn’t going to pay the bills when you’re in the real world. Right?

And then there was a particular mentor when I had in college – Linda H. – who was the most supportive. Ever.

She was my advisor when I was giving campus tours of Virginia Tech and this was, easily, the favorite job that I’ve ever had. I spent a lot of time in our tour guide office and Linda and I developed a great friendship over those years. We gained a lot of trust in each other and it’s one of the relationships I’m most proud of that is both personal and professional.

And, also, over those years she would tell me that I should take my motivational speaking on the road. Even while still in school, I heeded her advice. It started with various organizations on campus, and then it grew to conferences, and now it has grown to so many other things form high school graduations to other events with thousands and thousands of people. It’s amazing.

Most recently, I even had a client sign off on a contract before they even truly knew what the content of my speech was going to be. Like, what? That’s … unbelievable. For some reason it makes me feel very proud. To have that trust from a new client based on past work …

It is so, so affirming.

So, this is a thank you to those folks. Especially Linda, but also every person who told me I was too loud, that my “accent” was “too white for a black guy,” or that I was too friendly or relatable. Because, you know what?

I think it is each of those qualities, wrapped into this special package, that help me do what I do through HESONWHEELS. And I am so, so grateful for that.

Lyft your way to the polls today.

For folks like me who don’t own a personal vehicle, Lyft is a fantastic way to get to the polls today. They e-mailed me this code for 45% off of a ride today in the D.C. area (regardless of its actually to a polling destination or not)! Wanted to pass it on to you. Simply click the Lyft logo below and it’ll give you a link that will have the promo code sent directly to your phone/Lyft account!

Enjoy, safe travels, and happy voting!

“Little” leadership handout.

Good morning, ACUI Region VI friends! Please follow this link to download the handout from today’s 1:30 extended student education session titled “‘Little’ Leadership: 
How your Service Will Impact Others.”

Continue the engagement on social media using Twitter using the conference’s handle @ACUIRegionVI, #ACUIRegionVI or find me, too, via @HESONWHEELS!

Thanks for visiting!

The New Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As an African-American, as a sociologist, and as a person who really values culture and other’s backgrounds, I’ve learned much about exactly those two topics over the course of my life. There is much AA history that is taught in public schools, and lately a lot of folks have considered that to not be the whole story. And it’s not. There is even more to learn through the stories of our grandparents, great grandparents, and others who lived our relatively young history in the United States of America as black people.

It’s important to note my opinion that having a dual identity is one of the best things a human can have (and hey, even more! Because we all do have many social identities). But to have more than one race implied in the description of your ethnicity implies many stories, backgrounds, struggles, tales, and experiences that have come together to make yours. For me, it implies the combination of at least two different perspectives – one that is American and, also, African. The African piece refers to identity while the American refers to culture, at least in my specific situation.

That is why this weekend’s grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture especially caught my eye. DC has a special place in my heart, especially because it is literally the cornerstone of our country’s history and culture. There is so much available to all of us that live here on our walks, drives, and bus rides home, and so many of us take it for granted.

But I try my best to not to do exactly that. A lot of people call it “being a tourist” in your own city. And I find absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s why I’ll sometimes take the long walk on the way home to the Metro – just to check out one of the amazing new Smithsonian displays that are right on the trek home.

I hope to be able to do this with the AA History & Culture museum at least once in the near future. My friend Gabby P. and I have already discussed trying to get there when she visits in January. Yeah, the list for reservations for the 7-level museum is apparently very, very large. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to spend an entire day in there, just relishing in and taking in culture.

For now, until I can make it, I’m going to relish in this wonderful narrative that I received via one of the White House’s e-mail listings that I would also like to share with you. The below story comes from Rep. John Lewis and the full text can be found both below and also online here. Take it in, please. Thanks for reading.

I’ve been waiting to see this day for 15 years — and in some ways, my whole life.

I’ve loved history ever since I was a little boy. Growing up in the oppressive shadow of Jim Crow, my teachers would ask me to cut out photographs I found in magazines and newspapers of Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and other marchers for justice. I read about Booker T. Washington, reveled in the sounds of the Jubilee Singers, and prayed for a King to reach the mountaintop.

To me, history is the foundation of a powerful legacy, and it is important to tell the stories of the millions of black men and women, boys and girls, who labored and sacrificed, and continue the struggle, to build this great nation.

When I learned of the decades-long effort to establish a national museum dedicated to preserving that too often untold story, I readily joined the effort. Every session of Congress for 15 years, I introduced a bill to create this national museum.

While the journey has been long, today the history of African Americans will finally take its place on the National Mall next to the monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson — exactly where it belongs.

It is important that the National Museum of African American History and Culture tells the unvarnished truth of America’s history — a story that speaks to the soul of our nation, but one few Americans know.

It’s a reminder that 400 years of history can’t be buried; its lessons must be learned. By bringing the uncomfortable parts of our past out of the shadows, we can better understand what divides us and seek to heal those problems through our unity.

If we look at the glass-topped casket that displayed the brutalized body of Emmett Till and hear his story, we may better understand the exasperation and anger Americans feel today over the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice.
If we see that an everyday leather wallet is what’s left of Harry T. Moore — a man who fought for the right to vote and died in a bombing meant to silence his activism on Christmas Day in 1951 — perhaps we will see why so many are fighting to protect any encroachment on that most sacred right today.

And as we look at the exhibit dedicated to an African American who now leads the free world from a White House built by black slaves, we can better understand the unshakeable optimism that has defined his belief that — with dedicated work and a little good trouble — we can help create a society that is more fair and more just, which benefits all Americans.

This museum casts a light on some of the most inspiring — and uniquely American — heroes who were denied equal rights but often laid down their lives to defend this nation in every generation. Often they profited least from the struggle they were willing to die for because they believed that the promises of true democracy should belong to us all, equally and without question.

I hope you will join me and President Obama for the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today at 10:00 am ET.

When you hear about the heroes memorialized in its halls, you may discover the depths of the invincible American spirit. As we learn and confront this history together, we can begin to build one inclusive, and truly democratic family — the American family.

Rep. John Lewis

Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month 2016.

Edit: I actually wrote this blog on Monday night, a few hours before I learned about the suicide of a good friend’s brother. It makes this post, and my reflections on suicide and its effects, even more real. I hope you’d consider keeping her family in your thoughts, and maybe even donating to funeral accommodations for their family. If you’d be legitimately interested, just e-mail me (justin.graves@vt.edu) and I’ll get you the link to their GoFundMe page. I’d really appreciate it.

Thanks, so much, for reading … and considering…

Did you know that September is Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month?

Suicide can be and is a tough subject to talk about. If anything, it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room possible. Everyone has their own opinion on what suicide means, its intentions, its causes, and so on. But as the graphic above says, one conversation can change a life. And, frankly, sometimes it can’t. Have you ever had anyone express suicidal ideation to you? Was it frightening? Your answer is probably yes. And if so, I encourage you to pause for a moment, and think: how frightened must that person be, too? Even if they can’t verbalize or rationalize it, suicide can be complicated and frightening for everyone involved.

More than anything, people who have been touched by suicide understand it in a completely different way. A way that is more thorough and affecting than anyone else could possibly imagine.

Read more after the jump …

#HOW2Bristol: The Battle at Bristol is finally here.

They say it was more than 20 years ago when the 2 universities first began thinking about the idea of having a football game in Bristol, Tennessee. Bristol is home to the Bristol Motor Speedway, which is known to some as “The Last Great Colosseum” and is usually the site to NASCAR races.

If you ran two laps around the entire track, you’ll have ran a mile. So you can imagine that when Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee came together 3 years ago and finally announced that plans to hold a college football game at this location were finalized, 1 thought came to everyone’s mind:

whoa. 

This Saturday, largest attendance for any college football game in American history is likely to be recorded. Each school is guaranteed $4 million just for being a part of such a great spectacle (1 of the conditions was that they had to sell out their allotment of tickets, which both schools did pretty early-on). I’m proud to say, as a Hokie fan, that I’ll be there! Bristol is about a 5 hour drive from me here near D.C., and I’ll be taking the trip with my mom, dad, and 1 of my best friends, Caroline G.

I’m almost certain it is going to me an amazing time, if not just for the sheer magnitude of an event like this!

Our seats should be pretty okay – but then there’s also daunting images like this 1 that are starting to pop up all over the internet.

"A view from maybe the worst seat at Bristol Motor Speedway."
A view from maybe the worst seat at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Regardless, though, I’m so pumped to finally be able to make another mini-road trip to the the Hokies play! Neutral site games are always a blast becuase you get to meet some of the most passionate Hokie fans (many of whom will be camping and/or shelled out hundreds of dollars in travel costs for this trip … think about it, Bristol doesn’t really have too many hotels!). It’s also fun to be in an environment where there are just as many fans from the other team, and oftentimes the ones who practice better sportsmanship travel while the bad apples stay at home. :)

If you need something to tithe you over until Saturday, here’s the Hokies’ game from last week, when we beat Liberty University with a final score of 36-13 on solid play from a first year (JUCO transfer) quarterback, and of course stellar play from our defense. I’m hopeful that our defense will come out just as strong this weekend, and that our running game will be able to find a bit more room to work!

Check out this video from the track’s website for a time lapse of them converting the field into what it will be come Saturday night! This Saturday, 8:00 p.m. EST, on your local ABC channel: the Hokies take on the Vols and hopefully will end the night 2-0 on the season!

GO HOKIES!

Stranger Dinner: September 2016. (& The Flanagan Wedding)

One of the most important goals for me during rehab last month was to get out in time to make it to a wedding. This was the 3rd wedding I’ve attended this summer alone, and each time it was the result of me working my butt off in a hospice-recovery setting to try and make it to spend such an important day with friends that mean the world to me. And it seems like the 3rd time was the charm.

A gif from the awesome photo booth - with Zack, his dad, and his wife Michelle!
A gif from the awesome photo booth – with Zack, his dad, and his wife Michelle!

I spent the weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Zack F. and his wife Michelle F. It was one of the best experiences of my summer – it’s just amazing how much they make each other laugh and how good they are for each other. Their humor plays off of each other beautifully and they are just a joy to share the same room with. I met Zack only shortly before he met Michelle, but even still – it’s palpable how much better they make each other. I’m inspired by their love, to say the least.

I was a part of the wedding party, and although many of us had not met before, we each know Zack well. It was great to see how their are definitely similar characteristics in the folks Zack invites into his life: they all have a very free and willing sense of humor, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. That is definitely something I immediately realized that we each had in common.

So on my way back to D.C. from Charlotte, I spontaneously decided to take a stop in good ol’ Blacksburg, Virginia. I’m sure you know by now that it’s my alma mater, both graduate school and undergrad, and it’s definitely still a place that I still call home. It has my heart, and they always say: home is where the heart is.

I’m fortunate to have many friends who still live in town, from graduate school, to university employees, to undergraduate students, to community members. That is, by far, one of the reasons that stranger dinners are so great in this little town.

Those of you who are Hokies definitely know that Blacksburg is a small place with a small town feel … with a LOT of people! With more than 30,000 students and thousands more in the town of Blacksburg, the population of our town swells when students come, and even though Blacksburg summers are fantastic, there’s nothing like the opportunity to connect with people from around the world when Blacksburg is at its most populous.

Although I missed the football game on Saturday because I was too busy having a blast at the wedding, on Monday night (a holiday) I decided to get together friends from several different Blacksburg walks of life for a Stranger Dinner.

One of the greatest things is that my friend, Alex G., was sitting right next to me. We’ve only met a few times but he is a charming, genuine, and charismatic guy who immediately showed an interest in stranger dinners and even asked me if he could continue them in Blacksburg after I graduated. Of course, the answer was yes! Fate made it happen because I texted Alex on my way to Blacksburg about this idea … which was about 6 hours after he landed back in the states from a summer spent doing research in Africa!

Alex has since hosted many and this was the first that we were able to convene together. Naturally, that made it one of the best stranger dinners yet.

The photo below doesn’t even truly capture it all – because the refreshing, engaging, and discovering conversations everyone had made a longer road trip so very worth it.

 

A Stranger Dinner at The Cellar in Blacksburg, Virginia on 9/5/16.

As with all stranger dinners, I’m hopeful that these new friends who walked into the room not knowing each other left the room with the encouragement to get to know each other even better.

I think my friend Danielle J. said it best when, on her Facebook page, she wrote: “This was an opportunity to meet people who currently study, work, or are affiliated with Virginia Tech. Some people knew each other before dinner, but by the time dinner was over, we all knew each other.”

The [Blacksburg] Stranger Dinners live on! :)