On Turning 50

A milestone is a mark for life’s pathways that is to be a road sign that reminds us of a destination, detour, or danger. My 50th birthday arrived with several signs that provided me with a reminder of the miles that I have traveled; the detours that brought me back to the right direction; and the hazards of forgetting the destination. I can’t rely on a GPS that tells me which roads are congested; warns me of speed cameras; or reminds me that I need to go through a re-routing.

Instead, I rely on the trust of good friends and the wisdom of family members who have been on their own journeys to some place special.

turning 50I have been blessed in many ways. I had a map drawn out early in my life. I knew I wanted to be a teacher since my grade school years when I used to play with my siblings and niece and nephew a game of schoolhouse. I always played the role of the teacher and I always provided homework.

My role of teacher was reawakened when I was asked to join my sister, Susie, for a parent/teacher conference. I reviewed my niece’s standardized test scores. She is only in the third grade but the pressure for performance is evident. I probably had my niece’s teacher performing for us as I asked questions about learning skills, standard deviations, and tips on parental involvement.

My sister shared with me that that my little niece, Lexi, asked her, “Mommy, when are we going to have the talk?” My sister gasped and replied, “You mean the talk about sex?” I told my sister to refer my niece to me and I would openly talk about everything. My sister was silent.

I remember quite well when my other niece, Sofi (now an adult of 31) caught wind of my creative adjectives to describe life’s glorious delights. We were at a crowded 31 Baskin Robbins and I declared out loud that I thought the chocolate raspberry ice cream was “orgasmic.” Sofi asked at age eight, “What is an orgasm?” This was a teaching moment. I could feel the stare of every parent in the ice cream shop with their children at their side.

Do I ignore the question?

Do I answer with a fudge of an answer?

Or do I offer a sugary response with hints of marbleized truth?

I provided a scientific answer that was honest and a bit sanitized. We walked out with our double scoops, and I asked, “Does that make sense, Sofi?” She responded, “Yes, I would not use those words but, it all makes sense.” It was a proud teaching moment for me.

My mapped out life had me destined to be an educator. To this day I see myself as a teacher who teaches as much as I am willing to learn. I am rather sure this is borrowed from Freiran concepts since Currículo sem Fronteiras has influenced me greatly. Community-based frameworks continue to influence my professional and volunteer work. I am constantly learning. I have learned in many places, from many people and as a result of many experiences.

My life map has taken me to study in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Australia. My life map has taken me to learn from the beauty of state and national parks where I have hiked paths surrounded by ancient trees; dewy grapevines; and the sounds of ocean waves hitting beach dunes. I have taught the gifted and talented where I met a middle-school student working on his PhD. I have been shown the dumpsters in Minneapolis by a homeless youth as a way of knowing how to survive the frigid nights. I have even been given a tour of cardboard shanty neighborhoods underneath the bridges of the Los Angeles River that are inhabited by aged and undesirable sex workers. My classroom has been the world.

I look at each of these experiences as landmarks in my life that remind me of what is truly important. A life philosophy is important; a mission is a must; and a sense of integrity is vital. Integrity is built on being consistent with one’s actions and words. Perhaps this is why I avoid absolutes or following a single doctrine of religiosity. I feel love but my life map does not show me a path for marriage. I love children but my pathway is not of parenthood. I appreciate my professional life but my freeway is not one of five-lane congestions.

My life map was drawn out so that I knew at an early age that I was to be an educator. Today I develop national and local health campaigns that have me operate as an educator. I work with a team that has been recognized by professionals and local community leaders alike. I can be creative, challenging, and on occasion even provocative.

I enjoy my work, social, and alone times equally well. I enjoy my weekend trips to New York and theater festivals; I love preparing speeches to learn with my fellow Toastmasters; and I take pleasure in seeing growth through my work as a mentor. I have set new goals for myself. I have dreams that I want to accomplish.

On turning 50 I am open to taking more scenic exits; following my instincts; and even letting the weather determine my course. Not being in a hurry is a healthy practice to follow.

Carlos Velazquez

View posts by Carlos Velazquez
For more than two decades, Carlos has been working to improve public health, by designing and implementing successful national and local prevention programs in the United States and abroad. He managed the nation’s largest capacity-building program on HIV prevention for Latinos. He developed a national HIV social marketing campaign in Australia and produced a documentary that chronicled the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Latino community in the United States. Through a recent partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Walgreens, he implemented a $10 million vaccine voucher initiative, which also involved several Latin American consulates in the United States. Carlos was instrumental in helping to develop the first Cultural Risk Communications Model for the CDC.  He is the President of HMA Associates, a marketing and communications firm in Washington DC that specializes in multicultural communication interventions aimed at reducing health disparities and achieving health equity.  He serves on the Arlington County Human Rights Commission,  the Arlington County Commission for the Arts and is an active member of Toastmasters International.  You can also follow Carlos on twitter @jclatino. www.hmaassociates.com  
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