Today would have been our lovely Riki’s 38th birthday. As I had written of a year ago, we lost her to an untimely death because of a faulty medical diagnosis. We continue to hear her voice, and we see her ways reflected in her children, which is of great comfort.
Riki lived, loved, and worked intensely. Whatever she did, she did it well. Thinking back to her middle school days, she decided to be on the swim teach. She received medals for winning competitions. Once the season came to an end, she didn’t need to do it again. Then she played basketball. She was the lead point-maker for her team. Once the season ended, she did not feel the need to go back.
Riki did maintain her love of cooking and being with her “village” of friends. When I spoke at her funeral, I wanted to tell the story of her vivid dreams of driving a car. She was only 11 years old when she told me of the dream in which she was driving a car from the town of Ingalls to Montezuma (about 17 miles of road or 27.6 km). Along the side of the road was a raccoon. She stopped, and opened the door, through which the furry critter jumped in. As she drove along a little further, there stood a young fawn along the side of the road. She stopped, opened the door, and the little guy jumped in. Well, she had not driven but a few paces, and there was a big dog! Yes. He jumped in the car through the door that Riki had opened. By the time she had reached Montezuma, she carried eight animals in the car! Once she stopped, she let them out of the car, and they ran to safety. She loved that dream, and I loved hearing her story.
If we thought about what dreams meant, it would not be until well into her adult life that I began to understand. She gathered friends in much the same way she was gathering those four-legged creatures. Riki quickly made friends where ever she planted. Whether I visit her home town or the town where she and Jonathan raise their children, she made close friends, and they continue to love her to this day. Alas, I didn’t tell the story at her funeral. Perhaps I thought, in a split second, that it would have been a weird comparison. Perhaps not, though. My point would have been to describe a loving heart that beat inside her. I leave you with some images of her.
Riki could be called mischievous!
Here’s a goofy one of Riki and “the Village”.
More than anything, we know that she loved her family, and she loved her friends, deeply. She loved to have fun, and she continues to be an inspiration to each of us who knew her. Meanwhile, we continue to remember what she believed in. I leave you with a picture of her and our son, her brother, Stevie. He carries on the tradition of fabulous cooking and sharing his food with loved ones.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope to talk to you soon.
I am a geographer specializing in human systems. My passion is studying underrepresented populations so that I can assist in their integration into the communities in which they live. I studied Human Ecology because it is a wonderful blend of the disciplines of geography, anthropology and sociology. No matter the context in which I find myself, I am an observer of humans in their environments and how the influences in those settings build and nurture sense-of-self, sense-of-place, and sense-of-direction in educational, familial, and community settings. My work focuses on the cross-cultural and intercultural traditions of multi-lingual populations acculturating into their receiving communities and being successful in educational arenas of higher education. This work includes gathering, analyzing, and writing about health, well-being, and environmental/social connectedness in their communities. My research focuses on Minority-majority, rural, Midwest communities. My role as director of intercultural learning and academic success at Kansas State University allows me to discover more about myself as I work with others in their paths to self-discovery in their own interactions with students and families who come from different parts of the country and the world all converging in educational spaces. Recently, I lived, worked and played in Southwest Kansas, a region marked by Minority-majority populations centers (56% – 68%). Some of my research results are used to address poverty, low educational attainment, poor health outcomes, and cultural norms in multi-cultural settings. I work to assure a representative sample for my research, so I engage in multi-lingual research (English, Spanish, Burmese, French, Tigrinya, and Somali). Building trust and relationships is the key to my success as a multilingual researcher. Presently, my research takes me in the micro-communities of populations represented by nine African countries (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Somalia, and Cameroon), seven Latin American countries, and six Asian countries. Yes, it is rural Southwest Kansas, and many of the densely-settled and frontier rural communities act as receiving centers for refugees and other displaced populations, because of the availability of jobs.
I am the recent recipient of National Geographic Society’s Research and Exploration grant to introduce Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to females of color. This inter-generational, intercultural class hosted middle school, high school, and adult females who learned the basics of GIS with a variety of applications from remote sensing to city planning to Google Earth, and to Pokémon GO! By the time the young ladies finished the class, they were able to build cities, map their communities, log trips from their countries of origin to the Midwest. I am in the mid-year of the grant funding, and my target for completion was July 2018. I have new funding to extend this work to new cohorts.
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