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This is always interesting to me. These innanets are a strange place but here I am still. I posted less than last year but had double the hits. I can’t say if I will or won’t post as much this year with my new venture www.fortyisthenewforty.com taking up a lot of my time. But I will enjoy coming to visit these old pieces and I appreciate that they have a home.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,500 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 42 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I posted this three years ago when my daughter turned thirteen. Yesterday she turned sixteen and every word of it is still true. ❤

Sing a Black Girl's Song

They said I wasn’t maternal.

I was supposed to be the one who traveled the world deeply committed to “the cause” and fully prepared to burn the dynamite at both ends if it meant results for my work. So when, at the tender age of 23, I announced that I was carrying my first child, the reactions were deeply divided – not between right and wrong – but between degrees of wrongness. Some thought it was a terrible “career move” and that I was cutting short what could shape up to be a promising future. Others thought that the man was just all wrong. “He’ll leave you know,” they said. However, what most agreed on was how much they couldn’t see me raising a kid. Me with the occasional bad attitude who had “bacdafucup” tattooed in the corners of my side-eye, me with the flippant mouth and the…

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meandmrwes

January 30th is my father’s birthday. He was born in 1930, so if he was alive this year would have been his 83rd birthday. He died 12 years ago on January 21, 2001.

For a decade after my father’s death January was the worst month for me. It actually started in December around the holidays, which he loved to celebrate. I could always get through Christmas thinking about how happy it made him and how happy he made me in turn. Christmas was never the problem. It was after Christmas and right before New Year’s Eve that I would be struck with a random, painful memory of him and the void left in my spirit when he died. The feeling always started with a joyful thought of a joke he told or a meal he cooked and then suddenly, like being pierced with a sharp object, the pain would come — in full force and it didn’t dull any as days went by either. In fact, it increased by the day, causing me to feel alternatively sick or sad or mean or lethargic. It was anyone’s guess.

I hated January.

My father died nine days before his 71st birthday making it impossible to remember his life without dragging forth the pain of his death; the two remained inextricably linked in my mind. Some years were harder than others. In 2006, a particularly hard year in general, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of his death, I completely shut down. I was able to function enough to feed my daughter and get her to school, but for about a month, I was no good otherwise. None. And strangely enough it didn’t bother me. My grandfather, the only man I loved as much as my father, had passed away eight years before my father and at the time I had no frame of reference for how to proceed with the rest of my life without his love and support. A part of me died when granddaddy died. The other part died with Mr. Wes (that was my nickname for him).

In 2009, on the eighth anniversary of his death, something wonderful happened. By that time I had settled into the idea that January was just a bad time for me and as such, I began to prepare for it. I would tell close friends not to worry and say things like, “I’m going to be a little depressed for a few weeks, but I will snap out of it.” I had a playlist of sad music that reminded me of Mr. Wes. I had pictures that I would sit and sift through everyday. I had a routine. And I thought it was sane. That year the first Sunday in January happened to fall on the day after New Year’s day. I sat in church that day just waiting for the wallowing to begin, but instead I had a complete revelation. My Pastor preached from Philippians 3:13-14

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

This is one of my favorite scriptures in general, but on that night he talked about it in reference to baggage and posed questions that seemed to be directed at me specifically. He asked how long would we wallow in the tragedies of the past and he asked what did we take that was good from those things to use in our testimony as we moved forward. After the service I went and talked to my Pastor and explained the situation. He was so enlightening and explained that I was using my father’s legacy in a way that he would not be pleased. That was a big turning point for me. That night I came home and I created a collage in honor of him on my Facebook page and I played his favorite songs loud in the house, but this time I danced to them instead of wailing in my bed until my eyes were swollen shut. I showed my daughter his famous dance moves to classics like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Buffalo Soldier” two of his all time favorites. My daughter, who was three when he died, asked me all sorts of questions about him and our life together and I obliged her and divulged all sorts of tales from my childhood.

It was magical.

I felt free for the first time in years. I had managed to figure out (with God’s grace) how to remember him and love him and be happy at the same time and for the last three years I have reveled in the memories of my dear Mr. Wes.

This year I forgot.

I didn’t post any pictures of him on Facebook, I didn’t call my mother to have a conversation about “back-in-the-day” when we were all together and happy. I didn’t play his music. I simply forgot.

I remembered a few days back though. A friend told me that she had recently had a birthday and I said out loud “oh snap” (I didn’t really say snap but whatever) “my father’s birthday is coming up!” That had to be Saturday. Now, four short days later. I forgot.

Today was a normal day. I went to work and I was very busy. I had a few meetings and phone calls this morning. I had an afternoon appointment as well and then I was back to the office before going home to prepare for my evening attending the opening night of Alvin Ailey here in Philadelphia. I came home after the show and talked to my daughter for about 40 minutes and then went back to work finishing something that is on a deadline for tomorrow. I did all of this today and I didn’t remember him.

The strange thing is I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know if I should feel bad because — he’s my father. If he were alive I’d feel bad so why shouldn’t I feel bad in his death? Especially when it occurred to me that if I had forgotten his birthday then I most certainly forgot the day of his death. *deep sigh*

I dont’ know what it means. I will never, every forget him as a person. I will never, ever, not miss him being here with me. And I will never, ever know another human being like him. But, I am not in mourning anymore; and I am happy about that. Some part of me thinks he would want me to forget and live my life only from the memories of the care and attention and generosity that he showed me. I believe with all of my being that he would want that and that’s easy to do because I carry it in my heart every, single day along with all of the love I had for him and he had for me. And that is easy to remember.

Continue to rest peacefully.

I love you Mr. Wes.

Daddy was a number runner: my memories of Mr. Wes

I know I need to do better in 2013 as this report shows, but I’m really proud of the writing I did and am motivated to do triple the work this year!

#newyearnewme

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

There is no flowery language to explain how this case has affected me.

My heart aches about TRAYVON MARTIN, the 17-year-old boy brutally murdered in February, and for his family. Having a baby brother, growing up where we did, the fear that we would get a phone call one day like Trayvon’s mother did has always been nested right in the pit of my stomach. Every time I see the police “sweep” the neighborhood plucking random black and latino boys from wherever they can scrounge them, any time I see a group of brothers pulled over on the side of the road with a cop roaming freely through their possessions or barking in their faces, or when I wake up to news of another black child gunned down by police or like in this case a rogue neighborhood watch leader – I ache. For my brother, for my unborn son and for every black man and boy in this country. I ache. And then I get angry.

When I first saw the KONY2012 video I was so put off. I thought “here is another white, liberal, missionary framing our stories and presenting ‘his’ voice (and his organization) as the answer for what ails Africa.” Well, not really. It wasn’t that eloquent – I really thought, “this is some bullshit.” But that first statement is what I meant. I was astonished to say the least when in a matter of days it went viral the way it did. It was clear that folk didn’t do due diligence, like finding out if Joseph Kony is even still in Uganda or what Invisible Children’s history was. We just jumped right in and started hashtagging like our lives depended on it. Trayvon Martin was killed on February 26th. The first article I saw was maybe a week after he was killed. This has been like a slow leak. Finally making national headlines and media outlets this past week. It’s like we needed more evidence.

All of the usual suspects on my facebook friends list picked it up right away. All of my intellectual, activist, freedom fighting, smarty-art type friends have been talking about Trayvon’s murder for two weeks. But what about the rest of the world? Why weren’t we leery when the Kony video showed a list of the World’s Worst Criminals and it was pretty much made up of all Africans? Why didn’t we twist our lips a little at the whole “I made him a promise to DO something” part talking about his little Ugandan buddy? Why didn’t an eyebrow raise when we saw that the solution seemed to be wearing tee-shirts and buying $10 string bracelets. Where is the money going? How are you – white (or non-white), wide-eyed, idealistic, college kid – going to stop a notoriously evil warlord who has been in “power” for 26 years with your macrame bracelet? And the biggest question is where is the same outrage for Trayvon? I don’t expect anyone outside of our community to be mad. It would be nice but I don’t expect it. But we should be FURIOUS. We should be calling the Attorney General’s office and CNN and The local police department where Trayvon was shot. The police are covering up this crime. That makes them as culpable as the gunman Zimmerman. It’s defacto police brutality. (I made that up but you get it)

The point is WE should be posting status messages and tweeting and hashtagging #JusticeforTrayvon and #ARRESTZIMMERMAN. George Zimmerman is enemy number one right here and right now. Make him infamous.

There are some names we just can’t let slip from our memories and our tongues.

Eleanor Bumpers…Amadou Diallo…Aiyanna Jones…

Trayvon Martin

I’ll leave you with this: Video:-Teen-witnessed-part-of-Trayvon-Zimmerman-confrontation

Call the Sanford police department and demand justice (407) 688-5070

When I first read out about Occupy Wall Street this past September I remember thinking, “oh that’s cute.”

That was my actual response to seeing the pictures of, at the time, hundreds of young, white protesters converge on the New York’s financial district. I read the article online and moved on to the next news item unmoved. A few days or weeks later as the movement began to grow, like most people, I became more interested in what was happening. I read through the articles and watched video clips trying to better understand what the goals of this growing movement were and how they connected to some of the deeper concerns I have about my community. I was unsuccessful. I read a number of articles that cited the outrage that the group, like many people in this country, had about the bailouts on Wall St. and the general pilfering of our economy that was happening from the “1%” of the people and corporations (since they are one and the same) in this nation. I read about how a Canadian group started an internet campaign that grew into an action campaign that was now spreading like wildfire across the country, but I still didn’t read about what these “occupiers” wanted to happen as a result of their efforts.

I felt torn.

On one hand, I had a growing sense of excitement about the idea of a movement – of any kind – that was a counter to the visible activity on the other side of the fence from racist, imperialist, deeply divisive groups like the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity. Before the “occupy” protests began it was starting to seem like people, of any race, who had beliefs opposite of these aforementioned groups were voiceless in the media and powerless against the cultural hegemony that was happening right before our eyes. On the heels of Arab Spring the fervor felt from the massive collection of protesters, with their rallying cry: “We are the 99%” was invigorating at best and reminiscent of U.S. resistance movements of the past…kinda. On the other hand, what I was seeing day after day watching the occupy movement didn’t speak to the greatest of my concerns as an African American, working-class, single mother living and working in a country where “the 35%” or the percentage of the population that are People of Color are consistently under-served and overburdened. For organizers this group didn’t come across as very organized. As the movement crept from one major city to the next the underlying question was like the elephant in the room: “what’s the point?”

It was about this time when I came across this video of Occupy Atlanta:

In the video, which is about 7 minutes long, Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta is attempting to address a group of protesters and is completely shut down. The group, which uses this cumbersome complete consensus/call and response process to speak and make decisions, doesn’t fully agree to allow the congressman to speak and therefore he is turned away. The majority of the crowd clearly is in favor of him making remarks, but there are at least two or three who do not and one man who speaks out against it directly. This one man’s point is NOT about the fact that Rep. Lewis has made some questionable decisions during his tenure as a public official like endorsing Hillary Clinton or voting for the war in Libya – but more about his status as Congressman not making him any more important than other protesters. John Lewis, a hero of the United States Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, was not there to speak as a politician though. He was there to lend words of encouragement and enlightenment to the group based on his years of experience as a movement leader. According to him, he was there to say, “I understand your cause, I support what you are doing and I believe in non-violent protest as a means to an end.” Now, as much as I have been dissatisfied with some of the decisions that former Civil Rights Movement leaders-turned-politicians/pundits/”professional profiteers” have made. I have nothing but the utmost respect for these elders for the courage, tenacity and commitment they showed during their fight for our rights in this country – especially John Lewis.

Lewis, who became active in social justice work while in college in Tennessee, was at the forefront of some of the greatest strategical movement work coming out of the civil rights movement of the 60s. Under the tutelage of the great professor Jim Lawson, Lewis along with other great movement minds like Rev. C.T. Vivian and Diane Nash, helped organize the student movement the spread across the South in the early 60s. Along with Nash, Lewis was one of the founders of SNCC or the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – one of the greatest youth led social justice organizations of our time. And, John Lewis was one of the chief organizers of what has been called one of the most significant movements in modern American history: the Voting Rights Movement.

In other words, if Atlanta was serious about building a movement then they had something to learn from him.

This video spoke to the heart of what my issues with the whole Occupy movement were. There was no unified message, there was no discernible strategy, there was no leadership and it was too broad. Everything I have learned about the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, The Labor Movement, and the Liberation Movements in Africa were unified by these three things at least: message, strategy, and leadership. I was also deeply troubled by the lack of color in the faces splashed across newspapers and television screens every day. In fact until the protests hit Oakland and got live I didn’t feel represented in any way by “occupiers” in any other state. The students I work with and even my own child also felt disconnected from what they saw because they didn’t see ‘us’ and they didn’t see how sitting in a tent for days on end would get them a better education or jobs or stop police from harassing them. While I agree that we need a massive movement in this country and the Occupy movement was maybe a start – it is not the answer. The least of these, that 35% referenced earlier are going to have to stand up and get organized in a more visible way. Because we have always been the ones on the bottom – we have continually been organizing and protesting, but not in a way that engages the masses and embeds itself into popular culture. The difference between the social justice work that is heavily led by people of color like anti-police brutality, economic justice, reproductive justice, voting rights, and political prisoner work and the Occupy Wall Street movement is that numbers are sexy and white folk matter more in the media. That’s just the truth. However, there was a time when we did have the numbers. There was a time when we had a unified message, strategy and leadership that translated into results. There was a point in our collective history, black and brown, that we put away differences and focused on a common goal – and we can’t lose sight of that.

There is no end to the work we have to do. In order to reach the level of equality and justice that many of us seek we will have to be committed to working towards it everyday, for the rest of our lives, in the ways in which we are anointed to do so. From organizing to teaching to writing to leading it all matters and everyone plays a role. But, in my humble opinion, we have to be completely cognizant of the successes and failures or our elders and ancestors. If those Occupy Atlanta folk really wanted it badly they wouldn’t have turned John Lewis away and been so disrespectful. They would have listened to what advice he had to offer and picked his brain about strategy. They would have asked for detailed accounts of the worst mistakes he made and then discussed ideas for new strategies for a new generation. THEN, they would have found a place to congratulate him on some of the victories he’s had that benefit the “99%” while calling him to task on some of his current policies and practices. That’s how you build and learn. The arrogance that says, “I don’t need to hear what you have to say because I know what I’m doing.” is a losing stance.

There is an Akan (Ghana) symbol from the group of Adinkra symbols called “Sankofa” and its literal translation is “go back and get it.” In African-American culture we reference it as a way to stay connected to our history. It symbolizes the importance of knowing where we came from and the legacy of the people that came before us – our ancestors. Growing up, I was taught that outside of the Gye Name symbol which represents the omnipotence of God, the Sankofa was the most important and valuable. We come from a tradition where we value our elders and uplift the memory of our ancestors. The work we do now is in part to honor them. A lot of black people, particularly those who do movement or justice work, feel a deep connection to Africa. Many of us don’t feel complete until we make a pilgrimage to our mother continent and reconnect physically, mentally and spiritually to our roots. I am one of those people. However, after living and working in Alabama doing both historical research and justice work, I would challenge EVERY person of color, but particularly black people to make a similar pilgrimage to the South. Many of us head south for family reunions or vacations with family, but few of us have made the visit in an effort to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors and elders who shed blood and died for our sake. It’s sacred land. This is not a debate about whether their efforts were in line with your personal or political ideology. It’s about connecting with the spirit of resistance. The south is not just the cradle of our enslavement and oppression it is also the birthplace of our resistance. If you are going to do the work, you have to be prepared and apart of being prepared is being connected. Yes, you can read the books and watch videos of speeches, but the beauty of the modern movements for justice and liberation in this country is that they are so young. Selma was 1965 – that’s 47 years ago. The leaders and participants in the movement were largely young people under 30. That means that there are a number of people only in their mid to late 60s and early 70s who have a wealth of experience to share with us. These movements may have been led by popular figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, but the on the ground fight was happening with everyday folk like you.

You want to understand how to build a movement? Start in Greensboro, NC where the first student sit-ins happened in 1960 and work your way over to Nashville, TN where the foundation for SNCC was laid, then go on through Albany, GA where black girls were at the forefront of the movement and the Freedom Singers were birthed and across to Atlanta where the SCLC was founded and is still housed before crossing the border into Birmingham, AL where hoses were first used on children by Bull Conner and four little girls and one little boy were killed as a result of a church bombing and then to Montgomery, AL where hundreds of black house maids led a boycott that almost bankrupted the Montgomery Bus Co. and catapulted Rev. King to national prominence and then cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge into Selma where everyday black folk including students as young as fourteen, led by John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Albert Turner and Bob Mants stood in the face of death and marched anyway and after being tormented, beaten, threatened and even gassed got up a week later and did it all again. Mississippi had some of the cruelest and most brutal incidents of all – but Medgar Evers, Victoria Gray, Bob Moses Fannie Loe Hamer – they stood anyway. We can’t forget that. We have a history. We don’t have to build movements in a vacuum. There is a blueprint and there are lessons. There is a song we used to teach kids to sing in Selma about the movement and the chorus is:

“Someone prayed for you, someone sang for you, someone marched for you
and they didn’t even know you. Someone cried for you, someone suffered and died for you and they didn’t even know your name…”

The history is ever-present – the stories, the faces, the victories, the challenges, the spirit are all there just waiting for us to occupy them.

———————————————————————-

Every year, Selma is host to the largest commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement in the country. It’s called the Bridge Crossing Jubilee and its the celebration of the right to vote and commemoration of the Selma to Montgomery March and the events leading up to it, including Bloody Sunday. I am putting out a call to all of you (especially those who do justice and liberation work in whatever form) to join me in Selma March 2nd and 3rd. In particular, if you were ever apart of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, we are calling you to join us for an alumni gathering. For more information about the Jubilee check out their website at: www. selmajubilee.com for more information about the 21st Century gathering email me at justbeinc@gmail.com.

Remember. Return. Renew.

See you in Selma!

kwanzaa_traditions.s600x600

This year, more than any other in my recent memory, folk have been talking about Kwanzaa. Some of the talk has been breezy and some contemplative. Either way, the talk has sparked some lively debate amongst my “fb fam” with passionate responses coming from both sides of the coin, but it has also prompted others to privately and publicly ask me general questions about the African-American holiday simply bc they don’t understand it. As old as the tradition is, it has only gained a larger mainstream following in the last maybe 10 years. Lots of folk who didn’t grow up with “progressive” parents or didn’t make a switch in college just don’t know. So I decided to break it down using a medium that my fellow bredren are most familiar with – movies.

See, Kwanzaa is all about African-Americans setting aside time to celebrate and uplift our own community. It was NEVER meant to be a Black Christmas. In fact, each principle and the activities attached to them are the antithesis of what America and most of the world have made of Christmas. Kwanzaa wasn’t created as a marketing ploy to get black people to keep shopping (yes, I’ve heard that one before), although like Christmas it is being commodified more and more each year.

However, the principles still stand for our community. They still represent our greatest aspirations for ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

So in the spirit of the Nguzo Saba, here is my attempt to make it plain:

Umoja – Unity:
To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

This one is simple. It’s the first thing black folk say whenever something goes down whether it’s in the club or at the family reunion “black folk can’t never stick together.” Not true. As exhibited in this scene from the movie “Life” starring Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy. In this scene the white warden is trying to figure out which black inmate has “knocked up” his lily-white daughter as evidenced by the brown baby she gave birth to and each of the men take responsibility to protect the real father. If this ain’t unity…

Kujichagulia – Self Determination:
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves; to stand up.

Whenever I’m explaining Kwanzaa to someone I always wish I could make this one next to last. Like, day one, Umoja eases you in and then day two hits you over the head, BAM! But like my grandaddy used to admonish whenever he smelled procrastination or laziness in the air “you see what’s going on in the world? Ni&&as ain’t got time for games!” So, it’s pronounced Kuji-chag-ulia (or CoogiChug Aaliyah if that helps more.) And it’s my favorite principle actually. All broken down it means if you want to name your baby La’shaunt’quavia ZhaNashay Davis – do that. Although traditionally, Kwanzaa strongly embraces African centered practices, there is something to be said about the creativity and distinct nature of new black baby names – you know they are ours that’s for sure. The point is, they came from us, from our community. We created it and claim it, like jazz or hip-hop or afros or locs, no matter how it’s co-opted and manipulated at its core it’s from Us. No other scene in a black movie (except maybe this one) defines Kujichagulia as plainly as this one from Roots. It’s classic, but everyone, especially 80s babies, haven’t scene it. What’s happening here is Kunta Kinte, a central character in the movie, has been captured and enslaved and is now being “broken” and prepared for working on the plantation. His captor in this scene is attempting to give him a new name and take away his African identity altogether but Kunta is defiant:

Ujima – Collective Work & Responsibility:
To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.

Am I my brother’s keeper?” – in a word, “yes.” (but not like in that clip) When I first started organizing one of my elders used to say to us all of the time (paraphrasing from Frantz Fanon) that you have to take folk from where they were. She would say, “If you have something to eat and your neighbor doesn’t – then it’s just like you don’t – our problems are all of ours together.” That is the core of collective work and responsibility. I also grew up singing a song that had these lyrics: “I want to lift my brother up he is not heavy, I want to lift my sister up she is not heavy, I want to lift my people up they are not heavy. If I don’t lift them up…I will fall down.” Again, that makes it plain. In this country that was built of the principle of “climbing ladders” but not “lifting as we climb” it’s very easy to get caught up in the competition of it all. But, it’s not in our tradition not to help each other. Philanthropy is ingrained in our DNA because of the times when “we” were all we had.
In one of my all time favorite movies, The Wiz, we see a great display of Ujima from beginning to end. Dorothy, played by Diana Ross picks up the Scarecrow, played by Michael Jackson and offers that the Wiz could likely help him find a brain, they go on to pick up the Tin Man, played by Nipsy Russell and bring him along to get a heart and round out the group with “the mean Ole’ Lion,” played by Ted Ross who needs some courage. They stick together until the end, they sacrifice for each other, when they have an out and a chance to separate they do not and in the end when each of the brothers get their individual needs satisfied they aren’t satisfied until Dorothy is also cared for. Her problems are their problems. There is no one clip that illustrates this most (that I could find on youtube) but this is a good one still. They don’t just share their new-found freedom with each other…they spread the joy with others who have been oppressed:

Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

This could be simplified as “Buy Black” but it’s more than that. Go out of your way to support black businesses. Help to bring Black businesses into your community. Do not support businesses that are not in the best interest of the black community. And, help support cooperative businesses that uplift and support the people with the least in our communities.
People, Black folk more specifically, always wrinkle their noses or roll their eyes when I start talking about finding black businesses. I don’t care it’s important to me. My doctors are black, my dentist is black, my dry cleaner (was black, my bad I’ve been lazy about finding a black one in Philly), my mechanic, etc…

When I moved to Philly it took me about two months to find all of the services I needed from Black people – but I did for the most part and THAT’S what Ujamaa is all about. I thought about using this other movie at first but figured it wasn’t really appropriate. Then I thought about “Do the Right Thing” and this scene where Buggin’ Out asks Sal the owner of the pizza shop why there aren’t brothas on the wall and Sal explains in great detail why he decidedly does not and WILL NOT put any up. The gist of what Buggin’ Out is talking about is exactly why we need to practice Cooperative Economics. Waaaaaaaaake Up!!!!!

Nia – Purpose
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

So this one is a bit broad, but in a good way. We have a lot of things in our community that need to be rebuilt, repaired or renewed. And if the last three years under our first Black president have shown us anything – it’s definitely that we are on our own out here. As the great June Jordan (not Barack Obama) famously said “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” That means that our purpose, as a people, regardless of what path your life takes you on personally, has to be rooted in uplifting our community — more specifically to making the lives of Black people better in some way. So be a teacher or be a farmer; be a dancer or be a phlebotomist – but either directly through your career or some how in your life – work toward making the lives of Black people (and other people of color) better. Is it hard? Could be. Or it could be simple. Your contribution is your decision. But have one.

I chose this scene from “The Color Purple” my all time favorite movie. I could really pull every single principle out of this one movie – and I actually started to. I hope most of you have seen this movie so I don’t have to go into too much detail, but in this scene Celie, played by Whoopie Goldberg is reunited with her sister Nettie, played by Akosua Busia after many, many years and after thinking that she would never see her again. Their reunion is only able to happen because of the work of Celie’s ex-husband, Mister, played by Danny Glover, who was responsible for their separation in the first place and who had beaten and tormented Celie for years. I feel like this contribution from Mister was the defining moment in his life – he had found his purpose. You might think it’s a stretch, but I think it’s an example of the best way for us to build real community – with intention, one person at a time.

Kuumba – Creativity
To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

This is probably the most often misunderstood of all of the principles and that’s understandable. While it does mean that we should be creative in the traditional sense of arts and culture. It also means that we have to be creative in the ways in which we problem solve and deal with the challenges we face in our community (at least that’s what I was taught.) As a people, we exhibit a lot of ingenuity in our day-to-day lives. From “robbing peter to pay paul” to inventing things to make our lives easier.

This principle always reminds me to celebrates not just the genius and cleverness in our community, but the ways in which we come together to “take what we have and make what we need” which is another one of my “elder-isms.” My disclaimer here is that the two scenes I wanted to show I just couldn’t find. The first was the picnic scene from the movie “Uptown Saturday Night” with Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte among a number of our favorite black actors and the second was the social worker scene from “Claudine” starring Dianne Carroll and James Earl Jones. If you haven’t seen either – make a point to – they are both GREAT films. In the end it was either the scene from Sister Act where the kids clean up the neighborhood or this one from The Women of Brewster’s Place – it is a TERRIBLE copy – but, either way, I think you all get it, right?

Imani – Faith
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Contrary to popular belief, this principle is not so much about believing in God as it about us believing in each other. But, we are a spiritual, not religious, people by nature. For many African-Americans our faith in God is what fuels our faith in each other and mankind for that matter. This principle is about what our faith in general is about. In Christianity it tells us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Islam says, “Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.” There are similar sentiments about faith in Yoruba, Judaism and many other religions practices by Black people – because it is what carries us. Imani is about us vowing to ourselves to always search for the best part of other black folk. We may be disappointed with each other in our heads but we can’t give up on one another in our hearts.

I tried not to use the same movie twice, I really did, but I just couldn’t help it – these are the movies that came to mind first. Besides, I already told ya’ll that it’s my favorite :). This scene from “The Color Purple” is the perfect display of Imani/Faith both in the more “traditional” sense as in worshiping God and in the communal sense as in “not giving up on each other.” In this clip, Shug Avery, is performing in the local Juke Joint on a Sunday morning and is interrupted by the sounds coming from the choir in her father’s church nearby. Shug, whose father had long since turned his back on her for her “worldly ways,” proceeds to march to the church and show her father that “sinner’s have soul too.” (get your tissues)

And that’s it! Those are all of the principles. The Nguzu Saba is what they are called.

See, it’s not that hard of a concept to grasp, right? And if so, I hope I made it a little easier. I have actually been slacking on my Kwanzaa in the last several years, so this post was for me too. I needed to be reminded about the things I love the most about the holiday – Black folk. I love black people and I love everything about being black and ANY excuse to celebrate and uplift black folk is alright with me.

For more information about how to traditionally celebrate Kwanzaa check out this website: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/index.shtml

But you should note, even if you don’t feel comfortable going through the seven-day practice (after you’ve tried it at least once) that’s cool – no one is judging you or snatching your “black card.” But, if you never light another kinara or pour a libation, you can still embrace the principles of Kwanzaa in your life and the life of your children and community.

Harambee good people!

It seems oxymoronic to start a blog by saying “‘I’m a deeply personal person.” but I really am.

I was raised to believe that my business is my business and what happened in my home stayed in my home – under ALL circumstances.

I felt the need to preface this post by saying that because it’s the first of a series of posts that I feel compelled to publish that share some parts of myself that I have previously reserved for a select crowd of people, but I can’t anymore – I’m trying to build a movement. The following post is old. It was written in 2005 when my best friend and I first formalized our organization, Just Be Inc.. I have had so many thoughts in my mind lately that I have been unable to get on paper. So much has happened in the 5 months since my last blog and I have so much to say and so little time, or at least that is what I have convinced myself. The truth is I had led myself to believe that I don’t have the authority to add to the conversation about these issues that are tearing at my heart when there are so many more qualified voices and well written pieces about things like the 11-year old Texas girl who was brutally gang raped or this recent Ashley Judd dust-up because she called out the hip-hop community for promoting a “rape culture” .

I’m not a pop-culture critic or a public intellectual. I’m just a worker. I’m in the trenches with the 11-year-old survivors and the little girls that have been raised on a steady diet of hip-hop misogyny and mainstream media girl hate.

It’s sexual assault awareness month so I thought it was apt to share this now. Some folk who have supported our work from the beginning have already read this, many have not.

I’m glad that there is a month where the media and organizations doing work in the trenches like Just Be Inc. can shed some light on the staggering statistics around violence against women and girls. I’m more glad that these organizations continue to work just as hard the other 11 months of the year.

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The me too movement™ started in the deepest, darkest place in my soul.

As a youth worker, dealing predominately with children of color, I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents when I met Angel. Ten years ago during an all girl bonding session at our youth camp, several of the girls in the room shared stories of sexual abuse at the hands of family members, acquaintances and even strangers. Just as I had done so many times before I sat and listened to the stories and comforted the girls as needed – but avoided as many as possible. When it was over the adults advised the young women to reach out to us in the event that they needed to talk some more or needed something else – and then we went our separate ways. Looking back now, I wish we had a different system for dealing with the trauma that was exposed, but we were young and thought just providing an “outlet” was enough.

The next day a little girl who had been quiet in the previous night’s session asked to speak to me privately. Angel was a sweet-faced little girl who kind of clung to me throughout the camp. Her light, high-pitched voice betrayed her high-strung, hyperactive behavior and I was frequently pulling her out of some type of situation. As she attempted to talk to me, the look in her eyes sent me in the other direction. She had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of. Finally, later in the day the baby caught up with me and almost begged me to listen…and I reluctantly conceded. For the next several minutes this child, Angel, struggled to tell me about her “stepdaddy” or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body…I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore…which turned out to be less than 5 minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and abruptly directed her to another female counselor who could “help her better.”

I will never forget the look on her face.

I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it unexpectedly forced closed again – it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain. I could not validate her sense of self-worth and find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured… I watched her walk away from me and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.


Empowerment through Empathy

One of the main goals of The me too Movement™ is to give young women, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, a sense of empowerment from the understanding that we are not alone in our circumstances. This is the underlying principle of this project: Empowerment through Empathy. The statistics related to sexual abuse in these communities are staggering. The estimates detailing the number of sexual abuse, assault or exploitation victims who are not reporting what happened to them or seeking help are equally astounding.

We want to turn victims into survivors.

Empathy is the sense of awareness or compassion one person has for another’s circumstances; it is a deep connection with the pain of another that comes from that real understanding.

The power of empathy is sorely undervalued. Oftentimes young women who have been violated in any of the aforementioned areas feel humiliated, isolated and powerless. In several cultures, women of color are encouraged to keep situations like these to them selves. In some communities the prevalence is so widespread that the behavior is almost normalized. And still, in other situations, young women from low wealth backgrounds are left feeling voiceless when they don’t see themselves properly represented by various advocate groups. The me too Movement™ seeks to empower young women past these barriers.

Why a Movement?

Under the me too Movement™ our focus is young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. A number of existing advocacy programs only address rape, date rape, or sexual assault. In our survey of programs across the United States, few were equipped to deal with young women, of a variety of ages and races, who were victims of molestation, incest, or exploitation. The definition of exploitation, for our purposes, covers a wide variety of situations that often go unaddressed in communities of color. Young women who are severally harassed daily in school, made to commit to sexual favors or perform sex acts under duress can be severally traumatized by their situations, and the effects can be just as damaging as being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.

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We are serious about building a movement. That is why I am posting this. I have witnessed the power of empowerment through empathy. I have seen what happens in the life of the giver and the receiver. We are bringing the stories of survival to the children, to the other babies like Angel who need to hear it and see how you got over.

If there are women of any age that are willing to share their story with us – in print or on video – please let us know. Our project is ongoing, so whenever you’re ready we’re ready. Your healing, your time. Just remember, you’re not alone….it’s a movement.

For more information or to share visit our website at http://www.justbeinc.org or email me at tarana@justbeinc.org

Thanks.

(Requisite disclaimer: Yes, I only read it once…i just needed to get it on paper, so forgive typos, poor grammar, etc…or don’t.)

Last year around this time, I was so struck by turning 35 that I sat down and wrote a list of things I knew for sure. There were 11 of them. Each one was a thing or act or accomplishment that I was distinctly proud of and felt some sense of relief in saying out loud. When I was done and I read the list back to myself I remember being overcome by a sense of transition and growth. I felt like I had arrived at a place that I didn’t even know I was on my way to. That list inadvertently opened up a world of self-discovery that became extremely important to me at precisely the moment I finished.

I almost knew instinctively that I would write a sequel. I even began thinking about it back in the spring when my best friend’s birthday came. I remember trying to reflect on my year thus far and coming up with a sort of contrived list of randomness like – “I can fill out a ball gown” and “I have decorated my home with great taste”…even as I jotted down these sort of empty achievements they fell flat in my mind. The things I listed at 35 were real – even the whimsical, were real, hard-earned, and meaningful in one way or another to me. This new would-be list of 12 (because that’s how contrived it was – I thought – “I’ll one up myself from last year, genius!”) was so insincere that I just stopped altogether and left the task alone. When my birthday came this year I didn’t even think about it. As a matter of fact, my life has been so “topsy turvy” – if you will – lately, that I barely thought about my birthday at all. But tonight, after what has been one of the longest weeks of my life, I sat reading in my living room and I was struck with a thought that led me back to this task.

I actually don’t have a funny list this year. I don’t have a list at all and what I have to say may or may not tickle you…but its honest and it’s me – today.

This year has been one for the record books. There has been significant change in several areas of my life. I have a magnificent new job and I feel fulfilled and appreciated for my work for the first time in a decade. My daughter started Junior HS – which is just unbelievable to me because according to my calculations she is still about four years old. And, I have a man in my life that is in a word – wonderful. As I sat thinking about these occurrences I couldn’t help but to think about how I feel like they are connected even though they seem so disparate.

My work, as anyone who really knows me, knows – is very important to me. I love the idea of working hard. I love to see something from inception to fruition and know I played a role in making it happen. And, I love to learn and then master something new. It is my absolute delight and my new job allows me to do that everyday. In the past, I have put my blood, sweat and tears into work only to have it go unappreciated and frankly uncompensated. Neither of those is an issue at this job and I love that the most. I have been humbled quite a bit doing this work too, but I have come out all the better for it. The kind of chin check this work gives me helps me grow as a professional and brings me closer to being even better at doing the work I truly love.

I love my baby. I don’t even have to write that because if you know me well enough to read this, you know that. She is growing up very fast now like someone was waiting at 11 and just put some duct tape on the fast forward button. She is my height and her feet are bigger than my feet! She is also “blossoming” quickly with things growing out of places that make me nauseous. Her taste in clothes, her taste in music and her taste in rules have changed drastically in a very short period of time. She is “funky” at times and she seriously irks the mess out of me at least three times a week. But as much as this pre-pubescence just makes me crazy, I love watching her grow. I love giving her the space she needs to discover exactly who she is – and she is doing just that. I love seeing the independence in her eyes when she is given another little freedom here and there – I remember that so well from that age. She has morphed from a little girl to a little lady in less than a year and while it is painful to watch sometimes, it feels like the kind of pain that you’re grateful for. It’s a bit of sadness for me each time she wants to stretch her pretty wings a bit further, but I am struck with a tinge of joy at the same time. Our relationship feels complicated at times, but then it shifts right back and feels as simple as the baby I just love.

Last year on my list of eleven things I made a bold claim, I said that at 35 I knew how to:
10. Appreciate a good man.
Good men aren’t exactly as hard to find, as they are hard to “de-fine”. All of my girls describe this supposed anomaly differently. By my own definition, I have run into quite a few and although they weren’t my soul mates or husbands…I did (and do) appreciate them for who they represent in the world. Learning to appreciate a good man has definitely prepared me to be appreciative of my own – when he comes. And chile’ he’s coming.

I’ll be darned if he didn’t.

I didn’t even know this man was thinking about me at this time last year, didn’t know if we would ever find our way back into each other’s lives or if we did would it still be the same. But he did – and he was determined that it would happen. I love him for that. The biggest surprise to me this year has to be that I would reach my next birthday and be head over heels in love – and getting married. (What? Stop playing.) It even feels weird to write it and read it aloud. In just a short period of time, I have (re) met the man who will be my husband and that reality has also helped me to put this year of my life into perspective.

It has been all about love.

I thought when I started thinking about this that it was all about him, but love has been an overarching theme this whole year.
My appreciation of, my desire for, my expansion into, my tug of war with, my cautious understanding and trepidation about, and my bold exclamation of…Love.

I was reading the breakdown of love in Corinthians 13: 4-8 in the Bible and was so struck by how this small passage covers so much ground. It is significant for each of the life changes that have occurred for me in the last year. Love is so difficult to comprehend and so simple at the same time. I know God is Love. And yet, as I have to go about my life dealing in and out of love in relationships with people and situations, it just doesn’t feel that simple all the time.

If I have learned anything else this year, it is that: Love is complicated and love is simple.

But I have also learned that love is a verb. It is kinetic always moving and always working. When you’re at your best it loves you back and at your worst it loves you through. It is real, it is tangible, it is messy, it is raw, and it is powerful.

And there is nothing wrong about it.

The verse says it never fails, and it doesn’t. We fail it.

This year I figured out a lot about myself by looking at how I love and why I love and what I love and when I fail and succeed in love; what it means to me and what I do in spite of and because of it.

I got all of that in the last year and some of it in the last week.

I am so very excited about what’s next. If it’s God’s will my work will be taken to another level in the next few years; my baby will continue to grow and develop into an even brighter star than she is and I will have a wonderful man to share my life with and make even more dreams come true for us both…

I don’t have a list this time because there is only one thing I know for sure at 36 and that is that each of these things will begin and end with love.

We fight in N.Y. – we just do.

I have met so many woman (and men) over the years that have not had fights and it always boggles my mind. I’m thinking “how did you make it through 12 years of SCHOOL without scrapping ONCE? Impossible.” My first real brush with ‘inner city violence’, was in P.S. 106 – in the 4th grade – when Tyra, Latisha and Keisha decided that they were gonna “jump” me. I’m sure most of you know, but in case you don’t being “jumped” is when a group of people decide to beat up on one person or a smaller group. It’s weird how I don’t remember the circumstances now, but I think it had something to do with a boy named Gregory Wilkenson who we all sweated back then (and maaaybe my general ‘goodie two shoes-ness). In any event they followed me as I walked to my grandma’s house in an area called Parkchester and pushed me into a bunch of bushes, they hit me a few times, dumped my book bag out, broke my glasses and stole my bus pass (which for a NY latchkey kid is like the holy grail).

I was devastated by this incident. And, what was more devastating was that I had to continue to go to school with these heifers! Something happened to me after that though. I was NOT a hell raiser in elementary school. I pretty much hung with a group of girls that I had known most of my life and we rarely beefed. But after that, with the help of my young uncle and aunt who constantly talked to me about not letting anyone bother me – and my mother who took no shorts AT ALL (she was of the “go get that jump rope back from them NOW or don’t come home” ilk) I developed a thick skin. Latisha caught it by the end of the year, I didn’t even have to get at Tyra bc she already started trying to be my friend – and that was that. I had found a new power.

Now fast forward a bit. Maybe 6th or 7th grade. Not because I was evil, not because I was a bully – just because I was a strangely calculating little kid, I launched a campaign against a girl in my school because I was jealous. She never knew this I’m sure, but I was jealous because she seemed smarter than me, she seemed nicer than me and she was taking my best friend away from me or so I thought. So I went in on her. I am embarrassed to say now what I did – but it was mean. Like the “Mean Girls” movie mean, but SO out of my natural character. She was so hurt behind it and I remember sitting in our principal’s office and seeing her red eyes and feeling so very bad. She doesn’t know it, but that kind of changed me in that moment too. I promised myself that I would NEVER bully anyone or make them feel bad purposely. And I didn’t.

Every fight I had after that (Oh, because we fought – she was not a push over like that, she even spit on me during the fight) But after that, anytime I fought I was provoked. When I started at public high school girls thought I was some type of punk because I came from catholic school – so I had to fight to defend myself – a lot. I was suspended 7 times in my freshman year. The girls would just fuck with me for no reason and after a while I didn’t even wait for the bell to ring. (One girl I fought three times – Rhonda Coleman- just for the record) But I didn’t LIKE to fight, it was just necessary for survival after a while.

Since high school I have had a few more scuffles here and there. My roommate in freshman year of college, A Kappa talking breezy at a party sophomore year, some random ass girl who threatened my friend and a mechanic who tried to keep my car…and possibly a few more. Really I have had hundreds of more “violent arguments” than I have fights. It weeds the punks out. I’m clear who I am gonna have to take on (1-D) as we used to say meaning one on one – in the first thirty seconds of an argument. Girls who want to fight don’t argue – well we do – but only long enough to get the adrenaline pumping and then its on. Once all of that back and forth and explaining starts, hands down – no scrapping is happening.

Well, now I am a mother. And like my mother before me, it is well-known that I will lay you OUT about my baby. No questions. Although she wasnt born or raised in the Bronx, I thought she would SURELY have a little of her mama in her. I mean her daddy aint a slouch either (evil, I believe is the word I’m looking for) and Lord knows her auntie, my bestest, is worse than me! But, alas, my baby is me in the fourth grade – on steroids! . She is “sunny side of the street” on the darkest, cloudiest days…she is rainbow skittles in your bowl of brown M&Ms – she is just “joy”. She doesn’t understand why people don’t get along, she doesn’t understand why people randomly don’t like her , and she certainly doesn’t get bullies. She is now in the 6th grade – you remember that year, right? Full onset of puberty, loads of self-doubt, weird emotions – and boys. She is in the midst of all of that – and dealing with bullies. And I am at my wit’s end. Part of the reason I am writing this at seven in the morning is because she has shared yet another story of girls messing with her this morning while she was dressing. Its been two years and its only escalated since we moved to Philly. She wont fight back. She just won’t. The one time I tried to push her like my mother pushed me backfired so badly. I kept screaming at her, “you better hit those girls back if they hit YOU!” Her auntie and I were tag teaming her back and forth and finally I screamed “why wont you hit them back!” and she yelled out, crying “Because I don’t like violence!”

What do I do with that? I raised her on the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement and reading the Bible – and now I wanted her to ‘choke a bitch’? I couldn’t be that contradictory. That was 4th grade, now we’re in 6th and it’s getting worse. They are calling my house and hanging up, threatening her, last year she even got a death threat in her desk – A note in red that said “Kill Kaia” in big red letters. I can’t take it – and as I have said before I am not above fighting a 6th grader, especially the ones that look like they are my co-workers. But I know that will not solve the problem. Did I say that I’m at my wit’s end? I talk to her constantly about ways to stand up for herself without being violent. She is too afraid. We are working on self-esteem issues and she does talk to me a lot, but I am really, really concerned. What happens next? People never think about how they scar these kids for life – I know I didn’t. Even if every subsequent fight after that one back in 6th or 7th grade was self-defense (or some version of) it doesn’t change what I did. I apologized, sincerely then, and since she is still my friend, I sincerely apologize again, now. But I can’t help but think as my girlfriend mentioned the other day, is this Karma?

help. help lawd.

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