Monday, September 7, 2015

Self Worth and Hard Decisions

The past few years have been a period of tough transition for me. Moving back to St. Louis was never in my plan. It’s been an uphill climb ever since I stepped foot back into this city that is rife with racial tensions, socioeconomic disparities, and social injustice. Along with that, coming back to the place where I spent a good portion of my childhood brings up a lot of unfinished business. Many of my personal and professional experiences here have been painful, exhausting and at times scary. But I’ve known that it’s all been for a reason.

The past year in particular has really tested my mental, emotional and spiritual fortitude, but I feel I’ve finally embarked on the breakthrough I’ve been guided to achieve. I’ve been directed to choose myself, and affirm my worth, without fear. I don’t think I’ve had a problem standing up for myself, but I think I’ve struggled with fearing the repercussions, and being able to unequivocally reject false perceptions of me when I do. I’ve been called to clearly define my boundaries, define myself for myself and remain rooted in my right to be valued. I’ve consistently been placed in circumstances and surroundings that have forced me to make decisions that are at times very difficult, and to let go of anything that doesn’t serve that purpose.

I worked in environments that didn’t value people of color. Well, let me correct that. You could be a person of color in these environments if you kept your head down, and your mouth shut. You were expected to carry yourself as if you believed you were just lucky to be there. Things were problematic for me because I believed I belonged there. I believed my skills and talents earned me a place at the table, and that I had to right to be a part of the conversation, just as much as my white counterpart-even if my take was unpopular, or disrupted the status quo.

It’s not like I haven’t experienced racism before, but I have also not allowed it to define how I present myself. At one particular organization I did great work and accomplished things I shouldn’t have, and managed to remain true to myself and stand in my convictions and worth without sacrificing my dignity. I was able to exit that company on my own terms with my self respect intact. I chose not to play the game and be the shuffling Negro that made the powers that be more comfortable. I chose to be myself, walk tall and not downplay my intellect. I left believing I can do better and there is an environment that will honor and support my authenticity. I left stronger and clearer on what I will and will not tolerate in my life.

To be in environments that were unabashedly hostile was extremely challenging, causing me great distress, to the point of even having panic attacks while at work. To regularly experience aggressive resentment that stemmed from insecure white privilege that was deathly afraid to be challenged, even indirectly, was a game that entailed me shoring up my self worth, dignity and courage. And in the end, I won. 

It dawned on me that St. Louis is not a place where black people are expected to know their worth. Years of oppression have caused many black people here to believe that they aren’t as good as white people. Fortunately, I moved from St. Louis years ago, and escaped that level of brainwashing. But upon returning, it’s been a major culture shock. To be in an environment where race is at the forefront of many of encounters, even if race isn’t actually a factor is a head-spinning existence. To live in an area where white privilege largely and vehemently opposes my co-existence, which regularly incites acts of hostility is exhausting. And being a bold female in an area and society that still devalues women and our voice is an extra hurdle. But I shall not be moved.

I’ve had to combat professional and societal devaluation as well as counter personal interactions that haven’t respected my right to be treated with value. And I’ve done it when it was hard-when it was a huge risk. But I’m better for it. Nothing is worth sacrificing yourself, because in the end, you’re all you’ve got.

You have to protect your sanity, dignity and well being in every way you can. It requires strength, courage, clarity and an unwavering belief that you deserve the best there is. It also requires you to give the best you can.

It’s been a battle. I’ve had to stretch myself. I’ve had to be stronger than I wanted. I’ve had to learn more than I’ve wanted to know. At times I’ve had to stand alone on this earth, with only my connection to spirit to help me to my feet. But what I’ve learned is that: 

I can trust my instincts and my decisions, without fearing what others may think about my choices. 
I can apply my boundaries no matter what I fear I may lose.
I can be happy and shape my life in a way that feels good for me.
I can be myself. Those who get it won’t leave. Those who don’t, don’t matter.
I can take care of myself.
I can validate myself.

So, I’m finally letting go of a LOT of “baggage”.  I'm getting back to myself and learning the revised portions of who am becoming. I don’t have it all figured out, but I feel liberated. And for the first time in longer than I can remember, I feel truly excited for what lies ahead. I know there are times when I won’t feel this strong, or this content, or this hopeful, but I’ll get back up. I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future. And in concert with my fortified faith, I believe I’m embarking upon a luminous new chapter in my life. It will not be perfect, but it will have extended moments of perfection and joy. I feel armed with an increased inner peace that is rooted in knowing who I am, what I deserve and a renewed sense of independence that I am profoundly grateful for. You have to fight for your happiness. You have to fight for your life. And sometimes, it’s a knock-down drag-out.

I’m not quite where I want to be in the world yet, but I’m in a great place with myself. I believe those external manifestations of my renovated inner beliefs will appear. And I’ll be less burdened and bothered by my past and circumstances that don’t validate me, because I can validate myself. I’m typically not one to quote rappers, but in the great and simple words of Drake, “Know yourself, know your worth,” and go out there and win.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Going Home to the Black Church

This is my first blog post in a long time.  I just haven’t wanted to write, and it sucks when you lose interest in the things that used to bring you joy. It’s been a journey getting back to myself over the past few months. Varied life stresses have slowly chipped away at me. I also realize that we are coming up on a year since the horrible Michael Brown murder that lit a fuse under the existing racial tensions in our country. And within the past year, we've experienced a rapid succession of racist events that have had an effect on my well being.

I’ve felt sad and angry about how black people are attacked and abused in this country. The most recent loss of the good people of Charleston is a deep wound; a wound that further propelled me into state of confusion and feelings of helplessness.

The week of the Charleston shooting I went to church, and my pastor mentioned the work that needs to be done on racism in this country. My pastor is a white male. I go to a predominantly white church. It was the church that found me when I first moved to St. Louis. And though there are few people of color, I have always felt comfortable and comforted there. My church means a lot to me. But after the horrific act in Charleston, I felt I needed to go home and be with my people.

When my pastor briefly talked about Charleston, I felt overcome. I also felt alone with my grief. Though I’m sure other members of the congregation felt sadness over the event, I needed to be in a space where we could collectively grieve from a personal understanding of the deep challenges of being black in this country. I wound up having to leave the service. I cried in the bathroom. That’s when I decided I needed to go home, and be in a black church.

I needed to see church ushers, in all white directing people to their seats, passing out programs and fans, and pointing out the location of boxed tissues with white gloves. I needed to hear, “Good morning Sister Johnson. Good morning Brother Thomas.” I needed to see my elders in all their Sunday best. I needed big hats and free hugs. I needed to hear a pastor say, “Y’all with me today? Can I get a witness this morning?” I needed to see somebody catch the Holy Ghost in the aisle. I needed a little hot sauce in my sermon. And I needed a little of this… 
I’d had a standing invitation from a colleague to go to her church, Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church. I showed up and heard music. I thought I got there on time, but feared I was late. I asked an usher who was standing outside, an older gentleman, if I was late. He said, “You’re right on time baby.” And I knew I was home. He kindly opened the door for me and I walked into my history.

Growing up, we didn’t belong to a church, but I went with other people. Sometimes I went to Catholic mass with my middle school friend. And sometimes I even went to the Scientology center with my grandmother, before she became a member of the Baha’i faith. And it was there that my grandmother introduced me to spirituality. But when I went to a Baptist church, it was usually with my much older cousins, Lucy and Maebelle.

They’d wake me up at what felt like the crack of dawn to get ready. I’d get dressed and then we’d have breakfast: a biscuit with butter and grape jelly, a hard piece of ham and maybe scrambled eggs…and coffee. They let me drink coffee when I was young, and to this day I playfully blame them for my current addiction.

I have great and hilarious memories about going to church with my cousins. There was one time when I was napping on my cousin Lucy’s lap, and she got the Holy Ghost and jumped up into the air. I fell to the floor and under the pew. I will never forget that. She never did either.

The black church has always been a place of refuge, respite and revival for black people. You can find so much in a black church. And I’ve missed it. As an adult I’ve had a difficult time finding the right black church. I went to several in New York and just never found the right fit. But still, from time to time, I long for the unique experience. I had a great time at Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church.

The sermon was about being patient and giving things time. Pastor Robinson talked about having faith that God is working behind the scenes to put all the pieces in place for whatever you are waiting on to come to fruition. It was the EXACT word I needed to hear. And it was the exact verse I needed, The book of James, chapter one, verse two, to quell the anxieties I fight against, waiting for things to unfold. It was a great sermon.


EVERY time I’m battling the anxieties of waiting on something to happen, I come across messages of patience. God reminds me EVERY time, to just hold on and be reassured that a change is gonna come. I felt comforted and understood. I felt at home.

I haven’t decided to leave my church. I value my connection to it. But I have been invited back to Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church, and I think this is the beginning of a beautiful fellowship.

Monday, March 2, 2015

'2 Fat 2 Fly' is a Hit!

The OWN network debuted its latest “docuseries”, 2 Fat 2 Fly. The show stars two best friends, Ramone Dickerson and Corey Simmons, who own a food truck in Columbia, South Carolina that features stuffed chicken wings. You read that right…stuffed, chicken, wings.  When you see these brothas going over their signature recipes, it does make you want to hitch the first thing out of your area to South Carolina and get a taste.

2 Fat 2 Fly is highly entertaining largely because of the personality of these two young men. They grew up together, and their friendship is just as palatable as their wings. Watching these two interact with each other and the fun they have at work with their staff makes for a great show. I think I’m living for Ramone’s impressions of family members. And speaking of which, the family element is integral to the show.

In the first episode, Ramone’s parents drop by to check in on the fellas, and drop a bomb. If they don’t see a return on their investment in the business, they will repossess the truck in 30 days. What??!!! Pressure…. With that news, the guys get cracking and try to find ways to make money. Ramone books them for a food truck event…that’s nearly 100 miles away, on the same night Corey’s sister is having a house warming.

Corey understands that this is a great opportunity, but he is visibly torn about potentially missing out on the family event. We learned earlier in the show that he is extremely tight with him fam, and that they are one of the reasons Corey moved back home after graduation. Corey winds up missing the party and his family gives him hell over it. I couldn’t help but think, Can’t both sides man up and understand that this is business? But, the flip side of that is it’s great to see black family on television that is so closely knit.

I think the OWN network has another hit on their hands. I will be watching and rooting for these brothas as my mouth waters for stuffed wings.

Check out 2 Fat 2 Fly on Saturday nights at 10PM EST on OWN

Did you watch? What did you think?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

'Being Mary Jane' - Debuts Second Season on BET!

The long awaited premiere of the second season of BET’s scripted drama Being Mary Jane airs tonight. I just caught up on the first season. Mara Brock Akil, the show’s creator is one of my favorite writers, because she consistently depicts the multifaceted dimensions of the black experience. Akil’s writing is complex, and her characters are layered and realistic, with just enough drama to play well on TV. Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union, is one of the few great ideas that have come out of BET in a long time. The show has the potential to be part of an evolution for the channel, and give it an identity that goes beyond its signature award shows.

There are several things I like about Being Mary Jane. I like that I don’t like Mary Jane. She’s self righteous, makes bad (desperate) decisions about men, and she can be a real witch when confronted with her own shortcomings. Okay, she’s also a good “auntie”, and a smart woman who is excelling in her job. Okay. But overall I’m not for this chick. And usually, I need to like the main character to like the show, but in this case, I find MJ’s struggle with right and wrong, self worth and desperation interesting. I also like that the show is multicultural.

I don’t know anyone who only comes in contact with people exactly like them. So it’s nice to see this show reflect the real world, where people are working with and living among other people of different races and backgrounds. It's also very well cast, featuring black talent we don't get to see as much as we should. I also appreciate the very accurate depiction of what it’s like for a black woman to work in media.

We see Mary Jane, a talk show host, battle to attempt to give the audience what they want, while trying to stay true to her convictions. We witness the struggle of a black woman trying to maintain her authenticity and cover topics that are important to her community, without coming across like the angry black woman when deciding to fight for what she believes in. These themes translate to being black in corporate America across the board. Another theme that resonates is the successful black woman who’s on top in her career, but has no one to share her success with.

I appreciate how the show made it very clear in the beginning that this is the story of one black woman, not all. But there are many black women who worked hard to carve out a thriving career for themselves, but still go home to an empty house. It’s a difficult reality for many. To see Mary Jane’s vulnerability when she shows the pain of what it’s like to be “alone”, when she’s done “everything right”, is an accurate sentiment that’s been expressed by throngs of beautiful, successful black women. It almost makes some of Mary Jane’s questionable choices with men understandable. She acts with her hurt, not her head. Most of us have been there at one point.

I look forward to the second season of Being Mary Jane, not to see if she if MJ wins the love of a man, but to see if she will win the battle of loving herself and her life, in her journey for whole happiness, no matter what.

The second season of Being Mary Jane premieres tonight on BET at 10pm EST. Will you be watching?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Empire Debuts on Fox - Is it 'Must See TV'?

Empire, a mid-season premiere on Fox, is a Hip Hop family drama centering on the music industry, starring Hustle and Flow costars, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. The show, created by Academy Award nominated Lee Daniels (The Butler), and Emmy Award winner, Danny Strong, chronicles what happens when music mogul, Lucious Lyons, (played by Howard) becomes stricken with an illness that will eventually cripple him. Lyons has to prepare one of his three sons to take over.  

The plot gets even thicker when his ex-wife, Cookie (Henson) reappears, freshly released from a nearly two decade long stint in jail to vie for the top spot at Empire Entertainment. Cookie took the fall for Lyons’ dirty thug past, which financed his business early on. And now, she wants payback.

When I first heard about Empire, my initial thought was with Howard and Henson, there’s sure to be some good acting here. And they don’t disappoint. The show on the other hand, is not something I feel compelled to watch every week.  

Though there were some great moments in Empire, like Cookie beating her son’s a-- after he called her the b-word, for some reason, I just don’t feel like it’s “Must See TV”. And though Henson does a phenomenal job portraying the hood-iest of "hoodrats", smacking while she eats and all, but I'm just not captivated by the series. And there were other moments that were a bit over the top. 

For instance, I know it was to make an impact, but the flashback scene where Lucious puts his young son, Jamal, in the trash can because he exhibits behavior that suggests he’s gay, was disturbing, and not in provocative way. It was just a turn off - though Howard is great in the scene. (I can’t stand Howard’s allegedly abusive, baby wipe using a--….however, he’s a great actor and always, consistently plays a great a-hole.)

Another turn off was that both parents degrade Jamal - Lucious to his face, and Cookie behind his back by calling him a “sissy”. The African American community is continually stereotyped as being homophobic, and this was an opportunity to portray something different. And, there are some things I just don’t get…

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH LUCIOUS’ HAIR??? Why is he wearing a conk??? What year is this show in? I guess it’s set in present day, but it does have a 90s feel to it – something I actually don’t mind. Maybe the show reminds me of the second wave of the black renaissance we experienced back in the day. And maybe it’s because Malik Yoba is in it? Is Yoba conjuring up the vibe from New York Undercover where the music was an integral part of the show that helped create its iconic feel? And, the show is a bit predictable.  

I won’t give spoilers, but someone gets shot and you see it coming. And another thing…do we CARE about the music industry anymore???? It’s so different now. The whole industry has changed. Artists have no mystique anymore due to social media and tabloids. Being in the music industry used to carry a certain cache back in the 90s. It doesn’t anymore. Do artists even go into the studio anymore????? Doesn’t everyone have a home studio now? I think if this had been set in the 90s it would make more sense. I just don’t sense any gravitas in this show…

I think Empire has good music, compliments of the genius of Timbaland, and guest stars who will be enjoyable, but overall, I didn’t find it compelling. It’s entertaining, but I’m not urgently excited about it. I’ll probably keep watching, with the hopes it becomes one of my favorite shows, but for now, I can take it or leave it.

Did you watch the premiere of Empire? What did you think?