Sunday, January 15, 2017

A TTs’ Tribute to her Nieces and Nephews

I stood in the shower with the warm water running off my body. Thoughts of my great nephew Elijah who was born on January 11, 2017 came to me. He is the last of my five greats born in the last year. Elijah is the son of my youngest niece Jasmine. I was in the delivery room with my sister Debra during Jasmine’s birth. Recovering from surgery at the time, I didn’t have anything else to do so I went to the hospital. 

Witnessing her birth is one of my most treasured memories because it is the closet I will ever come to childbirth. You see, I am a childless aunt. I never planned on not having children; it just happened that way. With no children of my own, I poured into my six nieces and three nephews—Rhonda, Sabrina, Steven, Khalilah, LaNita, Racquel, Brandon, Marcus and Jasmine. And I will pour into this new brood, but in a different way. 

In this role since I was two years, it is a title I have worn all of my life. I can’t remember not being a TT. I have taken my auntie duties seriously trying to be the aunt I think I they needed me to be. Fiercely protective, I want nothing but the best that life has to offer them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re good, I’m good. 

I have tried to be a good aunt. My siblings read to me, and so I read to my nieces and nephews (most of them anyway). They were my constant companions because we are closer in age than I am to my siblings. Before I could drive, I was dragging them around on the bus going to the movies and the museums. We played laser tag and Whirly Ball and went bouncing on trampolines well into my adult years. I am allowed to attend their cousins’ only outings because I am an Honorary Cuzo.

Wanting them to see the best of themselves, I bought books with characters who looked like them. I bought cards and dolls with brown faces. I combed and braided hair. I wanted them to have cultural experiences, so I arranged trips to see Muntu Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and plays. Cultural and ethnic representation was essential.

I gave them advice—even when they didn’t ask for it. Sometimes I pushed; other times I pulled back. I tried to remind them of who they were and was expected of them as a member of our family. Sometimes I judged when I shouldn’t have. I just wanted them to better than me. No matter what, I have tried to be a presence in their lives that they could always count on. I wanted them to know that I was always there if they needed me. 

They are grown, married, and moved away. They have families of their own now. Among them there are six children: Jahari, 20, is Steve’s son. Bryce is Sabrina’s son and he’s 11. Solomon and Luke are Racquel’s twins and they are a year-old. They share a birthday with their cousin Layla. She is Khalilah’s daughter and she’s four weeks old. Bringing up the rear is Elijah who is 4 days old. Rhonda and Brandon live out of town, and Marcus recently moved out on his own. I have enjoyed being who they needed me to be: Steph, TTSteph Nanie, and TiTi/Mama. This TT’s work is done.

Being a great aunt is not the same as being an aunt. There is more space in between. It’s not like being a grandparent because it doesn’t carry the same weight in the world. My nieces and nephews are now the aunts and uncles to their niece and nephews, and they will love fiercely, too. We are a close knit family.

They are all doing well, and I am awed by not only their professional accomplishments but their growth as human beings as well. They are smart, funny, compassionate and just all-around good people. My role in their lives is changing—as it should. I have given them all I have to give. And while I mourn the loss of my evolving role, I rejoice in watching them be parents and aunts and uncles to the next generation.

 I hope that I have left them with something that they will pass on. And so, yes I will step back into the shadow and watch them mold the next generation of greatness. I look forward to a whole new set of experiences with the greats as the legacy continues.
A multitude of emotions swirled inside as I stood in the shower thinking back over the years, weeks and days leading up to Elijah’s entrance into the world. Nostalgia at all of our shared experiences, pride in who we are, humility in where we’ve come from, gratitude for the many blessings, and sadness at what is no more. But more than anything I felt the love that still carries us through. And I today so salute my nieces and nephews for doing what it is that they do—making the world a better place.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The History of a People

It was a cold afternoon on Saturday December 11, when our chartered bus pulled up in front of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. But the sun shined brightly—welcoming us, beckoning us into this place. And I was biting at the bit to get off the bus and begin my journey. I wanted to travel the road of those who came before me--those who paved the way so that I might stand here today. 

I am who I am because of the people who came before me. Their blood flows through and their spirit lives in me. And this museum pays homage to the struggle that it took to get to this place and beyond. I am stepping back into the past and moving through the decades to the election of the nation’s first African-American president—no small feat in a country where we’ve spent much of our time being denied not only citizenship, but basic human rights.

With the rising racial tensions and all of the craziness going on in the world today, there is no better time for me to wrap myself in the history of my people. No better time for me to see American history through the eyes of her African-American offspring. Snatched from the breast of Mother Africa and nurtured on the milk of a reluctant adopted mother.  As a Black woman, I know all too well the duality of living in this place we call home.

I was with 17 others as part of the Literary Sisters, a travel group of women who love to read, founded by Ruth Bridges.  I was so excited! I knew that I was about to experience something that would leave an indelible impression on me. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve waiting for what day break would bring. And NMAAHC did not disappoint.

What felt giddy at first quickly turned serious and somber as I headed down into the lower level of the museum. It was dark and space was tight by design. It opened up as we moved up. I had dressed for the weather outside—a down-filled coat, a turtle neck and a faux fur vest. I went from feeling warm and cozy to hot and confining. The museum opened in September and the newness has yet to wear off. The tickets are timed. Admission is granted by the time stated on the ticket, and my time was limited, so I didn’t bother with the coat check.

I initially felt irritated as I was forced to move slowly with the masses of people meandering through the space. I saw how we came to America as indentured servants before the color of our skin made us slaves. I removed my vest, and I was trying to hold onto it and my coat as I stopped to study the artifacts. It didn’t take long for me to check my attitude. I had the audacity be annoyed by a little discomfort when I was walking the path of my ancestors.  As I moved through the hordes of people clamoring for space I began to absorb the history. 

It was a sobering experience as I examined the objects of my past, watched the short films, and read the stories. I felt like I had entered into a sacred space. People spoke in hushed tones as they moved from exhibit to exhibit. If someone was taking photos, people politely moved out of the way. Everyone said excuse me. There was not a lot of chatter—just necessary talk now and then when someone had to find a way to take it all in. A man stopped and pressed his back and head against the wall. “It’s a lot,” I said. He nodded. 

There were generations of people sharing the wealth of knowledge that the museum held—elders being guided by their adult children and children being led by their parents. It’s one thing to read about history in a book or watch a movie or documentary. It’s quite different to look directly at the shackles that once held the ancestors from which you came. 

 I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions surging through me. I was colored by anger, humility, wonder, pride. and emotions I can’t name. So much history squeezed into one building. So much pain and suffering. And so much triumph and victory. These people didn’t set out be to heroes, they set out to right wrongs. They wanted to make the world a better place for their children, and their grandchildren and the children to come. They wanted to make the world a better place for me.
As the descendant of enslaved Africans, I’m always searching for the missing pieces of our history. 

The history that was denied to me until I sought it out for myself.  I looked at the dolls that were used to desegregate the schools in Brown V Board of Education. I marveled at toys that were used to change the trajectory of Black people in America. I saw the shards of glass from the window pane of the 16th Baptist Church. My heart raced; my stomach knotted as I was forced to remember that history repeats itself. Thoughts of the recent mass murder at Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina flooded my mind.

I stared at the coffin that held Emmett Till’s body. A boy from my hometown who did not understand the rules of the South. My time ran out. I didn’t get visit the entire museum.  Even if I had, had more time, I couldn’t have taken it all in, in on one visit. As I listened to the women on the bus recount their experiences, I thought back on my own, and I knew I needed to come back to this place again.  
That night when I lay down to sleep, my mind was racing as thoughts of what I’d seen played back like images on a movie screen. I wrestled with my anger and the sadness at the pain and suffering housed in the museum. But I also marveled at the resilience and the tenacity that it took to not only survive, but to thrive. I took pride in the skills, the work ethic and the sheer genius of  people who had made it through so many trials and tribulations over the years. When I finally settled in, I was lulled to sleep by the awe of it all.   


Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Reflections – Part 2 – What Hillary Clinton’s Loss Means to Me

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Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. She failed in her chance to make history as the first woman to become President of the United States, but the reasons why sound like nothing more than excuses.

Hillary did not clinch the nomination because she is a woman. She’s strong. She’s independent. She definitely has her issues, but compared to Donald Trump, she should have been our next president. She is the better qualified of the two, and yet she was defeated by the likes of Donald Trump.

The race should not have even been close with the type of campaign that Trump ran. But her brand of womaness was ultimately her undoing. This begin to sink in for me on Election Day as I quietly listened to men around me speak. There was the “conscious Black man” from my dance class who said he was going to vote for Trump because he was anti establishment. Trump is a rich white man, how is he considered an outsider? There were the men in Whole Foods talking about voting for Trump. I was confused. They were Black men, too. Surely they had been hearing and seeing the same things I had. Even if it was a man thing, they were still Black and they had mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

Then the day after the election, I was having a conversation with my 8th graders, and I was surprised at how many of my boys supported Trump. My students are African American and Latino. They said Trump said what he needed to say to get elected. They said they didn’t understand why immigrants just didn’t come into the country legally. They said the world would not respect a woman president. And there it was: the real reason why Hillary was not elected. It was that v-shaped space between her legs.

At first, I tried to remain neutral, but I had to speak. My girls  were afraid of a Trump presidency, but wouldn’t voice their fears. They acquiesced to the boys in the room. My class is only an hour, and we didn’t really get into the conversation, but I have spent the last few days mulling over what I’ve heard. And I came away with two things: I’m going into my classroom with an assignment to give my students better insight into what the election means for marginalized people. And I also came to understand what the results of this election might mean for me on a personal level.

I am a single woman. Like Hillary, I am strong and independent. I am not currently dating, but I was hopeful that I might meet a man of my liking. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve never married, and I don’t have children, so I have always had to take care of myself. I’m strong because I have to be. I’m independent because I have to be. But I’ve come to realize that these might not be desirable characteristics to a man. Many of them are still looking for damsels in distress to rescue. I’m middle aged. I stopped looking for Prince Charming a long time ago. 

I’m looking for a partner. I need a man who respects my strength and my independence. I need a man who understands that my strength and my independence don’t mean that I don’t need him; I do. I need a man who’ll be there for me; who’ll allow me to lean on him when I need to. But in the meantime, I still have to take care of me.

So, Hillary might not be our next president. She still has a chance if the electoral college delegates decide to listen to the voice of the people.  And just maybe I still have a chance to meet a man who is right for me. This election was quite eye opening, and I'm still learning as I go. Let's see what the end result is for the strong, independent women.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Election Reflections – Part 1: Thoughts from a Black Woman in the Trump Age

It’s Tuesday night of Election Day 2016. America is voting for its next President. I’m antsy. Do I really think the American people will vote for Donald Trump? I do. In the back of my mind, I think it’s possible. But I push it way down in my subconscious. I try to bury it, but I know it’s there.

 I have an application to complete, so I don’t bother to watch the returns, but my nieces are texting back and forth like crazy. So, I turn on the TV. It’s not looking good for Hillary. I talk to a friend on the phone for over an hour before deciding to go to bed. I’ll find out in the morning. Maybe she can do what the Cubs did and bring home a victory in the 11th hour.

I wake up at 5:00 am. I check my phone. Donald Trump is the president-elect. I think to myself, This is not real. I must be asleep. The American citizens did not vote this man in as leader of the free world. It’s a late work day. I don’t have to be there until 11:30. I try to go back to sleep, but sleep evades me. I don’t know what this means. I don’t know what it says about the country I live in.
I call my mother. She doesn’t answer. She lives in the apartment upstairs from me, so I take my keys and left myself in. She is tiptoeing from the kitchen carrying a bowl of cottage cheese and peaches. Pooch, the dog my nephew left behind is by her side.

Image courtesy of Getty
“You know Trump won,” I say.

“Yea, I been up all night. I ain’t been to sleep yet.”

“What we gone do?”

“I don’t know,” says the woman who always has an answer. My mother is an elder, and she is one of the wisest women I know. She has lived through some stuff. Surely she can give me some direction and guidance. 

She sits on the bed. I sit next to her. Neither of us has answers, but I have my mother, and she has me.  We are each others’ comfort in this storm that is raging. The sun is not up and she has already spoken to two of my siblings. Family is where we seek refuge. My brother (who rarely texts) sends a group text about the future of uncertainty. My sister (who rarely texts) sends a Bible scripture to help us make sense of what doesn’t make sense. We are all stunned. But we know we have each other. And we know that though this battle may be hard, it is not impossible. 

I take Pooch out. It’s still dark. I stand on the porch. And nothing is changed—on the surface. But it feels like everything has changed. The silence of the early morning leaves me alone with my thoughts. I was never afraid of Trump, but of his supporters. I knew that he could not be a hate monger by himself. That fear is now my reality. There is a strong aversion to “Other” in this country, and in some ways I am that Other. I am a Black woman, and for the first time in my life I am afraid—really scared about what going’s to happen next. 

I’m hoping and praying that over time, these feelings subside. But for now I will sit with them and learn from them, but I will not be consumed by them. I have always loved the activism of the 1960s and believed that I grew up in the wrong decade. I wanted to be an activist. Be careful what you wish for; it just might come true. Perhaps the election of Donald Trump is the call to action that so many of us need to truly Make America Great once and for all. But for that to happen, we have work to do. So much work to do. I’m ready to work? Are you?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Stupid Ish Men Say

I’m over stupid ish that men say to muck up my head. A conversation with a guy I know took me back into the hard drive of my mind to a number of stupid comments that men have made to me over the years. I met this guy a few years ago. We had gone out a couple of times in the past, but that was it.

Flash forward. He reaches out to me and we reconnect. During the course of a conversation (in which he asked me to listen to what he had to say without speaking ), he told me, “You’re heavier than when I first met you. I guess that means there’s more of you to love.” Really? Was that supposed to be a compliment that he was willing to love me even if I was a fat girl? When he was done talking, I didn't give him the answer he was looking for, so he abruptly ended the conversation. And I was left with the “more of you to love” comment just dangling over my head. I knew I had gained weight. I didn’t need him to tell me. I sent him a text message, and he texted back that he was sorry and would call me and we could talk about it. I saw no need to talk; he said what he meant to say. And that’s my problem with some men. 

Over the years, men have said some things to me that made me scratch my head and wonder—why they were even talking to me? We like what we like, and if something is a deal breaker, then all bets are off. We can’t look at a person and see what we want to see instead of who they actually are. We can’t go into a relationship expecting them to change. But men seem to do it all the time. And they have absolutely no shame in sharing their vision of who a woman should be in their mind.

There are men who like their women bigger and men who like their women smaller. Some men like long hair, others short. Make-up, no make-up—the list goes on.  I want men to stop pursing women who don’t meet their qualifications. I was dating a guy who liked his women petite; I’m not. We had been dating for awhile when he said that he usually dated petite women to which I replied that I was used to dating big guys, so I guess we were both outside of our comfort zones. Another guy told me I needed to gain about 20 pounds. And the best one of all: a guy stalked me until I agreed to go out with him, only for him to tell me that I wasn’t that cute; I just had a dominating physical presence. I sat across from him in the restaurant thinking that he looked like a weasel. But I kept that to myself. First date; last date.

Then there is the hair—or lack of it. I’ve been wearing my hair natural for years. When I was wearing a fro, this guy told me I’d be perfect if I did something to my hair. When I went real short, I had two men  tell how much better I’d look with hair and when was I going to grow it back. Mind you that when I met both of them, my hair was super short and I wasn’t wearing a hat. I told one of them that if hadn’t been looking so hard at my booty, he might have noticed that I didn’t have much hair.  

Here’s the thing; I have preferences, too. I like well-built men. I like bald, short hair or locks. I don’t like overweight guys or braids. But I dated a guy who was overweight and one who had braids. They had other qualities that outweighed the things that I didn’t like. I never said, “Hey dude, you know you’d be really hot if you dropped 50 pounds.” Or “You’d be so much better looking if you stopped wearing braids.” "You know I really don't like the way your ears stick out from your head. Every guy who had something to say about me, I could have said something about him; I didn’t.

Self esteem fluctuates. And a man’s comments can send a woman’s self esteem plummeting if she’s already struggling. On a good day, I can flick the comments away. On a bad day, they sting. Sometimes they hurt like hell!  I’m learning to be perfect in my imperfections. I’m trying to feel good in my skin more days than not. And the truth is I like my short hair. I am a curvy woman. And if I’m not what a man wants, he needs to keep it moving. No more mucking up my head with the stupid ish they say.