Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dancing Kizomba in the Age of Trump

Kizomba is this incredibly sexy dance out of Angola that I've fallen in love with since I began taking classes with Black Diamond a little over a year ago. It's a couple's dance that's all about connection. When the chemistry is right between lead and follow, partners flow into each other like water running in a stream. It's so sensuous; so fluid. 

In Kizomba, connection is extremely important. It's not about complex combinations or fancy foot patterns. It's about occupying the same space at the same time and moving in sync. A dance with just the basics can be wonderfully danced if the partners are connected. The basic steps are relatively easily, but because they can be done in any variety of ways, combinations are endless. Kizomba is easy to learn, but hard to master. It is a dance where the follow (usually a woman) must submit to the lead (usually a man). 

As a single and independent woman, I'll admit that submission can be challenging for me sometimes. I'm accustomed to doing what I want when I want. That only works in free style dancing.  Having belly danced in a troupe for years, I understand the importance of connection.  Truth be told, I'm not really opposed to submitting. I just don't want to just follow any ol' body. I need to know if the person is capable of leading me--even on the dance floor. 

My Kizomba was getting better. I was learning to be patient with the bad leads--the self-proclaimed Kizomba expert after 3 classes, the lead foot, rhythm less lead whose dance feels like a waltz with Frankenstein, and the no confidence lead who likes to walk their partners into the wilderness of dance. I was learning not to back lead just because I knew the combinations and to trust my lead--and myself.

I had settled into dancing Kizomba--closing my eyes and relaxing into my partner. And then the election happened. And I found out that some of regular Kizomba leads actually voted for the current president occupying the White House. My Kizomba took a hit! And I'm still wounded from the injury. I was shocked because I didn't take them to be Trumplethinskin supporters. 

I tried to tell myself that it didn't matter. There was no place for politics on the dance floor. I kept telling myself that we can leave our differences aside and just enjoy the dance. Music and dance are unifiers; they don't discriminate. But I must confess it's been hard. As 45 and his minions go to work undoing the progress that has been made, and making the world a scarier place, I don't know how to dance with leads whose ideology so violently clashes with mine. 

What had been a clear channel of connectedness is now clouded. All I hear is static in the background when we dance. These are the trumpeters that I do know. What about the ones that I don't know? I could be having a great dance with a lead who wears a Make America Great cap on the weekends. I could be dancing with someone who supports legislation that harms my existence as a woman of color, so now I find myself side eyeing leads wondering if I'm dancing with the enemy. 

So I go to class and keep my mouth closed. I don’t want to know who else is rolling with The Donald. In this case, ignorance is bliss. As for the Trump leads, I do know, I don't engage in conversation with Them; I can't. I have tried to understand Their way of thinking. I have listened and read numerous articles, but why women and people of color voted for this administration will remain one of life's greatest mysteries. 

And I know someone reading this is thinking that I'm being irrational, petty or whatever, but my feelings are my feelings. I just need time to work through them as we often do when we think we’ve been betrayed. I'm not irrational--strong willed maybe. I was talking to a fellow Kizomba dancer and friend, Santana and she tried to reason with me. 

"Stephanie they,  have a right to vote for whoever they want."

"I know that," I retorted.  "And I have a right to be mad about it."

 Did she forget that I have to dance with these people? I have to trust them? How can I close my eyes and surrender when I need one eye open?

What I know is this too shall pass and maybe,  just maybe I'll get back to dancing the dance I want to dance. At least, that's what I hope will happen. If not, I'm going to have to start vetting potential leads before I settle into a potential dance partnership with them. My love of Kizomba depends on it.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We the People

Photo courtesy of ABC
We the people-- black, brown, white. Women, men, and children. Old and young--gathered together in Chicago, across the country and around the world last weekend in order to from a more perfect union which is truly representative of what America is in all of its diversity. We the people, hundreds of thousands of us stood in solidarity around the world.  We came to establish justice for marginalized people struggling to be recognized as human beings. We came to challenge a “Just Us” system of mass incarceration that targets Black and brown and poor. We came to insure domestic tranquility at home and abroad. We came as citizens, immigrants, and refugees. We came as keepers of the promise. We came so that our voices are heard loud and clear. Make no mistake! We came to provide for the common defense of all the people—not some of people. We came to make America live up to its potential for greatness for we know that we as a nation, are only as strong as our weakest link. We came to hold up and lift up the weakest among us. So, we came to secure the blessings of liberty for those seeking to be free—free from police brutality, free from racial caste systems, free from poverty, free from religious persecution. We came to be able to love who love. We came to be who we are and not what others want us to be. We came to secure make good on the promise of emancipation to ourselves and our posterity—our children, and grandchildren and the children not yet born who deserve a better America than we have. We were women demanding to be recognized as first class citizens. We were men supporting our mothers, wives, and daughters. We were people of color not wanting to be treated like “other” than human beings deserving of respect. We the people do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America –all of America, not the divided states of America. We came to stake our claim of that which belongs to us We the people; we are America. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A TTs’ Tribute to her Nieces and Nephews

As 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 six greats born in the last two years. 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, and I have taken my auntie duties seriously trying to be the aunt I think they need 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 so today I 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

Image courtesy of

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.