On this first day of 2015, I am meditating, and thinking about many things. One of which is about my pesky, unquenchable desire to write, and why I can’t seem to shake it. Why I can’t just take two aspirin and be cured of this urge to pen words that will live long after I do. Why I can’t just find a new hobby and move on from one that requires you to be chained to a laptop. It’s hard, lonely and hurts so good.
Here’s what I came up with:
I write for me, a woman who was painfully shy and who fought – and still fights – to not be afraid of my own voice.
I write for the middle-aged black woman who serves tea at the fancy downtown dinners of dry chicken breasts and consomme rice. She’s neatly dressed in a crisp white blouse and pressed black skirt and is careful not to give eye contact when she pours. Being invisible pays a minimum wage.
I write for that white mommy of two who can’t remember the last time she did something for herself. Her school-girl dreams – and sex appeal, for that matter – are lost somewhere beneath a pile of dirty laundry and landmines of children toys strewn about the house.
I write for that black man who feels he must still his masculinity in mixed crowds so as not to make people nervous. Each day he must dance to a schizophrenic tune, trying not to forget his steps. One false move could be his last.
I write for that young girl who loves to read. She spends her days cradling books by Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, and at night she scribbles in her journal, hoping her words will form into artistry.
I write to answer the silly question, “Why do black people still talk about race?”
I write to capture history, and to give voice to those who don’t have one.
Why write? Why not collect coins, sky dive or be a connoisseur of reality TV? I write because I have no other choice. I am compelled to, and when I don’t, I feel as if my air is slowly seeping away. I write to immortalize our stories, to give words wings. I write, so that I can bre-e-a-a-t-h-e.
One Saturday morning, my husband, two kids and I decided to go to the car show downtown. It was a treat for my son, Stephen, who was 4 years-old at the time.
He loves toy cars, from Matchbox to Hot Wheels, and when he gets a new one, he holds it up to the light and studies its wheels, fender, slope and curve. He asks me to read the name of its make and model and when I pronounce the words he closes his eyes. It’s musical to him. Then, he repeats the name like its poetry.
In one of our family portraits all four of us smile bright, including Stephen, who poses with his favorite car in his hand.
At the car show, when my son saw the showroom of full-sized versions of his prized vehicles, his eyes lit up. He spotted a red sports car that had its door open for closer view and hopped right in. I stepped back and let him be the speed racer of his dreams. He smiled and pretended to turn corners and pass other vehicles.
An older white gentleman approached him and stopped to stare. I walked up and stood beside him. I looked up at the man to catch a glance and hopefully share a smile.
When I saw his face, though, he looked disgusted and seemingly angry that my son was sitting there.
“Driving it like you stole it,” he whispered and then walked off.
I reached and pulled my son out of the car and told him it was time to go NOW. My little 4 year-old was stunned, upset and pleaded to stay. I was relentless, though, and told my husband I was ready to leave right away. When I got in our car I cried. I couldn’t even hide it. I sat there and wept.
My kids asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t tell them. How could I?
How could I explain how anyone could seemingly hate my beautiful son who has big, bright brown eyes and a crooked, heartbreaking smile? Didn’t that man know that just about every day my son runs to me with arms open to squeeze me and kiss me on my cheek? Didn’t he know that my son’s dinnertime job is to say grace and his prayers are long because he loves to call out a laundry list of people he wants God to bless? Doesn’t he understand that we call Stephen the “animal rescuer” because he can’t bear to see any living creature hurt, even the tiniest of bugs?
Stephen is tall for his age. His doctor said he stands higher than 7 out of 10 boys, and also has a narrow waist and muscular build. As he gets older and taller and stronger, my prayer is that people will be quick to see him, my baby, and not imagine that he is the demonizing image from their supposed nightmares.
This country’s history of stringing up, dragging, and/or shooting black men without just cause, is a nightmare. No mother gives birth to, cares for, feeds, hugs and kisses, protects and sets free her son with that fate for him in mind.
Stephen is named after the biblical martyr who lost his life for the faith, but I pray to God he will never, ever loose his life because some gun-wielding madman sees a tall, muscular black boy and assumes he is a monster. He’s not. He is, and will always be, my baby.
These days, just about everyone is talking about Bill Cosby and the allegations of sexual assault surrounding him. I have my opinions, and until now have kept them to myself as well as grumbled them to my long-suffering husband. But, after reading article after article and post after post of people demonizing the alleged victims of abuse, I cannot sit quiet any longer.
I wholeheartedly believe in the notion of being “innocent until proven guilty,” but I am also quick to believe a victim and not flick them off. What does criticizing the abused say about us as a society? What message does it send our children?
One of the most common rants I’ve heard is “Why did she wait 25 years to tell?” That’s a good question, and I can imagine why someone would…
Why wait? Because, even while the wounds are fresh and your skin still reeks from the perpetrator’s cologne, you are conditioned to ask yourself what YOU did to deserve it. And, you spend days and months and years toiling over that question.
Why wait? Because actors are credited for having the morals of their imaginary CHARACTERS, and people will quickly defend a sweater-wearing OB/GYN who lives on the fictional 10 Stigwood Ave. rather than go to bat for a real person living in this real world.
Why wait? Because, as the years go by, you not only get older, but stronger. You also get sick and tired of harboring secrets and covering up the sins of someone else.
Why wait? Because in the years since, you have probably given birth to a daughter or your daughter may have given birth to your granddaughter, and you never, ever want them to think it’s OK to keep silent.
Why wait? Because, after that amount of time, you refuse to let one more day pass or one more televised rerun air without joining the other alleged victims in the chorus of solidarity by saying, “Yes, It happened to ME TOO!!!!”
When I found out that my baby brother, Marcus, would be headed to Iraq in 2005, I couldn’t breathe. I thought about him being in the midst of a raging war, and felt that I would suffocate and be swallowed up by fear.
I am the oldest of three and, until then, my only brother was just that dude who loved to sing REALLY loud in the shower, a pizza fanatic and aspiring professional baseball player. Sure he was able to ward off my sister, Angie, and me, when we launched our sibling antics against him, but what about a real enemy? Could he defend himself, and his country, against an army of men who saw him, and those who wore his uniform, as evil?
Before he left, I remember the news cycle was a constant rotation of stories about young American soldiers being killed. There were tales of roadside bombs and reports of suicide attacks.
How could I protect him?
Weeks later, we attended his deployment ceremony. My family and I pulled up to the military base and saw a long line of stone-faced soldiers dressed for battle. I was not prepared to see that among them were very young men with bright eyes and baby faces. And, I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect to see women in uniform, too. But they were there; ready to be put on the front line.
One soldier there had just gotten out of boot camp fresh from high school graduation. His eyes were wide, his posture tense and he looked as if he would flinch if you breathed in his direction.
I scanned the rows, looking to see Marcus’ face, and partly hoping he wouldn’t be among them. Then, I did. When our eyes met, I felt the blood rush from my head down to my feet.
Inside the building, I sat with the families while a man in uniform briefed us about the timeline. He talked about living wills, power of attorney and such. It was surreal.
Sitting there, among the wives patting the backs of their crying babies and the graying parents with worried eyes, we all had a bond. We were all there waiting for our loved ones to be flung to a part of the world that we only knew about from the nightly news.
Little did I know at the time, my brother had joined the unfamiliar ranks of the army because it was more appealing than the familiar lands of Birmingham’s Woodlawn and Gate City. Prior to enlisting, he found himself being recruited to be among an unsavory bunch. He had been searching for a corps of men who would make him feel as if he belonged. But that army fought a war where the innocent, not the bad guys, were the casualties. He didn’t want that life.
At least if he died in battle, he would be a hero, instead of among an endless list of black men who dishonorably lost their lives on the streets of Birmingham.
While in Iraq, Marcus sent us postcards and pictures. He wrote about the blistering heat, the mammoth insects and how much he missed us. In one of the photos, he knelt down on a desert in front of a barbed wire fence, and smiled while a large military rifle was slung across his back. I didn’t see the smile, though; all I could see was that gun.
He would call home when he could, and I remember my mother said she could tell he was getting concerned. Soldiers over there were losing their lives. There were close calls, and like birth pangs they were getting closer and closer. Who knew what was going to happen next?
I prayed more than I ever had before that. “God, please bring my brother back home alive,” I’d say.
When he finally did come back home for good, we gave him a hero’s welcome with all of his favorite dishes, impromptu speeches and whatnot. Even today, sometimes I just stare at him because I know we are blessed. Things could have gone another way.
Today, my brother is still a soldier. He works as a mechanic for the U.S. Army and heads off to his base for drill in Mississippi tomorrow, in fact. I no longer see him as my “little brother,” though. He’s a man, husband, a father, a war veteran, and absolutely, “my hero.”
Sitting at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street North in downtown Birmingham is a nondescript, abandoned brick building that used to be a motel. From the 1950s up to the late 80s, that little place was owned by a black millionaire and was the center of action for major civil rights meetings and press conferences, served as a revolving door for celebrities like Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles and the like, and became Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home away from home. It was bombed, nearly destroyed and was the scene of a little known riot. It had a popular house band, was a refuge for up-and-coming black executives and had fine dining and a popular happy hour to boot. Yet, no one ever talks about it. That is, until now.
For years, I have wanted to write a book, any book. I dreamed about it, fantasized about it and talked about it. I wracked my brain on what topic to pursue, debated whether to pen fiction or nonfiction. It went on and on and on… But it wasn’t until I committed to one topic and decided to put pen to paper that I was going to ever get on the other side of a wish.
The process was not glamorous at all. At times, it was quite painful. As a working mother of two and pastor’s wife, I didn’t have time to write. At the end of my days I can barely spell my name, let alone come up with thoughtful subject-verb agreement.
Committing to write a book was like being pregnant. In theory, you want to be, but when the doctor confirms it and you realize you will have someone growing inside of you for the next nine months, you are like OH CRAP! You feel like you are about to suffocate as you realize that there is no turning back now.
Throughout this journey, I plan to give you inside details about how I got to this point, and also document how this whole “being an author” thing impacts my life and writing. I hope to share some thoughtful lessons that may help someone along the way.
Today’s tip: Stop talking about writing a book. Stop reading books about writing. Stop Googling articles. (Not forever, just right now.) Go to your laptop, turn it on and WRITE. For years, I read about, talked about and fantasized about writing a book and didn’t write a darn thing. It wasn’t until I got sick of myself, annoyed by the sound of my voice that I said, “It’s time to do something NOW.”
Meet me at one of my upcoming book signings and let’s chat:
Saturday, Nov. 8
Little Professor Bookstore
2717 18th St. South, Homewood, AL 35209
Saturday, Nov. 15
Books-A-Million, Brookwood Village
757 Brookwood Village, Birmingham, AL 35209
Saturday, Nov. 22
Barnes & Noble at the Summit
201 Summit Blvd., Birmingham, AL 35243
This year, help me to shed the spirit of mediocrity that has served as a millstone around my neck, and teach me to clothe myself in excellence so that I can soar toward my passion and purpose.
Help me to not be bound by what others think of me, their words and expectations.
Empower me with the courage and strength to be me, and trust that, that is good.
Help me to say “no” with frequency, and to say “yes” to me.
Help me to not mourn when others don’t recognize my greatness, and to celebrate my own brilliance (and not be ashamed of it).
Help me to love my body into healthy subjection, to lavish it with the fruits and vegetables you have created. Teach me to dance and sing and laugh out loud with reckless abandon.
Grant me the wisdom to be a role model to my children, and to view life with optimism and a hunger for learning.
Remind me to linger in my husband’s arms, and to pray for him while he sleeps.
Help me to be faithful to the talents you have given me and not neglect them and thereby dishonor you.
Help me to be grateful for what you have given me, and to give without keeping count.
Let me not be selfish and obsessed with myself, and to recognize the pain and needs of others. And when there is a need, teach me to be sensitive enough to be the extension of your hands and feet.
Help me to make every single day count, so that 2014 will be the launching of the “Marie” you have created me to be. And when that happens, help me to not think that I can take any credit, because it all belongs to you.
Alas. I spotted you across a crowded Wal-Mart, and I knew at first glance you could handle the girth awaiting you.
You served me well, oh satin-front friend, helping me create the mirage of a waist, keeping flapping butt cheeks in check and poor posture on point. (I know on most days those poor hook-and-eye closures were screaming for mercy.)
You didn’t judge me based on my past, either. I was damaged goods. The trail of men who had known me well were endless: Mr. Goodbar, Hershey’s, Reese’s and the worse of them all, Lay’s, his bag of tricks were oh so many (Darn that sour cream and onion).
You stayed true even after I strayed temporarily with those Spanx, who, by the way, can’t hold a candle to you.
But alas, I want to breathe freely, to stop enabling bad behavior because I have you to fall back on. I don’t want to have to cringe each time someone goes to hug me for fear their fingers will scale the skeletal frame hiding underneath. (It’s not a smile people, it’s oxygen deprivation.) And, let’s not even mention those races to the potty: saying a prayer and holding my breath while I claw my way to freedom in a tiny bathroom stall. (Ah, memories)
So, dear friend, I need to stand on my own – to shed my extra belly and the like. I’m giving you notice: starting today, your days are numbered.
When I found out I was pregnant, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I’ll be 40 in February and my husband and I weren’t trying to have any more kids.
We already have two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. My oldest is in first grade and youngest just started kindergarten. We were out of the woods, we thought: no more expensive daycare tuition, no pricey boxes of diapers and formula.
We would need a new house, a bigger car. What about my plans of getting serious about writing? Plus, I wanted to lose weight. The thought of it all was overwhelming.
When we eventually told the kids, they were ecstatic: a new sibling to play with, to love. Still, I struggled with being excited. I felt so selfish that I wasn’t jumping for joy.
I signed up to get those weekly pregnancy progress emails, and when I saw pictures of what a growing fetus looks like from week to week, a bit of joy began to break through my apprehension.
I even began to look online at the latest in baby ware and think about possible names.
We traveled to Mississippi to be with family for a week, and my 6-year-old shared the news in an impromptu speech at a dinner party in our honor. Everyone was delighted and began rubbing my belly and wishing me “twins.”
That same night, though, on a Thursday, my body let me know something was wrong.
I was three-and-a-half hours away from my doctor, so I talked to the one on-call. She told me it was likely a miscarriage and that it would have to run its course.
So all night Thursday, then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and some on Tuesday, I had to let my body relieve itself of the baby I wasn’t initially excited to greet. I felt horrible, guilty and heartbroken.
Everyone offered words of encouragement. Even the doctor said, “Everything happens for a reason.” I struggled with that, though. Why was the baby created simply to die before having a chance?
I just have to trust.
As I thought about all the things I feared I wouldn’t be able to do with the baby coming – freelance, flesh out my book idea, and so on – I decided that I need to get off my butt and do those things now.
So, these days, I get up around 5 a.m. and scribble writings in my tomato red, lineless Moleskin journal, send out email inquiries and whatnot, all in hopes of giving birth to something. I must. I do it for me, yes, but also, I do it for the one I lost this summer.
It’s 1:59 p.m. on Saturday, July 13 and I’ve been glued to the TV awaiting word as the 6-woman jury in Sanford, Fla. decides the fate of 29-year-old George Zimmerman, the pie-faced aspiring cop who gunned down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in alleged self-defense.
The death of this chocolate-brown boy has come to symbolize whether or not a black life has value in this country. The jury’s decision could have reverberations that are felt from Sanford to San Diego and could confirm whether or not African Americans can trust justice to swing in their favor.
My fear is that if Zimmerman is found not-guilty it would be another kick in the gut of Black America and a reminder that a black life is not valuable in the eyes of the law.
I can’t help but feel sorry for Zimmerman, too. He screwed up bad. His overzealousness and assumptions led to a shot in the heart of a boy armed with Skittles and fruit-flavored tea. Although Zimmerman can still walk and talk and live and breathe, his life is over, too. And, whether or not the court makes him pay or not, God will see to it that justice is done.
So, as the jury consisting of an animal rescuer, a retiree and a wife-and-mommy-of-two, to name a few, examine the Zimmerman case and decide whether Zimmerman will spend the rest of his life in hiding or in a cell, I will be holding my breath and saying a prayer.
I saw them coming in the distance – three unfamiliar teenage boys, dressed in dirty blue jeans, dark T-shirts and each with a baby face the color of Alabama clay. They trotted with purpose up my street and as they neared, my heart began to beat a frantic staccato.
I spotted them while standing outside my dusty, tan Chevy Tahoe that was parked in front of my gray, one-story home. I was trying to unstrap my four- and five-year-olds from their troublesome car seats. It was a school night, the sun was setting and the air was sweet. We had plans of spelling words, a fish stick dinner and warm baths.
As I spied the men, my fingers fidgeted. The kids thought my fumbling was a game and squirmed and laughed as I tried to hurry them.
I didn’t want to be skeptical of the men, afraid even. They could be heading to a ballgame, getting some exercise or trekking to the store for a bag of skittles and iced tea. I wanted to stop my heart from pounding, to hit an off button like on an alarm clock, but I couldn’t.
I didn’t know the men, but I could not shake the feeling that there was something familiar about them. They were young men with brown faces.
Young men with brown faces had recently robbed my parents’ neighbors in their front yard. Young men with brown faces had, a couple of streets over from that, stolen from and beaten to death an 80-something-year-old man on oxygen. And, late one night, young men with brown faces had a shootout outside my living room window.
I tried not to panic when my son insisted that he scan the floor of our car for his lost Hot Wheels toy. My mind plotted out an escape, but my feet were frozen, attached to the pavement.
One of the young men walked onto the sidewalk where I was standing. The other two marched down the center of the street toward the passenger side of my car, where my son was still looking for that darned car.
I pulled my children from our vehicle and instructed them to run upstairs onto the porch and to ring the doorbell where my husband was inside.
I stayed behind because I couldn’t move. Although alarms were ringing inside of me, I didn’t want to run from the young men. I didn’t want to feed the notion that they were coming to do me harm.
Just as my children reached the top, the young man on the sidewalk came toward me. I could feel the heat of his presence and smell remnants of a cheap musky Black & Mild cigar. I did a clumsy plié onto my lawn and then, he, he … walked right past.
Still in step, the teen met with the others walking in the middle of the street and they continued their trek. I’m not sure if they sensed the movie that was played out in my mind. To them, their stroll was probably some uneventful trot. I was embarrassed, though, and wanted to yell out an apology.
A terrible thing has happened. After being inundated with mean-faced mug shots and overloaded with crime horror stories on TV and news websites, I have become afraid of certain young men with brown faces. For that, sometimes I hate myself.
I am the least likely person to be afraid. I have a brown face, as do my children, my husband and my parents. I am not privileged or sheltered. I attended all-black schools, had a brief stint living in housing projects, worshipped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Barbara Jordan and can quote all the classic Hip Hop songs in my sleep.
I love my brown skin and adore my race. I know that the world abounds with a marvelous, chocolate rainbow of African-American men of honor and integrity, who love their children and fight for their communities.
A young man with a brown face, and who wore jeans that hung low on his waist, volunteered to read books to my daughter’s kindergarten class. A young man with a brown face, and who didn’t know my name, spoke words of kindness and comfort when my son had a seizure on the side of the road. A young man with a brown face, and who was dressed in his Sunday’s best, stood in the rain to check underneath the hood of my car that sat sputtering and stalled.
Still, sometimes my mind betrays me when seems it’s hard to tell who is who.
I never want to feel my heart pound in fear again when a young man with a brown face approaches. I don’t want to be in agreement with those bigots around town who comment on the local news website and say they aren’t surprised that the perpetrators of many of the city’s crimes are black. One remarked that it’s good that they kill each other: “One down, a million more to go,” he wrote.
When I think about that day outside my home, hurrying to get away from those young men with brown faces, I am ashamed. What if I had been armed? What if I had the power of the law to shoot to kill when the movie inside my head cast those teens as deadly criminals and me the helpless victim? Quite possibly, there might have been another set of young men with brown faces whose lives were ended too soon.
“Young Men with Brown Faces” is an excerpt from a collection of essays, I am writing about life as a black woman living, loving and raising little ones in the South.
I recently flipped through my old, dusty writing journals, the ones that hold my rants from when I was in my 20s. And, in the words of the oh-so-wise-one Oprah Winfrey, “I could weep for the woman I was.”
No, really, I could get down in the fetal position and just bawl for that chick. She was so caught up in the ‘here and now’ that she was paralyzed and incapable of looking toward the future.
So, in order to put closure on that era of coo-coo and celebrate my emergence from it, I decided to write a letter to the old me.
Bless your heart. (Shaking my head.)
Right now you think that there is some covert plot to keep you single, broke and in a dead-end job. Not so. It’s simply not true.
Sure. You aren’t where you want to be, but as long as there is breath in your body, you can do something about your situation.
So, stop whining. You are blessed. While you have time, youth and energy, USE THEM. One day you will long for leisure time to dream and to work on your craft. Trust me.
And, those guys who you worry will think you aren’t good enough won’t even matter.
As a matter of fact, that one you thought was your soulmate ends up doing a tour of duty… IN THE BIG HOUSE.
The one who was going to pursue higher ed is instead pursuing an hourly wage.
And, the one who seemed so in tuned with your art and poetry was, as it turns out, an artist himself – an ACTOR of the likes of Denzel Washington. He was ‘in turned’ alright, in tuned with lots and lots of other women. (Run like Flo Jo from him.)
When you finally chill out and focus on enjoying life and working to fulfill your purpose, that’s when you will meet HIM, the one.
Start now in working to better yourself so that you can become the woman you want your daughter to become. That’s right, I said “daughter” and she’s a cutie, too. And, you will also become the mother of a doe-eyed son who adores you.
Stop going to Gold’s Gym to troll for guys. Instead, take notes and try to fall in love with exercising. If you don’t, you (and your hips) will regret it.
By the way, eating deep dish meat lover’s pizza late at night really DOES catch up with you. Who would have thunk it?
And, you say you want to be a writer? Well, READ EVERY SINGLE BOOK you can get your hands on. And, write. Duh!
Spend time with your family. Make memories with them. Soon, you will find that life will be so busy that planning time together will be like arranging a visit with the president. (By the way, he’s black.)
Get out of your holding pattern and stop waiting for things to happen. Use the breath and the energy God gave you to do something positive, and maybe even GREAT.
Everything is going to be OK. I promise. Life does get better, all in due time.
This past Saturday, the spring breeze was the kind of cool tickle that makes you want to stand outside with your arms spread wide and spin around like a five-year-old. You want to stick out your tongue and taste the sweet air.
That day, my kids and I went to my brother’s home for lunch. My parents, grandmother and in-laws were there, too. It was no special occasion, but it seemed like a good time to get together.
Inside, there was a spread of BBQ, hot dogs, chicken and ice cream. We feasted, but the outside called to us.
In the spring air, we played like kids on a carpet of green grass. My 5-year-old daughter rode piggy back while I danced around like a mad woman. My 4-year-old son drove one of those monster wheels toy cars like an old pro. I even drove a rider lawnmower for the first time. And, my sister-in-law taught her nieces how to turn cartwheels.
Sometimes, I grapple with whether Saturdays would be better spent with my kids taking tutoring courses, practicing for dance or football or whatnot. This Saturday, though, I began to think: These moments of bonding, frolicking, of learning life lessons from multiple generations are priceless.
When my kids get older — and me, too, for that matter — we will think about this past Saturday (and hopefully many others) and muse, “remember that time…” and smile.
In 2003, I gave birth to a baby. Some people don’t know that about me because, sadly, the baby is no more.
Whenever I hear its name, I tense up. You never forget.
Back then, I was excited to deliver. I even quit my dream job with hopes of spending my days tending to this baby. Everyone rallied around me and more than 100 folks showed up to watch me give birth.
Let me clarify.
In 2003, I gave birth to a magazine. I felt God calling me to start a local Christian lifestyle publication called, The Sword. It was my pride and joy, my dream. Now, it’s gone.
Before The Sword made its debut, I was a features reporter at The Birmingham News. I remember when I told the higher-ups that I was leaving to start a magazine; they were generally concerned that I had lost my mind. I think they were Googling psychologists in order to get me some help.
I was young and on the fast track, then. I was being approached about writing gigs from folks from across the country. But, I was dead set on starting that publication. I felt I had a higher calling.
I launched the magazine to much fanfare. All the local TV and Christian radio stations picked up the story. Instead of writing news I was making news. My voicemail was packed to capacity with congratulations, offers to help, folks pledging money for subscriptions. But, interestingly enough, instead of being excited, I was freaked out. I was naïve and still very much the introvert posing as an extrovert.
I wasn’t a businesswoman or even a leader by nature. I was a writer with a desire to tell stories and who now had the very heavy weight of being a magazine publisher.
I unplugged my phone and hid for a while. With so much interest and support it felt like there was this great pressure to create something MAGNIFICENT. I became paralyzed by fear and thoughts of inadequacy. On top of that, I didn’t have any real business sense and was uncomfortable asking people to buy ads.
It was a train wreck waiting to happen.
Instead of buckling down and trying to steer, I closed my eyes and let go of the wheel. I disappointed my supporters, investors and myself. A part of me felt like Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her five kids. My baby died at my own hands.
With a failing business and no other means of income, I had to move in with my parents. I remember that day well. It rained and rained and I cried and cried.
I didn’t want to go out in public because I was always asked about the magazine. What could I say? I couldn’t look people in the eyes and say, “I was too premature and inadequate to make a go of it.”
Ironically, no matter how much I would try to totally walk away from The Sword, people would continue to offer to help. Even to this day, I get emails from people who are interested in the magazine.
Ten years later, it’s still a sore spot, but it was a valuable lesson. The whole experience taught me a lot about myself: when the pressure is on, I have the tendency to be weak and a quitter. I don’t like that. So, when I feel the pressure mounting I need to recognize that propensity to give up and puuuuuush past it.
Over the years I beat myself up a lot for falling on my sword. But I think I am finally getting to the point where I can forgive myself and move forward.
Yes, years ago I gave birth to a baby. Yes, the baby is gone, but I am still alive and still have the potential to do something great. I fell on my sword, but I will get back up and live to fight (and give birth) another day.
There is a tragic reality show on TLC called “The Sisterhood.” It’s set in Atlanta, Ga. and is mix of a pastor’s wives social club and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Each episode is a cat fight with a few Scriptures thrown in to boot.
(Rolling my eyes)
The latest episode featured a fight between two pastor’s wives over a sign. One of the wives, a white woman, invited the group, who is black and Hispanic, to her home. Outside the door is a decorative sign (not historical marker) that reads: “The Rutherford Plantation, Est. 2010.”
When I saw that, I started scratching my head. Who does that in 2013????
The ladies stopped dead in their tracks when they saw it. One of them brought it up at the dinner table and a verbal crossfire ensued. It ended with the homeowner saying that the sign is staying put and one of the guests heading for the door.
For blacks in the South, plantations have a negative connotation. I was very surprised that a Southern pastor’s wife who has black congregants wouldn’t understand that.
But, then again, are we being too sensitive? People are entitled to put whatever sign they please on their home. Right?
I would love to know your thoughts. My blog is a safe environment where you can be transparent so, come on, don’t be shy, let’s talk about it.
Looking back can be painful; explaining it even harder.
Today, my kids and I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It is an awesome repository for the stories of Birmingham’s role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Initially, I didn’t think it was inappropriate to bring my 4- and 5-year-olds, but it seemed that my daughter learned more of our history than she was ready to.
Right from the start, it was overwhelming. In one of the galleries, we stood in front of a painting of the four little girls who were killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Church on Sept. 15, 1963.
My daughter said, “Mommy, can you read what it says” as she pointed to the caption underneath.
I reluctantly read the description about how the bright-faced girls were getting ready for Sunday school when they were killed by an explo…
Her eyes widened.
“Little kids were killed?! Who killed them? Why?”
What was I thinking? How do you explain what happened to a 5-year-old?
Then, she saw images of people being water hosed, bitten by dogs. It was too much. Yet, it is our story.
I tried to explain. I did my best.
It all got me to thinking: One day in the future, our actions today may have to be explained to a young child. Let’s make sure that it is a story that will make them smile and not have to turn to their mother and weep.
Yesterday at church, in honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday weekend, the pastor asked us to lock arms and sing, “We Shall Overcome.”
As our voices filled the sanctuary, I became overcome, no pun intended, with emotion.
When I thought about how far African Americans have come in this country – coming in as slaves and now witnessing the second inauguration of the first Black President – it takes my breath away. Little did those American slaves and those oppressed by peonage and those held down by Jim Crow could ever know that this day would happen.
They hoped, cried and prayed that we would overcome. In that church service, I was thanking God for His answered prayers that we did.
As African Americans aren’t where we ought to be, but thank God we aren’t where we were.
Hip, Hip Hooray! Karri is So Very … selected my blog as one of the recipients of the “Inspiring Blog Award.” Yay. I could break into a happy dance right here and now.
I love Karri’s blog. It is a ball of happiness and positivity. Each post fills in the blank of what Karri is … doing, feeling or thinking at the moment. Readers will find her to be part girlfriend, part fashionista and all wonderful. Do a smart thing and follow her.
Now, as the recipient of this award, I must do the following for my fellow bloggers and friends:
• Display the award image on your blog.
• Link back to the person who nominated you.
• State 7 things about yourself.
• Nominate 15 other bloggers and link to their sites.
• Notify the bloggers that they have been nominated and link to the post.
1. I can recite every line and sing each song from the movie “Annie.” That’s right; I am Aileen Quinn’s long lost black sister. I absolutely loved that movie as a child and still do today. I have introduced it to my kids so that they can appreciate all its goodness (and also so that I can have someone to join in when I sing, “You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile.”)
2. I love the Harlem Renaissance. The clothes, music and especially the writers: Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and the list goes on… If I could time travel to another era, it would be there (minus the social oppression, that is).
3. I used to own a magazine. Years ago, I owned a Christian magazine called “The Sword” (The name is from the Scripture Hebrews 4:12). It was my baby, but I tell people that I had the vision but not the provision. I was a writer with no business sense and thus things didn’t work out. I am building up the courage to one day write about that experience.
4. If you cut me, I will bleed Funyuns. Oh how I love those fried onion rings of yumminess. I don’t remember when I was first introduced to them, but the love affair is to infinity and beyond. Want to make me smile on the cheap? Funyuns will do.
5. I am a serious hip-hop head. I love (with a capital L) hip hop. No, I am not talking the Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj mess that is out there now. I am talking about late 80s/early 90s jams where lyrics were street but poetic. In college, I seriously considered becoming a roadie for Outkast. They are my favorite group of all time. My other faves include Biggie Smalls; The Fugees; Common; Bone, Thugs and Harmony (I know); Goodie Mob; Tupac;and Snoop Doggy Dog (before he signed with Master P). To this day, if I hear Camp Lo’s “Luchini,” I lose my mind. LOL!
6. I slept on a street in Atlanta to be with a friend who was auditioning for ‘The Apprentice.’ That’s right. Someone I love dearly wanted to be on the show. When we heard about the Atlanta auditions, we packed up and headed up I-20 East. When we arrived, we saw that there were a slew of folks already in line and it was THE DAY BEFORE. We slept on the street with the hundreds of others. Who was the friend? You may know her as Omarosa. Just kidding. Mum’s the word on the who; he might not be ready to share.
7. The night Birmingham’s Ruben Studdard won American Idol, I was in the limo chillin’ with his family. Yep. I was a reporter for The Birmingham News at the time. My editor sent me to LA a couple of times to cover Ruben’s American Idol journey. In the process, I became very close with his family. I was sitting in the audience beside his brother, Kevin, when Ruben was crowned the winner. After Ryan Seacrest made the announcement from the stage, I headed to the back where Ruben’s family told security that I was with them. That night, I rode in the limo to the swanky restaurant where Ruben, the other contestants and lots of celebs partied the night away.
Now, drumroll, please … my most inspiring blogs are:
Dr. King braved the seemingly unbeatable battle of segregation, risked his life daily, faced evil and fought violent injustice with LOVE until the day he died. He used his pen, his voice and his life to SPEAK OUT. As a result, I am free to use my pen, my voice and my life to honor him with COURAGE.
I owe him a debt.
As I reflect on his life, there is so much I want to say about who he was, but my words are insufficient. His life and the words he spoke were EPIC. So instead, I leave you with some of his quotes on which to meditate. Happy Birthday, Dr. King!
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
When a man loves a woman, he will move heaven and earth to be with her. But, when a man loves a woman and he is an American slave, locked in chains and considered three-fifths of a man, that man can’t move a thing, only the remnants of an imagination that hadn’t been beat out of him.
When that slave is the main character of a historically fictional tale at the hands of Director Quentin Tarrantino, however, said slave can be a sunglasses wearing, electric blue suit rocking, slave-owner shooting freeman on a horse.
I went to see the movie not knowing what to expect. Some folks were raving about the nearly three-hour film, while some African American celebrities have criticized it, saying that slavery should not be made into a Spaghetti Western, that in the film the n-word is used way too much and even that Tarrantino shouldn’t be allowed to tell this story.
Well, I don’t think you can put the responsibility of capturing the full breadth of the slavery experience on one person; it is too ugly, damning, horrifying, every word in the dictionary and them some. And, I wish more African Americans would tell our stories. Not enough of us do. I applaud Tarrantino, though, for doing so until storytellers like me will get up and pen our tales.
As far as the use of the n-word in a film about slavery, come on. That was commonplace. Slaves were not addressed by their names. They were considered property. N-word, in the eyes of the slave owners, was their name.
In true Tarrantino form, though, the movie has over-the-top blood and gore (Does blood really shoot several feet when a person is shot?). Slavery was bloody, no doubt, but when Tarrantino does it, it is almost cartoony. Jamie Foxx is at times unbelievably cool and suave for having just been a slave a short while beforehand. I took that all with a grain of salt, though. This story was from someone else’s imagination.
But, in short, I loved it.
Django never gave up hope that he could find his wife, Broomhilda, and hope in an American slave is a powerful, transcending thing. You are another man’s chattel, but you still have hope? Your wife was sold away to only God knows where, but you still have faith that you will hold her in your arms again? Wow.
I can’t think of many slave stories that tell of the love between a man and a woman and the irrevocable bond of marriage. It was inspiring.
And, Django, himself, was the stuff of which legends are made. There were moments I wanted to stand up in the theater and yell out, “Get em, Django!”
So, the takeaway is: go see Django and decide for yourself. It was horrifying, traumatizing, at times comical and beautiful all at once. I left feeling that even a master’s whip couldn’t tame the love one man had for his woman.
Crimson and white loving folks everywhere are celebrating Alabama’s victory over Notre Dame and it has got this non-football-loving chick to thinking about the night, many years ago, I sat in a car and cried because former University of Alabama Head Football Coach Paul “The Bear” Bryant had died.
I know. I know. “Roll Tide” has never been in my vocabulary. I don’t watch the games (unless my husband hijacks the TV). I don’t buy the T-shirts or ball caps. It has just never been a part of my life.
But, on a cold night in January 1983, I remember my heart breaking for The Bear.
I was weeks shy of being 9 years-old and sitting in the car of the parking lot at what was Community Hospital here in Birmingham. My mom darted inside to drop off something for my great-grandmother whose health was failing. She left the car radio on and an announcer was going on and on about Paul “The Bear” Bryant having died.
I didn’t know anything about him. The Bear, that is. My parents didn’t go to Alabama. I didn’t own anything crimson and white, let alone something houndstooth.
A countless number of people called in to share their tearful memories. They all seemed devastated, broken. The more I listened, the more I realized the depth of the loss. He was a hero to many. He was a king to them and a champion-maker.
Then, the DJ played the “Bear of Alabama” song over and over. That’s when I broke down.
That ole checkered hat,
Rock granite face,
Those eagle eyes roamin’ the field,
No football fan alive,
Ever saw the sight,
Whose spine didn’t feel a little chill.
Bear of Alabama – Hero of little boys and their Dads,
Thanks for all the memories and the victories we
We love you and we miss you, Bear.
I sat in the car and cried.
I cried because the whole state was hurting. I cried for the huge void The Bear had left in college football and for the breaking hearts of those who adored him.
I must admit: there’s something very special about The Bear and Alabama football. What they represent blurs the lines of division among us, at least for the moment. When it’s time for Alabama football, people sit side by side and celebrate TOGETHER. Our adoration is colorless, transcends class. It’s the time when the nation sees us Alabamians as the champion among champions and not the cliché country bumpkins they’d like to think we are.
So, in light of what happened on Monday and since it is nearly the 30-year anniversary of The Bear’s death, I am going to let out a big ol’ ROOOOOLL TIIIIIIIIDE!