The year is 1918. Despite a flu pandemic and the end of World War 1, Ms Annie Turnbo Malone became the first self-made African American woman millionaire. As part of homeschooling, my daughter and I went to the Missouri Museum of History’s ‘Beyond the Ballot’ exhibit to learn about the pioneering work of Ms. Malone.

Born in 1869 in Illinois, Annie Turnbo Malone, was an astute African American business woman who developed a complete line of beauty products. She taught women how to become franchise owners of her company, employing close to 75,000 women worldwide. The year again was 1918. Racism was still very much alive and this was at the end of World War 1 and also during the pandemic of 1918. But somehow, Annie Turnbo Malone thrived.

In fact, before there was Madam CJ Walker, there was Ms Malone, the first, self-made African American millionaire. As a chemist, she invented Wonderful Hair Grower for black women. As an entrepreneur, she built a training and distribution center for her beauty products. As a philanthropist, she presided over an orphanage and gave most of her money to charities. While her achievements have been widely overlooked given those of Madam CJ Walker, I am glad the history museum continues to find ways to celebrate this pioneering woman. Over 100 years later, she remains a phenomenal example of why we should keep thriving even during a pandemic.

Whoever still questions how a black woman remains undervalued should remember Breonna Taylor. Whoever wonders how a black woman feels unseen should remember Breonna Taylor. Whoever seeks to know why a black woman still remains unprotected even 2020, should remember Breonna Taylor. Black women have been under enormous duress for far to long. Enormous. We remain undervalued, unseen, unprotected even while sleeping in our own house, on our beds. But yesterday was a tipping point. Today I am interested in how we survive. Today I want to let all my fellow Black women know where ever you are, that you matter. Because of Breonna Taylor, I value you. Because of Breonna Taylor, I see you. Because of Breonna Taylor, I will do my part to protect you.

Keep surviving for Breonna Taylor

Robbing Breonna Taylor of her life was one drastic thing, but letting her murderers go scot-free is pure contempt for black women’s lives. Hence my interest in how we survive. There are no easy answers. Justice was once again denied, my mouth is full of anger, my heart pain. But we must survive. No use wondering whether the law will ever be on our side, it won’t. No need screaming for people to say her name, the won’t. Yet for Breonna we must survive.

We will not forget yesterday’s failure to arrest the cops that murdered Breonna. We are lifting her family in prayers that they may find the strength to continue to bear this loss despite the injustice, despite an arrest for a life cut too short. And for Breonna Taylor, we shall survive. For her legacy, we will be valued. In her name, we will be visible and for generations now and yet to come, we will do our part to protect black women everywhere. Breonna Taylor even in death you won and because of you, I will keep surviving.

Keep surviving for Breonna Taylor

For poetry yesterday as part of homeschooling, we read the poetry of Margaret Esse Danner, especially her poem “This African Worm.’ Every week my daughter picks out a poem she likes and we spend sometime reading the poem, studying the poet, while trying to make sense of the lessons learnt from the poem. Margaret Esse Danner was a prolific poet, born in Kentucky but grew up in Chicago. She was the first African American assistant editor at Poetry magazine. Her poetry often engages African artwork and culture.

Margaret Esse Danner

Her ‘This African Worm’ resonates with ongoing struggles in our society today often faced by people everywhere. No matter where you are, the struggles are the same. Whether it’s a fight for justice or equality, whether it’s a fight to end hunger or poverty, no matter whether in Africa or North America, we all experience the same strife. Even to my daughter Lotanna, if you are a worm for now, that’s not good. We keep our heads low, as we make sense of the burden we are experiencing. We crawl and wait as Ms. Danner’s poem suggested. Until a time comes when things change, when things start to shift. Though we may crawl today, though our heads maybe low today, but there is hope in the wait. There is hope even as we take little steps or crawl like worms while making sense of our journey. That in the end, is the essence of life. That one day, one day, things will truly get better for people everywhere.

Margaret Esse Danner’s ‘This is an African Worm.’

This hope was evident in a comment shared by Margaret Esse Danner in an essay we found about her online at the University of Chicago library for a book entitled Black Poets in America in 1975-she wrote, “As for my poetry: I believe that my dharma is to prove that the Force of Good takes precedence over the force for evil in mankind. To the extent that my poetry adheres to this purpose it will endure.”

Your poetry endures today Ms. Danner and a new generation, my daughter’s generation in particular, will use your words for good. Until then, I’ll keep waiting.

Lotanna reading ‘This is an African Worm’ by Margaret Esse Danner.

Yesterday during my son’s Zoom Art class he was given an assignment to draw a bee. His art teacher started by instructing her students to draw a big circle for its face, then 2 small circles for its eyes, a small but wide letter u for its nose and a large, wide u for its mouth. My son only drew the large circle at first, then looked at me as asked, what’s the assignment again? I said, well you teacher wants you all to draw a bee? He looked at what she was drawing and seemed a little confused. Then without hesitation, he began to draw what a bee looked like to him. I tried to redirect him, but he kept drawing his version of a bee. By this time the teacher was focused on the hair of bee, telling the kids that their bees could even wear masks given our present day situation with the ongoing pandemic. My son had his own ideas and stayed focused on drawing what a bee should look like. I gave up trying to redirect him and allowed him to draw what he wanted.

Zoom art class.

As I recounted the story to my husband last night, I realized the lesson in my son’s insistence to draw what a bee looked like: It’s the need to keep being different. It’s tough to teach children how to stand out from the crowd but my six year old seemed to understand what many grownups still struggle with. No point being like the rest of the world. Just be yourself. By moving ahead to draw the assignment in a realistic way, I learnt why drawing matters. It’s is truly an age-old disciplining that allows us to learn things faster in clear, meaningful and concrete ways. I have since lost the gift of child-like drawing. But these days of homeschooling has opened up my eyes to the endless possibilities of drawing and why they matter for life.

My son’s take on the assignment also showed why being different matters. The moment we start to complete an assignment, no matter the deviations or distractions along the way, stay true to yourself and press on with clarity. Watching him perfect his assignment also showed why you should stay they course no matter the challenge. You can adjust or refine your thoughts on the original idea, but be different. You can take risks or move in an entire new direction, but do so with integrity. Being different allows you to exist, allows you to remain unique, allows you be authentic in this world full of duplicate ideas. From my son’s homeschool art class, I learnt why it’s important to keep being different.

Chiwetel’s Bee Assignment

On Saturday, we took our kids for a walk along Forest Park. We walked along the path leading to the planetarium until we got to a very tall stainless steel sculpture looking up to the sky. I stood for a moment, wondering what it would feel like to always look up to sky, the way the sculpture did. What lessons would I learn and how would I pass it on to my children? In the course of trying to take a picture of the sculpture, I tilted my head and looked up to the sky. The sculpture itself has a way of making you gaze up to the heavens. So when I did, all I saw was blue, the perfect shade of blue sky. Saturday was a clear day and all that was visible on this perfect day, were brilliant skies full of grace, every angle full of hope, every angle, still the perfect blue, and so full of love.

“Looking Up” Sculpture by Tom Friedman

Skies have a way of making you fall in love with life. Skies have a way of making you see a life truly worth living.

The ‘Looking Up” Sculpture at Forest Park

Maybe it’s the embrace. When you gaze up to the sky, it’s like the sky gazes back down and gives you a great big hug. You then begin to converse with clarity in a language understood only by the sky. Gazing up to the sky was peace, the perfect peace that only the heavens can offer. Gazing up to the sky was like music to the soul, the perfect song that only the skies could sing. Gazing up to the skies was freedom, the perfect freedom, strong enough to set every captive free. Gazing up to the skies is perfect, eyes meet eyes, gently inviting you to come in, and rest, the perfect rest. Gazing up, swallows you, the perfect food, shared in communion, in union with a sky slowly swallowing an imperfect you.

The “Looking Up’ Sculpture at Forest Park by Tom Friedman.

Once you tilt your head and stay there for a moment, that moment becomes eternity. Like the sculpture, we are destined to look up to the sky, if only for a moment. You will feel loved, protected, profoundly seen by a sky, the perfect shade of blue. The perfect embrace, the perfect rest, the perfect song, all in perfect union with a sky gazing so lovingly at an imperfect you. Once you look up, you will become dangerously free to roam this earth with your truth in perfect harmony with a sky so profoundly perfect. So keep looking up.

My daughter by the Looking Up Sculpture.

Last week I went into my local Sams club in search of children’s books. I had spent the early part of the school year getting books that would help us succeed with homeschooling. We got brainquest books for each child’s grade and everything in between for math and language comprehension, even carton-like stories that my daughter loves.

No representation-Books at my local Sam’s club.
No representation- Books at my local Sam’s club

Despite all the purchase, I left the store feeling empty. With the exception of a Kobe Bryant book, none of the books represented me or my children. There were no story books or stories, no workbooks or brain-quest type materials, not in math or language, early-child or middle age reader, or even non-fiction materials that represented what it means to be black or brown at this present time in our country. They say representation matters. It matters not only at the ballot box but also where we eat, pray or shop. That day, I left the store making a solemn promise to myself that I would do my part to work to tell stories our way. It’s the impetus behind encouraging my daughter to write stories the way she wants them told to her. Its the fuel that keeps me writing these keep lists because someone, no matter how small, needs to create a list of what makes us who we are, a list of our existence, a list of our dreams, our hopes, our impediments, the hard, but true and lasting truth of what it means to be black or brown in today’s America while raising children. Representation is why I write everyday.

I write so that little black and brown kids can believe in their abilities and dreams, whether it’s flying kites or making scary monsters. Adults too can dream even if is through the lens of children. I write for little brown and black kids everywhere and the adults also so we never forget our worth or what it means for be young, or old, gifted and black. I write because writing, especially our stories, are the measures of our lives. A gathering of our wisdom, our way, in words that make sense to us and our children is a necessity for today. I write because our stories, our experience are enough. Even if only one person reads whatever we write, that’s enough. Our stories, our language when it is represented is force, stunning forceful language full of audacity, clarity and wit.

Today I went back to the local sams club and lo and behold, our stories were everywhere. Our authors were represented and I felt like I was finally seen and heard by the world especially Sam’s club. Thank you to who ever fought for this to happen. I bought all the books i didn’t have in my collection because I wanted Sam’s club to know that black and brown books matter and black and brown people have purchasing power too. We need representation not just at the ballot boxes but at our stores too. Our stories matter and so keep fighting and insisting that we are represented. Representation matters. Keep seeking it everywhere including and most definitely, the places where we eat, pray and shop.

With representation-Books now at my local Sam’s club.
Books I purchased for my kids from my local Sam’s club.

There is something sacred about dying on Fridays. The most holiest of all, Jesus Christ died on a Friday afternoon. My father died on a Friday evening in 2009. My little 10 year old nephew, just died on a Friday morning this past July. Everyone’s hero and Black Panther legend, Chadwick Boseman, died on a Friday evening. And now, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is resting in a well-deserved peace following her death on a Friday evening. Deaths on Fridays are sacred. Deaths on Fridays are profound. Deaths on Fridays are hard. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death is especially hard.

Maybe it’s because Fridays are the end of the week. The end of weeks full of joy or weeks full of agony. Weeks full of amusement or weeks full of dread. This past week has been full of hope, and most certainly confusion on the impediments of the state of our great nation. To end the week with her death adds to grief many of us already feel for this country at this very moment where death is in the air. The death of 200, 000 and counting Americans. Death of one towering figure and icon to many women in America. There is something so hallowed about death of Fridays.

Maybe it because Fridays are right before Saturday’s, when everyone looks towards their rest. Friday’s are full of feelings, very strong, pulsating feelings that evoke rest or never ending restlessness. Friday’s are sometimes the beginning of rest, but also the start of restless trouble. Friday’s are the only day of the week that starts with F, and Friday’s F could mean Freedom, like the saying, Thank God it’s Friday. Friday’s F could also mean F**cked, like what a F**cked up night, as with Justice Ginsburg’s death last night or Boseman’s death just the other day or with Friday night firings or massacres of late. Friday’s F could also mean faith as in, on this faithful Friday we can not mourn as if we have no hope. Friday’s F could mean fight, as in we should all get ready to fight from this Friday until November and beyond, as if your lives depended on the outcome of this year monumental election.

There is something indeed sacred about deaths on Friday, they keep us vigilant and alert, hopeful but ready for a fight, especially a fight till the end just like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did this past Friday. Here death is the fight we all need. Here is a woman who fought bouts of cancers while still serving at the highest court. Here is a woman who fought for women’s liberties as if her life and the lives of many other women depended on it. Here is a woman who stayed alert until the end, urging us all to fight as if our lives depended on it. Her death means she is finally free to rest. Yes this is now a f**cked up situation, but we should never forget the faith we all have and believe in this country and fight like she did as if our lives are ending too. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now resting in a well-deserved peace. But she was a fighter until the end. We should all keep fighting like her.

Doors open when we let our minds wander. This is a precious gift worth nurturing and protecting at all costs. Imagination is a precious gift. To be able to dream about places far and wide, to focus on what is within our control, our own recollection of what matters most is a gift. Imagination is a sacred gift. To be able to hold hands, one ours, the other our mind, together we invent, together we dream, together we are appalled, together we are amused. Imagination is a sterling gift. Our own freely given to us to make use or take part in, however we see fit. Imagination is our gift. Becoming the highest version of our selves even if in our dreams, is a gift. And it starts with our imagination, or in today’s post, being scary monsters.

A scary monster

Yesterday and thanks to an empty Amazon box, my kids used their imagination to make the head of a scary monster. The monster had big red eyes, with black eyebrows, blue teeth and green ears. Every detail with this monster head design was specific. Their perception of a scary monster, informed by their imagination was enchanting. It’s wasn’t something they did, but what informed their sensibilities. In their mind, scary monsters could be playful, but still scary, could be colorful, but still scary, could be amusing but still scary, could be made out of boxes, and still scary.

This sweet, intimate connection with the mind is full of intelligence, full of grace. The grace to see scary monsters in all their vivid humanity. It is a total communal experience with the mind. There is something so marvelous about an unblinking mind that wanders, and their effect, their gaze whether through art or the written word is something really divine. We can all go there, to that side of our humanity, that requires, no demands that our minds wander, if only we keep being scary monsters.

There is something so special about drawing, especially like a child. Like the drawings on my children’s kite from yesterday’s post or the stick figures my daughter drew last week of herself and her brother. To see life celebrated through their drawings is always sterling to me. Everyone has art in themselves. Yet, drawing is an art form we adults loose on the journey to adulthood. Everyone is able to understand, use and even take part in making art. But, it’s so profound to see art from a child’s perspective, how they draw their world in ways that make sense to them, in ways that are truly wise. There is no apology at all when children draw. Drawing is a serious matter to children. No need to be perfect or subscribe to what society dictates as the norm. No need to limit yourself to any standards as it blinds you to reality. Art from the perspective of a child is often easy, not difficult. Often simple, not hard. Often colorful, not bland. Drawing will always remain serious to children.

Lotanna’s art

I wonder why I no longer draw as freely as my children. When or where did the assignments end? Why didn’t I enjoy them the way my kids do. Granted, I grew up in Nigeria and truly not surrounded with as much crayons as my children. But I was also exposed to art. Granted I wasn’t expected to practice art. But the joy to even draw isn’t in me the way I observe it in my children. Yet, I wish we could all draw like children. That I could draw and love it the way my kids do. If one looked at a child’s drawing and compared it to what we adults do, you will understand why life is meant to be easy not hard, full of hope, not impediments.

My children’s paper kites

Children are indeed blessed with a sense of creativity that should be nurtured and protected with vigilance. They instinctively feel life and supply it in any art form they engage in. They know who they are even if it’s in stick figures, why they exist, what is the meaning of life, and why we should celebrate our existence. And drawing is the medium that is most serious to them. Their art is in service of simplicity, it’s in service of joy, it’s in service of humanity. We cannot be apologetic about the way children draw. Their art makes no apology to the world. They show us what is permissible in life, the good and the bad, within the margins or out of it, the richness of life, they celebrate it all in their drawings. Which is why we should all keep drawing like children.

I love Toni Morrison. One of my greatest regrets for my life is that we never met. We never had a face to face chat about her brilliant, most sterling mind. We die, that may be the meaning of life, she once eloquently said, but we do language, that may be the measure of our lives, is probably the most poignant thing I have read. It is also my life’s quote. No one personifies this quote better than Ms. Morrison and boy did she do language during her life on earth.

For the past year since her death, I have been devouring any and everything Ms. Morrison has every written. Not her fictional literature that many of us love, whether it’s Beloved or Sula or the first book of hers I ever read, The Bluest eyes. No, her fiction was sterling, awe inspiring and downright brilliant. No, I haven’t been reading her fictional books. I have instead been reading everything non- fictional that this brilliant woman ever wrote. She wrote so many and my go to bible now, her last, ‘The source of self-regard’ is quite simply divine.

But the latest in my possession, a very short acceptance speech she delivered in 1996, on the acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, is by far one of the most brilliant essays I have ever read. This particular essay is a masterclass on brevity as well as the passion, pleasures, difficulties and necessities of the reading/writing life. It is the inspiration for this blog.

Toni Morrison’s The Dancing Mind.

In the essay, Ms Morrison speaks about peace, not just peace as a result of war, but the peace that comes with engaging with other’s mind when reading/writing. She described this as the dancing of the mind and asked all of us to become vigilant about preserving this peace from the peril it faces.

The real life work of creating and producing and distributing knowledge…the ability for the entitled as well as the dispossessed to experience one’s own mind dancing with another, in essence the real life work of the book world is a serious feat that warrants vigilance.’

When writing and writers manage to touch another’s mind through reading, the intimate, sustained surrender that is felt, without fear or interference, this dance of an open mind, fosters a particular kind of peace that requires vigilance. Securing that peace, the peace of a dancing mind, is our work. ‘There isn’t anybody else’ said Ms Morrison and I totally agree. She may be gone, but her words, are my source of inspiration. I hope to use this blog to help you experience your own mind dancing with my own. Securing this peace, the peace of the dancing mind, is now my life’s work. Rest In Peace Ms. Morrison. The dance continues…