What good is a seed without soil? These words echoed by Father Cullen our Jesuit Priest during his last mass with us today has me restless. To germinate and become a flower or a fruit tomorrow requires fertile soil. So what then is your stance once you realize that seeds and soils go together, like raindrops and water. My stance is to stay in the middle of it. To burrow deeply into the soil and mark your territory. Of course the terrain will be rough. The deeper you get, tough too for any seed still requires certain conditions to bear fruit, like water and sunlight. I say still dig deep. Become one with the soil. Get to know the depths you go and love every single terrain you come across. Don’t wait to for when you become a flower or a fruit to tell your story. Rather step inside, with your paper and pencil or phone and write. Tell every single aspect of your story, of how you became one with soil. It’s impossible to become something other than a seed without some commitment to the soil, a kinship even. Commitment runs right through seeds and soils. Like the sun on sunny days or rain on rainy days. Every condition is committed to the end. Just like Father Cullen and his commitment with our Saint Matthews church. Though this day has arrived and he will now be leaving us, we still remain his seeds. And what good are we without him.
I have been excavating other ways of being lately. Other ways of being together too. Other ways to imagine interior lives seldom shared. This unending murmur is part of the noise I narrate. Of motherhood, for example, for mother’s that are black, mothers in academia, mothers with little children, mothers finding themselves still, while being nurturing, as we navigate this space we find nourishing, note-worthy too.
Sometimes, my desire to write about my experience is clear. Inspirations come from all angles too. Like my children, or flowers, like Dahlias and their thick opulent petals, that unfurl, ever so softly with every swirl.
Sometimes, I am moved by the scent of life, the power of meaningful experiences etched in my memories. Like my baby’s first crawl, or his first steps. His first words too, in repetition, over and over again, like da da, or ma ma, unlocks feelings that I have to air in some way, of the multitude of ways learning with life occurs, especially when you stop and kiss the ground, like babies do when crawling or walking.
Sometimes the words come to me, like a whisper. I am obedient to the power of language. Words are supposed to be useful, supposed to move you. So I listen, and dig deeper, down to the hole where the message resides, where the sightings of water, like in a deep well, becomes clear. I listen to tell you about this interior life, full of knowledge that flows through me with words I put together. Though I have no time to tell you everything, I am an overflowing oasis, open and obedient to opportunities, that are opulent, like Savannahs after rain, opportunities that offer to help me move onward in ways that are truly outstanding. So we move and organize possibilities way beyond our abilities. The sound and action of all the possibilities I have, my silence transformed to action, my survival taught as strategies, my stories in the making, those told and still formulating, all of them is so you hear me differently, see me differently too, beyond the spaces you choose or the mirrors you use to shape what you think I am becoming. I need not respond to anything. For my fears are not new, they are not old, even though they are not told.
This constant state of remaking, restorying too, is so you see and feel the story I am becoming. The stretching of my mind, the injection of creativity, of flowers and birds, of trees, and their hidden stories, all help to tell the stories that rally, stories that sustain, stories that oppose all you think about black mothers in light. To be one, to become one, to clear the path towards light, in the middle of darkness is an audacious task. Even if what I write, what I say only touches your soul one time, I have won. For to transform this silence, to use words to bring it out, and pour it in a space, not constrained by others is transformative. I am transformed in process. You are too.
Hence the purpose of this keep. To help you, me, express what I already know but may fail to say. That to be silenced is not without voice. To lack funds to is not without will. There is a way. Another path exists, however muted the path you wanted may seem today. The potential for light, the potential to rise from darkness to light resides in you. It is in you and always has. So keep rising. Your words, your light is the first opening of possibilities. You are important. You are valuable. Your light is inevitable. Keep creating art and words with your life.
My mental health is my priority always. I learnt that the hard way when others and their state of mind almost subsumed mine. I chose me. I am pleased and applaud Simone Biles for choosing herself too. I think there is no other black young woman that personifies visually what audacity truly entails. She tells a visual story of being young, gifted, and black with grace and triumph at time when the wisdom, the strength, even the perseverance of black and brown people, our young girls in particular are under assault. Simone Biles rises above them all and will forever be one of the great players that ever graced us with her human capacity to fly. And she is brilliantly flying, soaring above us all even these moments when becoming, fulfilling, living, is her bull’s eye. She is on target.
I remember watching one of her daring moves in the air recently. She was as flawless as a glistening moon on an equally flawless evening. Every land, every turn, every single move was divine. Every split in the air equally sublime. To think she is only 24 keeps me in awe of her audacity to defy and surprise every single inch of her design with every incline. She is audacity personified. Something we mere mortals will never truly understand, how she dares to align herself with things as distal as the sky and its lines. She gives flights to our hopes, our timeless desires to remain hopeful in a state where being full of hope is a quest long denied to children born out of hope. Her staying power will remain long after she steps out of the limelight. She will still delight, still defy, still be as distal as skylines. She is more than a gymnast, more like a national treasure who glory will forever last.
My life is not my own. So I give myself away so you can use me. This song by William McDowell is my keep as I start this week. This is the week where I learn whether it’s time or not for God’s plans to be fulfilled in his child. So if God then is for me, who can be against me, is the song I sing. If God is with me, whom shall I fear when everything is by his design. Also the fact I could never make this on my own. So I literally give myself away.
When I look back over all I have done the past few months, I realize with each passing day that I never could have made it without God. So giving myself to him is easy. He has always been before me. Psalm 139 reminds me that he knew this week, this day would come when I was still being formed in the womb. That’s the part that keeps me in awe, win or lose. Everything is according to his design. There is no one like him. Who can ever stop us when our God is greater, stronger, higher than anything even awesome in power. It has always been about him after all. It’s his plans, it’s his work, it’s his words, all written through me, but for his glory.
I am stronger because he allowed me to use the gifts he gave to me for his glory. I am wiser because I would do it again whether I fail or even win. I know how to still win even when I fail. That part keeps me grounded. Failure is always an option with God on your side. It’s all for his glory still and I am just a vessel that he uses to bless his children, uses to light a path, blaze a road through a vast forest of nothingness. I could not do any of this without him ordering every single step. So win or lose, being discussed or not, is all a reminder that if he is for me, who can be against me. If he is for me, whom shall I fear. And if no one knows me, he still adores me and I will do my part to remain his light. For a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. I cannot be hidden. Keep giving yourself away to God.
We come home to ourselves. Our realized desiring selves. We also come home to spaces that are loving, spaces that are giving, spaces that are nurturing, spaces full of awareness, spaces that enable looking. Of all these spaces, looking is my keep for today.
Bell Hooks once described a power in looking. A power also with choosing to stop looking. She described it as a gesture of resistance. And when you return to looking, when you return after turning away, an oppositional gaze emerges. I am in this space, these days.
Not to be confrontational or difficult or even disrespectful, I am finally understanding the pleasure of saying no. I understand now what it means to say no to structures which had asked so much from me when I assumed a posture of subordination. Saying no is a radical gift that I gift myself these days, a gift that I use to nurture and protect me.
In the past, I was the first with ideas. I still am in circles that value my intellect. I was the first to say yes, to give myself fully to such spaces because we were all fighting the same beast. The truth is, our battle was personal and we wanted to come out victorious and unharmed. Until the fight turns on you. Until you realize you are now the beast and your head is on the chopping block. Hence why looking becomes critical.
Bell Hooks described this as having an oppositional gaze. Mainstream research circles in no way acknowledges that black women can thrive on their own. You don’t have to ask me, just do a quick search on who gets funded and you will see that they are not black or female. Look also at those in power in whatever space you find yourself in and again, whether at a grocery store or at a hospital, chances are that your leader isn’t black or female.
It’s for this reason that an oppositional gaze becomes vital, viral even if you are black and female.
Mainstream circles will remain ‘aggressively silent on the subject of blackness and representations of black womanhood,’ noted Bell Hooks. Many disallow the ‘possibilities of spaces, places even that include black women’s voices. It is also difficult to talk when you feel no one is listening, when you feel a special narrative has been created that only the chosen can understand’ she states. Yesterday, I was in such a space.
I know I shouldn’t be using this medium to air personal grievances. But I want growth and I need to continually gift myself the freedom to just say no to spaces that fail to enable me to discover or uncover all that I have. I did that internally, silently too when demands were asked. Not because I could not speak, but because it is difficult to speak when no one is listening. It’s is also difficult to speak when you are not valued.
So I stayed mute and looked. I stayed mute and applied Bell Hook’s oppositional gaze. I shared my thoughts with friends and they said, staying mute doesn’t help you grow. I disagreed. It helps me. That’s all that matters these days.
After going through this pandemic (we are still in it too), after going through moments of chaos with homeschooling, moments of stress with raising children, all I want these days are moments of healing for myself.
Even though silence will not protect me, and Ms. Lorde would want for me to transform it to action, I am, but for myself. I am learning to say no for myself first. This gesture protects me from whatever they think they have in store for me. I say yes always and all the time to spaces worthy of my yes. I say yes to spaces and people that know my worth.
I keep learning this every day. The power of saying no, the power of saying yes. It’s mine to gift first, to spaces that nurture and protect me. Spaces unafraid to affirm my subjectivity. My yes these days belong to people that are not afraid to hear me speak. People that know that my words are just that, words, with no desire to harm but to help them grow. People that don’t make me speechless. I was not born to be speechless.
This power that I gift myself, this power of oppositional gaze is to protect myself for the violence perpetuated and advocated in spaces that would rather I stifle my growth. And if I describe it as violence, it’s because this is still a battle, and the goal remains being victorious and unharmed. Writing in this way, about the power of oppositional gaze, makes my healing possible. I am also learning that there is more to looking. Keep it for yourself, especially in spaces where you gift yourself the power of saying no.
Illuminating. That’s my word for the day.
I am intrigued by its meaning. Webster’s defines it as providing insight and clarity. Becoming highly informative too.
Macmillan was my preferred definition. The idea of providing new and useful information so that something becomes clearer and easier to understand makes the word an important tool to which to speak to you to today.
I am a black woman coming to terms with my illumination. I am forever in search for ways to make things I love to do seem easy to understand, seem clear, and full of insight and not just for me, but for you, whoever you are reading this now in search of new insight to things that truly incite.
Like light. What is it about this word that keeps me returning back to it? It’s almost like I want to scream it out to the world with all my might. I just might too with precision and clarity.
For we have been in darkness for too long. We have done things as people truly blind to the world. We have not made efforts or strides to illuminate spaces and places in desperate need for light.
I am first to admit that part of my world has been in darkness for too long, under the shadows of the word and worlds of others for too long and still so eager to push through the darkness towards things that are illuminating for as long as I can.
Like the idea of being a black mom in light. A black woman in light.
I know whose I am is the first mantra. I know it from my hair follicles to the soles of my feet. Nothing I do is by accident. It is all by design, all written from the first moment I was conceived. I know whose I am is all I say with clarity on days when darkness seeks to envelope my world. On those days, knowing that I was made by design helps push light through.
The second mantra, make your case known. Do your best to push for light. You will fail in the process. Do so gracefully. Become prepared to make failure even a habit. I have no problem failing on my way to making light known. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden no matter how hard darkness seems to engulf the city. And there will be darkness. You will even go through the deepest depths of darkness. But when you remember who designed you, who first called you, then even the darkness is not dark enough for him.
Your ways are not my one is the third mantra. You want me to do it this way. Great, but what if I tried this way too. Ooh I will fail. I chuckle. Failure is always an option when you are a black mom, a black woman in light. It’s our second mantra for crying out loud. So yes, I will do it my way and I am prepared to fail daily until my way makes sense. It has to for I know whose I am.
Finally what’s your legacy? What is the institution that you are building and how will you make it last? This fourth mantra keeps me up at night. Not because I have the answers but because I care deeply about the stories the legacy will tell long after I am gone. I care deeply about the thoughts, the actions, even the words that I hope will speak louder for me, more eloquently than anything would. I care deeply about the spaces we build, the places that nourish our being, for what we own, what we build, our very own Institutions and structures cannot be broken when we build it with light. What’s your legacy becomes a clarion call for what being in light truly entails.
It’s for them afterall. Our legacy. Those we have asked to gather around our table, those we called to invade our space, those we choose to make room for in our place, our mind, our heart, our soul.
We cannot all going through this life together. I get it. The chapter we may find ourselves in today, will surely end tomorrow. When it does, who remains, who leaves?
I care deeply about those that choose to remain even when all that surrounds us makes no sense. I care deeply about those that choose to remain even when I hurt them deeply. I care deeply about those that choose to remain because they trust my words, the language I use, even when all I say may be empty. I care deeply about those that choose to remain to help me uncover all the noise, on this road to becoming clear, precise, illuminating, light.
I care deeply about those that see my light. I don’t take it all for granted. This process of becoming light. I care deeply about all of you on this journey. I know some of you read this.
I thank you for listening. I thank you for seeing the vision. I thank you for believing. I thank you for helping me, helping us push through this light that the world desperately needs these days.
Nothing we are doing is by accident. It is all by design. I care deeply that you see it too. Thank you for pushing light through with me. Thank you illuminating my world.
If I am not saying much now with precision and clarity it’s because we just gave birth. We have been in labor since September when this writing began. A 10 month pregnancy that has finally given birth to a dream. To think that I had to do so much writing to make way for this dream is breathtaking to me. To see the people we have assembled is even extraordinary.
These next few months are like those of a newborn. Nothing will make sense. We are still in darkness as it’s takes a while for newborn babies to open their eyes and see faces and shapes and sounds that will forever remain. We are truly newborns at this moment. But in due time, we will crawl, walk, and even run. Until then, keep illuminating the world. It truly needs our light to push through.
On nights we make believe, I tell the story of the old lady who lived in a shoe. It’s a short story and my kids seem to like my many take on the lady. Like why a shoe, or why so many children? Why even feed them one by one? Why didn’t she even know what to do?
These questions often come to mind the moment our storytelling begins. We never find a definite answer but I like the creative process of thinking through in depth, more details about the old lady and her shoe. My son said she loved the shoe that’s why they lived in it. I asked, can you imagine what it would be like to live in a shoe? How tight such a space maybe? How big might the shoe even be for all of us to wiggle and snuggle ourselves in? And what about the old lady, why did she do all she could to still feed her children?
Stories like the old lady personify why motherhood is full of moments that linger on in my mind long after events go by. Moment that are not only full of struggles like those of the old lady but also full of strength and survival especially with our children. Moments like yesterday.
On the plane back to Saint Louis yesterday, I reminisced about the first days of traveling on airplanes with my son on the spectrum. They were horrible and forever etched in my mind as one of the many things not to do. Yet we did them because we had to travel. One moment I recalled was a trip from Indianapolis to Augusta, Ga via Atlanta. We had to get on two planes. My son cried from the beginning to the end of the trip. He was only 2 years old. I was like the old woman in the shoe. I never knew what to do in those days. Nothing worked. Not IPads, not snacks of all kinds. Nothing seemed to work. My son cried and couldn’t whip him soundly to sleep.
But yesterday, as I watched my son, now seven years old, totally mesmerized by his growth, I felt like the old woman in the shoe. His ways are truly full of moments that linger on long after they occur. You have to literally take them all one by one, whip them soundly into unforgettable moments, like the old lady in the shoe. The layers to his being, are literally being peeled away, one by one and I am learning what to do these days with ease.
I asked if he was having a great time. He said yes. I asked what was his favorite part of the trip. Being on the airplane, he said. Here was a boy who cried and cried in the beginning. We still have miles and miles to go. But I am learning to love watching him grow day by day.
Who are the bearers of messages most important to our lives? How are they helping you actively work for change? For me these days, black authors. I find myself reading and reading books from authors who voices are amplified more so in death than while alive. Audre Lorde first comes to mind. Her words have a way of helping me be as free as a bird. When I read her, when I pay careful attention to her words, much of what I end of saying is all I hope she would approve were she to be alive. Words like how one of the most basic Black survival skills is a willingness to change. It’s a necessary condition for survival she would say, something we learnt over four hundred years ago. Something the new generation needs to become fast with learning. No need repeating the same mistakes of the past.
Change also means growth, even though the act of growing can itself bring pain. Lessons in life will be 100% repeated if not learnt, she would also say. Learn them, even build upon them as they serve as paths towards survival. Don’t waste time romanticizing them too, but know that the lessons they teach seed possible futures. One that will be complex and not easy to achieve. In the end, we will become powerful because we survived and moved in the direction of change. Everything we do to learn the lessons is for our survival and growth. Change therefore is our responsibility. Each of us, where ever and however we stand, and in whatever arena we find ourselves in must change noted Audre Lorde. Which is why I ask again who are the bearers of the messages most important to our lives? How are these bearers helping you to actively work for change? Keep changing whoever and wherever you are.
‘A journey is a journey,’ James Baldwin once said, ‘because you cannot know what you’ll discover on journey, what you’ll do with what you find or what you find will do to you. I am on a journey to decolonize the mind. Ngugi Wa Thiongo in his book Decolonising the mind described this as one of the biggest weapon wielded and unleashed daily. The effect of which is to annihilate a people from their belief in their names, their language, their heritage, their struggle, and even their quest for unity or capacities in themselves. When the mind isn’t free, the past is viewed as a wasteland of achievement, with people vigorously distancing themselves from the wasteland. Possibilities or dreams are either viewed as remote or ridiculous.
Toni Morrison in Romancing the Shadow described this as manipulation of the narrative, for example, with blackness or the story of a black person being depicted as bound and/or rejected, with a focus more on limitations, suffering, rebellion, and narratives that spoke for rather than speak with lives full of fate and destiny. And so we have a moral commitment to decolonize the mind. To remove knees from necks. We are ultimately formed by what we see and also what we read for example. So if images or writings fail to tell the compelling and inescapable ways of life of a people, then how do we deal with the world as it is. Ourselves as we are. So we write to free minds of what they know. To establish difference from what is known, to what is unknown, using narratives not meant to disguise but rather to uncover all the truths and lies. James Baldwin also noted that not everything they is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced. We face our minds now to free from a demise, as we progressively work towards the fulfillment of our destiny which history shall not erase.
There is a power that emerges when you gift yourself and your family, the simple and freeing pleasures of walking. We gave that gift to baby almost 2 days after his arrival at home. We took him for his first walk along the paths of Forest Park. The pandemic was still breathtaking in its design. Lockdown was still in full force. So too was mask wearing in all public spaces, though ignored by many by design. We wore our masks, and with a bundled up baby, we walked together along the pathways of Forest Park.
I have alway found walking to be a site of joy, pleasure too and freedom. There is an African proverb which states that ‘if you want to go fast, walk alone. But if you want to far, walk together.’ My family and I are prepared to go far. Walking for us, is and remains a site of joy, pleasure still, and freedom too.
All our being, all our senses as one family are nurtured, protected too, because we took one step forward, and another, together. There is love, affirmation, support, and freedom to see and observe things as they are, when you walk through life with others. Baby sat on his stroller oblivious to this gift. We kept giving it to him knowing the impact of our gift.
My daughter in her blue denim overalls tried to tell him about the world as we walked along Forest Park. She played I spy with her brothers, spying things they saw along the way, like something green such as all the trees and grass along the Park, or something brown like dead leaves along the path, or something blue like the clear blue skies that brighten our day as we walked along the Park. Their spying game while walking, it’s meaning and value, were never lost on me.
As we move forward in life, whether freely, or openly, we bear witness to the truth that we are never meant to walk alone. Baby’s first source of food for life, where from the milk oozing out of my body. His first bath, were from Dad’s hands, as he gently washed him with a fragrant free soap that is supposed to nourish his being from his hair follicles down to the sole of his feet. Everything we do with babies are never done in isolation. So too is walking through life.
As we crossed the bridge along the park, we stopped to take photos with baby. We gathered ourselves around baby, who laid gently in his stroller. With the sky still brightening the day with the most perfect of blues, and with heads held up, with perfect eyes smiling beneath our masks, we took a photo to capture this moment in time, a moment we first walked together with baby.
Stories of families who walk together, black families in particular, often remain within the families, often within their albums tucked neatly away, in their memories, or phones, never to see the limelight or become fully represented as something we also do. We walk, never alone, but together. Aretha Franklin once belted this as a tune. And when we walk, we gather ourselves together, hold our heads up high, and smile, whether through storms or perfect skies. We do so together, because we know, that in life, no one, not even a newborn goes through their journey alone. So get your courage together and walk on, Ms. Franklin would say. Walk through the rain, even through the storm, just know you never walk alone. It’s the perfect gift we gave to baby as a family, one that I intend to keep always.