My daughter made art the other day. Her rendition of the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. In it there was a woman playing tennis dressed in a orange and yellow top and red and pink shorts. Her name was Jennifer Walker and according to my daugther, she had helped the US to victory with her 26th win. There were people at the stands cheering her one, but most importantly Jennifer looked like my daughter or any other brown or black girl with a keen interest in tennis.
I begin here simply to say representation matters, especially for little black and brown girls. Of course my daughter’s muse was Serena Williams and to see her depicted from my daughters lens is the reason for today’s keep. Eternal will Serena’s impact remain for many girls even now that she has retired.
Who says representation doesn’t matter, has never truly seen black and brown girls for all they are. For to see them, not just glance at them or walk past them. To see them is to see love. The uncharted kind, pure and free. The kind the overflows too for free. Love lives in there hearts for free. It begins there too for free. You see it from their hair follicles for free. Down to big brown and black eyes that tell tales for free. It’s in the way they smile for free. The kind that melts your heart because it’s free. They are also a door to souls truly free. Their laughter, or joy, a witness to these times for free. Spare and precious for free. Their love can walk through valleys for free. Press through mountains and wilderness for free. Seats of wisdom resides in their minds for free. Art, the kind that warms minds is yours through them for free. I have been moved by the voice they share for free. Moved too by the valley of tears that flow for free. My heart knows how they love for free. They dance and beat their own drums for free. Send me to paths uncharted for free. In them I find light that shines for free. One that I hope stay lit for the world to see for free. Even the thinnest ways you see them, today or tomorrow, is the engine that sustains many souls for free. Representation truly matters and I’m glad Serena gave these pearls for free.
I said what the f…k today. I rarely curse and not in writing. I get it. Space matters. So does money. Being rich is a privilege. And yes you have the right to spend your hard earned money however you like.
So I woke up cheering for you, cheering for your blue origins, cheering for your space exploration, cheering for this defining moment. My son loves space. I showed him New Shepard as it made it way up to space and back down to earth. I clapped for humanity. I clapped for you. This is no small feat.
Our ways are truly inspiring. The fact that we can reach for space is astounding. So too is the audacity. I mean who can say they have ever been out of space. They have ever even been outside earth. So I applauded the feat. The next generation is off to a great start. A pandemic, check. Space tourism, check. Billionaires and their friend paving the way, check.
But then it dawned on me. It’s only for people that do not look like me. As in, for now space is out of limits for black and brown folks, and especially black women like me. We have also been here before. We have been out of spaces and places that would rather we put our faces to the ground rather than set it up boldly to uncover all that makes us graceful.
And we are graceful. It’s in our stride. Black women in stride are as graceful as wombs that gave birth to you. We are life givers, culture bearers, truth tellers, storytellers, eloquent ragers, with divine crowns that are stunning for every wearer. We are also blessed beyond these words we use to speak to you. That’s the power of a black woman’s stride. The power of one who knows the significance of her stride.
We are born to thrive even when places reject our audacity to step ahead of any race. Our audacity to be graceful. But we are audacious. It’s in our stride. Have you ever since the way we embrace storms that showcase our ability to harness that which was meant to displace us, even embarrass us?
We literally embrace storms with grace.
We are also always ready to tie up our shoe lace and run whatever race we find ourselves in at the sound of any chase. His grace is always sufficient for any race.
And our race, the way our feet embraces the earth, with every pace in place is so full of grace. We run our race in a stride that would make others retrace their own pace. To see a black woman run, so swiftly like a gazelle is too bless God for being our hiding place. He knew what he was doing when he created us to literally bare his face.
Hence why I was so confused watching a man give $100 million to another for simply being courageous and civil. To whom I ask? For what? You have $100 million to spare and you give it to men?
If invisibility was a cloak, it was used on black women today. The very same day humanity took a space tourism flight. The very same day humanity walked on moon years ago. This was also the day humanity choose to keep the faces of black women invisible. Our graceful faces.
I am reclaiming this narrative for own good and for all the other brown and black little girls that need to tie up their shoe laces and run their own race in stride. We can use stories to rightfully ask for our place in space. Like why are there no black women on this space race or giving race? Why do we still lack representation in moments where time seems to stop for outer spaces and other races? Does my sass really, really offend you? Or is it truly the curve of my back? Why do you choose to render us invisible?
Our invisibility in spaces we did not create is appalling and I don’t blame anyone. Not even us. We are in the trenches afterall, doing all the work we need to do for our people with grace. The fact that we are never seen, never praised, never taken to outer space and never embraced in minds and souls makes me feel like like illuminating this our graceful invisibility for good, with precision and clarity.
I know whose I am and I will tell my story, our story with grace. I shutter at this thought not because I want your money or even to sit on your spaces. I know that I am not invited to places that would rather I hide my face rather that arch my back with grace. I am graceful after all and it’s your space. So I don’t want your embrace. I would rather build my own space. My own brown girl dreaming is to turn places and spaces into things that nourish our being, our shared humanity.
I shudder because you continue to deny yourselves the ability to live in our stride, live in our grace, live in spaces and places that desperately need our sense of clarity, our precise understanding of what needs to happen now for the whole humanity. I shudder because your world isn’t illuminated by our grace.
Which is why I ask what if black women ruled the world? Just what if we were at your tables, your homes, your schools, your offices, your agencies, your institutions, your structures, however oppressive and suffocating you have made them all to be for me.
What if black women were better represented and at the table to speak from our heart and soul of places in need of light, our light, our heart, our soul, whether outer space or in places where our grace remains hidden.
We are graceful after all like gazelle. What if I told the story of our graceful stride? Ohh what a sassy stride we will take if only we ruled the world, if only we illuminated your outer spaces with grace.
The sounds of the times are changing. Stop a while for a moment and see how we refuse to bend to your unchanging. See our power. See our audacity. See our brilliance. See our grace. See as we turn our backs to your places and spaces. See how we elegantly uncover all our hidden secrets, all things that make us sacred. Our black has always been excellent. Always been graceful. Always been brave. Always been bold. Open your eyes and see for yourself.
Ooh and we are so brave, so full of grace. We are a bright light in a world that’s fallen far from grace. Though you may choose to remain the same. We know, that we are at a critical junction where being bold and brave is our middle name.
The moment to reckon with black women in academia is now. We are not some butler at a party, opening the doors for your arrival or all you allow.
It’s our party now.
Come in and stay awhile if you may. Eat our jollof rice and barbecue ribs with fried plaintains if you may.
Drink our palm wine or chocolate beer if you may. Dance to our music, ooh dance and no do, no do, shakara for me ooh. That’s the song we play.
Laugh, yes, let your soul laugh as you play with our children. They are our very own butterflies. Get to know how they make us fly.
And while you mingle, take a good look at all the other people in our inner circle, our interior life. Every one of them is a testimony of our strength, our tenacity, our perseverance, our power, our brilliance, our hidden secret, our reason for being, our greatest treasure, our life’s work, our legacy.
Like an Hibiscus flower at dawn, we bloom because of every single person we call our own, even single person ready in their battle gear, to fight this battle, just so they too can say we won. We do not fight this battle on our own.
Ooh and we won.
Every single person walked a thousand journeys with us just to help us win this battle. They cried too when we cried, for every time your insults were belittling, every time you questioned our credentials.
They carried us when we fell, when we stumbled, when we broke down under the weight of the pressure you felt was essential. They nursed us when we were sick and because of them we rise on our heels. Our bold rise today is because they lifted us up yesterday.
We are so powerful beyond these words we choose to speak with to you. Powerful beyond what you think you may know of us. We know our worth and are prepared to be audacious to leave spaces and go to places where we will be celebrated and not tolerated. Places that will help us thrive and not stifle our drive.
And why not. When we can cook and clean and write and sleep, all while running to make mango popsicles for our children, our butterflies, our greatest legacies.
We know whose we are and by God, we will be bold where we are.
You can’t stand in the way of all that is designed for our destiny.
You may wonder if this is the right moment, pacify us to keep mum for this moment. But what you forget, is how he alone knows the plan he has for us. Something great still will come out of this moment.
You may view us a a symbol of love and hate. But we are human beings too. You may view us as difficult too. Try to keep us mute too. But this is our supreme moment of destiny. This time is so long overdue.
So make your decisions. Decline, offer, deny, call it a difficult decision. Nothing will stop what is ours.
We will boldly decide and fight for what is ours. Even if you think it’s within your power to deny what is ours.
It is still ours. Our destiny. Our story. Our song. Our blessed assurance for a changing time where only bravery and boldness are all we know. One where praises will be sang by all the people gathered around our table, all the day long, including you.
Keep being bold and brave Black woman in academia. Thank you for showing us how Nikole Hannah Jones. And read her statement for rejecting tenure under her own terms here https://t.co/eMgYqRXbTL?amp=1
I saw a vulture up close today. It is as menacing as literature has depicted it to be. My middle son actually saw it first. It was perched on our grounds and it stopped him in his tracks while running towards me. He kept saying I can’t come and I kept saying, just come. He managed to mutter that there is a giant bird on the ground. I ran over and sure enough the giant bird flew up to the tree by the side of our home. I tried to go close and the picture below is what I could take.
It doesn’t do enough justice. This bird is not only a giant among birds. But it’s perch is regal too. It looked at us unfazed and it wasn’t until we tried to get to close that it flew away. That’s when I saw it brilliance up close too. This bird is truly majestic. Every circle it took, was breathtaking. Every flight, fertile with faith. Not like the drizzle of a despondent dawn Achebe alludes to. But more like the rise of resolute rewards truly within reach. (The skies were crystal blue, so it can only mean rewards). Seeing this bird, felt like I was seeing a premonition of sorts. For every stride it took, was quite simply spell-bounding. I was mesmerized. I stood there for 1-2 minutes just watching the bird as it flew higher and higher into the sky. Every elevation, equally extraordinary.
Mama was gardening at the back of the house and I told her I just saw a giant bird. She saw it too and called it udene, which means vulture in Igbo. She also noted that it symbolizes bad luck. I said what, then why is it flying by our house. She noted not necessarily bad luck to us, but that it must be sensing something amiss around, like the carcass of something dead and it waiting patiently to perch low to grab it’s reward (I was right afterall). We never saw the bird again and so it’s hard to fathom whether it got what it wanted.
The researcher in me searched the literature to get a better sense of the bird alongside what our mama just told me. Sure enough the symbolisms of the bird are just as vast. Not only is a vulture known for its resourcefulness, but it’s also the most patient bird you will come across. They are the kings of finding things useful to them and when they do, even when it’s within their reach, the patiently wait for the right moment to grab their reward. That’s when it dawned on me. In life, seek things that will be useful to you and even when they seem within reach, still patiently wait for the right moment to take them. For what belongs to you will never pass you by. It’s an Igbo proverb too.
That and if no vulture is seen after an offering has been made to the gods, then something serious must have happened in the land of the spirits. The vulture is also a courier. According to my cherished Enuani book of proverbs, the vulture is expected to descend and carry the sacrifice to the spirits to whom the offering has been made. This August visitor by our home today can only mean that maybe all our sacrifices are not in vain and that even as things seem close, we must still patiently wait. It’s a tough one to understand as I know that being patient can be difficult for me but I’m listening. Thank you for the message and I’ll keep working on being as patient with my life dreams as the vulture. Keeping this here too for the right moment when this all makes sense.
Fiction has the power to help us discover new things. Like the unexpected turns life can take if we follow a path not often taken. Or the extent to which stories can take us to new places and new spaces all with the power of words combined in a graceful manner. What if non-fiction did the same? What if non-fiction took us down a path not often taken. An unexpected path full of discovery and instructive of new routes to take. A good non-fiction, similar to a good fiction can tell the story it wants to tell all on its own. I’m guessing that’s the power of storytelling in the end, whether we use our imaginations or not, to tell stories with facts or fictions. All of it in the end must be accountable to you the reader with lessons or instructions that compel you to do something, remember something. All of this is important when you take the story into account.
When the gates of new possibilities are opened for children, they go through. My daughter is a prime example. For her, reading is life. I have watched over the years, how it continues to transform her consciousness. I see it’s power through her lens. I see it’s push to higher spaces through her commitment. What I didn’t expect was the ways it would keep her responsive and alert to her own unique possibilities. Often we don’t see this transformation. Often we truly do now know that exact moment when a child becomes an author, when a child picks up a pen and starts telling their own story, when a child awakens to their own possibilities. I am living in that moment.
I have had the privilege of being a witness to this transformation with my daughter. Writing for her started passively, something to keep her busy with during the unprecedented summer of a lifetime with the start of the pandemic. In a pre-pandemic era, we read to oblivion. She earned her way through reading. I have no problem admiting that it all started when she was 6 and I promised to give $100 dollars for reading 100 books. She did and I paid. I have tried this same tactic with her brothers to no avail. So I pressed on with her. The following summer, the same charge, 200 books for $200. She did it again. And so our summer reading behaviors solidified and I of course was happy. Until the pandemic. One way to make up for all the books we needed was to go the library. The pandemic closed her abilities to use her library card. In a rather feeble attempt to keep her busy, I casually stated, why don’t you start telling stories then. What I didn’t realize at the time was the power of the word. That parents can birth new dreams in their children with words is astounding to me. I gave her the gift of possibilities.
She went away to that special place that writers tap into for inspiration and wrote her first short piece, illustrated by her and published by me. I have written about it in an old post focused on writing like a child (here) In fact the first lengthy piece that stretched my own writing when my keeplist began was my reflection of her first storybook Kaylin and Little Foot. I was stunned that she would take my request on and work on a story she would like to read. Since then, she has been writing and journaling non stop. I have pressed on too with my writing. She reads this keeplist. She also awakened me to my own possibilities with writing. When I recently asked why she continues to write, she said is because I do the same. She has made me more responsive and alert to the power of my words and action. Often we don’t hear this direct stuff as to when writing begins in childhood so pardon my focus on it.
But my keeplist today isn’t even about my daughter’s writing from the past. Rather, I want to talk about the future and how she represents what I know would be great ahead. A little over a week ago, I gave her a little blue book to keep her busy again. Her school was beginning Spring break for the week and she wanted things to do. I said let’s read. She mentioned she has read all her books and needed new ones. While we were talking, I was busy cleaning the house. As if on cue (the universe and it weird ways), I found a little blue book full of empty pages while rifling through materials I was cleaning. I tore away the used portion and said, why don’t you go write stories again. Be open and take us on an adventure. I left her to decide how to approach this assignment. I expected it to keep her busy. Little did I know that it would awaken the possibilities in her.
Enter, ‘The Golden Sapphire.’ How she comes up with her titles and table of contents is mesmerizing to me. How my words take her to a place where anything is possible is sterling to me. How she chooses to be open in this manner is what I intend to keep, for it is beautiful to me. I don’t know what the future holds, but the possibilities of it are there, if only she continues to do her part to see the richness of her ways. And she is stupendously rich. The unexpected dimensions of her ways keeps me alert to her future, one that personifies that word Nkiruka, what is ahead is great. I am keeping this here because I have no idea what I have done to awaken this in her. Like I said earlier I have tried and failed with her brothers, though the verdict is still out and I know they look up to her. Speaking visions of possibilities to our children is the most generous investment we can make. One that I intend to keep for myself and gift to her always.
Even as I share the images above, I am only using them here for emphasis as it’s the current story she is busy working on. Kaylin and Little Foot went on to become a chapter series, about 12 of them. Then there was The tiny, tiny team below, a short story collection illustrated by her, and a host of other collections. What I have learnt through this experience is that the ultimate gift we can offer our children is possibilities. The richness of it all is there, if only we help them discover it’s unexpected dimensions for themselves. Of course they must go through the door themselves. But the thought of bursting open, the gate of possibilities, the thought of awakening her to her potential, the thought of empowering her creativity, is a keep worth celebrating. It also a reminder to keep seeing the possibilities in children.
Representation as with stories for black children, have been controlled by others for far too long. For our children to thrive, we really must write about ourselves in other to reclaim our stories, our way of life. As long as others direct attention and conversations surrounding the experiences of all children, as long as their rules and style dominate wiring for children, then the lived experiences of our black children will not be represented in society. It’s up to us, the adults in their lives and/or our children to represent ourselves and take back our stories. Enter ‘I am enough’ by Grace Byers.
As a parent, reminding my children that they are enough is a daily mantra. The world may want to say what it feels like saying, but you my child, with all your dimples and beautiful nappy hair are enough. The world may want to question why you are so active, or even restless, say to them that like rain, you are here to pour and drip and fall until you are full. The world may question your intelligence, ostracize you even in school because of it, with some choosing not to even be your friend. Relax my dear and smile and know that their is privilege with learning and you have been blest with it’s finest ingredients. Your knowledge. So learn, keep it, everytime you are in school and beyond. Grace Byers book opens up spaces for parents like myself to talk to my children about why they are enough. She also helps make it easy for us to start conversations on ways they too can tell their own stories of being enough. She also gives voice back to our children’s experiences, something often absent in mainstream writing for children of color. I am enough is a great book for all children, and black children in particular. It helps the rootedness of who they are so that they never forget that they are enough. As we begin to wrap up black history month, and to keep it alive all year, keep reminding our children that they are enough.
There is a Black exodus happening in academia. It is female, oppressive, and recursive. The latest, Dena Simmons of Yale University. She left the university citing ‘racism and years of bullying.’ She didn’t feel ‘valued’ or ‘protected’ at Yale. I spent my Sunday afternoon reading brief but concise social media postings on Dena. They were mostly by Black women. Some still in academia. Some gone, and off to start their own enterprises, in spaces and places where they would feel safe and protected. There is a Black exodus happening in academia now. But it is a site of power. Black women are reclaiming, restoring, even rekindling their God given power to exit spaces and places that do not value or protect them.
But how do we bear witness to a moment that is often not recorded, not discussed, not visible, not even in mainstream media, but yet a lived experience of many black women in America? Writing, is the one place where we can retrieve, restore, recover and give voices back to the unknown and unshared invisible, experiences of all black women, those in or not in academia. It is the one place where our silence will not protect us. It is the space where no one tells us what to do. It is the place where we can create rooms for our own unique experiences. All the words I write, every phrase and every structure, is mine to do as I please. If I wanted to control the narrative, all you see and hear about me, even what my social spaces, or social interactions may look like, at home, at work, even at church, then I would have to be radically open and write from my soul. For it is in writing that we bear witness to our history, our stories, our ways of being, our lived reality, our gaze.
Bell Hooks shared in a glorious piece entitled ‘the oppositional gaze,’ the power inherent with looking that is in opposition. Our ‘gaze’ she said, has been and remains a site of resistance. But it can also be a site of power, a site that breaks silence, breaks constraints and makes us the subject rather than the object of dialogue. Yet one thing black women don’t do enough though, is value our process of looking, enough to publicly name it, she stated. Even when we have our own reality, our own history, our own lens, our imaginations, one that sees the world differently from anyone else, Hooks stated that we do not name it or even describe this experience of seeing things rather differently. Even when we create alternative lens, based on our own unique ways of contesting, resisting, revising, and interrogating the dominant ways of knowing and looking, we still do not define our realities. Yet, how we see ourselves, whether at the center or the margins of our stories, how we look at ourselves, Bell Hooks notes, is most is important.
So to is my writing, the place where I am most free to be myself, to see myself. This blog has become a space of agency for me and for every reader, both old and new. Know that every keep, every word written, is my way of looking at myself, my way of using my lived reality to know the present, and imagine the future. Every keep is my way of reclaiming, restoring and rekindling my power. So though there may be a Black exodus in academia right now, for those of us still around, do keep an oppositional gaze.
When the church gives you something to feel and think about, it’s a valuable thing. Take for example, our visit to Saint Matthew the Apostle, our church yesterday. Due to the pandemic, we could not celebrate Christmas at our church as we would. But during our private baptism ceremony yesterday, I was reminded about why we loved Saint Matthew’s so much. Unlike other Catholic Churches, our true being is fully represented in church always. It’s haunting, in a genuine way, the way you are fully immersed in the church, in its celebration and in it’s community. The parish works hard to make us all feel like a community and we are truly one. Take for example, the depiction of baby Jesus, his mother Mary, Joseph and the three wise men. They looked like me.
It’s one of those stunning sights you only see in Saint Louis. Our church finds it own unique way to express our being and showcase what God actually symbolizes, the image and likeness of all humanity, however you choose to define it. The business of representation is a shared activity that everyone, including the church should participate in. That a church, a Catholic Church, would burrow as deeply as it can to showcase how black lives, black representation matters in a year full of impediments for black lives is extremely hopeful to me. Keep this representation in mind.
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.
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.