A Filthy Past & A New Fools Gold #FountainPen ItsRainingPens

It amazes me that I am even here.

That I stand on these shaky, broken grounds, once more in life. Having failed at another relationship, here I stand trying to pick up my toys and relocate my toybox. It’s a trying time in my life, to say the least. But it’s ok. I am not here to blog about the breakup. Or even the guy.

I do want to talk about the past tho.

This was not one of the intended blogs to be released during my #ItsRainingPens blog blitz that started on Monday, disappeared yesterday and is returning today. LOL. I’m going to get this blog thing right one day. Yesterday, I was in no mental space to write, edit, post, share – nothing. I had just landed on these unstable grounds and was trying to figure out who stole my luggage and blogging became the least important thing to do. But I’m here now. And I have something I want to know.

How much weight does the past get to hold on to the present?

Often times, on social media, I see posts that range from typed status’ to memes and pictures that swear no one gets to hold your past over your head. People all over seem to agree that no matter how the past has shaped your current standing, it’s still the past. It has no weight and cannot be held against you in the future. ESPECIALLY if you have already paid the cost of your sins, whatever they were.

But do we really mean this?

Yaw know how much I love the following statement: “You can’t make a hoe a housewife”.

Lol.

Yeah. We know you can’t. Thanks Too Short, or whatever rapper dropped that precious nugget through the hip hop wires and taught us that once a woman stakes her claim under a label (that she likely didn’t give herself), she is forever tainted and unpure.

The reason I bring that statement up is because of this: What if she changed? Is she a hoe forever by default?

Will she ever deserve to be a housewife, IF that’s what she wants? Will she ever be able to reinvent herself or grow or blossom into a brand new woman? No? Oh I get it. It’s because her past is hers and it doesn’t erase because she became a new breed. So no matter what she grows into, what she learns about herself or how accomplished she gets in her life, she will forever wear this stigma and subsequent Scarlet A on her forehead as a warning to the “brothers” that this one is only good for fucking. Will any man bold enough to venture onto my blogs dare tell me I’m wrong ? Or right?

Here’s the point I’m  trying to make. If her past is just that, her past, then who are we to hold her to it for the rest of her life? Who are we to make her repay for the crimes she’s committed against herself? What do we know about her – her past, her personal traumas, etc….what made her the way she was? Who did she talk to? Who tried to help? Often times, no one does, so a younger girl could be stuck in this dimly lit spin cycle of knowing what’s right but doing what’s not necessary smiled upon. But when she makes it out of all of that, alive and still holding her crown and her reflection with a prideful smile, in what world do any of us get to learn about her past and tell her that it’s payday time….again? Who are we to call her names years and in some cases, decades after changing her entire scoop of living?

People who judge folks based on their past absolutely make me chuckle inside (after I pilfer through and cast aside my anger). The reason being is because if you have your finger stuck out towards anyone else’s past, it makes me think that your audacity itself is what is holding up your pedestal. Clearly, you have no past. You have no mistakes. Oh, the perfect places you’ll go . . .

 

People don’t judge folks solely for their past sexual activities, that’s just the most easy and most popular. People talk shit about folks for everything they can pick apart. You have to be careful who’s arms you allow your past to lay in. Some folks will use what they know (past/present…it doesn’t matter. Some folks are just shitty humans) against you. They will spite you with information YOU provided them. They will dehumanize you, talk about you to other folks, call you names, leave you, disrespect you and/or mistreat you based on their personal judgement(s) of what all you have done and experienced….sans their presence as a guide to Godly living. You know that’s why folks don’t really like “Church people” right? It’s because of that entitlement to judge others based on what you know, and then having a PIECE OF A SCRIPTURE to back their argument. In other words they take their favorite bible verses that you’ve been hearing since you were 11 and dropping change in the offering basket, and use it as proof as to why they are correct and you there, you’re wrong. But taking three sentences out of a paragraph or one paragraph out of a full Chapter, in any other realm, means you just changed the direction and perspective of what you’re reading. It’s called ‘taking it out of context’. Is this always the case with ‘church folk?’ Nah. But it is quite often….church folks can take any scripture and make it to fit their current argument. One scripture from the middle of the bible somehow encompasses gay people, promiscuity, and whatever other argument they are having at that moment.  I find myself wondering if they are trying to win a case or speak for God or is this an episode from Candid Camera. What does perfection really feel like? #AskingForMyself

People and their nerves. But more on that later…My final blog this week will be about taking bible verses out of context. So I’ll stop there with that thought but my purpose for even saying it is to speak on the judgment inflicted upon the pasts of people whose current life speaks completely different.

Pulling this full circle, yesterday, an argument ensued based on my past. Here it is…my past I mean:

….prior to Januarie but somewhere in the midst of NSAY. It was my 27th birthday and had a boyfriend who lived with his mother. I don’t know the true point of me even saying that other than to say my decision making wasn’t the greatest. For my birthday, a friend I had known from my past life invited me to a place I possessed all the curiosity about: TopSided. Indy’s premier sex club.

 

So yeah, I visited the club. It was different than I expected. Indiana laws had changed. Things were quite conservative there…inside the sex club. O.O

All the happenings of this trip were placed in a private journal, which was infringed upon unnecessarily. There was no reason for my journal to be looked through. Dude is a fucking troll for that. A straight troll. I have never gone through any of his stuff. I have respected his space but mine for some reason, I wasn’t welcomed to that same treatment. It’s not the first time he’s invaded my privacy.  And I’ve given no reason for that to happen. NONE! Nonetheless, it did. As a result, I was tongue lashed in the worst way that ended with the ending of my relationship. But this all came from an intrusive, uninvited visit into my past. An 11-year-old past.

Eleven Years Later, and I am being called to task to answer to my current man for my past transgressions and foolish decisions? And for what it’s worth, I don’t have ANY regrets. It’s not something I would do today. I’m in a completely different space and life, surrounded by completely different people. But it’s something I did when I was still in my 20s learning about myself. But just 24 hours ago, I was referred to as a host of things aside from poet, writer, artsy chick, JY, Kennie, etc…..If I were to list what was spoken to me, it would make me vomit. I’m surprised it didn’t when I was reading it, but mentally, I am so numb to this shit that I can’t formulate any more ideas on what to say or do. I give up. I gave my ALL. And it was not enough.

My current life ended because my past life existed. And from someone who once told me that nothing about me or my past would ever make him stop loving or wanting to be with me. Until yesterday……yesterday, I was a filthy woman who he would never have talked to had he known. I’m a woman with a past so disgusting that she doesn’t share it. #MyPastAintNoMoreDisgustingThanANYONES #YoursIncludedNigga #MyPastIsNoWorseThanYourPresentSituation

The thing that the people who stand on this 100 Ft high pedestals fail to realize in the midst of judging other folks about their past is that often times, your past creates a debt that you eventually pay. It’s one thing if that payment date is JUSt now making it to you. But when you’ve paid your dues, when you’ve done your time – all you want is to live. You’re not trying to live under the umbrella of whatever you did no more than a felon is trying to live under his reputation as he tries to go straight and narrow.

I can’t speak for the world, but for ME, my past has cashed checks that came right out of my ass. I will NOT repay for any of it. I will not allow my past to be used against me currently. I will not let it dictate who I am currently. All it can be used for are teachable moments to people that I think can handle what I share. But it doesn’t define me. It can’t. And what it also can’t do is becomes an active resource of proof to show how I am a failure today. Nah.

NO ONE SHOULD ALLOW THAT.

No one has the fucking right to dig up your ghosts and turn your day into a nightmare from Haddonfield. It’s not ok. It’s not love. It’s childish to snoop in other people’s PRIVATE things btw. But I digress….

“No woman I would ever be with would have a past like yours.”

That hurt.

It hurt because of who said it. It hurt because of why he was saying it. It hurt because it’s not something I could ever see myself saying to him…or anyone else. It hurt because I’ve paid for all of my crimes. I have paid with my life in more ways than I care to name in regards to the past. Most people will never know the many ways of which I have been called to task….but I know I have. He doesn’t know how much life it took out of me to get to who I am today. L I T E R A L L Y!(And i’m really trying to stop using that word).

The losses.

The failures.

The missteps.

The molestation.

The ho’ing around (sucking and fucking everyone is what I believe he said).

The abortions.

The loss of self respect.

The anger and hurt.

The suicidal thoughts and considerations.

The wishes and prayers for death to find me without me doing it.

The repeated BV problems.

and my grand favorite, The Infertility.

Belle GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’ve paid with my life for the life I’ve lived. I fought hard for the me that is here today. HARD. My ex seems to think that I was sucking and fucking everyone and loved to do it so much but don’t want it now. He has no idea about me…..and it’s been 2 years. I guess I should have stepped in and told him just how much fucking fucked up my life, my self-respect, my body, my future…..I should have told him from the gate that sex tried to ruin my life and I had to fight back to get to JY status. But, we’ll color that my mistake.

 

At what point does the past no longer have an outstanding debt on your future?

Idk.

but what I know for sure, is he’s the last person to ever get an opportunity to do this to me again. All that disrespect I received (and he truly believes it’s deserved) reminded me of something: My Past.

And not me going to Top Sided for my birthday.

It reminded me of #MuseRandy. You may remember him if you go that far back with this blog. Randy tore me down every opportunity he got. He made me feel so small and diminutive. Dismissive. Like trash. He made me feel like I should kill myself. I wonder if he suggested it once like I remember? Maybe I made that up. He got in my head and stayed there. I couldn’t get out of his thoughts about me. I believed what he said about me. I wanted to die because I believed it. But I made it beyond that. But I didn’t make it this far to have any of those reminders come from the person I wanted to spend forever with. Nah. Funny how this temper tantrum about my past came to be and he swears he doesn’t know anything about me (or know me at all…his words), but your actions triggered my past in the most gut-wrenching way. WORD HURT ME AND I DON”T CARE HOW THAT MAKES YOU FEEL!!!!! **YOU is an interchangeable word and not reserved for my ex. Idc how mad you get, you don’t get to just fly off the lips with words. You don’t. Not with me. You don’t get to say things to me and then attempt to make me feel bad for being sensitive to the blows that words can give. Yesterday, I stood in front of the man that used to stare so beautifully at me and felt those things. Small. Diminutive. Disposable. Not good enough. Crazy even, but that’s another subject.

Man that’s not us.  If he read this, he would say ‘you’re playing victim I see”. LOL. Nah. I’m playing real life. Just not airing his shit out. I don’t mind airing my own tho. I don’t want to judge other folks based on shit they no longer do or engage in. I don’t want to hold them to the standards of who they used to be as currency. I want to make sure I am cognizant that while people’s pasts most definitely shape who they are as a person, they don’t MAKE the person. And also, I stress this: we never know what all a person has endured to get to the better version of themselves they are today. We don’t know what prices they paid for the whatevers from their past.

And so who THE FUCK are we to think we have the right to stand high like God’s fist,

and redefine them in the present????

***Now Playing: Intruder, Lupe Fiasco

 

~j

4620W8T – #Pause: My Hood Is DOPE: #HighlighterPen #ItsRainingPens

Recently, I sat on the back patio of my home, enjoying the sunshine and watching the butterfly that kept landing on the banister. My male dog tossed and turned in a dirt pit he dug for himself and his toys while my female rested her head sleepily against my leg. It was a typically quiet and serene moment at a place I call (t)HugzMansion.

My house rests in an area that has its fair offering of boarded-up houses and vacant lots. From my backyard and because of a vacant lot, I can see straight through to the one-way street one block over. It’s a busy westbound street and I watched as traffic sped by on their way to important destinations. A collection of sounds christened the air that ranged from loud trunk music to kids playing and ultimately my personal favorite, stillness. There is no shortage of trees in the back and I took special notice to the fresh spring buds sitting on high limbs that reached for the sky’s approval. Several trees were covered in purple buds that looked like a high field of lavender from where I sat. It was (and is) quite beautiful.  As I sat, Cinematic Orchestra’s “Woman: Burnout” played us an evening soundtrack.  It was a solid warm, peaceful spring day full of the kind of sunshine that tickled the tips of the growing grass and kissed my melanin ever so gently.

I had no complaints.

According to a 2013 Fox59 report, the 46208 zip code is not only one of the most dangerous zips in Indianapolis; it is ranked as one of the most dangerous in the entire country. In this zip code, along with 46205, a person has a one in fourteen chance of becoming a victim of a homicide. While the report itself goes on to mention certain areas within these zips, or pockets, the zip code itself is used as a blanket statement for an entire area covered under those ten specific numbers. Butler-Tarkington, which is not mentioned in the 2013 article but makes up a huge portion of 46208, was featured in the news in October 2016 for making it one year without violence after a string of unsolved murders left families broken and police stumped. It’s also been listed as a high crime, dangerous areas. The MLK and Riverside areas have also been known to fall under the title of danger zones. Both areas have endured a long notoriety with locals as being oppressively unstable and full of crime. I am not writing this blog to deny the existence of the all too frequent violence. In fact, I can easily understand how one comes to label these areas as they do. Who can forget 10-year-old Deshaun Lee Swanson, who was shot and killed during a drive-by that injured several others? That happened around the corner from my mother’s house and next door to the parents of a lifelong sisterfriend. My stepfather was supposed to be in that house that day but decided to stay home. Trust me when I say I am awake, alert and aware of the violence and negativity that go on in these places.

But doesn’t the label of “most-dangerous” at least somewhat eradicate the presence of the love that I happen to know exists in these areas? Does no one else feel marked and thrown away under such a label, or is it just me and my feelings?

Consider this: the label of “most dangerous zip code in the country” (or even the city) doesn’t identify the isolated pockets where the violence is most prominent. One would have to read between the lines to get that. Instead, that lable engulfs and speaks for the entire covered area while conveniently forgetting that despite what you see from the outside looking in, there are still families here. There are still people with goals and dreams, folks who are mentoring the teens and kids that live in these very areas. There are small, grassroots collections of people trying to combat the violence AND all the other issues plaguing our communities (food, transportation, health, etc).

I grew up in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. I have lived all over Indianapolis but I returned to the area in 2007 and spent the last ten years in the 46208 neighborhood. I can say with certainty and experience that there is so much beautiful to be seen and experienced in the hood. Last year, I tried to apply for a job with the INRC, a community-based organization that targets urban areas with the intention of building neighborhood awareness, communication and dialogue, as well as empowering the community to teach, grow and sustain itself through their own initiatives and talents. They use what is referred to as the ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) model to achieve this success. When using the ABCD model, you assess what are considered to be “weaknesses” and work on how to utilize them as strengths. In other words, there are no weaknesses. A person may not like to speak in public, but on the flip side, they are great listeners. That person could record information for someone. There are no vacant homes: those are potential artistic canvases OR rehabilitated meeting houses or safe places. Using the talents and gifts of the people within these areas, coupled with identifying ‘troubled’ areas (regarding buildings AND the people), and then learning how to turn those into assets is how you revitalize a community from the inside out…without gentrifying it.

But in order to respect that there is talent in these so-called urban, dangerous areas, there must be belief. There must be hope. Despite what is said about us, life still exists within our numbered boundaries.

Who knew??? Life exists in “the most dangerous zip codes” of Indianapolis!!!! 

Indystar isn’t really good about reporting that though. The media is great for being first on the scene to capture people screaming and hollering in grief and disbelief when a dead body is discovered. They are Johnny on the Spot when a drug bust happens, even if they don’t have much information. But when over three hundred people draw together, along with the police (by happenstance), on a corner where folks are scared to make a complete stop at the four-way, no one is there but our own cell cameras. Then when two thousand people gather together in an event that could rival all of the summer expos and food festivals, but this one being held in a neighborhood that falls under the national label of danger, the only stories that are written are the ones we write for ourselves. Remember that person that doesn’t like to speak in public but is a good listener? He/She would fit well here to help create stories that live long after we do. OUR STORIES MUST BE TOLD. I am now part of a neighborhood organization called The Learning Tree where doing just that is a top priority.

My point of all of this not a list of suggestions of what we could do….but rather an ode to what we are doing. There is great work going on in the areas that many people are afraid of based on what they’ve heard. I spoke about my neighborhood to a coworker the other day with pride, not embarrassment or shame. As I heard myself, I couldn’t help but notice the second nature of which I bragged on the incredible initiatives in my area. The block I recently moved to is a very busy block. The street cramped with cars on both sides and the people hang out late at night with loud conversations. There are vacant homes on both sides of the street. My grandfather used to own one of them. Matter a fact, it’s the biggest one of the block – the biggest house and the biggest vacant. When I walk out of my door, I am not inundated with the negative. I see duplexes with bikes on porches and older men who frequent their stoops on a regular. There is a daycare in operation right next door to me. I hear kids crying as they get dropped off in the morning and laughing outside as I pull up in the evening.

I’ve often told people when I moved to 34th and Clifton (The Cliff), I was nervous as shit. I feared that I was making a mistake that would cost me my safety and/or peace of mind. I couldn’t have been further from reality. In the three years I stayed there, while some weird things definitely came about like the police repeatedly visiting and looking for someone who didn’t live there, or a random man knocking at my door at like 3 AM (I didn’t answer), it was a wonderful experience overall. There was a neighborhood street clean up the first year I was there. The second year led me to meet Mr. William Ryder, the artist whose home was a museum of his own incredible sculptures. He also told me how his father used to dress him up as a girl when he lived in or near Lyles Station, IN, where county officials were kidnapping black children to do radiation experiments on them. From what Mr. Ryder told me, they preferred boys hence his parents dressing him as a girl. I wouldn’t have met him, toured his home or looked into his beautiful eyes and saw all the ancestry they held with artistic pride had I been living in the safety nets of some place like Normandy Farms (traders point).

There is a gas station nearby my house that I see police presence and arrests nearly every day. Just last week, I watched a cop sit behind the Double 8 building and watch the station activities from his car using binoculars. I admit, there is a lot that goes on there and I personally try not to use it too much but I can’t be too surprised. After all, this IS one of the most dangerous places in the entire country.

 People drive through here daily. I wonder if, when driving, anyone notices the precious gems that those of us who live here see? Such as the teddy bear memorial that I believe grows by the week from where two men lost their lives after a driver jumped the curb, striking and ultimately killing both men as they awaited the bus. It’s old news but the neighborhood hasn’t forgotten them. Do people only see what they believe are bums and addicts or do they notice the mothers walking down the street holding hands with their children too? Those are real people. Have they seen the garden preparation at the Flanner House that will provide freshly grown food to area residents in addition to offering gardening classes. Do people see all the kids that wait for the after-school food program that GRoe Inc. provides? Or is that too inner in the inner city? Kheprw has a great community food program for a low monthly cost. Neighborhood and community building is happening right before our eyes…and right above the labels.

Let the news tell it, the only saving grace in these areas is the 10-Point Coalition, spearheaded by a man whose affinity for profiling, stop and frisk and disparaging remarks about black youth keep him locked out from making any real impact on the people. Photo ops and a ‘walk thru’ or two with the Mayor are dope tho.

The link I provided in regards to the Butler-Tarkington area going a year without violence starts with a video of the news crew walking up 40th street with the 10 Point guys. The media seems impressed but those of us who live over here don’t see them until we turn on the tv or see the news crew outside. We are NOT impressed. Less reported are the grassroots efforts of the RESIDENTS. The people who live here when the camera crews pack up and go back to Noblesville and Carmel. Folks like these fathers who came together to not only work the streets of Butler Tarkington at night time in attempts to curb the violence, but they are attending community meetings and letting their voices (our voices) be heard. These are fathers and husbands who, through their own finances, offer children in the neighborhood options for the summer (football little league) and someone trusted to confide in.

A couple of weeks back, on the MLK side of 46208, I along with my partner, catered a “living room concert series”, where locals gathered together in a neighborhood living room for a concert-style dinner, entertainment and conversation. This event included area neighbors as well as people from the community that have the pull, the pockets and the DESIRE to invest in our areas. No animals were harmed and no gunshots rang out in the process. Lives were not lost; in fact, they were inspired and uplifted. The living room concert featured a live band and singer with me serving as the host and poet. A bit of community dialogue followed the music where questions were asked and input from those of us who live here was shared.

All of this in one of the most dangerous zip codes of Indianapolis and the entire country.

THE POINT:

Meet Indy’s New Fountain Square

There is no question that violence, drugs, and police runs in these communities are frequent occurences. I am by no means attempting to dismiss the importance of curbing the statistics over here. But there are great things happening in the 46208 areas and it’s not coming by way of gentrification. It’s coming at the hands of the community residents that either stay here or travel over here to help rebuild the people. That’s the difference between gentrification and community rebuilding: In the gentrifying model, homes and land are bought and remodeled to look pretty. The rustic browns and tans of hood life are replaced with friendly hues from the pastel color wheel. Pink, blue and yellow siding line up the newly constructed homes or the ‘rehabbed’ places as the old neighbors are pushed out and new ones are brought in. Coffee shops pop up and white people start jogging with babies and strollers and the next thing you know, what was once a predominantly black area is now the new hipster area. *See Fall Creek Boulevard. Fountain Square didn’t become the revitalized artistic gem that it is now without pushing a shitload of people out and rewriting the story without them in it.

“30’000 feet up and you are not invited” ~Kanye West

But in the community building model, we fix the PEOPLE first and then assess what needs to be done regarding the homes, buildings, and land. The people are not pushed out; they are empowered. You can’t empower a building but you can its people. And that is happening all over urban areas with little to no coverage from local news outlets or stations. If it wasn’t for these blogs and articles that we write, we would only believe that these dangerous zip codes are places where you only drive through if necessary and you never move to on purpose.

I moved here on purpose, even with a fistful of fear I had collected by what I had heard. That fear was quickly eradicated and with the help of people like Earl & Ro Townsend, who started the GRoe Inc organization, it became easier to see how to be an asset instead of a complainer. I didn’t get the job at INRC but I’ve learned and am still learning how to apply the ABCD model to my community. Right now, if you look at my big yellow house, you may notice one of the blinds is a jumbled up mess. It is ridiculously ugly.

It’s been torn, shredded and manipulated to fit dog needs. I honestly don’t know what they did to get the blinds like they have but we have failed to replace them as of yet and it’s been a month or so.

You can see straight through on the bottom portion. I must say, it’s time to replace them. If a person was to judge my home based on my blinds, they would expect to walk into a dust-filled, grease motel with floors full of stuff you don’t want to step or stand on, the stench of dog piss and two couches that don’t match in one room. That’s far from the case. It’s typically clean in here although there are times when we get lazy. There is no shortage of furniture but it still has a very minimalist vibe as there are no televisions downstairs and nothing but the dinner table in the dining room. If you started from the inside first, you wouldn’t expect to see those blinds. In a sense, I guess I own the most dangerous blinds in the local area…and maybe even the United States.

Much like my blinds, the inner city has a stigma attached to it that comes with lowered expectations and stereotypical assumptions. Many people will stop at the stigma and never venture inward to learn otherwise. But if you dare step inside for a bit, you won’t last five minutes without learning that love lives here; daily. You will meet artists of varying mediums – string players, harpists, singers, and musicians. Painters and sketch artists, writers and photographers. There are places to learn how to garden, do yoga and work on clean eating. Yes, we live in a food desert with no standing bank. Yes, there is violence around us and an overwhelming police presence despite our lack of trust in them. But there is always laughter on our blocks. There are smiles and children with their bikes turned upside while they spin the tires with their hands. There are lavender buds on the tree limbs out back and the sun still kisses our flowers with precision. We have as much silence as a Carmel, Indiana subdivision and in the morning, the chirping birds don’t hesitate to sing to us. We are business owners. Working people. Retirees and school kids. Parents and elderly people with stories in their pockets. We are a community of people. We are more than a zip code and it’s label.

When I see or hear stuff like ‘I wish black folks would come together’, I can’t help but shake my head in immediate irritation (while wondering where the people who are quick to say this actually live). Clearly, they took the media bait and they believe there is little over here beyond the violence and heartbreak.

In reality, there is a great deal of good that goes on and I guess this is one of those instances where you just have to live it to know it. Or at least be a frequent visitor. The outside looking in often leads to a front row seat to ignorance.

From my front row seat, I get to see butterflies land right in front of me. That same butterfly landed on me before flying off again. #BeFearless

Nestled under the cold blanket of a harsh label, there are human beings trying to do and striving for the best…for themselves AND for their community.

Welcome to one of the most dangerous zip codes in America.

~j

 

The Great Black (h)Ope: After the Ball Ends.

Back in the day, I had a strong dislike for Oprah. In fact, I wished she would go away. I wished my aunt and grandmother’s televisions would stop tuning into her 4 o’clock judgmental shenanigans. My grandmother knew Oprah’s father personally and he had visited her a few times over my youth. When I first started doing poetry, my grandmother used to talk about how to get me on Oprah’s show using her (my gmom’s) connects. I used to think to myself “well that won’t work because I don’t like Oprah and she doesn’t like her father” so…eh. To the contrary, I wanted to like her. After all, she was a rich, black woman on my television with the top-rated daytime talk show. I could identify with her in so many ways so the fact that I didn’t like her was a bit troubling to my spirit but I went with it because I was passionate about what I felt.

My reasoning:

Hip Hop.

She didn’t like it.
Therefore, I didn’t like her.
She, along with many others at the time, was totally against the very music that was providing the soundtrack to my youth. Those same songs she owned so much disdain for, were the songs I was turning up in my bedroom, dancing around and pretending there was an audience watching. How dare she disrespect music of all things??!!!! Sure the language was misogynistic and the stories were often sordid drug tales gone badly, but but but –

-but why couldn’t she still love it?

I mean, I did.

Admittedly, I was young and full of dumb. I loved what I heard on and off the radio. NWA were Niggaz with Attitudes, not disrespectful men. They were simply a group of friends who were infuriated by the climate of our society, and they just so happened to know several ‘hoes’ that were worth remembering on wax. If I, as a young girl/woman, could still like what I heard, why couldn’t Oprah? Ironically enough, I cringed often at the lyrics I was singing and dancing along to like:

“….next time I’m feeling kinda horny/you can come on over, and I’ll break you off/And if you can’t **** that day baby/Just lay back, and open your mouth”
~Nate Dogg, It Ain’t No Fun

Funny how I could mentally tense up at some of the lyrics I heard, but still not understand what bothered Oprah so much about the same music. How dare she ask our men to respect us in and outside of music? Her passion behind not wanting to turn on the radio and be called a bitch and not allowing young girls, like myself, to be manipulated via music into believing that bitch and hoe and niggas were terms of endearment and sex should be shared among friends, upset me because I felt she was against “us” rather than for us. I sided with the rappers and would often hear myself say ‘if you not a bitch, he ain’t talking about you.’ :/ How dare she go against hip-hop instead of head nodding and body gyrating?

Who was she to tell these people how to tell their stories? Again, that is a young way of thinking and had I continued with my strong disdain for her, she would have never been able to inspire me.  You see, around these same years, my creative side was finding a growing desire to do something with and for women. I just didn’t know how to start it. I wanted to pull us all together and celebrate each other. I wanted an organization that celebrated women. I wanted to champion for black women. This passion started inside of me back when Yo-Yo was talking about the IBWC. I think I’ve mentioned that in a blog before, but it’s important to include that here so you can see when the first seed started and how the growth came about. In addition, I want to highlight the importance of inspirational, black women figures everywhere – including HIP HOP. While I credit Oprah with arousing my appetite to throw a ball, Yolanda Whitaker sparked my first memorable flame that told me I could make a difference. It is so important for young black girls to see women who look just like them and can relate to them making major key moves. It’s a high volume in a turned up society of white privilege and black stereotypes. When we see and hear each other, we are able to see and hear ourselves and Yo-Yo, blonde braids, colored eyes and all, was that woman whose voice was an implant of empowerment in my brain. I saw her and saw myself without a doubt. Perhaps that’s why Oprah’s disdain for hip-hop polluted me so much.  I never listened in full to her explanations and gave little credence to what it was I did hear. In hindsight, I totally get it and might even agree to some extent, but back then, I was pissed as if I was a rapper! I didn’t know if she knew of Yo-Yo or Queen Latifah or not, but I knew she was talking mad shit about an area of art/music that was not only my personal soundtrack but also a place that was stirring me mentally. I knew there was a space for me to create something for women and I knew it because Yo-Yo spoke so heavily about it in her music. In addition to that, what I  knew most about Oprah was that rap wasn’t something playing out of her Maybach speakers.

“It only takes one punch to drop ya

And then the IBWC will come mop ya”

~Yo-Yo, You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo


So needless to say that I had some colorful opinions about Oprah and tuning into her show was something you’d be hard pressed to see me doing. I don’t know when the shift of perspectives happened, but I am thankful that it did. Aging will definitely help your hindsight even if your foresight gets a bit blurry.
I am living proof that grudges and anger are only as good as the fleeting moment. You never know when you might need someone and you never know whom your blessings will come through. Oprah Winfrey, the same woman that threw my beloved hip-hop under the bus, would go on to show me that if I wanted to throw a ball, I absolutely could. In a sense, she showed me that I could do anything that I wanted to do.

Often times, I have asked myself why I was still in Indianapolis when my goal was to be the hell up out of here by the time I turned 35. I just knew New York would host my lifestyle. I saw myself living there and loving every minute and every turn of it. Until I didn’t.

It took time to find out what state I really wanted to live in (AZ…what winter?) but even after figuring that part out, I still didn’t leave. I’m still here in Indy right now, typing this from the north side of Indy. It wasn’t until two days ago that the answer showed me what it looks like. I haven’t left Indy because, whether I knew it or not, there was work for me here that I could not get done anywhere else. This work would be two-fold: It would be me working for/in my community and it would be me working for myself and showing myself what I can really do. In short, I’d be breaking chains and limits– two things that would surely happen in a new city where starting over would be a priority and being lost would be my lifestyle for a bit. There is no way I could have moved to NYC and thrown the Legends Ball. I wouldn’t have known enough people nor had enough connections just yet. I wouldn’t have my friends and supporters hands and hearts so close by to help me and I wouldn’t have been able to borrow their stuff. And then there are the honorees…..it was supposed to be every single woman that was in attendance, whether she came to be honored or to support. Every person in every chair was meant and destine to be in that room. I could not have done that from anywhere other than right off of 30th & MLK.

People like Earl Townsend, my brother, and dear friend – I wouldn’t have been able to watch him pull the incredible, life-changing Claim the Throne event together as he did. I won’t say it wouldn’t have happened without me here (What God has for you is yours to have), but what if I never did the Queen B. Ball? What if I couldn’t get a plane ticket in time to make it to his event?  Then there’s Ro Townsend, Earl’s wife, and my sister/homie/matriarch friend. Would she had been able to send me the books she donated to the ball? Alternatively, is that answer an automatic no because there would be no ball by way of Januarie York? Would she have received this honor from me or anyone else? Would Mali have received hers with the same impact? Would Remitha have loaned out table covers? How about NaShara Mitchell – a woman I went to North Central with and never knew personally but knew in passing – and owner of Studio B. Creative Solutions – the same place I looked at for the inaugural ball but didn’t have the $$ for became the PERFECT home of Tea & Testimony this year. Would that have happened? Would I have held this at a venue owned by a black woman? Would Carla have brought me all 11 of those trees with DJ Deez in the background, coming through on the music AND sound equipment?

I could absolutely go on and on with a list of people, places and things that set this ball off and made it what it became, but you get it don’t you? If I lived in that brownstone somewhere in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn that I have dreamed of, it’s highly likely I would have missed this portion of my life. I would have missed honoring my sisterfriends and giving them an extra push in this thing we call life. The LIT Ball answered the burning question for me of “why haven’t you left Indy?”

The answer: “Because I couldn’t.”

When I first started writing this blog, I was about to dive head first into my typical step by step process of how everything went, which leads to longer blogs. It hit me that, that’s not what I wanted to express. No one wants to read all of that or needs to know everything that I know. I would rather convey how I sought and saw God during this entire ordeal, and how He made Himself awake, alert and involved (insider phrase) for me at all times. When I first dropped the LiT Magazine, I knew I had to make sure this ball stood up to that. The results were surprising and the love and support it received meant I couldn’t half-ass the ball in any way. Throughout this ball, I had to set myself aside for the greater good of all things. I was able to raise five hundred dollars in fundraising from this should-be simple move and while that money went a long way for the ball, the growing theme for this journey was me learning how to get out of my own way. I stayed in it in many ways – I didn’t ask for the help I needed. I paid nearly $100 in chair covers because I didn’t inquire from my network. I missed the liquor license and getting the food catered and a few other small things, but in the end, I learned the necessary lessons. After all, Oprah has a whole team so why shouldn’t I ? #NextTimeGadget

I prayed over what I was doing and for guidance when I was weary. By the day of the ball, I had mastered letting go and letting God in. Even my host calling in sick couldn’t bring me down. I laughed. I genuinely laughed from my beautician’s chair. I couldn’t be bothered with stress and I offered to bring him some meds. It was like a new me. Most times, I would have gotten off the phone in tears and stress but not this time, not this ball! I was too LiT to quit, lmao!

My heart spoke, “I trust you, God!”

And so He delivered. My brother Earl and I played the hosts and it was perfect. When I first hit the stage to address the audience and begin the show that I saw it: Work.

I saw my work. I give all the credit to God because I know without God, I could not have done this the first time, much less the second. I wish I could write absolutely everything that happened and just how many things came together spiritually; like the fact that the venue we were in was the second venue I looked at for the first ball but our wires kept getting crossed and it didn’t end up working out. In 2014, I looked at Studio B. Creative Exchange and The Royal Palace, which was under a different name and owner, and now in 2017, I had BOTH venues for one ball weekend.

But I digress.

So yes, God has the glory from me on this. I also know that being a conduit doesn’t mean just sliding around and fitting in. It means WORK! It means sweat, sometimes tears and a strong desire to quit or abandon. It means wondering if your heart’s intent will be shown. It means not caring if you get the shine or not. It means being nervous that something major will go wrong and you won’t be able to recover from it. It means putting all those worries and stresses in a pot, turning it on simmer so the bottom doesn’t burn and walking away….trusting that God will tend to its contents. I did that. I walked away from the simmering pot many times. But it was WORK putting those contents in that dangon pot!!!!!!

It wore me out, it took away from my time at home with my person; I was suspended in “ball-mode” until it was over. At work, at home and in between (including sleep), it was all things ball and I couldn’t stop it. But when I looked out at that audience in that room, knowing it was over 100 plus people in a space that I pulled together with the help of a small team of dope folks (Remitha Lynn, Carla & Caylie Wimmersberger), made me almost pass out. Seriously, my heart ran a beat so fast with all those eyes looking at me to guide them through the night but I knew what I was there for and I didn’t acknowledge the nerves. I knew it was bigger than ‘fear’. I knew and know God. I coasted through the night, bypassing my tears to preserve my makeup and being in HQIC-Mode – running from one end of the venue to the other in a formal dress and long beautiful hair to make sure it’s all running smooth.

It was amazing. From my end, it was the most humbling thing ever. There is no way I could take credit for it, there is no way I could think that my shit don’t stink or that I am promised this type of love or response or support from people. This isn’t promised; this is earned! These are my people and they respect what God lead me to do. But more than ME – they were affected in a way that I hope lasts a lifetime.

They were celebrated and changed. They cried and stood as those “standing monuments” that Oprah spoke of at her ball. I spoke to the crowd about how I forgot Pearl  Cleage’s “We Speak Your Name” poem, which I intended to have read at this ball just like the first. Earl was about to exit the stage when he whispered, “That’s because it’s your ball now.” It hit me again. But not until it was all over, my long weave was on my nerves, and my makeup was long gone, did I really hear him. “It’s YOUR ball now.” 

One concern I’ve had and have expressed was getting in any trouble because I’m doing too much of what Oprah did. I didn’t want to seem like I was stealing from her, as this was a literal exercise in reactionary inspiration…if that’s a thing. In a sense, I am hoping to pay homage to Oprah for what she sparked in me and for what she did for her people. When I look back on the ball footage (YouTube), I see those beautiful faces smiling and laughing amongst each other and it’s priceless. Coretta and Maya, Ruby Dee and Natalie Cole – all sitting in the same room with  Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys, Angela Bassett and Halle Berry.  They were all rubbing elbows and toasting champagne to the good life. Some of them are gone now – some of those giant, legendary women have crossed the rainbow bridge of eternity forever. But that weekend will live forever and those women we mourn will have forever own a part of history in the lives of the ‘youngins’, as Oprah deemed them. I wanted nothing but the same for us. I wanted Tea & Testimony to impact women forever –not just for a moment – similar to the gospel day that Oprah had. I wanted the young women to meet the older women and for the strangers to learn they had new sisters. And it worked!!! For the first ball, I watched every legends ball video, studying and writing down pages of notes. I learned the process and I adapted it to myself. I taught myself how to do what Oprah inspired me to attempt. The first time it worked great. The second time, I had more fear than I realized as I became responsible for a 70% increase of company. But it worked because I believed I could and because I kept my faith on stealth-mode. And when time allowed me to come down from the dopamine of it all, I heard my brother Earl’s voice as he walked away and said matter-a-factly as only he can, “it’s because it’s YOUR ball now.”

Well damn.

It is MY ball. Not the Legend’s ball. The Legend’s Ball is Oprah. But the LiT Ball – that’s my shit right there. I made it into my own and in place of Pearl Cleage’s beautiful poem, I used my own…after all, I DO write poetry too. I spoke the women’s names and they stood as the Monumental Legends that they are. The room was decorated beautifully and echoes of Queen B. and stroke awareness were everywhere. I spoke on the importance of taking care of ourselves and in the days afterward, I wished I had said more but I think I said enough. The love from Mark Moore, someone I’ve never even personally spoken to, was nothing short of God’s plan. Why I felt led to post this event on the stroke.org website made sense after the contribution and conversation with one of his reps. Please remember that these books will be in within the next couple of weeks or so, so I will be in touch to get all attendees their “Stroke of Faith” books. If you are interested in one of these books – a book detailing Mark’s personal journey as a two-time stroke survivor as well as his faith- please leave a comment or reach out to me directly. I will also have them at Open Bite (May 13th). The passion for stroke awareness does not end with the ball!!!! In May (National Stroke Awareness Month), I will amp it up all over my feeds. Next year, I will say more and perhaps have a speaker. But for 2017, I had everything I needed. The fears that I created to worry about never came to fruition. My guy looked like fresh, I felt beautiful and the audience was incredible. Folks showed up and showed out and I loved it. It was a black-OWNED event and I use the word ‘owned’ in every way imaginable. From the venues to the DJ and photographers – it was Epic Black Excellence in so many ways. What else could I ask for?  This was 12-year-old me in 1991, dancing to “The IBWC National Anthem” in my bedroom and wondering how I could ‘stomp into the 90’s’ like Yo-Yo and make a difference. She made it popular, at least in my bedroom, to be a proud, intelligent black woman, and to influence others.

Then as life would have it, another intelligent black woman, whose objection of vulgar and violent rap lyrics led to my youthful hostility towards her, would eventually show me exactly how to pull what Yo-Yo sparked in me together.

The Great Black (h)Ope!

It was a cold day in February of this year when I was watching a YouTube video of a party I threw to celebrate my sister Nikki’s MBA graduation. I called it “The Master Class Dinner.” It was a fancy dinner party I pulled together and named after Oprah’s television show. Several more dinner and themed parties would happen after that one in 2011. More ideas would surface and go nowhere fast. In 2013, I came up with the title The Black Orchid Affair. Nothing popped from it. Then in 2014, my life changed forever but you know that story by now. And here we are. The 2017 LIT Ball changed me again, similar but leveled up to the way the Legendary Ladies Ball changed me. This one tho….this ball showed me my own power, abilities and my upgrade. This was me watching an upgrade happen and having the magic wand in my hand the whole time. This was me owning it, making it mine, breaking away from Oprah’s Legend’s Ball, and enjoying the fruits of my own creation. We already have a possible speaker for next year and a live orchestra!!!!

So I say thank you to Oprah. I hope a day comes when a girl or woman who saw me doing the stuff I do will want to say thank you to me, even if I never hear it personally. I want to be one of those ‘inspiring, black women figures’ that speaks to the whispers of young black girls and women. I sometimes see the work that so many other amazing and talented women are doing and I wonder if I really fit in with my antics. I wonder if the stuff I do, write and speak really is impacting for longer than a night. That’s somewhat why performing poetry wasn’t something I could persue as passionately as I once did. I needed to make an impact that goes beyond the mic and the night of my feature. As good as people say I am, I didn’t feel that nearly enough. I felt good ‘in the moment.’ But not like I left people with something tangible. March 19, 2017 will go down in history as the night I showed to myself that I FIT, I CAN and I AM…ENOUGH. I make a difference out here and I want to pass that along. I want to remind us that, in the words of Michelle & Barack Obama, YES YOU CAN!! I want them to see me and see themselves. I want them to know that there is no such thing as you can’t or you won’t. There is always room for you! This is a society that won’t celebrate us when we need it the most because they don’t see all we are doing just to stay alive daily. They won’t pull us up or give us a push but they will kick us and call us names. They will denounce us and stereotype us. They won’t believe us. They will misuse and abuse us for sport. They will, “kill you and say you enjoyed it” (Zora Neale Hurston). They will “show you who they are” so “believe them.” (Maya Angelou).

But none of this has to stop the fire in YOU! Or the drive. Or the passion. DO IT! GO ! FLY! BE FUCKING FREE !!!!! Throw balls, parties and take selfies at your photoshoots. Don’t have a reason or an explanation for everyone for everything you do. OWN YOU! Just like Oprah. I remember so many of us, possibly still fueled from her choice opinions on hip hop, were still against her when she broke free from NBC (?) and came back out with her “OWN Network” (double entendre). But why tho?! She’s charged. She has the damn Master Key !!! Oprah is doing Oprah and she apologizes for nothing about it. In the midst of it all, she is inspiring, building, being an activist for the causes she deems close to her heart and she is constantly pouring into others. Like her or not, she’s the Great Black Ope! She’s a powerful, black woman. A figure worth mentioning. A name that is recognized with grace and power. Class and hood. Dope and love. I CAN and I WILL. Plus a little bit of  I ALREADY DID.

Be like Oprah. Be like Yo-Yo, who has her own hip-hop school in Detroit & LA btw. Be like the women you are inspired by, even if neither of these. Be great. Be the woman YOU are destined to be! BE A BLACK, INSPIRING, WOMAN!!!!! Be the someone the youth will see themselves in, no matter how many years it takes to get the fog off the mirror.

This is my huge thank you. I end this blog with an old poem that was the last track from my album (feels funny to say that), entitled Merci. It’s a simple thank you track. Please add your name to it as well.

Thank you to EVERYONE that contributed to the ball in any way, be it financial donations or time and effort. Thank you Yo-Yo. Thank you Oprah. Thank you God!

Thank you, all for (h)OPE!

Oh and…thank you Kendria….for believing so hard in yourself, that you did. #AjYSituation

 

Blog Photo Credit: Illuminate Hue Photography/Lance Parker (LiT Ball), Eyes Wide Shut Photography/Rana Carter (LiT Ball), Wildstyle Pashall (Claim the Throne) & Jus Fam Photography/Abdul Shaheed Aaron (Personal Pics)

***Special thanks to: NaShara Mitchell/Studio B Creative Solutions, The Royal Palace Events Center, Mark Moore & Adrienne Moore, DJ Deez, Anitra Malone, ALL THE FUNDRAISING DONORS (including but not limited to Tressie Spears, Naz Khalid, Amber Dawn and more), Alaina Renae, Lyndell “Izzy A’more” Campbell, Vei from Kenyatta Dance Company, Remitha Lynn & Co., Carla (Caylie) Wimmbersberger, Damon Dulin, Tamara Hibbler, Nicole Dianndrea, Ronald Craig Jr, Earl & Ro Townsend, Rae Karim, Rheagan Gilmore, Wildstyle Pashall, The Learning Tree, Eric Saunders, Unequa Ganodu, Dominic Dorsey, everyone that helped clean up and anyone I may have left off…PLEASE don’t charge that to my heart. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT. YOUR LOVE. AND YOUR LIT ASSES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

M U A H !!! Catch us in 2018, how bout’dat!