Books about Black Women to Add to Your Black History Reading List

Let our society tell it, Black women have never had an impact on history.  Black women have no stories to tell.  Black women’s roles are to support – but never overshadow –  their husbands, sons, brothers and white counterparts.  History tends to leave Black women’s stories untold or flatten their stories into a bite-sized, one-dimensional tales of piety, sacrifice, or perfection.

The truth is that Black women have always been innovators, strategist, radical thinkers, and pillars of every community. Yet, somehow, so many amazing stories of Black women have been lost to time.

Here’s a short list of compelling books about Black women for your Black History Month reading list that aren’t Michelle Obama’s Becoming (which I assume is on all our “to read” or “read” lists).

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore with Veronica Chambers

colored girls cover

Photo credit: Macmillian Publishers

This book tells the stories of four women who have been major players in American political systems.  These women met early in their careers and have helped each other navigate work dynamics, personal tragedies, career mistakes and more by creating a support system for themselves and the other black women around them. They, individually and collectively, have been driving forces in some of the major Democratic campaigns and political moments, including both Jesse Jackson’s and Hilary Clinton’s historic presidential campaigns and the Clinton Administration. In addition to recapping their biographies and careers, the women provide thoughts on the importance of building and nurturing your networks and finding mentors and allies who can push you forward and keep you sane.

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

lorraine

Photo credit: Beacon Press

Most are familiar with Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the first Broadway play written and produced by a Black woman.  This book chronicles Hansberry’s short life before she died from cancer when she was 34 years old and proves that her famous play is just the tip of the iceberg.  Hansberry was dedicated to living a life true to her ideals.  Hansberry grew up the daughter of a prominent Black businessman in a middle-class Black family in Chicago.  She was an outspoken lesbian, feminist and Black rights activist who never shied from expressing her thoughts. Her crew included the who’s who of the day, including James Baldwin, Nina Simone, and Paul Robeson.   Hansberry was revolutionary.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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Photo Credit: Macmillian Publishing

In the relatively few years since the Black Lives Matter movement started, it has forever changed our language around the systemic abuse and deaths of black people by police officers. The casual BLM fan may not realize that that the organization was started by women who wanted to make a change in their communities.  This book serves as the author’s biography and to the events that lead to the start of the BLM and how the movement changed the lives the author and her family.

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis

fannie davis little brown

Photo credit: Little, Brown and Company

This book is at the top of my personal list, so – full disclosure- I haven’t read it but am extremely excited for my copy to reach my doorstep.  The author tells the story of how her mother made ends meet, bought a house and paid for her college education by running the Numbers.  The Numbers was something like a lottery system that was prominent in black communities.  Though this is a story of one woman, the greater story displays examples of Black entrepreneurship and black people creating wealth and investing in their communities through underground economies.

This list is just a flake on the tip of the iceberg and there are so many black female experiences not represented in this extremely short list.  What books would you add to the list?

Developing a Healthy Sexual Ethic

It’s no secret in my friend circles that I was the last one to start having sex of any kind. I squandered my would be heaux years because of raggedy ass purity culture, never exploring myself as a sexual person, ashamed of any and all desire to know another person beyond a kiss or nipple play (which I was already going to hell for lol), developing performance anxiety about sex I wasn’t even having (*boxes self in the throat*), and foolishly thinking myself better than all of the other women (barely) getting their orgasms.

Luckily for me, my delay has not been my denial lol. I used my early 30’s to create a metric beyond “married=good/unmarried=bad” when it came to navigating how I functioned as a sexual person. I developed my sexual ethic through conversations with friends, prayer, intuitive knowing, and in consultation with life experiences because a truth I know for myself is that I need an ethic about my #poontivities regardless of if I’m practicing celibacy, #schoonchin here and there and everywhere, or if I’m in a relationship (thanks for the fun language Danyelle.#UnfitChristian).

For now, Ms. Kitty and I have settled on the follow ethic for #poontivities.

Keep it consensual. Consent is baseline, like basement/bottom floor. All parties must be in agreement that we agree to engage in some touching and other grown folks things *and* that that agreement (i.e., consent) can be withdrawn at any time for any reason. No one owes anyone their body or their touch.

Keep things as safe as desired or needed. Take whatever precautions all parties need or desire in order to be as close to safe as possible given the inherent vulnerability of #poontivities and protected against undesired pregnancy and diagnosis.

Body & sex positive. I’m a fat-bodied, Black woman with a hard fought and healthy sense of self. I had to learn to love myself and value myself as a fat-bodied Black woman in a society that values me for little to nothing at all. Affirmation is a practice that applies in all areas of my life, including this bawdy and the life and times of Ms. Kitty. That I would consider sharing my body and the pleasures thereof with someone is an honor for them. Therefore, this body is only shared with people who can honor, affirm, take joy in, and appreciate her. If you can’t appreciate this boom boom ka-pow, then you can’t have access to this boom boom ka-pow. Church, say amen.

Pleasurable. Sexual intimacy can be a lot of things, and what it should be, for me (and all parties), is pleasurable. Said another way, all parties should experience pleasure, including me. I have zero incentive to share my body with anyone who does not provide me pleasure. Pleasure can include orgasms, joy, excitement, agreed upon pain, and whatever else brings my partner(s) and I consensual, safe(r) pleasure. Please, and thank you.

Do as little to no harm as possible. Off top, I am not my best self when I don’t understand what’s happening or if I feel (intuitively) that I’ve been wronged. Because of that knowledge, I strive to be emotionally intelligent and honest in my dealings with folks when it comes to sharing bodies and experiences and ask for reciprocity on that front. (e.g., If I know that someone is feeling me [connection] but all I want is a good time [carnality], then I have need to reconsider #poontivities with them). Miscommunication(s) happen, and in those instances, the goal is for harms to be acknowledged and reconciled, if possible. I appreciate a good time, but I appreciate a good ethic even more.

Honor relationship agreement(s). This one is connected to not causing harm, but needed its own artiuclation. Regardless of relationship type (poly, monogamous, open, etc.), engagements should respect the agreed upon boundaries and process my parter(s) and I have relating to intimacy (i.e., who and how we can engage people beyond our relationship; e.g., We monogamous? It’s just us. We poly? We us and some more). If I’m single and living my best life, this means that I shouldn’t knowingly engaging folks who have partners who believe that their partners are practicing monogamy. In trying to do no harm, I shouldn’t be complicit in another person’s potential heartache.

Reconcile it with faith/spiritual/religious belief and practice Align your practice with your beliefs and traditions. I’m a christian who rejects any inherent shame, guilt, or sinfulness of sexuality and sex because I sincerely believe that God is concerned with how we engage folks in our sexual practice(s). I wholeheartedly believe that God cares about if we are we honest, caring, and doing as little harm to no harm as possible in our sexual intimacies with folks.

As we all (continue to) work through our own ethics around #poontivities, remember that our journeys are our own and that (optimally) we have people who support us as we craft and refine our ethical commitments. I, like Sway, don’t have all the answers, but I share what I’ve grown to know for myself in an attempt to help folks think through how we’re engaging ourselves and other folks in #poontivities.

To fun, to play, to connection, to self love, to affirming touch, to touch that turns us on, to touch that turns us out, to being worn all the way out, to being re-energized, to moments that feel like magic, to learning more about our likes and loves, to tension released, to feeling like a brand new person, to knowing another and ourself more deeply, to moments of ecstasy, to doing it without the fear of danger or harm, to doing it how we like it… to a sexual ethic that causes little to no harm and yields affirmation and pleasure.

New Year, New Me: Reflections on My Resolutions

2019 is well underway!  If you’re like me, you look forward to the new year.  After the rest and relaxation that comes with the holidays, the new year provides the opportunity for renewal.  With that comes the time to make resolutions.  You either want to begin a new habit, set a new goal or finally release whatever has been weighing you down.  I’m no stranger to setting resolutions in January and realizing in December I’ve made little to no progress.

The past couple of years have been a rollercoaster for me mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I gave birth to my son, experienced unemployment due to a layoff, and underemployment.  I was so focused on my family and put myself and everything I needed second.  As 2018 came to an end, I realized I lost my sense of self and wanted to become reacquainted with parts of me I lost.  I declared 2019 would be the year I focused on self-care in several facets of my life.  As Audre Lorde stated, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”  (Lorde, 1988).  I’ve accepted that self-care is not selfish, but necessary to sustain myself in all facets of my life.

The first thing I did was write down the areas of my life that I wanted to focus on in 2019.  The areas that could use the most attention for self-care: family and health.  I then thought of words and phrases that would guide me through the year.  Several came to mind, however two resonated with me: consistency and courage.  I want to be a different person on December 31st than I was on January 1st.  The only way for this to happen is through consistent action and the courage to do what is necessary to achieve my goals.    

I have two goals for 2019 that are centered on my family: finding friends who are mothers and monthly date night with my husband.  As I navigate motherhood, I realize how important it is to have friends who are mothers, especially mothers who have children the same age as my son.  I absolutely cherish the friendships I have with the woman in my life.  However, there is something to be said about having a supportive group of mothers who can reaffirm me, as motherhood is a role I have to learn as I go.  There is no handbook to raising children.  I have joined a virtual mom’s group where I can ask questions, find resources, and receive support from other mothers.  Like myself, my husband has an unpredictable schedule.  As an entrepreneur, he makes himself available seven days a week and countless hours during the day.  It’s very seldom we have time to spend with one another.  Because of this, we have to be intentional about scheduling time to reconnect as husband and wife.  While we haven’t had our date night for January, we have remained committed to one of our favorite past times- watching all of the Oscar nominated movies, including Black Panther for the umpteenth time #wakandaforevereva.    

Another resolution for 2019 is to focus on my health.  Like most people, I want to lose weight by working out and healthy eating.  My health has been an afterthought the past couple of years.  Going through the fast food drive thru was more convenient than grocery shopping.  Working out before the break of dawn or after I put in a full day’s work was not an option.  Prior to having my son, I was a runner.  In fact, I was 10 weeks pregnant when I ran my first (and last) marathon.  Since then, I have had a hard time fitting running back into my lifestyle.  Training for a race is like a part-time job.  There is a training schedule you must maintain to complete a race successfully and injury free. 

So, far this year, I have managed to workout 3-4 times a week and I have scheduled time with a personal trainer twice a week.  I have to wake up at 4:30am to do it, but it’s a sacrifice I can manage in order to reach my goal.  I have also managed to meal prep a few meals each week.  Right now, I prepare 2-3 meals for dinner for my family.  My husband and I have unpredictable schedules.  Sometimes we’re not home until 7:00pm.  Having dinner already prepared allows more time to spend with our son and have a healthy dinner. As for running, my feet have yet to hit the pavement. I’m still included in my running groups Group Chat. My running group’s leader texts me to check on me, understanding the challenges I’m having working running into my schedule.

I personally believe 2019 is off to a great start.  I’ve identified the goals I want to reach and what I need to do to achieve them.  I’ve also learned to allow myself grace when I’d rather sleep in than go work out or eat a chicken biscuit instead of the green smoothie my husband made for me. By consistently making changes and having the courage to get up when I miss a target, I know that I’ll accomplish the difference I set for myself by December 2019.  

Michelle Obama's Becoming Book

Protecting Our Boundaries: Thoughts from Becoming

“Fences needed to go up; boundaries required protecting. Bin Laden was not invited to dinner, nor was the humanitarian crisis in Libya, nor were the Tea Party Republicans…Our family time was when big worries and urgent concerns got abruptly and mercilessly shrunk to nothing so that the small could rightly take over.”

– Excerpt from Becoming by Michelle Obama

Credit: Michelle Obama via AP Images

The end of 2018 gave us a gift, the release of Michelle Obama’s Becoming. She has been touring and filling arenas based on this book. People have been flocking from all over to get a copy and to hear her speak, and rightfully so! My book club even decided to stop our current read and shift gears to gain a glimpse into the life and times of our Forever First Lady. (FYI: I do not intend to spoil the book for you if you have not read it yet. However, if you have not already done so, you need to find the nearest version and jump into this book!)

While Becoming was filled with many gems, notes of honesty, and wisdom, the above quote stood out to me as profound among the rest. Here was the first Black woman to occupy the White House as a tenant rather than a servant, who dealt with various world leaders, daily criticism, her own platforms of health initiatives, kids, the weight of being married to the President, finding time to remember herself and who knows what else, saying that she had boundaries. Saying that each thing had a stopping point for her to be able to maintain a semblance of herself and to keep perspective on the little parts of her day that made her feel whole, which at the time was her family and 2 little girls. This statement seemed so self-empowering and assuring. 

Michelle Obama for Elle

I don’t know about you, but the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 have been low key kicking my butt. Between crazy work hours, a long commute, organizational commitments, trying to be present for the people in my life, showing up for myself, fitting in some time to eat and sleep, and starting my own blog, some days I barely find myself functioning by the end. If not these things for you, I am sure that you know what it feels like to try to maintain balance in your own seeming chaos. I felt all of my lines starting to blur together as I started to push everything into overdrive to make the most of the end of last year and capitalize on the start of this new one, staying late at work, staying up later to write, trying to wake up to do it all again. 

I feel like Black women are always expected to be 100% with all things at all times, which was the model to which I was trying to ascribe. Yet, here was Michelle saying 100% in one thing at one time is okay. Everything has its place. It was like a breath of fresh air. Permission to take a step back and to build the boundaries for myself to maintain the things that bring me joy. If Michelle Obama can listen to what her daughter did in kindergarten instead of worrying about a humanitarian crisis, I can take advantage of the time when I get home from work to finish reading that book that I have been enjoying instead of worrying about and responding to that work email. It’ll still be there once I have given myself the time that I need for whatever I need.

Michelle Obama's Becoming Book

Michelle Obama’s Becoming

With Michelle’s words in my mind, I am moving forward into this year resetting and protecting some boundaries for myself. If you find yourself also in a boat with the gears shifted into overdrive, I hope that you’ll join me in doing so as well. In seeking to do so, I find myself thinking on a new set of questions:

What are the moments in your life that you need to place a fence around for yourself?

What are the areas taking up more space than necessary?

How can you protect the boundaries you want to establish?  

As you think on your own boundaries, share your thoughts below!

Pictures belong to their respective photographers/ printers*

HPV: There’s a Vaccine For That

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. It is linked to cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, anus (anal), throat, tongue, and tonsils. These cancers can take years develop but begin when someone becomes infected with the virus. There is only a routine screening for cervical cancer.

The Science Behind HPV

HPV has a genome made of double stranded DNA. Like other DNA viruses it has the ability to incorporate itself into the genes of its host, in this case humans. Once it is incorporated into the hosts DNA, its genes get replicated whenever the cell replicates. Depending on where the virus incorporates itself into the hosts DNA, it can turn cell growth genes permanently. This results in abnormal cell growth that leads to cancer. When you go to the gynecologist for Pap smear (Pap for Papilloma), this is what the doctors are looking for: abnormal cervical cells.

HPV

Every year, an estimated 17,600 women and 9,300 men are diagnosed with cancer resulting from HPV infection. When broken down into communities, statistics show Hispanic women have the highest rates of cervical cancer, but African American women have the highest rate of death as a result of HPV infection since 1975 due to decreased likelihood of early disease detection. AA women also have the highest rates of vaginal cancer as a result of HPV infection. AA men have higher rates of anal cancer when compared to white men and Hispanic men have higher rates of penile cancer than non-Hispanic men.

The good news is that the HPV strains that are most likely to cause cancer are preventable and have been since the advent of the HPV vaccine in 2006. The bad news is that women of color, particularly Black women, are less likely to have their children (or themselves) vaccinated. The advisory committee on immunization practices recommends males age 13-21 and females age 13-26 be vaccinated. The vaccines are administered in 3 doses at timed intervals: 0, 1-2, and 6 months.

Vaccination rates from 2015 indicated that coverage for females age 13-17 was at 60% for the first dose of the vaccines and 39.7% for the third dose as of 2014. African Americans have the lowest series completion rate at 61.6%. Studies have shown that 48% of AA have never heard of the vaccination and those who were aware were female, employed, had some years of college education an annual income of $40,000, a regular doctor, had fewer children and were younger than 41 years of age. Awareness of HPV and the vaccine was also associated with cervical cancer diagnosis (i.e. they or someone they knew had a diagnosis).

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Lets Talk About Vaccination

Among AA parents, the most common vaccination barriers were concerns about safety, concerns that the vaccination would encourage promiscuity or pre-marital sex, lack of information, and lack of recommendation by doctor or perceived hesitance of a recommendation by a doctor. Additional barriers included perceived low risk of children acquiring HPV, mistrust in pharmaceutical companies, mistrust of medical providers, religious denomination and frequency of religious service attendance, concern about daughters being too young, and creating a false sense of protection against all HPV strains.

After wading through all of the facts, what it boils down to is that Black women have the highest rate of cervical cancer deaths, yet we are least likely to have our daughters vaccinated. The reasons why people are vaccinating their daughter boils down to either distrust in doctors and pharmaceutical companies or the fear that having our children vaccinated against an STD will somehow encourage them to start having sex or have more sex. Does anyone see the faulty logic in this? This falls into the same line of reasoning that talking to your kids about sex promotes sexual activity.

MERCK - Merck's HPV Vaccine, GARDASIL®9, now available in Canada

As a mother, a Black Christian women, and a scientist, I do not understand this logic. Even if your child does wait to have sex until they are married, chances are that their spouse did not. If protecting your child is the goal, denying them a vaccination in the name of purity culture does not serve them well. Perhaps reframing the discussion as that of your preparing a child to be a successful adult might encourage parents and caretakers to reconsider how helpful a vaccination can be in helping the current child avoid contracting a preventable virus from a future sexual partner. This vaccine can prevents cervical cancer. That is nothing short of a miracle that I embraced with all of my identities and encourage others to do the same.

Black communities in the United States have legitimate reasons for not trusting the scientific and medical industries (Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, the origins of US gynecology, etc). As a member of both the science and Black communities, I encourage us to consider that we can be both healthily skeptical of practices and intentions within the science industry/community AND recognize the ways that scientific and medical advances can support our health and well-being. How can Black communities build trust with medical and scientific communities? I genuinely want to know because as a Black scientist, I chose this field because I wanted to help my community through my research. I want to break down the walls of communication so that we can be free to live long and healthy/healthier lives.

Moving Forward

The biggest take home message for me with these data is that we need to get the word out to the parts of the community that are older, less likely to be college educated and more likely to be skeptical of the medical and scientific community. I think the best way for us to get vaccination rates up is by reaching out to the people in our communities who fit this description. I know that I do my fair share of communicating these things to my friends and family and I can only hope that they are passing these things along. This may also require leading by example. If you are reading this and you aren’t vaccinated and you are 45* and under, GET VACCINATED! If you have a child (of any sex and/or gender) within the recommended vaccination age, GET THEM VACCINATED!

I am challenging the #CiteASista community to share this post among friends and family and begin/continue a conversation about sexual health. Do your own research and share that too. We have to be able to uplift our community so that we can be more informed and healthier. If you have any ideas on how to improve communication between doctors and scientists to our communities, please leave them in the comments.

*Point of emphasis: The vaccine has been recently been cleared for people up to age 45!!!! This is GREAT NEWS.*

8 Useful Graduation Gifts for the (Almost) Ph.D. in Your Life

celebrate- hoorayIt’s spring semester ya’ll, and for me, that means graduation season is almost upon us. If you’re like me, “Omg,” “fml,” “I’m so behind,” etc. will be screams heard ’round the world (and certainly from me) as we draw closer and closer to defense dates and final submission deadlines for the graduate school.

As I think back on my life, I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far. I’m a Black woman who spent all of my Black girlhood with working-class parents, at public schools where 100% of students received free and reduced lunch lunches, and in neighborhoods where gang violence and murder were the norms. And yet, somehow (we know how but for the sake of dramatics rock with me), here I am, several years and a slightly safer neighborhood later, writing my dissertation.

I’m currently analyzing, recoding, and collapsing codes so I also want to stab my eyeballs out. But every few minutes, I pause and begin to think about graduation because the idea that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel alone is what is sustaining me. Tonight, one of my former grads and friend, Nacho, agreed to look over some of my writing. Nacho, like so many other people, has been instrumental in my continuing forward on this dissertation. And as Nacho agreed to help, I started to think about ways that others could use their talent and gifts as a graduation gift– things that would be useful and helpful for the Ph.D. candidate in your life like they’d be useful in mine. This led me to compile a list of eight things I’d love–with the number eight as my go to because eight years is the average time to degree completion for a Ph.D. student.

SO, here goes– 8 useful gifts for the Ph.D. (or Ed.D. or M.A. etc.) in your life:

  1. Professional editing: If you are great at writing (hey Nacho), consider gifting your time and talent. If not, pay for X amount of hours or pages for editing for a friend who is pressing toward graduation. Gift it early, prior to final deadlines,  so that students can use it before graduation. Trust me, it would help a lot.
  2. Gift Cards: Every Ph.D. student finishing up is going to want to sit and do NOTHING for a few weeks after they’re done. You can help them with this by sending them grocery store, restaurant, airline, etc. gift cards that they can redeem to help them relax a little more.
  3. Spa Certificates: Grad school is sckressful. The amount of tension we carry in our bodies from the stress of the process is always noticeable. A trip to the spa to help recalibrate could make a world of difference.
  4. Dissertation Binding/ Booking: When I finish, I’ll be taking a well earned break from looking at my dissertation. However, it’d be cool to be able to hold a well-bound physical copy of this thing called hell dissertation I survived. Gifting services for binding a copy (or two) could be extra special for the grad in your life. Note: Some institutions have printing services available. Check with the institution your friend attends for more information.
  5. giphy- you look mighty fine and dapperRegalia: Okay, so I pulled out the big gun here. UGA’s regalia is so darn expensive that I’m going to have to take on a fourth job to purchase it. Grab some friends and go in together to gift the grad in your life the NICE, top of the line, regalia (which, at my school, is almost $1,000, but still not as much as the most expensive regalia available). This would def take a load off and make graduation prep less stressful. Also– everytime they wear it, they’ll think of you. (If everyone from #CiteASista gave me 1.00 I could afford mine, just saying.)
  6. Diploma Frame: Despite how much schools get you on the way in with fees (GRE/ Applications/ etc.) and throughout your time enrolled with all sorts of miscellaneous fees (special $400/semester institution fee at UGA, I see you!), it doesn’t let up on the way out. Not only is the regalia ridiculous, but so are the diploma frames. Degree frames allow your gift to be on display, surrounding the paper that represents an achievement (…and the blood, sweat, tears, and sleep deprived days and nights) that your friend worked super hard for.
  7. giphy- martin workout sceneGym/ Fitness/ Personal Trainer Memberships: Okay folks– this is NOT the time to tell someone “you’re getting fat.” *Staring at you Black family members.* However, the average graduate student gains much more than the Freshman 15  we’ve all come to associate with college. In my case? I’m staring at a 45-pound weight gain since I started my degree. The good news? The weight can come off. The bad news? It’s probably going to cost me more financially than the degree itself (eugh!). So, a gym or fitness membership, to a grad you know well enough not to offend, would make an amazing gift. Or maybe I’m speaking for myself– buy ME some personal training. Added bonus? Meal prep to get them through the end of the semester. #GiftGoals.
  8. Graduation Outfit Shopping: Okay, so some of these are way too practical. Perhaps you’re the fun friend/ aunt/ uncle/ etc. Then the number eight is for you. Take your grad shopping. For most of us, defense and graduation are big days. For me–my Ph.D. graduation day matters more than any potential wedding day I might have. This is it– the moment I’ve worked so tremendously hard for. So like most Black folks, an exorbitant amount of thought will go into getting this outfit ready. If you want to get the fun gift, go with your grad shopping and purchase part of the graduation outfit. Perhaps you could even volunteer (with a limit) to purchase an outfit for their graduation pictures. Either way, Black folks love to get dressed up and there’s no better moment to help your grad strut their stuff than this.Edi

cas- gif- we did it- graduation

*Bonus*: Sanity. If you can find a way to gift it back, we’ll take it. H/T Chelsea Doub for the suggestion.

So that’s that. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments with your suggestions.


Editors note: Edited to add a bonus message.

We Are One

Christmas Eve is my great grandmother’s birthday. She had five children and would make breakfast for her children in the morning. Her kids and family would be busy during the day. Quite often, they did not get a chance to eat the breakfast until the evening (at least that’s the story that was told to me). All my life, the tradition has been that my family would get together on the evening of Christmas Eve and eat breakfast. People are assigned foods to bring/cook and we just enjoy fellowship with one another. Over time, however, the family tradition has changed…

My name is Bridgette. My name is a tribute to my grandmother’s maiden name “Bridges”. She was one of five, and all but one of them have passed on. Those people were the heads of our family units and when my great aunt passed during the holiday season in 2016, we as a family had to rethink a lot.

What happened to us?

Why don’t we spend enough time?

Why aren’t we coming out to the events we traditionally have?

My cousin Carlton (or Cowboy or Orrustus or insert other family nicknames we have for him) put a stop to the “what ifs'” and “why’s'” over the summer and coordinated a family reunion for us during Mother’s Day weekend. The picture you see above is the family shot. It felt really good to see us together– laughing and dancing and playing cards. Things started to feel better. I remember telling Cowboy that I can’t wait to visit him in Miami since I have never been before. He told me anytime I wanted to visit, his place was open. I never took up the offer.

October 2018, my cousin, Cowboy, transitioned.

The questions. The “why’s”. The “what if’s”. The “I should haves came to play”. Cowboy was older than me and we didn’t have the closest relationship, but the impact he had on our family was so strong and deep. Our family continues to mourn heavily his physical absence. We are still trying to figure it out.  I know I am trying to be more intentional about communicating with my cousins. We are calling more. We are making time to try and seeing one another more frequently. We are trying to celebrate each other in small and big ways. I recognize it, and I am praying we continue it.

Christmas Eve came and brought some laughter into our lives and love in our spirits. My aunt texted everyone and instead of just eating, we also made our annual breakfast a game night as well. We danced and laughed. I introduced the family to For the Culture (the black version of Heads Up). We had such a good night of fellowship.

So, basically the story goes my great grandmother decided to change up her birthday just so that she can be around her family. I often wonder if she knew that the tradition would continue years after she passed. Did she think of how much her grandchildren and great grandchildren would cherish this day because of the feeling it gives them?

As the night settled, we agreed that we need to make game nights happen more. We need to schedule bowling outings. I plan to keep my word and take them up on that offer.

We are One.

#FlyHighCowboy

2018 Reflections

I spent 70, 979 minutes listening to Spotify this year. (They be coming through with all the stats.) This was probably because I spent a lot of 2018 commuting 3 hours a day from McDonough, Ga to Athens, Ga and back (about 1 hr and 40 minute ride [one way]–although I did get it down to 1 hr and 30). I listened to music, sermons and podcasts during my commutes. Sometimes I would drive in silence. Sometimes I would spend the commute crying, frustrated with life. I spent time in my car praying and worshipping. I spent time in my car eating all three meals of the day. Sometimes, I would have to pull over because I was exhausted: a 15 minute nap here, a 10 minute nap there. I slept for an hour in the Walmart parking lot. I knew things had to change when I dozed off and veered over into the median. God’s grace was abundant, as I just drove into grass and a few bumps, but that was enough for me. Something had to change…

Why was I commuting?

In August of 2017, I decided to not renew my lease as I was in the final round for a job in another state. When I didn’t get the job, I was sure I would find something else in a few months. Ha! Life didn’t work out that way.

So 2018 kicked off, and I was a nomad. Crashing at friends’ houses if I got too tired to drive. Always with clothes and bags in my car. I didn’t get a chance to do a 2018 vision board because I didn’t feel any clarity or goals about what I wanted out of the year… well except for one thing (I will get to that later). I, at first, did not think that I could write a reflections piece because there were many moments of confusion, but over the past few days, a few reflections did come to mind out of the cloud. So below are my top reflections. I hope they touch those who read this post. Seasons of transitions are hard, but not impossible. You have the tools you need to get through them.

“I am making room for God to manifest miracles and blessings in my life. Ase and Amen.”

Sister Scholar Joan sent me this mantra and I would recite it to myself everyday or share it on my Twitter feed. It’s funny how this mantra manifested in my life. The idea of making room at first meant having an open heart for God to bring about miracles. Nice concept, huh? In reality, I literally had to make room– throwing away bad habits, releasing bad thoughts about myself, walking away from people, leaving jobs and setting boundaries. There were things I had gotten so comfortable with that I had to throw away in order to have enough room for God to work.

Scrap Everything

Speaking of scraping everything, I started to reflect on love a bit more and what I desired in a partner. I was truly transformed this year when I read bell hooks “All About Love: New Visions” Below is a dope quote from the book:

“To practice the art of loving we have first to choose love — admit to ourselves that we want to know love and be loving even if we do no know what that means.”

I think we have to start all over when it comes to love and create our own meanings and ways of practicing it. In the book, love is defined as, ‘the will to extend one’s self for the the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’ Love is as love does. Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action.”

Intention!! I want to be in love that is intentional with intimacy, has integrity, and goes beyond my wildest dreams and aspirations about it. I am nowhere close to any romantic love, but the love I share with my friends is amazing. I am looking forward to the day when I see that and more in and with a partner.

G & C 2018

I went into 2018 with a motto of “Girth and Consistency.” Ya’ll know what I am talking about. I truly wanted to be able to explore my sexuality. What did I like? What did I need to speak up about?

I got new toys (I have suggestions if anyone is interested). I did a boudoir shoot, where I got to explore my body and my scars. G & C became more than just a motto; it was a form of sexual liberation. I talked with friends about this exploration and some of them have adopted their own version. Some of these conversations led to discussing sexual health. I walked away from a selfish partner who was just not about pleasuring me. I made the decision that my pleasure was greater than their company.

 I found a sexual partner who loved using Tumblr and we would exchange messages there. It was a beautiful thing to share what I desired via images and words. We would connect and then give feedback about what we enjoyed about the experience and what we wanted more of. Needless to say, I was distraught when the new Tumblr regulations occurred.

G & C has run its course, as I have achieved what I set out to do, and I want to focus more on intimacy in 2019. I am thankful for the exploration.

Building a Culture of Transparency

There is not a badge of honor for hurting others. You have to be accountable for the impact of your words and actions. Transparency is a bit more than honesty, to me. There is integrity in transparency.  A good friend of mine vented to me about how I hurt her feelings with actions I did. I listened and apologized not only for how I made her feel, but also for not communicating what was going on. On the opposite end of that, I experienced hurt by a friend and there has not been a “debrief” convo about my feelings and the impact their actions have had on me. I need to follow up on the debrief, but I want to do it in a way that is fruitful for moving forward. I want to give grace to this person, and today, I don’t have the words that will reflect such grace. In building this culture, I believe there is room for that. This year has taught me that I have to speak up when it is needed, learning when it is best to share, communicate frequently and just be mindful of my words and actions. Again there is no badge of honor in being an ass.

Vulnerability

In 2018, I had some very low points, and most of the year, I buried them inside and kept them to myself. It wasn’t until I became vulnerable and opened up to my mom, my aunt, my friends Joan, Kristi, Casey, JoJo, Emmanuel and Brittney (and others but I don’t want this to be long lol) that things took a turn. I did not have to carry those burdens alone. These people prayed for and with me. They gave me space to mourn, celebrate and vent. They affirmed me when I was in doubt. This year showed me that it is ok to let others show up for you. I have always been the friend who people came to for advice, prayer, food etc. I felt that I had to keep that up and not show when my energy was down or when I literally couldn’t show up for myself let alone anyone else. This year, I learned that I needed to allow others to show up for me. So, thank you to my tribe. Ya’ll are everything and then some.

Oh to Dream

Creativity for me this year was up and down. There were moments where I got a burst of energy and I would be writing down poems, ideas for scripts and just projects I wanted to get involved in. Other times, I would be so overwhelmed that I didn’t pick up a pen. Over the summer, I had this idea of getting artists together to create with no boundaries. The end result would be a series of shows that would incorporate music, theatre, poetry, dance and visual elements. I named this piece “Oh to Dream.” It was inspired by a lot of things. I am still working out how it will all come to together, but, in generating this project, I am jumping out there to take the risk. My mentor, Jamil, said that I shouldn’t say no to any opportunities so I volunteered with 5 theatre productions this year. I went to concerts. I found a part time job at my dream theatre (The Alliance) and quit my job to get rid of that commute. A week after I sent in my resignation letter, I received an offer for a new job. It is a newly created position with so many opportunities for me to dream and make it my own.

One of the anchoring scriptures for this new project is Isaiah 43:18-19, “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” This year God showed me a path in a wilderness of doubt and fear and made rivers in a desert of hopelessness. On the other side I am dreaming bigger. I am excited about this new year as I will be turning 30 (ow ow). I am thankful for the journey 2018 took me on.

70, 979 minutes of music on Spotify in 2018, mostly experienced in my car. I remember how I would look at the sky and thank God for His creation. I would thank Him for the view and the beauty I was seeing before me. Even on mornings of rain and clouds, I said a prayer of thanks. The opportunity to see the view was enough. 2018 was a good view.

Gratitude

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil with good.” – Maya Angelou

It has been two months since I started my new job. I love where I am and the things I am learning. It feels good to come back to Atlanta and learn the city as an adult. LOL. Things have moved so fast and I have finally been able to sit down and reflect on gratitude.

For those who don’t know, my job search was a two year process. It pushed me emotionally and physically. It was a season full of doubts and fear. Being out on the other side of this season, I am still in awe of how everything came together. God truly worked things out for me and one thing I know for sure is that I would not be in this new job and new city without my community of friends and family.

Celebrate- appreciate love

Earlier this year I started a list of those who have been there for me. Whether it was a prayer, a word of encouragement, a place to stay, a check-in, a hug, a smile etc, I wrote your name down. So no poem from me with this post, just a shoutout to everybody who helped me in this season.

Joan| Kristi |Casey | Raven | Candace | Meka| JoJo| Phil | Nia| Ne| Keion | Chris P. | Chris B.| Will | Corey | Kelundra | Alfred | Brittney | Chandra |Wande | Meshell | Ebony | Rachel | Jessica L. | Briunna | Mommy | Tasha | Toya | Jamil | Zay | Alita | Lo | Ayanna | Courtney H. | Courtney Jones- Stevens | Bri | Regina | Angel| Angelica | Renita | Dee | Tara| Katie | Kimberly D. |Erin T. | Keith N. | Kascha | Henry | Destiny | Kristen | Robert C. | Jennifer R. | Angela G. | Makeba | Althea | Dasmyn | Miles | Emmanuel | Anthony | Chelsea | Auntee Sheryl | Daddy | Crystal M | Elmo | Janelle | Felecia | Kendra| Gibson | Mikki | Crystal R. | Baker | John W. |Ebony R. | Monet | Realenn | Ambre | TJ | Lisa C. |Zerotti |Justin A. | Chanelle |Natalie | Tamara | Ivy Park |Sachel | Carlos | Markel |Mineka | Jamaal | Aaron | Gurlie |Jordan W. | Erica J. | Deja | Ian P. | Ian T. | Cubas | Alanna | Keely | Robbie | Ryan J. | Colby G. | Marty | Kelsi | Jeffrey |Kevin | Kurtis |Auntee | Jackie | Rukiyyah |Katie J. | Travis G. | Jessica G. |  Tracey | Roshaunda |Jameeka | Tricksey |Brittany W. |Maya D. |Taylor W. | Jason W. | Zoe |Aaron R. | Dr. Cook |Shaquinta | Shelby M. | Shelby J. |Kiera N. | Elliott | Heather | Danny | DOF | Selam | Mineka | Ashley G. | Jamie | Kendra | Erin A. | Erin W. | Amber B. |Dr. Amma |Marlon | Troy | Raymond |Jocelyn | Lisa S. | Adetinpo | Marlyncia | Kiah | D’Asha | Bri. W. | Tiffany | Dominique | ATL NetTwerk | Unfit Christian | STED- Man |Bobby T. | Carlton B. | Blake S. | Kasondra | Jeremy C. |Vicky C. | Joan (Lyric) |Mylene | Seles | Mumbi

THANK YOU

“Thank you is the best prayer anyone can say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility and understanding.” – Alice Walker