The same thing I am praised for, is the same thing people try to snatch me for—this thing I do with these 26 letters.
In the face of abject crazy which is the current world, I would be remiss in my duties as a writer not to speak or record it. When I decided to lean into writing, being a writer as a career, I knew what I was getting into—what it would cost, and what I aimed to do in it.
This is the thing I love, communication and the art of word play. It’s what I do. It’s legit what I do. And for the love of it, I happen to write down my imagination to sell to people. I keep pens on hand, my desk is covered in papers and my laptops are always running out of space.
This, indeed, is my sweet spot.
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Can you believe it? The kid is not a whole grown up and almost 40. I’ve been saying I was 38 for the last four months though. Which is hilarious on some end. But the thing that i have learned, going into this next chapter of life are these three things.
Value of your whole self.I’m learning to celebrate everything that is me. I am becoming happy with me and all that I am accomplishing. I am learning to celebrating the wins. I’m celebrating the fact that I am not dead. I get the losses, and I accept the time that I have lost. I have a greater value of time, my time. I am a woman. Women value their time, their wins, and their talents. They make, take and hold space. I have finally learned to value me.
Strength is not determined by pain suffered. I don’t think that pain should determine strength or love. I have decided that the pain I have endured doesn’t make me the quintessential ‘strong, Black woman.’ I am a strong woman because I know what it is like to suffer, but also have the strength to rejoice. I know what it is like to be broken, and remain that way–thinking that is week. Believing being broken is a condition to favor. I know what it is like to need help–by admitting that you do. I have learned that being a woman, a Black woman, is to be able to breathe, to express, and even when to rest. I have learned I deserve love, because God is love. I deserve love because it holds up the world. I deserve it not because I had to be proven or emotionally battered to get it. I deserve it, because God gives it to me freely. I acknowledge my wounds, I won’t worship them.
Life is glorious. A friend of mine told me that I was always too excited about having birthdays. Never! I almost died as an infant. As a child. And at the hands of someone that said he loved me. I am excited about this gift called life. I am excited for what it holds. What is all set and planned for me. I am still excited about the process of getting there. This life is amazing. I have 37 chapters done. By virtue of blessing and tenacity, I no longer fear what talents I have. I no longer fear the ambition. I plan on making 40 look amazing!
“You ain’t gotta let everybody know what you know.”
-Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)
I’ve been playing cards for about 30 years now. My mother’s sister, Linda, showed me and a couple of my other cousins how. I think she did this so we would leave each other alone and learn how to play together. For the larger part, we did. From that, my braggadcious nature was born. I am my Daddy’s girl, after all. Playing cards with him embossed this other level of isht-talking that I felt I had to master. And, over time, I did. Along with being ruthlessly competitive and observant of tells and other quirks.
However, the one thing that Dad taught me was how to disguise a tell.
Call it a Poker Face, nerves of steel, or RBF, but I have it. It’s a gift I guess.
However, in the realms of networking, academia and non-melaninated spaced, the best advice my Dad gave me was to not let everyone know what I know. I don’t have to go into a space with my professional resume pinned to my shirt. I don’t have to kick in every door with all I know or all I can do. My Dad had to pull to the side (more than once) to remind me of this.
I have this this thing about being underestimated. Of being called stupid. Of being seen as less than. That is a personal character flaw. A friend of mine says that’s me ‘being defensive’. I’ll take that though. But Daddy had to remind me that it’s better to get into a room, reading a room, than to let everyone know you must might be the smartest dame in it.
For me, this is a constant balancing act. I have always had to prove myself, and I’m still at the point where I feel that I have to. In spite of my success, I still feel underestimated: I hate that. I hate that with a passion! But, because God is merciful and wise, He gave me the father I had. Whom was just as driven, just as ambitious, and just as loud. Within all that, lay that wisdom of learning to be quiet and observe. It was his inability to read the room, which had costed him so many opportunities. His attitude was, “You don’t have to let everybody know what you know. Let them think that they want. You prove them wrong when you have to.”
Now, whilst in the thick of building a brand and finishing degrees, do I get all of this right? Not at all. As gracious as my mother tried to raise me to be, my Dad reminded me that ambition is tool of the visionary. And I get there are rooms I am invited in, or told about that will/do see my race and gender as a deficit. What I work on, according to this piece of advice, is to let people think what they want! Why? They will anyway.
I’m learning to take stock of the energy I exude. I’m learning that not everyone needs to know my pedigree and pedagogue. They really don’t! And even if I did rail about it from the mountaintops, or in Jimmy Choos, there would still be people that wouldn’t care. So, why waste time with it?
The greatest blessing sometimes is making something out of nothing with people watching.
There are some things that even the woke ally cannot wish you. Do not tell a Black person, whom is a direct descendant of chattel slavery, Happy Juneteenth. Stop. Do not do this. I’m not going to ask again.
With that being said, this Juneteenth feels a little different with Orange Thanos in office. It feels like we have to fight a little harder to be seen. It feels like I need to be that much more Black to counteract all the toxic whiteness and malignant red caps. It feels like every thing Black has to be preserved, illuminated. served and strictly defined as ours.
This nation is the diverse, beautiful, luminous place that it is, because of the minorities that were either kidnapped, enslaved, conquered and mistreated. From that muddy, rocky roux–we have a myriad of traditions that are now classified and quantified as childhood memories. Especially for those of us whom are African-American.
In this era where the insecure majority feels as though it has to stomp out anything that is not white or conforming, Juneteenth is our reminder as Black/African-American people that we cannot die. We will not die. Our power, our survival has been in traditions and support. It has maintained our sanity and our love for one another. It encamps in the lives of us their descendants to remind us of our own power. The strength of the combined force of time and tradition which yields legacy. It is this legacy which allows us a people to keep going. It is this living history that lets our children know that there is still joy and love and light in the world–and they are owed some of it.
I am in favor of all things being equal, but there are some things that I refuse to compromise with or on. And there are things that these MAGA sycophants are not going to take from me. They aren’t going to make me shrink. They aren’t going to make me think being Black is bad, dangerous or something to apologize for! A red cap is a white hood is a crooked badge is a Johnny Reb is a plantation overseer.
Juneteenth is our holiday. Is our day. Is our history. Our ancestors survived so much worse–we will endure this too. And at the end of this? We will celebrate the end of this tyrannical dynasty too. Just watch.
TW: The Central Park 5; Police brutality; Industrial Prison Complex; Mass Incarceration
The first time I remember distrusting the police I was about 10.
I was about 8 when The Central Park 5 became a national news story. I remember going with my father to the grocery store in Cahokia, IL (about 40 minutes from where we then lived). We were headed home, and we stopped.
My father wasn’t speeding. He was the only adult in the car. And we had groceries. He was driving a black GMC pick-up. The officer asked him to step out. He did, and what I vividly remember is the officer, whom was shorter than my father, white and blonde and mustached, asked who the other adult was in the car. I remember my father, in all his 6’2″ could muster, said, “She’s 10.” The flashlight he shone in the car might as well have been the damn sun. He asked what the glass bottle was, because it was drank out of, but capped. He was a fan of Mr. Pure juices, and that’s all it was. I remember he didn’t come back right away. This pause I am sure now was to make sure the truck he made payments on, registered to him, wasn’t stolen. I think the officer said something like “Take care”, returning my father’s ID and freedom to him.
At 13, after my cousin’s encounter with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, I was done. I saw my cousin illegally searched in my maternal grandmother’s doorway. I remember wondering, “Why is this happening?” My father was there and saw them, and told them to get out. These two white, plainclothes officers, were insistent. They wanted my cousin. My father told them to get out. They acted like they weren’t going to go. But they did. He yelled at my mother for opening the door and summoning my cousin to it. He told me then, “Jennifer, if the police call you to their car don’t go. They don’t have any right to bother you unless they have a reason or a warrant.”
I remember my Dad telling my cousins (John, whom they were looking for; Joshua, whom they weren’t) they would have to run to my cousin Joshua’s house–about a 10 minutes away. I stood on the red gray porch of my grandmother’s porch and looked back in the yard to where they were. I thought my 13-year-old body would be a big enough, wide enough, strong enough to protect them both. When we got to my Mom’s car, I remember calling the police ‘motherfuckers’ under my breath. I remember praying that they not be caught. I remember and officer in a red shirt, jeans and a ballcap pointing to the side of my grandmother’s house like a wolf after sheep.
That feeling of outraged helplessness I have never lost. Ever.
I saw the police as necessary evil. I never wanted to be in the presence of police officers, but I would watch COPS, and Homicide Life On The Street (the precursor to any Law & Order). I remember my Aunt Linda (John’s Mom) watching Hunter, and L.A. Law. The disconnect of wanting the good guys on TV to win and distrusting the police who I saw I couldn’t reconcile.
From this, and my complicated relationship with dealing with big blue gangs, we have When They See Us. Have I seen it yet? No. Will I? Yes. Will I have something to say? Yeah! I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. The thing is, I want y’all to hear my heart. This review won’t be haymaker to law enforcement (even though I still feel FTP is always going to be a war cry for me). I want those of you that follow this space to know that 10-/13-year old girl is still within the 37-year-old wife and mother. Those experiences have allowed me have the frank conversations that I can around and about police brutality. Those experiences fuel activism and pushes towards the support of police reform.
When They See Us is a reminder just how close trauma is. How malignant it is. It is also testament to how broken the system of law and it’s enforcement truly is. There is no amount of social undoing, op-eds or charity work that will allow Linda Fairstein, Elizabeth Lederer or the gang known as the NYPD to fix this. That’s the thing about history and recording trauma. As long as someone knows what happened, someone else will know too.
This came through my personal Twitter timeline on Father’s Day of all things. And I was inconsolable. In looking through this thread, all I could think is, “This could have been my daughter. This child is my daughter’s age.” I make no qualms about my valid, palpable distrust of law enforcement. I make no reassertion that I am changing my mind about that. I have not trusted law enforcement since I was about 10, and I’m almost 40. With that being said, I make no bones about my Mama Lion nature for my children. In reading this thread, my heart sank. I wanted to stave off having ‘The Talk’ with my oldest daughter. The same daughter that is beautiful, intelligent, and stands 5’6.5″ at age 11 1/2. I am aware that the world will not always see her as a girl. As an adolescent Black girl.
When I saw this thread, and really began to digest what had happened to this child without her mother present, left me horrified. The rundown was this:
A group of Black kids were playing on a movie parking lot. The police saw them and told them to move along. The kids grumbled and muttered but they go on. Nicole (the woman in the screenshot), heard screaming. She looked up and saw one of the officers dragging one of the child to the car. There are more cop cars that appeared (Nicole said it was 5-6 cars). She gets out her car and asks what is going on. The cops tell her to move along. She sees on child in the car’s backseat–handcuffed. The other girl was shaken and about to be arrested as well. Nicole advocated for the child, and confronting the police officer. The handcuffed child did not have her phone, and it would seem she was arrested for ‘loitering.’ Nicole gave this child her phone to call her mother. The police said they were going to release her to her mother. Nicole continues to advocate for these children, and speaking to the girl’s mother–she waits for her to get to the area. Another older couple is parked nearby watching. The handcuffed girl’s mom arrives, and wants to know what happened. Turns out, the girls are arrested without being Mirandized, or without a guardian present. Once that’s pointed out, the officer tells Nicole to leave. She doesn’t. The girls are released to their mother/aunt. Nicole gives Mom the name of lawyers that she knows.
As a mother, I was horrified. My husband and I have gone round and round about how to handle raising our girls when these situations exist. I know that the world doesn’t see Black girls as girls–especially if Black girls are tall or in any way shapely! I never looked my age from 11-17. And my mother had to gently tell me that I had to watch how I dressed because I didn’t look my age. Not to leave the house without my purse that at least had my school identification. I knew that the police wouldn’t think that I was 13, 14 or 15, unless my parents were with me.
With this though? I thought I had more time, at least one more year to allow my daughter to be protected completely by her Mama Lion. But that shattered yesterday. This is the paradox Black parents have: we know the world sees our children as never being such. But we know they are. I have talked to my husband about our daughter having a cell phone. He said she was too young. I disagreed. I tried to tell him that the world is such that she needed access to us in case she needed us.
This is another reminder that she is becoming more and more visible on the real world’s radar. It was a reminder that if something like this happened to my baby, I would want someone to help her. To see her. I would want her to know how to handle herself if an officer stopped her, and had no right to do so. I know that in having this talk, The Talk, with her, a portion of her innocence is, and will be gone. And there is nothing I can do about that.
The running theme that I tell people is that I’m the daughter of a hustler. I really, truly am. My father didn’t like the word ‘No’, and believed in making sure certain things were in place so other things could happen. One of those things that he taught me was to make sure I could take care of myself. The best way he thought I could do that, was to make sure that I always had some money on me.
My father made sure my sister and I got used to carrying, purses and a wallet. He would tell us that we should keep money on us in case we go somewhere. He wanted us have some sense of financial responsibility even then. I mean, when I was in fifth grade, when I started carrying a purse WITH money in it! I mean, it was my Dad that taught me how cool having a bank account was! He taught me and my sister how to use and ATM!
Daddy taught me how to hustle, and be okay with (as a woman) to have my own money. Even though he didn’t teach us how to save (that came later for me after he died), but it make me see money as a tool. It was this strange dichotomy: money is tool to be used, but not to be saved. But there was a power in that as a little girl. I had the power to realize that I can do what I wanted to do–if I had the money to do so.
From that, I was never afraid to work for what I wanted. Ever. The dream is free, and the hustle is real…and it needs to be funded. Until the Lord sends more help, or you win the LOTTO? Hustle. It won’t kill you. I promise it won’t.